What You Focus On, Grows

I wrote this quote when I realized how different exercise feels to me when I focus on the pain in my muscles, the pain in my lungs, the feeling of inadequacy, and the feeling of punishment, versus when I focus on the joy of being alive, the air flow through my lungs, the feeling of growing strength, and the feeling of gratitude for all the parts of me that work. Do I focus on the pain, or do I focus on the fun?

There’s a Native American idea that goes something like this:

A grandfather is telling his grandson that inside every person there are two wolves. One wolf represents the fear, pain, resentment, and anger a person feels. This wolf thrives on putting others down, holding grudges, being defensive, and hurting others. The other wolf represents the love, joy, gratitude, and compassion a person feels. This wolf thrives on giving to others, remembering kindnesses, having compassion for people’s pain, and lifting each other up. These two wolves battle each other inside all of us. The boy asks his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”

It’s interesting to me that modern neuroscience is reinforcing these ancient beliefs. I had this conversation with my son recently:

Him: Mommy, I wish I could erase some of my memories from my mind.

Me: Do you want to know what scientists say about memories? They say that memories exist in our brains because we think of them over and over. The more we think of them, the stronger the neural connections there are, and the faster and easier it is to remember them. We can’t get rid of these connections, but we can make other connections stronger than the ones we want to forget. We know from asking people not to think of pink elephants that when we try not to think of something all we can think about is that thing. We’re both thinking of pink elephants now! But if we think of something else, something we like, we can make that thought stronger than the memory you don’t want to have, and the memory will fade.

Him: Great! I’m going to think about Minecraft!

Do you see the shadow, or do you see the sun?

Do you focus on the pain, or do you focus on the fun?

The moment is the same; your attention chooses one.

What do you choose?

Expectations

Expectations mess me up over and over again. Expectations based on insecurity (I won’t have any fun at that party, no one will talk to me) and on confidence (Of course they’ll hire me, I have everything they’re looking for and more). Then – surprise, surprise! – I have fun talking to people at the party, and don’t get the job.

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Some expectations are pretty valid, and don’t get challenged often – things like the ground under my feet is solid. Here in California we occasionally get an earthquake to remind us this isn’t always so, but generally it’s true.

Other expectations are wildly arbitrary. I don’t feel like I’m my age, ever. But what is 15, 21, or 40 supposed to feel like? It’s entirely subjective and/or based on cultural ideas that don’t really consider the individual.

Expectations between people are responsible for untold amounts of trouble. I expect you to be prompt, and assume you’re lazy or irresponsible if you’re late. You expect me to be thorough, and assume I’m incompetent if I just scan the surface. So many of these expectations are unspoken, and often unconscious, assumptions of how things are or should be, and when things aren’t that way, we get in trouble.

(Today is Valentine’s Day, and boy is it loaded with expectations! Not even going there. But wow, is it hard to live up to the perfect holiday.)

I’d love to be able to say I totally take things as they are, but I don’t. I try to. I try to recognize when something is my expectation, or the culture’s expectation, and then focus on what is really in front of me. But the truth is, I want things to be a certain way, and I get huffy when they don’t go that way. Eventually I can accept that I didn’t get the job, or that traffic is just bad today and that’s why you’re late, but it takes a while of raging against how the world is.

I guess that makes me human. I’d like to be better than that. Sometimes I am. And sometimes I get tripped up on something I just didn’t see coming, and it pisses me off.

What expectations have you had recently, that didn’t come true? How did you handle it? And what do you expect your partner to do on Valentine’s Day?

Pleasure Is The New Gratitude

Does it sometimes feel like a chore to come up with a list of things you’re grateful for? Like you’re in a perfectly good grumpy mood, and someone wants you to say things like “I’m grateful for hot running water” and then you feel like a jerk for not being grateful for something that some people lack, but at the same time you’re annoyed that someone is challenging your status quo?

Now, what does it feel like to step into a hot shower? When you feel the warmth on your body, breathe in the steam, feel the dirt and sweat washed away, feel your body caressed by the water? Isn’t that delicious? I believe that intentionally enjoying pleasurable moments like that is a lot like gratitude. The good kind of gratitude where your heart feels full and happy, not the one where you feel judged and inadequately appreciative of all that you have.

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Noticing things that feel good in your day is also a means towards mindfulness. Noticing the flavor of the food you eat – yum! – or the softness of cat fur, or the laughter you share with friends, or the relief of sitting down after a long walk – all of these things that feel good also help us be present in our bodies, aware of the moment, present and happy.

I love touching soft things. Furry things, smooth things, velvety things, all sorts of things that feel soft. The lovely thing is, I can enjoy the brief moment of softness even on a day that’s not going so well. I can remember that the world is not endlessly bleak, and that there can be moments of light even on the darkest days. That is what a gratitude practice does too. There are reasons to be grateful even when the cat barfs on your new shirt and the toilet clogs – at least the car is still running, at least there’s food in the pantry, we are warm and safe right now.

So for this Thanksgiving holiday, we can make lists of things we are grateful for – and we can also enjoy the things we have to enjoy. The hugs of dear friends and family. The yummy food. Hot showers. Taking time to really notice and appreciate the things that feel good is gratitude repackaged – and delicious, too!

I Believe

I believe that having a seat at the table is not the same as having an equal voice.

I believe that sprouts need time and space to grow, whether those sprouts are tender new plants or fragile new ideas.

I believe that the still, small voice inside is the one most worth listening to, and that we have to get very quiet to be able to hear it.

I believe that everything, including mindfulness, can be used as a weapon by those who are acting aggressively, and that everything, including conflict, can be used as a tool for growth and connection by those who are acting with loving-kindness.

I believe that group dynamics are much more complicated than relationships between two people, which are complicated enough.

I believe that the stories we hear in our heads have a lot of power over us. It’s hard to see that they aren’t the truth, especially if the people around us reinforce them.

I believe that getting hurt when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable will keep us from getting vulnerable again for a long, long time. I believe that from the outside it can be hard to tell if another person is actually feeling vulnerable. I believe we should always assume the other person feels vulnerable, even if they are acting brash.

I believe that connections between people are the most important thing we can create.

I believe that understanding, compassion, and acceptance are the most important tools a team has to create a space where everyone feels welcome and able to be vulnerable.

I believe that new ideas are vulnerable things. It doesn’t take much to crush the idea and the person offering the idea.

I believe that new ideas are necessary to move the world in a sustainable and healthy direction, and to create prosperity for the people doing the moving.

I believe that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, that being vulnerable is a sign of great strength, and that it takes courage to be open to change.

I believe that I can help teams find this place, where they believe these things too and can make their own spaces safe to be vulnerable and new. I believe I can help you.

Vulnerable Post

Hi everyone, I want to share something somewhat vulnerable with you today.

I’m really excited about the work that I do. I get to help people be heard, show up fully, add creativity and innovation to their organizations, feel valued, and ultimately change the world. A one-degree shift in direction can take you miles and miles away from your original destination, so the shift from being quiet to speaking up can make a profound difference in a person’s life.

The reason I care so deeply whether people get heard or not is that I grew up not feeling heard and afraid to speak up. From birth, when I was put into an incubator (my twin brother and I were 5 weeks premature), I have been looking for a way to connect with people and not finding it. I found walls, not loving parents. So I stopped trying to connect.

In my growing up years, I tried very hard to be the person I thought my parents wanted me to be. It seemed to me that every time my insecurities or extra sensitivities got triggered, I was told to toughen up or brush it off. Every time my most tender parts got bruised, I felt like it was my fault for being this way and I’d better change. So I tried to become the person everyone seemed to think I should be. I stopped crying. I ate my feelings away. I tried so hard to be the person they seemed to want.

By the time I got to high school, the advice “just be yourself” was gibberish. I had no idea who I was, and I was pretty sure if the real me surfaced everyone would run away screaming. By college when I got a therapist, she said something about emotional connection and I said “what’s that?”.

The price for all this was pretty high. I was extremely depressed. I thought it was normal for teenagers to wake up not wanting to live in their own skin that day. Everyone said adolescence was tough – but apparently not everyone wanted to die. Thank all the powers that be that I found a good therapist before I acted on it!

When I entered the work world, I was in therapy, but I still didn’t know who I was, or how to speak up, or how to value my own opinions. I didn’t think my unformed and uncertain ideas could stand up to challenge or scrutiny, so I didn’t say them. Maybe I could have changed the course of my employers for the better, but I didn’t believe I was worth listening to.

I’m not there any more, but I remember what it was like. That is why I feel a bit vulnerable offering my services now. I would like to offer 15 free team engagement assessments before the end of the year. I am also looking for 15 places to do a free lunch-and-learn.

I care deeply about this work because how a person shows up can make a huge difference both in their own lives and in the trajectory of their business. I don’t do therapy, but I do help people think with their hands. I level the playing field so everyone has to think before speaking, and I make sure that everyone speaks. People leave feeling like their ideas and opinions were heard and integrated into the decisions that got made. Morale goes up. Engagement goes up.  Productivity goes up. Happiness goes up. People are more cooperative, more inclined to give extra effort to making their shared solution happen.

I don’t always like to admit how personal all this work is. Work should be business-like, right? But it’s deeply personal to me to get the quiet voices heard.

If you support my efforts to bring all voices to light, could you please forward this to anyone you know who is struggling with a team? Please help me find 15 teams to talk to for free about how well they are working together, and 15 businesses that want to have me give a free lunch-and-learn to help their teams grow. Before the end of the year we could change the world!

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

You’ll never live up to their expectations.

Who are you to show up in a big way? Just give up.

You haven’t succeeded yet, so you never will.

Have you ever had voices like that in your head? I have them today. I have a presentation later today with some people who could potentially send me a lot of business, so my gremlin voices are extra loud.

They won’t like you.

You don’t have enough experience.

You always freeze. You’ll never be able to answer all their questions.

I know a secret about these voices – they are trying to protect me. They are trying to keep me in my place in my tribe, so I won’t lose tribal support and end up alone and likely to be eaten by a lion. They are trying to prevent extreme discomfort by keeping me in my comfort zone. And I appreciate their efforts! Only thing is, they’re a little too zealous.

I hope you’re not late with all that traffic.

You look frumpy in that dress.

You always forget something you need.

Here is my tactic for today:  Thank you gremlin voices! It’s so nice to know you are always there to keep me safe. I really appreciate your efforts. Only thing is, I don’t need you right now. I’ve got this. I’ve done it before, I know what I’m talking about, I’m an adult. You know what would be really helpful? Instead of tearing me down, build me up. Tell me all the things that could go right, not wrong. When I hear you start to talk, I’m going to make sure what you’re saying is helpful. OK?

No one wants to hear what you have to say. – Actually, I was invited to speak because they do want to hear what I have to say!

Your insights don’t matter. – Really? The last group I talked to thought my insights were helpful and even profound.

What makes you think you can succeed this time? – Well, I’ve been improving and learning and working for a while; now I have the support, confidence, experience, ability, systems, and knowledge  I need to thrive. And when I thrive, I can help so many more people! It’s win – win – win!

My gremlins start to shift into cheerleaders when I do this. I stop hearing the voices of everyone who has doubted me, and start hearing the voices of those who believe in me.

You don’t let anything stop you.

You have such a big heart.

Your smile lights up a room.

You are courageous and keep showing up.

You care so deeply about the people you help.

You got this!

People tend to find what they look for. What we pay attention to, grows. I refuse to let my doubts run the show today. I got this!

So do you.

Death of a Pet

My cockatiel died this week. She was 22 years old, with a life expectancy of 12-15 years, so she lived a long life. I’d like to think it was a happy one, too. Her death has me thinking about life and death, and I want to share some thoughts with you.

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I considered writing about what you are doing with your one precious life. I thought about writing about holding your dear ones close and telling them you love them. I even pondered writing about unconditional love. Instead, I want to write about prey animals.

My bird was a small bird, and in the wild she would have been preyed on by larger animals. So she was wired to not show weakness. She knew that looking weak could mean being singled out of the flock, so she never told me when she was hurting.

I knew something was up because the feathers where she broke her wing 17 years ago were growing in wrong, and when she preened them she squawked. But I have no idea if she hurt the rest of the time. If I knew, I could have done something about it. I could have taken her to the vet, gotten medicine, gotten work done on the amputated tip of her wing, something that could give her relief. But she didn’t tell me.

When I was a kid, I didn’t tell people either. I tried, but got shut down so many times I figured I was safer not saying anything. I was a sensitive kid, and a lot of things hurt me. I kept being told to toughen up, not be so sensitive, get over it, etc. So I stopped admitting things hurt. I stopped showing up, because saying the wrong thing could get me attacked. I felt like keeping my head down was the safest thing to do.

It may have been the safest option at the time – it’s hard to tell now, and I don’t want to argue with anything that let me survive. Now, however, not showing up has some pretty big costs. It means losing a part of myself. Not offering my gifts to the world. Not being seen, not being befriended, not being loved. I am an adult, no longer a prey animal, now big enough to do hunting of my own. I don’t want to give anyone else the feeling they aren’t safe around me – but I also don’t want to lose my voice again. I will stand strong.

So, this week I am saying goodbye to my long time friend and pet. She taught me a lot about birds. I would wake up early to take her out of the cage and let her walk on me, peck at my freckles, turn her head so I could scratch all the right places on her head and neck. I miss her. And I honor her by being the most vivid, honest, biggest, brightest, most courageous me that I can be. I love you Toby. Rest in peace.