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Nicole Arnold's Adventures

My impressions as I boldly go where I have not gone before.

How a mindfulness challenge led me to the USS Enterprise

I started a 30 day mindfulness challenge on Monday. My older (and periodically wiser) sister invited me to be her buddy for the challenge and I eagerly said yes. (Mindwell U’s 30 day mindfulness challenge)   Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for 30 day challenges. Clearly I’m not alone, since they’re everywhere. This particular challenge appealed to me for a) extra motivation to practice mindfulness, b) learning about a tool that I can bring into my coaching/consulting work and c) partnering with my older sister. Win-win-win.

I’m going to use my blog for the next four weeks to chronicle my physical and mental adventures as I increase my mindfulness. Three days in and I’m already reaping the benefits in comical and significant ways – some at the same time. Which brings me to my USS Enterprise encounter.

I was waiting in line at my neighbourhood Starbucks yesterday morning, as I do many mornings. Yesterday, I thought I would make the most of my few minutes in line and set myself up for successful work over the next few hours, so I used the tool called Take5 that I had learned the day before through the 30 day mindfulness challenge materials. The brief process involves 1) Identifying what I want the mindfulness break to bring me (e.g. engagement, focus, energy, etc.), 2) Grounding myself mentally by becoming aware of my surroundings, 3) Grounding myself physically by becoming aware of my feet and hands, 4) Regulating my breathing and then taking at least 5 breaths of approximately 10 seconds each and then 5) Opening my awareness up to the present moment.  Well, in that moment, as I looked around Starbucks, I found that the light fixture over the coffee bar bears a striking resemblance to the USS Enterprise.  (I don’t know which USS Enterprise, I’m geeky enough to see the USS Enterprise in light fixtures, but not geeky enough to be able to visualize all the USS Enterprise iterations.)  It was so fun when I realized that! I shared my insight with the nice guy who serves me coffee most mornings and we enjoyed the vision of it together. Then I turned myself to my work – energized and focused.

That kind of experience (minus the pop culture visions) has been replicated multiple times over the past two days. I have generated ideas that I’m really proud of. I’ve dialled into conversations in a more concentrated way than usual. I have met more of my encounters with intention than I remember ever doing before.  That is really the best part –  I am practicing thinking with intention and it is leading to productivity, lots of energy and very good feelings.

Stay tuned – who knows what I might find as I keep opening my eyes throughout the next 27 days.

Slumps (Toronto Blue Jays: Please Read – Time Sensitive)

It is tough to be in a slump.  The Jays know.  Painfully well.  I think of a slump as not performing to one’s regular capacity.  The Jays are thickly mired in a slump.  Collectively and individually.

I understand slumps all too well.  I have been in the middle of a writing slump for several weeks now.  I’ve sat down to write my blog post and then have walked away, for three weeks now,  without a blog post.  When I settled into my chair at Starbucks tonight, I encountered the same barrier that I have faced for the past few weeks.  Ideas came to mind, but then as I started to develop an article, a very critical voice started questioning how I had the authority to write about these ideas.  It suggested that people will think poor things about me as they read the post.  It asked me if maybe I would rather read a book or go shopping.   For the past three weeks, I chose to do something in response to that voice.  I decided to cut myself some slack.  Tonight, I feared that I was sliding into a deeper hole.  Then Dr. Harvey Skinner’s voice popped into my head.  (Let’s not spend too much time on the fact that I am contending with so many voices in my head.) When I worked with Dr. Skinner at York University’s Faculty of Health, he regularly asked, “Are we men or are we mice?”  This has been a tried and true slump buster for me over the years.  I need to get into a mice-enough like state to warrant it, but when I hear it, I snap to attention.  Sidestepping the sexist element of men/mice, I know that I do not want to be a mouse.  I want to be powerful.  I want to achieve.  I want to be productive.  Fuelled by the reminder of what I want and who I am, I started to type.  I knew that it was better to type than not type.  That whatever I wrote would be enough.  That’s because another voice that is regularly in my head is Brene Brown’s.  She tells me that shame is rooted in the thoughts “I’m not good enough” and “Who do you think you are?”  I don’t want to be blocked with shame.  So, here I am – still writing.  Slump broken.

I don’t know why slumps happen, but I do know that they ultimately serve me.  The kind of thinking that is required to move out of a slump is thinking that helps me perform at my highest levels.  It’s the thinking that leads me to dig in rather than shop or read.  It’s the thinking that leads me to understand that extra effort is required and that the extra effort will make a measurable difference.  There is not a lot of thinking that serves me more than this strain.   So, I’ll take the slump and reap the benefits for the next while.

What can the Blue Jays take from this?  Because, really, it’s all well and good that I’m writing my blog post, but what I would love the most is to give the Jays the help that they need.  I don’t pretend to be a sports psychologist, but I am a dedicated Blue Jay fan.   So, I will try to break the Jays’ slump and do my best to hit it out of the park (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Three Steps for the Jays to get Over Their Early Season Slump

  1. Think back to how you got out of a slump before – as individual players and as a team.  What strategies worked?  Know yourself.  Know what works.
  1. Think of your best self. Spend some time visualizing what it feels like – as an individual and as a team.  How do you think about yourself contributing?  Think about your technical strengths as well as your character strengths.  Are you an optimist?   Are you tenacious?  Build this picture of yourself.  Think about it as much as you can.  The more you practice thinking about it, the greater power it will have for you on the field.
  1. Support each other. As much as you can and then some more.  The power of what you can do together as a team is tremendous.  Barbara Fredrickson’s research has found that negative emotions narrow our outlook and positive emotions broaden our outlook.  There are few actions as powerful as helping someone to generate positive emotions.  A towering stack of research demonstrates that we perform at our best when we feel positive emotions.  So, support each other so you can all feel good and perform at your best.

I fear this might be the most presumptuous blog post I’ve written, but desperate times call for desperate measures – both from the perspective of breaking the Jays’ slump and crushing my own.  Really, the worst that can happen is that people think I’m really silly.  The best that can happen is that someone from the Blue Jays reads this, my method works and the Blue Jays hire me to help with thought management.  That has been my coaching dream from Day One, so this seems like as good a time to pursue it as any other.  Gibby, if you’re reading this, I’m happy to start working with the team as soon as you call.

The Top Ten Ways that Hot Yoga is Heating my Engine or Every Breath You Take, Every Move You Make

 

Ever since my teenage years when my older (and she claims wiser) sister and I stayed up to watch Late Night with David Letterman, I’ve wanted to formulate an excellent top ten list. Before you get your hopes up that this is going to a hilarious top ten list, the full disclosure is that the only thing this list will have in common with Dave’s gems is that there will be items listed from ten to one. If that didn’t make you give up reading, here’s my list:

10.  The experience of being in a bikram yoga studio, is literally heating my engine. I start to sweat from the moment I enter. For those who are familiar with my sweatiness, you might be surprised to learn that I still seem to associate sweat with exertion/hard work. The effect of the non-stop copious sweating? No matter what happens during the 70-80 odd minutes, as soon as it’s finished I feel like I ran a marathon in the summer in Athens. Uphill, both ways.

That sense of survival and accomplishment is the equivalent of practicing thinking that I persevere.  That’s what I think at the end of every class.  “Wow, I sweated SO much.  I worked so hard. I survived (sometimes barely).  Read Angela Duckworth’s Grit to understand in detail just how fundamental being perseverant is to having grit and just how much grit is related to high levels of satisfaction in life. Suffice to say, practicing gritty thoughts is a tremendous investment in realizing accomplishments. I’m finding that practicing gritty thoughts in yoga class is leading me to identify myself more often as someone who sticks to things and works hard.  So, you can imagine how that story ends – I’m now sticking to more things and working harder.

9.  Spending so much time practicing thinking about taking care of my body has led me to prioritize cardio activities more consistently. In January, I was hitting 10,000 steps a day an average of 3.25 per week (with the factor of New Year’s Resolution fuel).  In February, I dropped to 2.33 times per week.  It was quite cold and icy, but I remember walking on a fair amount of cold and icy days, so I don’t think that was too much of a determining factor.  I started hot yoga the last day of February.  In March, I’ve averaged 5.7 days/week of hitting 10,000 steps.  Almost 2.5 days more, on average, than January.  I confess I didn’t bother to apply the test to learn if it’s a statistically significant increase.  I can tell you that it has never felt easier to get out the door and claim 10,000 steps each day.

8.  I like how I look more. Way more.  I don’t know if it’s from looking in those flattering mirrors in the yoga studio all the time.  Or the improvement in my posture.  Or the combination of gratitude and admiration of my body’s strength for making it through class. Whatever the case, I am appreciating my body.  All of it.   And that is no small feat.

7.  This might be a weird insertion after the great mind/body benefits, but one of the great affects that hot yoga has had on my life is on my laundry. Clearly, yoga produces pretty stinky laundry. Also, a lot of the poses involve sticking my nose into my towel.  For extended periods of time.  At this point in the class of nose to towel contact, I’m usually feeling uncomfortable, and not seeking to increase my level of challenge.  So, having a stinky towel just feels like torture.  Then I learned about the power of OxyClean (with thanks to the older and in this case of laundry, definitely wiser sister).   I add it into my towel loads now.  I put it in the laundry with my gym clothes.  It’s changed my life.  It’s embarrassing how long I had towels that didn’t smell that great, but the point is that those days are gone.  And it’s because of where hot yoga pushed me.

6.  I’m making incremental improvements every time I go to class. I’m going 4-5 times a week, so that’s 260 to 320 minutes a week that I’m paying attention to incremental improvements. It’s so satisfying. I see the changes. I feel the changes. Little ones.  Every time.  On the theme that I continue to practice the thinking out of class that I am thinking in class, I find myself more focused on incremental progress. (read Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage for a great summary on research in this area in The Tetris Effect chapter).

This focus on incremental progress has encouraged me to break stretch goals down into smaller goals and then those smaller goals into measurable, articulated tasks. Then I can see the incremental progress and feel myself get closer to my larger goals. Like the goal of holding a beautifully aligned tree pose.

5.  One of the regularly reported benefits of hot yoga is better sleep. My FitBit data supports it. I’m waking up less during the night.  I’m falling asleep faster when I do wake up at night. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t feel tired. It’s amazing what I can get done in the day and how I feel around other people when I feel rested.

4.  I feel like my focus has improved. Hot yoga involves tremendous focus.  I focus on my eyes in the mirror.  I focus on breathing through my nose.  I focus on stretching all the ways that each pose demands.  I need this focusing practice.  I think I have been practicing multi-tasking, in a frequently frantic way, from the moment my oldest daughter was born almost 16 years ago.  Add into the mix how much I get distracted by my phone and a frequent sensation of attentional restlessness.  The result is practicing distracted thinking regularly and focused thinking on occasion.  Until hot yoga.

I find myself focusing on tasks and people in a more sustained fashion. When I find myself distracted by “planning” thoughts (my greatest source of thinking distraction), I bring my attention back to the conversation. I do the same when I’m writing or reading.  I’m able to, because I do it all the time in yoga. I can’t afford to be planning my day and problem solving as I hold a pose. I need focus to hold it. So, I acknowledge the thought, bid it farewell and then return my focus to not falling over.  Like everything else, the more I practice, the easier it is.  It’s not surprising that I believe that all aspects of my life have benefitted from increased focus.

3.  I’m moving around with no pain. That’s a really big deal. I broke my knee when I was twenty-one and messed up my mobility in all sorts of ways in the years that followed.  This has resulted in regular hip and knee pain for years. It’s gone. I am the happy recipient of all sorts of energy that must have been expanded before in pain management.

2.  Hot yoga has motivated me to regulate my eating and drinking habits. It comes down to this: I really like hot yoga. If I eat too close to class (essentially within 3-4 hours) then I feel incredibly ill during class. If I don’t drink enough water, I feel awful during class (and after). If I drink too much water I don’t feel great either. Same with too little food.

These needs and associated risks have developed self-discipline and awareness for me.  The combination of an increased sense of self-discipline and eating to feel good and be fuelled is producing incredible feelings of wellness.

 1.  In the middle of Sunday’s class, our instructor said, “One pose at a time. One breath at a time.” That could be the fuel that heats my engine for the rest of my life. It’s the culmination of all the benefits. I can harness my dedication, motivation, pride, sensitivity, awareness, energy, focus and self-regulation and apply it to every breath.  Every pose.  I don’t need to worry about whether I’ll have enough for the next breath.  The next pose.  I’ve learned that whatever I have for each one is enough.  It’s usually more than I thought I had, but whatever it is, is okay.  Measuring and focusing my effort one pose at a time and one breath at a time is the most inspiring and productive way that I have ever functioned.

I know that these effects of yoga and mindfulness have been known for years.  Thousands of years.  Yet, I think they’re so amazing that I’m adding my exuberance to the fray.  It’s no Letterman Top Ten list, but it is my sincere appreciation for the benefits that yoga and all the people who are teaching it to me are bringing to my life.

I pledge to find another eighties song reference for my next hot yoga post.

 

 

Rise Up (Dedicated to my JWRP sisters)

Clearly, I’m still kinda obsessed with Hamilton (for those not obsessed, there is a call to “Rise up” when Washington enters). But this post isn’t about Hamilton (or Washington), it’s about challah and elevation. Challah is probably my kids’ favourite part about Friday night. The smell of the bread baking each week evokes anticipation and joy for me.  Sounds corny, but I know it to be true.   I know of no more delicious way to greet the Shabbat bride.  These ecstatic, aroma inspired feelings seem to blot out what the challah was several hours before (or on Challah Club weeks, several days before).

In the beginning, there were separate ingredients. Some eggs. Sugar. Salt. Dry yeast. Warm water. Flour. Oil.

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They all sit separately. They have their own smells. None of them, except for a slight whiff of the yeast proofing, foreshadow the beautiful smell they’re going to combine to produce. The yeast proofing, however gives me a hint of the transformation to come. It starts as dry round pellets and gets kinda gummy when combined with the warm water.  Some weeks I struggle to dissolve it with my spoon, but most weeks I leave it for 8 minutes and find that it has done all the work on its own. It has turned from something dry and pretty useless to a foamy crucial part of the challah. But really, all the parts are crucial.

You wouldn’t know they go together from the first few minutes of mixing. I like to mix it by hand.  Releases me from all the practice of keeping clean and free of sticky substances.

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Makes me feel like a kid. Plus, I’ve come to learn that if I work the mixture long enough (and put some oil on my hands) that my hands will be smooth and free of all visible substance when I’m done.  At the beginning, not a whole lot sticks together.  There always seems to be too much flour. The eggs (even if I’ve whisked them with a fork) leave yellow trails through the glob, that doesn’t seem yet to be worthy of the term “dough”. Despite all of this, I keep working the dough.

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I keep working the dough, because I know how the story ends. I know that if I keep working it, that it will transform into something cohesive. Something smooth. Something elastic. I’ve been told not to compare it to a baby’s bum. But, really, how can I not?

Challah

The challenge is that it doesn’t take two or three minutes. Sometimes it takes more than ten minutes. It’s not easy to stick (no pun intended) with something that long.   It’s hard to believe that it’s going to turn out okay. Sounds silly, right? That believing in something for more than 10 minutes is hard. Yet, how often do we give up on solving puzzles in 10 minutes or less? Or challenging relationship moments? Or learning a new skill?  I think my frustration threshold is usually around the 4-minute mark. That is probably generous.  Yet, I dig in each week with my challah.  Why?

First of all, I understand the lumpy, sticky stages to be part of the process. I know I’m going to have beautiful challah on the other side. I know this, because I make it every week. I didn’t use to know it. I used to hope it. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I’m not sure what I changed that led to a consistent result.  It might just have been micro changes through practice.  I don’t think it was just practice.  I think it was practice and sisterhood.  Because it’s hard to make challah and not feel a sense of sisterhood.

When I am making challah, I am often thinking of all the women who are making challah in preparation for Shabbat.  I’m thinking of the women who have come before me.  My daughters.  My future granddaughters.  But it’s not this sense of sisterhood that has shifted my challah making confidence.  It is sisterhood with the women who I go to Challah Club with each month.  The third Wednesday at each month, we meet at Aish Thornhill and make dough together.  Some of the women are serious veterans. They post their photos on Facebook and my mouth waters just looking at them. They’re experimenting, creating new recipes.  Equally, every month there seems to be at least one or two women who have never made challah before. They’re often tentative. Like me, they have likely seen their fair number of flat loaves emerge from the oven that everyone agreed would still taste really good. These women look at the messes in their own bowls and then glance over at the bowls of some of the women near them that reveal silky and shiny dough.  They doubt that their dough will ever look like that. Yet, 15 minutes or so later, it does.  Maybe one of the veterans came over and offered some advice – a little more oil, a little more flour.  Maybe they just needed the reassurance that this was messy beginning (and often middle stage) is part of the challah creation process.  Either way, the challah newbies leave the building with a bowl of beautiful dough that bakes into the most delicious challah that they have ever tasted. The challah gives them pride.  It gives us all pride.

Making challah isn’t just a metaphor for what Challah Club sisterhood (brought to me by JWRP) gives me (although it is also that). It is also literal. We come together and share love, ritual, learning, laughter, prayer and craftsmanship. We support each other.  The output feeds our souls, our lives and also gives something beautiful to our family. We practice thinking that we sometimes need help. We practice thinking that we have help to offer.  We practice thinking that with patience comes beautiful outcomes and sense of mastery. We practice thinking that sometimes getting a little dirty and sticky is part of the journey.

It’s clear why I look forward to Challah club every month and just as clear why I look forward to making challah each week.  It is a time investment that nourishes me and my family in so many ways.  If you’re reading this and went on the JWRP trip, you might be thinking that the trip was the same. I agree – I continue to reap the benefits and connect to our experience in Israel each week as my hands work the dough.  It’s sisterhood and Kol Yisrael all at the same time. It is elevation in the most fundamental way.

There are Two Sides to Every Schwartz

How many parts are we mistaking for being the whole?  I asked myself this question yesterday after filling out a questionnaire for the Ontario Health Study.  Despite the name, the questions that were asked were all about sickness.  Managing sickness and preventing sickness are important elements of health, but they don’t represent the whole of health.  Eating well, exercising regularly, interacting with people of all ages are also important elements of health.  I could write for pages and pages on this (and dedicate it to Dr. Harvey Skinner, who, as the first Dean of the Faculty of Health at York University led my thinking in this area), but that would miss my point.  My point is that we fall into this thinking trap all the time.  We’re regularly forgetting that there are two sides to every Schwartz (for those who don’t know, this is a Spaceballs reference, if you happen to live a liberated existence and don’t have this movie quoted to you, every which way, every day).

A ubiquitous example of defining the whole by its parts is how we often think about work.  Work is tiring.  Work is an obligation.  Work takes us away from what we want to really be doing.  Work is the opposite of play.  Work is draining.  Setting aside my assumption that these are not intrinsic qualities to work, but often experiences based on the choices we’re making, work is much more than these qualities.  Work is practicing skills.  Work is increasing our abilities.  Work is time with people that we enjoy.  Work is advancing goals that we believe are important.  Work is satisfying.  Work is gratifying.  Even if work encompasses all these aspects for you, I understand that it doesn’t necessarily mean that work isn’t also reflective of the grinding words I cited at the beginning.  The point is, that work is all of these things.

I believe we use this same lens when we’re thinking about ourselves and often with a fairly short memory.  In what ways are we defining ourselves and others based on historic events with little notice to the activity that has taken place since the event?  The other night, my husband and I braved the bitter cold so I could hit my 10,000 step goal for the day.  We started talking about the woman that he “dated” before we were together.  I confessed that every time her name comes up, I feel a sense of yuckiness about how he treated her.  He responded that it’s not how he behaves now.  I thought about that and recognized how true it is.  He treats me respectfully, sensitively and lovingly.  It doesn’t mean that the other behavior didn’t happen.  However, it does mean that he doesn’t need to be defined by it (by me).  Happily for him, he is not defining himself that way.

It’s pretty common to define ourselves by our parts.  I’m Jewish.  I’m a woman.  I’m a mother.  I’m an entrepreneur.  I’m a writer.  I’m active.  I’m positive.  I’m a reader.  Thinking about myself in these ways serves me.  It helps me to formulate goals.  It grounds me.  It inspires me.  It guides my affiliation.  However, defining myself by these parts often limits me.  If I’m defined by being active then I experience resistance to resting.   If I decide to watch tv instead of reading, I feel like I’m not being true to myself.  I do the same thing with actions.  If I’ve had a very productive day, I think of myself as productive (which I often use as a synonym for accomplished).  If I’ve checked less things off my list, I think of myself as lazy and define myself accordingly.  The thing is, while defining myself as productive might serve me by driving me to push a little harder to get things done, I can’t go full steam forever.  So, at some point, I’m going to stop and then I’m going to define myself by that action as well.  Because, these thoughts are such drivers for action (or inaction), I can get stymied by defining myself as lazy.  Also, it doesn’t feel good, which is also a demotivator for me.

I think the ideal is to practice seeing the whole.  I believe that entails shifting and expanding our focus.  We need to shift our focus to see other elements, like understanding that winter in Toronto involves bitter cold and sloppy roads and that it also involves beautiful snow and the opportunity for play that we don’t have access to in warm weather.  We also need to expand our focus to see beyond the moment.  While I might be feeling lazy and unproductive at 3pm, I was active and ploughed through a ton of work at 10am.  While I might be feeling like a failure for losing my temper with one of my kids during the evening, I can remember that we had sweet time the night before, snuggled in bed reading together.

The gains from practicing focusing in this way can be tremendous.  We practice shifting our perspective, which is an essential ability in problem solving.  We practice asking more questions, which feeds our learning and increases our knowledge and satisfaction.  I think one of the greatest gains is that we expand our understanding of what “truth” is.  Often our sense of truth is rigid.  It is this way or it is that way.  No greys.  Taking a mental step backwards and asking if we’re seeing the whole picture, helps us to understand that there are a lot of truths.  I can be honest and a liar.  I can be driven and a slacker.  I can be social and anti-social.  Work can be satisfying and frustrating.  A task can be hard and energizing.  There are many, many truths.  I think the more we understand that, the more we interact with the world and the better the world becomes through our interaction.

Here are three ways we can practice seeing the whole:

  • Slow down. Physically and mentally.  Take time to understand what you are thinking about and looking at.  Practice looking at more than one detail.  It is our habit a lot of the time to focus on one aspect.  To change this habit, we need to slow down and regularly look at multiple aspects.
  • Ask questions. Lots of questions.  Of yourself and others.  Building perspective involves learning other people’s perspectives.   Seeing the whole involves many perspectives, like the classic story about the mice and the elephant.  Learn what other people are seeing.  It might be different than what you’re seeing.
  • Devote time to challenging your assumptions. You can do this at the dinner table, at the board table, at team meetings or on your own.  Take a word like happiness, exercise, work, effort, sharing, or judgement and discuss what it means.  The purpose isn’t to find the right answer.  The purpose is to brainstorm for many answers.  People aren’t advocating for their perspective in this exercise, they are seeking to learn other’s perspectives to increase their understanding.

May the Schwartz be with you!

 

 

Thank you Martin Seligman or How a little organizational tool changed my life

“For every minute spent organizing, an hour is earned” Benjamin Franklin

I have completely changed my life in the past three weeks.  That’s right.  Completely changed my life.  The people are the same – my husband and kids, my family and friends.  My work is the same.  I’m still building my business and active in leadership at my synagogue.  Yet, it feels completely different.  The difference is that I started using an organizational tool that transformed what am I doing, how much I’m doing and how I’m thinking about what I’m doing.  I can’t believe how easy it is.  I can’t believe how different I feel.

It all started a few weeks ago when I was working on my business plan.  I had just finished reading Born to be Good by Dacher Keltner and was really energized by the role I do and can play in bringing positive psychology principals to people and organizations reach their potential.  I set a goal of increasing my positive psychology knowledge and brainstormed about who’s work is critical to read to have the fundamentals.  Martin Seligman, widely acknowledged as the founder of positive psychology, was at the top of my list.  I put his latest book, Flourish on hold at the library and happily felt like I was well on my way to achieving my goal (yup, that’s all it really takes to make me happy a lot of the time).

Well, you would have thought that Flourish was a compelling whodunit by the way that I couldn’t put it down.  It enriched my knowledge.  It helped me understand how much my strengths align with positive psychology principals.  It inspired me to learn more and do more.  This led me to visit the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center website.  I followed the link under the Opportunities tab to participate in research and then clicked through to participate in a two-week Positive Intervention Study for Increasing Well-being.   I completed the 10-minute well-being assessment and then was given the organizational task to complete daily for 14 days.  The instructions were simple (my paraphrased version): each morning, create a list of what you would like to do during the day.  At the end of the day, review the list and mark whether you completed the items or not.  If you didn’t complete the items, indicate why you didn’t.  Try to do this activity every day.  If you miss a day, don’t fuss about it, start again the next day.

Before I tell you about how and why this changed my life, I think it’s important to understand my history with list making. I like lists.  Right from reading about the Slam Books in Judy Blume’s Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, I have been inspired to make lists.  Lists of what I want to do.  What I want to be. What I want to read (and have read).  I spent a drunken afternoon in Peel Pub at university making a list with two good friends of all the people we kissed.  I have lists of things to do for my business, for my family, for my self-development…you get the idea.  When I was coached three years ago, I shared with my coach that I regularly put items on my to do list that I have already completed for the joy of crossing them out.  He pointedly suggested that I could find joy in many other ways and encouraged me to rethink my lists entirely.   I did.   That was also transformative.  I started thinking more about what I really wanted to do each day vs. what I had to do.  Doing what I wanted to do gave me much more joy than crossing items off the list.  It helped me understand that my deep satisfaction comes from what I am doing, rather than feeling like a success or failure based on how many items I have crossed off my list.

So, back to the present.  Or to three weeks ago.

I set up my list in a spreadsheet, making my four columns: Date; Task; Status; If not, why not.  I listed out eight tasks for the day that ranged from business oriented tasks like designing a workshop to family oriented tasks like grocery shopping.  At the end of the day, I reviewed the list and noted that I hadn’t completed the workshop design task.  Instead of doing it, I used that time to have lunch with my husband.  It had been really nice time together, away from the distraction of the kids and the fatigue that the end of the day often brings.  I didn’t feel less successful for not completing the task.  I understood that it had been a trade of one thing that I valued for another.  The days continued like that.  I planned.  I saw what I chronically wasn’t completing and developed strategies to get to those tasks (like working on the activity first thing in the morning that I have the most resistance to doing).  I found myself completing tasks that had been sitting on various lists for months and months.  I redeemed my Groupon for hot yoga.  I drafted an online survey.  I made doctor appointments.  I filed my online HST return.  By the second week, I had increased the amount of work I was doing by over 60%.  I started waking up an hour earlier so I get more done.  I started getting more sleep so I could focus better during the day.  I ordered the book Creating Your Best Life The Ultimate List Guide by Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP and Dr. Micahel B. Frisch, so I could gain more motivation through list making.  Motivation is the key.  I felt and continue to feel so motivated.  I am thinking about myself and what it is that I am doing in a grounded and really excited way.  At the same time.  You can see why I’ve been needing sleep!

I believe there are three components to this tool being so powerful for positive change:

  • The tool focuses me in today. The daily task encourages me to think in the confines of what is possible today.  I can have larger goals that extend beyond today – but this tool grounds me in today specifically, giving me a sense of both the large possibilities of a day and the limitations of waking hours.
  • It is aspirational and practical at the same time. On a daily basis, I am contemplating what I want and what I need to do to get there.
  • I am collecting a lot of data that can help inform my thinking and planning going forward. I can use the data to understand my capabilities and potential.  I can see what I am chronically not getting to and evaluate why.   It also gives me perspective of my whole body of work instead of hour by hour or day by day.  Sometimes I get discouraged by how little I’ve accomplished.  When I can see how much I’ve accomplished over the entire week, or even over two or three days, I feel better (and more motivated).

So, let this blog post double as a gratitude letter to Martin Seligman and the fantastic researchers at The Positive Psychology Center.  Thank you for your commitment to evidenced-based positive psychology – it is helping to transform my life and the lives of the people I touch.  Please sign me up for more research studies.

Some Like it Hot

I went to my first Bikram yoga class yesterday.  I bought a Groupon in August for three months of unlimited classes and then spent the last six months procrastinating going.   All that lethargy and practicing NOT going, built up quite the resistance to move through.  Getting myself to the studio felt like swimming through mental molasses.   The truth is that just walking through the door felt like a tremendous accomplishment.

Thus, twenty minutes later, even though I was sweating more than I ever have in my whole life (and that’s a lot…), I didn’t care.  I was still so happy.  Maybe that was a factor in what happened next.

The yoga studio had mirrors on three walls.  Mirrors don’t always feel like my friends.  They fall into the same category as photographs – occasionally I like the way I look in them, but mostly I focus on a feature that I find unattractive (stomach, nose, periodic multiple chins – you get the idea).  Yesterday, the mirror was my friend.  It wasn’t that I looked perfect (whatever that might be), but I liked the way that I looked.  It wasn’t that my stomach looked flat, but my body looked good as a whole.  I spent a significant portion of the class marvelling at the experience (when I wasn’t feeling like I was going to throw up).  It was quite exceptional for me.

By the time I went to bed last night, the euphoria had dampened, although not completely diminished.  As I examined myself in the mirror, I didn’t see what I had seen at the yoga studio.  In fact, I shifted to wondering if the mirrors at the yoga studio are like mirrors sometimes are in clothing store change rooms.  Those mirrors that make you look thinner than you are in real life.  I turned these thoughts in my mind over for a bit, laughing at myself a little and looking for a thought path that felt good.  I arrived at the conclusion that I don’t really know how my body looks.  I don’t know which mirrors are reflective of objective reality.  Whether objective reality matters or not in the case of body image can be a blog post for a different day.  On this day, I decided that I want to practice  inquiring when I don’t feel sure about an impression.   I want to practice gathering evidence and asking questions.  Thus, tomorrow when I go back for my second class, I’m going to ask the instructor about the mirrors.  You might ask why it matters.  Here’s why it does (for me): I liked how I felt yesterday.  I want to understand the components that helped create the feeling, so I can build it again.  Unless it’s just a fun house trick.  Even if it’s that, I have a heightened understanding that I CAN feel like that and that my body doesn’t need to look perfect to do it.

Clearly, I’ve already realized the value of my Groupon.  Stay tuned for more Bikram Yoga adventures.

 

Putting Nice on Ice

I would like to start a revolution.  (Yes, I’m still obsessed with Hamilton.) Let’s remove “nice” from our vocabulary and our thinking as the cancer (or at its best, benign placeholder) that it is.

Yes, that’s the revolution.  No more (Mr) nice (guy).  No more “nice”.  We’ve devalued nice SO much that when we want to illustrate a low bar we say, “You’re just being nice”.  Translation: “You’re lying to please me”.  “Nice” has got to go.

But, I get ahead of myself. Here’s some background:

My son is quite creative in how he expresses himself.  And by that, I mean he makes up words.   Lest you think he is a toddler, experimenting with language, know that he turned 14 this month.  He regularly chooses (or creates) a word and then uses it in many contexts, whether it makes sense or not.  The word du jour in December was infectuous.  We are currently living with “schnizen”.  One can be a schnizen.  There can be schnizenry.  In rough or exciting moments one might exclaim, “Schnizen!”.  The use of “schnizen” has brought meaning to the term ubiquitous in conversations in our house.

I realized this morning that “nice” is the same as “schnizen” – it doesn’t mean much.   Or worse – it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Look up the definition for nice and you’ll find lots of lovely words – enjoyable, pleasing, gratifying, satisfying, to name a few.   But is that what we think of most of the time when we think “nice”?  I don’t think so.  I believe that most of the time that “nice” is either generic or negative.

When we worry about not being nice, what are we worried about? We’re worried about saying something that someone doesn’t want to hear.  We’re worried about saying something that’s unpleasant for someone else.  We’re worried about not doing something that someone else expected.

I think we’ve taken “not nice” and used it as a proxy for disappointing people.  Which is really different than not being nice.  I think not being nice in it’s true form is being unkind.  Having unkind become synonymous with disappointing people is problematic in the extreme.

Outside of the obvious problems that are associated with that practice, the less obvious problem is that we’ve devalued “nice”.  We see nice as disingenuous.  We see nice as window dressing.  Thus, those who are liberated from this practice are not necessarily nice, but they’re honest.  They tell it like it is, nice be damned.  Sadly, this means that we’ve created a spectrum where honest sits at one end and nice sits at the other.  “Nice” in its purest form is goodness, compassion and generosity.  These qualities are really nice.  Instead, “nice” has become intertwined with “political correctness” –  a mask we assume, versus practicing the values of fairness and justice.  Just as problematic is that we’ve associated pleasing people with dishonesty.  Our association of nice with hypocrisy has diminished our enjoyment of people doing nice things for us.  We assume they must be dishonest in some way.

So – let’s revolt!  Let’s take “nice” out of our vocabularies.  Eradicate it.   Instead, let’s be thoughtful about the word nice and transform our relationships. Here’s how:

  • Stop yourself before you say something is nice. (How was your day?  It was nice.  What do you think of this dress?  It’s nice.  What did you think of the movie? It was nice. Did you get that report?  Yes, nice work.)  Think about what it really is: is it enjoyable? Pretty? Or something completely different than nice –  Boring?  Take some extra time to generate the word that you replace nice with, paying attention to how you feel and what you want. Then, when you communicate it, it will give your listener a better sense of how you feel and what you want.
  • Stop yourself when you’re worrying about not being nice. What are you really worried about being?  Disappointing?  Stressful? Aggravating?  That’s different than not being nice.   The truth is, that it’s not nice to accommodate someone else if we’re going to resent doing so – it’s dishonest.  Let’s separate “nice” from dishonest.   The goal is to build relationships in which we can be honest AND compassionate AND generous.  So throw out “nice” and work towards relationships that reflect honesty and connection.  It takes practice.
  • Stop yourself when you think someone hasn’t been nice to you. What is the person actually doing? Disagreeing with you?  Wanting something different than you? Being tired or stressed?  Being distracted?  Before you receive someone’s actions as harm and set off a whole set of threat reactions, try and understand what the impact really is.  Search for a different word than nice.  Unless the person is being unkind, it has nothing to do with “nice”.

I worry that my son’s vocabulary is diminishing because instead of generating words to describe how he is feeling, he is using schnizen (or infectious…).  I have the same concern about our use of “nice”.   As long as we’re not taking time to think about what we really mean, we are trapped in the pitfalls that our over and misuse of nice has created.  Those pitfalls lead to us believing that people are not genuine.  Including ourselves.  How can we trust ourselves and others if we don’t believe in our own and other’s authenticity? Cultivating these beliefs is a tall order, for sure, but arguably our most important and satisfying work.  How to begin?  Revolt!  No more “nice”.

 

Different relationship, same pitfall

I had an “aha” moment a few days ago when I suddenly realized that we behave in the same inefficient way in our relationships with our employers as we do with our romantic partners.  Here’s what I think we do:

We identify someone/some job that we want.  Maybe it is as random as spotting them across the room.  It could be as reactive as responding to someone’s overtures.  It doesn’t matter how it transpires.  What matters is that we decide we want that person/that job.  Once we do, our motivation is kicked up and we start playing a better game, often our best game.  We spend a little more time on how we look.  Maybe we’re more current with world events than we regularly are.  We don’t audibly fart in their presence.  We don’t expose very many weaknesses, except when they’re strategic.  We’re highly motivated to connect, which increases our motivation to be vulnerable.   We feel excited and often good.

Then we get the job.  Or someone commits to us.  Whatever the case, we get validated and desired.  We won!!!

finish-line

 

What happens next?  Sooner or later we get sick.  Or tired.  Or a little lazy.  We relax.  We make some mistakes.  It’s all very unsettling.  The person or organization isn’t what we thought they were.  They’re disappointing.  We also worry that we’re disappointing, aware of all the ways that we’re not perfect.  All this fear of disappointment changes our interactions and our thoughts.  We become more defensive, more guarded, less engaged.  We feel disconnected.

At this crossroad, several things can happen: We get disenchanted and break up or change jobs.  Or we latch on to the good old days of what things used to be like and then put effort into trying to reclaim it.  We can’t.  So it gets frustrating and our continually futile efforts aren’t good for our self-esteem, but giving up feels even worse.  So we stay.  But we feel disconnected, uninspired and consequently not very motivated.

motivation

It’s a little dark.  But also, pretty familiar, right?

The thing is, that we can never “reclaim” what we had at the beginning.  Of a job or a relationship.  Our relationship was based on different kinds of motivation.  Securing something new like a relationship or a job is a particular kind of validation or “victory”.   I think we have a specific kind of motivation that drives us towards succeeding in those interactions that is different than what drives our day to day, over time activity.   We can’t sustain the “acquisition” motivation over long periods of time without burning out.   Ultimately, we become our long-term selves.  We can’t go back in time or change the dynamic back to an acquisition state of mind.  So, first we need to recognize that what we want we can’t have –  we’ll never be on our honeymoon again.  If we focus on what is possible, then what lies ahead involves understanding what both parties offer each other and how to manage our collective flaws and strengths long term.  I don’t think it’s possible to do that when everyone is feeling disappointed with each other.  Then we’re too focused on trying to justify our positions instead of focusing on connecting.

We are losing out on so many opportunities by thinking like this.  The inefficiency is that we are minimizing our potential to connect, by focusing our work on something that isn’t possible, instead of maximizing it by acknowledging all the things that are true today.  I think the mindfulness of focusing on what is, versus what has been or could be, is the foundation of connection.  Connection leads to happiness.  Happiness leads to productivity (among other things).  This sounds like the honeymoon we’re seeking!

Here’s how I think we get to the “real” honeymoon:

  • Recognize that it is wasted effort to try and return to the feelings/motivation of the first phase in our relationship/job.
  • Understand that everyone/everything is flawed.
  • Examine ours and others’ flaws and see where they’re also strengths. For example: someone being calm and relatively emotionally unreactive is attractive, because they don’t seem volatile – as a partner or as a manager – but it also might mean that they’re not highly emotionally tuned in and need greater assistance understanding others’ emotions.  Accepting that flaws are also strengths helps us understand that we don’t need to eliminate them, we’re looking to manage them.
  • Think/write about how you want to feel – in your job, in your relationship(s) – and then focus on what beliefs you have about yourself, your partner, your manager, your organization that are roadblocks to feeling like this. Then, you’ll understand the productive work that can be accomplished.

 

 

 

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