Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Four Things I Learned Today

I had three and a half hours of mandatory diversity training today, which turned out to not be diversity training at all, but rather a course in body language, with fancy names for positive body language ("MicroAdvantages") and negative body language ("MicroInequities"). Lucky for me, the presenter was somewhat entertaining, and in the middle of the presentation I had one of those AHA! moments, in which things I've learned in different arenas of my life meld into one coherent thought. (I LOVE those!)

So please, in reading this, feel free to experience your own AHA! moments. (I would, however, recommend avoiding all EWWW, ACK! and MRRR moments. They are MicroNotThePoint.)

1. Life As Impulse Control
We humans have a wide range of emotions, thoughts and behaviors that make up who we are. And to get what we want out of life (be it a fulfilling romantic relationship, a positive work environment, or even just the last donut hole) we have to intentionally balance the expression of ourselves.

For example, if I am unhappy with the way someone is treating me, and I want to have a discussion about his/her behavior, I could go ahead and express my hurt feelings immediately and feel, as such, that I'm having my say, and being true to myself. Or, I could focus on what I want out of the situation (i.e., to be heard, to generate a change in behavior, etc.), and temper my response according to what I want.

To put it as clearly as I can, someone named kate periodically has to choose between "having my say" (me focused and immediate) and "actually being heard." (also me focused, but more long term and productive)

Now, in writing this, I might as well be writing an acting text, as going after what you want is one of the key principles in good acting. But this isn't acting, and more than anything, I want to emphasize that it's not lying or being phony. It's just knowing what you really want (both in the long and short term), and behaving in a way that will get you closest to what you want.

This is particularly challenging for someone named kate who often wants an immediate soothing AND the accomplishment of her long term goals.

This balance-the-expression-of-yourself lesson was reinforced for me today by a lawyer who, in the middle of training, said that not using negative body language with someone you don't like is lying -- it's not honoring your feelings. The presenter deftly responded that he didn't care about any of our feelings. All he cared about was whether or not he was fostering a positive workspace, one in which his team members could thrive and make more money for the partnership. Because in business, arguably, that's the objective. (If this were the SATs, business : money as kate : long term goals)

2. An Odd Remedy for Dry Skin

Best applied while doing dishes.

3. Giving Advice to Friends Sometimes Makes You Hear It Yourself
I have a friend who is getting married and she called me in a tizzy the other night, convinced that her fiancee didn't want to marry her anymore. She listed a number of reasons, all of which had to do with her, and not with him at all, and at one point she said, "I'm making all these sacrifices in my lifestyle to be with him, and I just don't think he appreciates it."

I stopped her right there and said, "Wait a second, you're missing the point. He may NEVER appreciate the sacrifices you're making. And that's fine. It's really not his job to validate you or your sacrifices. You can only sacrifice when it is ok with you, and never expect anyone to praise you for it. Otherwise all you're doing is storing that sacrifice in your arsenal, ready to whip it out whenever you're in a fight that's not going your way."

(Not bad for someone who hasn't been in a relationship for let's-not-even-do-the-math-on-this-one long, eh?)

4. Spaghetti Squash is a Lot Like Spaghetti
It's true. It is. You cut it in half, nook it for 9 minutes in the microwave, dump some spaghetti sauce into it, stir, add cheese, stir some more and then chow down. Totally awesome meal.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

fearless living (a totally different three day conference)

With all the fearless living conferences I go to, you'd think I'd be fearlessly ruling the world by now. Alas, I'm not. I'm focusing on conquering a far more complex and confusing terrain -- me.

Over the long weekend, I went to a Fearless Foundation Workshop, run by Rhonda Britten (of Starting Over fame) and, while I won't go into the specifics of exactly what we covered (as that would breach my agreement with the Institute) I will give you a basic outline of what I learned, and why it's important to me -- for free!

(Aren't I just the best?)

First, Rhonda argues, when we experience negative emotions (anger, anxiety, frustration, despair, etc.) it's because we're being triggered by fear. We have one major fear, and when we can identify that fear, take a step back and stop reacting to it, we have much more freedom in our lives to make choices that actually serve us. Additionally, she argues, there is an essential nature that each of us has, but which we have denied, and only when we stop reacting from fear will we start to access that essential nature and end up with what she calls our "wholeness." My essential nature, as I discovered this weekend, is compassionate. And that may not surprise many of you, as I believe I'm an extremely compassionate person... to other people. Inside my own head, however, it's a bar brawl, with Judgment duking it out with Mean-Spiritedness (who is tag teamming with Not-Good-Enough). There's definitely an element of this that has served me over time (pushing me to go to Yale, driving me to be better and less complacent in just about everything I do), but more than not, it has been a really good tool for me to use to drive myself crazy. (Just ask my ex-boyfriends. I think they'll back me up on this.)

However, the problem a self-judger faces when she feels she is now tasked with the job of being compassionate is that it's really easy to sit there and tell yourself you're not being compassionate enough, or compassionate in the right way, or compassionate at all. (This was how I spent my Sunday night and Monday morning. Don't do this at home. It's exhausting.) The upside, it turns out, is that any decision I can make from a place outside of fear is already compassionate, by default! (Yippee!) The more I can do to take a step back, examine my behavior, take a deep breath, or stand up for myself (especially in the face of my greatest fear), the sweeter I will be to myself. The more I will move towards forgiving myself. The awesomer I will become.

So, while the conference was draining, at times irritating, and I basically felt like someone had taken the Jaws of Life, cracked open my rib cage and just kept spreading and spreading and spreading until there was next to no life left in me, it was totally worth it in the Peace of Mind department.

If you're interested in learning more about any of this, please let me know, visit www.fearlessliving.org, or read Rhonda's book, Fearless Living. I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, as it's really hard emotional work that will only benefit you if you're really ready for it, but if you feel stuck in a rut (either in your thoughts, career, behaviors, relationships, life, whatever) it'll totally help.

You may, in fact, never be the same again.