Life Without Play

Does this sound familiar?

In a meeting, person 1 states position 1: “I think we should focus our weight-loss product on a way for people to track calorie intake.”

Person 2 states position 2: “I think we should focus on and track burning calories.”

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You are sitting there, disagreeing with both of them. You think: “Every time I try to track what I eat or how I exercise, I gain weight. The only way I’ve ever lost weight is when I focus on doing the things that most support me and make me happy, and then I naturally eat less and move more. But I don’t want to share this because I don’t know if I’m typical, and I really don’t want to make myself vulnerable in a work situation.”

Now everyone else at the table is either agreeing with and backing 1 or 2. A few people are quiet. Your boss asks if anyone else has anything else to add. This is your chance, if you want to take it. You could say that what people really need is a way to track what makes them happy, since people don’t always know. Or you could say that focusing on weight loss gives the impression that people aren’t okay the way they are, and adds to the epidemic of anxiety and depression in our society. But boy, that would put the spotlight on you. Do you speak up? Probably not.

Almost every meeting has people not speaking up. When people don’t share what they really think, the whole group suffers. But with all of society aligned in one way, how easy is it to offer a different opinion? Even if it’s actually only the people in the meeting, not all of society. Even if it’s really only the few people who are speaking up, not everyone at the meeting. It still feels like courting death.

Now, let’s picture something else.

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There is a bin of LEGO® bricks on the table. Everyone is asked to build an aspect of what they want their new product to be. You build that you want it to make people feel good about themselves. You build that it should support the emotional needs of the people who use it. Other people build that it helps people to live healthy lives, that it keeps track of things that are hard for them to keep track of on their own, that it increases connections between people. Everyone puts their own ideas together with other people’s ideas, and in the end there is a rich discussion about what will help people connect and feel good. You have the chance to offer ideas about letting people know they are okay the way they are, and people like it. You don’t have to speak up into the stark silence, people are asking you about the models you built (not about you) and you can elaborate in a meaningful way without making yourself super vulnerable.

This is why I love LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. It fosters these rich discussions without leaving individuals at risk, and it gains access to all the diverse thinking available in the group. What group are you part of that could use some play?

The Gremlins Of Change

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I am trying to change, and wow is it tough.

There is a part of everyone that wants things to stay the same. I know I’m not unique in this – there is comfort in knowing what to expect. Part of the process of change is being willing to be uncomfortable. And oh, how I long for that comfort sometimes! Enter the gremlins.

I want to step fully into my power. I want to live and breathe the values I bring to my clients, finding the path forward through play and creativity and community. And the gremlins in my mind say if I’m this uncomfortable, it must be wrong. I must be false.

I want to support my family on what I make in this business. I want to let my husband off the hook of having to support us and take a job he might not love. The gremlins say if I haven’t been successful yet, I never will be. I can’t be. I’m not capable, I’m not worthy of success, I’m fooling myself to think I can be more than I am.

Choice itself is difficult. Everything I choose means something I did not choose. I have so much trouble choosing I usually have all the desserts rather than picking just one, and then I feel bloated and sick. I often stay stuck. The gremlins on all sides chatter at me, making a case for every thing, settling on none.

But look at that new growth. It couldn’t be there if the limb had stayed.

The life force is strong, it wants to find a way. And I keep finding myself doing the things to move my business and my life forward. I walk every morning. I network with new people. I find places to speak about my business. I blog. And the gremlins are also strong. I overeat. I hide in the house. I don’t make the phone calls I’m supposed to make.

What I’m coming to learn is that sometimes I can’t trust my own thoughts. I need outside input to figure out which branches to prune to make room for new growth. I need someone else to identify which thoughts are gremlins and which are healthy (if uncomfortable) progress. For any change to stick, I need a tribe of people who believe in me and can see the change before it happens. People who have been through their own transformations, or who are going through them now. When all I can feel is the stasis of a tree trunk and the grief of a missing limb, they can see the new growth sprouting and the huge potential there.

Thank you to all who are part of my tribe. I couldn’t grow without you!  May your gremlins subside and your new growth thrive.

Exactly What We Need

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Do you know what you need to thrive?

Everyone is wired their own way. We get parenting advice and schooling and workplaces that are set up for people who are wired in a certain way, and we might not match that. We are not given a lot of encouragement to figure out what exactly we need to function well. Therapy is seen as a weakness, as is compassion, as is taking a nap.

I’m talking about something beyond knowing if you are an introvert or an extrovert, though that’s a good place to start. Do you get energy from being with people, or from being alone? That’s important to know. I need a balance of both – too much time alone and I feel lonely, but too much time with people and I get overstimulated. I gain energy from being with people, but only to a point and then I need quiet.

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How are you with touch? Do you love it or hate it? Do you want to hide under a weighted blanket, or do you not even want a sheet on you? Are you okay with touch that’s expected – a handshake, a hug you can see coming – but not with the unexpected contact of someone’s hand on your shoulder? My son is very reactive to unexpected touch, but also seeks out deep pressure on his body and rams himself against me. I love cuddles but don’t love being bashed into. Sometimes I get angry when he gets needy – not the best combination we could find.

What about structure? Do you thrive when you know what your plan is, or do you have great creative leaps when you have vast amounts of unstructured time? A mixture of both? How much of a plan do you need? Scheduled minute by minute, or hour by hour, or day by approximate day? I find myself floundering when I don’t know what I should do and I’m alone, but loving unstructured time with other people.

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How much love do you need? How much compassion? How much judgement can you withstand? From yourself or from others? Can you imagine other people having different parameters from yours? Where you might be able to thrive in a milieu of constantly testing ideas to make them stronger, others might need to let their ideas grow from a tender sprout to a more substantial tree before they can handle any critique.

What about joy? What about complaining? Are you happiest when you are discontented? How much joy can you take in? What is your default setting? Is this a setting that can change? Sometimes just becoming aware that I’m seeing the world with fearful or anxious eyes can help me switch to seeing the joy, support, love, and expansiveness that’s available in the world.

Can you imagine a world in which everyone has all the resources they need to thrive? Where everyone can get enough sleep, eat the right foods, have the most comfortable amount of human contact, get the most helpful amount of emotional support, for who they are and what they need?  This is what freedom is, to me. Why we include the pursuit of happiness in our constitution. Because we don’t want anyone to dictate what we should get or do or be. What they like and want won’t fit us. What we like and want won’t fit them. We are all free to figure out what we need and pursue it, and when our needs are met, to figure out our gifts and develop them. To find what brings us joy, and pursue that. To see what lights us up, and spend more of our time lit up from within. Our world needs that light.

The Blank Face of Listening

I spoke at a small local Rotary meeting last week, and I’ve never had a louder audience to talk over. Partly I loved it – so much energy, enthusiasm, connection with each other, fun to be had – and partly I chided them that I can’t share what I know with them if they’re busy talking amongst themselves. This experience made me think about what it’s like to talk in front of different audiences.

I took a class on speaking that warned me that I shouldn’t let myself be swayed by the looks on people’s faces. If it looked like people were into what I was saying, then great, but if it looked like they weren’t, I shouldn’t change what I was doing to try to coax them out. I have no idea what they are thinking inside.

This was backed up when a presenter at a three-day event said, “Do you want to know what you look like when you’re really processing what I’m saying?” She gave us a look that was so blank-faced that it looked like she wasn’t there at all.

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I’m not talking about an obviously bored stance, just one where you can’t tell what’s going on inside. I see this look a lot when I talk. I always worry that people are bored, or thinking about what to cook for dinner that night. But a very experienced presenter and teacher says this is the look of someone who is thinking deeply about what you just said.

Some audience members are really good at showing their interest. They look at the presenter with curiosity and fascination. They offer energy to the presenter. Thank you, if you are one of these people! It is so helpful to have at least some people who appear to be hanging on one’s every word – it helps recharge the speaker and make him or her much more interesting. But if you find yourself speaking to a bunch of blank-faced people, remember that it probably means that they are so involved in what you are saying that they are forgetting to enliven their facial muscles. And at least you don’t have to find a way to get them to stop talking so they can listen to you.

Have you ever had the most blank-faced person in the audience tell you afterwards how much they got from what you said? Even knowing all of this, it surprises me when it happens. It always feels so unlikely, even when my brain understands. I’d love to hear your experience!