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14

Jan

Situationism vs. Dispositionism

beachkidsThink back to the last time that you can remember disagreeing with someone else’s actions. Perhaps they acted like a jerk or a fool. Perhaps they were mean to someone else or spewing anger at the room. Perhaps you can think back to a time that you saw someone being wasteful or seemingly unconscious in their actions?

Did you feel that? Did you feel the judgement? The self righteousness? Did you hear your mind say, “I would never….”? Did it feel healthy? Did it feel true? Might your thought be nearly as counterproductive as their action? Might there be a way to reframe the situation that is both more loving and more productive?

I was reading Charles Eisenstein’s latest book “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible” this morning when I came across this distinction between dispositionism and situationism. Perhaps you see where this is going? In a chapter titled “Judgement” Charles brings up the body of research that demonstrates that ‘good people’ in difficult circumstances act like ‘bad people’. Essentially, what an objective perspective seems to say, time and time again, is that we all do the best that we can given our resources at the time and the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

The example Charles offers is of the 1973 experiment by John Darley and C Daniel Batson where seminary students are sent off across their campus to deliver a lecture on The Good Samaritan story, a biblical tale about the one man who pauses to help a stranger moaning by the roadside (after a priest and a priests assistant do not). Along the way to their lecture they will have to actually step over a man in distress, collapsed in a doorway. These students are, quite literally, dedicating their lives to becoming ‘good samaritans’. They have also had their intention brought to this story. In their shoes, would you stop to help the moaning man? Would this tell me something about your character, your core disposition?

There is a twist. The students are broken up into three groups. Those in the first group are told that they are late for their lecture and better hurry. Those in the second group are told to hurry, their lecture starts in a few minutes. The third group is told that they have plenty of time, but should head over.

Can you guess who tends to notice the man in distress and stop to aid him? 10 percent of the first group and 60 percent of the third group stop. Clearly circumstances played a major role in their actions. It was not these students core disposition that determined their actions, it was the situation they found themselves in. Still telling yourself that you are different?

Any time that we judge someone we are saying that based on our observations we can tell some core truth about their disposition; who they are. In essence, we are saying that if we were in their exact position we would have acted differently. But what can we ever truly know about another’s exact position? Do we understand their entire upbringing? Do we understand the dreams or nightmares they had last night? Do we know if they are feeling nourished, loved and whole in their body mind and spirit? Do we know if they just received a crushing blow that has them crying on the inside, but lashing out on the outside?

Clearly we do not ever know the entirety of another’s truth.

So what happens if we instead work from the default assumption that someone’s ‘stupid’ actions are something that we might do as well given the exact same situation? What happens if we switch our default judgement from being dispositional, judging a person, to situational, looking at them as a product of circumstance? Might we approach others with more compassion? More patience? More understanding?

This does not mean that you must condone their actions. It does mean that you begin to make a distinction between their actions and them as a human being worthy of your love. It means loosening your belief that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people as well as the idea that you are ‘one of the good ones’. It means reconsidering your partisan beliefs that Republicans or Democrats are idiots at their core. It means relaxing your judgement that the violence in others is a product of some innate insensitivity that you could never be guilty of. It ends up meaning that a lot of the self-righteous congratulations that we give ourselves at the expense of others need to be reconsidered with a lot more humility and compassion for just how much others have had to struggle through things that we take for granted.

You may be asking what the point is. What is this effort worth? Why give up the my high horse? This is something I have struggled with. I was an angry, self-righteous young man with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to ‘set the world right’. How do you think I felt as this young man who knew better than those around him? I felt lonely and I felt judged. When we project judgement out into the world it finds resonance and it is the very thing that we then feel coming from others minds as we assume that they are judging us. But when I choose to search for understanding and offer acceptance as my default perspective I feel held, understood and appreciated in almost any situation. The simple truth is that judgement creates separation where there is always an option for compassion and understanding. If our intention is truly to right perceived wrongs and bring light to darkness it is worth questioning our assumption that people have a default disposition that is fundamentally different than our own. As Charles says, echoing saints and mystics, “you and I are one; we are the same being looking out at the world through different eyes.” “Moreover, situationism says that the “I” in every situation is bigger than the individual. The subject, the actor, the chooser, is the individual plus the totality of his or her relationships.

The self has no independent existence. Consider what that statement implies. Abstracted from its relationships to the world, the self is not itself.

So who is there to judge?

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service.

Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

23

Aug

Dream Career

dream journal

The following is an exercise I gave to a client of mine recently. She has a “great” job producing television commercials (you have seen her work). Objectively her situation is great. Subjectively she wants to be doing something else. Her heart is not in it. She has other dreams and she has started working with me so that she can pursue them. The problem is that until she quits her advertising job she will have to put an amazing amount of time and energy into producing those TV spots. When in production she works 12 hour days. She is rarely 100% off the clock. Until the time that she makes the Big Leap into her dream job she needs to be very careful to protect her mind, to continue to cultivate her next steps and to keep her sense of hope and possibility alive. In short, she needs to keep dreaming.
What happens if we take that literally? I told her we could make a big impact in less than 5 minutes a day. Here is her exercise:

TAKE BACK YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS

You don’t yet have full control over your schedule. This is the situation. No reason to struggle with it. But, in the process of dealing with it, perhaps you have given up too much of your mind. This dream journaling practice is a subversive way of tapping into your subconscious. It is about shifting gears before you go to sleep (if not much sooner). It is about preventing your day job from cannibalizing your dreams….literally. It is also about planting positive seeds in your unconscious that, believe it or not, will sprout later in your waking and dreaming minds. This will also help to develop your intuition (which is already stronger than you trust)

It should take up about 2 minutes of your time. Seriously. If it takes more than 5 you are doing it wrong. (Caveat: If you get inspired and want to journal that is cool with me 🙂

BEFORE BED: Write “Dream Career” and tomorrows date in your journal. Place the journal next to your bed so you can reach it with as little movement as possible.

1st THING UPON WAKING: Write down the 1st FIVE words that pop into your head.

That’s it.

Worried you’ll forget? Writing on the top of the page each night sets an intention and starts the process. Place your journal on your pillow every morning after you write in it so you have to pick it up just to go to bed.
Do you see what this accomplishes?

  1. Curbs the inertia of your days stresses, most of which stem from a job you want to move away from.
  2. Shifts your mind towards positive thoughts before you go to sleep. You should feel a smile when you write “Dream Career”. This is both a title and a command. Dream about your dream career. You are programming your subconscious. Don’t believe me? Try it.
  3. You are stimulating your unconscious mind to focus on something that is not yet real. You are asking yourself to be creative. Ever wake up with a great idea? Inventors do it all the time. Musicians and artists as well. A lot is happening while you are asleep. Why not harness this potential?
  4. Bracketing your nights (and your days) with positive thoughts. This is good sleep hygiene and a great way to start your day.
  5. Having an impact on your waking consciousness. Ever wake up from a bad dream and have a terrible morning? Ever ask your unconscious to dream about the life you want to create and then walk around in the wake of those dreams all day?

No? Why not try it? Let me know how it goes in the comments below.

This post is from a series called INSIGHTS that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

16

Jul

How does it Feel to become an Expert?

things sound worse

“Often times when things sound worse ’tis truly that your hearing has improved.”

I woke up one morning, long before the alarm, to the feeling of these words repeating in my head. I grabbed a pad of paper I kept near the bed, wrote them down, and then fell back asleep.

Have you ever known a “film expert” who doesn’t seem to enjoy watching movies as much as the rest of us? Ever known a musician who is critical of every band she hears? They notice the flaws in everything. Imagine what happens when they try to make their own movie or album. Do you think that they could silence their inner critic long enough to create something? Is ignorance really bliss?

Have you felt that at times your life is getting better while at others it seems to stagnate or just get worse? Do you have good moments and bad moments? Of course you do. We all do. The reasons for this are many. The world is a tumultuous place. Most things are out of your control. Some are not. You can have some impact on your circumstances. Most of the time this is what we focus on. How can I change my life?! I am all for making big changes. Growth and transformation are my bread and butter as a life coach. But there is something else I always work on with my clients.

There is one thing that is not bound to circumstance but is incredibly maleable. Rarely do we acknowledge just how much it changes our experience of the world.

Most of us know that when we are in a good mood things roll off of our back. We can see the light in everything. When we are in a bad enough mood even the smallest comment might shake us at the roots. Have you also noticed that this process happens in cycles? Good day. Bad day. Good mood. Bad mood. We all cycle through various states of being; more resilient/less resilient, more flexible/less flexible, more positive/less positive. People talk about a lot of different reasons ranging from hormones to how much sleep we have gotten to the time of the month. “Upper Limiting” is another concept worth understanding that I will likely talk about in the future. (The famous coach Gay Hendricks quite literally wrote the book on that)

What I am talking about here is something a bit subtler. This isn’t about self-sabotage. This isn’t about how a night of drinking makes you feel depressed the next day (it can).  What I am talking about and what the phrase I woke up hearing refers to is a natural bi-product of being self aware. When we are self aware, we are self critical. At any given time we have the ability to look at anything we are doing and judge it according to the highest standards that we hold. Right now I am writing this article and I am feeling ok about it. I am not as deeply into a flow state as I’d like. The words are coming out comprehensible, but they are far from the most poetic thing I have ever written. I am doing my best, but I am also being my own critic.

When I read this in the future I will have a new judgement of it that I necessarily can not have now. Why? Because I, and therefore my perspective, will have changed. How often do you acknowledge changes in your perspective?

What would happen if I were to take a writing course tomorrow and then come back to what I have written? Might I hate something I love today? Might I see a better way to say this very sentence right here? I might. Does it mean that what I wrote got worse or did my perspective simply change?

Why is this helpful to be prepared for?

Engaging our critical abilities can be an asset or a curse. Seeing flaws in what we have done can hurt. It can take the wind out of our sails. Paradoxically, it is also a sign of progress. When you look back at something you made yesterday or last decade and you see a million ways that it could have been better do you feel a bit ashamed of what you did? Or do you well up with inspiration and immediately want to create the greatest thing you can in this moment right now? Do you realize that you have improved?

In my experience with myself, my friends and with my coaching clients I notice a tendency to feel defeated by the limits of past efforts. Listening back to a recording of that song you wrote while in high school often makes us laugh at how silly we once were. Rarely does it inspire us with how aware we now are. This doesn’t only happen when looking back at past efforts. With anything we do our ability and our awareness are constantly surpassing one another in a game of leap frog. Get a little better on the guitar? You will suddenly think you sound amazing! Hone your ears a little more….now that same ability falls short. And the cycle continues! This happens in seconds. We can suddenly become critical of what we are creating while we are creating it. If we fail to see the opportunity in our perspective we might just quit.

Here’s the issue.

It is my experience that those who fail and, more importantly, those who quit, tend to let their increasing critical ability defeat them instead of letting their increasing ability to perform and be critical inspire them. What about you? Which side of the equation do you tend to focus on? Do you remember how much improvement you have already made each time you see room for more growth? Do you recognize that you are seeing a flaw you hadn’t seen while you were first working….so you can now do better? Or does your ability to be self critical always take center stage and make you feel defeated because you “never get it perfect”?

Sometimes, when things sound worse to you, they haven’t changed at all, but your perspective, your ability to see both the beauty and the flaws has changed. If you are not gentle with yourself, if you are not aware that your perspective evolves, you might get lost in judgement and fail to honor the growth that is happening on both sides of the equation.

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life and Career Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

30

Apr

How to Be Creative

the emergence at cosm

Do you consider yourself to be creative? Do you have a strong critical mind? What connection do you think there is between these two? Which has your education helped develop? Which does the world need you to have more of right now?

Reading the first chapter of the book Presence today I came across the words of Stanford business school professor Michael Ray. Mr. Ray teaches very popular courses on creativity. His courses start with three assumptions:

  1. Creativity is essential for health, happiness and success in all areas of life, including business.
  2. Creativity is within everyone
  3. Even though it is in everyone it is covered by the Voice of Judgement

I couldn’t help but be reminded of the work of Ken Robinson. Sir. Robinson has written some wonderful books on creativity, the modern education system and finding your purpose or “element”. I wrote about “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” earlier in one of my posts on FLOW. In his previous book “Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative” Robinson raises the very pressing possibility that “we are educating people out of their creativity.”

In an article on the Huffington Post Robinson writes, “First, we’re all born with deep natural capacities for creativity and systems of mass education tend to suppress them. Second, it is increasingly urgent to cultivate these capacities — for personal, economic and cultural reasons — and to rethink the dominant approaches to education to make sure that we do.”

Years ago I came across a popular story, perhaps from Robinson, about what happens when you ask school kids who in the room is an artist. The story starts out in a kindergarten class. The question is asked and every hand goes up. Then the question is asked again in the 1st grade classroom, then 2nd grade and on up through senior year in high school. In elementary school the number of hands going up quickly drops towards half and then less. By high school there are only a few hands and by the end of high school a room is lucky to have one hand go up. Often all of the other students agree and say “yes, she is the artist.” What happened? Is school to blame? And does this narrowing of identity really have an impact on our health, happiness and success?

Mr. Ray tells the authors of Presence about “a study by Howard Gardner’s Project Zero at Harvard that involved developing intelligence tests for babies. The project also tested older subjects. The researchers found that up to age four, almost all the children were at the genius level, in terms of the multiple frames of intelligence that Gardner talks about – spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, mathematical, intrapersonal and linguistic. But by age twenty, the percentage of children at genius level was down to 10 percent, and over twenty, the genius level proportion of the subjects sank to 2 percent.

Everyone asks, ‘Where did it go?’ It didn’t go anywhere; it’s covered over by the Voice of Judgement.”

The solution offered by Ray? Become aware of the Voice of Judgement, the voice that tells you “that’s a stupid idea” or “you can’t do that” and choose to disregard that voice. In a sense we must practice willful disobedience within our own minds. The key is simple awareness. Much of what he describes sounds just like meditation, albeit meditation with a specific intention. The first, hardest and most powerful step is simply deciding to notice this voice and label it. That’s it. As I am found of saying, consciousness is curative. When we decide to bring awareness to something with the intention of loving and healing ourselves the solutions do become apparent. We don’t have to be fearlessly creative to begin. We simply have to open up to the possibility that deep within us there lies an immense capability to be creative. We must consider the possibility that our education, training and cultural conditioning has been unbalanced and has favored critical reasoning (the Voice of Judgement) over creative imagining.

If you would like to re-invigorate your creative side and are having a hard time doing so perhaps it is time to look for, label and summarily dismiss your Voice of Judgement. The Voice of Judgement relies 100% on the past to determine what it thinks is possible or reasonable. Being creative, being an entrepreneur or an artist is an unreasonable act. It must be. It is about bringing into being something which does not already exist. All great creators are unreasonable in the eyes of those who did not share their vision. There is a playfulness, a childlike naivety, in all acts of creation. What would you do if you were suddenly free from your Voice of Judgement?

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

16

Apr

Center of Gravity

Circle of Friends

Are you above or below the center of gravity in your social circles?

Are you aware of times when others hold you up? How about times when they pull you down? How often do you get to have the experience of truly resonating in every way imaginable with a room full of people?

Let me preface this post by pointing out the obvious. We are all much more alike than different. We all share the same basic needs and many of the same wants. We would be served well by recognizing the many profound ways to find resonance with anyone and everyone. What follows is not intended to inspire judgement of those near you. The ideas below are intended to help ease a specific pain that I see often in my self, my friends and especially in my clients, all of whom are either creating or managing major life transitions.

When coaching people through major life transitions this is a topic that is bound to come up eventually. Whether we are looking to make big changes in our life or recognizing that they have already been happening, it is quite common to suddenly see our friendships in a new light. Relationships that once felt supporting might now feel limiting. It is normal to suddenly feel alienated, unsupported or just plain old alone. When seen in the proper light this can actually be a joyous realization. Without a big enough perspective it simply hurts.

We tend to make friends based on both circumstance and what I’ll call your attitude or worldview. Circumstances will determine who we end up in a room with. Attitude will determine who in that room we form a lasting connection with. Consider school.

When you were in school you were likely with a lot of people your age. Some of these people you called your “friends”. Others you knew, but did not feel as close to. The circumstances put you in a classroom with many of them. Your attitude, your interests, your worldview and a million little details of your personality all combined to create a resonance with some people and less resonance with others. Those we resonate the deepest with become friends.

When we are young these decisions often occur subconsciously. Occasionally kids might set out to make more “popular” or “athletic” friends, but for the most part we settle into relationships without much planning. Then we grow. Some friends grow with us. Other friends grow in different directions and at different speeds. Some friendships naturally fall away. Other friendships seem to stick through all kinds of changes. The big test for most of us is after we graduate from high school or college. When we graduate circumstances change drastically. We find ourselves in a new school, a new job, a new location and engaging new activities. We meet new people and forge new friendships based again on circumstance and attitude.

Early in life circumstances change often enough that changing attitudes go unnoticed. We naturally find ourselves with new people engaging similar pursuits and make new connections. The big upheaval that I see in myself, in my clients and in my friends comes later in life when we settle into a routine and then choose to seek growth and transformation. We begin to transform our attitude or worldview, but still spend time in the same old circumstances with our existing friends. This is when the many joys of bettering oneself will likely include some pain. It hurts to grow without our friends. They may even start judging you for it.

Years ago I came upon the term “center of gravity” in relation to a circle of friends or any other social circle. The concept is blindingly obvious when we look at children, but few realize just how important it is for adults as well. We tend to encourage children of a similar age to play together because, developmentally, they have a lot in common. With small children this is clear physically. Crawlers have a hard time keeping up with the walkers and runners. Those who can catch and throw have to throttle their abilities to hang out with an infant. This is not a judgement of better or worse. Worthiness has nothing to do with it. It is an observation of simple facts. As the years pass this becomes less and less about physical abilities and more about intellectual, emotional and potentially artistic, spiritual and many other skills or “lines of development”. Virtuoso musicians like to jam with others who have serious chops. The same is true when scientists want to talk shop. When we grow in one line we resonate with others who are a similar level of development. Again, this is easy to see in physical pursuits such as money or sports and to some extent intellectually. Where this is often overlooked is when it comes to the basic levels of consciousness, emotions and spirituality.

We all have a circle of friends that we have collected along the way. Each friend comes from a shared circumstance and a shared attitude. This circle of friends could be said to have a “center of gravity”. This is a metaphoric way of saying that each group of people has a level of consciousness or a shared worldview. This includes moral and ethical principles. We use the term gravity to describe how when one member of the group deviates from the norm the group will tend to pull them back towards the center. If Bobby is drinking or doing drugs far more than others in his circle he will feel pulled to clean up. He will feel that his actions are not normal. This is incredibly helpful when someone is struggling, when we are sad, get caught in a destructive relationship, are abusing a substance or having financial difficulties. When one person is sinking below the groups center the group will offer an energetic pull to bring them back to baseline. Sometimes this is spoken explicitly, but much of the pull happens unconsciously. We all tend to conform to unspoken, but shared values. This equalizing potential is one of the great gifts of friendships. We all have different strengths at different times and as long as we largely agree on what is important these differences get smoothed out.

But what happens when you do the really deep work of shifting your consciousness? I am going to ignore the voices that think that people don’t change. Perhaps another time I will explore the fear behind this belief. For now let’s assume that people really do develop over time. We know it happens from childhood until adulthood. It does appear to be true that most adults slow down developmentally when their physical growth stops and they start a career and a family. But what happens if your consciousness keeps developing well into your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s 50’s and beyond? Chances are not everyone in your group is developing in the same ways at the same time. Here is where the center of gravity of your social circle can have a painful and limiting effect.

If you can see how a group of friends can help pull you up when you are down then it should be clear how they can do the opposite. Your wonderful, well intentioned, perfectly amazing friends can actually pull you down when you are attempting to fly. Social circles have normative potential. Groups of people keep one another in line. We hold an unspoken shared vision of who we are and what we are likely to achieve. If our group does not approve of using drugs then we will make it hard for others within the group to use drugs. At times this is helpful. At others it is not. Wrapped up in every normative potential is a value judgement about what “we” are. If one of us deviates from this, forget the direction, the tendency is to “correct” them by reminding them what “we are”. The same holds true if you hang out with addicts and then try to quit. You will likely be pulled back into using with them based on everything from where they spend their time to what they do while there to how they define fun.

It is often true that attempting to grow is actually threatening to others. If you are doing this, why aren’t they? Unconsciously, we often sabotage our friends by holding an idea of who they are in our minds. What we know of one another is based solely on the past. We use experience to build an internal model of the people around us that is largely consistent with their actions. But what happens if they change? Does our model change? Probably not. We tend to attempt to fit them into the model that we have built for them. Often times we laugh when they claim they are not the way we have known them to be.

At this point, in order to grow, we must not only overcome our own limiting beliefs, but those of our friends as well. On top of this, there is the simple fact that as we change our interests and values change. We may no longer be going to the bar as much or complain about work the same way. My clients change their diets, they get up earlier in the morning, they change their careers, they travel more, they read different books, they meditate and change their media consumption habits. When we start creating major transitions in our lives we often find that we are not resonating with our friends in the same way. This can hurt far more than we had imagined. We still love these people. We still want the best for them. At the same time we recognize that their lifestyle and attitude are no longer aligned with ours. Some people avoid their friends. Some try desperately to change them. Others fall back into old patterns. Each of these choices comes with some degree of pain.

Here is my number one piece of advice:

Seek new friends. Engage new activities, clubs, events and gatherings that challenge you, stretch you, and push you towards the actions and ideas that you are working to develop. But, do not cut anyone out unless they are truly hurting you! You may crowd some old friends out of your schedule with adventures that they can not relate to, but keep the door open. Who knows what the future will bring. Often times friendships are a game of leapfrog in one line of development or a process of differentiation where our weaknesses are balanced by others strengths and vice versa. Sometimes you need to be the one to change and offer others a vision they couldn’t otherwise see. What is crucial is reaching out to create new connections with those you admire, those you aspire to resonate with, and those you can connect with in the areas you are growing. And recognize that you are doing the very hard and absolutely crucial work of raising the center of gravity of society at large.

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

 

04

Apr

Gratitude

Gratitude Wall

Do you always want more? Do you always feel like you are one accomplishment away from happiness? What if I told you that this striving, this desire for change, for growth and transformation can become an expression of your satisfaction with the way things are right now?

You would likely ask me what I am talking about.

On one hand the desire for growth is an incredibly powerful force for positivity. On the other it is a potentially destructive force that posits happiness as that ever elusive next step. What is the difference?

GRATITUDE

Gratitude is the feeling of appreciation, of thanks; the essence of grace. Cultivating gratitude changes the entire experience of striving. People with gratitude may work far harder than those without it, but the effort is more joyful and less tied to a specific outcome. When we accept and appreciate what we already have the effort to grow and to change becomes more of a celebration and less of a competition or struggle. When we root our life in gratitude we judge both ourselves and others with less negativity. We are more likely to see potential and less likely to focus on lack.

Many of my clients end up with a gratitude practice at one point or another. There are many reasons to practice gratitude and many more benefits of doing so. For many life is an experience of constant low level anxiety that occasionally erupts into a full blown panic attack. For many such as myself there is a tendency to slip into depression. Cultivating gratitude will help with both of these. The key is to realize that gratitude, like all emotions, is not something that only happens to us, it is something that we can choose to feel more often.

For most of us there are two times when we really feel gratitude naturally. One is when we get something. The other is when we almost lose something, but then manage to hold onto it. Have you ever met someone who had a near death experience? If not, I am sure that you have heard a story or two. When someone comes face to face with a potential loss of life or limb, but then, at the very last moment, recovers or is saved, there is a very real, very beautiful and potent gratitude that permeates even the most mundane of experiences. Flowers smell fresher. The sun shines brighter. Getting to see a friend or even talk to a stranger is a gift. In the moments right after a brush with mortality simply taking a deep breath can fill one with wonder, awe and appreciation for the gift that is life.

What has changed for these people? In all honesty, the only difference between them and you, right now, is that something truly terrible almost happened to them. Think about that. By this logic, the only thing standing between you and feeling joy just for being alive is something terrible happening to you. Is that why we spend so much time thinking about what might go wrong? Are we wishing for disaster so that we can learn to appreciate life? Or does a brush with disaster help us to realize that this moment, right now, is an incredibly precious event that will never occur again? My money is on the latter.

We can start appreciating life right now. If this is not your default mode, and for most of us it is not, then it will take a bit of practice. You will have to deliberately choose to seek feelings of gratitude. And note what I just said. I did not say “thoughts” of gratitude, I said feelings. This is the key. It starts with a thought and then becomes a feeling. Here is a VERY quick exercise that I have been offering to a number of clients recently. It takes 5-10 minutes a day and it can change everything. There are two steps:

1 – LAST THING AT NIGHT: Write down 3 things that you are grateful for and FEEL the gratitude in your body. Let the thoughts and sensations that you fall asleep to be full of appreciation for what you already have.

  1. One thing about yourself
  2. One thing about someone else
  3. One random thing

2 – FIRST THING IN THE MORNING: Read the three things that you wrote last night and FEEL grateful for them. Let them run through your mind and your heart. Root your morning in them. Let them become a mantra. When another thought arises push it aside with gratefulness. Let the mood of your morning become gratitude.

For every client this practice is a little different. I suggest that some focus on specific areas of life. Some keep these notes in a gratitude journal, others put up a giant poster board and create a gratitude wall full of gratitude that they see last thing before they go to bed and first thing upon waking up. The picture above is a sheet of plastic that I hung on the wall in my apartment so that my Hana and I can write on the wall with a dry erase marker. I sit by this beautiful energy every time I write a blog post or notes to a client. It roots me in positive feelings for the many ways that I am already truly blessed. I feel so good about my current situation it is only natural to want to encourage my life to grow, to evolve and change and continue in new directions.

Do you see how this shifts the energy around wanting change? Do you see how seeking growth and transformation can stop being about what you lack and become a celebration of what you do have? Hating what you already have is the energy of death. If you hate a child for being small you are not encouraging growth, you are punishing youth. We are all young. We are all naïve. Recognizing a place where we can get better should be exciting. It should generate an appreciation for what is and the fact that it can be improved.

I used to be terribly depressed. I spent years thinking about all that I hated about life. I was great at finding things to dislike. I could barely sleep. I was practicing disgust. It was deep in the fabric of my being. Every where I looked I saw it reflected back at me. Now I practice gratitude and guess what I notice when I look at the world?

The world is full of opportunities. Our perspective is primary. If you look down you see the ground. When you look up you see the sky. If your default frame is ruminating on what you don’t want, on what you lack, on why you are lonely or sad or tired then you will find 1,000 reasons for this. But if you break the pattern, if you choose to consciously look for things to be grateful for then you will find that this type of thinking creates a self-fulfilling virtuous cycle, a feedback loop, that teaches you to reach out for more simply because what you have is so wonderful. Who wouldn’t want more when they feel wonderful? Before long you may just find that you are overflowing and the only thing left is to want more for others as well.

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

 

18

Mar

Do You Walk Your State of Mind?

prada-hickies

Are you a fast walker? A slow walker?

What does this tell you about your mind?

I was working with a client the other day when the conversation turned to his gate. He has been tracking down the source of his knee pain for quite some time. Recently, through work with a chiropractor and a structural integrationist he has been made aware of some basic distortions in his posture and the way that he walks that are contributing to his pain. Let’s call him Carl.

Carl is a fast walker. Carl lives in NYC and is well aware of the crowd. Carl charges forward and walks right past most others on the sidewalk. I am a lot like Carl. Occasionally I stroll, leisurely taking in the sites, but most of the time I am a man on a mission. I have somewhere to be and it is not here.

This is where consciousness comes into the equation. This is why the mind has a lot to do with how you walk.

Years ago I read the book “Slowness” by Milan Kundera. I love Milan Kundera. His insights into the inner workings of the human experience help him to create the most illuminating characters. I often put down his novels with a beautiful new appreciation for a subconscious process or previously unexplored habit. There is a scene in slowness, perhaps right at the beginning (it has been many years) that describes one of the characters walking away from something that just happened. Kundera focuses on the speed at which this character is walking. He points out that a key to understanding a persons relationship to what just happened is the speed at which they are walking.

Imagine yourself in the middle of giving a really embarrassing speech in front of a crowd of people. Pretend that for whatever reason this talk is just not going well. Your confidence is sapped. Feel the embarrassment in your body as you struggle to wrap up and get off stage. Do you want to hang out and mingle with the audience or do you want to leave quickly? Now walk away from that place and head somewhere completely different. Head to the comfort of your home. How are you walking?

I’ll bet you are walking fast. You want a distance between you and that place. More importantly, you want to move away from the feeling of being in that place. Kundera suggests that we walk quickly when we want to forget. It is as if moving faster might not only move us farther away physically, it might also speed up our metabolism and help clear these negative feelings from our system.

Now imagine the opposite. You have spent the night in your new lovers arms. Most likely in their bed. This night was bliss. You felt full, you felt seen, you felt respected and desired, you felt satisfied. You and your lover get up in the morning, kiss goodbye and you walk out the door. How are you walking now?

I’ll bet you are barely moving. You want to linger. You want this experience to last. Savoring a moment will cause one to walk slowly. The last thing you want is to have another experience too soon, to shake these feelings from your body. Letting too much in too quickly might just crowd out the sweetness that you just tasted.

The speed at which we walk is not only tied to the past. It is also tied to the future. Excited to get somewhere? You are walking quickly of course. Dreading a meeting? I’ll bet you are a bit slower.

But what does a nice, moderate pace communicate? What consciousness, what mood, is cultivated by walking at a pace that is not too slow and not too fast? What lies between a desire to leave the past and a desire to stay in the past? Between a desire to be in the future and a desire to avoid what is coming next?

Equanimity is one word for the complete acceptance of what is. It is a term often used to describe the state of mind that a life of meditation will cultivate. With equanimity comes deep joyful breathing and a lightness about all that has passed and all that is to come. Equanimity is a composure that even the most difficult situations can not disturb. Equanimity is not physical stillness, but it can feel like a stillness in ones thoughts. In many ways it is tied to being in a state of FLOW.

Our body follows our mind, but our mind also follows our body. It is a chicken or egg cycle that we can impact from either side of the equation. Change your mind and your body will react. Change your body and your consciousness shifts. You likely know that I am a huge fan of using Breathing Exercises to shift your mind and your subconsciously controlled body systems (such as heart rate and digestion). Another, perhaps more easily tapped resource is the way that you walk.

Try this today. Next time you are walking somewhere notice the speed at which you are walking. Now notice your mind. Play with the speed. Try walking extra slow. Do you feel resistance? Can you enjoy where you are? Are you thinking about the past? Does your mind go to the future? Can you feel your feet hit the ground? Can you smell the air? Do you hear birds? Cars? Other people breathing? Can you hear your own breath. The speed at which you walk connects with the contents of your mind. It connects directly with your ability to connect with The Power of Now.

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

11

Mar

Handling Failure – Additive vs. Subtractive Thinking

 

Devin_Martin-failure

Do you tend to engage in “Additive Thinking” or “Subtractive Thinking”?

This has to do with how you handle failure. This determines whether your failures become learning experiences that make you better or suffering experiences that make you meek.

In psychology there is something called “counterfactual thinking”. Counter = contrary (to the facts). “For example, a person may reflect upon how a car accident could have turned out by imagining how some of the antecedents could have been different… if only I hadn’t been speeding… or if I had been going slower…. People can imagine alternatives that are better or worse than reality” (wikipedia) The key for us lies in the last phrase.

Counterfactual thinking is what we engage when we play the “what if” game. What if I had decided to study a different major? What if I had tried harder to love her? What if I hadn’t been drunk? We’ve all played the what if game. I actually do my best to avoid it now. I’m a fan of the Be Here Now school of thought. I don’t spend a whole lot of time dwelling on mistakes. This has its perks, but if we forgo reflection entirely we end up skipping not only the harmful aspects of “what if’s” but the beneficial ones as well. This is where Additive and Subtractive Thinking come into play.

“An additive statement involves engaging in an event that did not originally occur (e.g., I should have taken medicine) wheres a subtractive statement involves removing an event that took place (e.g., I should have never started drinking) (Epstude & Roese, 2008)”

Simply put, Subtractive statements are destructive. When we engage in subtractive thinking we do little more than chastise ourselves for our failings. We look at our mistakes and wallow in disappointment. We see a problem and dwell on it. Recognizing your mistakes will increase your awareness. This is good, but it is not enough. In order to learn from our mistakes we must not just see them, we must see beyond them.

Additive statements are creative. They are akin to problem solving past mistakes. When we engage in additive thinking about the past we are seeing our failures and creatively re-imagining how we might better handle this situation if it were to arise again. This starts with a self-critical appraisal, but the thought does not stop there. We use our critical faculties to mark the point we would like to change. Then we engage our creative faculties to imagine changing something.

Nearly all of my clients end up working with visualizations at one point or another. When we can see, hear, feel, touch and smell something in our awareness we come infinitely closer to experiencing it. When an athlete can see her actions before competition she is far more likely to perform well. Visualization is a powerful form of practice. When a man can truly envision his ideal mate he is far more likely to recognize her if she walks by in a crowded room. His energy is far more likely to draw her to him. Visualizations are incredibly powerful.

Most often I work with clients to visualize potentials to overcome limiting beliefs. What I have recently begun doing is also helping them to re-author the past failures that are lurking in their awareness and contributing to their limiting beliefs. “OK that didn’t work when you tried it before and you can’t stop thinking about it. It’s great you know that, but you can do more than just ruminate, you can recreate. Visualize how it could have gone better.” Not only does this type of exercise lead you towards better future performance, it also helps you to release the emotions that are mired in past experiences. By transcending the negative energy surrounding failure with positive creative/additive energy it becomes far easier to release regret and stop dragging memories of the past back up into your present awareness. Additive thinking trades negativity about the past for positivity about the future.

Can you see these patterns at work in your awareness? Can you choose to alter the way they unfold? Can you recognize when you are stuck in subtractive thinking and can you then see how to transcend this with additive thinking?

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

04

Mar

The Power of Belief in Changing Habits

Devin_Martin-Bulleit_Bourbon

PART 1  : PART 2 : THIS IS PART 3 OF A 3 PART SERIES ON HABITS

Have you ever read the AA bible, the 12 steps manual? For those at all familiar with AA’s approach to overcoming alcohol addiction (a STRONG habit) there is one crucial element that appears repeatedly. It turns many off, but those who are the most successful with AA often site it as the thing that empowers them to succeed in overcoming their drinking problems. These people make “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him.”

AA was started by a one time agnostic who, while in the hospital being treated for alcoholism was given large doses of the psychedelic belladonna. He had visions and wrote ‘the book’ very quickly afterwards. This book mentions God in 7 out of the 12 steps. A belief in a higher power is not recommended for AA, it is required. For many, a lack of this type of faith is enough to turn them off form AA altogether. For years people have debated whether or not a belief in god is crucial to recovery. I suggest that it is not god, but the belief itself that is transformative. Faith is the key. A higher power is the thing that inspires such unwavering faith, but it is the belief itself that inspires and transforms.

Two weeks ago I introduced you to the habit cycle as described in “The Power of Habits” by Charles Duhigg. Last week I introduced the technique known as Habit Reversal Training that can be used to help change any habit. I also mentioned that there is one crucial element that can make any habit change either bulletproof or susceptible to failure at a crucial moment. This element is belief. More specifically, it appears to be belief in something bigger than oneself.

A study conducted by the NIH, UC Berkeley and Brown University looked for correlations between religious belief and how long people stayed sober. What they found was what that while yes, habit replacement works, it also fails at critical, stressful moments. A woman may get sober for two years, but when circumstances arise, when strong enough cues are present, she may well go back to drinking UNLESS there is a strong enough belief in place that empowers her to maintain her course. In AA this belief is that a higher power has entered ones life. People who succeed genuinely believe that things are going to get better. Faith is not a simple, black and white happening, but it may not be all that mysterious either.

In AA God is the name given to this faith. When it comes to habit change in general it might be more helpful to think of this faith as not in god, but in the process itself. AA inspires this in a few ways as well. First, AA provides you with proof. When you sit in an AA meeting you are surrounded by those for whom this process has worked. It is hard for even the biggest skeptic to maintain disbelief the entire time. Reality is telling you that this has worked before. You would be a fool not to believe. The second thing AA provides is the experience of something greater than yourself. You are part of a group and you are offered opportunities to serve that group. Whether setting up chairs, offering encouragement or becoming a sponsor for someone earlier along the path there is the continuous experience of being part of something that is bigger than the individual. The process itself is something bigger than any one individual that you must surrender to for it to work. It may feel like a stretch to call this god, but the AA book does ask you to define God however you choose. For many the need to have a specific definition is trumped by the direct experience of being a part of process that they can not fully understand. The key for many, if not to fully believe, is to at least suspend disbelief for long enough to let grace in.

One other key to belief that AA provides is community. Whether or not you have a supportive group of people around you can make all the difference in whether or not you believe that change is possible. remember, community can be as small as one other person.

What habit do you have that can not be addressed by applying this process of Habit Reversal Training coupled with a healthy dose of faith? Almost no matter what you are struggling with, you know that others have succeeded before you. You likely know that you yourself have succeeded at times. The key is to remove judgement, apply a healthy dose of logic via a proven process, all while letting go and having a bit of faith, in yourself, in the future and in the fact that you are a part of something far bigger than yourself that will carry you when you allow it.

You may have noticed that changing some habits seems impossible while other, really simple habits are easy to change. What is really amazing is that if you find just the right simple, easily changed habit it can create a cascade effect that leads to effortless change in the rest of your life. Duggins refers to these as keystone habits. I wrote about something quite similar a while back. I call them TrimTabs.

What habit would you most like to change?

PART 1  : PART 2 : THIS IS PART 3 OF A 3 PART SERIES ON HABITS

This post is from a series called INSIGHTS that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

25

Feb

Habit Reversal Training – How to Change Habits

Devin_Martin-nose_pick

PART 1  : THIS IS PART 2 OF A 3 PART SERIES ON HABITS : PART 3

Last week I began talking about how habits work and how, by increasing our awareness of the simple pattern that all habits seem to follow we can choose to replace bad habits or install good ones. The ideas that I am discussing are from a new book by Charles Duhigg called “The Power of Habits.” I Introduced the cycle of cue – routine – reward that Duhigg describes and gave you a brief overview of how to identify and bring more awareness to the cues that precede the behavior or habit you wish to change.

Once you have identified and tracked the cues that send you into autopilot you can now choose to follow that cue with a healthier, more supportive behavior. Consider the woman I mentioned who bites her nails. When she gets bored and feels a tingling in her fingertips her old behavior was to start rubbing her finger tips feeling for bumps or edges. When she found one she would chew on it and then, on autopilot, proceed to chew every nail on her hand until here nails were completely smooth (or completely removed). Once she had smoothed out the skin and nails on every finger she felt a sense of completeness, her reward (more about this later).

Step two of reprogramming her habit after identifying and tracking her cues was to install a new program. Whenever she became aware of the cue, of boredom leading to a tingling sensation in her fingertips, she was to do something which physically stimulated her fingertips such as rub them on her arm or wrap them on a hard surface. She practiced this routine with her therapist for 30 minutes and was then sent home with another index card. This time she made a check when she felt the cue and a hashmark when she successfully engaged the new physical stimulation. A week later, after biting her nails only 3 times instead of the usual 18 she rewarded herself with a manicure. This felt satisfying and rewarding in much the same way that completing a round of nail biting did.

cue-routine-reward-swap

Did you catch that? The key is not avoidance. When I say “don’t think of a purple elephant” what are you doing? You are thinking of a purple elephant. When I say “don’t bite your nails” what are you thinking about? Biting your nails. This can actually increase the compulsion and anxiety. If I help you to recognize the trigger that leads to biting your nails and then offer you an alternate behavior suddenly you have options. You have a new coping mechanism and instead of simply trying to shortcircuit the cycle you are completing it in an alternate way.

A similar routine replacement is described for other patterns. A man who snacks when he is bored at work recognizes that the rewards of going to the cafeteria include a break from his desk and some social engagement. He chooses the routine of walking over to a co-workers desk and talking to them instead. New habit installed, same rewards felt. One of the reasons that AA meetings work so well is likely that the habit of drinking is replaced with a habit of meetings (90 meetings in 90 days). The cues such as anxiety remain the same, but the coping mechanism or habit is replaced and the reward can be surprisingly similar. The social engagement, sharing of stories and camaraderie of a meeting are often shockingly similar to those at a bar, party or other social drinking event.

A cue must be identified, a new routine chosen and a reward given for following it. Sound too simple? Too good to be true? This simple process is called Habit Reversal Training. Duhigg quotes one of the developers of this process, Nathan Azrin, “It seems ridiculously simple, but once you’re aware of how your habit works, once you recognize the cues and rewards, you’re halfway to changing it. It seems like it should be more complex. The truth is the brain can be reprogrammed. You just have to be deliberate about it.”

Let’s be clear. This tool is massively powerful. A simple awareness of it and dedication to following it has helped many and can be a positive tool for anyone. But it will not always be enough. Each habit is complex and unique. And there is another factor which plays a huge role in both whether or not we can succeed at changing a habit and in whether or not the habits that we do change last. This factor is belief.

Next week we take a look at the role that belief plays in changing habits. Belief is the key to understanding how to succeed in creating the habits we do want, changing the habits we do not want and why some new habits fail completely at critical moments.

PART 1  : THIS IS PART 2 OF A 3 PART SERIES ON HABITS : PART 3

This post is from a series called INSIGHTS that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life & Career Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.