How We Drive

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I was in slow and go traffic today, thinking about how to drive. I like to go slowly enough to keep a steady pace for as long as I can before having to slow or stop. The person behind me looked like he might have been from the go-as-fast-as-you-can school, which involves a lot of stopping and starting. He seemed frustrated with my slow and steady approach, and I felt stressed out by his tailgating.

Both approaches have validity. People who tailgate might arrive a bit ahead. It might feel like they’re doing more to get where they want to go. They are using every bit of speed available to them. But that approach is also sort of jolting. There’s a lot of sudden stops, desperate acceleration, then dramatic braking. People who go slow and steady miss a lot of the jerkiness. There’s a feeling of spaciousness and ease, even in difficult traffic. But there has to be trust as well that the space in front will stay open, that opportunists won’t leap in front and make you slam on the brakes anyway, only now you’re several car lengths back.

There are things in my life I do in the jerky start and stop way. I pick up new craft projects, rush forward, spend money, get supplies, and then stop. Everything takes up space and gathers dust as my enthusiasm ebbs and dies. Sometimes I pick it up again, sometimes I don’t.

I don’t like the physical feeling of sudden starts and stops. I like the smoother approach to driving because it feels better. But it’s not good for the competitive part of me. I sometimes measure my progress compared to that person with the new license plate in that lane, or the person in the blue car in the other lane. I don’t want to let them in because I want to get there first. But when I can relax and see that it’s actually to everyone’s advantage to allow people to change lanes with enough room, so no one has to slam on brakes and risk hitting anyone, and we can all feel like we are on the road together so let’s make it as easy as possible, then I slow down and allow space.

I can’t help but think that other things are like that in life. That competition gives us a narrow and jerky view of the world. That making space for everyone makes everything feel more spacious. I like to think that I’m helping to calm traffic, so there’s fewer jams, when I’m taking up a lot of space between cars. But even if that’s not true, it’s an approach that just feels right to me.

I’d be interested to hear from the go fast people – what feels right to you about that? I’m sure there’s benefits I’m not thinking of since it’s not my natural style. There should be room enough for all of us on the roads, and all driving styles.

Insight

Johan Roos, one of the creators of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, summed up it’s essence as:

“Seeing the same in a different way and
creating entirely new insights,
in enjoyable ways”

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A lot of people are trying desperately to find ways to see the old in a new way. How are we going to come up with the Next Big Thing? We need to find a way to get new ideas that can make us successful.

But think about this – how fun are your meetings? Do you even get insights from them? How rewarding are brainstorming sessions? Are they something everyone dreads?

I believe that being too serious, too afraid, or too disengaged can make any meeting tank. New ideas flourish in a more lighthearted environment. Anything we can do to help our meetings be important but not dry is invaluable. The more serious we get, the more heavy lifting each idea needs to do, and the more likely we are to reject it. With levity, we can let ideas float around for a while to see what about them is valuable, and let multiple ideas bubble around until some of them coalesce into a plan.

This is one reason why bringing in something like LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® can be beneficial – it involves play, which makes it more fun and lighthearted than more serious approaches, but it still gets serious work done. At the end of a workshop, you may understand more than you did before, have ideas of what to do next, compassion for where others are, and a group pride in the work done, without having to slog through some terrible situation to gain group cohesion.

It only takes one person being disengaged to make others stop paying attention; it only takes one person being afraid to keep others from speaking up too; it only takes one person being too serious to keep the atmosphere heavy and uninviting. I’ve seen one person stop brainstorming in its tracks more than once. It takes everyone to make a meeting work.

What are you doing to make your meetings work? How do you keep the atmosphere light, inviting, open, and full of possibility? How do you keep people from shutting everyone else down? And how do you find new insight?

Defense

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My husband came into my office the other day looking grim, and I immediately got defensive. As far as I knew I hadn’t done anything that would upset him, I had no indication that he was looking upset because of me, but I automatically told myself a story that he was upset with me, and that I needed to defend myself.

Sometimes, when I feel the need to defend myself, I go on the offensive and attack first. Sometimes I withdraw into myself. Either way, it’s difficult to be curious and open. I think I know what I will hear, and I don’t want to hear it, so I’m shut down and angry. I feel like I’m under attack and need to defend my borders.

These stories we tell ourselves get us in trouble, not just at home, but also at work. People at work may feel that if someone questions one of their ideas then they are questioning their worthiness to exist, so they defend their ideas to the death. Or maybe they’re afraid that if someone shoots down their idea that will mean they will be injured somehow so they don’t bring up their ideas at all.

All of this is normal human behavior. I don’t want anyone to think it’s wrong or bad to want to defend oneself. I want everyone to feel safe sharing their ideas. And – it’s very helpful to notice when the automatic reflex of defensiveness goes into play, so that we can ask ourselves different questions or tell ourselves different stories.

With my husband, I’ve learned over the years that my instinctive responses are often way out of sync with what’s going on for him. My fears are based in childhood stories, and almost never play out in my adult life. So I make space to ask what’s going on, while telling my defenses how much I appreciate that they are there, and to please wait in the wings for me to call on them if and when I might need them. It turned out that he was upset about an email he had gotten, and it had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was able to give him support, and he left considerably happier.

So what can you do when someone else gets defensive? Certainly, if you are the one getting defensive, you can notice, as I’ve learned to do, and put off the heavy walls until you’re certain they’re needed. But if it’s someone else, how can you help them listen?

Short term: Back off. Let them know you don’t mean to step on their toes. Acknowledge them for their insight, bravery, loyalty, or whatever else you see in them. Admit to any aggression you may have (inadvertently) brought to the encounter. Ask to talk about it later, when people are feeling more even-keeled.

Long term: Model openness. Talk about when you feel defensive and why. Ask how you come across to others, and try to be less aggressive. It is very powerful to be publicly vulnerable, and it gives others permission to talk about what is going on for them.

We don’t need more people in the world who look like they never make mistakes and never feel bad. We need more people who show up with all their humanness and flaws, and show how to move forward anyway. It’s more honest, it fosters more open communication, and allows others to show up more fully as well.

So. It’s The Holidays.

As fun as the holiday season is, it’s also stressful. Meeting new people at holiday parties, dealing with family, travel…

I was thinking recently about Amy Cuddy’s work (Amy’s TED talk) about how our actions shape our emotions. She quotes research about job interviews where the interviewee either took power poses or normal poses for two minutes before the interview, and the ones that stood or sat in power poses did better on the interviews. Apparently, how we hold our bodies affects the hormones we create, which affects how courageous, outgoing, and confident we are.

It occurred to me today that dealing with family at the holidays can be as stressful as going on a job interview. I remember when I was in my twenties and even my thirties feeling like I reverted to a child whenever I went back to my parents’ house. With so many years of accumulated power dynamics, it was easy to fall back into those patterns when I was back in those walls.

Putting the pieces together, it seems to me that standing in a power pose for two minutes before talking to your parents, or in-laws, or that uncle, or whoever is difficult for you, could change those power dynamics significantly. Of course, this is only one piece of the complex web of relationship, and changing the stories in our heads, the words we use, the attitudes we hold, the subjects we are willing to discuss, the boundaries we keep, and so forth, will also be part of the picture. Still, having a way to give ourselves a boost of confidence going into difficult conversations seems like a very good thing.

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What is a power pose? It’s a way of holding the body that takes up more space, that looks confident, and that signals dominance. (It may be important to do this privately, in the bathroom or a back bedroom.) For example, you could stand with your legs apart and your arms above your head and apart. Think of someone who just won a race, for example. Or, try putting your hands on your hips and your head up, like Wonder Woman. Or if you’re sitting, spread out, put your arms on the chairs next to you, or stand up and lean on the table in front of you. Think of any alpha male you know, and imitate what he does.

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Two minutes is all it takes for a new confidence at the holiday party, or with your judgmental in-laws. Let me know how it goes!

Constraints on Creativity

I got to be a substitute leader for Nora Scully’s Art Spark today. I asked people to build what gets in the way of creativity, and what supports creativity for them. These are some of the responses:

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What gets in the way of being creative is having too many thoughts in my head pulling me in too many unrelated directions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is what I need to be creative – all the parts laid out in front of me, but with some clear space to work in. I need time and space available, but I also need to see all the options to figure out what can go with what.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is me in my DJ booth. I don’t really DJ, but I like to play music to set a mood or create a soundtrack for an event. I like to help people come together through music.

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I get my best work done when everyone is doing their part like a well-oiled machine, and I can rely on other parts getting done. So I can relax and focus on my part.

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What supports your creativity? What gets in your way?

Playing While Messy

I haven’t done a creativity game in a while, so I wanted to share this one with you. I like it partly because it takes something messy and turns it into something creative and fun.

Start with a stain on some paper. Maybe you put down your coffee cup. Maybe a leaky pen. I’m using a paper stained with grease:

The first picture is of the paper with the stain on a desk, the second picture is held up to the light to make the pattern easier to see.

The challenge is to turn this random collection of blobs into something different. Maybe recognizable, even. This is what I did:

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I looked at my little critter and thought it needed a place to live, so I kept doodling:

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I even gave it a friend in the lower left hand corner. A friend just as lumpy as it is, but without the dramatic coloration.

I would like to note that I am not a professional artist. I’m sure that some people could turn this into a work of art. I just doodle. If I can do this, so can you. You don’t have to share the results of your doodling, but give it a try. It’s a great way to open up possibility thinking – what could this random stain turn into? What do I see in it? How can I transform it? How can I bring out its essence? How can I play with it?

As I’ve said before, and I’m sure I’ll say again, creativity is like a muscle, and it needs to be exercised. The more creativity games you play, the more you practice open-ended possibility thinking  – the more creative thinking you have the rest of the time, too. So when your job, or your life, needs creative thinking, you will have more new ideas because of practicing creative thinking.

Another creative exercise – give your doodle a caption or a title. I find this challenging, which is why I’m including it! Maybe: Fluffy Finally Finds a Friend. Or: Yes, He’s Part Rottweiler and Part Dragon. What do you think it should be called?

Letting Go Of The Boat

Have I told you, my faithful readers of my blog, about my experience snorkeling in Australia? This was between 15 and 20 years ago, but it made a deep impression on me. (See what I did there? Deep? Get it?)

I am not a confident swimmer, but I manage in a pool. We were on a boat heading out to the Great Barrier Reef, and it was an hour across ocean to get to our snorkeling site. I was nervous the whole way. When we got there, everyone else jumped off the back, and I sat there crying, I was so scared and humiliated for being scared. Then a huge Maori Wrasse came up to the back of the boat to be fed, and I touched it as it went by. It looked me in the eye. I decided it was worth it to get in the water to see more amazing things like that. So I blew my nose, grabbed a pool noodle in one hand, my boyfriend’s hand (he’s now my husband) in the other, and got off the boat.

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After that, it was magic! I was flying over cities of coral and fish, soaring above the beauty and scurry of life under water. I didn’t get swamped by the waves like I thought I would, instead I floated on top and bobbed up and down. I didn’t get lost and pulled by the current too far to get back to the boat. My boyfriend and I headed back on time and got our snacks on our way to the next snorkeling site.

Many years later, I’m still talking about this experience. I’m still using it as a metaphor to remind myself that it’s worth it to let go of the boat. I might be scared, but what I will experience is so amazing it’s worth it to move through the fear.

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Just recently my husband got a charm made to look like that fish I saw in Australia, so I can keep a reminder to move through fear with me always. (My other charms represent, in order, my husband, myself, my son, and my business.)

I bring this up because I have been challenging myself with new and scary experiences recently. Yesterday I got interviewed on camera for a show that will be aired on an obscure cable channel that very few people watch, but clips will be put on Facebook and YouTube and people will see me. I don’t know how I did. The interview felt choppy and uncomfortable while I was doing it, but I think I said all the things I wanted to say. Maybe. I was nervous going in to it, and anxious going out. So far, it doesn’t feel like magic, I’m not flying over new cities of anything. But I’m proud of myself for doing it, and maybe it will help advertise my business. You, my faithful readers, are still keeping me a secret. What gives?

It is uncomfortable being scared. My shoulders have been too tight for weeks. I eat too little or too much. I can’t concentrate on work, can’t fall asleep at night, and my mouth is always dry. I understand why we avoid this situation! But I’m also proud of myself for stretching outside my comfort zone. Every time I do that my comfort zone grows. I’m more willing to snorkel again. I’m more willing to be interviewed on TV again. I’m more willing to try the next scary thing that comes along.

So I say to you, please don’t be ashamed of having fear. And also, at the same time, I hope you find a way to move through the fear and do what you are afraid to do. There is a whole world on the other side of your fear.