It’s time to Pump You Up

There is a movie called, The Lady in the Water, by M. Night Shamalon. I enjoyed it, but that’s not really the point. There was a character, in the movie, who had worked out only one side of his body; half his body looked like a body builder and the other half was a normal guy size. This does have a point… really!

I have been talking with people in the last few weeks, a lot, about their negative versus positive focus. We humans are hardwired for survival, and noticing what is odd, dangerous, out of place, etc, is a survival strategy. As we scan the world with our senses, we can notice the tiger in the tall grass, and it helps us survive. But, in some people this wiring is very strong and very deep. All the focus gets turned on what isn’t working, how bad we feel, where the problems are, what’s wrong. There is an imbalance toward the negative. And, that isn’t realistic, any more than only seeing the positive is realistic. This week when I was walking out to my car, I tripped. Not a big splatter type of trip, but a drop all my stuff and end up on my knees type of trip. “I am so clumsy!” “I am the clumsiest person!” In that moment I probably wasn’t thinking, “I take about 5000 steps a day, over the average month I take 150,000 steps, and I tripped once.” People rarely focus on the 150,000 good steps, but will instead create a laser focus on the one bad step. Does that really make sense? I am not saying go to some perfect pollyanna extreme the other direction, what I am saying is that we need to work on using the muscles on both sides of the situation.

I think, that much of our sense of self-esteem and our internal conversations, are created with this same negative laser focus. It is really hard, to shift our focus to something neutral, when we’re in the middle of something that’s maybe painful. As we’re in the middle of whatever the painful process is, we chew it around and around, knawing at all the bad parts. If I’ve gotten into an argument, say with my husband, and he did something that hurt my feelings, it’s very easy to focus on that, solely. What that focus doesn’t remind me of, is all the times if he didn’t hurt my feelings. It doesn’t remind me of the times he’s done really nice things for me, in fact it doesn’t remind me of anything good at all. And well, that isn’t the whole truth. At that point my focus is lasered on something negative, I’m missing out on the whole other side of the truth. So, in order to challenge the negative focus I have a couple of ideas to share with you:

First – take time before responding, wait to see how you feel in about 2-24 hours. Not every situation is a crisis just because we feel the pressure to try and resolve it. So this first step is really about doing no harm until you can have a good conversation.

Second – while you’re waiting, to do no harm, start remembering all the positive things the person has done for you. Really create a list of all the things you like about that person. You don’t need to make up anything, just really notice an honest reflection of who they are and what you like. It’s an interesting thing, but we treat people differently based on how we think of them, friend or foe, makes all the difference.

Third – when you’re ready to actually talk to the person, try to come from a place of only talking about your feelings. Feelings are very difficult to argue with, because they’re yours. If you only focus on what their behavior was that you didn’t like, you run the risk of shutting them down. We tend to be masters at triggering other peoples defenses, especially in long relationships. Acknowledging what you like about the other person, along with what you need to address, may soften the conversation and keep them listening.

Fourth – make sure to hear their side of the story. Listening is a two way street. If you have something to say, make sure you are also doing what you ask of them, Listen. You don’t have to agree with their side of the story, but try and put yourself in their shoes, if only for a moment. Look for what their intention was, if their intention was not to hurt your feelings, remember that.

Fifth – Pay attention, your feelings may offer you a place to address issues in the relationship. If you find yourself feeling a negative feeling with your partner or friend regularly, you may need to pay attention to what that feeling is trying to tell you. But, if it’s something that only happens very rarely, don’t go overreacting.

One of the super secrets in life is that emotions are not good or bad, but rather they are roadsigns, they tell you something, and our job is to learn how to read our own map. I will be talking more about this in a future blog. So, before I leave you, don’t be the character in The Lady in the Water, instead practice working out both sides if your perspective.

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The Power of Three – True Kind Necessary

I often talk to people about being honest and truthful. I meet people who tell me what honest people they are and how they ‘tell it like it is.’ But, I don’t often meet honest people who also have good outcomes with their honesty. There are often one of two things going on here: One is that, we are ‘honest’ when we are upset about someone else’s actions, thoughts, or words. So, we want to tell them the truth from our perspective, even if it hurts them. What’s the saying? “Sometimes the truth hurts.” But, what is missed in this statement is that telling the truth doesn’t have to be done in a hurtful way. The second thing that may be going on, is that we think we need to educate someone about something we think. So we drop our “brutal honesty” or truth bombs on them, to help them or educate them into a new understanding, typically our understanding. I think that both of these ‘truths’ are a little self serving, but I know I have had moments when I felt the need to share my perspective and told a hard truth to someone.

The problem with telling the brutal truth to someone else, is not the truth part, but the brutal part of the delivery. I taught Anger Management for the Air Force for 7 years, and several of the responses I have gotten to this honesty issue have sounded like this, “I am not going to sugar coat the truth!” or, “I am a blunt person, just deal with it!” or “Sorry if the truth hurts, but it’s the truth and that’s not my fault!” or “I am not responsible if you don’t like the truth!” Or, one of the many personal variations on this theme. What I would like to ask is this, “Were you effective and did you get the outcome that you wanted with your method of truth telling?” Because where I have seen this go very badly is, we told the real truth, like it is man, no fluff, and we blew the other person out of the water, we sunk their battleship, and now they won’t or can’t hear us. We may have severed the relationship, or created ammo for them at a later time and conversation. Basically, we did harm and our truth was not only useless, but may have been abusive. And, my guess is that probably wasn’t the intent behind the ‘truth,’ but it might certainly be the impact.

When I was young, somewhere along the way (I think it was my mom), someone told me, “If what you do with the truth is blow someone up, my point, my insight, my message, the value of the very truth I was telling, would be lost. The way to help my truth be heard, was to develop it around the idea of True, Kind, and Necessary.” These three values were the legs that stabilized the truth, these were the values that helped people hear the truth from me. This concept fits very neatly with “Socrates’ Triple Filter Test,” True, Good, Useful. It also is something you heard at least in part, in childhood, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I don’t subscribe to the last statement, because sometimes I have to say something difficult. But, my goal is to be heard by the other person. And, if I have something difficult to say and say it in a mean and hurtful way, I know I won’t be heard.

I see True, Kind, Necessary as aspect or legs of a stool, without all three, you lose stability. I have heard people say, just use a 2/3 model, if it is two of the three, you can say it, but I believe you run the risk of saying something either, untruthful, unkind, or unnecessary if you opt for that rule, so I stick with the power of 3. This does mean we sometimes have to slow down our statements, think about our responses, gain insights into what we are really trying to say, so we can say it clearly and concisely. And, I guess, at the end of the day, if the conversation is so important to you to have, or the statement and truth are so compelling, you actually owe it to your conversation to do it well. Or, otherwise maybe you should have just left it alone.

Stress Buckets

Stress is like death and taxes, ain’t nobody avoiding it forever.  And, while stress affects everyone, not everyone handles it the same.  Those differences in how we handle the stress we get, make all the difference.  For many people the ways they manage their stress are: feeling anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, tired, like procrastinating, while other people have found ways to move through stress towards feeling motivated, excited, and intensely aware.  Depending on how long you’ve been experiencing the negative aspects of stress, you may notice a slow slide toward feeling overwhelmed and depressed.  In my practice, most of the people that I work with have dealt with so much, and have gotten completely overwhelmed by life, sliding into depression from the exhaustion from the fight.  I like to think that we each have a stress bucket.  Some people may have slightly smaller buckets, some slightly larger, but it really doesn’t matter how big the bucket, if it’s full of stress.  So, more important than size, it’s how you learn to empty the bucket, so you can continue to do what needs to be done.

Thankfully, there are many tools that can help us combat the negative effects of stress.  I am going to share a few with you today.

  1. Reasoning with yourself about the situation, just possibly you are making the situation  bigger and maybe, more dramatic in your mind.  Reasoning can also help us put the situation into perspective.  I love dog’s, but I have had a couple of stressful situations with puppies.  I have a fantastic dog, Max, but when he was a puppy, he dug up the backyard, to include pulling out an entire drip system that was set up to water in the back.  It was really hard not to want to beat him, when I came home and saw his handy work.  But, asking myself, “What do puppy’s do?” helped me to relax.  Puppies, poop, they chew, they dig, they sleep and they get dog food all over the floor.  If I want a puppy I need to remember this and find ways to either keep the puppy out of trouble, or roll up a newspaper and hit myself in the head saying, “I was not watching my puppy.”  But, it’s not really the puppies fault for getting into trouble and stressing me out.
  2. Exercise or movement:  Depending on our day and our stress releasing skills, our stress bucket may just be spilling over and feel like a big heavy mess.  Exercise helps to move the stress chemical through and out of our body.  Exercise can be a active as running or a aerobics class, or as gentle as a walk.  But, our bodies are designed to move, and movement will help the stress to be a little more manageable.
  3. Breathing, most of us have either shallow, or erratic breathing when we are in the middle of a stress or panic attack.  Slowing down your breathing and counting it in and out, taking a intake through your mouth and then have a long exhalation through your nose, or just slowing down your breath, taking down into your belly, can all calm down your bodies sympathetic nervous response to the stress your feeling.  As our breathing calms down, our heart beat slows, which calls off the stress chemicals being released in our brains.  It’s all connected, and when you can’t reason through a situation or feeling, taking a physical path to calm may be the solution.
  4. There was a study on Laughter, what they found was that even if the laughter was fake, it had very positive results on the body.  Laugh, even if you don’t feel funny was the message.  Laughter helps to empty the stress bucket.  It seems that the movement of our diaphragm and ribs, is one of the benefits of laughter.  But, even more importantly, daily laughter helps us wire our brains to relax.  And, who has ever started laughing for pretend, only to find that real genuine laughter takes over?  I know I have.
  5. Visualization is another great way to wire you brain into a calm place.  The brain mostly see’s in pictures/images, and so is already wired by certain things to calm down.  I have a client who focuses on an image of a horse to calm herself, other people create visions of the ocean, or camping.  One of the best was a client I had who was a manly man, he would visualize himself in his truck, on a dirt road, in his rear view mirror he could see his dirt bike tied down on the bed of his truck.  This image calmed him down fast.
  6. Have a calming or caring friend or person that you can talk to.  We all have people who can wind us up to be angry.  They’re on our side and as they talk we feel more and more justified in our position.  But, they don’t help us to be balanced.  Find someone who you can talk to, who may help you see more than just your perspective.  Some people are like a cool drink of water, they calm us, help us to breathe, help us see what else might have happened, and help us to see what our possibilities or solutions might be in a given situation.
  7. Look at your language, if you have filled it with absolutes, like always, never, everything; or it is filled with, they should have, or they must, or why didn’t they…  Pay attention.  This language sets us up to be justified in our position.  Look to be more neutral about the situation.  Don’t turn preferences into demands or commands.  Writing rules for the entire world and demanding perfection is tiring and not very effective.  Think of reasons why people might have done what they did.  What in this situation is a demand or expectation?  Why do I expect this from the other person?  Have they ever met this expectation in the past?  Where is my personal control over this issue?  What can I do to take care of myself?
  8. Are you making the situation bigger and more dramatic than necessary?  Are you creating a bigger problem than actually exists?  Is the way that you are thinking about the situation a negative magnification? Calm yourself down and rethink the situation without all the exaggerated words.  Try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see it in a different way. Avoid global language: never, always, everybody, everything, what if…, terrible, horrible, awful, and I can’t stand it.
  9. Ask yourself, “If today were the last day of my life, how important is this situation to me?”  “Do I want to be this angry, or hurt?  Or, is this a situation I need to let go of or find a good solution for?”  When I was growing up, my mom had a young woman, Patty, live with us.  She was about 17 and I was about 10.  Patty was like my favorite older sister.  When she was 12, she had cancer, her leg was amputated at the hip, then when she was 18, the cancer showed up again and again and again.  She died when she was 19, and she taught me one of the most important lessons of my life.  Life doesn’t owe us a happy ending, it’s our job to adjust our attitude to create our own.  I also got real clarity about the idea that young people die, as will we all.  And, we have choices about how we live in the gap between our birth and our death.  Choose wisely.

Why are these tools important?  Well, what these tools can do, if you practice them when you are not feeling stress, is start to create calm or reasoning wiring in your brain.  Like all skills, you will need to practice them in order to exercise the wiring in your brain.  The more you catch yourself and practice a shift, the more you will be able to use the new wires when you are in the middle of a freak out.  Like anything, the more you practice, the easier it get to do the thing without having to think about it.