Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tools for the new year

Now is as good a time as any to start preparing for next year.  To help you do that, I've organized a number of tools that I think you may find useful in pursuing what you want next year.

1.  Me
Lest we forget that I am more than just a blogger, I will remind you that I coach, I teach, and I help get people unstuck from wherever they're stuck.  I charge $75 a session (which, in this world, is a STEAL) and I've got a lot of happy clients, with always room for one more...

2.  Make it Happen Now! Workshop, January 12th and 27th
This is a course I offer every year at the start of the year.  It helps you identify what you want, figure out what stands in your way, make a plan to go after what you want, and develop accountability to make sure you stick with your plan.  It's $75 for four hours and past participants have repeated the course year after year.  Find out more about it here.

3.  Notes from the Universe
This is a great site that will send you messages every weekday morning to remind you how wonderful you are and how you fit into the bigger picture of the universe around you.  I use them as a springboard for my meditation and to reconnect me with my heart.  Here's a sample message:
The one thing all famous authors, world-class athletes, business tycoons,singers, actors, and celebrated achievers in any field have in common, Kate,is that they all began their journeys when they were none of these things.Yet still, they began their journeys.You are so poised for greatness,The Universe
One day, they're going to name something big after you, Kate!Like a statue, a college... or a hurricane.
You can sign up for them at here.

4.  Robert Holden's Shift Happens
I've learned a lot from Robert Holden and find him to be one of the warmest, sweetest, and friendliest thinkers out there.  I've signed up for his mailing list and, like the Universe, every weekday morning I get a motivating message from him.  For example:

Today is a good day for forgiveness. Mind you, forgiveness is not for everyone. It is only for those who would like to experience peace, love, joy, bliss, healing, freedom, total salvation and things like that.

You can sign up here , where you'll find lots of other great tools from Robert, too.

5.  Coach Alba
This is a tool from the people at Change Anything that can help you stay on track by receiving texts to help you get through what they call "Crucial Moments."  I imagine I might use it at night when I have a tendency to eat mindlessly -- just a quick text from Coach Alba to remind me to be mindful, and all of a sudden I'm brought back to myself.  At the moment, it's programmed to best work with people who want to lose weight, though I imagine they'll come up with other iterations of it.

You can find it here.

6.  StickK
This is a site I wrote about earlier that provides you with external motivation when your internal motivation starts to lag.  Essentially what you do is sign up for a challenge -- losing weight, getting a new job, working on your memoir, writing a new song, whatever -- and then wager with stickK that you will commit to taking action on that goal, or you'll have to pay money, either to a friend, a charity, or an "anti-charity" (a cause you hate).  I've used this technique with clients before with really great results, but you can try it for yourself online here.

7.  Avoiding Destination Addiction
Just watch this video:
8.  My Previous Posts on Goal Setting

Thursday, December 13, 2012

thinking of next year's goal... now

As we reach the end of the year, it's easy to get torn between two extremes:  at one end are the parties, the wine, the food, the time off, the butternut squash lasagna, the flaky-cakey-whatever-that-was-last-night-at-the-company-party.  At the other?  The goals we set on January first about how draconian and austere we're going to be in 2013, probably to remedy all the things we've wonked up during the holiday season. 
There has to be a better way, right? 

The key to staying focused on the long-term picture without feeling denied during such a festive time of year is all about moderation. 

Now I am not the poster child for moderation.  When something feels good, I'm like my friend's dog who, when let off the leash, will undoubtedly be found near the garbage -- not eating it, but just happily rolling around in it.  Wallowing, if you will.  It's easy to feel like the cheer that is spread at this time of year isn't going to last.  That there will never be another party, or that you just have to see one more group of people or you won't be invited back next year.  Strange:  the abundance of cheer can make us fear its lack. 
I'm not suggesting that you stay home and miserable during the holidays.  In fact, I'm not even suggesting you refrain from eating that flaky-cakey-whatever-that-was-last-night-at-the-company-party (because, damn! that was tasty!).  But do you need that AND a sugar cookie?  Do you need two glasses of wine AND a martini?  Do you need to stay out until 2am Tuesday AND Wednesday?

If the answer is yes, then by all means, do it.  But wherever and whenever the answer is no, take a moment to remember what you really want from your life.  Remember to take care of yourself.  And remember that the difference between this week and the first week of the year is just an arbitrary distinction you're making. 

If you want that goal, why not start now?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dan Pink’s Drive

If you haven’t seen this video before, take 11 minutes and watch it now. Seriously. I’ll wait.

So I just finished a two day training on these concepts and, while it’s meant to address employees’ engagement and motivation, I think it holds true for our personal lives and the drive we have to live fully.

Think about it: what’s something that you do because you absolutely love doing it? Odds are there are three big contributors to what makes that fun and wonderful for you: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Let’s take one of my favorite things to do – hiking. Part of the reason I love it is because I have autonomy over it – I can do it whenever I want (more or less) and there’s nobody breathing down my neck telling me how exactly to do it. Another part of the reason I love it is because I can get better at it. I can hike longer, higher, farther. I can get more present while I hike and get “in the zone” with it. And I see progress as I go along – the views at the top of a mountain, for example, make me feel like I have mastered something (even if it’s just my legs). And thirdly, hiking contributes to my sense of purpose – living more fully. It takes care of my body and mind (so I can help others take care of theirs). It connects me to myself and to whatever friends I hike with. It gets me out of self-doubt, and it’s fun.

Now think about something you don’t love to do. If you’re like me, it’s something like doing the dishes. You can use these same concepts to help yourself motivate through tasks you need to do but aren’t particularly jazzed about.

Dish-doing autonomy: I can decide when I want to do the dishes, what kind of soap to use, how hot the water is, and how long I let them pile up before doing them. This is way better than having a roommate pestering me about the stack of baked-on-caked-on-greasy-dirt-encrusted cookware.

Dish-doing mastery: In truth, I don’t care about getting better at doing dishes, but I do care that they’re done well. So I can focus my energy on making sure they’re socially acceptable. I can also use the time it takes to do dishes to get better at something else – maybe by listening to a podcast or news report, or by focusing my mind on the task at hand.

Dish-doing purpose: If I tie doing my dishes back to purpose, they become much easier to do. I do my dishes so I can take care of myself so I can help take care of others. Then dish-doing becomes a gift I give myself instead of a punishment I inflict on myself. I do my dishes so I can be a responsible adult. I do my dishes so my home reflects the way I feel about myself. Think about it like explaining why you do the dishes to a young person. This can help the young person in you connect more fully to the task at hand.

More neat insights to come, but I wanted to introduce you to Dan Pink and these concepts before, say, another month accidentally passes without me writing anything…

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

blessings counted

Another hurricane in New York City, and it's a mess.  I am grateful that my friends, family, and neighborhood are more or less unscathed, and my thoughts go out to those who have lost anything. There are tons of people, buildings, businesses, homes, families that have suffered and changed, and at the bare minimum, we have all lost some peace of mind.

I've been trying to be cool, stay relaxed, and just go with the flow, but I've never been really good at that.  I like to know what's coming, plan for it, and then be able to get back to normal as quickly as possible.  This is great for things like getting to the airport on time, running 47 errands in an hour lunch break, or getting three coffee dates in before dinner.  What it's not good for is recovering from a hurricane.

My peace of mind is directly related to knowing what's going on;  having information, being able to make something that resembles a plan, and being in connection with those who are important to me.  And a hurricane changes that.  Subways stop running.  Phone calls get dropped.  Entire chocolate cakes get eaten.  There's a new normal, and nobody really knows what it is.  And while the internet and tv have provided all kinds of data and updates, it's still new and untamed.  Everyone is in a bit of a holding pattern, practicing patience.  Personally, I'm in a rush to go back to normal, but it's unclear when that will happen -- and in some parts of the city, it never will.

Some people work best in a time of upheaval or chaos -- they're better adapted to being flexible and going with the flow, and in fact, prefer to operate that way.  Life is more of an adventure for them, and not knowing is an accepted part of life.  We all have the ability to be flexible like this, but for some of us we have to work harder at it, and it comes less naturally.  But that's the reminder for me -- I'm not incapable of being patient, I'm not totally unskilled at going with the flow.  I just have to unhook myself from the outcome and see things as more of an adventure.

Because there's little else I can do right now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

more on beginner's mind

My last post mentioned the concept of beginner's mind, and I found an article that expands on it, pointing out 10 different ways to expand your perspective:

1. Take one step at a time.
2. Fall down seven times, get up eight times.
3. Use Don’t Know mind.
4. Live without shoulds.
5. Make use of experience
6. Let go of being an expert.
7. Experience the moment fully.
8. Disregard common sense.
9. Discard fear of failure.
10. Use the spirit of inquiry

Read the rest of the article here.  I enjoyed it and hope you will, too.

Monday, October 15, 2012

the gift of fear

I recently spent the weekend with a dear friend who is going through a series of life transitions all at the same time and she is, quite understandably, terrified.  And while I don't envy her situation, I am able to see a silver lining in it -- if she weren't afraid, she wouldn't have the opportunity to be courageous.

Think about it:  courage is not about being fearless, it's about being afraid and acting anyway.  Without fear, there is no courage.

I make my living as a corporate trainer -- I speak in public regularly.  For some people, my job would be their waking nightmare, day after day, speaking in front of others.  For them, it would take massive amounts of courage.  But for me, because I'm not afraid of it, it's a no-brainer.  Conversely, moms around the world will hold their children's hair while they barf.  (Hell, college freshman do it, too.)  For me, that would require inner depths of strength that I don't know if I have.  Fear and courage are both relative, and just because you're afraid doesn't mean you're weak.  It's how you choose to act while you're afraid that helps to define and forge your character.

So what can you do to become more courageous, and to tune down the voices in your head that say you're going to die?  Here are a couple of things that have worked for me in the past:

1. Focus on the learning.
When I'm doing something hard (/scary/terrifying) I often look down the road and ask myself what the long-term benefit will be.  Will I be growing into someone I want to be?  Will I be proud of my actions in this current moment once it has passed?  What am I striving for from my life, and will taking this terrifying action give me more of that?  If so, I act.  I seize the opportunity to grow.

2. Lean into it
Sometimes the best thing you can do is stop fighting the shoulds -- "I shouldn't be afraid of this" or "I should know how to do this already" or "I should be able to handle this."  Instead of worrying and shoulding all over yourself, think of the challenging situation as an opportunity to think about who you could become.  Find a way to be ok with the uncomfortable feelings -- maybe by regularly repeating something like, "this, too, shall pass" or breathing deeply every time anxiety shows up.  Just leaning into the change in a gentle, what-is-possible-here kind of way.

3. Use beginner's mind
The apocryphal Zen story helps to define (mystically) the concept of beginner's mind:  A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup."

When we treat ourselves as experts, there is no room to fail and grow.  And this makes uncertain times even more stressful because we feel like we have to know what to do.  We don't give ourselves credit for never having been in this exact moment before.  Maybe it was a similar situation, but it wasn't this one.  And maybe this one requires a new mindset.

4.  Get support
Going through change alone can be isolating, alienating, and all together lonely-making.  The most important thing I've learned in going through change is how important it is to have support.  Whether that comes from a loving coach, a skilled therapist, a dear friend, or a supportive community, finding others who can give you perspective, advice, and help you navigate your way through a change is invaluable.  I would never be where I am today without my coach, my therapist, my friends, and my family.  And I'm not the least bit ashamed to ask them for help.  Because I would want them to come to me if they felt the same way.

So to my friend, and to anyone else out there who is going through change and is afraid, remember that you're not alone, and that no matter how scary it gets, the key is to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  And to reward yourself for just making it through.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

the power of listening

I've recently re-started a meditation practice, and I'm not particularly good at it.  My mind wanders, thinks about what I should wear today and how to get my neighbors to stop slamming the door at 6:15, but when I realize that I'm wandering, the first thing I do is bring my attention back to my listening.  I hear the sound of my breath, my DVR spinning, the garbage truck going by, the constant hum of traffic from the highway.  Just tuning in like this gives me a sense of my physical space, and reminds me that I am here, now, in the moment, in my apartment.  And, yeah, ok, my mind goes off again, worrying that I don't have anything to eat for lunch and that my knee hurts and I'll probably be hobbling like a granny when I get up.  But then I go back to the sound.

Wander, rinse, repeat.

Plenty of people claim to be bad meditators -- they can't still their minds.  And I'm with them.  I get caught in my monkey thoughts (which, oddly enough, used to continually involve Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee") but what helps me get out of them is listening.  Focusing on sound as if I'm trying to hear a mouse in my radiator.  It takes time and attention, but I think the space it's giving me between my reactions and my responses is worth the effort.

Julian Treasure is a huge sound-lover.  He spoke at TED in the video below about the power of listening.  I think about it especially in relation to dating and meeting new people.  How many times have you been sitting with a stranger, hearing what he or she is saying, but really focusing on what you want to say next?  Formulating your charming, witty, pointed response without fully taking in what your date (or coworker or instructor) has said.  The process of real, deep listening can be a connector.  It can bring you together with this stranger -- or this family member, or friend, or unintentionally-door-slamming neighbor -- in a way that hearing just can't do.

Steven Covey, in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."  And Julian Treasure says that we have to "listen consciously to live fully."

I totally agree.  Sign me up.

Monday, September 24, 2012

how do you resist?

When you are faced with a change, what's your natural reaction?  Do you tend to get on board 100% right away, only to find out later that you're not so happy with it?  Do you look at the change and take on all the responsibility for making it happen?  Do you do what you can to just lay low and not rock the boat?  All of these are perfectly normal examples of resistance.

Resistance is normal behavior that is intended to slow down, block, or otherwise process a change.  It's natural, and in many cases, a good thing -- if we didn't resist the person who said we should quit our jobs and run off to join the circus, we'd all be tightrope walkers.

Six Resistance Styles
We all respond to change differently, but there are six major identifiable styles of resistance.  We each have a preferred style, but can use all the styles whenever they are called for.  (They're overviewed in no particular order.)

1.  Introjection
This is swallowing the change whole, without taking the time to process it, digest it, chew on it, or come up with reasons why the change could be problematic.  This is absolutely the right response in times of crisis -- the fireman tells you you need to leave a burning building, you swallow that change rapidly and follow his directions for leaving.  You don't argue with the fireman, you don't question it, you just leave.  When this style becomes problematic, however, is when you automatically jump on board with a complex change without giving it the due diligence it requires.  Introjection may look like the desired response -- everyone's in agreement with the change -- but the disagreements and important analysis of the change usually only come after it's been implemented.  Which can be costly.

2.  Confluence
This is making sure that everyone feels heard, understood, and valued as part of the change process.  People  who choose confluence in the face of a change highly value harmony.  They make an effort to ensure that everyone is on board, and if not, they give dissenters an opportunity to air their grievances.  This style is great when you've got a variety of stakeholders and you want to make sure everyone feels included.  It becomes problematic, though, when it's used in a don't-rock-the-boat fashion and is just lip service.  People who prefer confluence can sometimes be two-faced, showing one group of people a calm, agreeing-with-the-change facade while another group hears all the griping and grousing.

3.  Deflection
I call this one the "look, shiny!" style because it essentially distracts attention from the change at hand and focuses it anywhere else.  Deflectors tend to be funny, quick, and entertaining.  They know how to keep a discussion light and ease the tension that often accompanies a change.  They use humor and are very creative, but sometimes this behavior enables others who don't want to face the challenges of the change to sweep the whole discussion under the rug.  Unchecked, deflectors can completely derail a meeting -- or a series of meetings -- and cause change breakdown.

4.  Projection
Projection is the style we most often associate with resistance.  It's a blaming, finger-pointing style that, when done well, brings up the weaknesses, flaws, and loopholes in a change.  This is definitely a style to use at the very first stages of a change, when these elements need to be brought up and addressed.  Used poorly, however, this becomes your typical "it's not me, it's you" attack, and can lead to hurt feelings, lack of listening, and more strongly entrenched negative feelings about the change.  Projectors have a tendency to overlook their own responsibility in change, focusing all their energy on others' shortcomings.

5.  Retrojection
This is the opposite of Projection, in which, instead of pointing the finger at others, the resistor points the finger at him/herself.  Used well, this is an incredible strength (not just because it's my own preferred style) because it encourages growth, ownership, and development of the resistor. "What's MY part?"  Used badly, however, it leads one to take over a change, set impossible standards, and make it difficult for anyone else to participate in the change.  It can be a "my way or the highway" mentality that implies that nobody else could make the change as well as the Retrojector, and is often accompanied by self-blame and self-punishment.

6.  Desensitization
In this resistance style, the resistor just shuts down emotionally.  He/she may smile, nod, and tell you what you want to hear, or simply tune out and stop paying attention to the change all together.  Used well, this style can help to reduce the emotional charge in a situation, and can protect the resistor from unwanted negativity.  Used badly, it leads to non-participation and daydreaming.

Do any of these sound familiar to you?  Once you recognize your preferred style, the real work begins.  When are you using your style to your advantage, and when are you using it to your detriment?  Here's an example from my life: I was recently involved in a change in which a relationship was ending.  As a Retrojector, I immediately looked at my responsibility in that change -- I was a little more intense than I needed to be, and I didn't pick up on a few crucial messages he was sending (among other things).  But at the time, I didn't use Retroflection as a strength, I used it as a weapon.  I blamed myself, called myself names, and vowed to work double-time to fix my shortcomings.  Now that I know I'm a Retrojector, however, I see that I was overdoing it.  That it wasn't all my fault, and that changing my personality wasn't going to fix everything.  He had some responsibility in the change, too, and that I let him off the hook without including it.

Once you know your style, you can decide how deep you want to use it.  Will you use it as a tool, or will you use it as a weapon?  (For what it's worth, I recommend "tool.")

You can learn more about this from my incredible teacher, Pat Battle, of Pat Battle and Associates.  In three short days, she changed my life.

Monday, August 27, 2012

be a people trainer

It's a subtle truth that I've come to understand:  people treat us the way they do because we allow them to do so.

Now, I'm not talking about total strangers who give you attitude on the subway or those terrible acts of random violence that happen to people.  Those are different.  And I'm not getting all Secret-y on you and saying that you make your own reality, but I am strongly suggesting that you have a hand in it.

Here's how I've seen it in my own life:  many years ago, I was in a friendship that wasn't particularly healthy.  We counted on each other for moral support, but weren't always as clear as we could (or should) have been about how we wanted to be supported -- we never trained each other on this.  So we did for each other what we would have wanted done for us, and sometimes it was right and sometimes it was wrong.  There were times I tried to jolly her out of a sadness when I should have just let her cry.  There were times she tried to logically convince me that my situation wasn't as bad as it was, when all I wanted was someone to hear my pain.  Nothing inherently wrong with any of this except that we sat on our feedback.  Instead of saying, "Right now, Kate, all I want is to be sad," my friend would get angry or lash out at me.  Instead of me saying, "I just want to be irrational right now and still be loved," I would hurry to get her off the phone and just cry by myself.

It got to be craptastic.

I can't speak for my friend, but over time, my resentment grew, and my patience eroded. Why can't she just give me what I need? I kept thinking.  We ended our friendship because we didn't know how to share what we needed, and neither one of us could train the other in this area.  (In fairness to us both, there were many other factors that contributed to the demise of our friendship, but this was a big one for me.)

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, since my sister is raising two little boys, and I'm still looking for Mr. Right.  (They seem unrelated, but bear with me.)  My sister is "training" her little boys to grow up and participate in society.  She's teaching them "please" and "thank you" and reminding them not to put their feet on the table while Nana is eating or not to pull Maisy's tail.  And they take this information because, well, she's the mama, and it's backed up by daddy.  That's one kind of people training.  (Generally, best reserved for little people.)

The other kind of training is related to making a relationship work.  For example, I know that I am not the most flexible and spontaneous person in the world.  I long to be, but in my heart I know I'm pretty square.  So it's a good idea, especially if I'm dating someone who is less schedule-bound than I am, to make it clear that I don't care what we do or where we go, but I'm most comfortable when I know what time and where to meet.  Training him to treat me in a particular way.  (Or, if you take issue with the concept of "training" a date, offering him the opportunity to treat me in the way that is most comfortable for me.)

Why is any of this important?  Because if you don't teach people how to treat you, they'll treat you in their own default way.  And that means you're looking for a needle -- the person who will naturally treat you in the way you want to be treated -- in a much larger haystack.  And in a city of 8 million straws, who has time for that?

Monday, August 20, 2012

you're not a burden

Have you ever been so bored that you couldn't be bothered to do something to entertain yourself?  Well, the other day I had a similar situation -- I was so lonely that I couldn't stand to reach out to my friends, even though I knew they were just a phone call away.  I didn't want to be a burden.  I knew that I had nothing positive to offer them, just "blah" and "meh" and "waaaah."  And who would want that?

When I thought about it more, though, I realized that I would want that.  I would want my friends to reach out to me when they were sad or lonely or feeling empty.  And we could talk about it.  Or we could talk about nachos.  Or the crazy-assed hairdo I saw at the grocery store this weekend (seriously, it was epic).

Fittingly, not soon after I had that lonely spell, a great post came up on my friend's facebook page from a woman named Alyssa Royse.  I'm posting highlights below, but you can see the whole post here, and I recommend that you do.

She says:
When you allow someone to see you as fully human – good and bad, strong and weak, healthy and sick, brave and scared – you let them know that it’s okay for them to be fully human too. That lessens the burdens of fear and shame that hold us back. It shows us that we can be loved for our humanity rather than rejected and shunned for it.

Hoarding your humanity is a selfish act, when you realize the gift that it is for others.
She also says:
What’s worse, when you don’t let us in to the bad parts, you’re telling us that you didn’t think we could be trusted with them. And you make that knowledge the cause of your greater suffering. You let us increase your pain by not letting us share it. Is that really what you want to do? Tell us you don’t trust as and let us become something that increases your pain? I doubt it. I bet you hate that idea, so think of it that way. Because that’s what it is. We will second guess things that we could have, should have, would have done, if only you’d been honest.

You are not a burden. You are a human. You are a flawed and fabulous multi-faceted thing and when I say that I love you unconditionally, that means ALL OF IT.
So if you're feeling meh, or blah, or really want to talk about nachos, reach out and call someone.  Don't text, don't email, don't poke them on facebook.  Get old school.  Pick up the phone and have a voice-to-voice conversation.  See if it doesn't make things better.

I will.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

what are you paying attention to?

I've been watching the Olympics lately, and I have to say, I feel both inspired and lazy.  Inspired, obviously, because these are the world's top athletes demonstrating their skills in the most intense competition in the world.  And lazy, obviously, because I'm sitting on my couch eating popcorn and cheese and not swimming/running/jumping/making my horse dance/etc.

But it makes me think -- so many people spend so much time watching television, and how often are they truly inspired?  I'm not.  I mean, I watch the Biggest Loser, so I'll admit that my tastes run towards the self-improvement, but does Gordon Ramsay yelling at a bunch of aspiring chefs make me feel tingly and excited?  Does watching the BAU chase after serial killers make me proud of myself? No -- in fact it stresses me out.  But, like a train wreck, I'm drawn back to it week after week.

(Don't judge.  You have some equally horrendous guilty pleasures.  And if you don't, well, I have some popcorn and cheese you can eat and a horse you can make dance.)

The same thing goes for music.  I noticed that my running music, last time I ran, went like this:

Angry song
Angry song
Angry song
Fun, Upbeat song

Angry song
Angry song
Angry song
Fun, Upbeat song

And I have to say, that run was harder.  Maybe it was the humidity, maybe it was the popcorn and cheese, I don't know.  But it does make me wonder -- should I be surrounding myself with more inspiring and loving sensory input?  Or is the impact the same if I'm listening to Evanescence as when I'm listening to Miley Cyrus?

(I told you, don't judge.  They're both equally awful.)

There's something to this, I think -- lots of folks believe that your physical surroundings (i.e., that pile of dishes in your sink, Kate) is a reflection of your inner mental state.  The more clutter in the hall, the more stuff that's unresolved in your head.  So let's turn this around:  if you're putting visual clutter and noise into your "hall," isn't that going to have an impact on your head?

Maybe, maybe not.  Try it.  See if watching only uplifting shows (no more Law & Order SVU for you, Sandberg) makes you feel better.  Watch what impact your music choices have.  And decide for yourself.

As for me?  I'm going to eat more popcorn and watch Usain Bolt again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

what I learned from Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey, one of the founding members of Franklin Covey (the time management people), a motivational speaker, and the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (among others) died yesterday.  He innovated the field of leadership studies and contributed a huge handful of powerful principles that have inspired leaders for generations.  There are thousands of lessons I could quote from him, but what has stuck with me most continuously is this:

"The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."

To demonstrate this, imagine that you have two bowls of exactly the same size that represent your life.  One is full of rocks, and the other is mostly full of sand.  The rocks are your major priorities -- family, friends, exercise, client work, etc.  The grains of sand are all the little things you do that add up over the course of the day -- emails, errands, laundry, dishes, diapers, TV, etc.  Your task is to combine the rocks and the sand into one container, to make sure you're getting everything you want out of life.  However, if you put the sand in first, the rocks won't fit.  You have to put the rocks in first, and then pour the sand around them.

Most of us have this backwards.  We have the major commitments and desires, but we let day-to-day life overwhelm and overtake us.  We regularly and continually put the sand in first.

The video below is old and, arguably, corny.  But it demonstrates this principle so clearly that I had to include it.


The first step is to identify your rocks -- your priorities.  Then to add them to your schedule in such a way that they really ARE priorities.  Then let your life fill in around them.  As the video shows, it will anyway.

Monday, July 9, 2012

what I learned from the feds

You wouldn't know it just by looking at me, but I am currently on jury duty.

Ok, well, not active jury duty.  Standby jury duty.

I have been assigned an attractive eight-digit number and am required to call an 800 number every night for two weeks to see if they need me to report the next day.  Many people I tell say that this is so frustrating and awful, and, really, I see it as a win -- they could call me and require me to sit there every day for two weeks.

So I called the Friday before I was due to serve and the friendly voice on the phone said that if the first three letters of my last name were "S-A-N" then I was to report to the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.

Doing my civic duty.

I rolled up to the courthouse at about 8:25, as we were required under penalty of death and/or dismemberment to be there by 8:30.  I checked in my mobile devices (both work and play) and headed upstairs with two, thick Philippa Gregory novels.  At around 9:15 a woman came out and gave us a very sneaky speech about how she knows everyone hates jury duty and it's not her fault so please don't yell at her and don't worry if you're in the bathroom when your name is called because they'll keep calling it.

And then we waited.  And read.  And waited.  And tested the theory about your name being called in the bathroom.

I could go on for days about how thrilling it was, sitting in the overly air-conditioned room, waiting for something to happen, or how annoying it was to see Ms. Lateypants roll in around 10:30 and not get yelled at, but that's not my point.  I had vacation coming up later that week (for July 4th) and I did NOT want to be at jury duty instead of on vacation.  Miss work?  Sure, no problem.  Miss squishing my little nephews?  Think again.

At a certain point, people around me started freaking out about the fact that we were on a two-week standby.  "I have a doctor's appointment."  "I have to pick up my mother at the airport."  "I have to travel for work."  I wanted to stand up and scream, "I HAVE TO GO ON VACATION!" but thought maybe that was inappropriate.

I came up with a plan:  if I was called for Thursday, I would tell them I had a doctor's appointment and couldn't be there.  I was ready with the details of my extravagant lie -- I was seeing Dr. Tyler Andrews* in Connecticut who was an endocrinologist (apparently they're very hard to get appointments with -- who knew?).  I was starting to get antsy and panicky, when I realized there was nothing I could do about whether or not they called me.  I would just have to burn that bridge when I got there.

So I just waited.  I called Monday night to see if they needed me Tuesday -- nope.  I called Tuesday night to see if I would have to schedule that appointment, but no, they didn't need me.  Thursday night I called, and they didn't need me Friday, either.

(See where I'm going with this now?)

The feds taught me that sometimes it's not worth stressing about something you can't control.  Have a plan, be open and ready for what you don't want, and then Let. It. Go.  Sitting there (like Mr. Chattypants in the back of the room) worrying and fuming about whether or not I'd have to give up my vacation was just going to a) be annoying and b) cause me stress it turns out I wouldn't need to feel.

"Isn't that the whole point?" a friend of mine recently asked me.  "You realize there are things you can't control and then you just don't bother trying to control them."

Jury duty is just one of those things.

*both of my nephews' names

Friday, June 29, 2012

making peace with peanut butter

I  confess: I love peanut butter with a fierce, burning love that should probably be reserved for a soul mate, or, you know, a person (or a pet – you know, something that can love me back). The sweet saltiness, the salty sweetness. Not even its being one of the few foods that can’t be dislodged by the Heimlich maneuver will dissuade me from my faith in its perfection.
I. Love. Peanut Butter.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking “Kate, that’s not burning love, that’s food obsession.” But you’re wrong! I mean, it’s not like I stay up every night, dreaming of peanut better. And I don’t bathe in it (much) or talk about it (daily) or carry pictures of it in my wallet (though that’s not a bad idea). I’m not nuts! (heh heh)

It’s just that, up until about six weeks ago, if there was peanut butter in my house, I would consume it. Rapidly. By the spoonful. While standing next to the pantry door. Drooling. (It was not pretty.)

So I never bought peanut butter. Safer to just not have it in the house than to risk the 47,000 calories I was likely to consume in a sitting, like I did whenever visiting my mother, who, surprisingly, doesn’t have the same obsession. (My sister, though, suffers the same compulsion so perhaps it comes from my father’s side...)

I started reading a book called “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch that talked about the dieting mentality and how food restriction doesn’t work. “When you rigidly limit the amount of food you are allowed to eat,” they wrote, “it usually sets you up to crave larger quantities of that very food.” So by not having peanut butter in the house, I was setting myself up for hours of drooling next to the pantry door.

Their advice? Slowly re-introduce any foods you have restricted and teach yourself that you are allowed to have them. Reset your inner calibration so that you can appreciate the food for what it is, and not for all the emotional baggage that saying no to it has meant. For me, the first choice was, of course, peanut butter.

I warily bought a jar of natural (because it’s the most deliciousest kind) and kept it in the cabinet. The first week? It was bad. I ate a lot of peanut butter. And the second week, too. The third week started to taper off a bit, because, let’s be honest, at least half the jar was gone, and the fourth week it dropped off even more. By the fifth and sixth weeks, there were maybe two or three spooonfuls just sitting in the jar, smiling at me.

I call that a success! A jar of peanut butter has never lasted six weeks in my house before!

So what did I learn? That yes, I go to peanut butter for comfort. And I go there because I’m not usually allowed to go there, so it makes me feel special. But once I could have it any time I wanted, some of the comfort left. I started to see it as a fuel. A delicious fuel, don’t get me wrong, but one that was in service of me, not the master of me.

Can I take this experiment to the next level and do it with ice cream? I’m not sure. In truth, it takes a lot of faith, and a willingness to put on a little weight in the service of making peace. And given that it’s hot AND bathing suit season, I may hold off on this experiment until December. But I’ve taken the message to heart – there’s nothing I can’t eat. And when I watch people around me dieting and worrying about what they eat, I wonder if they, too, will sometime soon, find themselves next to the pantry door, overeating in an effort to feel special.

Friday, June 15, 2012

on trust and independence

I've been thinking about trust a lot lately and was surfing the internet to see if anyone else had crystallized the link between independence and trust that is starting to form in my brain.  My search results were mostly banks and insurance companies and (unfortunately) not usable quotes or nuggets of genius, so I was disappointed.  But the more I thought about it, the more that actually made perfect sense.

As I see it, there is an inverse relationship between trust and independence.  The more independent I am, the less I have to trust others.  And the less I have to trust others, the more independent I am.  This may be exactly what the banks and insurance companies have already realized -- people want trust AND independence.  They want to be able to trust when they need to, but to stay independent when they don't.  Because trusting other people is risky, and independence, while lonely, means never getting your heart broken.

I think of trust like climbing up a tree -- I only climb as high as the branches where I know that when I jump, I'll land on my feet.  Which is to say, I only trust people as far as I can take care of myself.  So it's not really trusting them much at all.  Asking someone to be there for you when you can, in all reality, take care of yourself is like a safety net over an air cushion -- nice, but extra.  I've gotten so good at taking care of myself that I can climb pretty high up in the tree, so I may seem really trusting, but when it comes to the moment of faith, I nestle one branch below or leave the tree entirely.

The problem is, I don't think this is working.

In my effort to be self-reliant, I have atrophied my trust muscles.  Out of a fear of being too needy, I have choked off my ability to effectively need others at all.  And this is sending mixed signals -- "I trust you, but I don't need you."  

I don't have a quick solution to this situation.  But I am slowly finding ways of trusting other people, and scaling back my own need and willingness to take care of everything myself.  Which, in and of itself, is a step towards trust.

Monday, June 11, 2012

"the best years of our lives are not behind us"

A few weeks ago, an article from the Yale Daily News made the rounds on Facebook.  A young, talented writer had some encouraging words about her experience at Yale that I think apply to us all, no matter how young or old we are, no matter whether we went to Yale or didn't.  She says:
But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us. They’re part of us and they are set for repetition as we grow up and move to New York and away from New York and wish we did or didn’t live in New York. I plan on having parties when I’m 30. I plan on having fun when I’m old. Any notion of THE BEST years comes from clich├ęd “should haves...” “if I’d...” “wish I’d...”
Of course, there are things we wished we did: our readings, that boy across the hall. We’re our own hardest critics and it’s easy to let ourselves down. Sleeping too late. Procrastinating. Cutting corners. More than once I’ve looked back on my High School self and thought: how did I do that? How did I work so hard? Our private insecurities follow us and will always follow us.
But the thing is, we’re all like that. Nobody wakes up when they want to. Nobody did all of their reading (except maybe the crazy people who win the prizes…) We have these impossibly high standards and we’ll probably never live up to our perfect fantasies of our future selves. But I feel like that’s okay.
Marina Keegan, 22, was set to graduate from college with more wisdom than some of us attain by 122.  Unfortunately, she never made it there, as she died in a car crash just days before commencement.   Her writing (which you can read the rest of here) is so full of hope, of encouragement, and stands as a reminder to the rest of us that it's never to late to do something about your dream.  To find those people who make up your web and be grateful for them every day.  And to spend more time with the boy across the hall and less time procrastinating.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

give yourself permission for your passion

So many of my clients are incredibly creative.  They have great ideas, spend time thinking about them, planning for them, and dreaming about executing them, but when it comes time to actually make it happen, something always gets in the way. 

I work with dancers, writers, musicians, actors, directors, mothers, teachers, strategists, lawyers, business people, you name it.  I believe creativity is not a what, it's a how.  It's not the content of your job, it's how you execute it.  It's not the title that you have, it's the passion you bring to everything you do (and not just work).

So, given that I work with such fabulously imaginative people, why aren't they all -- and why aren't we all, every one of us -- totally fulfilled, living out our dreams?  Because when it comes time to do something about our dreams, there is very often a voice that says "it's not good enough" or "I don't deserve it."

To that voice I say (fairly unceremoniously), "I appreciate that you're trying to protect me, but now if you wouldn't mind, please shutthefuckupthankyouverymuch."

There is no permission slip for passion.  There is no rule that says you have to be accepted for what you do.  Think about the books you remember -- not all of them are the greatest books you've ever read.  In fact, some are the absolute crappiest books you've read, which is why you remember them. 

One of my favorite creative geniuses, Ira Glass, has been famously quoted as saying, "All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Give yourself permission to write your stories, sing your songs, dance your dances, and dream your dreams.  If you don't, who will?

Monday, May 21, 2012

worlds collide! (or, would liking Office 2010 more make me a better person?)

I may or may not have mentioned that, once upon a time, I was a technology trainer at a law firm, teaching  lawyers how to use their computers.  So I'm something of a Microsoft Office expert, though it's not a quality I whip out at a first meeting because, really, it's not my sexiest feature.

Recently I was upgraded at work to Office 2010.  For those of you who don't know (or don't care), it's pretty radically different from the version I had before:  instead of menus, which drop down, there are ribbons, which spread across (and aren't nearly as easter-baskety as I was hoping).  I could go into greater detail, but all you really need to know is that things changed, and I was not happy.

But here's the funny thing -- I work with change a lot.  I teach a class on resiliency and the importance of being able to flow with change.  I know that I should be focusing on the things I can control (e.g., my learning) instead of the things I can't (e.g., the fact that Ctrl+Shift+M no longer creates a new message but instead tells me that a feature in my voicemail isn't working).  I know that I'm in the "ending" phase, or possibly the "confusion" phase, and that, soon, I'll be onboard with all these great new features.  I know a lot about change, and yet... none of it actually makes it easier to use Outlook!

This is where the big question comes in -- am I more reluctant to changes in Outlook because I think I'm an expert in it?  And does identifying myself with the idea of "experthood" make it, in fact, harder to change?

I remind myself to have a beginner's mind with Outlook, to seek out other experts, and find work-arounds for the things that used to come "expertly."  But I won't deny that it's challenging and frustrating.  And it makes me worried -- am I more of an Office expert than I am a change expert?

And should I really be worried about being an expert at all?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

the math of dating

I read a cute little article in checkmatemagazine by Catherine Lowell that I thought I would share with you:

"One day in 1999, computer scientist Tristan Miller decided that he would never, ever find a girlfriend. As a tech genius with a sense of humor, he decided to do a comprehensive analysis to show why this might be the case.

His conclusion was simple: the math simply wasn’t in his favor. Using census data from 1998, he concluded that there was a 1 in 18,726 chance of finding “the one.”

Below is a simplified version of his logic.

Number of people on earth:   5,592,830,000

Number of females on earth:  2,941,118,000

Number of females in developed countries:  605,601,000

Number of females aged 18-25 in developed countries:  65,299,083

Number of those females who are “beautiful” (two standard deviations above the norm):  1,487,838

Number of those females who are intelligent, too (one standard deviation above the norm):  236,053

Number of those females who are also single (assuming 50% of women are single):  118,027

Number of interested women (assuming Tristan was one standard deviation above the woman’s average):  18,726

See his math in Why I Will Never Have a Girlfriend.

What Can This Mean!?

It means that if poor Tristan went on a blind date with a new girl every week, he might have to wait 67 years before he found the girl of his dreams.

What You Do!?
1.) Start dating at a very young age.
2.) Curse fate for handing you a statistical trap.
3.) Or… Chill out.

Tristan’s analysis exemplifies why looking for perfection in a partner is an exercise in futility. If you look for someone who is the top percentile of the top percentile, it will take you 67 years to find out that it’s hard to satisfy every box on your checklist.

Besides, imperfections make life much more interesting. Remember what Yogi Berra said: “If the world was perfect, it wouldn’t be.” An imperfect person might actually be the perfect person for you.

It’s not the best idea to go looking for a better version of yourself. If you work to become the best person you can be, dates will find you.

If you’re still discouraged… you can always apply to be Tristan Miller’s significant other."

Friday, April 27, 2012

do nothing

Over a recent brunch of silver dollar pancakes and two eggs (scrambled), I was complaining to my dear friend Jimmy about how I feel like I'm not making progress in the things that I want in my life.  He put down his birthday french toast, smiled, and gave me some wise advice. He said:

“You need to spend more time up a tree, with your shoes off, eating jellybeans and watching the clouds go by.”

(Like this, but with jellybeans* ---->)

"You have no idea," he said (and I am here paraphrasing) "how hard you work.  You need to take more time OFF.  Don't push for an outcome, just let it come to you."

"But, but, but..." I stammered.  I'd never get ANYWHERE if I did THAT.  And there are things that I want.  I, I, I... I don't know what to DO.

"Do nothing."  he said. 

After brunch, it started to hit me.  I've gotten much more gentle with my expectations in the past five years but I still drive myself, and hard.  I rarely screw up, but when I do, the gloves come off.  I hold my tongue when others don’t do what I have asked them to do THREE TIMES, but if I spend a weekend without checking off everything on my to do list, it was a “waste” of a weekend.

This isn't working.

Especially because, upon reflection, I have evidence that my weekend wasn't a waste.  I mopped the floor, baked a cake, took my friend out for birthday brunch, downloaded Office 2010 onto my computer, and watched several hours of Planet Earth, the nutritional supplement of television.  I didn't do nothing!

What I'm getting at is that it's time for me, once again, to question what it is that drives me.  Where did I learn my standards for what is and isn't ok, and am I willing to revise them?  Are they serving me?  Or are they holding me back? 

What good is going for perfection if it only makes me feel broken along the way?

Thanks, Jimmy.  Happy birthday!

* I may have made up the part about eating jellybeans, but it really should be in there, so I’m pretending it was.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

shifting paradigms

I’m not a professional runner, so I won’t pretend to be one. But I’m going to tell you a story about one that, admittedly, comes second hand, so if you are a runner and I get the details wrong, please try to see the forest for the trees.

Back in the day (i.e., the 80’s) there was a guy named Cliff Young. He was a farmer in Australia and had a big farm with lots of sheep. To keep everything on the farm running smoothly, he ran from one part of the farm to another, running, running, running every day.

His friends noticed that he ran so much, they suggested to him that he run in a road race – the most grueling one they could think of, that spanned 543.7miles (875-kilometers) from Sydney to Melbourne. The race is a beast, the kind of race that usually takes fit, young athletes at the top of their form five days to complete.

Did I mention that Cliff was 61? Well, he was.

So Cliff showed up at the race in his farmer clothes – overalls and work boots – while everyone else was there in their Nikes and spandex and what have you. (Remember, it’s the 80’s.) People thought he was a joke. They thought he was there for entertainment, and not to run the race. But when the gun went off, off went Cliff, too.

The thing is, people also thought that the best way to get through this race was to run 18 hours and sleep 6. Run 18, sleep 6. Run 18, sleep 6. For five days. (Trust me, I’m exhausted just typing this.) Cliff, however, didn’t know what he was supposed to do, so he didn’t follow that paradigm. He ran 22 hours, and slept 2. Run 22, sleep 2. Run 22, sleep 2. And get there before anyone else does.

This is but one example of why “the way it’s always been done” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way to do it. If Cliff had known what he was “supposed” to do before joining the race, he probably wouldn’t have won. And he probably would have shown up in Nikes and fancy 80’s spandex like everyone else and run differently than he did (apparently he had something of a shuffle) and possibly even have hurt himself.

So the moral of the story is twofold: just because everyone else thinks you can’t do something doesn’t mean you can’t, and second, just because that’s the way everyone else does it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it.

And you know what? The next year everyone ran 22, slept 2.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

fun is a choice

My friend and I were sitting in Bryant Park recently, discussing the serious lack of fun in our lives. It dawned on both of us simultaneously that we were having fun at that very moment, but overlooking it in the search for something Really Fun. Given what I know about my love for fun, I was surprised at my own willingness to overlook the Little Fun, the Mundane Fun, and the Regular Fun in a quest for some big kind of Transcendental Fun or SuperGiantAwesome Fun.

And at that moment, in a very uncomfortable chair in a very crowded Bryant Park, I committed myself to a month of fun. Or, in the world of Kate, a Funth!

Every day for a month I am going to do something fun. It can either be wacky -- like a Thai Yoga Massage class (that, sadly, got cancelled on Sunday), or a viewing of Punderdome 3000 (a groan-inducing punning competition) -- or it can be simple, like the surprise of being able to talk to my friend while on the elliptical machine in the basement, or having a quiet brunch full of smoked salmon with a dear friend. There are no rules about the fun that is allowed to count, I just have to be intentional about it. And I have to have some every day.

And this reminds me: fun is a choice. I left the park that afternoon and found myself in my office, working on the same project I was tackling before lunch, but approaching it with a totally new attitude. More levity. More curiosity. More of a song in my heart.

In a way, my Funth is a continuation of the Year of Yes! (well, ok, the 14 months of yes) and in a way, it's a completely different project. During the YoY, I tried to imbue my life with different qualities, to see how they showed up in my actions. During the Funth, I am committing to taking action, to see how those actions impact my thinking. The YoY was inside out; the Funth is outside in.

And you're all invited. Anybody want to have some fun?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

how my iPhone makes me feel more disconnected

I now have the internet at my fingertips 24/7. My adorable little phone (aptly named "Spankie") has ushered me into the 21st century, and now I know how the other 99% live. I can text, tweet, post to facebook, upload photos, and otherwise reach out and touch someone at any hour of the day (except while I'm in the subway).

And I haven't felt this disconnected since I can't remember when.

Texting is a slippery slope for me. It's a great way to passively reach out and drop a funny line or thought on someone's radar without putting too much energy or thought into it. I can share a link, tell a joke, or otherwise flit in and out of a friend's life in a matter of seconds. I sometimes have full conversations with someone over text, and those conversations are well thought out, carefully constructed, and usually ridiculously funny.

I'm sure nobody would be surprised to hear that texting is on the rise. According to a 2010 Nielsen study, every age group is texting more than they were the previous year, even those of us in the 35-44 category:
And the trend is only going to go up, so I feel like a bit of a Luddite even having an issue with this. But I do.

I don't really feel like I'm getting to know the people on the other end of my text-line any better as I text with them. There's so much less revealed. People have time to think, react, and respond before sharing their impulses or insights. There is also much less clarity in texting. The tone of voice -- so crucial in spoken communication -- is completely gone, and the context -- which usually helps to set the tone of an email -- is also missing. So all I get in a text is the nugget, the core of the message. Which is fine if that message is "I'm running late," or "Just wanted to say hi."

But what if that message is something more complicated, like "I can't make it tonight" or "what's the deal with [insert any topic]?" The brevity and lack of intonation make it difficult for me to see where the other person is coming from, and makes it so much easier to throw my own interpretations onto the message. (Which is never a good thing.)

I know I need to get used to it, but for me, true connection comes voice to voice, if not face to face. I want to hear the hemming and hawing. I want to know when there's a sigh. Emotions, mistakes, and non-verbal noises help me feel more human and more connected to others. I've thought about instituting a no texting policy for a month, just to see how it goes, but I think I've gotten so used to texting that I'd miss it if it was gone. The secret is to blend both, and to set boundaries around how much I'm willing to text. But how much is too much? And how much is not enough?

When I figure out what that balance is, I'll let you know. Or if you want to find out, you can always call me.

Monday, March 12, 2012

holding the space

If I can say this without sounding too self-congratulatory, I will: people find it easy to talk to me. I guess I have one of those faces. They ask me for directions, guys admit things to me on dates that perhaps they shouldn't, and strays think I'm the cat's meow.

In the last few years I've gotten better at actually listening (instead of just waiting for my turn to talk), and I've developed a skill that has really surprised me -- my ability to hold the space for other people.

Now, "holding the space" is a really coachy phrase -- akin to "maximizing your potential" and, let's admit it "fully living" -- so what does it mean? It's the ability to be there with someone else who is experiencing emotions without feeling the need to shut them up, fix them, or get them to be anywhere but where they are right now. It's watching someone cry and waiting for her to ask for the box of tissues instead of passing it to her right away. It's opening your heart to the pain and suffering of someone else, trusting both yourself and the other person to make it through, to recover, to let this moment be what it is and also to let it pass.

I bring this up because I was at a workshop recently that really flexed this muscle, and it's one I don't think enough people are aware of, let alone "maximizing the potential" of.

What does it take to hold the space for someone else? Empathy. Support. Wanting to be there for someone else, to let him know that it hurts right now but it won't hurt forever. Trust. Faith. Acceptance. And it takes a real vulnerability. The emotional flexibility to dig deep, connect with your own strength and your own pain, and just breathe.

The next time you're with someone who's hurting, try this: just sit with him or her. Hug him so he knows you've got him, but not so that he feels he has to stop crying. Absorb just a little of the pain so it's not so intense for her. Rain blessings down on the both of you to make life just a little easier after this moment. And trust that, when the time comes, he or she will be there for you. And see what's different.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

on harmony. no, wait, I mean patience.

This month has been about harmony, but I’ve been so immersed in patience that I’m not going to pretend to write about harmony when, in fact, I’m writing about patience. Because I know you’ll see right through that. (And who has the patience for that?)

Before I get started, I should tell you that I see patience as a skill, and a two-pronged one at that – there’s long term patience and short term patience. And I’m pretty good at short-term patience. I don’t get too bent out of shape by standing in a line or waiting for the train traffic ahead of us to clear. Because there’s little to nothing I can do about the situation, and my anxiety and frustration isn’t going to fix it. And even if getting all worked up would change the situation, it’s rarely worth the effort. So I read my book, or hum a tune, or look for cute boys and let the situation resolve itself.

Same thing with teaching. When I’m with a student or a client who doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say, I don’t get all huffy and defensive and try to force them to understand me, simply by saying it MORE SLOWLY AND LOUDLY. I take the time to find out what they don’t understand, and then pitch it to them in a way that makes more sense to them. Our mantra at my old company was “if you don’t understand me, that’s my fault.”

Long-term patience, however, has always been my Achilles’ heel. Because I see myself as an agent of change, as capable of writing my own future, when I’m faced with a long-term patience situation, I feel like there’s something I CAN do about it. So I want to get going and do whatever it is the situation seems to be demanding from me. And I start to mutter curses and shuffle around like an angry crazy person with a big bag of smelly cans and bottles on the subway.

You know, because that totally helps.

I’ve been in a number of situations this month that have forced me to see the parallels between short-term and long-term patience. When other people – lovers, family members, bosses, roommates, whoever – are making decisions, there really is little I can do to hurry them up. As much as I want to pick up the phone and say, “I’m ready, let’s go!” it’s not necessarily going to help the other person make a decision. Will it tip them positively in my favor? Maybe. Maybe not. And so the waiting becomes an extended act of short-term patience.

Now, I don’t want to say that patience is about sitting back and not making things happen, because I don’t believe that and it’s not the way I want to live my life. But I do think it’s about taking my little greyhound of a mind off the racetrack and putting a friendly little bulldog or chihuahua on the loop instead. Something more entertaining to look at and run with while I breathe more and stress less.

Monday, January 23, 2012

how secrecy can kill intimacy

A million years ago I worked with a very smart therapist on some problems I was having with my boyfriend. She caught on quickly to the fact that instead of telling him how I felt, I was just smothering my anger until it was way too late to deal with the problem at hand. I was hoarding small infractions and stockpiling insults. By the time I started working with her, I didn't want to look at my boyfriend, let alone make out with him. And on top of that, I felt guilty about not wanting to smooch him anymore!

She told me something that I've hung onto all these millennia: nothing kills intimacy faster than secrecy. And the things you're keeping secret don't have to be big, guilt-inducing, gut-wrenching secrets. They can simply be things like not telling someone your feelings were hurt by the way he assumed you would do the dishes, or that you were furious at how he left his shoes in the middle of the floor even though you asked him not to a billion times because you trip on them on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

The more of these unvoiced issues I sat on, the further and further away my boyfriend drifted. But it was hard to feel like my concerns were valid in the moment. Did he mean to leave his shoes there? And did I really have a right to be angry about him being forgetful? It took a lot of courage for me to start to see that what I wanted mattered as much as what he wanted, and that if I mentioned my concerns at the moment they happened I was only annoyed, not angry. Luckily, he was receptive to my efforts to get things off my chest before they festered, and things improved.

In the long run, the relationship didn't last, but I was reminded of this lesson earlier this month when I went to visit a friend across the country. My friend is in her first trimester (read: barfy) and a mom to a toddler (read: exhausted) and trying to buy a home (read: overwhelmed). When I booked my ticket she wasn't pregnant yet, so we thought it would be a fun-filled, sunshiney visit. But as my departure date approached, she was sounding more and more worn out, and I was beginning to worry that instead of being a fun addition to her house for the weekend, I would be yet another thing she would have to take care of.

But I sat on that. She wanted to see me, right? She was the one who was exhausted and overwhelmed, why should I worry that she didn't want to see me when everything she said made it sound like she did? I wouldn't be more exhausting, would I? I vowed to myself that I would not be a hassle... and then worried silently that I would.

The day before my flight I had worked myself into such a tizzy of non-communication that I finally had to call her and get it off my chest. "I'm worried that I'll be a burden, that you won't have any fun with me, and that you'll barf on me!"

"Well, I'm worried that you won't have any fun with me, I won't feel well enough to play with you, and that I'll barf on you!"

As soon as the words were out of our mouths, we were laughing again, saying that we would be fine. Prior to connecting, though, there was tension. We were both fearful that we would be the cause of pain to the other. And the more we over-thought it without reaching out to one another, the more secrecy we had, and the less close we felt.

Did she barf on me? No. Did she feel well enough to play with me the whole time? No. But I was prepared for that, and connected to her, so it all worked out just fine. It's amazing what obstacles intimacy can overcome.

Monday, January 2, 2012

on newness and seeing clearly

Six years ago I bought a rug off Craigslist. It was a perfect fit for my new apartment, square, wool, from IKEA, and only $150 -- and not hellaciously ugly or cheap-looking. I hopped on the bus, picked up the carpet, hopped back on the bus (garnering strange looks from the bus driver) and then plopped it down in my living room. I was never in love with the rug, but it fit perfectly and, like most furniture, would be harder to get rid of than to just keep forever.

So I kept it forever.

Last year I bought a couch from IKEA and they didn't have the grey slipcovers to match the rug and the room, so I bought the pink slipcovers that were on sale (only $9!), figuring I would come back to IKEA when the grey ones were back in stock.

So, yeah, my couch is still pink.

Long story short, over time I've come to see that I like the pink couch better than the black-and-white rug, so just last week I got a cute new carpet that matches better and is much more me. In the process, I've gotten rid of some furniture, moved some other pieces around, and more or less come to see my living room again for the first time. I see the floor differently. I see the sofa differently. I see so many things that I wasn't seeing because I had gotten so used to the room.

I know it's just stuff, but tweaking your stuff can have a profound impact on the way you see the world. I've been really conscious lately of trying to make my external space a reflection of who I am at my best (not at my laziest).

Another example:
The highlight of my living room is not, in fact, the pink sofa, but instead is a mirror that you can see from every room in my house. I love the mirror and consult it regularly to see if my outfit matches or if my eyebrows are too bushy. In the process of moving in my new carpet, I realized just how dirty my mirrors were, so I cleaned them. All of the mirrors in my house. And I was SHOCKED to see how different I looked after simply cleaning the mirrors. Angles were sharpened. Details appeared finer, more crisp. I saw more of everything, good and bad.

While this is a true story, it's also a metaphor. (And you don't have to pay extra for that, folks!) Fiona Apple says it well in her excellent song, Window:
"... the fact being that
Whatever's in front of me
Is covering my view
So I can't see what I'm seeing in fact
I only see what I'm looking through"
So I ask you, what are you taking for granted (like I took my living room)? What are you allowing to blur your vision (like the dust on my mirrors)? What do you need to do to shake things up just enough to be able to see your filters and realign them?