Revising Our Thinking (Advanced Problem Solving)

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This quote has always struck me as both wise and difficult to do something about. On the one hand, the thinking we have now is what led us to consequences, perhaps unintended, that are causing problems. On the other hand – how do you change how you think? Thoughts are just there, like air.

Actually, it turns out that thoughts can change. I think this is fascinating stuff.

First step – pause. If there’s no pause, there’s no chance to question. We believe what we think because it’s always there, informing everything we experience. If we can take a breath, stop the knee-jerk reaction, pause before moving ahead, it gives us a chance to do something different.

One way to practice the pause is to meditate. One school of meditation suggests that you notice what you are thinking, and then let it go. Aim for total quiet in the brain. Thoughts and feelings will come through, and rather than getting snagged in them, just let them pass. This takes practice, and honestly, doesn’t work all the time. When I meditate, I spend plenty of time thinking. But even a little practice in letting the thought be separate from the thinking of it helps create a pause. Seriously, even 3 minutes once a week.

Second step – question. I’m going to quote the wikipedia page about Byron Katie for this:

Byron Katie’s method of self-inquiry, The Work, consists of four questions and what she calls turnarounds, which are ways of experiencing the opposite of what you believe. The questions are: 1. Is it true? 2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? 3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? 4. Who would you be without the thought?

Contemporary neuroscience identifies a particular part of the brain, sometimes called “the interpreter,” as the source of the familiar internal narrative that gives us our sense of self. This discovery, based on solid experimental work, show that we tend to believe our own press releases.

If we can question our own thoughts, we can start to figure out where they might be right, where they might be wrong, where they might be more compassionate, where they might be more expansive, etc.

Pause, and question. How often do we do this in our own lives?

I’m going to tell you a parenting story. My son has sensory processing issues, which means he’s sensory seeking a lot of the time. He was playing with a toy on a string, enjoying the feeling of it swinging around his head, swinging against furniture, swirling around on the floor and against the edge of another toy. All that swinging was driving me crazy. I saw the floor being scratched. I saw the toy about to hit things on shelves, about to sweep the papers off my desk, about to hit me. I kept asking him to stop, and he didn’t stop. I was getting madder and madder.

This time, hallelujah and hooray, I remembered to pause, and question. I took a break, went outside, and asked myself what was going on. I helped myself remember that my kid gets hooked by how things feel. He wasn’t continuing to swing the damn thing around in order to piss me off, he was doing it because he liked how it felt. It was hard for him to stop because it fed something in his brain. I had a choice how I responded. I’ve tried yelling, I’ve tried grabbing the toy away, and these things don’t usually end well. What other choices did I have?

Once I calmed down, I went back inside. I told him he could use the toy on a string in a certain area, but not in others, because he could damage things. He agreed, and after a while was done swinging it around and moved on to something else. Relationship preserved, boundaries enforced with kindness, no yelling. What a difference. Pausing, and questioning.

I think it can be unnerving to be still and open to new ideas. It’s much easier and more comfortable to just be Right. All. The. Time. But we can’t solve our problems with our current thoughts and frames of reference. If we are open to new ideas, all sorts of creative possibilities open up. It’s a little uncomfortable to feel like a vessel for new ideas flowing in. (That may be another blog post.) But how wonderful to find a new solution!

Where have you paused, and questioned? What happened?

Pure Potential

I have always been seduced by blank books. There’s so much potential in them! The reality never quite lives up to the hopes though – sometimes I write in them, sometimes I don’t, but once something goes in, the possibilities are narrowed and the perfection I seek doesn’t exist.

Recently I’ve started coveting planners. Again, so much potential! I could get organized this time. I could save all the important stuff in one place. Plus, it has the blank book feeling of possibility. Yum! I have a tendency to start a planner, be really devoted to it for a few weeks, then I stop carrying it, or I start writing on scraps of paper instead of in my planner, and pretty soon it’s just another “should” for me.

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Sometimes I think that one reason we like children so much is the potential we see in them. They could do anything! They could learn and grow and become the savior of our economy or ecology or a great musician or anything at all! Once they start working mundane jobs, all that possibility is gone. At least, it feels like it’s gone. It’s harder to get at in working adults, even if it’s still there.

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I also think this feeling of possibility shows up in strategic planning sessions. And, so does the falling back into old habits. It’s so exciting to plot a new course, to envision blue sky possibilities, to come up with ideas that could change everything! And then, we go back to work, and have to put out fires, or deal with drama, or just get buried under paperwork, and all that hope gets forgotten. The new ideas become “shoulds” that feel like burdens, not freedom.

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I have two ideas about how to change these patterns. The two ideas come at it from different directions. One, make friends with not being perfect. One reason a lot of my blank books only hold a few pages is that what I put in there isn’t perfect, so I abandon the effort. But when I can accept that what I put in doesn’t have to be perfect, I can keep going with it. I my not live up to the full potential of the book, but I’m still stretching and growing and that’s all that matters. No one can fulfill all potential at the same time.

The other idea is around habits. It’s easy to fall into old patterns. If we want to change that, we have to work at it. So, I’d say block time into the planner to review where you want to go every day or week. Figure out the best use of your time. Delegate or let things go. It doesn’t have to be perfect. But if we don’t focus on the changes we want to make, they won’t happen at all. Starting the day by looking at our guideposts can help us head in the right direction.

My final idea is this: be gentle with yourself. Punishing ourselves when we don’t live up to unrealistic expectations is setting ourselves up to stay stuck and unhappy. Let’s live free and joyous and imperfect but expanding lives!

I’m a Turtle

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I have always been a late bloomer. I didn’t date in high school. I developed late. But I thought that once I got there, I’d be on the same fast track as everyone else.

Lately, I’ve been taking classes that promise breakthrough results and exponential growth. What I experience is incremental growth. I mean, I keep learning and changing, but it’s slow going.

In addition, I’ve realized that every time I stretch and grow, I need to withdraw and integrate what I’ve learned. I often withdraw far, running to the opposite extreme and hiding from the world. I always have blamed myself for this, thinking that somehow I should always be able to be on the cutting edge. But that’s not how I work.

I’ve been hearing about the idea of radical self care, and somehow I keep thinking this means scented baths instead of quick showers. But it really is a radical idea that taking care of oneself is more important than continuing to press on. Whether it’s a bath or a nap or reading a book, if I can honor the times I need to withdraw into my turtle shell, it makes it easier to come out again.

Just the idea that it’s not somehow shameful to need to rest is freeing! To honor the way I work and what I need to grow feels indulgent, but then I get so much better results. I’m able to see my need to turtle as part of the ebb and flow of the world. Everything in the universe is in motion, and my movement includes expanding and contracting, and there’s nothing shameful about that.

So here’s to the turtles of the world. We might not get where we are going quickly, but we never give up. We need to experience safety in order to risk putting ourselves out in the world. And we have so much to offer the world! I’m learning to love my turtleness instead of blaming myself for it. I hope you do too.

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.

How To Live

I’ve been thinking about the systems people put in place as guides to life. Some of it is religion. Some of it is aphorisms or sayings to keep in mind – do unto others as you want them to do unto you, for example.

So, what do I live by? I was born Jewish, and I still feel a part of the Jewish community. And, there are a damn lot of rules about how to be Jewish. I don’t follow a fraction of them. In the end, though, what are all those rules about? How to be fair. How to be kind. How to be healthy. How to be grateful. (I feel a need to put an aside here, because from experience someone will come up with a rule that doesn’t meet these guidelines and tell me that I’m wrong. So, just know I’m being somewhat general here.)

I actually feel a lot of affinity for the Wiccan motto: First, do no harm, then, do what you will. Doing no harm is difficult! Almost everything harms something. Eating a carrot harms the carrot. But if the focus is more on whether eating the carrot harms the earth, then growing food and eating it can still be done with care and reverence. And it shows us how much we are all connected, that all of our choices have consequences. Is using that plastic bottle harming the ocean? Maybe we should find out.

I like that the next thing is – do what you will. There are so many people telling us to do what they want us to do. I love that freedom to explore what it is we feel called to do inside – as long as it causes no harm. We can’t give in to the impulse to kill, hit, or destroy, but we can build a block tower just so we can knock it down because we want to experience that destruction. I think so many of us are not giving our gifts to the world because we are afraid to show our true colors. What if all of our differences and gifts and preferences were admired and supported? What if everyone was called to do what mattered most to them?

I think there is one piece that is missing. I don’t want it to be a law, since it’s sure to backfire. But I think a reminder to find gratitude and joy and love in everything around us is important. When I focus on things I’m grateful for, I see more of them. When I focus on things I’m resentful about, I see more of those. I know which way I feel better, and can be of more service in the world! In fact, I only want to be of service when I revel in the gratitude and joy and compassion and connection. When I feel resentful, badly treated, or not respected I don’t want to be of service. I want people to serve me! It takes a pretty big mind shift to inhabit the world of abundance and happiness rather than pettiness and greed. I know if someone told me I had to make that shift, it would push me further into the world of resentment. But I think it’s very important as part of a world view.

And so, my simple (yet complex) structure to serve as a guide to life:

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It’s Turning 2017 (I really think so)

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So, it’s a new year. A lot of people take the new year as a chance to start anew. I feel decidedly mixed about this.

On the one hand, I love the sense of possibility that comes from new planners, blank books, and the feeling of turning over a new leaf. I imagine how organized, or creative, or both, I’ll be after I purchase a new book to write or draw in. (I can’t count the number of blank books I’ve purchased and either only wrote in the first few pages, because I couldn’t maintain the discipline I envisioned, or never wrote in at all, because I didn’t want to ruin the feeling of possibility.)

On the other hand, it’s just another day in winter. (Or summer, in the other hemisphere.) There’s nothing inherently new about January 1 as compared to December 31. Nothing will change if we don’t try to change, nothing will grow if we don’t plant the seeds.

A lot of people make resolutions at the new year to be different, to make changes, to be more organized or athletic or creative or somehow better. I feel mixed about this too. On the one hand, change won’t come if we don’t put intention and effort behind it. On the other hand, I personally hate the feeling that there’s something wrong with me that needs to be changed.

My best changes have come from following the things that make me feel good – aligned, alive, joyous and free. Not necessarily feel good as in it tastes good or feels soft on my skin, but feel good as in stronger, more myself, more content. Which means I’ve lost some weight. But if I went into the new year saying I am wrong for being the weight I am and I need to lose some weight in order to be acceptable, I would resist like a kid resists brushing teeth. No way are you putting that thing in my mouth lady!

Still, I can’t say the tendency to spend winter in contemplation of the past and planning the future is bad. We all need those fallow seasons where we are not actively planting or harvesting, where we let new ideas marinate til they are soft and ready to apply. Reviewing the year may be artificial, as opposed to reviewing the project that comes to a close, but it’s still better than not looking at it at all. It’s hard to learn from experience if we never look at the experience we have.

So I wish you all a very happy new year, and hope this season gives you greater understanding of the past and hope for the future.