Category Archives: productivity

Chasing Rabbits

There’s an Old Russian proverb that says, “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.”

I suppose this jumped out at me because it succinctly captures a dynamic I hear so many times over the course of my work week.

I want to lose weight, and I want to eat whatever I want.

I want to be healthy, and I want to ignore self-care.

I want a loving and satisfying relationship, and I want to ensure my needs are all met.

I want to be financially secure, and I want to be able to purchase whatever I want.

Of course, people don’t usually say those statements so clearly to me.  If they did, they might hear them and begin to question themselves.  Instead, we utter the first part of the statement, and then act out the second part.  It’s human nature.

Neither part of the statement is inherently right, wrong, good or bad.  But both parts of the statements are in direct conflict with each other.  Thus, trying to achieve both is like two rabbits one is trying to catch.  Both options require considerable energy moving in opposing directions.  But the rabbits have the advantage.  Each has to move in only one direction while we have to move in two.  They outrun us and we lose both.  One of my favorite examples of this is the original Bridget Jones’ Diary.  She began each day focusing on and recording her weight.  Then she lived out the day ruining her diet.  By year’s end, she had gained and lost about 100 pounds (up 3 down 2), finishing at relatively the same weight as when she began.

Are you chasing two rabbits?  Or more rabbits?  That’s the thing about rabbits; they seem to multiply pretty easily.  Where is your focus?  Do you have a clear set of goals?  Not a wish list, but actual, defined goals?  If you do, they include time tables, and plans for how to achieve those goals.  Without a path towards achievement your ideas are merely a wished for fantasy of something you someday hope, will somehow happen.

Another important step in goal achievement is building in accountability.  Ask someone to check in with you about your progress.  Make commitments to knocking off steps along the way.  Use outside resources to help you figure out when you get stuck how to work around or through the obstacle instead of simply giving up in frustration.

And finally there is the importance of letting go.  You may have to spend a little time deciding and acknowledging to either someone else, yourself or both that, you are going to let one or more other rabbits go.  Let someone else chase those or let them simply be free.  You weren’t going to capture the anyway.

 

 

Let the Wobbling Begin

Let the wobbling begin.

I’m going to attempt to create a visual experience for you.  Try and imagine yourself in this scene as you read along.

You are a toddler about 12 months old.  You are used to crawling around when you want to get to somewhere other than where you are.  Your view of the world is predominantly at ground level looking up at everyone.  While this has been fine for a while,  you now realize that others around you are doing things differently.  You also notice that your hands and knees are getting sore.

Everyone around you seems to be getting around on their feet instead of their hands and knees.  Hmmm you think, perhaps I can do this too.  You inch your way over to a table or chair and using all your might, you pull yourself to an upright position.  “There! You exclaim. “That wasn’t so hard.”

Full of confidence and wonder you lean towards the direction you want to go towards.  First your right foot, followed by your left and boom!  Down on your bottom you land.  It looked so easy when you watched others complete the operation, but it doesn’t seem easy now.

Of course you eventually learned to walk, but not without a few good drops to the bottom and perhaps your head as well.  It’s the natural evolution of learning to walk without the conscious processing that I describe above.  Yet, if we were conscious, I don’t think my description would be too far off base.  It might include varying degrees of excitement and fear depending on our nature and our success rates. And of course, there are many other milestone achievements of which we partake as developing children that have a similar structure.

I submit that, to some extent, we retain our childlike approach to change and development throughout the life span.  The differences however, include that 1) we are often more conscious and 2) we are often filled with judgment and fear, both of which, are founded on information we have collected over the years.  That information not even need be accurate, but it still influences our decision making capabilities.

In application, this means that if I had to learn to walk today, I might say to myself “No, I’d rather not, because I don’t want to risk falling.”   Or “I don’t think I’ll take up playing the piano because I don’t ever stick with things.”

Thinking about this topic reminds me of a quote I like very much:

A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because the trust is not on the branch, but on its wings.  (author unknown).

Perhaps my argument is lost if your position is that you don’t trust your own wings.  But even the most confident will at times lose faith in our selves.  It is during those moments that we can trust that even our baby selves were once brave enough to take the risk towards change.  We can know that sometimes we have to fall a bit to make progress and our boo boos and ouchies will heal.  Wobbling is a sign of progress towards success rather than a prediction of our failure.

The baby in us has the desire for something more.  It remains focused on the goal rather than the limitations.  It is not necessary to recreate a state of unconsciousness to achieve this skill.  Because we now have the ability as adults to exercise choice and reason,  it is a matter of prioritizing the goal we want over indulging the fears, some of which are irrational, so that we might move towards the direction of our goals.  We need not employ denial or ignorance, but rather the confidence that we are strong enough to tolerate the necessary wobbling and sometimes falling as a means to our achievement.  And  to consider that wobbling isn’t a sign of our failure, but is evidence of our willingness to grow.

Time savers

My son asked me today what blood is made of.   Of course, I didn’t know the answer so I did what I always do.  I went to consult the great wizard known as google.   In case you’re curious, the answer is plasma, red and white blood cells, and platelets.  But as I went to find the answer, I thought about how if I had needed to know that answer when I was a kid, I would have had to get someone to take me to the library so I could consult an encyclopedia.  Boy, have times changed, and it’s amazing how many time saving tools we have available today.  These gifts are not just limited to information gathering.  We have modernized and improved every aspect of our world right?

So that got me thinking about the things I now have available to make my world improved.

After I got divorced I lived in a 560 sq. ft. apartment.  Now I live in a 4K plus sq. ft. home.  Of course it used to take me about 45 minutes to clean what now takes about 4 hours to achieve.  But I have a lot of sweepers, cloths and specialty products to make it “easier and faster”.  And each of those gadgets needs batteries or filters or bags that must be replaced from time to time but…

Transportation.  I can’t imagine how people used to get around in a horse and buggy, much less on foot.  Obviously they didn’t travel often or very far.  But we are so lucky because we have jets to go around the world if we choose.  On a smaller scale I have a car that will take me anywhere very quickly.  Now that is a huge time saver over walking to the grocery store.  The interesting twist though is that I seem to spend a LOT of time in the car.  I pick up kids; drop off kids, tote kids to and fro a variety of places.  I pick up food, dry cleaning, household items.  I make a lot of trips to Starbucks.  I drop off a prescription at Walgreens and then go back to Walgreens.  All because I can.  I have a car to save me effort and time.  It just seems to use a lot of that time.

Communication.

It must have been astounding when the Pony Express began delivering mail.  People who had been cut off from loved ones and even substantial news information now finally had a systematic way of being able to communicate from afar.  My maternal grandfather came to America and wrote letters to his future wife to keep her abreast of his plans for their ultimate reunion.  It must have been grueling for her to wait for his words to finally reach her.

In contrast, I can communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world instantaneously with only a click of my mouse.  Sometimes, I have to wait a few hours because of the time zone differences, as someone in Russia may be sleeping when I send my email, but that is about the limit to my hardship.  Since I no longer have to spend time waiting for replies, I can often make plans or decisions much more timely.  However, I have begun trying to reduce the amount of email I receive because I get overwhelmed by the abundance.  I find myself becoming slower on replies, to even important requests because, there is often more in my inbox that requires my attention than there is attention I have available.

Food

My kitchen is well stocked with pots, pans and utensils for faster and improved baking and cooking.  I also have no shortage of gadgets that I’ve never used.  These are for foods I was going to make, but haven’t had time for.  Mostly these days we eat a lot of take out.  That of course, is why it’s so great that I have the car I mentioned above to help me save time.

Personal care-

Boy I shouldn’t even start on this one.  There are 3 products for my hair and an anti-frizz towel, two different contacts, glasses, hearing aids that require frequent batteries.  I have products for softer feet, smoother skin.  I own anti- wrinkling cream and I don’t even wear makeup.  That would require another whole bathroom vanity.  The current one is filled with mouthwash, toothpaste, a rechargeable toothbrush and charger, a water pick.  It also has a magnifying mirror, hair dryer, assorted tweezers, and nail files and…

So all of this is to say that life is what life is.  We can try and “solve” problems, streamline and minimize efforts and there is nothing “wrong” with that approach.  The problem comes in with philosophy of solving or rather illusions of solving.  Some things simply can’t or don’t need to be solved and its okay to live with them the way they are.  Often our efforts to “simplify” a process results in a far more complex system of maintenance our “solving tools”.  Another approach is in learning to let some things go.  There are some areas of life that can’t be made simpler.  They are difficult and we may need to accept that the effort required to have them in our world is significant.  It’s okay if we choose those things, but we have to become willing to let something else go to achieve a balance in the amount of energy required.  In other words, we can’t give 100% to two tasks simultaneously.  The math just doesn’t work.  I know this, because I looked the answer up on google when I couldn’t find one of my three calculators that purchased.

 

 

 

Let’s be honest

I’ve referred to a book before called Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. It’s an old book that I still highly recommend. While the exercise the authors prescribe is annoying and tedious, it is incredibly illuminating. It will make you take a hard look at how you spend your money. I mean really spend it, rather than how you think you do and equally useful, how much of your life are you giving up to support those expenditures.

I did the exercise formally a number of years ago. I was divorced, going to and paying for school. I discovered that I was spending about $2400 per year on Starbucks. Yes $2400 American dollars; that was not a typo.

Now, truth be told, I’m still spending that on Starbucks. In fact, now that I’ve bred a couple of little green label addicts in my own home, the dollars may be a little higher. But here is the difference: I can actually afford to spend that now. Starbucks is about the last known major vice for me and I have no plans of giving it up soon-Although there have been a few windows of time in recent years when for a number of reasons, I’ve done without it for a few weeks or months at a time.

In my earlier life, I really didn’t think about what it was costing me. I only saw the 4.00 expense in the moment and thought it wasn’t “that bad.”

But this post isn’t about money or Starbucks. It’s another about time. From recent posts you can conclude I am feeling pressured about the lack of enough time in my day, as I’m confident, many of you are as well. So I started using the Robin and Dominguez approach to look at how I was spending time.

I have been aware for a while now that email is a major drain on me. Along the way I had subscribed to a number of crafting blogs. I’ve since eliminated all but one. I’ve also become far more efficient with using my Junk mail folder. I can now scan in a few seconds what used to eat up minutes at a time in my day. I’ve started planning meals a month in advance to try and reduce both shopping time and the waste that comes from a lack of planning ahead. But this is the interesting find for me:

There is a little word game app on my phone. While I did succumb to candy crush back in the day- I escaped at a much faster rate than most do. I’m generally not that susceptible to game apps in general. But word games can hook me. I used to play 7 little words. It took about 3 minutes of my day to do the daily puzzle and I was done. I learned a lot of words that way. It was under control- I was content.

And then along came Word Scramble.

It takes only 2 minutes for a round of Word Scramble. I started playing it while I was in line waiting for something. Then I started playing it at night just before drifting off to sleep. Then I started playing it…. Well you get the picture.

One feature of the game is “stats”. So I recently looked up my stats. I don’t know how long I’ve been playing Word scramble, but I know that I’ve played nearly 1200 rounds. I’ll do the math for you- that equals 40 hours. Sure, it’s only 2 minutes a time but its 40 hours of my life gone. Just like a measly 4.00 cup of coffee turns in to 2400.

And this is how a life gets away from us. It’s easy to see the big things that come into our world. They come with a large announcement and a party. But it’s the accumulation of all the little waves that take us further and further adrift into a sea of chaos.

How about taking some time this week to look at the little ways that you may be unproductively losing time. If, like my Starbucks decision, you are okay with the consequence and you know where it fits- enjoy. On the other hand, if it is causing you to feel like it wasn’t worth what you spent, consider a change.

 

Do you have the time?

I’ve been doing a lot of un-scheduling lately. I’ve unscheduled my weekly network meeting. I’ve unscheduled my weekly accountant meeting. And with great heaviness, I even unscheduled my monthly card making group despite the fact that I enjoy it immensely.

Back when I was in school I sometimes had a conversation with someone who would say something like “I’d love to go back to school too, but I just don’t have the time.” It used to tick me off. I refrained from saying something unkind like “Oh, how unlucky of you that you haven’t been given 28 hours to every day like I have!”   But instead, I smiled and thought to myself about the number of things I had chosen to give up so that, I could use my standard 24 to get school on the schedule.

When others played on the weekends, I wrote papers. When others rested in the evening, I went to class. When others ate lunch, I read a book. I’m neither a martyr or a superhero. I simply made a choice because I wanted the pot of gold I thought lay at the end of the rainbow. It made me neither better nor worse-simply attached to a goal I was willing to work towards.

A number of years ago before anyone and everyone called themselves a life coach, Cheryl Richardson wrote a book called “Take time for your Life.” It’s still a relevant and terrific book. Richard’s strategy is to take things OUT of your life before adding new things in. Simple, but not always easy.

Most of us are collectors. And, most of us operate out of habit. Once a habit gets in place (unless it’s eating well or exercising), we have a hard time letting go. Even after only a couple of weeks, we can get attached as if it looks like we were genetically programmed with the behavior. Think I’m exaggerating? How often do you check Facebook or Email?

Schedule fillers can creep in without much notice. I’ve started to watch a little TV in the past couple of months- something I rarely did in the past. But something had to go out. So far its mostly sleep and housework. But there is a limit to how little one can participate in either of those. Summer is coming and I want to spend some time at the pool- hence the unscheduling from paragraph one. This much I know is true: all any of us are ever going to get is the standard 24. Are you spending yours the way you will look back and feel good about?

I’d like to leave you with two quotes about time from guys a lot smarter than me:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us” J.R.R. Tolkein

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it” Henry David Thoreau

 

Decide and spend it wisely

Is it time for you to lose wait?

NOTE to readers:     There was an issue with the captcha for new commenters- If you were not previously permitted to leave a comment, I believe this has been fixed.  I apologize for any inconvenience or frustration this may have caused!

Is it time for you to lose wait?

I know I’ve made a lot of typos lately, but the one above isn’t actually one of them.

I heard a story the other day about a guy I’ll call Fred who was estranged from his family for several years.   When Fred learned that his mother, in her late 80’s was on her death bed he tried to make the arrangements to visit her. The arrangements including getting time off of work, and creating travel plans. Unfortunately, Fred didn’t get everything worked out in time and he never saw his mother again.

A couple of years later Fred learned that one of his siblings had passed away from a sudden illness. The person telling me the story reported that Fred was once again devastated as he had been when his mother passed. Although he had not had any contact with his sibling in 30 years, he said he regretted not having spent more time getting to know him when they were kids. Despite these two occurrences, Fred remained distant from the remainder of his family.

Even without seeing Fred, I can tell that, he the kind of person with a lot of wait. Too much wait. Fred is waiting to do things he thinks are important, until the wait is over because the opportunity passes. He just sits around feeling sad that his wait has kept him from really enjoying life as he should.

Our wait is personal. We all carry it differently from each other. Some of us, like Fred wait to let people in our lives know they are important to us. Some wait to start a project, finish a project or develop our talents. Others wait to start their career, get an education or acquire skills. And still others of us wait to change behaviors that are setting us up for consequences we hope we will never have to face.

Would you be willing to start a wait reduction program? What area(s) in your life are you waiting to take action on? What are you waiting to discover about your passion and let yourself move forward on? What holds you back? Are you allowing yourself to fall victim to the rewards of short term behaviors that satisfy your urges long enough to help you postpone the longer term successes?

I’d love to hear your comments and stories!

Reflections from a cruise ship

Seriously, it IS a new topic, I promise.

So the other part of my vacation was a Disney Cruise. Before anyone starts to envy me, let me say I’m never going on another cruise with any of the men in my house. Turns out they aren’t fond of lying on a beach for all the daylight hours like I am- but enough complaining. Let’s get to the real stuff.

Disney cruises are cool for passengers because there is a low staff to guest ratio. They are pretty much there to spoil you. In short, they prevent you from having to do anything for yourself including use up any brain cells unnecessarily while in their care. However, there is limited space on a ship and that means to achieve everything they do, the crew works sometimes very long days. And very long weeks. And very long months.

The cruise director said that a passenger once asked him if the crew slept on board. Tongue in cheek he told her no, they are helicoptered off and on at the start and end of each day. But of course they sleep on board. When they sleep that is. Depending on their contract, the crew may remain on board for 2-8 months at a time, with the latter being more common. The following information is from the Disney employment site:

  • Agree to share a cabin with another crew member
  • Be able to work a seven-day, 70-84 hour week with limited time off

The workers come from all over the world.   They have to pay their own transportation to get to and from the boat. And with the handful of workers I informally surveyed, many repeat their contracts after going home to their native country and family for a month or two.

These working conditions would not fly (or cruise for that matter) in the U.S. At least not at the pay scale cruise workers receive. In fact, when someone works for a couple of weeks without a day off, we are generally appalled. One client recently told me of a woman he knew that had worked over 100 days without a single day off. As a man who had himself run his own business, he was amazed by what he felt was a rare work ethic. Yet, the people on the ship do it for months a time, willingly gratefully, and usually with a pleasant disposition.

But how about working conditions for our own military? I don’t have personal experience, but I suspect they too ,work long hours, days and months on end without time off. It’s not like a soldier in the middle of a mission, can say “ I’d like to take a personal day off next week for my son’s birthday.”

While I’m hoping to not sign up for a job that requires me to be alert and on my game 24/7 any time soon, I do think it’s worth dissecting this idea a little bit. What makes it possible for people to plunge in to these types of experiences and not feel totally abused, while others feel like they will fall apart if expected to work a little overtime?

Maybe it has to do with a mindset more than a temperament. Does someone from a third world country view the opportunity with gratitude that there is continued work, because it means continued financial support for their family back home? Does someone in the military value the opportunity to learn a skill or complete a mission without the interruption of other things that naturally occur in a more traditional job?

The reality is that we can do a great number of things both positively and negatively depending on our mindset. Marathon runners tell me they can complete a race because of their mental strength not their physical stamina. Anorexics can continue to push their bodies far beyond reasonable physical limits because of the image they hold in their minds eye. One is positive, the other negative, but they are alike in the sense that, it is the story held in the mind, not the body that determines an individual’s course.

Perhaps Henry Ford discovered this truth a long time ago when he said “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”.   Is there anything that you think is impossible that could become possible if you change the story you currently hold?  I always appreciate your comments and insights.

 

 

 

 

 

and More Spring Cleaning

In my last blog I talked about spring cleaning. Hopefully you had a chance to either get started, or at least think about things that you hold on to for perhaps less productive reasons than is useful. In that same vein, I’d like you to take this thought process a step further and think about the clutter more broadly. Cleaning out closets is useful in making more room, either to find stuff, or for different stuff. I’d like to propose that there are other ways that our lives can get significantly cluttered and could use attention. The two that come to mind most quickly for me (from personal and professional experience) are time wasters and unproductive relationships.

The easy bandwagon to jump on is electronic drains. Whether it’s a night lost to Facebook, Pinterest, others social networks, video games or merely web surfing, people can lose a lot of time and receive little if anything back for their time. But those are obvious. What is more subtle, yet equally if not more insidious, are the things we spend time on that, fail to add real value to our lives, and rather, suck away precious time. What makes these items harder to identify is that it usually isn’t the “task” that identifies it as a problem, but rather the way we feel about the task. For example, if I made pasta from scratch because I loved doing so, I was putting healthier options on my table, saving money, my family felt valued when I did so, or any one of these reasons, then it might be time consuming, but there is a payoff. If on the other hand, I made fresh pasta from scratch for my toddler, who was going to eat 3 bites, and my husband could care less about the quality difference, then I should question whether or not this was a good use of time and energy. I’m not sure this is the best example, but I’m pretty sure that we all engage in some pretty questionable activities, and often they have a smell of “perfectionism” to them.

The other category of relationships is something near and dear to my heart. I’ve noticed that a number of my relationships have changed over the past few years and it has largely been my own doing. I’m not feeling angry, but rather more willing to let people go then I once was. That at times, has also included some pretty terrific people. But at the end of the day I’ve had to come to terms with the reality that every day is limited by time, as is the entirety of my life. Out of that awareness, I accept the responsibility and the opportunity to make the most of what is available to me. So, terrific or not, I’m more willing to let people go in favor of spending the time with either other people or activities that are helping me to create the best experience of this thing I call my life.

Personally, I would tell you that if someone had said the paragraph above to me 10 years ago, I would have thought that person to be cold, friendless and void of the capacity to have meaningful relationships. So please, don’t think as a result of one reading, I would expect anyone to make such a radical change. It has been a work in progress and still continues for me. But that said, I find that the quality of relationships I do keep, continues to improve, because I come to them more available, more willing to honor the work of maintaining them. It’s because I know they are mutual, and with less resentment. In turn, I feel more rewarded and valued by the people in those relationships, as well.

I hope you’ll take another look at clutter in your life and see if there are mental closets that need a little combing through as well.

 

Spring Cleaning

 

It seems that when I put away the holiday decorations their storage places shrunk. I thought I was putting away the same amount I took out, but I guess my decorations also gained some weight over the holidays. That prompted me to do a little pre-spring cleaning.

I moved on from the holiday storage and into some other closets in the house. Each time I go through this process I’m always a little surprised at how much junk I can accumulate in a short time. I don’t think of myself as a hoarder. (Although I’m pretty sure hoarders don’t think of themselves as hoarders either but I digress).

There is certainly a practical aspect to collecting some items. We use mechanical toothbrushes in our house, so we save all the toothbrushes and sample toothpaste boxes we get from the dentist. Take four family members with two annual visits each to the dentist and you get eight sets to donate to charity care boxes. Instant good deed.

When I save my older sons outgrown clothes, there are fewer to buy when my younger son grows into the same size. Thrifty.

I ran across a ceramic lid to a little trinket box I used to have. The box and lid got separated at some point and I hung on to the lid in case I found the bottom. I haven’t seen the bottom in a few years. But if I do, I will have a lid to match. Sentimental, but not so practical.

I also found quite a few medical supplies. Those of you who know me may realize that I’m a bit accident prone. I have quite a collection of ace bandages, slings, ice packs, heat wraps, canes, crutches and a walker. Okay the walker isn’t and never was mine, but it was nearly brand new when my mother passed away and I just didn’t know what to do with it so I put it in storage. Not even sentimental, but prepared?

The dilemma, of course, is that storage, like most things is limited. And after a while, it becomes cluttered and jammed, and impossible to even find what you are looking for when you actually have the need. When that happens to me, I find myself going out and purchasing the item, again, even though I probably have it in storage. This begs the question of how practical or thrifty the storage is in the first place.

So why do we do this? Sometimes it’s just a habit. Other times, we hold on to things out of fear. And still another reason is the desire to cling to something as if doing so, keeps its memory in the present tense. I especially identify with that last sentiment when it comes to holding on to my children’s baby clothes or their hand created mementos.

I’m not suggesting that we never allow ourselves to hold on to pieces of sentiment. But I am suggesting that we do it with mindful discernment. Is that decrepit rose bud that is about to turn to ash going to rekindle our romantic feelings for our partner? Or might we instead, perform a loving act of kindness towards them out of love in the present moment? Will our grown sons really appreciate us saving every toy from their childhood? Maybe, but I found that most of the items my mother in law passed down to us from my husband’s childhood were worn and dated. Our boys didn’t really play with them or appreciate them after the five minutes of novelty wore off. Given that experience, I’m not sure any future grandchildren in my bloodline will be any more welcoming of my hand me downs.

 

Is it time to take a look around and see what you have collected that is taking up unnecessary space in your world? Do you hang on to things out of habit or fear?   What might you experience good or bad if you practiced letting them go?

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Climbing and Use Your Toes if You Have to.

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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?

 

 

 

Nice guys and gals just finish

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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Operating Instructions

 

 

 

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Operating Instructions

Recently it seems I‘ve been asked a lot how I come up with blog topics. There are a couple of ways actually. First, there are a lot of ideas that have circulated in my brain for a long time and I’ve never written in a formal way before. Many of them are stories I’ve used repetitiously in my career over the years and found them helpful. So sharing those is easy. I have an ongoing list that I draw upon from time to time.

The second way is when I feel a reaction to something going on in current events, or happening in my own life. My goal when I provide these is to offer another way of looking at something that might be happening, with hopes that it can be applicable to your life as well.

The third source is perhaps the most quirky. Sometimes I think I have a rather peculiar brain, but over the years I’ve learned to run with it, rather than fight it. Mostly what I mean by this is that when an idea hits me I try to capture it as best as I can. Often this is when I’m in the shower, or driving, or immediately upon waking up in the morning. I find that when I fail to get it down its usually pretty much gone forever. And I get a lot of ideas.

I like to think of these ideas as whispers from the Universe. They usually aren’t hand engraved announcements but rather a nudge to make me aware of something or more curious about something. When the latter occurs, I will often go dig up a little more information to better understand a topic. What I find so interesting, is that many times, its something I previously had no interest in.

My reason for sharing this with you is to encourage you to not “ignore” whispers. Perhaps you too, have a peculiar brain that you haven’t been “listening” to. One very common place people experience this challenge is in dreaming.  Often, they will tell me that they don’t remember their dreams when they wake. I’ve found this is a cultivated practice. Try keeping a note pad beside your bed and jotting something down, even if you wake up in the middle of the night. Once your subconscious knows you are taking notes, it is more likely to be a little more forthcoming.   You may find some helpful insight.

As for daytime whispers, try not discounting the information you take in and brushing it off. I’m not suggesting you try to find the shape of Jesus in your nacho chips here. I am however, suggesting that, my legitimization of events that many would chalk up to coincidence, has proven to be very helpful to me over the years. Anne Lammot titled her best-selling book “ Operating Instructions” after the phrase her father often used. She reports that he when he felt stuck, he would look to the sky and ask for his next set of operating instructions.

The biggest resistance in this arena for most of us is when we get a “message” that may be our operating instructions, we are not open to what may come, but rather are focused on what we want to hear. This often blunts us from hearing what we are offered. Another resistance is that we may not want to stop what we are doing and get quiet enough to take note. I am particularly resentful when my operating instructions come before my desired wake up time. I’ve also had to pull off the road a time or two in order to make notes. Now, I try and carry along a micro tape recorder and get down as much as I can even when I’m driving along.

Just to be clear, I’m certainly not suggesting to anyone that I hear “voices”. At least not in the technical sense. But like many of my other posts, cultivating a posture of mindfulness is essential in being able to notice what happens within you.

I’d like to finish today with a quote I love from children’s author Shel Silverstein

 

The Voice

There is a voice inside of you

That whispers all day long,

“I feel this is right for me, I know that this is wrong.

” No teacher, preacher, parent, friend Or wise man can decide

What’s right for you–just listen to

The voice that speaks inside.”

Think outside the box

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A few years ago Taco Bell scored a great pun with their marketing campaign of “think outside the bun”. It was a clever twist on thinking outside the box. Are you familiar with what thinking outside the box refers to?

If not, here’s at least part of the back story.

Gestalt theoriest’s credit the phrase to experiments led by Karl Dunker in 1945. Subjects were given a candle, a box, thumbtacks and matchsticks and then asked to figure out how to attach the candle to the wall in such a way as to avoid dripping. The findings led the researcher to conclude the concept of “functional fixedness” or a person’s inability to see an object as itself, free of the meaning it has in the greater scheme of things.   To learn more about this here is a link:

http://io9.com/the-experiment-that-led-to-the-concept-of-thinking-out-1463883774

 

Another argued origin of thinking outside the box is associated with the The 9 dot puzzle. While the puzzle first appeared in Sam Loyd’s 1914 Cyclopedia of Puzzles, many management consultants throughout the 60’s and 70’s takes responsibility for linking the puzzle to a strategy for problem solving.

It works like this:

Take a piece of paper, and draw dots three across and three down so you have a square made of 9 dots.

The goal is to use only 4 straight lines (no taking your pencil off the paper), and connect all 9 dots. You may want to pause and try this a few times before I give you the spoiler.

 

The paradigm set up by the 9 dots causes most people to look at a “box” that contains the dots. They generally try and approach the solution by staying within the confines of the “box”. But its not a requirement, and in fact, can’t be achieved unless you go or think outside the box. To see the solution, click here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrlJHs6-tpo

Thinking inside the box or seeing something the way we are used to see it, (functional fixedness) is something we are all vulnerable to when we are faced with a problem. Our natural tendency is to try doing more of what we have done in the past. Sometimes it will work again. But very often it won’t. So we try and repeat it louder, faster, harder- still to no avail. Thinking outside the box means to leap into the area of what hasn’t been done before. But in order to get there, we have to become willing to see what we are looking at from a different angle or different lens.

In Dunkers experiments, people were only successful if they could use the box as fair game in their solution, rather than seeing the box as only something that held the contents of the other items. With the 9 dots solution, you have to be willing to draw lines that extend out beyond the boundaries of a box and see the space around the dots as fair game.

To solve problems in your own life you have to become willing to see yourself with a different set of eyes or labels than those you may be most familiar with.

Here is an example. I met with someone the other day who hopes to make a career change into sales. She has a marketing degree. She also worked her way through college as a server in a few restaurants. She said she gets interviews for sales jobs, but keeps getting beat out by people with more sales experience.

I suggested she wedge her foot in the door and begin talking about her sales experiencing rather than apologizing for the lack of it. She looked at me puzzled since she had just told me she didn’t have any.

So I pretended to be her in an interview and said the following as if speaking to a potential employer:

On paper it looks like I don’t have sales experience. But I can tell you that working as a server has given me a ton of sales experience. I have to begin selling the minute I walk up to a table. My attitude and demeanor have to convince the patrons that they want to invest in what is going to be a great experience for them. They may ask my opinion about menu items. I have to be knowledgeable about every item on the menu and have the ability to sell it honestly, whether or not it matches my own personal likes or dislikes. And then I have to try and convince them to buy more than they came in for. And I do it hour after hour.

My client looked at me surprised that it made so much sense to her. She had been seeing sales one way, and I went outside that box.

Do you need to look at your job, or your skills through a new lense?

How about a pathology or illness?

What about your financial state?

Could a significant relationship of yours shift by changing the paradigm through which you label it currently?

Drop me a comment, I’d love to hear your ideas and experiments.

Thanks for stopping by.  I ‘d love it if you pass this on to someone else and suggest they subscribe as well.

Life below the surface

 

 

 

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I took a fairly hard stance when Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose. I tend to be somewhat unsympathetic about stars and drugs. And yet,  I find myself with a mixed reaction to the death of Robin Williams. Actually, it seems incomplete to say the death. It’s more accurate to include the phrase suicide in the death of Robin Williams.

After prolific musical artist Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, Don McClean wrote his classic melody “American Pie”. The chorus lyrics include “the day the music died”.   Given the widespread media coverage on Williams, it seems August 11 is a day many people will associate as the one the laughter died. Although I personally sometimes failed to appreciate his comedic talent, Robin Williams was truly a genius. He was also an outstanding dramatic actor. I wrote a post a while back that I will publish at a later date about his role in Good Will Hunting.

Robin Williams was also a man. One I know little about, other than what he puts in the public eye for us to interpret. He was vocal about his chemical dependence and struggles with depression. And despite what he now has taken away from us to enjoy, the reality is he never owed it to us. It wasn’t ours to keep.

Depression is a complicated thing that we sometimes over simplify. Many people use the word with an almost flippant regard. “Oh that was a depressing movie”. Or, “ I’m so depressed about this”. People that suffer from migraines understand there is an enormous difference between a headache and a migraine. People who have experienced clinical depression understand it is not like the feeling of being “bummed out” or sad.

I was a therapist treating “depression” for a number of years before I fully understood what it was. Or at least my version of it. I have had loss and less than optimal times in my life and always managed to “pick myself up by the boot straps” and move along. Until my 2nd pregnancy that is. I attributed my mood shift to my hormonal havoc, but I experienced a full fledged clinical depression. My intellectual functioning and emotional state simply would not line up. I was happy to be pregnant. I was relieved to be pregnant after nearly a year of trying. But I found it impossible to feel joy, or much of anything beyond a jagged numbness. Fortunately for me, the depression lifted almost immediately after giving birth.

Most of what I recall was the inability to feel motivated to do much of anything. Every action seemed labored and unworthy of the effort it required. The promised payoffs provided little to no incentive. Even my beautiful toddler at the time could not propel me to be excited about anything.

I once had a client who attempted suicide. Her description included a firm awareness that she would take her life at the end of a particular evening. She had dinner with a friend, and reported that, all the while she carried on a normal conversation, she was calmly thinking in her own head “only ___more hours until I kill myself”.

Depression hijacks your brain. The things you want to think, the things others tell you to think don’t have much impact. It’s kind of like the flight attendant yelling at the hijacker “You know, if you just put down that gun and take your seat, we’ll all have a much more enjoyable flight”. The hijacker isn’t interested in what the flight attendant has to say.

Medication is kind of like an Air Marshal. It can step in with authority that none of the other passengers have the skills to use. But even medication doesn’t help everyone. Some hijackers are resistant to even Air Marshals.

Therapy? Yes it helps. But not just the therapy that takes place in someone’s office. Depressed people often find themselves curled up in an emotional ball protecting their vulnerability from the world. Yet, what they most need is to be touched by as many supporting structures as possible. Ironically, the thing they feel least like doing, “talking” is the most helpful during depression. And they need to be “doing”, even if it just begins as going through the motions. At very least, doing, keeps you from drowning in the sea of one’s own negative sense of hopelessness.

Doing allows for the world to be a little larger than the black hole of one’s own depressed mind. And similarly talking provides not only an unburdening, but also a way to feel some sense of another person’s non depressed energy to remember what it feels like, during times you feel zapped of vitality. It can also be a way to see one’s value as worth more than a depressed person might be able to conjure up on their own.

Part of the dilemma however, is that non depressed people don’t usually want to hang out for very long with depressed people. This is usually painfully obvious to the depressed. And so Instead of seeking contact, they are more likely to retreat behind a façade or to their private hell where they can suffer silently.

Being with a depressed person doesn’t require us to solve their problems. Nor, does it require us to take their problems on as our own. More often than not, it harkens us to just be there in that space with them for a few moments without judgment or insistence that they change. Think of it as providing just one glass of water on a long path for a weary traveler. You don’t have to be an endless fountain and quench all of their thirst, simply provide enough for that leg of the journey. The traveler may still elect to end their journey prematurely, but they will do so with the knowledge that someone tolerated them as they truly are before they leave.  Sometimes that is the most needed and effective gift we can provide to another human.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  I’d love to hear your comments.  If you found this helpful, please pass it on and suggest someone you know subscribe.  Until next time- Take Care

 

Purple Cows

 

 

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I’d rather be a purple cow

I like Seth Godin. He is a quirky guy with great ideas, which are also sometimes quirky. Recently, I watched a TED talk of his and he used the example of working to find a business that is a purple cow. His point was that when we drive down the road, we see a bunch of cows, no one ever says “Hey, a cow”. But if we drove down the road and saw a purple cow, that would stand out and we might say “Hey there is a purple cow!”

I think Seth Godin is a purple cow. He is bald and wears funny glasses, and his style makes him stand out in such a way that, usually causes me to notice him even before he speaks. But his speaking as a marketing guru is worth noting as well. Through a blog, podcasts and several published books, he coaches people in business to, break outside the status quo and do something no one else had done. Smart.

But as usual, it got my mind wandering. And it wandered to the nursery rhyme you might remember:

I never saw a purple cow

I hope I never see one

But if I saw a purple cow

I’d rather see than be one.

I love nursery rhymes and children’s books, and often find them to have some of the most sage wisdom.   But I actually inaccurately remembered this one the first time around. I transposed the last line to:

I’d rather be than see one.

And I’m sticking with it.

I don’t work with people every day to help them figure out how to develop a purple cow like Godin does. But as a therapist, I do often work with people who need to realize that I believe is their innate ability to be a purple cow, a green or horse, or whatever suits their fancy.

The dilemma for most people is that they too aren’t used to seeing purple cows and instead work to keep their color under wraps in order to fit in with all of the other cows.

In a recent blog (uniquely you) I talked about the importance of authenticity. If you are really a purple cow and you’ve made yourself brown or black, it’s hard to be authentic.

What is something you secretly always wished you had done? I’m not talking about the bucket list here. I’m talking about those things that you wanted to do, but felt you might not be good enough for. Or worse still, someone else thought you weren’t good enough?

How can you produce anything different if you keep your mind in the same small box that everyone else keeps theirs in? If you only play where the other cows play, eat the same food, rest at the same time, it’s hard to stand out.

To be a purple cow, means to think about what “I want” before seeing what everyone else is about to order. It doesn’t mean to become a narcissist and disregard everyone else’s wishes. It means simply to value your own separateness in conjunction with theirs.

To be a purple cow means not worrying who is looking at you, judging you. And it especially means to not worry about it even before you arrive somewhere by trying to anticipate their judgment. It means to wear what makes you feel fabulous.

Being a purple cow means to have your own feelings, rather than have them dictated by the group consensus.

Being a purple cow means to stand firm in your convictions.

Most of all, being a purple cow means to invest in the art of introspection to know yourself well enough to appreciate and value you.

Thanks for reading. I always appreciate your time and hope you’ll leave me a comment. If you like what you heard, please pass it on to someone else. Until next time. Take good care

How to make people happy by disappointing them

 

 

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In another life I had a job very different from what I do now. I worked in the corporate office for a retail chain. Basically, once the buyer made a purchase of goods, my job was to allocate how much of that purchase went to each specific store.

Different types of commodities used different criteria for determining what, was an appropriate level of inventory to carry. If there was a new toy for the season, the goal was to have as much of it as possible on the shelves. The demand was high, and supply was usually low, so buyers tried to purchase as much as they could to keep product filling the shelves as quickly as it arrived.

In contrast, an item in health and beauty department only expected to be about 95% in stock. That means for every 100 customers who came in to purchase a bottle of aspirin, the store expected to only satisfy 95 of them, and willingly considered it a benefit rather than a problem, to disappoint 5 customers. I hope you weren’t one of them with a headache who left empty handed.

So why does a store deliberately want to disappoint its customers? 5 of them in this case? Because in order to maintain 100% in stock on the shelves, there has to be a constant flow of merchandise. Some has to be on order, more in transit to the warehouse, more sitting in the back stock room, and then finally enough to fill the shelves. That is an enormous amount of dollars tied up to carry enough inventory to ensure the 100% outcome, especially on items that, the store might only make small margins. Therefore, it’s too costly, to try and sell to 100% satisfaction.

I bet you all have the headache now because you didn’t come to my blog looking for an explanation of aspirin sales. But this strategy is quite applicable in everyday life.

Any mom’s out there who are trying to fill 100% of the needs of their family, only to become exhausted and “out of stock” to manage their own health issues?

Any employees out there who are giving 100% plus to their job, and then disappoint their kids or husband because they are depleted?

Any individuals out there who are giving 100% to some aspect of their self, perhaps their appearance and then find themselves “bankrupt” on another area of their lives like financial stability?

Sometimes the cost of delivering a flawless performance is simply not worth the price. Not too long ago Tom Hanks went public with the fact that, he is now a Type 2 diabetic. He attributed this development in part, to his having gained and lost, in some cases significant amounts of weight. For his role in Castaway he lost 60 lbs. and gained 30 for his role of the coach in A league of Their Own. Oscars apparently do not have a positive benefit on blood sugar.

So my aspirin selling company had figured out that it was better to tick some folks off but a bit, in order to satisfy the greater number of customers. Doing so allowed them to make a profit, and thus stay in business to fulfill far more purchasing needs than aspirin. People with headaches stayed loyal in other ways.

And the likelihood is that the people who only came to buy aspirin, were disappointed and left vowing never to return were probably not worth having as customers anyway.

Are there relationships that you are afraid if you let them down in some small way, the relationship would disappear? Maybe your “customers” are more loyal and resilient than you give them credit for. And if they aren’t, again, they may not be worth having because of what they are actually costing you.

Today is a great day to assess your inventory reserves and see where you may be spending too many energy dollars to keep them available to others.

 

I’d love to hear your comments, but you’ll need to go back to the website to post them. Here’s the link

http://www.drmaryphd.com/blog

 

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Til next time… Take care

 

 

Uniquely Yours

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Today I have another book recommendation for you.  It’s called “The Art of Being Unmistakable” by Srinvas Rao.

The book is currently only available as an E-book, and I purchased it through Kindle. It’s a short, but helpful little book.  I’m going to give you four excerpts to give you a sense of what the book has to offer, each followed with my own commentary. Please keep in mind that these are notes I highlighted out of context of course.  They aren’t sequential and go together only to the extent that they all come from the same book.

 

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

You have to go to another level, new energy, change the paradigm, maybe even do something that doesn’t make sense to find a solution.

Obsession with crossing off the checkboxes of society’s life plan leads to little other than therapy, midlife crises, and depression.

The boxes are determined from the outside rather than the inside. It’s unlikely the inside can feel authentic satisfaction by completing the checks. To use a food metaphor, it’s like having someone on the outside determine what they think YOU are hungry for. If you are past the age of 2, that’s only something you can determine accurately.

3Let’s say you want to be an artist of some sort and for the next 100 days you sit on your ass in front of the television.  Well that’s a completely different direction than the one your dream is pointing you in.  But if you have the habit of sketching, drawing, doodling something every single day and correcting your course just a tiny bit during each step along the way, you’ll eventually end up at your destination.

Check back to my earlier post called Do One Thing- every step towards your goal gets you closer. Some days you can walk further than others.

 

If you planted a tree, would it make any sense to keep digging up the roots to make sure it was growing?  You water it and have a bit of faith that it will grow.

Checking your bank account every day, your email every 10 seconds, waiting for the phone to ring are all examples of letting anxiety drive the process instead of expecting something to work. How might that energy be expended if you relied on faith instead?

 

So what is this book about?  Inspiration to become authentic.  It’s a dare to break the chains one might be living under, imposed by self, or other, or community kind of book. Rao suggests you instead charter a new path dictated by the need to be one’s self rather than by a picture of what the self should be.   The book is written by a blogger and quotes other bloggers.  This may be a little distracting if you aren’t or don’t want to become a blogger.  Ignore that.  The information is equally applicable to other careers and goals as well.  Its primary theme is cultivating your willingness to follow your own beat.

I keep a book on my bookshelf called “Giraffe’s Can’t Dance”. It’s a children’s book full of similar though simpler wisdom.  Basically, anyone can dance if they find the right music.  Rao’s book is an invitation to stop listening to familiar music and find something you genuinely like, even if no one else does.  Make it yours, so that everyone who hears the tune will remember it and associate it with you.

If you like today’s post, please pass it on to someone else and invite them to subscribe as well.  As always, I appreciate your time in reading and comments.

 

 

 

Butterflies are Free

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I often say that you just never know when and where guidance will come from. But I never expected it to come from Ashton Kutcher. Well, actually Ashton was the messenger, but the real wisdom comes from Steve Jobs. Let me clarify.

A couple of months ago Ashton quoted a little piece from his movie in which he plays the role of Steve Jobs. So, Kutcher was accepting an award and he offered advice to his young audience he attributed to Steve Jobs.   By the way, The Jobs movie is surprisingly worth watching, but if you want the short cut version of Kutcher’s speech, this link will take you there.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fT-jbMHbiwk

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

 

It prompts these kinds of thoughts for me.

How much depression is caused by the exhaustion of holding all of your potential locked inside? Or from trying to fit into a life that someone else decided the rules for?

How did the guy who decided to make a bunch of money picking up dog poop in other people’s yards deal with all the people that laughed at him when he came up with the idea?

Who stands to lose the most if you stop following all of the rules inside your head?

How would we be traveling today if Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers and others followed the status quo and did things the way they were familiar with? The ways people understood. The way people before them told them it was supposed to be.

What is the price you are willing to pay to color outside the lines and take a path or a project that no one else has thought of?

These are not questions to run through quickly. They require time to let you mull them around. But if you were willing to let yourself do something that doesn’t already exist, how might you change the world?

Changing the world doesn’t have to mean the whole world. It doesn’t mean your city, your neighborhood, or even your whole family. It just has to begin with you.

Have you heard of the Butterfly effect? I’m not talking about the movie, which ironically stars Ashton Kutcher. I am talking about a concept in chaos theory that took its name originally from a short story written in 1952 by Ray Bradbury. It’s called “A Sound of Thunder”. I won’t detail that story here because you can find it pretty easily online, or let me know if you can’t.   But the bottom line is that changing one small thing can have dramatic impact on much larger systems.

 

Translated it means making a change in the way you are “supposed to live as defined by others” to living in a way fueled by your own unleashed creativity can change things for years to come.

Admittedly, the world probably won’t be changed on its axis because you paint the walls in your house purple instead of white.

But someone one day, someone sounding crazy said “hey, I think we can talk to people all over the world instantaneously through electronic mediums. “ Another crazy sounding person said we could send a space ship to the moon.

Do you have some “crazy” ideas that you need to unleash?

So the next time you see a butterfly, remember it can change the world. And you are free to as well.

 

 

 

not all who wander are lost- but some of us do need directions

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I used to be a somewhat serious student of yoga. I realize that some of you who know me may find this hard to believe, but it’s actually true. One of the things I most appreciated about yoga was a lesson I learned not about a particular posture, but about the philosophy of yoga. Rather, that yoga IS in and of itself a philosophy.

When you put your body into some contorted posture, you are purposefully (with intention) causing your body to have stress or tension. You hold that tension to increase your awareness of the tension and notice the nuances of your muscles under that stress. (which if you’re out of shape like I am these days, doesn’t take long for that awareness to become front and center in your brain).

Once you have established that the only thing you can now think about is that your are experiencing that tension, the next step is to round up all of your internal resources to try and calm the tension. THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE RELEASING THE POSTURE. At least not yet.

It means you use your focus and your breath in harmony to try and ease the tension. For example, you might try and inhale the image of a soothing light into the tension, and exhale away pain. Use whatever imagery or thoughts work for you keeping the goal of making your breath the power or the tool of your brain to ease your discomfort. Stay in the moment of what is happening in your body right now and deal with only that.

When either you’ve gone as far as you can, or you’ve had some success, release the posture. If you didn’t achieve your goal, try it again later, but try to go a little longer than you did before.

So that is what you do in Yoga on the mat.

But as a philosophy, you have to take the yoga off the mat and it works something like this:

I’m standing in a long line at the grocery store. Or let’s up the stakes a bit. I’m standing in a long line at Hobby Lobby. The tension is mounting. I’m thinking I need to get home, I have stuff to do. I fold my arms across my chest and jut my hip out to one side to indicate to all around me that I am not happy to be sitting in this line once again. My face shows frustration.

Time for yoga.

No it does not mean to drop my packages and go into a tree pose or a downward dog.

But what is happening in that moment is that I’ve left the line. I’m thinking about where I want to be next rather than where I am right now and what is happening as a result of where I am right now.

So to start yoga (philosophy) at this point, I first need to relax my body a little. Uncross the arms, stand up straight.

And then, just like above, I start using my breath to go in and heal any remaining tension. I focus on where I am right here right now.

The magic of focusing on your breath is this: You cannot think of two things simultaneously. When you are focused on the breath, you can’t think about tonight’s dinner or the clothes you left in the washer or how bad traffic is going to be. Those are “not here”. The breath is “here”.

Why is it important to be “here” over being “not here”. Because regardless of where your brain wanders, your body remains “here”. And if you don’t attend to it with the presence of your brain, you leave yourself at risk. It’s kind of like a headless man running around trying to find his way around a crowded room.

When you stay present with your mind, you keep your “head on” making it much easier to navigate which direction you are trying to go towards. You can address the obstacles that come into view in real time, rather than having to deal with the after effects caused by bumping into stuff you didn’t plan on. Think of it like this, You are walking in a room with awareness and you notice the rug is crumpled. Because of the awareness, you notice the crumple, and walk around it or bend down and straighten it out before passing. Without the awareness (because you are instead thinking about where you are ultimately going), you trip over the rug, fall and hit your head. Now you have to stop, prolonging your journey and attend to the bump on your head.

In the next blog I’ll extend this to meditation. And let me tease you by saying that I have always thought probably far worse and boring things about meditation than you might conjure up at its very mention. So try and keep an open mind and check back for Sunday’s post. I promise no caffeine will be necessary to keep you awake through it and you won’t be asked to sit on a small cushion for 3 hours chanting “om”

 

 

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle
– This blog is a little more for folks on the coaching side, although frankly I think its useful for anyone.
I’d like to introduce you to Simon Sinek. Simon is a human motivation author. His TED talk regarding the Golden Circle is one of the most watched TED talks to date. But before I go further, let me not assume everyone knows what a TED talk is.
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. It is a series of talks 15-30 minutes long that are available on the internet for anyone to watch. They come from diverse industries and disciplines. You can also access the free TED app on a smart phone and be notified when a new talk is posted.
So back to Simon and the Golden Circle. Simon takes you on a journey to understand the different motivations of individuals when they try to attain a goal. According to his theory, most people start with what they want to do and how they are going to do it, but can’t always articulate why. Sinek says that truly successful individuals/companies start with Why. He says people buy why you do something.  (Buying doesn’t simply mean a purchase, but also includes, getting on board with what you feel is important).

For me personally, I loved this concept because understanding WHY I am a therapist is pretty easy for me to think about. I’m curious about people and the processes we use. I love the stories and the meanings of the stories people use to navigate their lives. I believe my primary role as a therapist is to interpret those stories, sometimes to add in new context or change the timing. And ultimately to help my clients to feel like they are their own authors, have a sense of agency, rather than simply playing a role that someone else has written for them.

I’ll let Sinek convince you-  the link for that video is here: (Click on the words The golden circle).

The Golden Circle

Do One Thing

for an audio version of this post, click on the link below- if you are listening on a smartphone, you may have to scroll to the end of the post and look for the sound icon

Do One Thing

Today I have a challenge for you. To start with, I want you to think of an area in your life that you want to make some improvement in, or a goal you have that you hope to achieve. It can be big or small. Take a minute to think about that and write it down.

Got it?

Okay, let’s pretend that the item you chose was you want to get in better shape. Yes, I went for the easy one, but it could be get another job, be a better parent, increase your flexibility, start a foundation or a million other things.

Now I’m going to tell you a story.

When I was first learning to knit, I began by making a scarf. And I made enough scarves to warm the homeless in St. Louis. Everyone I knew got a scarf. I wanted to branch out, but I didn’t know how. Actually, I did know how, because regardless of what one is knitting, there are only 2 stitches- knit and purl. What changes the end product is the way you combine those two stiches and nothing more. But I didn’t realize that at the time.

So I went to the yarn store one day and I began conversing with the shop owner while I was completing my purchase of more yarn to make more scarves. I mentioned that I wanted to make a hat, had even purchased the supplies for a hat, but had not begun the project. She asked me why. I told her it was because I didn’t know how to read a pattern. She chuckled and gave me the following advice:

“That’s not how this works. You don’t have to know how to read a whole pattern. You just have to cast on {the first stitch} and do the first thing it tells you. After that, you do the next thing and so on. And if you get stuck, we’ll help you.”

You just never know where and when you will get the most guidance about life in general. Keeping your eyes and ears open for wisdom makes it a lot easier.

So, back to your goal.

You want to get in shape-

What is the first thing?

Is it making a plan, buying some shorts you can move in, or sneakers? Is it joining a gym? How about better defining the goal? I’d like to lose 10 lbs vs I’d like to be able to strengthen my back?

Once you have a clear idea of the goal- what is the FIRST thing you need to do? Or what is the first thing you are WILLING to do. Sometimes they aren’t the same thing.

Now that you have that first step- its time to cast on or begin.

And now for the challenge:

Commit to YOURSELF that you will do ONE THING towards that goal every day.

Knitting works like this. Rarely do you complete a project in one day. It’s a series of knitting stitches that cling together to make a row. Rows stack upon themselves to make a section. Sections add up to make a finished product.

Buying shorts, then tennis shoes, determining a route, scoping out the route, walking ¼ of the route, then ½ then ¾ and so on adds up.

You are free to do more than one thing each day. But commit to one. And when you execute that one- say it out loud. “I did _____ today. Yay me.

I’d love to know what you come up with. And I’d love to know how its going for you. You might even get a “yay you” on this blog.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Lao-tzu

The first step is you have to say that you can.

Will Smith

 

Burning the boats part 3

Time to get practical.

This is the third and final part of my burning the boats post- at least in this phase.
1. Identify the treasure
2. Identify what is in the way of the treasure
3. Develop a commitment to get rid of what is in the way

But how do you actually do that?
So, let’s use my example of writing.
I know I want to write. Something that is publishable. That’s my treasure
What’s in the way of the treasure?
-anything I do instead of writing. Now of course I have responsibilities that have to be fulfilled. But, there are lots of other activities that I can spend time doing instead of using the time for writing. Any of those items could be considered obstacles for the treasure.
-fear could be an obstacle
Getting the idea?

Developing a commitment to get rid of what’s in the way:

I could
-make a writing schedule- agree to write 3 pages every day
-write every morning for one hour
-hire a writing coach
-submit an abstract that if accepted would make me required to finish the article
-commit to not participate in other activities unless my writing commitment was fulfilled for the day
-tell someone who would help me with accountability about a writing goal

Again, these are just some ideas to use as examples. Your boats are different than mine. By now, hopefully you are starting to take a look at things you may be thinking about doing, but haven’t gotten started. Today is a great day to take a risk!

iphone apps

Today i’d like to suggest two apps for iPhone/ipad I suspect they are available in android as well.

The first one is  IthoughtsHD.  This is a great little tool that I use on my Ipad-  It is super for someone who has a big project and the thoughts feel very scattered.  It is a mind mapping tool.  The way to use it is to start on one section  and then let it take shape like a spider web linking everything together.  It makes sense once you start to use it.

The other really cool part about this app is that you can email parts of it to yourself and it comes out like a “to do” list in bullet point format.

mindmap

 

 

 

 

The second app is great for budgeting.  With the popularity of Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University, many people are back to using the tried and true “envelope” system for budgeting.  Only this is the updated- at your fingertips on your phone version.  I personally use this to keep track of certain areas that I want to be mindful of my spending…. like my crafting budget 😉

envelope

 

 

 

 

Hope you find these helpful!