Sunday, January 30, 2011

what I learned about generosity

After a full month of thinking about generosity, I figured that I'd thought it all. (Because, you know, I'm so generous in my opinion of myself.) After a call tonight with three other inquisitive, generous souls, I've learned even more.

Our conversation covered a variety of topics, but I can break it down into six major areas.

Generosity and intention
The big agreement had on the call was that generosity has everything to do with intention. That the energy behind a generous act must be freely given, and released from expectations.

For example, if I hold the door for people but get miffed when they don't say "thank you," then I'm not necessarily being generous. I'm being generous with expectations on how that behavior will be received or rewarded. Similarly, giving someone money does not necessarily imply that you're generous. It's how or why you give the money that makes you generous.

Generosity and guilt
One participant talked about the "escalation" factor between two people who, for all intents and purposes, look like they're being generous. One will pay for dinner tonight, and the other will pay for dinner the next night. The first then feels compelled to buy tickets to the next event. The second then has to reciprocate. And it leads to bigger and more expensive shows of "generosity" and can lead to feelings of guilt and competitiveness.

The learning? If you start to feel guilty about being generous -- or not being generous -- it may be a sign that your motives (or the motives of the person you're with) are not truly generous. That they're coming from an intention to impress or compete or fill some obligation instead of coming from the heart with a desire to freely give. So what can you do? Accept the other person's generosity at face value. If someone does something nice for you, receive it, smile, and say "thank you."

Generosity and the comfort zone
An interesting perspective was brought up about the comfort zone, and how people will often be more generous in areas that are more comfortable to them. If, for example, you have money (but not time), you may feel more apt to give away money. But which is more generous? Giving away the money or the time? To be truly generous, do you give away something you have lots of? Or something precious to you?

I think it all hinges on whether you give it freely, and I, personally, think people are more likely to give what they feel they have ample amounts of.

For example, I baked a cake for a friend's birthday the other night. Because I like to bake, it didn't feel particularly generous for me. If I had bought a round of drinks, say, or ordered in dinner for the party, that would have felt generous. But my bringing a cake, when viewed from the outside, can easily appear -- to my friend especially -- very generous of me.

(Which, of course, begs another question -- is an act generous when it doesn't feel generous? Does something have to register with the giver as being generous for it to actually be generous?)

Generosity and heroism
Acts of extreme heroism can be considered generosity -- but are they? Wesley Autrey, the guy who jumped onto the subway tracks to save a total stranger, has claimed that he was doing what anybody else would do. But nobody else jumped in front of an oncoming train on that platform that day. So does that mean the station was full of non-generous people?

Again, I think this goes back to the comfort zone, and risk. What Autrey gave freely is considerably more than I would freely give. And maybe that's the difference between a generous act and a heroic one. I'm not sure.

Generosity and compassion (and pity)
Give a rich person a dollar, and it doesn't feel generous. Give a beggar a dollar, and it does. So is there a link between the "deservingness" of the recipient of a generous act and the amount of generosity involved? Does the recipient have to be in need of the generosity to benefit?

I think this goes back to the question of expectations and what impact the giver intends the act to have. For example, I would be more likely to make assumptions about how a beggar would spend my dollar than I would about how a rich person would. I would also be more likely to give the dollar freely to the beggar.

So is it compassionate to give to someone in need? Or is it generous? Or, is it, as one one participant asked, showing pity? What's the link between the three?

Generosity and awareness
It's morning rush hour and you're walking on a New York City street in the snow. A crummy neighbor has shoveled inadequately, so there's a mere 12 inches of walkway to be had for ten feet. There's someone coming towards you from the opposite side of the snow patch, so you step aside and let that person go first. But she's wrapped up in her cellphone and doesn't notice your generous behavior.

Is she rude? If she hadn't been distracted by her phone, would she have been more generous herself? Does living in the city make people less generous? Does it make them less thankful for the generosity around them? What's the link between generosity and gratitude?

Here's what I think: the universe has been incredibly generous with me. I have a great job, amazing friends, a family I love spending time with, and a brain and a body on loan for the rest of my lifetime that's right up there in the top. And I repay the universe with my gratitude. I share my gratitude with others through acts of generosity.

It's been an incredible month, and I don't want it to end. I've learned more about generosity -- of spirit, especially -- than I ever thought I would. But February's all about passion and determination, and how AWESOME is that going to be??

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How's it going, generosity?

As you may or may not know, I'm on year-long (well, ok 14 month-long) adventure where I'm saying Yes! to more things and exploring different qualities every month. January's qualities are generosity, gratitude, acceptance, allowance, and flow. (They kind of meld into one. Like cheese in a microwave. mmmmmm.)

I've come up with a couple of interesting observations.

1. I can be generous in three different ways (that I've uncovered so far); thoughts, words, and deeds.
Essentially, I can give more people the benefit of the doubt, and think better things of them. I can share my thoughts generously and not keep them or hoard them as if there were some kind of Thought Lack pervading the land. And I can do more things that are generous, like buying my sister a pair of shoes that both she and I think are cute (but that her husband makes fun of her for -- ungenerously, I might add -- because they're from a somewhat Old Lady Brand).

2. It's kind of fun to force people to let me be generous.
I've bought lunches, drinks, and dinners. I've split checks in unequal ways. I've bought tickets to shows and music festivals. And my friends have protested, but I told them that they HAD to let me do it, it was all part of the plan. And when I forced my generosity onto them, some were much more willing to accept it.

Which begs an interesting question... when is generosity NOT generous? Does it count as being generous if you get something out of it, too? And is it generous if it's something you'd do anyway? Or does the nature of generosity force you into going above and beyond what you'd normally do?

3. I can be generous with myself and that totally counts.
There were times when being generous with myself meant spending more money (like when I sparred with a trainer and got my ass handed to me on a platter this week) and there were times when being generous with myself meant being disciplined and NOT spending extra money.

4. Being generous with time frames, accepting and allowing other people their right to their own timeline, is much less stressful than expecting everyone to do it my way.
News flash: not everybody does things the way I want them to when I want them to. (I know, this is sad news, indeed.) But my practice this month of allowing things to just flow the way they happen to be flowing (instead of forcing them to "flow" the way I want them to) has opened me up to new perspectives. A guy doesn't call when I think he should? How fascinating! A coworker doesn't get back to me within twenty minutes? How fascinating! This has forced me to take some of the stress out of my life.

The month's not over, and I know there's more to learn. That's why I'm hoping you'll join me for a group call on generosity. What does it mean to you? Where do you practice it? Where could you practice it more? Are there rules to generosity? What's your favorite way to be generous?

Ask and answer these questions and more on January 30th at 4:30pm Eastern. Just call 712.775.7100 and use the participant passcode of 500681# to join. (Feel free to leave an RSVP in the comments!)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Welcome to the Year of Yes! (Well, Ok, the 14 Months of Yes)

Around the first of the year, I decided to make this year different. I was tired of the way things had been going for me -- not externally, since for all intents and purposes 2010 was a banner year -- but internally.

I wanted more adventure and fun in my life. What I really needed was a new Vienna Plan, so I built one. I vowed (to my plants, because they were the only ones around) that I would say yes to more opportunities.* But not just saying yes in any old way, because I've attempted something very similar before in the month doing things differently. I wanted to say yes and to also explore different ways to say yes.

The Year of Yes! (Well, Ok, the 14 Months of Yes) was born out of a coaching exercise I asked one of my clients to try. (This is why being a coach rocks -- I also get the benefit of my clients' sessions!) For the next 14 months, I will practice saying yes to things through the filter of 14 different qualities. [Yeah, ok, so the program was supposed to be a year, but there were so many great qualities I didn't feel right cutting two of them. And since it's my program, it's my rules. So it's the 14 Months of Yes.]

Those qualities are:
January: Generosity, Gratitude, Acceptance, Allowance, Flow
February: Passion, Determination, Fire, Power, Strength, Stretch
March: Air, Space, Wind, Release**
April: Adventure, Thrill, Risk, Aliveness
May: Wisdom, Self-Awareness, Vision, Travel, Movement
June: Grace, Transcendence, Presence, Patience, Honor, Peace
July: Touch, Sensuality, Vitality, Sight
August: Smarts, Ideas for the sake of ideas, Connection, Words, Learning, Mind
September: Creativity, Art, Choice, Creation
October: Fun, Laughter, Play, Joy
November: Connection, Compassion, Love, Wholeheartedness, Openness
December: Novelty, Difference, Spontaneity, Child-Like, Beginner
January: Friendship, Connection
February: Music, Hearing, Harmony

So far it's been fascinating to study generosity. I'm asking friends and family about it, and trying to put it into practice, not just with money but with attention, ideas, and connection.

And the Year of Yes! (Well, Ok, the 14 Months of Yes) (a.k.a., the YOY!(WOTFMOY)) has already taken me two places I wouldn't have gone without having set that intention, and I had a great time at both.

So what's my point? You can do this, too. Pick something you want to change. Maybe it's being more adventurous and fun (like me) or maybe it's something else. Improving a relationship. Developing your business. Handling motherhood. Losing weight. It doesn't matter what the issue is.

Then jot down qualities, characteristics, and values that are important to you. Take a couple of days to gather them. Look at coaching websites, religious texts, this website, and ask friends or family to contribute. Then pick the ones that resonate with you. Group them together (either well or haphazardly) and you're off. Only have 9 qualities? Cool. Do the 9 Months of Yes! Have 36? You've got the Three Years of Yes!

I'll talk more about this in my goal-setting workshop on the 22nd. If you want more info on that or to sign up, click here.

Also, I'm going to be doing a regular conference call about my topic at the end/beginning of each month. Half the call will be about the lessons from the month past, and half the call will be about preparing for the month to come. I'd love your input! (Details will follow.)

So what are you waiting for? Are you ready for a Year of Yes! (Well, Ok, 14 Months of Yes)?

*In return, they vowed to Not Die for another year.

** which, when I look at it like this, looks like March is going to be one big fart. But it's not!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Stages of Change

So it's a new year, right? And you're thinking about making a change or two... maybe? Well, here's an interesting theory about change and the phases you're likely to go through while making those changes.

The Stages of Change theory, developed by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente at the University of Rhode Island in the 70's, covers six different mindsets involved in the process of change.

The cycle starts with Precontemplation. This is the mindset where people -- especially the addicts that Prochaska and DiClemente studied at URI -- didn't think they needed (or wanted) to change. If you're still reading this and still thinking about a change, you're already past this mindset. (Just sayin'.)

The second stage is Contemplation. This is where you're sortakindasorta thinking about maybe making a change... someday. You see the obstacles really clearly, but not so much the benefits of making the change. This can be the longest stage, sometimes lasting moments, and sometimes lasting a lifetime.

If this sounds familiar, ask yourself these questions to help progress through this phase:
What are the benefits of changing?
What's preventing you from changing?
What are some things that could help you make this change?

The third stage is Preparation, which is essentially a research and information gathering phase. This is when you start asking around, maybe reading a book about getting organized or finding a new job. You read a blog like this one! (Hooray!)

If this sounds familiar, some things you can do to progress through this phase are:
Write down your goals and post them where you can see them
Find support groups and/or a supportive partnership with a coach
Gather information -- you may find it propels you into action

Following Preparation comes Action. This is where you start walking the walk and talking the talk. This phase is essential to making change, but all the previous stages support it -- if you skip research and go straight to action, you may not have the information you need. Similarly, if you don't really think about the change you want to make, you may not have the seed for change firmly planted inside you.

If you're in Action, things you can do to keep this moving forward are:
Reward your small successes -- isn't it ridiculous how we ooh and ahh at a baby who even thinks about rolling over, but we demand that we, as adults, execute a new behavior flawlessly? Ooh and ahhh at yourself!
Seek support -- you really will do better if you're not alone
Be prepared for setbacks

Next is Maintenance. This is where you've incorporated the new behavior into your life and are successfully avoiding the pitfalls that surrounded the old behavior. Keep looking for new and fancier ways to avoid temptation.

Ways to keep your Maintenance tip top:
Be patient! Recognize that real change takes time, effort, and energy
Anticipate temptations and setbacks, and think about ways to avoid them

And, of course, there's always Relapse. The tricky thing about Relapse is that it can come at any point. And the even tricker thing is that it likes to settle in and, like that ugly green mucous in those decongestant commercials, unpack all its negative feelings into you.

The key to getting through a Relapse, big or small is this: do what you can to NOT see yourself as a failure. Realize that every change involves some relapse. Analyze the situation for ways to better protect yourself next time. Also, be aware of where you go after a Relapse. Are you going back to Precontemplation? I sure hope not! Try, whenever possible, to land in Preparation, Action, or Maintenance!

Here's a video that sort of sums this all up neatly:

And, just because I came across it while doing research for this post and had a serious WTF moment, another video:

Oh! And I almost forgot! If you're in NYC and in the Contemplation, Preparation, or Action phase and want to make some changes, I'm offering a goal-setting class on January 22nd from 10-2. More details are here.