speaker Lynette Crane

The Dark of the Year and the Dancing Saints

As the days grow shorter and darker, I find myself mentally withdrawing into a kind of warm, personal cave – a cozy one filled with minute lights and small comforts, in which I experience a minimum of demands on me.Over the years, I have come to realize that the Dark of the Year is not a great time to find solutions to big problems, or to make great creative leaps, much less make magic.  It is more like the time experienced by daffodil and tulip bulbs, snug under the ground, quiet, gathering their strength for the big surge that will come as the Earth warms.

No use looking for experiences that will trigger answers to questions – somehow the questions you are asking and answers you are receiving never match. It is instead a time for gathering in experiences that are nourishing and that will fuel that great Springtime leap.

In the spirit of providing ourselves with soul-nourishing experiences, a friend and I went to a Wintersong concert at a church in San Francisco.  The concert itself, consisting of songs from Eastern Europe sung by eight charmingly costumed women, was a revelation.  We were told that caroling predates Christianity, and consists of songs that fulfill that human need to find light, joy and community in the darker months.

As if that were not enough, the sanctuary in which the concert was held was a revelation in itself.  From top to bottom, the walls were covered with vividly colored paintings of saints, as defined by the parishioners, all dancing together.  St. Thomas Aquinas, John Coltrane, Florence Nightingale, Anne Frank, Francis of Assisi, Barnabas, Sojourner Truth, Paul of Tarsus, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martha Graham, and more, all joined hands in the dance. Somehow Lady Godiva was in the mix, too, as were several Seraphim, all similarly clothed (or unclothed). As a friend of mine once remarked, “The Lord certainly loves diversity.  He created so much of it.”

It was a magic experience.  All of these people, spanning centuries and representing a myriad of different belief systems, somehow came together to create a harmonious whole.  It may have been pure fantasy, but it was the most hopeful thing I have seen all year.
May we all dance together as harmoniously in 2014, and may the magic of the holiday season grow in you, and burst forth triumphantly as the light returns.

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Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Does persistence really pay off?

Personal note

I spent much of last week in California, mixing family time with business appointments.It was heavenly; on Saturday a dear friend and I went down to the Ferry Building in San Francisco and browsed the wares of the creative street merchants who were offering enchanting scarves, stunning jewelry, cuddly stuffed animals … and, well, also a lot of things neither of us would ever bring home.

Then we took the ferry to the charming bayside, terraced town of Sausalito, where we strolled, sauntered through even more creative shops, and feasted on fish tacos. Sailboats and kayaks dotted the bay, seemingly all going in the same direction, heading towards a hidden cove on the other side of Angel Island, we imagined.

The sky was clear and blue, the temperature was the kind you don’t even notice, because it’s neither too warm nor too cold, and we arrived home tired and at the same time refreshed.

The next day the city was visited by gray skies and an icy windstorm that prompted us to have an indoor picnic.

But the serenity and fun of the day before has continued to stay with me, even as I returned to my office, where I found enthusiastic messages about proposals I had put forth before I left. Everything was working for me even as I backed off for a bit.

Sometimes a break is all you can do to increase your productivity.

Does persistence really pay off?

We’ve heard these phrases all of our lives:

“Persistence pays off,” “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” and “Success comes the day after you give up.”  But are they really true? If you’re feeling tired, despondent and burned out, you may wonder just how long you have to persist before you achieve success.

I used to tell my clients that if you keep hitting your head against a stone wall, something’s bound to give. I wouldn’t count on it being the stone wall.

Here are some guidelines for engaging in what I call “enlightened persistence.”

Take breaks: Being persistent doesn’t mean continuously pursuing a goal. Program and take breaks: a few minutes each hour to stretch and relax; one day a week completely free from effort on a project that otherwise preoccupies you; a weekend per month when you get away from it all. Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is get away from your work.

Try different words: Are you trying to communicate ideas over and over again to the same people in the same words? If you need help and aren’t getting it, for example, you might switch from saying, wearily, “Do you suppose you could help me out with this?” to “I really need your help right now.”

Try different motivators: If you offer the same incentives (or disincentives) to the same person over and over, and don’t see any results, you need to back off and look at the situation … and at the person receiving the motivator.

One client was frustrated to find that her teenage daughter repeatedly violated the parents’ rules, even though the mother regularly punished the girl by grounding her. The fact that it didn’t work doesn’t mean the girl is incorrigible; it does mean that this was the wrong motivator for change in this person.

Try a different path: If you would like to be an enthusiastic member of a team, a friendly neighbor, an adventurous person who attracts similar companions, a success at selling a product you really believe in … whatever it is you want … maybe you’re trying with the wrong group of people, or in the wrong place.

Be willing to jettison things, people, and situations if you realize that you and they are not a good fit.

Continuing to persist in the face of failure sounds admirable, but without being willing to vary your behavior, you are setting yourself up for stress and its worst outcome, depression.

Enlighten yourself! To bring about change, you need to be willing to change.

The last and best words on inappropriate persistence were offered by Albert Einstein, who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The Confident Introvert

Another myth I have encountered recently is that introverts are fine with no outside contact whatsoever. No, we enjoy contacts and stimulation that we get outside of our own nests; we just need to control how much we get all at one time.

A great party with lots of people may be very enjoyable for a confident introvert – for a limited time. We’re the ones who leave early when we’ve had enough stimulation, just as some people quit eating when they’ve had enough.

It’s not a reflection on the host. It’s a reflection of the fact that we recognize and pay attention to our inner needs, always a healthy way to live.

Find out more about The Confident Introvert: http://www.ConfidentIntrovert.com.

What the heck is eustress?

Personal note

I recently joined a TED talk group, and then missed the first meeting due to a frustrating maze of road repairs that made it seemingly impossible to get there.

People e-mailed me a link to a YouTube video of one of the talks, in which the speaker recounted, with the enthusiasm of someone who is reporting late-breaking news, that stress can be good for you.

Having written a book in the 1980’s called The Psychology of Stress: From Distress to Eustress, I somehow wasn’t surprised. Nor should anyone else be who has background in the field.

Performers (of which I was one, previously, as a ballet dancer) recognize that the little thrill of excitement and even panic before a performance can be exactly what is needed to energize the performance.

The only thing new is that we now know exactly how good that kind of stress is for you, and why. Read on to discover the conditions under which eustress can improve your health.

What the heck is eustress?

Hans Selye, known as the “Father of Stress,” coined the term “eustress” in 1926. It means, literally, “good stress.” Is there such a thing?  You bet there is.

When we’re underwhelmed by life, we seek excitement in anything from scary movies to amusement park rides; we crave new ventures and exhilarating relationships. A totally stress-free life would be not only boring, but also unhealthy, and we now have scientific proof.

Distress, the bad stuff, where we feel overwhelmed, anxious, and/or distressed, is not only emotionally painful but also results in damage to everything from constricted arteries and accelerating coronary artery disease, to the diminished functioning of the immune system.

Eustress occurs when, instead of feeling overwhelmed and out of control, we feel challenged, in control and committed to the outcome. Kobasa and Maddi described this combination in 1979 when they studied what they called the “Hardiness Factor,” a state of resilience based on the 3 C’s: Challenge, Commitment, and Control.

Performers and athletes, for example, study and practice their skills over and over. Even though panic may overwhelm them just before they strut their stuff, the well-practiced behaviors take over. External circumstances may be out of control – scenery does fall down during performances, sound systems malfunction, ice is choppy from a previous performer’s ice skates – but the internal control the performer, in any area of life, has developed can be relied on.

You don’t reach this peak of dedication without a deep sense of purpose to which you are committed.

And a threat becomes a challenge when you know you have tremendous skill and decide to dream a little bigger and try a little more to show what you can really do.

We are challenged when we reach for a goal that is a stretch for us, but not impossible. We have achieved some control when we have studied and practiced the steps necessary to reach that goal, and we are committed when it is a goal that is in alignment with our deepest purpose. The stress becomes an energizer of performance, giving it both increased physical power and enhanced emotional impact.

The result is not only one of personal growth, the pride in accomplishment; we also now know that, instead of constricting arteries and shutting down the immune system, eustress dilates the arteries, through which blood flows freely. Levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the good kind of cholesterol, actually rise under eustress.

You may experience eustress when you prepare for, and complete, a networking experience, a public speaking opportunity, a promotion, a new business . . . the opportunities are endless.

So, to make the shift from distress to eustress, think, plan, practice, and enjoy. Reach for the skies, knowing it can only be good for you.

The Confident Introvert

Another myth I have encountered recently is that introverts are fine with no outside contact whatsoever. No, we enjoy contacts and stimulation that we get outside of our own nests; we just need to control how much we get all at one time.

A great party with lots of people may be very enjoyable for a confident introvert – for a limited time. We’re the ones who leave early when we’ve had enough stimulation, just as some people quit eating when they’ve had enough.

It’s not a reflection on the host. It’s a reflection of the fact that we recognize and pay attention to our inner needs, always a healthy way to live.

Find out more about The Confident Introvert: http://www.ConfidentIntrovert.com.

Is Tech Stress Driving You Screaming Mad?

Personal note

The leaves are turning brilliant colors of gold, orange and red, and soon will be dropping from the trees. In contrast, my life feels as if it were blossoming as in a particularly jubilant Spring.

This week truly feels like the first week of the rest of my life. Soon the print copy of my book, The Confident Introvert, will be released.

The delay has been due to collecting the wonderful endorsements I have been getting from pre-readers, including Dr. Philip Zimbardo, leading expert on shyness (“this book can help millions of people”) and Dr. Nancy O’Reilly (“equips [introverts] with practical skills to turn their personality into a winning asset”).

Meanwhile, I’m off to California to discuss speaking engagements in the Bay Area, my former home.

Altogether, a satisfactory end to the year, and a promise of even more exciting things to come in 2014!

Is Tech Stress Driving You Screaming Mad?

It’s official (in case you hadn’t already noticed): technology is raising our stress level precipitously.

In fact, Mike Kushner, co-owner of a computer solutions company in Palo Alto, California, has paramedics ready to respond to calls from what he calls the “digitally desperate.”

Some of that desperation is created because the hardware malfunctions.

Since stress tends to make us stupid, we react as if we’re helpless, lost in a futuristic world of technology where we don’t even speak the language. Recently, I was without a printer for three weeks. At first, I panicked, then realized I could put everything I needed on a flash drive, go to the nearest Office Max, and get it printed out. Encountering another desperate business owner a few weeks later who was in the same panicked state, I suggested my solution. It hadn’t occurred to him, but he welcomed it.

Then there are the unintended consequences of using the technology that we once welcomed as a way to make our lives easier:
We’re driven by the “always on” syndrome: computers don’t have to rest, and they can multi-task endlessly without taking notes or developing “brain buzz.” We do need to rest.

Connected to more people digitally, we’re actually losing human connections. A Stanford University study found that the amount of time people spend on the internet comes out of time they would have spent with family and friends.

Computers and smartphones can keep working tirelessly, and never feel pain. We can’t, and we try to do so at our peril.

How do we keep our lives from being taken over by machines?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Never, never, ever, boot up a computer without having a list (yes, a handwritten list) of what is important for you to do now right in front of your eyes. Then stick to it, no matter how enticing the ads or the email titles are.
  • Set aside two times per day when you open your e-mail. Stick to this schedule, no matter what.
  • How can you decrease the “e-mail overwhelm”? By reducing the amount of e-mail you send. People feel compelled to respond when you email them; do them a favor and reduce their load. It will be reflected, sometimes significantly, in the amount of e-mail you receive.
John Freeman, in The Tyranny of E-Mail, lists some questions you should ask yourself before sending e-mail, including:
  •         Is this message essential?
  •         Does it need to arrive there instantly?
  •         Why am I sending it?
  •         What expectations or precedents will it set?
Why not send a postcard to a friend while on vacation? It lasts longer, and is more memorable.

Thinking about a friend and wanting to connect? How about picking up a phone? Even if all you can do is leave a voice mail message, that is warmer than print on a screen.

So…pick up the phone, scrawl a hand-written note, walk down the hall, reconnect with the human race, and calm your mind and body.

The Confident Introvert

Another myth I have encountered recently is that introverts are fine with no outside contact whatsoever. No, we enjoy contacts and stimulation that we get outside of our own nests; we just need to control how much we get all at one time.

A great party with lots of people may be very enjoyable for a confident introvert – for a limited time. We’re the ones who leave early when we’ve had enough stimulation, just as some people quit eating when they’ve had enough.

It’s not a reflection on the host. It’s a reflection of the fact that we recognize and pay attention to our inner needs, always a healthy way to live.

Find out more about The Confident Introvert: http://www.ConfidentIntrovert.com.

What’s the difference between problem-solving and rumination?

 

I had occasion to explore this issue myself this week, when I discovered that somehow my utility company had switched the account number and name on the bill it sends to my home each month.

Confidently and proudly paying my bills online on the first of each month, I simply looked at the amount due, punched in the numbers, and sent the payments off, mentally dusting off my hands after a chore well done. Little did I know I was sending that amount of money into limbo.

Reality hit me when I got a notice on my door saying the power was going to be cut off due to nonpayment of bill. The fact that a dear friend was due to arrive shortly for a week-long visit – possibly a visit without hot showers – didn’t help my sense of panic.

Ridiculous as it may seem, proving that you didn’t call the power company and set up an account in someone else’s name for your home address is not easy. Getting evidence that electronic payments were made to the company, and on time, is not so easy, either.

It took several deep breaths and a search through some files to start getting at what had happened; it took several more calls to bring the matter to the attention of people who could actually do something about it. Even after I had organized my thoughts and taken the first steps towards a solution, I still found myself incredulously going over this crazy mishap.

Rumination involves going over a problem again and again. Perhaps we are searching desperately for a solution, and think going over and over the circumstances will produce a solution. Maybe we are rehearsing our version of the event in order to tell someone else, later, of the horror we have gone through.

As psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky explains in her great book The How of Happiness:

“Overthinking ushers in a host of adverse consequences: It sustains or worsens sadness, fosters negatively biased thinking, impairs a person’s ability to solve problems, saps motivation, and interferes with concentration and initiative. Moreover, although people have a strong sense that they are gaining insight into themselves and their problems during their ruminations, this is rarely the case. What they do gain is a distorted, pessimistic perspective on their lives.”

Problem-solving involves a goal-oriented activity in which you pause, take a deep breath, map out the logical steps to take, and then take them

Here are the steps to get you out of rumination and into problem-solving:

Keep your eye on the goal: Think that’s easy? When you are frustrated, your goal may have shifted from reaching your objective to getting rid of your bottled-up frustration. This can lead to venting emotionally to an innocent person who could even be trying to help you.

Solution: Go to a quiet place and punch a pillow for a bit while you come to your senses and remember what you were after in the first place.

Map out the steps to take: What information do you need, and where can you get it? Perhaps you must have a paper trail, as I did, to help solve the problem. If the evidence involves a format at which you’re not skilled – I’m not a computer expert – search your memory banks for someone who is, and ask for help.

Who do you know who will be supportive, informative, or whatever you need?

Solution: Take several deep breaths to get back to being logical; then map out your steps.

Mind the gap: There will be times when you have set things in motion, such as asking for information or help, and there is a time gap until you get that help.

Bulletin here: You don’t have to keep thinking about the problem during this time period! It isn’t going to disappear (don’t you wish it would) if you don’t keep going over it. It’s just hibernating until time for the next action step.

Solution: go to your “base camp.”

Set up a base camp: A base camp is something to which you can retreat in order to rest and refresh yourself before another foray into the wilderness that is life.

Think back over all the good things, no matter how small, that have happened that day. In my case, the same utility company, on the same day, sent a repairman for a scheduled tune up of my furnace. (The left hand apparently didn’t know what the right hand was doing.) He left his phone number in case I needed his volunteer help in the future changing the filters. I will need help, and I will gratefully use that number.

My doctor’s appointment at 8 a.m. that day yielded amazingly good results: low cholesterol and low blood pressure (ok, that changed a little by 3 p.m., when the notice arrived). I could rejoice, and even gloat, as I looked at the printed results.

Amazingly good things had happened on which I could focus. It was still hard to tear my attention away from the problem, but I did it by connecting with supportive friends and focusing on the creative work I do, not my sad story.

The problem will be solved within the next few days. Hot showers will continue.

Life will go on, filled with its triumphs and frustrations. When those frustrations show up again, as they inevitably will, it’s a good idea to have a format to follow.

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
Order now at http://www.ConfidentIntrovert.com

Make It Easy On Yourself

Make it easy on yourself:

Have you ever been caught in a race that never ends:  one in which the big prize at the end is as far out of reach as it is when you started, and the small rewards along the way that might sustain you  have gotten to be scarcer and scarcer?  Perhaps the big prize no longer seems enticing, or even appropriate, but you’ve been so busy you haven’t even noticed its allure fading.

Everybody experiences this at some time.  Why do we keep chugging along, like an overloaded train when the steam has dissipated. Our heads are filled with fine phrases, such as “Persistence pays off” or “Success comes the day after you give up” or the short but harsh, “No excuses.”  The implication is that someone who doesn’t heed these warnings somehow doesn’t have the right stuff to  — well, to do what?

I think these experiences occur  because we have confused a goal with the various paths to that goal, some of which become dead-ends.

I faced this when, as a dancer, I realized I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) live my entire life engaged in strenuous and increasingly painful physical activity that wasn’t bringing me the quality of life I desired.  The intrinsic reward, the joy of dancing, was diminishing year by year, but the home, warm relationship, leisure, and other creative activities I wanted seemed to be getting farther and farther away.

Yes, there was grieving when I quit.  But I also found that the time and energy I had put into dancing became enough time and energy for so many delightful activities I had delayed: first,  ballroom dancing, then ice skating, travel and  language study, music, and eventually, writing and public speaking.  To my surprise, my initial goal, to use my delight and passion to move other people through my performance never went away.  I had just found different roads to get there.

A student of mine once was devastated because her grades had dropped so far she believed she would never get into law school.  We explored why that was so devastating; what would happen if she didn’t get into law school?  She broke down and wept, “Then I can never be happy.”

I had to persuade her that getting a law degree wasn’t a goal; there are many reasons why people want a law degree, including (but not limited to) a desire for a high income, prestige, a stepping stone into politics, or the need to seek justice for the weaker members of society. These are goals; the law degree was the path she had selected.

In her case, the desire to fulfill her parents’ dreams for her had been fueling her ambition – until the fuel ran out. She couldn’t do it anymore. A conversation with her parents led to a switch to a career in lab science, where she happily analyzes data, freed from the need to be bold and assertive.

If you have furnished your dream in too great detail, including the pathway to the door of that dream, you may have locked yourself into a rigid pattern that not only isn’t bringing you happiness, but may even be retarding your efforts to realize your dream.

Stop beating yourself up and asking why you can’t seem to stick to the work load.

Don’t be afraid to back off and say, “This isn’t working for me.”  Don’t let anyone convince you that you haven’t the “right stuff” to succeed if you won’t sacrifice your mental and physical well-being in pursuit of that goal.

Take the time to explore what your heart desires. Jettison any activities (and people) who don’t support you in that quest

Just don’t call it quitting.  You’ll know you have found your true goal when the energy starts to flow, making activity irresistible.   Don’t call it quitting; call it redirecting your energy.

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
Order now at http://www.ConfidentIntrovert.com

Has the future got you in a tizzy?

For the past few weeks, we’ve had wonderful weather where I live. Mild temperatures, scattered showers, mostly at night, and low humidity.

It’s perfect for everyone, including people who run or bicycle, garden, or work out of doors picking up the garbage, repairing roofs, painting, or cutting down the many huge trees that fell during our June storm. It’s perfect, too, for someone who just likes to walk at a moderate pace, enjoying the scenery, or who likes being able to go to bed without worrying about a sweaty sleepless night or the hum of an air conditioner.

What’s not to like? Apparently, quite a lot.

You see, a number of folks are convinced we are having an early September, which of course will be followed by an early October, then November, and – oh, heavens – we’re going to be knee-deep in ice and snow in no time at all. It isn’t fair! We haven’t had enough summer!

HOW WILL WE COPE?

These folks are knee-deep, not in snow, but in dire predictions about the future, at which they are, by all odds, abysmally wrong.

Our most experienced meteorologists don’t make this prediction – they know the future is up for grabs. Some years we have had a September or even early October with temperatures in the high 90’s; snow is possible in September, but this hasn’t happened in my (fairly long) memory.

In the United States, we are particularly addicted to FutureThink, where we live mentally in the future while failing to note, and enjoy, what is here right now.

Not to flog a dead horse (keep repeating something over and over, seemingly for no good reason) but I have mentioned this before, and I’ll do it again: only 10% of stress is due to what is happening right now; 90% is due to what we think about what it happening to us.  What we are really doing, when we think about it, is predicting the future as a terrible outcome because of today’s events.

So …  when has the future worked out exactly as you predicted it would?  If you were that good a predictor, you would be world-famous as a soothsayer.

People on their death beds don’t congratulate themselves on how often they were right in predicting disastrous outcomes; instead, they regret what they didn’t do – or appreciate, or notice.

You can only appreciate, notice, and even take successful action, when you are able to focus on the present and savor it.

Take that deep breathe, withdraw your predictions, and wallow in the very today-ness of today.  Because it’s really all there is.   Really.

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
Order now at http://www.ConfidentIntrovert.com

What is life was a multiple choice test?

Personal note

On these lovely summer mornings, I sit on my porch, sipping coffee, reading the newspaper, glancing up every now and then to enjoy the natural beauty all around me.  Canadian geese parade through the park across the street, inquisitive duck couples explore my yard for a new homesite, snowy egrets stand erect and aloof on the island in the middle of the lake, showing their disdainful profiles, and, most wonderful of all, a small rabbit and a squirrel come out to play, chasing each other in circles and then hiding from each other, only to come out and do it all again.

Soon, however, the street in front of my house fills up with parked cars and people calling loud greetings to one another as they walk toward the nearby school.  Fumes fill the air; the serene view is obscured. Visitors and repairmen are forced to park several blocks away and walk to my home, sometimes carrying heavy loads.

These cars weren’t here when I bought the house and contemplated hours of rural serenity in an urban setting.

I could spend my days in a state of irritation about this invasion of my paradise, but I choose to enjoy the respite I have at the beginning and end of each day, and to remind myself that the price of living in a city with theaters, museums, concert halls, and all the other blessings of civilization is just that – the presence of other people.

As the saying goes, “You pays your money, and you takes your choice.”

***
Tired of taking care of everyone and everything around you?

Feeling overwhelmed?

Make the choice to check out my new FREE audio ,
Be Your Own Best Caretaker, at http://www.CreativeLifeChanges.com

Bring a little peace into your life!

What is life was a multiple choice test?

If life was a multiple choice test, would you always pick the same answer? “Let’s see, it’s choice B. Guess I’ll go with that all the way.”

At least in a real multiple choice test, you can see all choices – usually four – laid out and you may even ponder them before you mark your choice.

In real life, we frequently act as if we see only one choice, even if we’re surrounded with more than four choices. Habit and stress conspire to make us believe there’s only once choice open to us – and we’d better take it right away, without pausing too much to think.

Here are some examples of clients who looked around, paused, and made a different choice, with admirable consequences.

Alicia, riding the bus to work every day, thought she had to spend the time worrying in advance about the work that awaited her on her desk. She was especially concerned about her coming year-end review, on which her bonus depended.

She learned to breathe deeply, put the future out of her mind, and look around her on the bus. She looked at her seatmate, responded to a remark he made, found herself in an interesting conversation, and ended up with a great new client who was impressed with her intelligence and enthusiasm. Her boss was impressed, her review was great, and so was her bonus.

Deb’s husband shrugged after he failed (again) to take garbage out when she had asked him to do so. The kitchen filled with ants. (Not the first time.) She decided not to respond angrily by saying, “You never listen to me,” as she had done before.   Instead she asked quietly (as unemotionally as she could under the circumstances), “When did you decide that what I asked you to do wasn’t important?” He was astonished to find that what he thought was no big deal was something she interpreted as a rejection of her importance. The result was an in-depth conversation about their relationship that was considerably less hostile than previous such conversations.

And my story: Often, when I go through a line, or ask for information, the person I speak to will address me as “young lady.” Now, that is patently absurd, as I can by no mental stretch be thought of as young, except possibly by centenarians.

My typical response has been to smile politely and ignore the remark, but frankly, I find it patronizing, as if the speaker assumes that by a certain age you’re really just a child again, innocent and naïve.

The last time this happened, I chose to ask, with curiosity, “When you call me ‘young lady,’ do you intend that as a compliment?” The speaker stammered a bit and said, “I guess so,” rather uncertainly. I went on to ask, “If I called you ‘young man,’ would you feel complimented?” “No” was the cautious answer. I told him that I was sure he hadn’t realized it, but I didn’t feel complimented either. We went on to chat in a very friendly manner; he helped me, and I gave him some information about a possible job.

Responding with a question that is prompted by curiosity and that doesn’t sound hostile or defensive is a great way to clarify communication between two people.

So look at your habitual reaction to situations and see where you can change your focus or your response to discover riches you hadn’t noticed.

As Auntie Mame said to her nephew, Patrick, “Life is a great big banquet, and most of the sons-of-bitches at it are starving to death.”

Don’t starve to death. Open your eyes to the rich choices around you.

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
Order now at http://www.ConfidentIntrovert.com

What kinds of assumptions is your reality based on?

Personal note

The big storm of two weeks ago continues to have repercussions on the lives of those of us who were in its path.  Downed trees are gradually being removed, overwhelming email lists, building up during the power outage, have been reduced in size, and life is going on, with a few differences.  The major one is the realization of how much life can change in an instant as everything we assumed would support us disappears, thankfully temporarily.

This led me to thinking about the assumptions we all hold that we believe are “truths” about life; they bolster our concept of reality. They also become the walls of the prison we construct.

What kinds of assumptions is your reality based on?

Sometimes it takes an upheaval – a giant storm, an earthquake – to flip that switch in our heads that makes us see our world very differently.

After a recent storm, followed by a power outage, I met a man frantic to get the fallen tree blocking his garage door out of the way, so he could get his kids to a motel where they could watch TV, because he assumed they couldn’t be happy without it!  If he didn’t actually sit down with them, talk and figure out a way to play without power, he will never actually know the various ways in which his kids can be happy – and neither will they.

The loss of power just when I was really ramping up my business left me disoriented. Rather than moaning about it, I decided to assess my reaction to the loss of power and the subsequent sense of helplessness, and came up with these assumptions, all of which, I am happy to say, were simply illusions:

I can’t work on my business without lights, a computer, or a telephone.

Potentially disastrous response: sitting down and being depressed about inability to get anything productive done.
In fact, I started to clean my files and found important information, including lists of potential clients, that I had forgotten I had.  This information set me off on a new, and productive, path.
When the power was on, I was always too busy to go into these old files.

Since I can’t email, phone, or even open my garage door and get my car out, how can I meet new prospective clients?

Potentially disastrous response: …being depressed about inability to connect with people.
I took a walk in the park to survey the tree damage and met a new neighbor who walked with me.  We had a long walk and conversation in which we shared mutual interests; at the end, she took out her I-phone and put herself on the list for my ezine.
The storm and its damage forced me to take that leisurely walk. Slowing down and paying attention to what is right in your neighborhood is an eye opener.

With no stove and the food in the refrigerator rapidly deteriorating, how am I going to eat? Restaurants that I normally go to were far away – which brought up the no-power garage door situation again.

Potentially disastrous response:  Aaarrrggghh!
Now, I could probably live off my stored fat for at least a few days, so I wasn’t in danger of starvation, but I found on the first day that there were several small restaurants in my neighborhood (that I had, once again, never noticed) with – wonder of wonders -their own generators!   They served up delicious meals, and now I have a whole new repertory of places to go to when I am hurried, hungry, and wanting good nutrition.

Oh, no, the phone on which my business depends has gone out – again – and I will have to go through the telephone company’s tree of options to even speak to a live person.

Potentially disastrous response:  Running in small circles, accompanied by a high-pitched shriek.
Well, I did to through their tree of options once, but then I connected with the repairman for my area, who actually gave me his cell phone number so I could call him directly any time I have a problem with my line.

Life is better than I imagined when all of these events first struck.

Now, the aftermath of the storm almost feels like a little vacation, on which I could regain some good sense after a flurry of overwork.

Wouldn’t it be nice it we could all turn off the power in our heads, stop yearning for something somewhere else,  and be so relaxed that we noticed what was right under our noses all the time?

As Dorothy Gale said, in the Wizard of OZ, “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, l won’t look any further than my own backyard, because if it isn’t there I never really lost it to begin with.”

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
Order now at http://www.ConfidentIntrovert.com

Is Stress a Choice? Or a Habit?

Personal note

When we feel down and out, there is often a sense of isolation from the rest of the world, as if we had been sent to a decontamination chamber or an island for people who have something incurable.

As I work with more and more clients, I am treated to a rich array of stories of situations I have encountered over and over again. We’re not only not alone in our distress, we actually are members of a pool of human beings who share the same experiences. Some have figured out how to cope all on their own; others continue to live in a kind of shadow of life, and wonder why they seem to have cruel experiences when other people do not.

Our experiences reflect our habitual ways of thinking; if we can track down and change those habits, we can change our experiences.

Today’s article is the result of a luncheon I went to a few weeks ago. Although the speaker’s topic seemed very different from mine, the same principles apply.

Threat is threat; and habits are habits. And yes, the two are related.

Is Stress a Choice?  Or a Habit?

We often say that stress isn’t just something that happens to you, it’s a choice you make about how to react to what happens to you. In a sense this is true, but it is an unconscious choice. You’re not only unaware that you’re making a choice, but even that there are any other options.

“Stress Makes You Stupid” is my rallying cry; when confronted with what your personal brain has labeled as “danger” you do what security experts have often noted is the first response when threatened: you freeze. Not just the body, but the brain freezes. With the freeze, accompanied by an urgent need to do something, you take the well-worn path that is a habit. It’s so easy.

Habits are sequences of behavior that are set up to make life easier; if you had to pause and ponder over what to do at a every little choice-point in life – Let’s see, shall I put on my pants left leg first or right leg first? Brush my teeth or bring in that cat before bedtime? – you’d never get through the day, much less accomplish anything of value.

Habits make life so easy that they start to enslave us – just like the flies in a story related by Deepak Chopra, who, when the jar lid was removed, continued to stay inside the jar.

So when the “danger” sign goes off in the brain, we set off on the well-carved path through that jungle, rather than plunge off into the underbrush in the hopes of finding something better.

Under stress, we develop those habitual coping behaviors as our path: one person may retreat, quietly, while another one blusters and becomes defensive, a third pauses to contemplate the situation with curiosity, wondering what comes next …   and so on.

We may have first performed that habitual behavior at an early age; by adulthood it has become so deeply ingrained in us that we see no other choice.

This becomes our “path through the jungle” which blinds us to other options.

A week or so ago I went to a luncheon where the speaker was a security expert who had gained much of her information about how to respond in dangerous situations from her Navy Seal husband. The information she provided involved physically threatening situations, but the wisdom I gleaned from her talk applies equally to the socially threatening situations that are the source of so much of today’s stress.

Here are some guidelines:

Plan ahead: Whether you know you are going to be confronted by someone who is abrasive to you, or you are about to enter a situation where you are going to be evaluated, have a plan that doesn’t involve your usual response (freeze, fight or flee).

Step 1: Make sure you are rested and well fed before entering the stressful situation. Habits are most powerful when will power (i.e., conscious control of your brain) is low. And that will power is very low when you are sleep-deprived, or have eaten foods that give you instant energy, followed by a let-down.

Step 2: Plan a few things to say that will delay your automatic response, such as asking questions to clarify what is really going on. Your habitual response not only includes your behavior, but your perception of the situation. What if you’re wrong?

Here are some examples of a few questions to have in mind when confronted by a situation that presses your stress buttons:

  • “How did I  …fall short of your expectations?” or “When …..? In what way(s)?”
  • “To what extent…?”  (Just like journalism class!)
  • “Why did you say that to me?”
  • “What do you mean by too quiet?”

One of my personal favorites is this: “Do you believe what you said helps me in some way?”

Use delayers: “You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’d like to get back to you for a discussion of this.”

Always take a deep breath before responding. It really slows down your automatic reaction, and, over time, helps to train your conscious brain to override those habitual impulses.

Practice: You probably have some situations in mind where you felt overwhelmed in the past. Re-enact those scenes mentally, responding differently. Then do actual practice, in privacy. Imagine what is happening, then imagine a more powerful response, one that leaves you feeling calmer and more in charge.

Review and reward: Go over stressful encounters and note if you did something, even a little something, differently from the past. Perhaps you paused and looked thoughtful, instead of becoming defensive. Hooray! Tell yourself you just did something great (you did).  Give yourself a treat.

You can’t change other people: Or can you? It’s amazing how, when you change your own behavior, other people are forced to change. People who once were confrontational may find themselves reluctant to do so, when you stand up, quietly and firmly, for yourself, but without directly attacking them.

Slow down your expectations: There is no magic wand that will turn you, overnight, into a superbly skilled manager of stressful experiences that once overwhelmed you. The danger is that you will interpret your behavior as failure, when in fact you are progressing nicely. Give yourself a chance to move towards a new, powerful, more serene life.

Remember these words of Mark Twain:
Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.  ~Mark Twain

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
Order now at http://www.ConfidentIntrovert.com

 

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