Intuition

Back when I was in Toastmasters, I tried to write a humorous speech. It was remarkably difficult, especially considering how often I made people laugh when I was giving other speeches. In fact, making people laugh felt great, and I wanted to do it more. But I never wrote funny things into my speeches. They always came out spur of the moment, based on intuition and impulse. Trying to be funny on purpose, ahead of time, felt contrived and uncomfortable.

Even though I made people laugh every time I gave a speech, I never quite trusted that I could do it again. I figured that my next speech would just be serious, since it was hard to write in humor.  Somehow humor came to me each time – and I often couldn’t remember what I said afterwards.

Our society doesn’t really trust intuition. It’s not something that can be submitted to double-blind scientific studies. We can’t control it, master it, subdue it, or sell it. People who believe in logic don’t trust intuition, or feelings, or gut reactions. I learned to make decisions based on facts and logical thinking. And yet… here was something that defied logic and thinking. It was what gave my speeches something worth listening to.

I learned to trust that humor might show up in my speeches, but it wasn’t the end of the world if it didn’t. Trusting to intuition for my business – that was something else entirely. I mean, if my speech was serious, that was fine. But choosing the wrong path in business could end up costing me money and time and energy and reputation. That was serious stuff! I’d better stick to logic, and plans, and expert advice.

And yet… Somehow my intuition is still operating, even though I ignore it a lot of the time. I find myself making choices based on gut instinct, a feeling of certainty that THIS is what I should be doing now. I feel embarrassed to admit it, really, since I don’t have an expert advising me or studies showing me what to do. But it’s hard to argue with a deep feeling of alignment and certainty! I don’t have any logical reasons NOT to do it, and clearly I WANT to do it, so why not give it a try?

When I take a step back, I realize that my success as a facilitator, coach, mentor, mediator, leader, consultant, and friend is based on that gut reaction. What I say, how I say it, and to whom, is all dictated by my instinct that this person wants a direct approach, that person wants something softer. My instinct is operating during every conversation, every interaction, every situation. It’s just that when I’m in the flow of it, I don’t stop to think about how I’m getting my ideas or why I’m saying what I’m saying. I just do it.

(I think this is why my writing isn’t as funny as my conversations or speeches. It’s not as much in the moment, it’s slowed down to get the words out my fingers onto the keys, so I don’t end up as much in the flow. When I’m not sure what to say next I can pause and think, rather than blurting something out, or waiting for someone else to talk and spark another idea. I’m a little disappointed about that, but it just means you need to come see me in person!)

How does your intuition work for you? And how do you get yourself into the flow, so that you stop thinking and just do?

The Norm

When my son was a baby, there was a woman in my Mommy/Baby group whose daughter was tiny. Her (white) doctor told her to butter all of her daughter’s food so that she would gain weight, since she was below the low end of the charts for normal weight for babies. The thing is, the mom and dad were both of Asian descent, and were small adults. The scale of “normal” was made for white people of northern European descent. Her baby was totally normal for who she was, and didn’t need any extra butter in her diet.

Being off the scale in the other direction causes problems too. I knew a (black) child who was much larger than other kids his age. Everyone thought he was much older than he was, and assumed he must be slow or stupid or immature. But we expect much different behavior from a 5 year old than from an 8 year old! If a 5 year old looks like he’s 8, we treat him differently and expect different things from him. He was always feeling inadequate and being treated as stupid, just because he was big for his age.

It’s so easy to assume that our own experience is “The Norm.” For example, I’ve only been pulled over by the police twice, and both times it was for something wrong with my car (a light out next to my license plate; tail lights that weren’t hooked up after brake work). So it’s easy to assume that most people don’t get pulled over very often. But some people get pulled over a lot. Is it because they are bad drivers? It’s easy for me to assume that, but it’s not necessarily true. I’ve taked to people who get pulled over for “driving while Black.” Not for speeding, or getting into accidents, or for missing brake lights, but for their skin color.

We teach our children in Kindergarten to have empathy for other people. Just because it doesn’t hurt you to bite your friend, doesn’t mean your friend likes getting bitten. It hurts physically and emotionally to get bitten, doesn’t it? Does that mean we need to bite every kid to show them how it feels? Probably not the best solution. Better to teach kids to understand that other people feel things that we don’t feel – and that they don’t feel what we feel – and that we need to listen to each other to find out what is going on inside another person.

When we don’t learn that very well, we start making harmful assumptions. If I only got pulled over twice in 30 years of driving, and this other person got pulled over ten times this year, that must mean she’s a bad driver, right? Not necessarily. But we need to listen to the people who say they have a different experience than we do, and believe them.

Likewise, a rich white person who assumes that they are the norm, and that everyone starts from a place of power and comfort, can only assume that if someone is poor and miserable then they did something to deserve that. They made poor decisions or were somehow bad people. After all, aren’t I doing okay? And isn’t everyone just like me?

First image on Google for “norm”

It takes imagination to picture yourself in someone else’s shoes. It takes reading books about other people’s experiences, and watching movies, and seeing art, and talking to other people. It means knowing other people! Mixing with people of different backgrounds and heritages, and really listening to them. It means giving up one’s own certainty that we know how things really are, to hear how they are for someone else.

My son has a book called “The Only One Club.” The child in the book is the only Jewish kid in the whole class, and feels isolated and weird. The whole class figures out, over time, that every kid has something about them that only they have – the only one with all his adult teeth, the only one with divorced parents, the only one with a twin, etc. I like this book because it normalizes being not part of the norm.

It is so much easier for the people on the outside to see the differences. The poor person says hey, it’s not so easy for me to get child care, or afford college. The black person says hey, I get pulled over a lot more than whites do. The gay person says hey, I can’t marry the person I love. The people who are rich, and white, and straight, and Christian, don’t see how they skew everything until it’s pointed out to them. Heck, even white women aren’t seen as the norm – medical research on things like heart attacks is mostly done on men, so women’s symptoms aren’t always recognized. The people doing the research assume the norm is who they are, and don’t always account for the differences between people.

This is one reason representation is so very important. When the people running the government, and Hollywood, and the police, and the schools, and the doctors, all look the same, they tend to assume they are the norm and anyone outside the norm is bad. But what if they’re just small, or big, or female, or dark, or light, or whatever, and that’s normal for them? When there’s more representation, more norms are seen, and more norms are tolerated and understood, and more people are accepted as who they are. This is why I saw Black Panther on opening weekend – I’m white, but I want to see black super heroes. I want to see Asian, and Hispanic, and African, and European, and Pacific Islander, and Native American super heroes. I want to see Jewish, and Muslim, and Christian, and Atheist, and Agnostic, and Buddhist, and Hindu people in government, schools, hospitals, police, and movies. I want people to see that there is no one thing that is NORMAL.

There are still ways I don’t see how I skew things to fit myself. I feel embarrassed and stupid when I see how I contribute to keeping the status quo. I’m not saying it will be easy to convince those in charge that they are wrong or unfair. It is difficult for anyone to admit they are wrong, and even more so for people with fragile or inflated egos. I think though that the more visible all the differences are, the more we see #metoo and #blacklivesmatter, the more our culture will expand to allow for all of us. Doctors will learn different heart attack symptoms, and stop telling Asian moms to butter all their baby’s food. Police will stop focusing on skin color when more skin colors are represented on the force. Women will be accepted into traditionally male jobs when we see women in the movies doing all these jobs. We can elect non-Christian officials and not see our country eaten up in the flames of Hell. The more it happens, the more it can happen, and the better all our lives become.

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?

The Pace Of Growth

It pulls me in over and over again – the promise that this time, big change is coming. Exponential growth in your business! Huge breakthroughs in your personal life! I sign up, fork over the money – and experience incremental growth.

Clicker Heroes Cost orange and Rate blue of Treebeard leveling

I get upset by this. Look at those other people! They just took off and now they’re doing great! Why am I only a fraction of an inch closer to my goals now? My husband looks at my progress and says “That class didn’t work.” Then I get defensive and tell him what progress I did make, and how important it is, even though it’s not what I told him I’d get out of the money and time and energy I invested.

What I’ve come to realize though, is this: incremental growth, over time, is incredibly powerful. I don’t feel like I’m making a leap of faith now, I feel like my feet are planted firmly on the ground. And the ground has been built up over years of work, so I can trust it and believe it’s going to stay that way.

My mentor Jesse (check out Thrive and if you go, tell them Talia sent you!) says that a one degree shift can change your destination by hundreds of miles. If you leave San Francisco going east, and shift one degree north or south, where you hit the east coast will be drastically different. You don’t need to make a huge change to get a huge result over time. That difference might not be visible right away, but three thousand miles later you’re not where you would have been.

I feel like all my classes, all my breakthroughs, all my progress, have given me one degree shifts. Sometimes less! My husband looks at my business and doesn’t see the cash rolling in, and thinks nothing has changed. I see a difference, but it’s subtle. And it takes another shift, and another, and another, each one nudging me further, to have me facing the direction where I can really thrive.

All this leaves me afraid to promise too much from my own classes. I don’t want to tell you that you will experience a huge breakthrough, or be 100 times more confident when you’re done. I do believe that I can offer you a number of one degree shifts. When you’re done working with me, you won’t be in the same place you started. I’m not the only one who can help you, and over time you should work with lots of different people to get all of their viewpoints. And, I think I should be one of the ones you consider!

I’m offering a couple of workshops next month on Talking In Circles: The Art of Speaking Up In Groups. They are April 7 and 21, both in the SF Bay Area. You can get more info and register at eventbrite.

Please visit my web site if you are interested in working with me one-on-one, with your team, or in a group program. They are all powerful and fun ways to make these shifts. I’d love to talk to you about what we can do together!

Strengths

How would you grow more – by taking what you’re good at, and getting better, or by taking what you’re bad at, and trying to get better? I may have given it away by that word “trying.” The truth is, we can grow from decent, to good, to excellent, to extraordinary in the things aligned with our strengths, but we will never get more than adequate in the things that are not.

I found the book Now, Discover Your Strengths years ago, but never took the strengths-finder test. I unearthed it recently, and have been re-reading it. I took the on-line test as well. According to the Clifton Strengths Finder, my top five strengths are Input, Empathy, Connectedness, Maximizer, and Communication. I’m not sure that Input and Maximizer are my top traits, but I would include Inclusiveness to the list, and maybe Relator.

Not surprisingly, my strengths all focus around connecting to other people. I feel what they feel, make them feel welcome, and find ways to talk to all sorts of people. It’s why I want to do LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to help groups be more connected and understand each other better. It’s why I want to start a community focused on play and creativity and acceptance of oneself and others. I feel more alive, more focused, more creative, more joyful, and more worthwhile when I’m in relationship with another person.

This also explains why data entry is so deadly boring for me. I can muscle through some things that I need to do in isolation and that are boring, but after a while I can’t any more. Unless I can carry on a conversation with someone else also doing the boring work, I hate it.

I think our society is much more focused on “fixing” peoples’ weaknesses than on strengthening their strengths. When I was looking at schools for my 2e son, I found that public schools can help him in the places he’s behind, but can do nothing for the places he’s ahead. (It’s the nature of 2e kids to be asynchronous in their development, so he’s both ahead and behind.) You know what this would do to him? It would make him feel inadequate, stupid, unwanted, and broken. I have him at a school that focuses on strengths instead of weaknesses, and he feels smart, capable, wanted, and creative. He’s excited to learn, capable of finding ways to cope when he’s bored (mostly – he’s 11, after all), and wants to share what he knows with others. Would he feel all that if he were in an environment telling him that he should be able to write better by now, why doesn’t he know his times tables by heart, he can’t go out to recess until he focuses and finishes that assignment?

Likewise at work, will you get the best from your employees if you tell them they need to get better at the things that are difficult for them, and shame them for not doing better? It’s much more likely that they will be thrilled when you acknowledge them for the things they do well, and that they will be delighted to grow and thrive in those areas. You will get way more engagement, agreement, and productivity from people who get to work in their genius zones.

It seems like a lot of us don’t value the things we do well, because they come so easily to us. It’s like a thing can’t have any value if we don’t work hard to get it. Besides, if I can do it so easily, can’t everyone? We don’t seem to realize that no one else does it just like us, and that most people don’t do it at all.

It can be difficult to uncover what it is that we do well and easily, especially if we think it doesn’t matter or can’t be turned into a paying occupation. I took a class some years ago by the authors of Inside Job: 8 Secrets to Loving Your Work and Thriving and they said something very similar. They helped me figure out that play and creativity, and bringing people together, are things I do anyway, regardless of where I am, so if I can get paid for that it will be much easier than other jobs would be.

So today, I challenge you to notice something that you do easily and well. What do you do as easily as breathing? Look at your family and co-workers. What strengths do they have? Acknowledge someone for what they innately bring to the table. And help them play to their strengths.

Archetypes

I was on a group mentoring call talking about archetypes as a way of thinking about an issue. The archetypes in this case were: Warrior; Sovereign; Shaman; Lover. I thought this was an interesting tool to use.

Image result for archetypes

 

I started out thinking about how these archetypes functioned in my life in the realm of exercise. The Warrior part of me wants to exercise to be strong; the Sovereign wants me to be healthy; the Shaman enjoys my walks because I can commune with nature, watch the sun rise, listen to the birds, talk to trees, and feed my spiritual aspect; the Lover enjoys the feeling of being healthy and the joy of movement. When I only worked out of the first two, I didn’t exercise much, since it felt like punishment. ‘I must exercise to be healthy but it doesn’t feel good so I want to avoid it.’ It was only when I found the ways that it felt good that I started doing it every day.

My husband is an artist. He needs to draw and paint to feel joy and contentment. So when he spends all his time in his office using Photoshop, he doesn’t feel like he’s working super hard and struggling, he’s doing what he loves. I have looked at him on the computer for hours during the day, and then going back after dinner, and felt entirely inadequate. I can’t focus on my computer that long! But for me, computer time is much more on the side of doing what I should, not what I love. I find joy elsewhere. So it’s not a fair comparison.

I think it’s interesting to apply these archetypes to work, too. Is there a place in your work where you feel joy, or pleasure? Is there a time when you feel connection to something larger? Or is it all about getting ahead and working harder? I think there is a place for a strong warrior and sovereign, so that the right things get worked on, and the work is focused and intent. But if there is no lightness, no connection with something larger, then it feels more like punishment than a cause to work for.

This may explain part of the Gallup numbers saying that only 33% of American workers are fully engaged at work. If work is punishment, I’d want to leave early too! When I have to spend hours working on things I don’t enjoy, I’m not working at my greatest potential, I’m less likely to have the energy to help others, and I want to stop as soon as possible.

So here is the million dollar question – how can you help your employees find pleasure, connection, meaning, and joy from their work?

I’m reading a book about finding your strengths, so I may have more to say in next week’s blog. However, for today, I need to say – it depends. It depends on the things that light up your employees. It depends on what they enjoy, and where they look for meaning. But I can give you a few generalities:

  1. Explain the Why. When you tell someone to make 100 phone calls a day, they might rebel. But if you talk about the goals of the organization, and how this effort can help reach the goals, they may be more inclined to put in extra effort and time. Knowing how each person’s part plays into the bigger picture can help people feel like they are creating something bigger than themselves, which can be inspiring.

  2. Listen to the People on the Front Lines. Just as they say no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, the people who are implementing your plan are the first ones to see how and where it doesn’t work. You need to know this! Also, they need to be heard. So pay attention! People won’t keep speaking up if you don’t listen the first time.

  3. Build Up Your Team. Make sure people know each other, and feel comfortable around each other. Make sure your team knows how to support each other, how to help each other, and that everyone has everyone’s back. Make sure people feel comfortable showing up as their full selves. If someone doesn’t feel welcomed, they won’t put out any extra effort for the group.

In other words, find ways to engage all the archetypes. Help people feel connected, feel wanted, feel part of something they can be proud of. Otherwise, all you get is minimal effort from one part of your workers.

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?