Is the world a cold, threatening place, or is it a warm, supportive place?

I just returned from the Global Gathering of graduates of Transformational Presence Leadership and Coach Training. Though this wasn’t an intentional theme of the organizers, one of the themes I took away was the question “Is the world a cold, threatening place, or is it a warm, supportive place?”. Actually, the question is “do you perceive the world as a cold, threatening place, or do you perceive it as a warm, supportive place?”.   Keep in mind that, when phrased this way, it makes it sound like its hot vs. cold, when of course it’s always varying degrees of warmth.

But one does have a choice in one’s answer to your question, though it often doesn’t feel that way, depending on one’s life path. My recognition of this theme began during the start of one coaching exercises (thanks Peggy!), when I realized I grew up with the view that the world is a threatening place. In general, in coaching one doesn’t spend much time ‘unpacking’ the past; that delicate work is left to psychotherapists trained for that. But it only took a few minutes to reflect on my being born in a tough part of town, the South Side of Chicago, in the tumultuous mid-50’s – a time of ‘white flight’, when blacks moved into the South Side in great numbers, leading to large numbers of whites to flee to the suburbs. My father worked in Army Counter-Intelligence, ostensibly looking for Communists who had infiltrated the government; the shadow of Joe McCarthy loomed large. We weren’t poor, but by no means were we financially secure. Growing up in this environment, it was natural that I would come to view the world as a threatening place. It’s a win-or-lose, dog-eat-dog world-view, that sadly is coming to dominate much of our political landscape in the US and Europe.

The world now feels to me like a very different place, though I’d say I perceive it still as lukewarm. Only this week, after the TPLC Global Gathering, did I come to realize that this is really a choice – to choose to perceive it as threatening, rather than supportive. Given my upbringing, this perception is not surprising, but it’s been decades since I left home – the time to shift this perception is long overdue.

World-views have pervasive implications. Among other things, one tends to be drawn to people and situations which reinforce this world-view.  When one sees the world as dark and threatening, you readily spot your enemies, at the expense of recognizing your friends; it’s easy to find oneself migrating to unsupportive (or even toxic) work environments. With this world-view, one might feel uncomfortable around those who view things as inherently warm and supportive. To appreciate that this world-view is a choice, something that one can change today at will, is transformational. And, of course, it’s not like flipping a switch, from threatening to supportive, but one can set an intention to keep shifting it towards supportive.

The more one perceives the world as warm and supportive, the more one will recognize those moments when people are being that way.  (Some might call this ‘the law of attraction’.) Alan Seale, the founder of Transformational Presence, says that there are only two fundamental emotions, Fear and Love, and advocates “Choose Love”. Frankly, I haven’t understood the significance of this phrase, as it reminds me of the hippies’ advocacy of ‘free love’ during the ’60’s. I now see one way to understand it is in the context of one’s choice for this world-view, threatening (Fear) or supportive (Love).

And making this choice doesn’t imply a Pollyana-ish world-view that everyone in the world is supportive and non-threatening. Think of Melanie Hamilton from Gone With The Wind – she was deeply kind and caring, and forgave Scarlett for her indiscretion with Ashley. Yet she was still able to shoot an invading soldier when it was necessary.

For me, this shift towards a supportive world-view really began as I got more deeply into yoga and meditation, ultimately graduating from Kripalu as a yoga teacher. I’ve been teaching yoga at Buddhaful Souls since. My work as a life- and leadership-coach has enhanced this shift.

What choice are you making? Is the world to you mainly cold and threatening, or does it seem warm and supportive? Who might be offering support, or are ready to offer support, that you’re not recognizing?

It’s your choice.

 

 

Love 2.0: Opportunities for love in everyday connections

I was deeply moved by a book I read recently “Love 2.0: How our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become”, by Barbara Fredrickson, a research psychologist at the University of North Carolina.   The heart of her thesis is:

Love is far more ubiquitous than you ever thought possible, for the simple fact that love is connection...it is the warmth of everyday connections“.

22559299 - happy smiling mother and baby kissing and hugging at home

22559299 – happy smiling mother and baby kissing and hugging at home

Copyright: 123RF Stock Photo

She aims to knock love off its ‘romantic pedestal’. Many of us have a sense that love is this profound emotion that we reserve only for those with whom we have an intimate connection: our partner, our family members, etc. We tend to view it as connected with sex, or durable commitments. This can lead to the sense that love is elusive, love is ‘out there’. By only imagining that love is exclusive, lasting and unconditional, we may find ourselves frustrated, as we wait for our soulmate, the ‘love of our life’; or confused, when we feel a loving emotion for someone other than our partner.

While she acknowledges that having at least one close, enduring relationship is vital to your health and happiness, she maintains it’s possible to have “micro-moments” of love with total strangers.   Not in the sense of the “free love” spirit of the 1960’s – as in the Stephen Stills song “…if you can’t be with the one you love, Honey / love the one you’re with”. But rather love can be these brief connections as you walk your dog, and encounter another dog lover, and engage in a brief conversation. The lighting-up you feel when you connect with a young mother with her oh-so-cute burbling infant in a stroller.   That feeling when you’re at a ballgame, and revel in the joy of your favorite team winning. Or even in a bar watching that win on TV.

There’s a natural tendency to minimize such simple moments – to not give them their due – yet she encourages us heighten our awareness of them. One of the outcomes of her research is that pleasing moments like joy, amusement, gratitude, or hope and are often subtle and brief, and is something hard-wired into our body’s responses. But “such moments can ignite powerful forces of growth for your life. They do this first by opening you up…you become more flexible, attuned to others, creative and wise”.

She considers the love the ‘supreme emotion’. She maintains

     “within each moment of loving connection, you become sincerely invested in this other person’s well-being, simply for his or her own sake. And the feeling is mutual. You     come to recognize that, in this loving moment, this other person is also sincerely invested in your well-being; that he or she truly cares for you.”

 

Learning how loves works can make a clear difference in your life. It can help you prioritize moments of shared positivity and elevate your faith in humanity.”

Her suggestion: don’t wait for Cupid’s arrow, or that lightning bolt. Make a conscious choice to look for these opportunities which abound in the everyday interactions of life, and turn them into micro-moments of love. Choose love.

 

One of her many videos, a TEDx talk (you’ll need to endure a few seconds of ads – then click Skip Ad)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flow experiences, and what makes a life worth living

Something I’ve heard people say “In life, they say to follow your passions, but I don’t know what those are!”. One way to get some clues on that is to become aware of the times in your life when you’ve had a ‘flow’ experience. Let me explain here what that is.

Being in a state of flow is an extraordinary experience – one’s concentration is total, time passes without awareness, and sometimes one reaches a state of bliss.

The TED talk by Csikszentmihalyi in my last blog post lists the characteristics of a flow experience:

  • Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated.
  • A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
  • Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
  • Knowing that the activity is doable – that our skills are adequate to the task.
  • A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
  • Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present, hours seem to pass by in minutes.
  • Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.

The simplest thing that comes to mind is an expert skier on a very demanding ‘black diamond’ run. The goal is to make it to the bottom still standing, and uninjured. The feedback is constant – you’re either making the turns or you’re flying into the woods. And the balance of challenges to skills comes from the skier choosing a run that matches his skill level. One’s attention is totally devoted to the skiing – no opportunities to worry about some argument you’ve had recently, or whether you’re hungry. Sometimes even a novice skier can achieve this on a run that matches their skill level (though the moment you worry about falling and/or injuring yourself, the flow is gone).

plotofflow

Csikszentmihalyi explain this in terms of positions on a graph, plotting skill level against challenge level. When you’re watching TV, the challenges are minimal, and the skill level needed is zero – you likely feel apathy and/or boredom. If you need to build a fence for the first time, and you’re not very handy, you have high challenge, but low skill: low skill, medium-high challenge leading to worry and anxiety. That expert skier is at high skill and high challenge, and is in flow.

A flow experience does not need to be grand. For some, knitting can be a flow experience. For others, gardening. Solving a sudoku, or other puzzles.

Sometimes, for the lucky few, work provides this. I suspect some accountants have a flow experience as they try to balance the books. Or an investigative reporter breaks a story. Or a chef makes the ultimate soufflé. Or a teacher presents one of their favorite topics, and really connects with a class, getting an enthusiastic and engaged response. I’ve experienced yoga teachers reaching this.

Former CEO Norman Augustine says “I’ve always wanted to be successful. My definition of being successful is contributing something to the world…and being happy while doing it…You have to enjoy what you are doing. You won’t be very good if you don’t. And secondly, you have to feel that you are contributing something worthwhile…If either of these ingredients are absent, there’s probably some lack of meaning in your work”.

Stop now and reflect on whether there have been moments in your life where you may have had a flow experience. Does this give you clues on what your passions are, and where you may want to direct more of your life’s energy? Does this help you answer Csikszentmihalyi’s question “What makes a life worth living?”.

flow experiences

A ‘flow’ experience is a stretch of time where you are totally absorbed in something, oblivious to the passing of time, something that profoundly engages your intellect, your passions, your soul.

This is not ‘going with the flow’ – this is being profoundly absorbed.

For me, one of the most powerful ‘flow’ experiences is white-water canoeing.  In turbulent, unpredictable water, where any misstep could potentially flip the canoe, my attention is totally focussed – other things cannot float into my consciousness.

The social scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has pioneered this notion of ‘flow experiences’ as a key to happiness

Watch his TED talk

Interestingly, one group that has taken to heart his teachings are the designers of video games.  They employ many strategems to make those games irresistable, and totally absorbing.

I’m not proposing you spend all your time playing video games.  Look back – what types of things do you do that are totally engaging, where you totally lose track of time?  Is their a passion you’re following?

The Incalculable Value of Finding a Job You Love

Wonderful article recently in the New York Times, by Robert Frank:

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Click here to read.

 

He discusses the tradeoff between a high-paying job vs. one that pays less but is more fulfilling.  He ends with some great words of wisdom:

 

You have bills to pay, so salary matters. But social science findings establish clearly that once you have met your basic obligations, it’s possible to live a very satisfying life even if you don’t earn a lot of money…Resist the soul-crushing job’s promise of extra money and savor the more satisfying conditions you’ll find in one that pays a little less.

Time Termites

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Too often, I feel like I’m not using my time well – how I spend my time day-to-day doesn’t align with my priorities (for example, bingeing on ‘House of Cards’ is not a priority to me).

 

I’ve tried putting important things on my calendar at the start of the day, or the start of the week, but then I feel like a slave to my calendar, and I feel guilty when I take a break to sit on the balcony to watch the birds on the pond and the sunlight glittering on the water. This approach accomplishes nothing, and only adds stress.

 

Chatting with my Stuttgart friend Sandra Seibert yesterday, she encouraged me to come up with a metaphor for the things that take up my time, unwanted. I chose termites, things that burrow into your home and bit-by-bit destroy the structure. One can call in the exterminator, and flush them out, but they come back, and keeping termites out requires constant vigilance.

 

Identify the termites that nibble away at how you use your time. For me, the first things that came to mind are Facebook, email, and reading the newspaper on my smartphone. Once you’ve identified them, put effort into getting rid of them. You’ll discover new termites, and once again flush them out. This is a different kind of discipline than being a slave to your calendar – I feel free to sit on the balcony, knowing that right at that moment I don’t need to be a termite exterminator. The process of identifying termites and getting rid of them can wait.

 

As Sandra said, imagine a plate that you fill up with slices of pie, where the size of each slice corresponds to how important that is, and how much time you’d like to devote to that. For me, the biggest slices were to take care of myself and my health, to nurture my closest relationships (wife, daughter), and to earn enough money to maintain our fairly modest lifestyle.

 

Looking at your plate of pie slices, notice at how you actually spend your time, and identify all the termites that chew up your time, contrary to these priorities. Try to get rid of these termites for the rest of the day. It won’t work completely, but keep trying to identify and get rid of them (or minimize them – not all time spent on email is time poorly spent) day-by-day.

 

Sandra suggested printing this image of the termite and putting it on my desk. Try it as a reminder to keep those time termites at bay.

 

Let me know how it goes.

Chance favors those in motion

I saw an intriguing sign recently saying

  • Chance favors those in motion

I interpret this to mean ‘take action – get moving – try things, even if you’re not sure it’s the right step, or the right direction.  Your perspective will change, once you’re in a different spot, and maybe things will get clearer there from where you started.  You’re more likely to experience a stroke of luck doing that, than just sitting in one spot.

Imagine you’re lost in the woods, and you don’t see a path out to safety.  You can stay put, paralyzed, or you can take a few steps, and see how things look differently – maybe clues to your location are visible at that point, e.g.  flowing water, or a communications tower, that weren’t visible before.

Related to that is the wonderful quote, a very free English translation from Goethe

Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

I’ll close with two questions for you to mull over;
  • In which areas of your life are you now being challenged to move forward – to take a next step – to turn into another direction?
  • And what could be the gift of being in motion in your situation?

Living mindfully

The tempo of our lives seems to get faster every year. More meetings to go to, more errands to run, more soccer games to take this kids to, more emails to reply to, more stuff to check or post on Facebook.

Our attention is getting splintered. More and more gets less and less attention. Everything we experience is getting only our partial attention.

This used to be a cliché, popular in movies – the husband reading the paper as he ‘listens’ to his wife chatting, occasionally responding numbly ‘yes, dear’, the wife talking away undeterred.

Many writers now talk about the need for mindfulness – paying devoted attention to what’s happening right now.

girlWithGrape

Imagine taking ten minutes to eat one grape. Smell it, feel it, heft it, experience it in as many ways as you can before you pop it in your mouth. Once in your mouth, resist the urge to immediately bite down or swallow. Experience it anew in this context. Eventually, bite down to split the grape, and wallow in the new sensations in your mouth. Eventually, swallow and notice still more.

Obviously, this is not something you can do for an entire meal. In a restaurant, the waitress (and the people standing in line hoping to get your table) will get mightily impatient. At a lunch break at work, people waiting for you at a 1 o’clock meeting might put a missing-person’s report on you. But this little exercise may teach you a little about how to slow down when eating. Eating is a rich source of sensory experience, and is a wonderful opportunity to focus your attention.

Meditation is a wonderful way to cultivate mindfulness. There are tons of books and online resources to help you begin to meditate. It’s something that can be practiced anytime, anywhere – no special clothes, no special setting, no teammates required.

You’ll find meditation enhances your attention, and your awareness to what’s going on right now. It’s an amazing thing to experience more fully what’s happening right now, without trying to impose your own story on it, worrying where it’s going, or how it got there.

As a coach, I used to think my job was to help people put themselves on a new life path. For those really eager to change, this is fairly easy. Often such people have just experienced some ‘jolt’ to their life, for example, a divorce, the loss of job, etc

But many people find change scary.   For these people, I like to think of my role as coach is simply to help people become aware of their life, to pay attention more to what’s going on, and what feelings are swirling around. Sometimes, simply paying more attention leads to things shifting, seemingly without effort – something was waiting to shift, but it needed us to get out of the way. Another part of my role as a coach is to help empower you to make those changes.

Contact me if you want to learn more, or think this type of coaching is what you need now in your life.

Making time

 

I’m trying to break the habit of saying “I don’t have time for ______” (fill in the blank).     My head knows what I really mean is “I must make more time for _____”. At the start of the month, I look at my calendar and see that the time is there, yet if I’m not careful, one day at a time, that time can slip through my fingers, leaving many important things undone. Meanwhile, all the Facebook posts have been read, the emails have been replied to within an hour, and the good movies have been watched or too many not-so-good books have been read.

‘Making more time’ does not necessarily adding to your life more things to do. You may want to make more time for quiet time – doing nothing – or savoring a sunset.

BrookeBellSunrise

For most of my adult life, I’ve started the day having a cup of coffee and doing nothing – just staring out the window – a time to center myself. When our daughter was around 5 years old, she’d get out of bed and wordlessly snuggle in my lap – she somehow knew this was a time to be quiet. I got out of that habit many years ago, when I put wifi in our home, and started reading the newspaper online with that coffee (our daughter had long since grown out of her habit). I finally realized a few years ago that I was missing that quiet time, and restored my old routine.

Another example of my making more time: my wife and I started this past year marking off on our calendar every Friday evening as ‘date night’, which creates the opportunity for some quality one-on-one conversation, really nurturing the relationship, not just catching up on the events of the week. Having this blocked off on the calendar weeks in advance helps to keep other things from creeping in (though, inevitably, out-of-town visitors come, work trips intervene, etc)

Marking one’s calendar months in advance of things you are really interested in devoting time to is a simple way to help make time for important things. For example, many of us schedule our annual physical a year out, as we wrap up this year’s. That appointment may get bumped as the time approaches, but one rarely forgets it completely.

But you might say “I already have too many things to do – I can’t put more things on my schedule”. This simple approach of marking your calendar in advance at least let’s you make a conscious choice – when that party invitation comes for next Friday night, you can ask “what’s more important – our relationship or that party?”. This doesn’t mean you should become a hermit, and avoid all parties – it gives you a chance to consciously balance the need to nurture one’s spousal relationship and the relationships with friends.

Similarly, if your New Year’s resolution is to hit the gym at least one hour a day, if you leave it to the end of the day, after everything is “out of the way”, odds are good it ain’t gonna happen. Make it a regular time, e.g. before breakfast or during the lunch break, if not on your calendar then in your routine.

Making time for important things is a much deeper thing, too. I’m always amazed to learn about authors with day-jobs, kids, etc. who succeed in writing a book during the first hour of each day, the calm before the storm of everyday life. A friend of mine recently blocked out the entire month of December, to wrap up a book project that had been languishing. Hemingway wrote his first novel in the afternoons, after spending the morning filing stories for the Kansas City Star.

I’ve known people who, really committed to a career switch, studied for a new degree at night, while keeping their current job going. For example, two of my friends each decided to go to law school, while maintaining a day-job in a low-level position in a legal department, becoming full-fledged lawyers after graduation (by the way, at the time, neither of them seemed time-crunched or stressed-out). Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist, first started drawing his comic strip at night while maintaining a full-time job in IT at Pacific Bell (which provided endless material for his first strips).

The first step to creating space in your life for new things is to take control of how you spend your time. Time is the one resource that is non-renewable. Make it count.