Sunday, October 23, 2011

The power of attention (or Hondas, Hondas Everywhere)

Ever notice how, when you buy something, all of a sudden you see that same thing all over the place? Those new shoes? Even the nuns on the subway are wearing them. That recent bestseller? You can’t get out of the coffee shop without seeing six fellow readers. I call this phenomenon “Hondas, Hondas Everywhere” because I first noticed it after buying my first car – a Honda – at age 16. All of a sudden, every car in every parking lot was a Honda. Every commercial was for Hondas. I could even swear Honda debuted a breakfast cereal that year. (Ok, no, not really.)

But that’s the power of attention. What you focus on can take over your whole awareness. And this is great, if what you’re focusing on is positive, uplifting, exciting, or even just neutral. But my experience has been that it tends to be only charged things that swoop in and take over our focus. Things we want, but don’t have. Things that piss us off. Things that stir up something restless inside of us.

I met a guy once who only saw happy couples. Everywhere he turned there was another couple, making out, buying milk together, holding hands, laughing. How dare they?! Hogging up the grocery aisles, giggling in the park, there was no safe haven from the onslaught of perpetually smiling twosomes! And these couples infuriated him, because he wanted to be one of them and wasn’t.

Couples, Couples Everywhere!

It can be the same thing with our bodies. It’s easy to see the flaws, focus in on them, and overlook what’s great about the way we look. One poochy bit, and all of a sudden we think we’re the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. One waggly bit, and the voices in our heads send us running for a muumuu. I, myself, spent almost 25 years between bikinis because I was worried about how my tummy was going to look.

Bellies, Bellies Everywhere!

So what do you do if you’re stuck in this spiral of negative focus? Try focusing on something else. Focus on nature, on smiling, on being in the moment. Feel the sun on your cheek. Hear the rustling of the leaves or the faraway rumble of the subway. The more our minds are focusing on what’s really happening in front of us (instead of the constant yammering of our inner voices) the less we’re likely to be trapped by the neverending train of chatter.

Truth is, there were the same number of Hondas before as there were after.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What is fun?

If you can’t see or hear the video, I’ll break down for you what Michael Shore says about fun.

First, in his years of studying children, fun, and play (he is the President of Worldwide Consumer Insights at Mattel) he has come to understand fun as having ten different aspects. Each one is an important, but different, piece of the puzzle.

1. Freedom

This is any unstructured, voluntary activity that a child engages in. It’s essentially running around. There are few constraints and there is an immediacy to the fun. It’s about living in the moment.

2. I Dream

This is imaginative play in which children come up with possibilities and enjoy pretending. This kind of play can improve our language and social skills, and is also linked to resilience and delayed gratification.

3. I’m Special

This is the kind of play that is about luck or have the rules suspended in your favor. Staying up late, getting an extra ice cream cone, or otherwise getting some privilege is what this kind of fun is all about.

4. I Belong

This is all about acceptance into a larger group and cooperative play among kids.

5. I’m Wacky

Kids love being wacky! This is about delight, vitality, and goofiness. Shore says that the best way to make a toy wacky is by having it burp or fart. If it’s a pet, make it poop or pee. Wacky!

6. I Know

This is about exploration, accomplishment learning, and gaining mastery and control.

7. I’m Cozy

Even kids like to kick back, relax, and snuggle in. This is just about being comfortable and lazing around.

8. I’m Proud

This is about benevolence, defending others, nurturing others, and protecting one another.

9. I Stand Out

As kids get older they enjoy performing and expressing themselves more. This kind of fun is about identity, performance, and creativity.

10. I Dare

Shore says this is the kind of fun that kids would have a lot more of if there weren’t such a thing as consequences and getting caught. This is bold, defiant fun. It could be mischief, shenanigans or any other rule breaking.

In looking at all these different kinds of fun, I have to admit, they all sound pretty good to me. I’ve been trying to come up with the essential elements of fun for myself – what has to be in place for me to have fun? – and I’ve discovered that the biggest factor is willingness. Am I willing to have a good time? And if not, what do I need to get out of the way so that I can be willing to have fun?

Another TED presenter I listened to, Dr. Stuart Brown, says that if you’re feeling down, just get up and wiggle your body around. Jump up and down. Flail around. This kind of body play can really prep the mind for being able to have more fun. (So forgive me if I have more typos as I’m flinging myself around while I write this.)

One thing that seems to be missing for me in Shore’s list of 10 is the element of connection – not just belonging to a group, but really connecting to someone else on a very human level. Maybe it’s a little bit of all of them, or maybe it’s something that’s less important to kids. Or maybe it’s implied in the connection between the kid and the toy. But fun for me is hard to have without connection, either to my surroundings, someone else, or myself.

Think about things that you do that are fun: which elements are involved? Let’s say you love shopping. Is it the ability to go to whatever store you want and try on whatever you want that is fun? (Freedom) Is it imagining yourself at the ball wearing the gown you’re trying on that makes you smile? (I Dream) Or is it finding that chartreuse-and-puce argyle sweater that makes you squeal with joy? (I Stand Out or I’m Wacky)

If you’re down and not having fun, first, start wiggling, and then pick an aspect and try to live it up. Start dreaming. Join a group. Snuggle up with a good book. And see what happens.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Marathon Project Q&A

1. Do I have to be a runner to participate?
Absolutely not! I am offering coaching to anyone on any topic. The reason this is called the “Marathon Project” is because I just want to reach the goal of coaching for 26.2 hours before 11/6 and whatever you donate goes to help to support a marathon runner.

2. What exactly is life coaching?
It’s easier to understand once you’ve experienced it, but in general, life coaching is a partnership between a coach and a client where both work together to achieve success. That can be getting the client unstuck in a current situation, setting and reaching goals, taking on new challenges, or just finding new ways to look at the world. It’s easy in life to go on auto-pilot, and working with a coach can help you see where the choices you’re making are keeping you from reaching your dreams. It’s all about asking the right questions and helping you to find the answers inside yourself.

3. Isn’t that like therapy?
Not really. Anyone can benefit from coaching, even if you don’t think there is anything “wrong” with your life. Therapy tends to look backwards and come to some understanding about what happened to you in your formative years. Coaching accepts that your past is your past and encourages you to look at what you want to do about it going forward.

4. What kinds of things can you coach about?
What we work on together really depends on what’s going on in your life. We can look at a variety of things, not the least of which include:
  • Relationships
  • Stress Management/Balance
  • Personal Growth/Self-Care
  • Career
  • Time Management/Organization
  • Creativity/Self-Expression
  • Money
  • Health

5. How does it work?
Once you schedule an hour-long phone session, you’ll identify what you want to work on. This could be something you’re struggling with – like weight, or relationships – or something that’s already going well but could be taken to the next level – like health, creativity, or career.

At the appointed time, you’ll call me. After setting up a few ground rules about how you’ll work together, you’ll explain the situation, and I will start to ask you questions about it. Where it goes from there all depends on the information that you share and your willingness to explore different options.

At the end of the call, you’ll tell me how much you are going to donate to Matt’s campaign for the American Cancer Society. The regular value of my sessions is $75/hr, but my minimum suggested donation for this project is $26 (in honor of the 26.2 miles that Matt will be running).

Then you’ll make that donation.

6. Why should I try it?
There’s absolutely no risk, so why shouldn’t you try it? You’ll get to experience coaching at steeply discounted rates, your donation to the American Cancer Society will be tax-deductible, and you’ll come out of the session with a new perspective on your situation. What is there to lose?!

(See more here.)

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Nice Day

Last month I attended the “I Can Do It” conference sponsored by Hay House publishers, and there were tons of great presenters –Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, Cheryl Richardson, and my absolute favorite, Robert Holden.

Wayne Dyer kicked off the conference, and the idea that struck me the most out of all of the ideas he presented is that we should spend the last five minutes of our days thinking about the fulfillment of the dreams and wishes we have for our lives.

Think about the last five minutes of your day, as you’ve climbed into bed and ready to pass out for the night. What do you do in that time? Do you start to worry about all the things you didn’t get done today? Or think about how you screwed up today? Or dread getting up tomorrow morning and doing it all over? If so, that’s pretty natural. Many of us don’t pay attention to the way we send ourselves off to sleep.

But think about it for a minute. Our subconscious is the most powerful processor in our brain. But it doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s imaginary, so if we soak it in frustrations or agitations before going to bed, it could very well process them as if they really happened.

Enter your good friends, Toss and Turn.

If we take the last five minutes of the day, when we’re cozy in bed, comfortable, relaxed, and have the most peace we’re likely to see all day, and we focus on what it would feel like if our wishes came true, it allows your subconscious to marinate in what you want – not what you don’t want. Remember that it’s all about attention – what you focus on is what you’re likely to see more of in your life. So focus on what you did well during the day, what it would feel like to be 25 pounds lighter, how nice it would be to snuggle up with that somebody you’ve been longing for, or how terrific it would feel to wake up to a clean house.

So Wayne Dyer may be a spiritual teacher for the ages, but my mother knew this idea instinctively. When we were little, she would read to us in bed, and then end the bedtime process by telling us the Nice Day.

“We had a nice day. We got up, and went to school. There was a hard test in math, and we did our best. We had a fight with Sherri on the bus, but it’s over now. We practiced the piano and had a good dinner with the family, and then we watched some tv, and now it’s time to go to sleep.”

Simple. Focus on the things that happened, release the stressful or the negative, focus on the positive, and let your brain go to sleep thinking about the good stuff.

My nephew is now 13 months old and, while he talks a lot, none of it is quite English yet. But my mom suggested recently to my sister that he’s old enough now for the Nice Day. And I love the thought of my sister being able to help him form a habit that will serve him for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Book Review: One Small Step can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way

The idea is big, but Robert Maurer’s book is quite small. “Kaizen” is Japanese for “improvement,” and it’s the philosophy that taking small steps is the best way to make continual improvement.

Or as I once told a client, “Baby steps only go forwards.”

Think of the last time you set out to make a major change. What did you feel? Exhilaration? Exhaustion? Excitement? Trepidation? Most people, when faced with change, will feel at least some element of fear. And very often that fear can get in the way of actually making the change. The idea of kaizen is to take make such small changes that your brain doesn’t even know you’re changing, and therefore, doesn’t get in the way.

It’s kind of genius.

There are six strategies in Maurer’s book:

1. Asking small questions

2. Thinking small thoughts

3. Taking small actions

4. Solving small problems

5. Giving small rewards

6. Recognizing small moments

Let’s take a quick look at each of these.

1. Asking small questions

Your brain loves questions. Just look at how many people are drawn to crosswords and Sudoku and jigsaw puzzles. But instead of overwhelming yourself with big questions (“How can I lose 25 pounds?” “How will I ever get a job in this economy?”) focus on the small questions instead (“If health were my first priority, what would I do differently today?” “What little step could I take today towards my ideal job?”).

Watch out, though, for negative questions. We get more of what we focus on, so if you’re tempted to ask yourself “Why does this always happen to me?” or “What’s wrong with me?” your brain will be delighted to work on those questions, too. In a judgmental, awful, negative way.

2. Thinking small thoughts

This is all about visualization, or what Maurer calls “mind sculpture.” Mentally practice a task using all five of your senses, and you are much more likely to develop the skills it takes to actually engage in that task in the real world. But this isn’t about 30 minutes of meditation on a task. It’s about how many seconds a day you’re willing to devote to the effort. The idea is to make it simple, habitual, and fun. And nobody can say they don’t have an extra 45 seconds a day, right?

3. Taking small actions

If you want to clean your house, you can go into the most awful room and start trying to rid it of its clutter, but for some of us, that’s just too big an idea. And so we avoid it. Instead, if you clean your house the kaizen way, it becomes about going into that room and cleaning up for five minutes. Or removing five pieces of clutter every day. Big, bold actions often get us initial results, but don’t take into account things like lack of time, exhaustion, fear, or resistance. The smaller steps get us to the goal because they can be so easily incorporated into daily life.

Here are some suggestions for small actions you can take:

If you want to stop overspending, remove one item from your cart before checking out.

If you want to start exercising, go – just go – to the gym three times a week.

If you want to get more sleep, go to sleep one minute earlier or sleep one minute later each day.

They may not seem like much, but for anyone who is really resistant to change, these are cracks of light in an otherwise dark room.

4. Solving small problems

The key to solving small problems is catching them when they’re still small. And if you miss that window, the trick is to solve small problems in the face of really large problems. Some of this step involves trusting your gut and listening to what your instincts tell you about things – so you can prevent small problems from becoming bigger ones. Maurer has a great exercise for helping to spot the warning signs.

5. Give small rewards

Small rewards serve us best as recognition of a job well done. They can be little treats and pleasures, or simply a verbal acknowledgement of taking the small action you set out to take. A few key things to remember:

The reward should be appropriate to the goal – that is, don’t reward yourself with chocolate if your goal is to lose weight

The reward should be appropriate to the person – I, for example, would not particularly enjoy the reward of watching a football game and drinking a beer as a reward for a day of hard work, but I know plenty of people who would.

The reward should be free or inexpensive – if not, rewarding yourself for all your small steps could become a financial burden, which would subvert the whole kaizen

6. Recognizing small moments

This is all about paying attention to what’s going on around you and what opportunities for change naturally arise. A couple of the examples Maurer shares are:

A flight attendant noticed that passengers weren’t eating the olives in their five-item
salads. A the time, five-item salads cost far more than four-item salads. When the fifth item (olives) was dropped from the salad, the company saved half a million dollars a year.

George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, noticed that when he took his dog out for a walk, the dog came back covered in burrs. His attention to this small moment led to the invention of Velcro.

Having this curiosity and awareness about life allowed the opportunities for innovation and enhancement to present themselves. Combining these six steps yields a very powerful philosophy, especially for anyone who has ever been afraid, stressed, or overwhelmed by change.

And because the book is so little (and only took me a day to read), it’s the perfect first small step!