Gratitude

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When you wake up, do you dragged down by all the things you don’t want to do today, or do you feel excited to be awake and alive? When you get sick, do you feel miserable all day, or do you feel grateful that you don’t get sick that often?

I know it’s hard to let go of feeling bad. There are such juicy pay-offs! When I feel bad I can complain to people, and get their sympathy. I don’t have to work too hard because I need to take care of myself. I can bond with people over things we don’t like, but I don’t have to stretch my comfort zone to try to change anything. Change, even change I want and try to make happen, is difficult and uncomfortable. It’s just so easy to stay feeling stuck, sick, bored, sad, frustrated, angry, apathetic, unmotivated.

If something hurts, it’s hard to ignore it. Pain, discomfort, and trouble breathing are all very insistent on getting attention. I feel justified in letting my illness or injury run the show. It’s too much work to make my intentions larger than my circumstances. I’ll just wait til my circumstances improve to do anything too difficult.

And – welcome to victim-hood. Where nothing changes. Where no goals are met. Where everything is a little bit grey and boring.

It’s fascinating to realize that the only thing needed to change the picture – the only thing – is a change in perspective. Yes, I can’t breathe well right now. But how wonderful that I haven’t been sick in so long! I had health for a long time and I will again. Yes there are things I don’t like to do planned for the day. Just think how happy I’ll be when I get through them! I hate having them hanging over my head. Plus, each dreary phone call gets me closer to actual paying clients, or whatever goal I have for the day. (New school? Nursing home? Lawyer? Getting info and making calls helps in every case.) Then I can end the day feeling proud of myself.

I’m not saying that genuine depression can be lifted by thinking happy thoughts. My brain doesn’t make the right neuro-transmitters, and so I use store-bought ones. I was unable to think happy thoughts until I had the right brain chemistry. So I want to be clear that I’m not saying that if you are on the floor crying it’s all your fault and that you have to be different than who you are for things to get better. There is no fault, no blame. You are enough, just as you are. You are perfectly you, and no one can tell you you’re doing it wrong.

Once you have the capacity for joy, love, excitement, hope, and gratitude restored to you, then you can practice exercising those muscles. The negativity will always try to lead. It’s a survival mechanism. There’s nothing wrong with you for having all the negative thoughts. But how wonderful to think that if you’re miserable from all your negative thoughts, you can have a different experience if you change your thoughts!

Changing thoughts often takes practice. Try finding three things to be grateful for, right now. Can you breathe? Awesome! Do you have a place to sleep? Epic! How about hot running water? Fantastic! How are your eyes? your feet? your liver? All working? Sweet!

Now, let’s try the next level – find three things you’ve done well today. This can be very hard for people who are used to beating themselves up for all the things they did wrong. Did you make it to work? Awesome! Did you say something kind to someone? Epic! Are you clean and dressed? Fantastic! Have you fed yourself? Fed someone else? Had enough water? Sweet!

Now – can you see yourself as the hero, not the victim? Can you see the power you have? Can you take your power back from your circumstances, your health, your boss, your employees, your spouse? You have the power to choose how you face the day. Are you grateful the sun came up, or are you grumpy that the sky is grey? Can you smile when you hear birds sing, or do you curse that they woke you up too early?

I want to say this is both an instant fix, and it isn’t. On the one hand, I can choose what to focus on and that can make an immediate difference. On the other hand, in order for my focus to change generally to the positive requires diligent practice. I need to keep gratitude lists, lists of things I do well, lists of positive adjectives about myself, lists of people to call if I lose my positivity. I need to rewrite these lists often. I need to get exercise and eat well. When I do all these things, I find myself drawn more and more to see things in a positive light. And when I don’t, it’s easier to switch. (I still take anti-depressants though. That won’t change any time soon.)

I guess I’m sharing all of this because I feel like my life is getting more spacious, my possibilities are increasing, my power is growing, my heart is expanding, and my joy is overflowing with these changes that I’ve been making in my life. I want you to have this too. My mission in life is to help get every voice heard, and part of that is making space for the voices to speak up. And, part of it is helping the voices feel like they deserve to be heard. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to take up space. I hope I can help support you on your own journey to possibility and joy.

Practice Makes Perfect

My Dad is a professional musician, and he has always had issues with the saying “Practice makes perfect.” He prefers to say “Perfect practice makes perfect.” After all, you can learn a mistake really, really well if you practice it a lot.

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There’s a lot of pressure on a person though, if they have to have perfect practice. After all, the reason you’re practicing is that you’re NOT perfect yet. In fact, perfect is practically impossible to achieve.

So the question becomes – are you keeping yourself small because you’re afraid you’ll make a mistake?

I don’t know about you, but I hate making mistakes. I hate feeling stupid, embarrassed, flawed, and unreliable. I hate feeling like the other person is looking down on me, or dismisses me, or is going to actively campaign against me with a private twitter war or terrible reviews on Yelp. (Not sure I have that much power, but my fears are strong.)

What I’ve come to realize recently is – I hate playing small even more. I have a big message for the world. I want to get every voice heard, empower everyone to speak up, make every meeting a safe space to show up. Playing small doesn’t serve my future clients, doesn’t tell people it’s safe to be themselves, and doesn’t let me be myself.

If I want to take up more space and be more visible, I have to expect that I will make mistakes. I have to learn to live through the wash of heat that floods my body, making me feel uncomfortable and like I’m in front of the firing squad. It’s not actually life or death. And this, as with any other skill, takes practice.

The Power of Questions

What if…

How many new ideas have come from those two words? What if we could fly to the moon? What if we made an ice cream sandwich using a donut as the bread? What if my car could drive itself for me? What if we crossed a poodle and a labrador?

I was reading How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael J Gelb, and he talked about the power of questions to shake up how we see things. All sorts of problems can be solved when we ask the right questions. Not just what is the problem, what is the advantage of leaving it the way it is? What are the underlying issues? What paradigm might be limiting my perception? What problems may come from solving this problem? Who is affected? Who perpetuates it? Who can help solve it? When does it happen? When does it need to be resolved? Why is it important? And why again, and why again… These sorts of questions can help define a problem, find solutions for it, and even get our brains to start climbing out of the boxes they live in so we can see things from a different perspective.

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Byron Katie also asks questions. Her questions are very powerful, because they are addressed to our most intimate of possessions – our thoughts and beliefs. And she asks – is it true? Is it always true? What a question to ask!

I’m not going to speak up because speaking up always leads to bad consequences. Better to blend in.

Is that true?

Of course. Mom used to yell at me when I interrupted her reading. My third grade teacher would make fun of me for asking questions. My last boss fired me for challenging him. Speaking up leads to humiliation and loss.

Is that always true? Has speaking up always led to humiliation and loss? Has speaking up ever helped me? Is there a cost to not speaking up?

Well, there was that time. I told Mom I didn’t want to play piano any more and she eventually agreed, without any yelling. Other teachers liked hearing my questions. And one boss recognized me for saving time and money by my suggestions. So I guess speaking up and being noticed isn’t always bad. And I sure would like to catch the eye of that person I’d like to date…

I’ve found that I need someone else to ask me if a thing is true, since I firmly believe it is until it’s questioned. What’s really amazing is the amount of freedom I’ve experienced from letting go of thoughts and beliefs that weren’t true, or at least not always true. Realizing that some of my fundamental beliefs about the world are only stories I tell about the world to make sense of it really shook me at first, but now I can write new stories that serve me better. Rather than saying I overeat because I’m pathetic and hopeless, I say I overeat to cope with feelings I’m afraid to face, at least for now. Much gentler, and leaves open the possibility of things changing. But I believed I was pathetic and hopeless for a long time.

What do you believe? What would change if you questioned that belief? What problem are you having that needs a new perspective? Like Byron Katie, like Leonardo Da Vinci, ask yourself lots of questions!

Women’s Day

 

Today is Int’l Women’s Day. Here in the US, people are participating in a Day Without A Woman, a general strike where people don’t work or shop unless with a women owned business, if that is possible for them.

It’s interesting though. How many women are going to strike from being moms? I still made my kid’s lunch today, took him to school, took him to an appointment. I’m still going to make dinner, help him brush his teeth and tuck him into bed. Women do a lot of work that doesn’t really count as work. But it should.

Women’s rights are being threatened right now, as are the rights of most minorities. Access to basic health care, clean water and air, the right to walk through the world without people touching us or hurting us or sending us away or killing us. Things that if they happened to one of the men in charge he would do something about it, when it happens to the rest of us he doesn’t really care.

So the idea is that we can flex our power today. If enough women stay home from work, if enough women don’t shop at the large companies that own the politicians, we can show that they shouldn’t do things that hurt us. That we can hurt them back.

But it can be hard to do. Do you stay home from work if you’re the main breadwinner for the family? Will you risk being fired? Will you lose a day’s income? Maybe you do stay home from work, spend the day with people you love and not running errands and getting the car fixed. Will you stop making the sandwiches? It doesn’t feel right to hurt one’s own family to make a point to the politicians. But if women really stopped doing all of the work that we do, it would make a huge impact everywhere. In families. In schools. In hospitals. In businesses. Everywhere.

I don’t know what to tell you about where the line should be. I’m still networking today for my own business. Of course it’s woman-owned, since it’s all me. I’m still being a mom, driving, going to appointments. I hope that enough women participate that those in power are inconvenienced, that they notice the power of a large group of people acting together. It would be nice if a general strike could shut down the capitol. I wonder if my wearing red today in solidarity with the Day Without Women will in fact change anything. I think probably not. But I think it would be worse to not join in at all. I want people to know that there are principles I live by, that I think are real and valid and important. Black Lives Matter. Women’s Work Matters. Science Is Real. Kindness Matters. People Need Respect. All Voices Need To Be Heard.

Who Cares What They Think?

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Why should it matter if you get input from everyone at your meeting? Doesn’t it only matter that you tell them what to do?

Well, maybe. If you’re the emergency dispatcher, then yes, all that matters is that they listen to you and go where you tell them. But that’s not what the typical meeting is all about.

What are the benefits of getting input from everyone at the table?

  1. People want to be heard. You hired these people because they are good at what they do, so you should listen to them. It makes them happier to be listened to, which increases morale across the board.
  2. Replacing someone is expensive. If people don’t feel valued, they leave. Daniel Pink wrote about this in his book Drive. People want to feel like their contribution means something.
  3. You get better decisions when you have more data to work from. If you only ever hear from two people, you make decisions with two data points. If you hear from a dozen people, you may end up with 8-15 data points, which makes a stronger decision more likely.
  4. Productivity goes up. When people talk to each other in meetings, they are more likely to talk to each other outside meetings. If you have a useful exchange of views with someone in accounting, when you need a favor from accounting you’re more likely to go back to that person. Which increases productivity.
  5. Engaged employees are more effective. If all someone does is sit in meetings and never contribute, they are not being engaged. There are Employee Engagement Awards to celebrate the companies that know how to keep their people fully involved – and when they do that, they get better results.

Google studied what made high-performing teams, and one of the main factors was how much people participated. Teams where everyone felt welcome to contribute and had a chance to speak up did much better than those where only a few ever spoke up.

What have you seen in your time spent in meetings?