Saturday, February 28, 2009

An Intentional Life

Isaac Newton's first law of motion states that "An object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion (at the same speed and in the same direction) unless acted upon by an unbalanced force." Basically objects tend to keep doing whatever they've been doing unless something causes them to change. This principle is often referred to as inertia.

Prior to Newton, people believed that objects tended towards a state of rest. If they were in motion, they would eventually stop. However, Newton pointed out that this simply wasn't the case.

Newton and Human Behavior: Applied Inertia
I've been thinking about how Newton's first law of motion applies to how we live our lives. For the most part, we tend to do the things we do today, simply because we did them yesterday. We wake up in the same house. We go to the same job. We hang out with the same people. We eat the same food, or at least from the same set of foods. And so on.

There's a certain practicality to this. Changing houses frequently can consume a lot of time and money. Showing up at work randomly will likely lead to unemployment. Constantly changing the people with whom I associate will probably never lead to lasting relationships.

As we grow older, the inertia in our lives increases on both a macro level and a micro level. On a macro level (big patterns), our world view tends to solidify. Few people tend to dramatically change their perspectives on politics, religion or money past their 20's. On a micro level (small patterns), our reactions (thoughts, emotions, actions) to different triggers become more and more predictable. It's not that we stop; it's simply that we continue in the same way, day after day after day.

Even people who seem to change all the time, may be simply acting on inertia. People who jump from career to career or from relationship to relationship or from location to location, may appear to be changing their lives, when in fact, they're simply doing the inertia thing.

Newton pointed out that changes to an object's speed and direction occur when acted on by an "unbalanced force". For example, I can change the speed of direction of a shopping cart by pushing it from behind. However, if Iris starts pushing the same shopping cart from the front (balancing my force), the cart won't move.

What's really cool about this, is that the amount of force required to change inertia is really, really, really small, as long as nothing is balancing it. It's hard to see this on earth where we have hidden forces like gravity and friction to balance our efforts, but in space, you could change the course of a huge object with just your little finger.

This also seems to be the case in our lives. We tend only to change when something knocks us off our course. Road construction can cause us to commute along a different route than we do 99.9% of the time. The loss of a job will trigger us to look for something new. A drawn out war and troubled economy can cause significant change in our political views. A diagnosis of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and potential heart attack may cause the biggest couch potato to begin dieting and working out.

We don't however change when acted upon by smaller forces. For example, political discussions at our local coffee shop serve only to entrench the participants in their preexisting views. Why? Because we're completely capable of balancing these external forces with our internal resistance to change.

Mark's First Law of Human Motion
So, Mark's corollary to Newton's first law of motion is "People will do the same things they've done, hold the same beliefs they've held, and react in the same ways they've reacted unless something really major happens to change them."

The more I look around me, the more I see that this is the case. It's kind of depressing. So, I'm going to modify my law a bit to include the line "or, they decide to change them."

So, the full version of Mark's First Law of Human Motion is now...

"People will do the same things they've done, hold the same beliefs they've held, and react in the same ways they've reacted unless something really major happens to change them, or, unless they decide to change."

Inertia Breaking Activities
In the summer of 2003, I spent eight weeks in a program that was kind of like summer camp for adults. One of the things we started to do every day was to set an intention for ourselves for that day. In the context of this little discussion, I realize that the intentions were not on the order of "I intend to pick up the laundry" or "I intend to eat steak tonight". Instead, the intentions were inertia-breaking intentions. For example, "I intend to actively love and accept a specific person with whom I have a lot of issues today." Or, "I intend to ask three questions of each person I encounter today, rather than talking about myself." The more clear and specific the question, and the more tightly the question was coupled to a fundamental change in ourselves, the better.

Not only did we set our intentions in the morning, but we also shared them with one another and then checked in with each other in the evening to see how we'd done. This process of setting, declaring and following up on intentions proved to be an amazing force of change.

As I'm writing this, I'm getting kind of excited about the thought of reinvigorating this practice of setting, declaring, pursuing and then reporting on daily intentions. Maybe we'll add a daily intentions page to Iris' site.

So, what do you think? What's the level of inertia in your life? How does inertia manifest itself? Are you a same thing everyday inertia type, or are you a change everything regularly inertia type?

If you've managed to read this far, I'd like to invite you to join me in a little inertia breaking experiment.

  1. Find someone (or more than one person) with whom you can share and review you intentions.

  2. For one week, get together every morning (over coffee, by phone, by Skype, by email) and share your intentions with each other

  3. In the evenings, get together again to share how it went

  4. Share your experiences of inertia-breaking intention setting in the comments section of this blog

I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tickler Eight

What would happen if you never judged anyone anymore

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tickler Seven

Who do you judge most? Yourself or people around you?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tickler Six

What is one thing today you judged yourself about?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tickler Five

The last component of the attitude is “wanting the best”. How do you show you wanting the best? Who is someone that you “want the best” for? Why that person?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The drama has become her life

Hello Iris,
Your email brought up a lot of emotions. The reason I set you out of the house is that I suspected that you were collaborating with the enemy (the stalker).
The reason that I decided to be in touch with you again is that, in the last two years, I have only been able to sit and I had lots of time to think. The work of the stalker goes on and on. Even the people working in the healthcare services are not to be trusted.
People love to torment me. I am targeted by tradesman, bank employees, and police. I do not feel safe in my home or on the street.
The big question: were you collaborating with the enemy and are you still doing that? That’s what I would like to know.

This is part of the email from my mom that I wanted to respond to this week.
With this on my plate and Winden’s feedback that I was motivated by “not wanting” instead of being clear about what I was wanting, I had a lot to think about!

I believe that people who don’t feel comfortable making choices/decisions, regularly do the “I don’t want” version of their lives. In this case, my thoughts were focused on not wanting the relationship my mom and I had in the past, instead of designing a new relationship that I would want. Although, I did make a short-term decision to gather more information, I had no idea what I wanted after I got that information.

Then Mark pointed out, not as a comment online but while drinking a cup of coffee next to me on the couch, that it’s not that I created a drama-free life, there is plenty of drama everywhere, but that I actively avoid self-inflicted drama in my life (personally and through others). And I agree with him, drama is not high on my priority list.

So what is drama? Let’s say for now that drama is responding to a situation by firing up emotions like fear, anxiety, worry, and then unleashing them on yourself or those around you.

The beliefs that create the drama are different for every person. What causes one person to respond with drama is different from what causes another person to respond with drama, even in the same situation. For example, in the case of a car accident, one person might get dramatic because of a cut or a bruise, and another because of the potential increase to insurance premiums.

Drama tends to build upon itself. Drama attracts drama. If I walk into a room upset and angry, most people tend to respond by feeling at least tense, if not upset themselves. If I complain actively and vehemently, I’ll tend to accumulate people around me who also want to complain. If I’m frequently emotional, I will often attract others who are frequently emotional.

Drama can sometimes build on the absence of drama—filling a drama gap. I have friend whose girlfriend would get upset, angry and argumentative because he wouldn’t get jealous when she went out with other friends who were men. In the absence of his drama, she built a whole world of drama to fill the gap.

I believe my mom has built a dramatic life for herself including stalkers and tormentors as a way to take care of herself, filling the gaps of loneliness and isolation. After I moved 3500 miles from where she lives, she decided that I now became part of the group of people from whom she believes they mean her harm, who listen to her thoughts and plant hairs in her house. The drama has become here life.

In my day-to-day life, I find drama, well, annoying. It keeps us from doing the things we say we want to do. It allows us to cycle on irrelevant topics for hours and never really address the core issues in a situation. It causes teams not to function well. It’s seems inefficient and unproductive.

On the other hand, there are times when drama can be very useful. Drama can be an effective way to surface emotions and thoughts that we normally keep hidden. As our drama increases, we tend to give ourselves permission to say things that we might not otherwise say. In the context of a heated argument, this might not be very effective. However, in the context of a dialogue where someone is openly listening without agenda or judgment, drama can lead to great personal insights and breakthroughs. It can help us work through our “not wants” and clarify in words the wants that we expressed with our emotions during our drama.

After thinking through the above, I realized that the next step for me would be writing a clear, loving and specific email back to my mom. However, after re-writing the email for the tenth time, I realized that stepped into yet another think pattern, “care-taking!” This seems to be totally new subject that I could say a lot about, so I will save that for another time!

Today, let me leave you with the following questions:

How much drama do you do in your life? How much drama do you see around you in your life? Do you enable drama in your life? Is the drama based on “wants” or a “not wants”? How do you respond to drama? Do you use your drama as a place to start and explore your beliefs, or as a way to avoid exploring your beliefs? Do you have friends with whom you can explore?

Please know that there are trained mentors (like me!) that can help you transform drama into insight and clarity!

Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tickler Four

A third component of the attitude is ”nondirective”. What does nondirective mean? How do you recognize that someone you are talking with is non-directive?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Tickler Three

A second component of the attitude is “ Being nonjudgmental”. What does that mean? How do you know that you are non-judgmental?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tickler Two

One component of the attitude is “Being Present”. How would you describe what that means? When are you most present? When are you least present? What can you learn from that?

Monday, February 16, 2009

What Did You Expect?

Over the past few days, I've talked with several different people who've had a similar experience. Basically, they've each experienced a close encounter with a close personal nemesis from their past. And, in each case, they've found the experience less than satisfying. Let me explain...

Each of us tend to accumulate a small set of people in our lives with whom we have the most amazing sets of disagreements, arguments and outright fights. It may be a father-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship... a wife/husband relationship... a parent/child relationship... or, even "friends". The dynamics range from an undercurrent of biting digs and criticisms, to blowups at family gatherings, to late night arguments that run until morning.

One of the challenges is that the experiences frequently aren't consistent. The person may be someone with whom we generally have an amazing relationship. Then from time-to-time, everything goes non-linear. One moment, you're with the woman you want to spend the rest of your life with; the next, you're exploring the best way to end the relationship. One moment, you're thinking that Christmas with the family isn't so bad at all, it's kind of nice; the next, you're swearing to yourself that you'll never go again.

If the dynamics and timing were consistently bad, then managing these types of relationships would be really easy. We'd just end them. But since the experience is seemingly unpredictable, and since the relationships often go beyond casual, we tend to cycle in them for years with no apparent progress or improvement. We just kind of hope that things will get better, and try to avoid whatever it is that triggers the "incidents", or in many cases, simply give up and endure.

So, I've thought of five things that have helped me deal with these types of relationships.

1. Are you a drama addict?
It takes at least two to have a fight. If you frequently find yourself in arguments that go on for hours and hours, you might be a drama addict. For many of us, although we characterize the experience of long arguments as negative, we in fact find them stimulating, engaging and arousing. Many long drawn-out fights between mates end up in a passionate lovemaking. For others, fighting is often the only time they communicate deeply and intensely for any extended period. Often people end hours of fighting with the same rush of endorphins that one experiences after a intense workout. So, before you claim that you don't like the dynamics of the relationship, you might want to check in with yourself to see if that's true.

2. Timing is everything
Have you ever noticed how many fights take place late at night, oftentimes hours after you would normally have gone to bed. When you wake up in the morning, you feel kind of stupid for things you said or for getting upset about something that seemed huge and vitally important at 2:00 AM, but, in the light of day, seems inconsequential. Have you ever woken up wondering what exactly it was that you were arguing over?

If you really want to avoid the drama, timing can be everything. If there's something that you really want to get off your chest or work out, then avoid doing it late at night... or when you're exhausted... or after you haven't eaten all day... or after you've been drinking all night... or during you period or... well you get the picture.

If you suddenly find yourself the target of an ill-timed discussion note that you have an option many people seem to ignore... walk away. Of course, this assumes that you've answered negatively to item one.

3. Take nothing personally
This may be the trickiest one. One of the best things I've learned is that our emotions, thoughts and beliefs are all about ourselves, not others. Someone may do something that I don't like or want them to do, but it only becomes charged when I make it so.

When someone comes at you accusingly with a lot of anger and emotion, remember that it's all about them. Not in a condescending or dismissive way, but just as a point of reference. Listen to them criticize and accuse you as if you were a third person watching the interaction. It's hard for anyone to maintain a high-charged emotional stream when there's not a commensurate response from the other person. It's like bouncing a basketball on a beach.

Also, avoid interrupting or explaining or defending yourself. Instead, simply listen until the other person pauses, and then, rather than responding, ask questions that lead to greater clarity and specificity. Frequently, that process alone will defuse the situation. Or, if you do end up responding, it will be to something specific that you have a clear understanding of.

4. Stop expecting "rational" behavior
I think it was Einstein who said that, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." If this is the case, then many of us could be easily classified as insane.

I periodically get calls from a friend who has a less than inspiring relationship with his daughter-in-law. She'll often call and leave messages on his answering machine accusing him of being a terrible father and grandfather, of having no regard for his family, of never having learned to love, of being a despicable character with no moral compass.

Over the years, my friend has made different attempts (perhaps not always adept) to respond and heal the relationship. Still, the calls continue.

The striking point is that my friend always seems to be surprised and upset (see item three) by the messages. Every time she calls, he attempts to understand her accusations and emotions in the context of his perspective and rationality. And every time he does this, it doesn't work.

On the one hand, everyone has a rationale for why they do what they do, feel what they feel, and believe what they believe. There is no such thing as irrational behavior. On the other hand, we often struggle to discern the rationale behind our own beliefs, feelings and behaviors, let alone that of someone else.

Men in particular seem to expect others (notably their significant others) to behave rationally. By rationally, I mean in accordance with the man's perspective and logic. The thing is this: trying to force-fit someone else's motivations, beliefs and logic into your personal framework doesn't work (unless you answered affirmatively to item one). The funny thing is that we actually know it doesn't work (if we're paying attention), yet we persist in trying to make it work.

The alternative to this approach, is to help the other person (and yourself) understand why they are feeling what they're feeling, believing what they're believing, and so on... all without trying to prove or change anything. This can have an amazing effect. As the accuser gains clarity on their own motivations, the emotional charges tend to dissipate.

Of course, this assumes that you have enough of a relationship to actually converse. If not, then it might be useful have someone else facilitate the dialog.

5. Say it, or don't say it
A great way to perpetuate a terrible relationship is to never actually say what's on your mind. People have successfully sustained the worst possible of relationships for decades simply by not saying what they think, or better yet, by using innuendo, digs and side comments in lieu of direct communication. This technique can be expanded upon to undermine entire families; simply avoid direct discussion with one person and instead, talk to everyone else.

The basic issue in these situations is one of authenticity. We have many reasons we're inauthentic. We don't want to hurt the other person's feelings (yet we talk to others about them). We're afraid of the response or want to avoid confrontation. We actually like the tension and rush (again see item one), and enjoy the ambiguous digs and comments. We believe we can't adequately communicate our feelings. We believe the person won't respond any way.

Even if the above are well intended, the result is to build unsatisfying and inauthentic relationships that lack warmth, trust, respect and love.

A simple (albeit perhaps not easy) solution to the above is this: sit down with group in question (it can be your family, your friends, even your colleagues at work) and agree to the following.

a. Take it to the source
If I ever have an issue with one of you, I will always talk with you and no one else.

b. Don't enable
If someone comes to me with an issue about another person, I will not listen, but instead ask them to take their issue to that person with one exception (see item c below).

c. Move towards closure
I will listen to one person talk about another person to help them gain clarity and understanding of what's going on for them. However, if after listening to them, they still have an issue, we will together go and talk to the other person to clear the air.

Like I said, simple and straight-forward. The inherent beauty in making this commitment in a group is that it takes a conspiracy to break the commitment. Not only would one person need to talk about another, but a third person would also need to listen.

So, that's my five. I would love to know what you think. Are you a closet drama-addict who by light of day complains about relationships that you're secretly addicted to? Are you "insane", trying the same things over and over and over expecting something to change? Do you find yourself being "baited" by others' accusations, taking them personally and immediately adopting a defensive posture? What about a week-long in-authenticity fast or diet?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Back from the dead

We all face challenges in life. I believe we address these challenges in the best way know how to in that moment. We do not know what the long-term results will be. This can be scary, exciting or anything else, depending on how you look at the situation.

This week a ghost from my past showed up in my life. I went from feelings of surprise and shock to feelings of frustration and irritation. Only after I realized that the situation was a great opportunity for me to be authentic and show the ghost from my past the “me of today.” I decided to see that this situation was very funny and a great lesson for me. I hope my story will inspire you to think about how you would handle a situation like this.

Almost four years ago my mother decided that she no longer wanted me in her life. For a while I didn’t really know what to make of it. Did she really mean it? Was she just temporarily angry or upset? So, when I traveled to the Netherlands I visited her. She didn’t let me into the house and told me clearly that I was no longer welcome.

We haven’t been in touch since that day.

This week I received emails from my mom implying that she wants to be in contact again. She says she misses me and would love to hear my voice. So, I thought I’d share the last email I wrote her Thursday morning. With excitement, I look forward to your comments...

Hello mom,

Let me start by saying that I received your emails with mixed emotions. There are so many thoughts going through my head, so I’ll just start somewhere.

Knowing that in the past you told me clearly that you never wanted to see me again, I am surprised that you now want to be in touch with me. The emails you sent me this week don’t say anything about why you broke off contact in the past, and they also don’t tell me why you want to be in touch again now. I hope you will write me back to clarify that for me.

The relationship we had in the past is not one I would want to continue. I have changed a lot; I am indeed another person than you once knew.

A year after we said goodbye for the last time, I started crying during a group session. I realized that for me you were dead, but that the funeral would not be for years. I realized that I had not taken time to grieve or to say goodbye to you, to us, or to the relationship we had together. With this group of great friends we created a ceremony to say goodbye to you. I sang a song I had written. I described my feelings and said goodbye.

Over the years that ceremony has given me support and comfort. The person you were, has a place in my heart with grandma and grandpa, people no longer in my life.

Now it looks like you want to start a new relationship and I ask myself “why do you want that” and “do I want that?” I created a drama-free family life for myself and it is a fantastic experience. I have new friends whom I consider to be my family. I have created a new lifestyle for myself based on the philosophy of happiness; it brings me lots of happiness.

It’s really nice to know that you have created new friendships and that there are people who care for you and are willing to help you in starting new things in your life.

Let me know what you are thinking.

Lots of love, Iris

P.S. one of the things that changed for me is that a lot of my life is now open to public. See my website: I want you to know that this email will be discussed in that blog.

That’s my letter. I know that people have a lot of opinions about relationships, especially when it comes to families. What do you think of my letter? What do you think about my attitude towards my mom? What would you do in this situation? Would you embrace an opportunity for the relationship? Would you run away from it as quickly as possible?

Again, I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Announcing "Belief Makers" Blog

From February 15, 2009, I will weekly post a blog on Sundays. The blog is called "Belief Makers". It is meant to discuss the philosophy of happiness and related topics.

The articles will be written by me and others: attitudinal coaches, autism specialists, parents of children with special needs, and others who would like to contribute to build a community and help each other create new options in their lives.

You can find the blog at:

Let me know what topics you would like to see. Propose people from whom you would like to see an article, propose to write an article and share your story.

I'm looking forward hearing from you!

Big hug, Iris