Tag Archives: changing course

Freedom and modern day slavery

 

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Perhaps I’ll start again- time will tell.  I love to write in this blog, and yet a million other things call my attention away from doing so.  And that is part of what prompts this post.

Let me start before the actual content in saying that this is not in any way intended to be a political blog, and would appreciate there not be any comments of the same.  Politics is a very volatile subject these days and I prefer to keep that out of my therapeutic realm.  I also want to state clearly that my use of slave and its derivatives that follow are in no way intended as a comparison to historical slavery.

So today is the Fourth of July.  It’s our national celebration of our freedom from the British.  We have pool parties, eat good food, watch fireworks and socialize.  Perhaps we fly our flag and spend a few minutes thinking patriotic thoughts.  We celebrate what it means to be free.

But despite my own recent efforts with some points in the win column, I am aware of how easy  and prevalent it has become for us to enslave ourselves.  We become slaves to our jobs, our commitments, our homes, our families, cultural trends and while the list can go on, most of all, slaves to our fears.

Words that define slave:  owned by another, works excessively hard, forced to obey.  Certainly my assertion doesn’t meet that definition in the literal sense.  And yet, I see people every day (and sometimes myself) working very hard to meet the demands of someone or something that is not me.  An “other” be it a job one stays late to work at when they wish they were with their family.  A socially inspired trend that requires spending outside of one’s comfortable budget.  A body that is punished beyond reasonable limits in order to maintain a culturally identified ideal.

But unlike true slaves, we do this however unknowingly by choice.  We put ourselves in the small box like prisons of behaviors and repeat them day after day both because they are familiar and because they are so often unexamined.  This jail has no lock on the door, but we so often go years before we wander over and give it a tug and discover we could have walked out all along.

Fear is perhaps the most insidious of our masters.  It keeps us faithful and in check.  So often, our fears began a very long time ago and are tied to circumstances that no longer exist.  Yet our actions which support them continue to persist.

So today is Independence Day.  Brave people of long ago and soldiers still today die for our right to be free.  Are you brave enough to light a sparkler to begin your own emancipation today?  Here is a quote I recently came across:

One of the  most courageous decisions you’ll ever make

Is to finally let go

 of what is hurting your heart and soul

Bridgette Nicole

 

If The Shoe Fits

A number of years ago a woman came into see me because she was incredibly frustrated with her husband.  She sat down and began telling me that her husband recently told her she was crazy!  She obviously found this very hurtful.  I agreed and asked her to provide some context.

She went on to explain that they had been eating dinner at home.  When he finished his meal he pushed his plate forward a bit, stood up from his chair and began to leave the table.  She quickly told him that he needed to put his plate in the sink and that is when he told her she was crazy.

I asked her if this was an unusual act for him and if he normally put his own plate in the sink.  She quickly responded saying “NO! That’s the problem.  For twenty years he has been leaving his plate on the table for me to put it away.  But on that night I had had enough and told him he needed to do it himself.  And that is when he told me I was crazy!”

I looked at her and told her she was crazy!

I’m not usually so blunt, but this was so blatant, and yet she was unable to see what was happening.  For 20 years she had been teaching her husband that she would take care of his plate.  She may not have liked doing it; she may have thought it unfair, but she was actively maintaining an expectation for 20 years.  And then one day she changed the rules and became angry with HIM for not jumping on board when she changed her expectations and his.  She never considered the possibility that he may have some surprise, much less aversion to the new rule.

Everybody knows that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of crazy.  But another definition is abruptly changing the rule that you have personally contributed to designing and maintaining.  So is expecting everyone else to acquire the same level of motivation and commitment for that change by osmosis.

I am seeing a number of women in particular right now who seem to be struggling with getting their husbands to accept new rules because dynamics have changed for these women.  Some have gone back to work, others have started a family.  In some cases these women have simply matured in their needs. As they get more pressured for time, or simply grown tired of continuing to do for their husbands what they may have eagerly signed up for in the past, they want their husband to “want to change” in the way their wives want them to change.  What many women (and some men as well) fail to consider is that their partner was in part attracted to them because of the very behaviors they now want to abolish.  Imagine that you go to a store that gives you free stuff for years.  You love the store until one day they say no more free stuff, and let you know that you are greedy because you keep coming in and expecting them to continue the practice.  Maybe the store has a very good reason, like it can’t make a profit by giving away free stuff anymore.  Regardless of the rationale, you’re likely to feel a bit cheated or at very least surprised by the change in policy.  (If you want proof, talk to someone who is this week absorbing the new Starbucks rewards policy!)

At the start of this type of discussion with me, a woman usually wants me to help her figure out how to get her husband to change.  It doesn’t take long for me to help her understand that the only one who she is capable of changing is herself.

I’ve made this discussion gender biased for the sake of expedience, but the reality is that the dilemma is gender neutral.  We all begin teaching others what our rules for engagement are from our very first meeting.  If a pattern is embedded in our relationship that no longer works for us, it is up to us to take responsibility for how it began.  Our partners (romantic or otherwise) can always introduce a behavior to us, but we are the ones who give it permission to stay in place by what we do in response to the introduction.  When we make room for it to stay, stay it will.  And when we are the initiators of a behavior because we want the other person to think about us in a particular way, then we alone are the ones responsible for maintaining that behavior.  We are responsible for coming come clean about our motives and make recommendations openly and honestly about having changed our willingness to continue the practice.  We also have to be willing to accept the consequences of changing expectations for both us and our partner.  If I have always been willing to work overtime off the clock because I wanted my boss to think I’m a great employee and I elect to stop that one day, my boss may change his opinion of me, or even worse.  I have to be willing to accept that possibility.

How about taking a look at some of the patterns that, you may be less than thrilled with in your relationships?  Can you identify how you either initiated them or made them possible to stick by your behavior?

The young, the old and the truth

Last weekend we went to visit my father in law who is now in an assisted living facility.   Our son Andrew took along his cello and played a mini concert for the residents just before their lunch.  Now that my father in law has been living  there a few months, my sister in law Cristie has become a staple in their community as well.  She introduced us to all of the other residents, clearly knowing them each by name and story.

In Tuesday’s with Morrie, there is a point in which Morrie realizing his condition has deteriorated to the stage where he now needs help in the bathroom to wipe himself.  He says to Mitch that we come into the world needing help wiping and we go out the same way.  The only difference in between is that we have the illusion that we don’t need the help.  The point is we all need relationships including those where we are vulnerable.

Morrie’s wisdom came back to me again this weekend as I watched the residents.  While I’m a proud mother, I realize objectively that Andrew is not playing at the level that should have garnered the excitement and praise he received from the residents.  But like little children excited about someone dressed up in a dinosaur costume, the residents were delighted by Andrew’s performance.  And I don’t think it’s because they are losing their faculties and lost the ability to discern.  It’s because they are now not encumbered with all of the gazillion tasks that those of us in between childhood and aging call life.  We are focused on getting the dog to the vet, cleaning the house, mowing the grass, getting our nails done and working to support all of those privileges.  So often, we prioritize these tasks over relationship.  And more often, we complete them to show we are competent, and sufficient without the help of others.

Younger people see old people as a group different from themselves.  Older people see themselves as the same as they always were.  They know their bodies have aged and they may perhaps even feel a bit wiser, and possibly more content.  But they don’t see themselves as “old”.  More specifically, they include an identity of the young men or women who hung out with friends, danced at parties, liked a particular kind of music.  They reminisce about the things they once did not as something long ago forgotten, but as a part of themselves they still know, and more importantly part of themselves they still want to know. 

I watched the residents form into social groups over the course of the visit and remember similar observations from when my own mother was in a nursing home.  The women still group together in little clicks.  They talk about relationships, updating each other on who is who and what “who” is doing now.  The men are more likely to couple of in pairs or remain single.  They watch TV or read.  But if you look at the same gender distribution of a gathering of younger people, you would probably see similar patterns. 

A little later in the weekend Bens father asked my brother in law about a recent handy man project they had previously discussed.  My father in law wanted to know where his bucket of tools was so he could join right in.  The reality is that his bucket has been gone for some time; it was sold with his house.  But in his mind, he still sees himself as capable, ready to grab a screwdriver and do what he has always done when the need arose.  He wanted to put into motion the feeling he has in his mind’s eye.  He sees himself not as a man hanging out in a “home” until he dies.  He sees himself as productive, useful and resourceful and still important to his son in law.

Children make a picture with their hands and they too feel productive.  And most of the time, we encourage these feelings through our praise.  We hang the picture on our refrigerator and say good job. 

But in the middle of our lives we have the illusion that we have only so much time to “get it right or get it done”.  We rarely stop to recognize that we are the same as we were as children.   We need the same encouragement and permission to allow relationships to take precedence over accomplishment.   We ignore this fact out of fear that our significance will fade into old age where we will be relegated to the home of productive lives passed.  We defend against the fear that our vulnerability might be exposed.

Perhaps the alternative lies in seeing ourselves less as separate entities that shift from one stage to the next measured by our achievements and milestones.  Perhaps there is value in retaining the child and younger parts of ourselves in our current states.  Doing so would surely increase our vulnerabilities, but it would also afford us a proportionate amount of authenticity.

The circle of life

No blog last week because I was on vacation.  My family and I went to Disney World once again. I can’t remember which number trip this was, but it’s been a lot over the last 10 years.  Neither Ben nor I had ever gone to Disney as kids, but we took our sons in 2005 as the first time for all of us.  It was Disney’s 50th anniversary, the year of magic or some cute slogan to announce the wonderful new array of changes.  We had a blast on that first trip which began our Disney love story.

After that we went a few more times, mostly enjoying each of them.  There was a point in which I noticed that we would start to move towards a particular familiar ride and my oldest son would say “nah, I’ll ride it next time”.  That’s when I began to realize we were going too frequently and the boys had begun to take the privilege for granted.  We stopped going for a few years.  Last fall we planned a trip and the boys decided working on their grades wasn’t important to them.  Much to their chagrin, we cancelled the trip about 2 weeks out.  So this spring break adventure was the follow through of a carrot we used to encourage their academic efforts.

We knew in advance of going this time that, there have been some changes at Disney.  For the first time ever in my adventures there are Starbucks at the parks.  We also got these really cool bracelets in advance that are programmed as your park ticket, your hotel key and for “convenience” your credit card.  We knew that a couple of our favorite rides were down for renovation, yet we boarded the plane with familiar enthusiasm and anticipation.

This experience at Disney however was sadly, not so terrific.  A few months back one of my many brilliant clients commented that there is a life cycle to everything.  His words came back to me quickly as I realized that for us, Disney was now in hospice.  I got my first clue when I entered the hotel room and there wasn’t a towel origami creature on the beds.  I love Disney towel origami and always look forward to the surprise that waits at the end of the day.  I simply noted that it wasn’t there but didn’t see it as a harbinger of things to come.

And come they did.  Another of our favorite rides closed the day we arrived.  Several other rides broke while we were on them.  The park was insanely over crowded not simply because it was spring break, but because with a water park also closed and fewer rides, people crowded to what remained available.  I could lament about a number of other annoying experiences but you can read plenty on some of the blogs about Disney complaints.

But this blog entry is anything but a Disney rant.  My message today is really about the experience as a metaphor of life.  As my client said, everything has a life cycle.  The problem isn’t that Disney is cost cutting at its customers expense.  The problem is that I wanted it to stay the same as it was 10 years ago.  Back then I could better tolerate long walking and lines because the newness and excitement sustained me through frustration.  I wanted it to stay the same as when my children were excited and dazzled by every character and parade buying the magic that Disney was selling.

And speaking of my children, something more important happened on this trip.  Our son Alex, now 16 kept ditching us.  I found it frustrating because it didn’t fit my expectation.  I also found it irritating that he would leave us, and then call me 10 times, insist we come meet him at a location and then essentially ditch us again.  It felt selfish and rude until my mature mind came back online.  I realized that my confused expectations were again at work.  The reason Alex left us is because he is 16, not 4 and he needed to be away from us to do what he wanted to do.  The truth of the matter is that we too needed to be away from him because we wanted to do other things.  At the point that I realized this, the trip became considerably more enjoyable for all of us.  He stopped calling me every 10 minutes, and when we did meet back up he was in a great mood willing to share what he had experienced.  Life had moved further around the circle.  Regardless of what Disney does as a company, the experience has changed as it should and will never be what it once was for us as a family.  But there are other experiences which lie ahead for a family with two young men which will undoubtedly contain a different kind of magic.

Perhaps I would have figured this out sooner in the trip if the “Circle of life” ride at Epcot had not already been closed before our arrival.  Or perhaps I would have thought this through had I not been clinging to my expectations.  But, it’s like the Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  I wasn’t ready until our last day.  And just for the record, I never did make it to any of those Starbucks!

 

Floating in a sea of insecurity

Sixteen years ago I became a mother for the first time.  I was 2 months shy of my own 40th birthday.  Obviously I am a late bloomer.  And 13 years ago I became a mother for the second time.  And so I have enjoyed saying that I am the mom of two kids for quite some time.  But on Friday my youngest son Andrew will turn 13, meaning I will for the last time, be the mother of children and will instead become the mother of teenagers. 

I would be lying if I said it was not bittersweet.  On the one hand I am delighted to watch my boys grow and become people in their own right.  It is fun to have the freedom that comes with the untangling of childhood needs and demands.  We have the luxury of not attending to their every need.  And I miss soft skin; baby smells (the good kinds) and coos.  Even though these have actually been gone for quite some time, there is still a way of defining one’s self that changes with an official transition of stages.  It’s neither cool or welcomed to remind a teenager of the things he did when he was a toddler.

But perhaps more than rearranging the child memories out of the forefront of my brain is the awareness that my own identity is once again cast out onto the open seas, unmoored from the dock of supposed security where I had been storing it for a time.  This is what we do as a people.  We link our identity to some safe haven so that we might know ourselves and have a way of introducing ourselves to others.  The dilemma is, of course, when we delude ourselves into thinking that our identity claim is anything more than arbitrary and or temporary.  I chose the identity of mother of children; some choose more exotic names like executive or entrepreneur, while others go for more personal descriptions like thin or beautiful.  In the end, they are all mere snapshots of who we are, and fleeting.  The only thing constant about our lives is that they change.

I am continuing to learn that genuine peace comes not from finding a more solid identity defined by my current circumstances, but rather increasing my awareness that who “I” am, is in fact, none of these adjectives or roles.  I am “I” who has participated in many of these over the course of my years and will hopefully continue to participate in more still to come.  I am “I” when I was not a mother of any children just as I am “I” today.  “I” is a solid and constant, and is the only thing that is solid and constant.  The lesson is to not get too attached to the ways I try to box “I” in.  It is not the boxing in per se that is the problem, but rather the attachment to the limitations of that box.  In other words, if I only feel present and solid because I am the mother of children, then once they become teens, it will be hard to know how and what to be the next day.  It will also be hard to know what they are the next day as well.  This is the case with folks who experience “empty nest” and depression from other kinds of life transitions like divorce, loss of a job etc.

This is deep, philosophical convoluted and truncated for the sake of space in a way that might not make it very clear.  If you want to do more reading “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer is a good primer.   This is predicated on the strategy of engaging in more eastern rather than western thinking.  In particular, it means to be mindful of not becoming attached to culturally or familial definitions of our self and using those definitions to insist on their legitimacy.  Failing to do so means we forfeit the right to choose anything not on our predefined path, and we require everyone around us to support our identity through their behavior as well.  Unfortunately, they usually don’t receive the script in advance and they keep mixing up the lines.  And when they do, it is us who falters.  We don’t receive the right cues, we get agitated and we become the director who now focuses on everyone around us to get their lines right as we want them performed.   

Nobody wants to work with a diva.  Not in show business, not in life.  No one wants to alter their behavior or their life trajectory so that we can feel safer in our comfortably created little identities.  The alternative is to let ourselves drift as the fleeting souls we actually are and enjoy the waves as they come along.  It means accepting that some will be gentle and some not but neither condition is ours to control or claim.

It started with a penny and turned into a fortune of wealth

 

I met my husband through a personal ad.  Yep,  honest.  Our first face to face meeting was at the St. Louis Science Center.  We met there to watch the movie Everest at the OmniMax.

After enjoying the movie,we walked around a bit and talked.  Okay okay, since it was 17 years ago this month, I can say we walked around and began the process of falling in love.  But while we were there Ben walked over to the squished penny machine and purchased a commemorative Penny.  (Big spender right?).

The next smashed penny we purchased together was at our wedding in Sedona, Arizona.  He made me close my eyes and he guided me over to the machine that he had previously spied.  And since that time we have made a habit of getting a smashed penny on pretty much every adventure.    I don’t know how much money we have spent on smashed penny’s as each one costs .51 cents.  But it’s  been a very wise investment.  Each serves as a reminder not only of the event where we make the purchase, but of the way it all started.  The way building our fortune began.

So let me tell you about our fortune.  Shortly after I had our first son, I was ambivalent about going back to work.  I was concerned that it would be problematic financially if I stayed off for an extended period.  Ben told me at that time in response to my worrying “Mary, we are the wealthiest people I know.”  He was referring of course, to the immense joy that had just come into our lives- a healthy beautiful baby.  We were both healthy, we had a roof over our heads and not much to complain about.  He was right.

Our fortune has continued to grow- both with our second son, and our lives in general.  We have relationships we value, the opportunity to laugh often, and Ben and I are both lucky enough to have work that we both feel passionate about.  Are we lucky?  Sure we are.  And we work at it; somedays more than others.  But more than the presence of any of these gifts, or the absence of any significant tragedy, is the presence of an attitude we both work towards embracing as often as we can.

Whatever is or isn’t we have control only over that, which we think and conclude about, what is and isn’t in our lives.  Every event that occurs is subject to interpretation.  You can feel victimized by events or blessed by them.  It’s always a choice.

Easy to do when the good stuff is happening.  Harder to do when its not.  But growth occurs in BOTH circumstances, and again, good and bad are relative terms, often arbitrarily determined by our own personal filters.  Bad is determined by “I’m not getting things to happen the way I want them to”.  But when we let go of insisting that life result in very precise circumstances as we deem appropriate, we position ourselves to just open up to whatever life actually is.  By removing the pre-determined outcome, we need not be thwarted because something didn’t turn out the way we planned.

This post is redundant if you’ve been reading for a while.  It’s not that I don’t have other things to write about, but rather this is an idea that I feel we all need frequent reminding.  The world is bombarding us minute by minute with the opposite message and so this one is easy to ignore.  Unfortunately, doing so results in our ignoring the tools for creating our own contentment.

I don’t always like Ben and he doesn’t always like me.  The house is often messy, something breaks, I lose my keys.  The kids fight with each other and skip out on their homework.  I don’t think anyone wants to make a reality TV show about us.  We aren’t that interesting.  That said, we are still, as Ben declared “The wealthiest people we know” and it began with one penny.

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.

 

 

Happy Holidays

This is my last entry for the year.  I’ll be back the first week of January.  I just want to wish everyone a joyful holiday season, whatever your faith, including a hopeful new year.

The world is in a precarious state these days.  There is a daily barrage of bad news, potential threats, and looming concerns.  There is also joy, hope, and reasons for gratitude.  Sometimes in the wake of the former, it is difficult to find or focus on the latter.  Regardless of the difficulty, the choice remains ours.

To make the choice in favor of a more pleasant view of life however, is not to try and create a Norman Rockwell painting of upcoming events.  Rather, it means to simply focus on and appreciate what works, rather than to dwell on what does not. 

In his book “Conversations with God”, Neale Donald Walsh explains that we choose relationships based on what part of ourselves we wish to experience.  I would extend that thought as a statement about our lives in general.  What part of ourselves are we wanting to experience when we encircle ourselves with drama, chaos and hardship.  Is it a desire to feel punished, incompetent or inferior?  Is it a desire to see ourselves as a great rescuer?

And by the same token, when we surround ourselves with joy and plenty, are we bringing our self that is capable of richness and connection to God into the mix?  Neither of these questions is a simple yes or no, but are worthy of self-reflection.  What better time to do that than over this holiday season.

Once again, I want you to know how much I appreciate your dedication to reading, and value your feedback more than I can express.

Whatever you choose for this holiday season and the year ahead, I hope that you gain from it the knowledge you seek to make your life the best for you.

 

Happy Holidays

Limitless

There is a new show this year called Limitless.  The premise in case you haven’t seen it, is that an ordinary guy Brian Finch,  takes a pill (NZT) every day which allows him to access every single part of his brain.  This makes him the smartest man alive.  While the pill is active, Brian is capable of figuring out pretty much anything and absorbing endless amounts of information.  This ability makes him quite valuable to the FBI.  The pill does, however, wear off at the end of each day and also has some pretty grave side effects for Brian Finch.

I have a similar pill.  It’s called Google.  But it too, is not perfect or without its side effects.  I can quickly learn about events in history, medication interactions, even how to solve mathematical equations.  The latter is something I couldn’t do before Google with any other kind of aid.  Now I can find a recipe, learn how to wire a wall switch, and find out which movie stars have the highest IQ’s.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  He thought the world was flat.  He and the rest of us were pleasantly surprised to find out it is not.  We didn’t understand the basic endocrinology systems of our bodies until the mid 1900’s. (Society for Endocrinology 1946).  And the calculator wasn’t invented until 1967.  We’ve come a long way in our understanding of how the world works.  Or rather, we believe things about the world and ourselves today that are very different than what we once believed.  But remember, that which we used to believe felt very much as TRUE to us then, as what we currently believe is true now.

We all function on individual systems of truth for things both big and small.  There are some assumptions we operate under because we always have.  We assume they are true because they are familiar or culturally accepted.  It doesn’t require much of our brain cells to operate within these because we are on auto pilot.  But there are others practices we will defend to our death.  We have deemed them true from our vantage point based on information available to us.  It is however, information obtained from only the limited availability of our brain’s capacity.

While our access to information is limited, information itself is not limited.  We can’t possibly acquire it all, which means, we always run the risk of having some part of our argument which, is indefensible. Today I hear a report that wine is bad for me.  Don’t drink wine.  That is true.  Tomorrow I hear a study that wine is good for me.  Drink the wine- that which is true has changed.

I’m not suggesting that we not adhere to truths or fight for them.  I’m merely suggesting that we consider the possibility that our truths are in fact, are just that—ours.  We come by them honestly enough, but so does another person whose truths are different than our own.  When we are compelled to try and change theirs, we expend enormous amounts of energy, often with little if any success to show for the expenditure.

I’m also suggesting that we take the same tactic with ourselves.  Engaging in patterns of behavior that leave us depleted or unfulfilled because we insist that a truth requires us to do so, may deserve a little dose of critical thinking.  Perhaps the information you once used to develop your stance has changed over time and your conclusion needs revisiting.

Statements (or commands) that begin with words such as I must, I should, It would be better if, may be fertile ground for challenging why you do what you do.  While many of these items may in fact, survive the scrutiny, it’s possible that some may not, making it a worthwhile exercise.

I’ll leave you today with a quote from Steve Jobs:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma-which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.  They somehow already know what you truly want to become.  Everything else is secondary,”

Please take a moment to leave me a comment- I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Small Step for man… and Woman

Yesterday I had a session with someone I’ve known for quite some time.  I’ve watched her grow considerably from a few years ago.  I originally met her shortly after the dissolution of her first marriage.  She was young; the marriage had been brief.

She began working on her career, knowing all the while she also hoped to remarry at some point and have a family.  Her career has taken her to places near and far.  Yet, despite her attractiveness both physically and psychologically, she hasn’t met another suitable mate.   She understandably finds this disconcerting.  It’s not that she hasn’t put effort into it, because she has.  Although she has met people potential suitors along the way, none, seems to be suitable.  And in case you’re wondering, she is not being too picky.

I sat with her, wishing I could wave a magic wand and produce a perfect candidate, or at very least look into a crystal ball and tell her when it will happen.  Unfortunately, my wand is broken and my crystal ball is cloudy.  I also cannot resort to some text book prescription that will instruct her on exactly what to do to insure her desires will be fulfilled.

Sometimes there is luck and fate to contend with.

What I did do is ask her “If I could tell you without a doubt that, it’s not going to happen, what would you change in your life?”  I wasn’t attempting to be prophetic or pessimistic.  I was relieved by her answer, which was simply “Nothing”.  And I appreciated that she was certain about it.

I was relieved because it said to me that she wasn’t missing any of her life by waiting until it was “Right” in order to live it well.  She was instead, getting up every day and moving towards the things that she could control.  She had settled on living in a place that made her happy.  She had recently changed jobs to find work she felt more authentically aligned with.  While she would like a mate to join her world, she is no longer looking for one who will build it for her.  She is a smart girl in addition to being beautiful and charming.

Sunday I finally got around to seeing the movie Martian by Andy Weir.  I mentioned the book in a recent blog.  As I was leaving the theater, my friend mentioned to me that Weir had originally self -published the book as blog entries.  Intrigued I looked up more information to better understand the story.

Weir, a computer programmer always had an interest in writing, but took a job in programming to earn a living.  After reaching some financial independence he took time off to try his hand at writing.   According to an article in the Washington Post “His first efforts weren’t very good, as he freely admits. He couldn’t get an agent, much less a publisher. He decided that his childhood ambition of being a professional writer was unrealistic, and he went back to computer programming.”

But he kept writing.  He loved writing and it made him happy.  Eventually, he self-published it on Amazon and it was later picked up by Crown Publishing.  The rest was, as they say, “History”.

 

Many people give up on their dreams when they aren’t validated by the outside world quickly enough.  Weir obviously did not.  My client is continuing to do what makes her happy without any evidence that a book deal is in the works.    And others may wait for the life to feel “right” until after their dreams are sufficiently met by their own standards.  The ideal circumstance is to push towards living the life you want, while experiencing the one you actually have.  It is possible to dream of more and live in what it is currently.

Are there any paths you are waiting to take because someone or the world has not given you a clear map?  Are you living the life you enjoy even if nothing else changes?

Power Struggles 101

When my eldest son Alex was a baby and also when he was a toddler,  he was the easiest child in the world.  He had a period of about two weeks after he turned two,  during which he got somewhat feisty.  My husband and I looked at each other and concluded, “Oh this must be the terrible twos.”  It lasted about two weeks and we thought “Hmm, I guess that’s over with”.  Life went back to easy.

In contrast, our second son had a temper that was obvious from the start. He apparently takes after my side of the family.   I don’t recall a time when Andrew ever went into time out without having to being restrained.  He would rage about it being Monday or any other thought that came to mind.  He would rage for not having a reason to rage. When I tried to discipline him, he would hit me.  Flabbergasted, I would hit him back.  He would hit me harder and I would get a little firmer with my slap back.  Then he would haul off and smack me. And I would…..

Nope- here is where the story changes.  Somehow I knew to pull him in close and put his cheek next to mine and that would almost always calm him down.  Okay, the reality is I knew I could not smack him harder and perhaps out of not knowing what else to do, I tried the cheek thing and it worked so I went with it.

I learned from that strategy something about power struggles which, I try and remember still to this day.  As much as I want to stay engaged and make my point louder than the person I am power struggling with, the smartest and most effective thing I can do is counter intuitive for me in those moments.  It is to try to do nothing or find a way to join them.  I don’t choose this out of defeat, but as a way to keep the ball moving down the field.

Everyone knows the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.  Continuing to engage in the same behavior of whatever I’m doing to keep the struggle active is therefore crazy.  Participating in such a way to enable the other person to keep doing that, which keeps the struggle active is crazy.

Even though I say I try to remembering this, I usually remember it AFTER I’m locked into the power struggle.  Then I remember it and try to implement it.  But the other night I had a cool experience, at least from my point of view.  My eldest son (no longer the easy toddler, but a hormonally charged Aspergian 15 year old boy) asked me for something that he was pretty sure I would say no to.  Of course I said no, as I was prepared for this.   He went to the next level of debate and yours truly said…

“NOTHING!”

Those of you who know me can appreciate the Herculean effort it took to keep my mouth closed.  I just sat there while he looked at me.  A few moments passed and he repeated himself with a bit of a twist in another attempt of engaging me to spar.  I calmly replied that, “I had nothing to add as I had already stated my answer.”  With that my son walked away.

What Alex saw was a resolute, immovable parent that was not going to argue with him and wonder into new topics or pull out my litany of reasons to defend my response.  I must tell you on the inside of me, there was a giddy cheerleader type character high fiving myself that this actually worked.  But once I settled myself down, I realized that it worked because I had ended the crazy power struggle—not by winning, but by refusing to repeat the same behaviors that lock it in place.

One small step for parenting.  One giant leap for my own sanity.

Do you find yourself locked into power struggles with people?  How often do you notice that it’s the same argument over and over?  Is there anything you are willing to do differently without the focus on attempting to change the other person’s behavior?

 

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.

 

 

 

Even the Experts Fall Down

Last night was the final showdown on America’s Got Talent. The little guy who scales the tall ladders is clearly not going to win. Last week he took a nasty tumble off of the high ladder. He was saved on the show,  I suspect somewhat out of curiosity and mostly out of sympathy. Even though he was given another a chance to perform last night, he had a very mediocre showing that can’t possibly win him the grand prize. He did his best, but it turns out he was taken to the hospital last week by ambulance after the show. He obviously sustained some injuries that made it far more difficult for him to perform anything strenuous or risky in his final performance. Unfortunately, that pretty much sealed his fate on the show. He may be a professional, but even professionals fall sometimes. And they fall not just in practice, but during peak performances as well.

I describe myself throughout my life as someone who had a few hard knocks along the way, bummed or sad from time to time, but never as one who was “officially depressed”. Until my second pregnancy that is. I pretty much spent 8 months throwing up daily and in general not having a good time despite the fact that, it took me nearly a year of trying to get pregnant with Andrew. I very much wanted a second child and was elated when it finally happened. It also occurred at a wonderful time in our marriage and while I was enjoying toddler years of my eldest child Alex. However, the pregnancy itself was pretty miserable. And over a few months I became clinically depressed. I found it difficult to do anything except get to work and get home. I had to force myself to find joy in Alex at the time, and often would sit and cry for no apparent reason just to get it out of my system. I remember once watching a movie, putting it on pause, taking a bath and crying in the bathtub and then returning to the movie as if I could finally concentrate.

I spoke with my doctor about it at the time and he suggested I try an anti-depressant. He gave me samples that I brought home but elected not to take. I had hoped to nurse Andrew and the antidepressants would have been a no no. I decided to try and get through the remainder of the pregnancy and then decide but I was certain if I continued to feel the way I did after delivery, I was going to take medication. Lucky for me my mood lifted almost immediately after his birth. I remember having a similar reaction but to a lesser contrast, after my first delivery so I was more relieved than surprised.

But this experience taught me first-hand the difference between I’m unhappy and clinical depression. Since that time, in fact I have gone on medication. It seems that my hormones have a mind of their own and don’t always play nicely in my body. Heading into menopause I again talked with my doctor about my less than optimal mood. I didn’t feel blue that time, but I sure was cranky. Very very cranky even though again, my life on the outside looked pretty good to me. And while I’ve tried a couple of times to wean off medication, I think I’ve finally accepted that my body no longer makes on its one whatever it is supposed to, in order for me to not bite the head off of an inefficient bank teller without the help of a little jolt of Celexa.

So I would say for the most part I’m a pro at this mood thing at least certainly in comparison to my non-medicated (or untrained as the metaphor goes) self. But that said I still have my moments. This past week I had my days. I found myself feeling uncharacteristically blue for a few days. I didn’t want to talk to anyone outside of work. I had little motivation to do anything and subsequently got little done. I didn’t want to hear the radio or a book on tape. Ironically, I had been listening to Dan Harris’s 10 percent happier when it hit. And I slept a lot which is very unusual for me. I scanned my life and feelings to see if there was anything unchecked that might be dragging me down. I considered several possibilities and tried to assess if there was something that I needed to attend to. While my life isn’t perfect, I just couldn’t settle on anything specific that felt particularly out of whack.

So I went with it. I let my husband know that I didn’t think anything was wrong but that I was on a mental time out. I slept more, cleared tasks from my calendar and just tried to be as gentle with myself as I could be. Last night I stayed up ridiculously late and predicted I would pay for it with an even lower mood today. But to my surprise, while I did wake up deprived of enough sleep, my mood has clearly lifted. I am myself today ready to tackle projects and be with people. Apparently somewhere along the way I fell down, but I took time to heal and I’m ready to perform at my best again.

I will fall again. It might not be next week or next month. Perhaps I will fall because of something besides my hormones not working well and I will have to heal by taking action other than just time. What I have learned along the way however is that, when depression grips people, no amount of picking oneself up by the bootstraps can wriggle it loose. It’s kind of like Thor’s hammer. It takes the right arm, not the strongest arm to break it free. (Sorry non Avenger’s fans).

For me, the right arm is self-nurturing and self-care. It means to not beat myself up or push myself to do more than I can during those times. It also means to work harder at finding joy wherever I can and having a well- stocked tool box to choose from. Tools like classical music when I can’t tolerate voices talking at me. It means beading small jewelry projects to have a place I can focus and get a quick sense of the ability to complete something. These are just two examples.

What is in your toolbox? How do you behave with yourself when you fall down? Are you too embarrassed to let yourself acknowledge the injury and get it the treatment it deserves?

how will you Fall

This is an excerpt from the lyrics of “bring him home” from Les Miserables:

The summers die One by one How soon they fly On and on

I heard this the other day and it seems appropriate for this week’s blog. The kids are back in school (although one could doubt that if you note the plethora of TV commercials advocating the purchase of supplies). The pool is closing and college football begins this weekend. All that remains missing is, a nip in the air to set the tone. But even with the anticipated heat this week, it is undeniable that summer 2015 is ready for the memory book.

How did you spend it? Will you remember anything that stands out positively or negatively or will it blur into the stream of “summer memories” that meld into one vague feeling?

If the latter is true, then this is the perfect opportunity to think about welcoming in fall and the holidays ahead. Why not consider doing so with your eyes wide open and your heart ready to experience the days ahead, rather than to endure or conquer them with a checkmark of completion.

Digital cameras have become so prolific that we often take a million images never to look at them again. I’ve been guilty of hoping a photo will save the memory for me instead of taking the time to actually enjoy the experience in the moment. Try going on a family or personal adventure without taking photos. Consider instead imprinting the memory in your mind. Gather all the surrounding stimulus, sights, sound and smells to help cement a vivid film for future retrieval.

Make it a goal to try something outside your normal activities. Break a routine, check out a new path or route. You might consider taking on a new hobby or more importantly, ending some old practices that no longer serve you, but instead nibble away at all of your time. Facebook anyone? Last week a blog reader commented on the time wasted on funny cat videos. A few days later I caught myself watching a loop of something stupid, remembered his comment and immediately stopped myself. Thank you!

Another suggestion is to think about the company you keep. Are you spending the bulk of your time with the people you would most like to have in your life?  The people that you say are important to you? If not, what is keeping you from that fulfillment? Work, play? Other people? This is a great time to take inventory and reflect.

And last, but not least, is your health, or lack thereof, preventing you from truly enjoying your life at this time? Physically or mentally are you either disconnected from your body or your needs that you remain numb, or overwhelmed to the extent that it preoccupies your every waking thought? This would be a great time to awaken to the life that is yours and begin with one single step at a time to make changes towards greater fulfillment.

Here are two more line from the song that I’d like to share. They follow those listed in my opening:

And I am old And will be gone

So before you are, consider putting forth the effort so you will not only know you were here, but will have enjoyed the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Houston, we have an opportunity!

Recently, a couple of sessions have reminded me of the old Apollo 13 movie with Tom Hanks.

The first involves a woman who was feeling the pressure to stay at work later in the evenings in order to get everything she felt needed to be done. She is a consciences worker, and wants to do the tasks necessary to get ahead in her career. She also has small children at home and would like to spend time with them in the evenings.

Another session involves a woman taking care of an elderly relative. When she signed up for this ominous task, the conditions were understood and seemingly manageable. However, unlike the marriage vows of “for better or worse”, her initial agreement did not include a set of variables that have since come in to play. Thus, she now finds herself trying to maintain her original agreement, but under a whole different criteria with far more rigorous constraints.

One of things that always intrigued me when I worked in residential treatment was this: people who had been starving, feeling unable to eat another bite would come into treatment and immediately comply with the nutrition set before them. People who said they couldn’t get through the day without binging came into treatment and the binging ceased. These examples also made me think about Apollo 13.

When Hanks uttered the infamous “Houston we have a problem!”, the ground team began their mission of finding a way to help repair the capsule and bring the crew down to safety. All of the engineers pulled out their slide rules to find a solution. and I remember asking my husband why they didn’t use calculators. He reminded me that the calculator had not yet been invented. While there were some solutions that were readily apparent to the ground team, these were quickly eliminated when they realized the needed supplies were not on board the spacecraft.

Finally, the team replicated all of the supplies that WERE available to the Apollo crew and began to find a solution that could implemented. Ultimately that is what happened and the rest is, of course, history.

So often, we get stuck on a problem because we insist on finding a solution that is dependent upon something that either hasn’t occurred or might never occur. In doing so, we prevent ourselves from moving forward until that variable occurs—meaning we don’t move forward.

Sometimes what we see as a problem is really an opportunity to see the capability we have to creatively look beyond our self-imposed limits and for us to do something differently from where we currently are. Again, this involves a spirit of willingness.

In the example above with eating disorder treatment, the patients who immediately changed their behavior became willing to do something different. Food didn’t instantly become tastier, the sense of fullness did not immediately dissipate. What changed is the elimination of an paradigm in which they felt they couldn’t do those things. The support around these individuals allowed them to sit with the same set of discomfort without feeling overwhelmed while they tried on new behaviors.

I suggested the woman who is missing her children consider looking at her job as having a mandatory, non-negotiable quitting time. Act as if the building will blow up at a certain time and you have to get out. That paradigm shift would encourage her to prioritize the most important tasks that have to get done and to let lesser ones go until the next day.

And the woman taking care of her relative will ultimately have to take stock of what “supplies” she currently has on board, rather than those she wishes she had to insure proper care for her elderly charge. It will mean acknowledging that the original mission has changed and she may no longer be adequately prepared for the new one with which, she has been presented.

None of these are easy solutions. Nor is continuing to beat one’s head against the wall stuck in the rut of the non-productive status quo. The difference however, is that the latter never changes. And in that sense true identification of the problem presents an opportunity for growth and change.

 

Can we talk about sex?

Can we talk about sex?

Yes we most certainly can but we often don’t.

Guys, think about this scenario: -your wife makes you a new dish for dinner and afterwards she asks “How did you like it?” She wants feedback because she wants to know whether she should make it again or change it anyway before she does. You say things like “Needs a little more spice” and “I like this part but not that part”, or “It was totally delicious.” Hopefully you used phrasing that was clear, helpful, complementary and thoughtful of the effort she put into cooking the meal. She, on the other hand, is hopefully receptive to hearing the feedback because she wants to please you. If so, she can take the information you provided into consideration and next time make the meal even more delicious and to your personal liking.

Gals now it’s your turn. Imagine this: You go to your hairdresser and she says what “What would you like?”   Now admittedly there are occasional times when you don’t know and might tell her to surprise you. But more often than not, you have the placement of every curl down to a science.   In fact, you may very well pick up the hairdresser’s tools and show her exactly how you want it done.

 

I have long fantasized about writing a book or at least book chapters with the following titles: the male version would be, You Can Have My Penis But Not My Heart and the woman’s would be, You Can Have My Vagina But Not My Heart.   These titles represent for me the idea that, so often people give up their bodies without really giving to the other, what’s in their heart about what happens to them in terms of emotional satisfaction. More specifically in this blog it refers to the unwillingness to give of one’s desires that will result in satisfaction.

Of course food and hair are not as intimate as sex. On the other hand, food and hair are not as intimate as sex. That wasn’t a typo. The argument is that we don’t want to “talk” about something so intimate… but then why are willing to DO something that is so intimate? It’s easier to talk about things that are less intimate because we may feel shy or even embarrassed or we don’t want to upset the other person. Yet, the idea is, if we are engaging with something so intimate, we should be doing that with someone with whom we feel safe and very close. These are the people we need to trust and believe will trust us, thereby making talking a very safe act.

If we are having intimate relations with someone we believe loves and cares about us, then why would we withhold information that would enable him or her to make that the best experience for us? Similarly, why would we not seek out information from them to increase our confidence insuring our efforts are as close as we can get to providing them with the best experience.

This week, how about taking a risk and starting a conversation or two about S-E-X.

 

 

 

Welcome to my dreams.

Welcome to my dreams

 

A lot of people tell me they don’t remember dreams.   Personally, I think it’s a cultivated skill. I have always found my dreams to be rather instructive throughout my life and I have had a handful of recurring ones. Today I’d like to share one of those with you.

I find myself in high school. Usually in this dream I return to a high school reminiscent of my own or the community college, but last night I was actually in my son’s high school. It feels overwhelming. The kids there are nice enough to me, but I can’t get with the schedule. I keep getting lost while trying to navigate the various buildings and I can’t remember where my locker is or which class to go to next. Finally, I look around and say “I’m not doing this anymore. I already have a Ph.D.” Specifically in last night’s dream I went to the office and spoke to the principal. She said “Sure, you can quit, but there are certain types of jobs you won’t be able to get without your high school diploma.” She described the jobs to me and none of them were things I would ever want to do, so I left and never went back.

Now in real life, I did finish high school. But I finished at the semester rather than the full year. And I had just told that story recently which, most likely prompted the activity in my sleep. At various points in life that dream has meant different things to me. But last night’s version is, I think, the result of my contemplating something for someone else. Actually, for three someone elses: 3 women I am currently seeing in my practice.

Here is a quick vignette:

D- a very successful woman in the business world. She can pretty much count on getting 90% of the jobs she interviews for. In her last position, she worked 70 hours a week, and had to replace 75% of the team she inherited in under a year. Her CEO recently joined her on a sales pitch to a customer that if awarded would have raised her team performance considerably. The day after the sales meeting, without any indication of the customer’s decision, D was unceremoniously let go. She was told “It wasn’t enough.”

S- Another superstar. For her last position, she was courted by the employer. They stole her away from a competing company by promising the moon. They didn’t even know where to put her in their organization they just knew they had to have her. She joined them. Two years later, they still didn’t know where to put her. She never had an opportunity to shine at anything, because it was never really clear what she was supposed to be doing. She often felt like she was overlapping with others in their responsibilities, and they didn’t seem all that thrilled about the intrusion. Finally, the director told her he had made a mistake and they were eliminating her position.

N- Worked in a major institution for 20 plus years. She was the darling of the team. She was thorough and reliable. Not only did N do a great job logistically, but she was deeply committed to the people she served. N was called in to human resources and terminated without warning. Their reason: they claim N did not clock out before going to lunch. N often worked long after she clocked out in the evening in order to get her job done. She would never have gone to lunch on company time.  She was never asked about the incident at the time it supposedly occurred or given a chance to prove her case.

I heard each of these stories in about a two week time span which helped link them together in my mind.

In her discussions about entering the “dark night of a spiritual journey”, Caroline Myss says that anything that stands in your way will be removed for you by the universe. I don’t know if that was the case for any of these women, but I do know that each of them had been unhappy in their jobs and was thinking of leaving, but neither was sure what their next step would be. One could argue that their unhappiness produced substandard work which prompted their terminations. I know that was not the case with any of them however, as they are all hard working women with considerable integrity.

I think my dream was my own minds processing that these stories. For me, they are examples of being in a role that isn’t really right, but doing it because you think you are supposed to fulfill someone else’s rules for you. My declaration that I had a Ph.D. to the other students was a way to say, “I’m not supposed to be here. I don’t have to do this.” And to seal it off, the principal tried to give me advice of the importance of staying, but it was advice from her framework not mine. When I identified that, I was free to leave.

These women became free to leave. I am confident that each will land on their feet, and become stronger and wiser in the process.   Are you hanging on to a role or relationship that you don’t belong in, but one that someone else thinks is a good idea for you? Are you willing to take yourself out of the position or do you have to wait to be asked to leave?

When someone refuses your olive branch

A recent comment is the inspiration for this post: Kate asked “What happens when you reach out to your family to make amends and they don’t accept your olive branch?”

First you say OUCH. Because that probably really hurts. Whether you were the initiator or they were, it probably still hurts. Let yourself start there.

 

Then it’s time for a little soul searching. Did you do/say something that created the distance. If you were, have you given the other person time (as much as they need, not how much you think they should have) to process their hurt? Are you willing to make changes that the other person may be requesting from you? Are you willing to accept that person, as they are, if you have been critical about this in the past?

 

But let’ say you’re okay, they aren’t okay. You stepped out because things became intolerable for you. Or, they left you. Now you reach out because of any number of reasons to reconnect and they are still not willing to play nicely.

I wish I could answer this with a one size fits all happy instruction manual for how to get people to be reasonable. The truth is people aren’t always and that is part of life. But it stinks when you are the recipient.   Unfortunately, I don’t have that tidy little answer. In fact, I’m not sure I have any answer. Perhaps all I really have is compassion.

I recall when I was going through my divorce, I was also working on my doctorate. I had a very wonderful case supervisor, a woman in her late 70’s, full of vigor and wisdom.   Janet had lived a full life, but not one free from tragedy. She was widowed from her first marriage. As was often the case, she was as much my mentor in life, as she was, professionally. One day, I used some of my supervision time to talk about what was happening with the marriage and Janet said, “The longer I live, the more I am aware that some things in life just can’t be fixed.”   It was such a simple, yet profound statement that has stayed with me these many years later. It helped me give myself permission to stop trying so hard to fix something that wasn’t fixable. Something that, in all honesty, had been broken from the start.

I don’t know when the point is for someone to give up. It is different for everyone. But I do know that it is sometimes okay to do that. And I suspect it has to do with when you can look yourself in the mirror and know that you have done your best. It’s when you know that you have taken responsibility for your actions and decisions and made a sincere attempt to allow the other person to express their feelings about your choices. In other words, have you allowed them room to be them, at the same time, you are requesting to be you.

For some folks the most difficult part will be allowing others to be as they are. Other people will struggle with finding the acceptance to look yourself in the mirror and say I did enough. What makes this tricky is to separate the sense of “it was enough”, from an outcome of previously defined success. In other words, if I didn’t achieve the goal of fixing it, then either they or I didn’t do enough. But this is part of being a grown up as Janet said. Even grown ups can’t make everything better just because they wish it to be so. And finding compassion for the self and even for others is one of the hallmarks of maturity. It is also possible to find love for another even without continuing to have a relationship with that person. And that is what helps to make us better humans.

It is possible to love someone based on early times when we had a relationship with them even if it has ended. It is possible to find love for someone based on their relationship to others. It is possible to find love for that person as a human in the world. And all of these (as well as other ideas) are ways to allow ourselves to place emphasis on other feelings we may have for that person, because they won’t allow us back into their lives. At the end of the day, it means we are filled with less negative energy.

 

How long do I have to wait?

I heard Carolyn Myss tell a story a long time ago that I often repeat in therapy. She was working with a man, with whom, she felt needed to develop patience about some event or transformation in the future. Myss told him he needed to learn to wait. The man acknowledged this and asked how long he would have to wait. Myss replied “Until how long you have to wait no longer matters.”

 

Waiting can be stressful from the big to the small. Waiting to find out the sex of your baby during pregnancy. Waiting to see if you will get the job you interviewed for. Waiting to get test results on a health matter. You can try and ignore the wait, control the wait or as Myss suggests, withdraw your emotional investment in the wait. Then the wait simply is. The wished for end will either come or it won’t, but the tension invested in waiting itself, no longer exists.

It occurred to me that this idea was applicable to other sources of tension as well. Recently, someone asked me the question “Why does my self worth and value depend so much on what others think of me?” And I thought about Myss’ story in my reply: “Because it matters. And it will continue to matter until it no longer matters.”

Now of course, this is not rocket science but yes, I do try to think through what are seemingly obvious answers before, replying with what sounds like sarcasm at first glance.

When we fail to invest attachment to ourselves as valuable, to recognize our significance, that energy is a magnet waiting for a source of attraction. It might be to another person, an achievement or an aspect of our appearance. Why would we fail to fail to invest in ourselves? Any number of reasons may contribute, including the failure of our early life to model that for us so, we could internalize it, or because of some event, or series of events, for which, we feel shame. A shame powerful enough to override anything valuable that may have been put in to begin with.

Once our source of value is outside of us, it serves like a carrot being wheeled around by a speeding car. We might be fast enough to see it in our sights, but we can’t ever manage to catch the darn thing. So we try to run faster, manipulate circumstances to try and get a little closer. Some will die trying.

And how do we get out of this race? Back to my answer. “When it no longer matters.” The “it” is the outside source. When “it” ceases to have as much power as the inside of us has. When the source of value comes from within us, we are no longer under the desire to pursue what is outside for validation. This doesn’t mean we don’t still have goals that we work towards. It means only that we don’t assign things and people outside of us to determine if we are “enough”. That job remains ours. Maybe Hollywood producers won’t find me pretty enough to cast in their movies. I won’t be an actress, but that doesn’t determine if I am valuable as a human being.

So often, I watch people struggle to get validation from sources and people that they themselves don’t like or value. Yet, they still aim to please. Is it any wonder that in the rare exceptions that praise actually does come, it falls short of satisfying the seeker?

How do you value yourself if you don’t value yourself? (I bet more than one person was about to post that comment). It’s a process, not an event. It takes practice. Start small with what feels authentic. Maybe you can only value the way you behave with your kids or your dog. Start there. Build on it. Be truthful and use the same scale to measure yourself that you would for others.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have any bad habits?

Do you have any bad habits?

Scientists estimate that roughly 40% of the actions people perform each day aren’t actual decisions, but habits. The good news is that habits can be changed if we understand how they work.

Habits are the result of neurological patterns that become “hard wired” in our brain. Once that wiring path is established, we no longer have to engage in thinking about a behavior. It comes naturally to us. Therefore, if we want to change a behavior, we have to do something to “interrupt” the existing circuit.

The circuit, if you will, consists of a couple of static variables. First is the trigger, second is the behavior and third is the reward. My husband often complains that our dog wakes him up in the morning to go outside. There is a trigger, perhaps one of us stirs or daylight breaks through the window. Snickers begins to bump our bed on Ben’s side of the bed as if it was the boat in Jaws and she is a circling shark. And then he goes into the kitchen, opens up the door, lets her outside and feeds her. And that is what we call a double reward. So it has become a habit.

The interesting observation for me in this circuit however, is that if Ben is out of town, I usually have to wake Snickers up. She will be in a deep peaceful sleep much past her usual wake up time. I often have to call her to get her to go outside, and if I don’t put down food (in the garage) she will jump back up the step to go back in the house without even having gone out to go to the bathroom. She has figured out there is no reward in that behavior, and thus ignores the trigger. My boat is safe from dangerous attack. Before you start to think my husband is just a wimpy pushover, I should confess that the kids have me much better trained to provide rewards.

I imagine if we were to look at brain scans of our dog (not something we do with any regularity), we would find a neuropathway (for those with a science background, forgive me if my grasp of this sciency stuff is childlike), that she has a circuit that gets tripped not only by the light coming in or a sound, but it must also have the information available that someone who cares (my husband) is also home and available. So, Ben being home is also a part of the trigger. She may see the same light of day, but the absence of Ben contributes to a fail in providing a strong enough trigger to motivate behavior.

What does this mean in human terms except that we can do it 7 times slower? Well, it means that if you don’t like a particular habit, you’ll need to examine both your triggers and your REWARDS. Habits don’t really go away in the sense that the brain doesn’t “lose or expunge” them, they just become more like abandoned roads. They still exist, but they become the road less traveled so to speak.

Most of us don’t like to give up our rewards. Even ones that stopped making sense to us along the way. Sometimes what started as a reward for one reason has now become a reward in the sense that it gives us a feeling of familiarity or continuity and so we continue to strive for that. So, any attempt to change a habit means to put triggers in place that will still provide a payoff for us. And, the payoff can’t be so far in the future that, its remoteness strips away our will to earn.

 

As is the case with nearly every blog I write, the key to making progress in habit change begins with mindfulness. Habits don’t change when we are rushed, unprepared, and unable to think clearly because we are depleted and or exhausted. Mindfulness means to start first with understanding what you are doing now, why you want to change, creating a plan with accountability and support and THEN implementing behavior.

Have you had any success in changing habits that you would like to share? What helped you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year

Well look what the cat dragged in….. I’m back!

I took a break from blogging but I am hopefully back to stay. I’m still working on some of the behind the scene changes so please bear with me while I continue to work out some of the bugs. However,  I absolutely welcome questions, comments or observations about changes.  Thank you so much for hanging with me throughout the year, and a special welcome to my new readers.  I am truly grateful for your time.

For starter, I’m uncertain of my timing. For now, I am committing to one entry per week. There may be more, but I hope not less. With that, I’d like to plunge in.

 

Happy New Year.

Even though today is January 7 and not January 1, today is New Year’s Day, meaning, today is the start of a year that is 1 year newer than the same Jan 7 of 2014. Tomorrow will be a new year starting one year ahead of January 8, 2014 and so on. This isn’t an attempt to be silly. I’m dead serious, so let me try to explain.

New Year’s Day is associated for many with New Year’s resolutions. In reality, these are usually not resolutions, or things one is resolved about, but rather New Year’s “wishes”. They are often things we wish would happen, hope will happen, would be happy if the desired action came about. But sadly, they are actions which, more often than not, fail to mature into consistent or lasting change. Some will fail within a week or two. Others may last a couple of months. A study from the University of Scranton found that only about 8% of the 40% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, actually achieve their goals. So, if by January 7 you have given up on your goals, you are clearly not alone.

There are two points I’d like to elaborate my thoughts on with regards to this topic.

First, If we drop the ball on January 7, or even February 7, why do we have to wait until January 1 of the following year to start again? As my opening paragraph suggests, every day is the start of a new year for us. We can choose to start fresh from where we are at any given moment. There is nothing more magical about 8:00 a.m. January 1 then there is about 8:00 a.m. on March 10th. The time to start is right now.   Start at the moment that you recognize you have the desire for a change in your life. Delaying until another time marking significance, is arbitrary and only means you are willing to live with the unwanted behavior a lot longer than you need to.

And that leads me to the second point.

There is a difference between resolutions and desires, wishes, hopes. A resolution to lose weight doesn’t mean starting a diet. A resolution to improve your relationships doesn’t mean scheduling a date night. A resolution to find a job you like is more than simply dusting off the old resume.

 

Here are some definitions for the word resolve:

Verb: to find a solution, to determine a course of action

Noun: Firm determination to do something.

 

If you want to achieve the goals above, chances are you have tried some of the solutions I listed above before New Year’s Day. Most likely, they weren’t met with lasting success, which is why they resurface year to year as a resolution for the next year ahead.

 

To make goals more than just a wish or desire, they require resolve. Resolve involves figuring out how you will get to the gym when you haven’t gone before. Resolve means finding ways to anticipate your pitfalls and have a “firm determination to do something” by having reliable support, structures and accountabilities in place to help you stay focused on your goals. Resolve means to search your heart and answer yourself truthfully about what has immobilized your efforts in the past towards these goals.

 

Resolutions are about what are you WILLING to make happen in your life. What are you willing to change, to give up, to work harder towards? Who or what are you willing to let go of in your life? What are you willing to stand up for, to be aware of and mostly to be vigilant about?

 

A posture of resolve takes thought and planning. It also takes dedication and perseverance. So, if you can’t get it all done by January 1, the good news is there are 364 other days in the year that you get to try again.

 

As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback! Until next time… take good care!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go ahead.. make your day

 

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

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

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

Unless.

Unless you decide to do something different.

You can decide to ignore it.

You can decide to pretend it isn’t true.

You can decide to argue about it.

You can decide to act out about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Nice guys and gals just finish

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Smacked up side the head with perfection

 

 

 

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

To see the video referenced in the post click below:

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Leap of Faith

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Boyd: My sister says you’re a fake

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth or Story

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.