Friday, July 31, 2009

Do You Want to Change?

Today is Iris' birthday! Yeah! Tomorrow, we're going have a big party with music, dancing, food...

Yesterday morning at breakfast, in anticipation of Iris' upcoming birthday, we were discussing all the changes that Iris had made in her life over the past six year. It's pretty amazing.

We met six years ago in a personal development program. We spent four weeks together after which we decided, "Hey, let's go for it!"

Iris went home (to the Netherlands), sold her house, quit her job, and gave away her car and most of her stuff. She showed up in Boston a few weeks later with a suitcase and no keys (i.e., she had nothing in her life that required keys). For me, the absence of keys became a definition of freedom.

I believe (speaking for both of us), it's the best decision either of us ever made.

So, Where is the Change?

As Iris and I talked about all this, we started to talk about where the changes had all occurred. I pondered aloud, "So, did you change, or, did you just change all the circumstances of you life (all the stimuli).

We considered all the changes that Iris had made: new country... new house(s)... new man... new job... new friends... new independence... and so on. Wow! All these circumstantial changes! So, had Iris actually changed?

Has Anyone Changed?
We then started talking about many of our friends who, on the one hand had seemed to change, but on the other, had only actually changed the stimuli in their lives. We recognized that many of our friends who espoused that Happiness is a Choice, in fact seemed to be living a life of Stimulus is a Choice. Although they appear to be happier, the source of their happiness seems to be in the control and changing of their environment, some to the point of micro-management-control-freak-hood.

So, we came to the question, "Does anyone every actually change? Or, is the apparent change just an artifact of having changed the situation?"


Apathy is a Choice
We then talked about other friends who hadn't so much changed their environment as they'd decided simply not to care any longer, a sort of Apathy is a Choice approach to life. Essentially, if you can't or don't want to change your environment, you can just give up! Simply stop caring about anything.

Of course, this isn't actually changing, at least not in the manner that I would consider changing. It's more like living your life on Novocaine: numb and detached. You know, existentialism for the shallow.

In this case, we decided that if you're actively choosing happiness, then you can be passionate about the outcome and not attached to the outcome. So, the folks who were living dispassionately with lives devoid of meaning also weren't really changing; they were just giving up.

People Do Change
At one point, Iris said, "Huh... Maybe I haven't changed at all?"

We sat silently for a few moments contemplating this, and then Iris said. "Wait! I have changed!"

I responded, "Cool! How have you changed?"

She responded, "Six years ago, I wouldn't have spent even five minutes with a man like you!"

I said, "Wow! People do change."

We then went on to see all the places in Iris' life where she is really different. How she has gained amazing capacity for happy persistence... how she she approaches things with a boldness that she never had before... how she is really easy in situations where she would have previously been tense or stressed... Iris really has changed.

In some ways, the fact that she could make so many circumstantial changes in her life reflected a real change in herself.

Intellectual Integrity
We had a lot of fun with this discussion. At the end, I realized a few things.

First, whether or not people can change doesn't actually matter in and of itself. I just like the intellectual honesty of recognizing the difference between changing myself and simply changing the circumstances of my life. I don't want to trick myself into believing I've changed when I've only become better at controlling the stimuli in my life.

Second, if you're actually interested in changing yourself, then it might be useful to look at how you are in the same old situations in which you've been. Go back into your old environment and see how you are there. This is not a requirement, it's just a useful metric as to whether or not you have changed.

Third, if you've taken on the existentialist view of things, the nothing has meaning perspective, then you might be half way there. If there is no greater meaning to life other than here we are, you can decide "screw it! I'm just gonna stop caring about anything." or, you can decide, "great! I get to decide what's meaningful and not." The former results in a dispassionate existence, the latter in passion with a loose grip.

Real Change
Ultimately, the real metric of change is, "how do I behave in situations that matter to me." We can manipulate situations, we can insulate ourselves from the effect of situations, we can numb ourselves to situations, but in the end, if we change, we can fully and passionately embrace situations, and respond differently.

I'd love to here about the places in your life where you've changed in a significant and lasting way.

Happy Birthday Iris!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Who are you?

Who are you? Or, who am I? It's such a profound and yet superficial question. When I call it superficial it's because I don't really know what you mean by the question. The easy answer is "I'm me" - and to me it's true. If I were not me, who else would I be?

Some people would argue that they are different characters in different environments. It's the same for me. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I talk, other times I listen. Sometimes I am confused, at other times I find that everything is clear and easy. But no matter how I am or how I feel - to me there are no doubts: I'm still me!

I recently got the question from a friend: "Who are you in relationships?" My first inclination was to simply answer while laughing, "I'm me", because I strongly believed that this was not the answer he was looking for.

But the question was lacking specificity because I have many relationships. See below a list of some of my important relationships:

1) Hogan, my dog. I mention him first because he is the one I spend the most time with. Our relationship is a mixture of love and obligation. I love to walk him and to watch his playfulness, but at times I feel too tired to train him, and I can see how he reacts to that.

2) Maiken, a friend from college. She lives nearby and I love dropping by spending time with her, her husband Michael and their kids. I love that they allow me to bring my dog. I am not always 100% authentic with them.

At times they remind me of the life I wanted to have. In those moments, I sometimes get sad and I do not always tell it. If this happens I usually will come back the next day and tell them then, because by then I feel better. So, I could say that most of the time I'm authentic and relaxed with them, but at times I'm 100% inauthentic. I believe that in those moments, I'm still just being me.

3) My colleagues. This is more complex. Most of them are Swedish. I am Danish and even though Scandinavians share many fundamental values, we have very different ways of carrying them out. So, part of my relationship with them is full of curiosity: how do they think, how do they understand what I am saying to them, what do they mean by what they are saying, and, how can we get the work done. Compared to other jobs I've had we talk a lot about what we are doing outside the job. It's part of the Swedish way, and it's nice.

4) My neighbors. I've only been living here for a few months, and I'm only partly authentic with my neighbors. I would love to get to know them, but I've never told them straight out, which seems a poor strategy. We chat a bit on the stairs or when we meet walking the dogs.

I could go on an on... As I do so, I'm surprised how often I see my self as being inauthentic. I hold things back that I find "unnecessary" to say. It's not that I am fearful; instead, I might be care-taking or believe that it is the best thing to do in the moment. In some funny way I see myself as authentically inauthentic.

The friend who was asking me about how I was in relationships... He was thinking about romantic relationships (or at least, that's my guess).

In my marriage, I was constantly trying to find out how to get love and appreciation from my husband, and he was trying to say what he thought I wanted to hear. In some way, we were both lying, giving what we wanted to get. I never heard what he silently said: "I just want no disagreements".

In my next relationship, I did my best to be me, to be authentic. But I am sure I did it with fear and anger, and what I meant to say as a want probably regularly came out as a demand.

I haven't been in a relationship for three years. I believe that me describing "how I am in a relationship" is guesswork. It's a compilation of how I do in my other relationships and what I now know that I want in romantic relationships.

What are the differences in the way you are in different relationships? Are you aware of who you are in your relationships? Are you always behaving the way you say you want to be?



Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Playing to Win?

Over the past few months I've been working on the creation of a couple of new businesses. As is often the case when building a new business, you start out with an idea and a group of people who believe in that idea. Then, as you move through the process of establishing the business, taking on investors, and so on, things get complicated. There are lawyers to meet with, accountants to advise you, documents to sign... you get the idea. Things move quickly from a vision of doing great things to discussions of how to protect everyone's interests.

Playing to Win/Playing not to Lose
I've been thinking a lot lately how something that starts with a vision of doing something can transition into a discussion of how to protect yourself just in case you actually do do something. Or, alternatively, how to protect yourself in case you end up doing nothing.

Even when everyone involved is doing the best the can to contribute to making the new business work, many people come from a place of fear: they are playing not to lose. They are protective of their ideas, their money, their position, etc.

While this is prudent (i.e., from a conventional wisdom perspective, it seems makes sense to do this), I've decided that it isn't how I want to live my life. I would rather play to win at the risk losing, than play not to lose at the risk of winning.

Cause and Effect
This discussion is not simply philosophical. When you play to win (attitudinally), you increase the likelihood of winning; you also, might lose big-time. When you play not to lose, you increase the likelihood of not losing; you also might never win big-time.

Let's say that you have an amazing new idea that would make a great business. The odds are, no matter how great your idea is, there are at least several or many or thousands of people on the planet that have had the same great idea. In business, oftentimes the first person to bring their idea to market wins. It's one of those timing is everything scenarios.

With new ideas, if you play not lose, you move cautiously (i.e., slowly), you hesitate when you would otherwise move, you spend time and thought on what could go wrong, rather than making things go right. In short, you increase the likelihood that you won't be first.

Now, if you're someone running a business that is well established and dominant in a market, playing not lose can be a great strategy. Consider the large telephone companies like Verizon and Cingular (now AT&T). They were really late in coming to the whole Internet thing and to cellular phones, but by biding their time, the newcomers (who were all playing to win) slowly fell by the wayside. The play not to lose crowd won.

Equally Yoked
So, in some cases, playing not to lose is a great strategy. In others, playing to win is a great strategy. The first question is: which type of person are you?

Are you someone who plays to win or are you someone who prefers to play not to lose. By the way, my question has nothing to do with genetics or upbringing; it's a question of who you want to be and how you want to live.

Based on your answer, the second question is: what are the tasks and activities that are aligned with your temperament? If you're a play-to-win type, then you may want to take on new ideas, new businesses, investigating breakthroughs, etc. If you're a play not to lose type, then you may fare better by working with mature ideas, businesses and organizations. Both are great! The question is one of aligning your temperament and your activities.

The third question is: are your business partners of the same temperament? If not, you'll end up spending hours debating the merits of two philosophies that are both valid. In the end, the challenges aren't in the validity of the philosophies; they're in the fact that they're simply incompatible.

Beware of Counterfeits
One more note: not everyone who says that they're playing to win, is. There are many people who say that they're playing to win simply because they don't actually have anything to lose. Even though these folks may be playing to win, their philosophy can change quickly when they actually have something to lose.

A second group of counterfeits is quite similar, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. They have so much, that losing doesn't really bother them. In this case, the change occurs when they've lost enough where losing any more might actually make a difference to them.

In any situation, we may find ourselves playing to win or playing not to lose. Depending on the task we've undertaken, either of these might be the most useful strategy. The important thing is being aware of our approach and the requirements of the task, and ensuring that they're aligned.

If the task at hand involves more than just you, then you'll want to make sure that everyone involved is doing the same thing.

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Have you ever been in a conversation where you're talking with someone about something that really interests them and they suddenly say, "Oh, I really can't go into that...", or, "I can't really talk about that..."

One moment, you're talking about something that seems to be very important to them and the next, well... you've suddenly run out of bounds.

There are many forms of this phenomenon. In some cases, the person speaking is protecting a confidence (i.e., someone has told them something that they don't want shared with others). In others, they're protecting themselves (i.e., they don't want people to find out about what they're saying). And still in others, they've been instructed not to talk about the topic with threat of reprisal.

Whether the censorship is self imposed or otherwise, in my experience, not being able to talk about things tends not to be the most useful approach to a life of clarity and happiness.

Protecting a Confidence
Oftentimes, people will say, "I'll tell you something as long as you promise not tell anyone else."

And oftentimes, the listener will say, "Sure, I promise not to tell."

And, surprisingly (or perhaps not), oftentimes the secret being told is something that the teller had himself or herself promised not to share. ( I can't begin to tell you all the times, someone has told me something that I found out later was told to them in confidence.)

Based on experience, I would say that the whole personally-confidential system is pretty flawed.

Just Say No
Almost always, when someone tells me that they want to tell me something, and I have to promise not to tell anyone else, I simply say, "Then don't tell me!"

I've found this to be tremendously freeing. I don't have to manage a list of what I can and can't tell people (BTW, if you don't actually keep your confidences, this isn't a problem). I've also found that, after consideration, what the teller considered to be confidential initially wasn't so confidential after all.

Rule One: Don't enter lightly into a promise of keeping things confidential.

Speaking in Confidence
This may be an artifact of my adherence rule one, but, for the most part, people in my life aren't people who ask for things to be held in confidence. Reciprocally, I almost never ask someone to hold something in confidence. If I'm working through an issue with someone by talking to a third party, I don't ask the third party to keep what I'm saying confidential.

I really like this approach for a lot of reasons. First, I really like not inflicting confidentiality on others. I know, they can always apply Rule One, but still, who wants to be someone who's always hiding behind confidentiality.

Second, I love being in a position where I'm never concerned about whether or not someone will maintain a confidence. I find that a life without secrets is a lot more efficient and easy, than a life of trying to maintain secrets.

Rule Two: To the best of your ability, live a life devoid of personal secrets.

Note: I absolutely see the value in secrecy. I see great value in keeping the location of a battered spouse away from the battering spouse. I see value in protecting the identities of people who are whistle-blowers. I have great admiration for the people who have hidden the persecuted in the midst of great persecutions such as the German Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. There are many times when secrets are really important.

However, in my ordinary life, these situations tend to be the exception, not the rule.

Outright Censorship
There are many situations in which the request for confidentiality turns into an outright demand with consequences, an ultimatum.

Often, these demands have merit. For example, I kind of like the idea that we don't tell everyone on the planet how to build their own nuclear weapons (though many would debate this). I prefer that not everyone know how to produce mass quantities of bio hazardous material in their backyard. I'd like certain things kept secret.

I also see cases (such resistance to totalitarian and dictatorial states), where non-compliance with these demands is critical to change.

Daily Life Censorship

But back to my world, where I don't deal with nuclear arms or totalitarian states on a daily basis...

Over the past few years, I've been in work situations where people have asked me to keep information private, with consequences.

Often, the motivations have seemed reasonable (to me). People have asked me to work on systems that are patentable, breakthrough technologies. They've paid a lot of money to develop them and deserve to garner the benefit of their investments. For me, these types of confidence are easy to maintain. They seem quite reasonable (to me).

Sometimes, the requests have more to do with hiding something that "we wouldn't want public." They're not about protecting a trade secret or a patentable technology; they're about protecting reputation. Usually, the reputation in question isn't that of the company, but that of the person making the request. People will use phrases like, "we have to keep this private because people wouldn't understand" or "we can't let this out because it would be damaging to the organization".

Knowing that keeping a secret in a company costs time and money, and that having kept a secret can be more damaging to a company's reputation than the secret itself, I tend to respond to these request with "no". We then proceed to figure out the best course of action.

Every once and a while, we don't come to an agreement and I'm given an ultimatum. My response to these types of ultimatum is really easy and consistent...

Rule Three: Never compromise your own integrity by keeping a confidence just so you won't lose your job.

Note: what may seem reasonable to me, may not seem reasonable to you. The question here isn't one of what is or isn't a reasonable demand; it's one of, how do you respond to an demand that is unreasonable in your eyes.

  1. There are many situations in which confidentiality is meaningfully useful.
  2. These situations are few and far between. They are a small percentage of the confidences we undertake.
  3. Start to make your default response to confidentiality requests, no.
  4. Make commitments to confidentiality rarely and only after you're really considered them thoroughly. Then keep them.
  5. If someone says, "keep this confidential or else", walk away.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Your Ripple Effect

Jerry: "We failed, didn't we?"

God: "There's no such thing as failure. You plant some seeds and you move on. If the seeds are good, they'll take root. I gave you good seeds. The best."
--From the movie "Oh, God", 1977

We all create ripple effects in the world. The things we do or say create an effect in those around us. The effect that occurs depends on how those around us perceive those words or deeds, so, strictly speaking, we don't control the effect, but we can watch it ripple out into the world. I've had a lot of fun watching the ripples around me -- especially the ones in my birth family!

Brian the People Pleaser
I used to be a big people-pleaser, always putting others ahead of myself. My family got to know me for 40 years that way. I was also a tremendously fearful and inauthentic person. Would "stretch truth" to keep the peace and totally hold back on saying things. I never asked a woman out on a date until I was 42. I had panic attacks for 19 years. Would over-schedule myself trying to please everyone and then do a ton of stress over it.

After my first personal development programs, everything changed. I became really comfortable with myself for the first time in my life, and created a person in me that I liked, rather than someone I thought would be liked by others. This also meant putting myself first. I like to use the analogy of the plane flight intro that we all ignore: in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, put your mask on first before helping others. The upshot being that we can't save anyone else if we're dead.

Well, this caused an immediate ripple in the family! Brian said 'no'! No more over-scheduling to please others... No more lying to keep from hurting someone... No more holding back! Oh, and no more panic attacks, ever. And some really wonderful romances now that I could ask someone out if I liked her!

Side Effects
The effects on my family were wonderfully diverse! My relationship with my mom was always a good one, but with the new authenticity, as I led the way, she followed with some really cool acts of authenticity. First, just with me, later she started practicing them with others.

My brother and sister-in-law had a very different reaction! Driving home on Christmas day, when asked about a certain type of art my sister-in-law had done on the gift cards (I didn't have this type of art on mine), I commented, "it was perfect that you gave me the card you did, because that's not really my style of art." My brother responded, "what are they teaching you out at that place?"

Other family members were somewhere in between. Over the years they have adjusted to me each in their own ways, but even more so, I've started to see a GENERAL change in the family dynamic. The more they ask me questions, and the more I explain why the Stimulus-Belief-Response model isn't something scary, (that it's something very powerful and exciting), and the more they understand that their beliefs control their experience (and that all beliefs are changeable), the more it's become just a teeny bit enticing to them!

Overt Ripples
So there is the overt ripple: my mom spoke to me just two days ago about initially agreeing with something that was said to avoid "rocking the boat", but then afterward going to my brother-in-law and telling him that she had lied, that she had really wanted him to help her in this certain way, but had been afraid he wouldn't like her for that. Wow! Mom rocks! She would never have done that in the past.

Covert Ripples
There is the more covert ripple: my brother (yep, same one from above) and sister-in-law telling me I should be a life coach and asking me to talk to my niece, who was having lots of fears and doing a lot of stress (she is 15), which I happily did, all the while in a delightful state of wonder about the change in their attitude towards the way I live now. They still think I'm weird, but at least useful!

Universal Ripples
And then there's this more subtle, universal ripple: I just notice these days that everyone is a little more open and authentic with each other. People speaking their minds on something controversial instead of avoiding it. Both of my sisters calling out my mom for not listening to them speak (not being present with them). All family members being willing to seek help in new ways that would have been too much out of the mainstream in the past—they would have been embarrassed to try them or even let anyone know they were thinking about them.

So each of them has had their own reaction to my ripple, some have even just completely backed away. But there's no doubt where the ripple started and I like the outcomes of this one I've created. I love being curious about where it will go next!

What ripple are you creating? Is it one from a place of fear, anger, stress? Or is it one from a place of comfort, openness, authenticity, and love?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Iris the Victim Develops Persistence

Lately I have been developing a new skill: persistence. It is something that I never had much of!

Through my life, I've started many new adventures with lots of enthusiasm that would slowly fade out. When persistence should have kicked in, I would give up or I would go on to finish the project with screaming and kicking (lots of resistance), doing lots of unhappiness because it didn't feel comfortable...

Still, I did finish tasks most of the time, because I had a strong belief that "I should not let so-and-so down" and a strong want to not have to rely on others.

On the outside, I seemed happy, independent and fulfilled with my life and work, while on the inside I screamed with frustration. I would tell myself things like: I don't know why I am doing this... or, Why am I pleasing others again... or, Why doesn't anybody care about what I think... or, Who are you to know what is good for me!...

I was an unhappy duck!

Then in January of 2003, I went for a month as a volunteer to the united states at the place I later got certified. While in the volunteer program "Iris the victim" learned about taking ownership of her feelings and behaviors and how to influence and change them by looking at her beliefs. I learned that if I take ownership for who I am and how I think, I can be happy even if nothing changes around me.

It is just a choice.

This new belief became the cornerstone of how I live every day. It is also the reason that I became a mentor to help others. I chose to focus on happiness during that January, six years ago, and I want to help others make that choice too.

So, why am I telling you all this? Because me choosing happiness is helping me to become more persistent. I am now in my seventh year of choosing happiness in my life and lately I have found that my persistence level, combined with a high happiness level has dramatically improved in different areas. And this time, my persistence has nothing to do with other people and the old beliefs that I wrote about in the second paragraph. This time my persistence comes from my wants. I want to... Wow, what amazing wonderful!

Let me give you examples of my persistence fueled by my happiness:

food: I'm intolerant of gluten and milk products. Sugar is also something that my body responds to in a uncomfortable way. In the past I made "not being a nuisance when eating with others" a higher priority than my diet. So I regularly ate things that were not good for me. Now, I have decided that I would rather be happy by taking care of my body and my eating habits have changed dramatically. Only very rarely do I eat things that are not tolerated by my body

painting: Last year I started painting the house. It was a challenging process for me. Wasps, hot weather, big house... It went very slowly. I got awesome help from Clyde and Beverly, but I still got myself stuck before the house was halfway done.

This summer I finally picked up the task again, and to my surprise the experience is very different. It's fun! It is great exercise for my body. My painting is much better and faster (thanks to some inside painting over the winter). It's still a big job, but I am not wondering if I will ever get it done. I know it will get done and I am proud that I am doing what I am doing.

music: I love playing music and singing, but I have always doubted my skills. I never thought I could be a singer in a band. I never thought I could write songs people would like.

When I decided to be happy with whatever I do, I allowed myself to show more of myself and do the things I love most. While doing these things, I allowed myself to develop new skills.

While visiting a friend in the Netherlands in December, I told him that I would make a CD in 2009. And I will tell you, that CD is coming! And I am so proud! I have some awesome inspirational musical friends and I am blessed to play with them. My happiness has inspired my persistence, which has lead me to the musical place I am today. I practice singing daily. I started to play Djembe. I have improved my rhythm skills dramatically, and I am leaning to experiment and allow myself the time to learn.

This blog: Just a year ago I would have asked: "Who am I to start a Blog about happiness? What do I have to share that can be interesting to others? What if I write something people do not agree with?!" "Whahahaha", I think right now! Ohhh, hell yes! There's lots to say and to share! And readers who don't like it don't have to read it, they can go somewhere else, or write a comment for discussion! It's all a choice!

Choosing happiness is a philosophy. It is something that can help you to make changes in your life if you want to. It is something that starts with a decision, but then grows by practicing. Choosing happiness has been my biggest source of persistence so far, and I know now that it stimulates persistence in many other areas in my life.

Are you allowing to make happiness your first priority? Did you realize that it influences what you will create in your life? Are you going to do anything different after reading this article?

Have a great Sunday!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Who's Your Cheerleader Now?

The other night, Iris and I were having dinner with friends, one of whom had just recently declared her independence from the tyranny of what others thought of her. It had been a breakthrough moment in her life and she was exuberant in her new found freedom. That very day, she had been challenged on her "lack of depth", and she resoundingly resisted the accusation with the simple statement that she, in fact, has depth. For the purpose of this blog, let's call our friend Betty.

As the evening progressed, our discussion wondered into the realm of music. We shared our love for music, the types of music that interest us, and how we were all involved in playing music in one form or another. As we talked, Betty spoke of her desire to play the guitar, but then quickly explained that her hands were simply too small to play.

Having small hands myself and being able to play guitar, I held my hand up to Betty's to see just how small her hands were. Turns out, that our hands were about the same size. Hmmm...

With that, I challenged Betty that perhaps her hands weren't too small to play guitar. We played with this a bit, and after a while we both concluded that Betty could in fact play guitar... if she wanted to. We spent the rest of the evening listening to music, playing songs we'd recorded, and... playing guitar.

The Next Day
As I thought about this the next day, it occurred to me that being free of the opinions of others is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if we have people in our lives who are negative and overly critical, it can be really useful to decide that their opinions of us don't matter; we are who we are, and what we make of that is up to us. This approach can be wonderfully empowering.

On the other hand, if there are people in our lives who are positive, encouraging and edifying, well... When I hear those types of opinion, I'm predisposed to buy into them. I mean, I really like those types of opinions and find them really useful. Why would we want to discard those opinions?

Maybe My Thesis is Wrong
As I write this, something just occurred to me: I might not be a good example of normal. My thesis for this blog was based on the belief that, when we buy into the beliefs of others, we do so uniformly, i.e., we buy into both the positive and the negative beliefs.

But I realize that many of us are predisposed to buy into the beliefs of others that are negative and disparaging, but not into beliefs that are encouraging and uplifting.

OK, that being the case, I think I can still pull this off.

Totally Free of the Opinions of Others
Originally, I was going with the idea that, if we suddenly find ourselves operating independently of the beliefs of others, we may also suddenly find a gap in our self-worth and confidence. In that case, we would need to fill the gap with our own positive reinforcement of who we are and what we can do. You'll want to think of ways to support yourself, yourself.

Benefiting from the Opinions of Others
More likely, if we say that we want to operate independently of the beliefs of others, we really mean the beliefs of others that are negative and disparaging. It may be that we never or rarely considered the beliefs of others that are positive.

In that case, the solution is not to discard the beliefs of others part and parcel, but instead, to start to listen to others with a different filter. In other words, start to actively hear the things that others say that are positive and encouraging.

By listening to others with the belief that they are saying things that are positive and encouraging, we start to hear things that are positive and encouraging. We might even find that the people in our lives whom we've always considered to be antagonistic and doubtful, actually had great things to say about us. Hmmm....

The Conclusion
So, where's this all get us? One of two places...

First, if you do absolutely declare your independence from the opinions of others, then it's going to be important to think it through from both directions. In particular, you're going to want to replace the cheerleaders in your life with your own cheer leading! You'll want to become your own biggest fan and supporter. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a dearth of positivity.

Second, if what you really want to do is to operate independently of the negative influences and beliefs of others, then there may be a better way to approach it than discarding everything. Consider listening better and more intently to what others say about you, with the perspective that they are saying things that are positive and encouraging.

At the end of the day, you can always toss some or all of what you've heard. But, you won't miss the great and wonderful things that people believe about you. And you might discover people in your life you've never known, though they've been there all along.

Defying Gravity

For the past two weeks, the song Defying Gravity, from the Broadway play 'Wicked', has been ringing in my head. Click on the title of the post to hear the song. So, can gravity be defied? Sure!! Birds do it all the time. So do butterflies, bees and aeroplanes. They were meant to defy gravity, and so am I.

I have recently started a few new projects that, added to my already full plate (wife, SAHM, 3 homeschooled children, one with a diagnosis of ASD, home business), seem like an experiment in trying to catch things that fall off the plate! Old voices whispering 'Are you crazy?' 'What do you think you're doing?' compete with my newer empowered beliefs. For a while, I stopped and listened. And that listening was like the force of gravity to an aeroplane without sufficient power in its engine.

So many of us walk this path of personal growth, sometimes 'up', sometimes 'down'. For me, the 'up' usually comes from an experience of consistent self exploration, asking myself questions, listening to my answers, changing the beliefs that don't take me where I want to go. Those experiences are like fuel in my already powerful aircraft. It is as if I defy gravity immediately. I rev my engines and off I go!

I so treasure those experiences, because they let me know that I can change and live my life in empowered, gravity defying ways. So how come I don't do that all the time? Well, I'm figuring that out and can't tell you all that I've discovered in looking at that question. Suffice it to say, somehow, my fuel source seems to go dry and I lose power. How come? Well, honestly, sometimes I don't want to ask myself any questions and come to any 'aha!' moments. I stop being present with myself. I no longer notice, and curiously act as my own mentor. Then I start the judgements and, well, you know where it goes from there.

For me, consistency and routine are key. I'm starting to see myself as a farmer (I love analogies, we'll come back to the aeroplane symbolism in a bit). I'm in charge of the agricultural plot of my internal world. I get to plant, tend, weed, prune, dig among my beliefs and attitudes to produce the crop that I want. Sporadic tending to my farm doesn't work for me. Oh the weeds! And the young plants need reinforcing, until they are self sufficient, all on their own. So I am committing myself to a daily habit of reflection, meditation, prayer, visualization... so that I can keep my farm in good condition, produce the crop I want and feel my fuel tank full ! (I told you I would get back to it). That way, defying gravity will be a way of life, like it is for the birds, the butterflies, the bees and anything else that flies!

Hope you all are defying gravity, too!


Thursday, July 23, 2009

A dinosaur in a line of cars

David has been lining things up lately. (For all you amazing new readers, David is our 5 year old son who has brought the gift of autism into our lives.) Most recently he has been lining up cars on the living room table. He has quite an interesting array of vehicles consisting of all the characters from the Disney Cars movie and a couple of generic cars, trucks, and vans. He has an awesome ability to line the cars up in a very specific order, as perfectly aligned as humanly possible. What I have found most fascinating about his "Cars Lineup" is the large, white, plastic dinosaur figure that he places perfectly at the end of the lineup. I have been intrigued as I watch him so carefully line up each car, truck, and van and with equal precision, place the dinosaur at the end of the lineup. My first thought was "I don't get it, he is so particular about the lineup, how does the dinosaur fit in?" My mind was flooded with very vivid memories of Sesame Street and Highlights books with lots of games centered around the ability to choose which item does not belong. Clearly, at first glance, the donosaur seemed like the obvious answer.

The old me would have been concerned about the whole ritual and thought "OK the lining things up is a bit strange but the dinosaur....... that is really weird". The new me watched in awe as David lined everything up perfectly and then in a very specific order began pointing to different items and saying their names in his perfect little voice in a way that only a Disney Cars fanatic or a mom who has seen the Cars movie about 327 times would appreciate. The King, Chick Hicks, Sheriff, Lightning McQueen (sounding more like Niling Niclen), Cars (for all the generic vehicles), Mater, Luigi, and of course... dinosaur. Instead of thinking "the dinosaur doesn't belong", I began to wonder how the dinosaur fits into this picture. I am certain that he fits in otherwise there is no way that David in his ever logical, somewhat rigid, and specifically controlling manner would ever put him there. I began to think of all the reasons the dinosaur DID belong. He is big, David loves donosaurs just like he loves cars, he has a mouth and the fronts of each car in the movie are mouths, he is plastic, he moves around the table easily, he is fun to play with... etc. There are many more exciting reasons that the dinosaur DOES belong than simply thinking he doesn't belong because he is not a vehicle.

This experience is one of many that I am thankful for. Imagine a world where people are focused on similiarities verses differences. Where people are intrigued by what is verses what isn't. Where children's creativity and different ways of putting things together are embraced verses challenged. Where people challenge themselves when they don't understand something verses assuming others are wrong.

I have spent the last week "catching myself" everytime I interact with either of my children in a way that says "that's not right/ how you do it/ how it goes... this is". I do this A LOT! I do it even more with adults (SMILE). Here are a few things I have learned: A plain white piece of paper can be anything you want it to be simply by folding it differently; sharks are fun, not scary; flying without wings and while not being on an airplane is possible if you pretent the bed you are on is a cloud; and most importantly, according to Aly (and I have chosen to believe her), I am perfect just the way I am.

Love to all!


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A day with a beautiful boy

I am truly blessed....

Today, my day started with the most powerful connection with a very special autistic boy. No amount of words can describe the feeling of joy and love that I had the pleasure to experience. That is why I invite you to read this blog from your heart more then your mind since it's where I am speaking from and only then you might have a chance to experience a piece of my joy, my life.

It all started when Mark sat on his favorite corner of the bed while engaging in one of his favorite exclusive activities. Flicking his straw and sitting in a lotus position on the far corner of the bed while humming under his breath. His humming was very soothing, rhythmical and predictable. Mark was taking care of himself by stimulating his auditory system in order to regulate his body. Even though Mark was doing exactly the very best to take care of himself, I decided based on my knowledge of sensory processing to provide more intensity to his auditory system and incorporated drumming music into my session.

The moment that I turned on the Sacred Drums CD, Mark immediately looked up at me then at the music and started rocking back and forth to the rhythm of music. I decided to rock to the music just like him except in a more exaggerated manner. I was standing up while rocking and walking to the rhythm of music. I was looking at Mark through the mirror and saw that he was smiling and looking up at me frequently. I then decided to put a large Lycra sheet over my head and continued to walk and rock in a circle. When I stopped in the middle of the room Mark's and my eyes locked. He proceeded to watch me and then got up slowly and with caution came over and peeked in under the Lycra sheet that I was holding over my head. He was coming in and out, sometimes just came close to smell the sheet or touch it with his straw and then went back to his corner on the bed. His exploration of the sheet and I continued for the next 10 minutes. As he was exploring I did not make a sound and did not change the position of my body. I wanted to give Mark the space to just explore on his own without placing any more demands on his sensory systems. He then began to laugh and started rocking intensely back and forth while looking up at me. I started to rock with the same pace as him with the sheet over my head. He got up and started moving my arms back and forth very fast and with a lot of intensity. I quickly realized that he was watching the shadow that was created by the sheet.

At that moment I fell in love with him deeper then I have ever experienced before. I was in awe and wonder of the joy he experienced while watching the movement of the shadow. Ohhh, how often we miss the simple beauty in our lives!!! The only thoughts that were popping in to my mind were "What is wrong with this behavior? Why do so many of us consider this inappropriate?" I felt so much freedom, joy and love while truly embracing Mark the way he is. I didn’t have any agendas all I did is love him immensity. I was thinking this is what freedom means to me loving what is right in front of me without any judgments. Total freedom to decide to be happy independent of the outside events. How awesome!

After a few minutes Mark stopped rocking and sat back in his corner on the bed while fully immersing him self in his favorite, exclusive activity of flicking the straw with his fingers. For me this was a very clear communication that Mark was taking care of him self and wanted space. I immediately honored his communication however I decided not to engage in his exclusive activity but to continue to stand in silence on the same spot, without any movement with the blanket over my head. I was creating space for him to express him self and regulate his body without any requests or expectations. My only thoughts at the moment were - "Sweetheart take all the time you need, I will stand here and not move an inch until you show me that you are ready to play."

It was an incredibly powerful moment because I was realizing that what I was doing is making myself an extremely predictable human being. Wow, and then it dawned on me I was building trust with Mark on the most profound level imaginable. As I stood there thinking these thoughts Mark crawled closer, peeked in then got up came under the blanket with me and wrapped his whole body around me while gently kissing my lips and smelling my ears. He continued to embrace me then went back to his spot and again came toward me back and forth for the entire hour as I stood still in one position. This is living proof that love does bring upon an enormous transformation.

Mark is my teacher of LOVE

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

To love is to give?

Recently I have been in situations where I have thought: why do we not want to give people what they say they want to receive? I am not talking about the times when they are asking for something that we simply do not want to give, I'm talking about when they ask for A and we'll give them B.

This week I spoke to my sister about a present for my aunt and uncle who are both turning 70 this year. On their wish list were mentioned blankets, pillows and red wine. So my sister suggested that we give them a fancy wine cooler. I never saw them using a wine cooler (which could mean that they don't have one) and a wine cooler could be a fantastic. But they did mention that they fancy red wine and I would rarely use a wine cooler for red wine; it could indicate that they don't really need a wine cooler.

So, why did my sister not want to give them the blankets when that's what they say they want?
I usually return the presents I get from my sister, since she is very good at spotting what I absolutely do not need.
Some people simply enjoy finding a special present and believe it to be more valuable to come up with their own ideas than to give something that's useful or requested. Based on this, if I gave my sister something from her wish list, it would be less valuable to her than than something I came up with myself.

A second example is when we ask for help.

I sometimes ask my stepdad to help to fixing things in my apartment. Often it is because two hands are not always enough.

If my mum comes along, she wants to help cleaning. I usually tell her that if would be more useful if she would walk the dog, because he always wants to be center of attention which can be pretty disturbing. Instead of walking the dog, she'll start cleaning somewhere and every second minute asking for my opinion on something, which disturbs the work I'm doing with my step dad.

I've seen similar issues at work - I'll ask for two numbers and I'll get a graphic representation of something almost answering my question.

A third example occurred this week. I asked a friend for some specific feedback on my behavior. He answered, "my feedback would say more about me than about you... but please call me anytime you are lonely".

My issue was that I sometimes feel lonely which I don't like. This feeling of being lonely comes when I'm thinking, "I'm always the one to call my friends and they don't call me."

So, I thought that I could either a) change my wants for contact with other people or b) make new friends. Most of my friends have kids and families and it feels like "they do not need me" or they do not want the same amount of contact as I do (maybe I could use the exercise from Mark on needy or needed). So, I have tried to meet more single people, believing they might be more available than couples and families.

But it seems as though I have the same issue in many of my new relationships; I call them more often than they call me. I would like to have more equal relationships, so I would like some suggestions on how I could behave differently.

So why would my friend rather comfort me when I feel lonely than help me with feedback that could keep me from being lonely? (Not to mention that he could try to be the one calling me instead of me calling him...)

When people give you something different than what you've asked for, there are different ways to respond, for example, asking again. When I asked my friend again he did try to give me the feedback I wanted.

But the question it raised for me was: How often do I ask again? And what are my reasons for doing or not doing this?

I have a strong belief that a big part of loving someone is to help them getting what they want for themselves. But how do I live this? Do I always ask them what they want? Do I try to guess based on their previous behavior? Do I base it on what I would want for myself?

What do you do? Why?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Radical Openness and Radical Gratitude

Today I "spoke" to three of the four best friends I’ve ever had in my life. This led me to want to talk to the other one, Lynne, but she was on a bike ride, so no dice—LOL!

Each of these encounters/moments was completely filled with a sense of such love flowing from me and to me that I just had to revel in the total sense of absolute gratitude for the blessings I receive in my life! All of these moments happened in quick succession and were totally unrelated and completely unexpected, but as I look back, they all stemmed from one common position: I'm open to everything (can also be phrased as: I don't know every damn thing!)

First I was on Facebook and a quick chat with my friend Rachel turned into an instant "Brialogue", I ask questions in a "Brian way!

At one point, Rachel messaged: "oh, i feel so loved by you right now". I stopped in my tracks and just enjoyed how much I was, in fact, loving her in that moment. Wow, how awesome that simple, deep feeling was!

Then I reminded her about an email she sent me that I used to alter the direction of my life from that moment forward: "mmmmm...good, 'cause i am SO LOVING you right now! i will truly, Rachel hear this, TRULY and ETERNALLY be grateful to you for sending me that email--it gave me awareness to focus on what i truly want from my life...every with passion, and i CONSTANTLY go back to that over and over to renew my focus in life..." The focus to live with passion in everything that I do.

In the midst of the Brialogue, the woman I am deeply and passionately in love with, Mary, popped in on Skype to post her memories of my death in two past lives we shared. (Just for fun: what is your exact thought at this moment?)

I told her I was in the middle of a dialogue and would read her posts as soon as I was done. Then I read the posts. Ahhhhh, so full of visual clarity, and sweet, connected, loving letting go:

"…I looked out of the window and saw the green fields and our tree, I promised you to be always with you. I promised you to be with you for ever and to be sailing away with you on the wings of the wind, on the fields, in the rains of which you always told me that these were the joyful tears of God, a gift to the earth. I love you deeply, I said, while your soul is floating away from me, on its own way back to the Light. I push my nose into your hair, to sense the smell of your hair once more and breathe in… On the same moment I do this, your last breath is done. You blow out your candle, uniting power and loss at the same time, I promise you we are together and I will be going to find you, someday I will."

God I LOVE this woman!!! Totally and completely and without even the slightest reservation and I tell her so. And I tell her: "I'm copying and pasting your words into the blog, so beautiful and loving, and i’m crying tears of joy and gratitude all over again…" It will be so wonderful to finally get to meet her. You see, we have chosen to absolutely be passionately in love with each other through emails, instant messaging and Skype calls without ever having met.

Just as my interaction with Mary was ending, the best friend I’ve ever had in my life, Karen, who had put on a Keith Urban CD earlier, heard the song "Making Memories Of Us", came in from working outside, silently sat down next to me, and leaned her back onto me as I wrapped my arm around her, and we just sat there together listening to the beauty of this song.

I'm gonna be here for you baby
And I'll be a man of my own word
Speak the language in a voice that you have never heard
I wanna sleep with you forever
And I wanna die in your arms
In a cabin by a meadow where the wild bees swarm

What makes this moment even more special is that Karen and I used to be romantic partners: up to this moment the best love relationship I've ever been in. She also knows that I'm going to die in the arms of my lover in the porch swing in front of my riverfront house in Montana.

A little later, I pulled her away from her work, gave her a sweet, loving hug, and told her: "Thank you for that wonderful moment. You are such a gift to me and I am so grateful to have you in my life. I love you very, very much."

So what's the commonality? None of these moments would have happened if I had not fired my internal "censor" and been open to everything—including things most people would think of as "inappropriate" or "weird".

Rachel is one of my great friends and she has taught me so much about how to be in a constant state of looking at myself and about not holding back in friendships. Also, she's 22 and I'm 46. Most people tend to believe that someone less than half their age has nothing to teach them, but because I don't believe that, I've gotten the gift of learning, from her, so much about how I want to be in the world.

From Mary, wow, so many things to be gained from being open to anything! Learning that love is not about proximity (although we are both off-the-charts excited about getting to be together): that it's about being open, authentic, accepting, loving, all that good stuff!

That can happen no matter where you are in the world! Learning that it's about this moment, and that even if we meet and it doesn't work out, these moments have been real love. Learning that I don't know if past lives exist, but right now I don’t need to know that to be able to live those moments with her…to feel what that moment was like, and just love it and be deeply grateful for it.

And with Karen to be open to finding love within the 5 days we first had together—the only 5 days we would have had if both of us were not open to sharing our lives so deeply so quickly. And being able to continue to deepen our friendship after the romance ended and not be afraid to hug, hold, love each other, just as friends.

What are some areas of your life where you are not open to all the possibilities, whether because you believe they are not possible or because others might think you were "weird"?

Which areas, if you opened up to all the possibilities, could provide you with a richer, fuller life?

And, in which areas of your life are you totally grateful for, but not yet expressive of the love you have for those around you?

I challenge you this week to: 1) do one thing you would have been afraid to do in the past, and 2) express open, full gratitude to one person to whom you have not fully expressed it! Then come back and post your experiences here as comments.

With deep love and gratitude to each of you who reads this, you are a part of my benevolent universe...


Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Man's Got To Know His Limitations

One of my favorite Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood) lines is from the 1973 movie Magnum Force. At the end of the movie, just after Harry has dispatched the last bad guy, he says, "A man's got to know his limitations."

I love this quote because we typically have no clue as to our limitations. We tend to anchor our beliefs in one of two extremes: there's very little I can do or I can do anything! Both beliefs tend to be equally errant. Many people in the process of "self-improvement" vacillate between the two.

I Know My Limits
The practical people among us might say, "Wait, I know my limits!"

But I would suggest that they don't. For example, many of us believe that we can't do certain things because we weren't born with talent. I run into this all the time when I'm out playing music.

People will come up to me and say, "I wish I could play piano like that!"

I'll ask them, "Then why don't you?"

Nine times out of ten, the answer is, "I just don't have the talent for it".

They know their limits in playing piano and their limits are defined by talent.

Talent is an Illusion
The thing about talent as a limitation that is so silly is that talent isn't actually a limit at all; it's simply a starting point. Each of us comes configured with certain options when we're born. Some of us come with do-complex-math-in-my-head option. Others come with the run-really-fast option. Some have the eat-anything-and-stay-skinny option. And still others come with the play-whatever-I-hear option.

If you take on a new task that matches your option package, you'll be credited with talent. And if not, you can either give up or you can accept the fact that you're simply going to have to work a little harder and a little longer to accomplish the new task.

In either case, talent is simply a starting point. What matters over time is how you translate talent into skill. That's simply a matter of practice and paying attention.

For example, lately Iris has been learning to play drums. She was born with the i-have-no-rhythm-unless-it's-oom-pah-pah-music option. Nonetheless, she's been playing and playing and playing and really paying attention to her process and how it works. The other day she was playing with our band, and she totally found the pocket. You'd swear she had a gift for drumming.

I can give you countless examples of hard-work, persistence and awareness leading to strong skills in areas where people had no talent.

I Can Do Anything!
The kind of foo-foo alternative to I don't have the talent for it is, I can do anything!

While this attitude can provide us a wonderful experience, unless we ground it in terms that are clear and specific, it tends to be short lived.

Quite frequently, the I can do anything perspective is simply a reaction to a previous sense of I can't do anything. It's moving away from the old you to the new you.

Over the years, I've met many people who, in the midst of a personal-development program, declare their new-found empowerment or breakthrough with a bold statement of intention.

You know, after all these years I'm finally going to: ...start my own company! the world! ...leave my relationship. ...write the great American novel! ...learn to paint! ...lose all that weight!

When we get together a year later, nothing has changed (baring metaphors of feet and rivers). After another week of self-improvement, the bold statements and beliefs have returned. I know some people for whom this cycle has recurred for years, even decades.

This cycle of declare-fail-repeat is another example of not knowing our limitations. I don't meant to say that, we can't accomplish what we've set out to do. I mean that the I can do anything attitude alone is ephemeral, lacking clarity, specificity and depth. It's not sustainable and doesn't sustain us.

Knowing Your Limitations
Knowing your limits is the key to accomplishing anything. If there's something in your life that you really want, then a great first step is to make a clear and in-depth assessment of your limitations. As you uncover them, recognize that your limitations aren't the walls that will stop you from achieving your goals. Instead, they're the stepping stones across the river.

For example, if you want to start a business, but can't do math. Decide that you really, really love and want to learn math. Then break down the math limitation into specific limits, e.g., I can't do arithmetic... or I can't do algebra... or I can't do story problems. Divide and conquer!

I believe that by intimately knowing and addressing our limits, we truly can accomplish anything!

So, what's something you've always wanted to do but can't? What are the limits that keep you from doing it?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Emma Forgot to Get Scared

Yesterday I was talking on the phone to my dear friend Ellen, an amazing mom from Maine. She had called me at 6:08 am to talk because between her full schedule running a full time program for her daughter Emma and my schedule taking care of my kids the best time for us to talk is before everybody else wakes up.

In the midst of our conversation, Ellen asked me to hold on a second and turned away from our call to Emma and celebrate her lavishly and enthusiastically for waking up and coming out of the bedroom to find her all by herself. "Wow, Emma, you're amazing!!! Look at how you just woke up and came out and found me!!! That's so AAAWWWESSSOOOMMME!" It seems that for the past few days Emma had been waking up in the morning and crying out to her mom to come into the bedroom because she was scared to be in there alone. But today she didn't. Ellen jumped on the opportunity to celebrate her and pointed out to Emma that indeed we don't "get scared", we choose to scare ourselves about things. Ellen then asked Emma why she didn't scare herself today and Emma replied "I don't know, I guess I just forgot to." I immediately understood that Ellen had jumped in to catch Emma doing something right and used that to as a teaching moment.

My next thoughts were to review in my mind how I handle that sort of thing with my kids and I realized that my usual modus operandi is to dive in when something goes wrong and attempt to repair the situation. In concrete terms, i would normally jump in after my daughter is afraid or upset and try to teach her that she doesn't have to be afraid, she can choose to be calm and happy in that moment. Of course, it is usually very hard to get the point across because Sasha is crying so hard she probably can't ever hear what I'm saying. I realize as I'm writing this that this is the equivalent of trying to teach someone how to swim while they're drowning. Well, give me credit for good intentions if not necessarily for brains.

In reviewing my new perspective with Ellen I have begun to think that maybe it would be a much more effective strategy to enthusiastically celebrate Sasha in the moment for choosing to be frightened, unhappy or any of the myriad of emotional states that I want to save her form. Maybe it's more important to be solidly empowered and I could just trust that eventually, if she really believes herself powerful enough to choose her own emotional state, she will naturally prefer to choose to be happy, peaceful and joyful. This certainly is matches my own experiences of the last two years, where I have felt that the key to me choosing happiness was once it occured to me for the first time that I actually can choose it just seemed stupid to pick unhappiness.

Well ,you learn something new every day! It is my hope that, if I and those I love spend enough time choosing happiness over unhappiness, perhaps we will get to a point where we can get Emma's gift, and just forget to be unhappy.

Love always,


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My double-life

I'm not sure what I was doing exactly, but somewhere in the last night I was realizing that I have started to run a double life.

The first me, is the one you all know. The one who has insecurities, questions, doubts, an amazing husband and a beautiful life. The one who writes these articles and the one who is always developing herself into a happier version of herself.

The other me, is the one the children meet in the playroom or people meet during the attitudinal coaching sessions. This is the one who during the interactions is 100% happy, 100% engaged and 100% non-judgmental. She is observant, and adapts easily to whatever goes on. She is funny and authentic and present. She is a great friend.

This morning while writing this article, I realize that I like the playroom me better! I realize that I allow myself to be bigger and more fun in the playroom then anywhere else. I am deciding that I want to de-compartmentalize myself again into one person. The playroom version!

I think this whole insight started with my friend staying here and me being inauthentic (see my article from yesterday) and then having to doing a dialogue about it to figure out why. I also read a quote from wonderful autism specialist called Aaron Deland on Facebook that says "my job is making friends". And I totally agree with that! So why not doing it all the time!

I already do it 120 minutes at one time and I love it. So I am going to allow myself to grow this attitude over longer periods of time! Isn't life beautiful!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Let's be authentic, you go first

This weekend we have a friend staying with us who in the process of creating a new business. While Mark was off doing whatever he does, I was talking with our friend about his plans.

As he told me his story, I was thinking to myself, "this isn't a plan", "he absolutely hasn't thought this through". I was thinking this, but... well, I wasn't actually saying it (out loud).

At dinner tonight, I told Mark about our conversation and my lack of authenticity with our friend. I wanted to explore why I chose this path. I'm not sure about the exact order, but I think it went something like this...

I told Mark that I was judging our friend in regard to his business plans.

Mark asked me what I meant by that and I said, "Well, first, he hasn't really thought it through and second, he doesn't seem to have a plan."

Mark said, "That sounds like an assessment, not a judgment."

As I thought about that, I agreed. Not having a plan and not having thought through things is just an assessment. Still, I felt that I was judging; I realized that I was judging myself.

Mark asked me, "What are you judging about yourself?"

The answer had two parts. First, I was judging myself for being negative about our friend's plan. I didn't think he had much of a plan, but I didn't want to be unsupportive of him.

Second, I was judging myself for not telling him what I thought. I was being totally inauthentic with him.

While telling this to Mark, Mark gave me the example: let's say that our friend was standing on the top of a building with his arms outstretched, ready to jump off and fly. Would you consider it unsupportive to stop him or at least point out that he might not have thought it through?

I had to laugh at this. So then, the question remained, why wouldn't I just tell our friend that I didn't think much of his plan?

The answer came to me in a flash! Knowing that he's here to meet with Mark to talk about his business plan and knowing that Mark will tell him what he thinks regardless of whether it's good or not, why should I spend my time on telling him that his plan sucks?

At that point, Mark suggested the concept of, "why be authentic, when you can get someone else to do it for you?" He also said that I might have potential as an executive in a business, a key component being the ability to delegate the "dirty" work to others.

I had to laugh. But still, the words had some merit.

So, the question is: why be authentic in uncomfortable situations, when you know that someone else will take care of it? Why clean the dishes, when you have a dishwasher?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What Scares Me

Over the past few days Iris and I have been talking a lot about thinking.

Basically, I am of the opinion that people will go to great lengths to avoid the act of thinking. I've noticed that, when I point this out during conversations, (i.e., saying, "you're not thinking"), people often seem to get a bit agitated. Iris has noticed this as well. So, she thought it might be useful to become more specific about what I mean by not thinking. (Just so you know up front, this blog is a bit longer than normal. But hey, it's Sunday!).

Level 1 Thought
At one end of the spectrum, one can invoke the word "thought" in regard to almost everything we do, .e.g., breathing, walking, chewing gum, etc. While, there seems to be a clear link between the brain and various muscle groups when conducting these activities, I'm not including that in by definition of thinking.

Level 2 Thought
Moving up the thought ladder, there are the thought processes involved in day-to-day decisions: should I wear this black t-shirt or that one today... where should we grab lunch... who's going to pick up the dry cleaning... and so on. I also don't include these activities in thinking.

Level 3 Thought

Moving up even further, there are categories of thought that might be classified as creative or analytical. Creative thought often (but not necessarily always) gets engaged when we're writing a story or playing music or painting a picture. Analytical thought gets engaged when we're solving problems or extrapolating conclusions from information we've read or determining whether or not we can afford a new car. For me, these types of activities qualify as thinking.

As Iris and I discussed this, we felt like we'd come up with some more useful terms than just thinking; now we had creative thought and analytical thought. But I still didn't feel satisfied. I realized that even though people do sometimes engage in this type of thought, they're usually not very good at it. I've also noticed that when I point it out, (i.e., you're not a very good thinker), they seem to not enjoy the comment.

So the question migrated from, "Do you think?" to "Are you good at thinking?"

Are You a Good Thinker
It's kind of funny, because, if you ask someone who paints whether or not they're a good painter, they don't seem to take offense. If you ask someone who plays chess whether or not they're a good chess player, they don't seem to take offense. People often almost brag that they're "no good at math" or "no good at music". However, if you ask someone whether or not they're any good at thinking, well...

I believe that thinking is just another skill that can be practiced and developed. I also believe it has nothing to do with IQ (there are plenty of people with ostensibly high IQs that don't seem capable of thought) nor education (there are even more people with PhD's that also seem devoid of thought) nor position (think of all the powerful people you see in the news who seem not to have thought through what they've done), it's just something that you can practice and develop regardless of who you are or what you've learned or what you do.

What Scares Me
So, what about all this do I find scary? If you've ever talked about logic or problem solving, you've probably heard the phrases inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning.

Basically, deductive reasoning is reasoning in which we start with a set of general principles and apply them to a situation to deduce a specific conclusion. For example, using deductive reasoning, you might start with two principles such as all apples are fruit and all fruit grows on trees, and then deduce that all apples grow on trees. In deductive reasoning, if the general principles are true, and the logic is solid, then the conclusion must be true.

Inductive reasoning works in the other direction; we start with specific observations and induce a general conclusion. For example, using inductive reasoning, I might observe that I always feel fine after eating apples and induce that apples are safe to eat. In deductive reasoning, if the observations are correct and the logic is solid, the conclusions may or may not be true.

A third type of reasoning is reductive reasoning. Reductive reasoning involves an attempt to reduce the cause of a complex effect to something very simple. For example, having just read an article on the coincidence of high levels if mercury in the body and various symptoms that you have experienced, you might come to the conclusion that you therefor have mercury poisoning. This would be an example of reductive reasoning. Simply, using reductive reasoning allows us to believe we're thinking, when we're not.

So, what about this scares me?
Thanks for hanging in there with me. This is really going somewhere.

The thing that scares me about all this is that so much of what is going on in the world is based on only the apparition of thinking. We believe we are drawing reasonable and logical conclusions about our lives and the world around us. We act on those conclusions. In some cases, we fight for them. The results of this MO can be quite devastating.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Cursing the Cure
Someone tells you there is no cure for a specific disease or syndrome, e.g., there is no cure for alcoholism... or autism... or schizophrenia. This would be at best an observation and best stated, I am not aware of a cure for alcoholism... or autism... or schizophrenia. It's just an observation.

However, in the hands of most people (including people with high IQs and advanced degrees), this observation gets translated into there is no cure for alcoholism... autism... schizophrenia. And then, in the hands of others we move (through inductive reasoning) to Alcoholism... autism... schizophrenia can't be cured.

The combination of the assumption that people with degrees think and unthoughtful leaps in inductive reasoning pretty much puts the kibosh on any hope for a cure.

Letting the Real Culprits Get Away
My favorite example of reductive reasoning is Global Warming. It seems, everywhere I go, people talk about 1) the fact of global warming, and 2) the cause of it being the emission of greenhouse gasses. The other day, I actually heard someone say, "90% of all the scientists in the world agree that there is global warming". Sigh...

There are two aspects of this that scare me. First, we've lumped all the worlds climate issues and challenges into a single lump that can't be solved. Rather than taking on individual issues one at a time, we've created a huge intractable problem. Second, by coming up with a single point of attribution (greenhouse gas emissions), we're letting other culprits temperature change (like high densities of people and concrete and asphalt) off the hook.

Business people and academics being good at what they do, will quickly adapt the words that they use to describe they're work to include phrases such as global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. People will feel like much is being done. But there may be little change in the end.

Thinking Precludes Ideology
The thing that scares me the most, is that the absence of active thinking (either through omission or lack of skill) among a large group of people leads to pervasive ideology. The most prominent current example of this would be what we're seeing in Iran. When ideology displaces solid thinking, the results can be catastrophic. People begin to feel justified taking almost any action. You know, nuclear bombs, ethnic cleansing, on and on...

What to Do?
Wow, having written this, I feel better already. I think I'll continue to point it out when I encounter non-thinkers and poor thinkers, but I can do it with greater clarity and specificity. Also, I'm going to start to encourage thinking as an active practice. Maybe I'll form a club.

If you'd like to join me in the pursuit of better, deeper and richer thinking, all you have to do is start to pay attention to what you're saying and what others are saying. When someone makes a statement, note whether the statement is an observation or a conclusion. Also, note whether the intention is consistent with the statement, i.e., was the observation stated as a conclusion or not.

Next, when someone draws a conclusion, decided whether or not it was drawn deductively, inductively or reductively.

Then, practice, practice, practice.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sleeping on Silk Sheets

We spent this last week with family as we said goodbye to my beloved grandmother. After 90 wonderful, happy, healthy years, she decided to join my grandfather in heaven to watch over all of us from a place with a spectacular view. She spoke to me during her "wake". She loved the flowers but hated the outfit that was chosen for her and was most disturbed that no one bothered to paint her nails. I chuckled as I heard these thoughts in my head mostly because I didn't need her to give me this information, anyone who knew and loved her would have known. So why is it that certain members of my family were so concerned about the coffin and making sure that everyone knew she was laying on silk and not that cheap immitation stuff but no one thought to paint her nails? I have to admit, when I heard the story about the silk, I was a bit judgemental. My initial thoughts went something like this: You have got to be kidding me... "she deserves "only the best" when she is dead, what about when she was alive? It was a brief moment before my learnings kicked in and I started my self reflections about why I was being so judgemental in this moment. I learned several years ago that what I judge most in others are those things that I judge about myself.

So here is what I learned..... Those judgements were all about the guilt I felt for every time I was too busy to take gram to lunch, too busy to go with her for a manicure, too busy to call and say "I Love You". It was also about my need to have approval from others and to be "liked" by everyone. Lastly, it was about the regret I feel for not really knowing the people I say I love in my life.

Thank you grandma, for the gift of insight, and the courage to die knowing that we will all be better people as a result of your life and your death. I am making a list of the people I love and want to know better so that their nails will painted and their sheets will be silk, every day of their lives.

Love to all!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

It's My Fault

This morning, I sat in the coffee shop helping a friend with a consulting project he'd recently picked up. The company he is working with is one that I worked with before. He asked me to take him through some of the company's business processes and some of the software that I had developed.

After reviewing the business processes, we moved to some of the current challenges the client was facing and some specific problems they were having with the software I had developed for them. I was surprised to hear about the problems, but my first response was to believe that I must have missed something or got something wrong in the software I'd developed.

We jumped right into the software and reviewed the specific problems that were occurring. We quickly isolated the software that was causing the problems, and much to my surprise, it wasn't the software I'd written. It turned out that, since I'd stopped working with the client, someone else had done additional work and had introduced what we in software call, "bugs".

As I talked with my friend, he mentioned that he'd already asked the other software developer whether or not he'd made any changes to the program that might have caused the problem. The the other programmer answered with a non-answer saying that it's often difficult to isolate spurious problems with software and blah, blah, blah... He'd left my friend with the impression that he hadn't made any changes and that the problems weren't due to anything that he had done.

The funny thing is that he was wrong on both counts. First, it was really easy to find where the problem was, and second, the problem was absolutely due to the work he'd done.

Solutions Start with Ownership
Over the years, I've been able to solve lots of software problems that evaded others. Often times, I was able to find answers in minutes to questions that had challenged others for days or weeks. As I sat talking about this with Iris tonight, it occurred to me that my primary enabler wasn't skill or experience, it was simply approaching everything from the perspective that the problem must have been the result of something I or we did; not something that was simply an anomaly or the fault of someone else or a mistake on the part of the user.

It turns out that assuming that the source of the problem or challenge lies within your own purview can be amazingly powerful. It can lead to solutions that can't be found if you assume the problem is not yours.

Who Ya Gonna Blame
If you've ever worked with IT people, you've probably experienced the antithesis of ownership, i.e., IT people tend to operate on the assumption that the problem must be elsewhere and can't possibly be attributable to anything they've done.

You've probably experienced this phenomenon in lots of other situations. Fact is, many of them are probably ones in which you believe the problem lies with someone else and has nothing to do with you. In particular, if you have challenges in your life that seem to go on and on without a solution, I'd bet that a key factor is your assumption that the problems have nothing to do with you. You might attribute them to your situation or your job or your friends or your spouse or your childhood or... Still, they're outside of you.

Based on my theory, I believe that you'd find answers and solutions quickly and easily if you were to take on the assumption that the problem is totally yours (even if the problems turn out to be the result of someone else).

Attribution vs. Blame
A key factor to making all this work is dropping judgments about fault. So often, we jump right from fault (attribution) to judgment (blame). The problem with judging fault, is that we tend to avoid being at fault. Who wants to be blamed for something? By avoiding being at fault, we avoid solving any problems where we are at fault.

Fast Path to Solutions
So, the fast path to solutions to long term problems is a two step process:
Step One: stop judging problems and being the source of a problem.
Step Two: face all new problems from the perspective that the fault is yours, and therefore, the solution is yours.

Try this one on for a bit. Pick a persistent challenge in your life and take on the perspective that the fault is all yours (without blame or judgment). I bet you'll find answers you've never seen before.