Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nothing Personal

If you're looking for just one thing you could do to improve every single one of your relationships, here it is: take nothing personally.

To take something personally simply means taking whatever someone else is saying or doing, making it mean something about you, and then allowing that to affect your emotions and happiness. It might be criticism received from your boss. It might be acts of defiance from your children. It might be anger expressed by your partner.

Whatever it is, whenever you take things that others say and do personally, you cloud your vision, compromise your objectivity, and ultimately, become somewhat useless in your capacity to help and facilitate. You might get defensive. You might take offense. Everything you hear passes through layers of filters that drop into place blast doors in a bomb shelter.

Why Make It Personal
As humans, we have the capacity to make pretty much anything personal. I know people who take the weather personally getting upset when a day that they anticipated to be sunny clouds over. Nonetheless, there are some common themes that lead to taking things personally.

I once worked for a guy who prided himself on his capacity for empathy often saying, "You know me, I can't be happy until everyone else is happy."

Many of us believe that empathy is important and, to some degree, many of us make our own happiness dependent upon the happiness of those around us. We're taught as children to feel badly for others who are struggling or suffering. We comfort those in grief by expressing our own grief.

It all seems reasonable and normal. However, our feeling badly doesn't do a lot for the other person. I've often found myself comforting the people who came to comfort me. Further, we can get to the point where our feeling badly is the extent of what we do to help. In my experience, most of the people who take positive, useful steps to help someone who is challenged are those who don't feel badly, but simply want to be useful.

One of the easiest things to make personal is criticism. When someone criticizes you, it can be hard to take it objectively or to see that what they are expressing is just as much a statement about them as it is about you. Yet, as soon as someone begins criticizing our defenses go up. Even before we've fully heard or understood what they have to say, we begin thinking about whether or not it's true, how to explain it, or how to deny it. We may even go into tit-for-tat mode, looking for similar faults in the person offering the critique.

All this is not to say that the criticism isn't valid. It's just to say that we don't have to feel badly about it.

Many of us are immune to taking things personally unless they come from parents, partners, siblings or children. For whatever reasons, we tend to respond much more strongly to our own children acting out than we do to others. We tend to feel a greater sense of responsibility for our partner's happiness than we do for others generally. I know people in their seventies who are still carrying around the effects of criticism received from their parents when they were children.

I think this may be a guy thing, but when we listen to someone who is unhappy (especially a child or partner), many of us jump into fix-it mode. We just want them to get to the point so we can remedy the situation. We feel more than responsible for the unhappiness of the other person; we feel responsible for making them happy again.

They Made It Personal
Of course, there are times when people do things that they mean to be taken personally. They may lash out in anger; they may hammer on sensitivities; they may want to see you upset. Nonetheless, even when someone means for you to take something personally, when they want you to feel it, it's still all about him. They may give it personally, but only you can take it personally.

What to Do?
Now, it may seem that it's inevitable that you'll take things personally. However, there are some simple steps that you can do to avoid it. The next time your partner says, "We have to talk!" or your child walks into the room upset with a decisions you've made, try some or all of the following.
  1. Just Listen: The easiest thing to do is to not do anything. Don't explain. Don't deny. Don't defend. Don't react. Don't fix. Don't even think about explanation, denial, defense, reaction or fixing. Just listen to what is being said and hear them out.
  2. You're Not Responsible: Although you may decide to help or to reverse a decision or even to apologize, you can't make someone else happy. So, don't try.
  3. Unresolved is OK: When taking things personally, we often feel compelled to push for resolution. We feel uncomfortable until things are resolved. However, forcing resolution typically leads to anything but resolution, or at least lasting resolution. Be comfortable with things left unresolved.
  4. No Fixing: When we take things personally, we often scramble to find a solution to the other person's unhappiness. However, fixing things so that others can be happy typically reinforces their using unhappiness to get what they want. Eventually, the fixer begins to feel burdened by the fixee.

    If you decide to fix, then don't fix for, fix with.
  5. Be a Third Party: This one is especially useful when talking with someone whose issue is with you: listen as though they were complaining about someone else. Treat the situation as though you were listening to a friend complain about her husband or her boss or her parents.
  6. Dive into Criticism: When we insulate ourselves from criticism and don't react, we're often only feigning not taking it personally. To really not take criticism personally, dive into it as you would any interesting topic. If someone says, "You suck!" ask questions about it. What do you mean by You suck? How would you like me to change that?
  7. Set the Time: Why is it that so many of us have partners who like to get it all out, just when we're ready to pack it all in? Invariably, one partner feels compelled to talk about pressing matters just before turning off the lights, while the other prefers doing it over breakfast. If you're someone who's a fixer and who feels responsible for your partners happiness, allowing them to launch into a long-winded complaint just before bed can be excruciating.

    As a rule of thumb, it's great to allow the listener to determine the time to talk. Pick a time when you're fresh and ready to listen.
In my experience, not taking things personally makes it easy to resolve conflicts and to build relationships. The beauty is that you can do it at any time. Even in the midst of a situation where things have completely run off the rails and you've made everything personal, you can stop and reset. You can say, "I'm sorry, I've really been taking this personally and I don't want to do that. Can we start over?"

Happy Tuesday,

Monday, June 28, 2010

One Special Person

It is so wonderful to see how one special person in the family helps so many people to grow around him or her. Conducting a relationship-based autism treatment program with a support team is such a wonderful way to help a special little person.

I often think about how blessed I am that I began working in a relationship-based autism treatment program. My whole life has changed and I am such a different person, or I would rather say I am so much more myself.

Oftentimes parents are worried that nobody would want to donate their time to play with their special children. When they do this, they don't see that what they are really doing is providing a wonderful opportunity for volunteers to learn about themselves, to grow their love deeper, and to become part of a beautiful extended family all through playing with their little friend. I am part of so many families and homes now all over the world. I feel very blessed that I can share in so many wonderful families’ lives and be adopted as their family member.

A Gift from the Universe
I see children with autism as a wonderful present from the Universe saying, "Here you go! Create something beautiful and become the best possible version of you."

Of course this isn’t always easy. The road is full of challenges, many sleepless nights, tantrums, picky eating, not wanting to bathe and so on. I totally understand that oftentimes, in the midst of one challenge or another, we don't consider ourselves very fortunate. However, further along in our journey, looking back, many of us see what an opportunity we received from life.

I was thinking of ways to see the opportunity right now rather than later. Here is something that you might try to begin seeing the blessing and opportunity in a situation that may not feel like blessing and opportunity in the moment. Sit down in a quiet, comfortable place with a lovely drink and a sheet of paper and write down answers to the following questions:
  1. What have you changed in yourself since your special child came into your life? What great things can you see in yourself? For example you might be stronger than you ever thought you could be. You might stand up for yourself in ways you've never done before. You might feel appreciative of the little things in life that you used to take for granted.

  2. Consider all the wonderful people you have met and become friends with since your journey started with your little one. Who are they? What have they brought into your life? What do they mean to you?

  3. What have you learned about diet, healthy eating, supplements, how your mind or senses work and so on?

  4. How have your priorities and values changed?

  5. In what ways is the world becoming a more loving place as a result of the work that you, your family and you volunteers are doing with your amazing child and all the love and celebration you share in the playroom?
Can you see the blessing and the opportunity?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I Once Knew Someone Who...

This morning, as Iris and I sat drinking tea an coffee, Iris talked about the friends whom she been in contact with yesterday. Throughout the afternoon, I could tell that we had Holland on the line as Dutch language and laughter filled the house.

Iris spoke of one friend who had gained a lot of weight due to medication that she had been taking. Her friend had been working diligently, but unsuccessfully to lose the weight. So, being the fix-it type of guy I am, I started asking Iris questions about the medications, the circumstances of her friend's weight gain, and what things she had been doing to address it.

Iris asserted that her friend's weight gain was due primarily to retention of water. So, I asked Iris how she knew that. She responded explaining that people who take this type of medication typically gain a lot of weight through increased water retention. So I asked her, "How do you know that?"

Iris responded, "When I used to work in a counseling center in the Netherlands, I knew a young woman who had to take that medication and she gained more than twenty kilos."

I said, "I understand that she gained twenty kilos, but how do you know it was from water retention?"

Iris said, "Because she gained the weight very quickly and, when you looked at her, she looked like someone who was retaining a lot of water."

So I asked, "But how do you know that it was water retention and not increased water intake or increased appetite or slowed metabolism?"

Iris responded, "Well, she didn't feel hungry and she worked out regularly."

But I Already Tried That!
At this point, it started getting really interesting. Everyone I've ever met who couldn't lose weight but insisted he was eating well or eating less, was not. There are people who switch to salad not realizing that they're adding thousands of calories in salad dressing. There are people who assume that good oils magically have fewer calories than bad oils. There are people who believe that raw sugar is somehow fundamentally different than refined sugar. They believe that they've changed their diet in such a way as to effect weight loss, but that they haven't.

Further, most people I know who say that they work out regularly have decided that the word regular, off the shelf, is a bit boring. So they've adapted it to encompass a bit of randomness.

After pausing a second, I said, "So, what you're saying is, because you once knew a woman who gained a lot of weight while taking this medication, because her weight gain looked like water retention, because she said that she hadn't been feeling hungry, and because she said she worked out regularly... because of this, you know that your friend's weight gain is due to water retention and that there's not much she can do about it?"

We both laughed and I said, "I wonder if this is how they're addressing the oil spill in the gulf? I knew a guy once had an oil spill and he tried thus and such. Didn't work!"

I Once Had a Friend Who...
And then I told Iris about a friend I had when I was in school in Boston. She had driven home to visit her mom in Worcester. After pulling into the driveway, she realized that she had parked too closely to her dad's car in front of her, blocking him in. So, she quickly reversed the car, backed up a bit, and then jumped out of the car to go see her mom.

In her excitement, she'd skipped the all important steps of turning off the engine and putting the car into park. As cars are prone to do when left unattended while running in gear, her car began moving, in this case, backwards. So, she did what anyone would do after exiting one's car while it was still running and in gear; she tried to jump back in and stop it.

Unfortunately, her re-entrance was not as clean as her exit. Rather than ending up in the car, she ended up under the car, or at least her calves did. Fortunately the drive way and the tires were both a bit soft, and she escaped with only minor injury.

After telling Iris my story, I said, "I knew a woman once who ran herself over with her own car. Perhaps someone should pass a safety law forcing automobile manufacturers to place multilingual warning labels complete with diagrams on the back of sun-visors."

I know, it's silly. And yet, as I think about it, there are so many things that we try or that we avoid, that we believe or that we deny, that we recommend or warn, simply because we once knew someone who...

So What?
What beliefs do you carry around and even proffer that are purely anecdotal, based on having once known someone who? What life decisions have you made because, old uncle Harry once tried thus and such and look what happened to him? What career decisions have you made because, Susan down in accounting tried to start her on business and, well... What things have you given up on because you once knew someone who... Even if the someone is you?

Happy Saturday

Friday, June 25, 2010

More on acceptance

Teflon’s recent post “What Do You Want?” set me thinking. Not just about that question; what caught my fancy more was his account of life in the Berkshires versus the big city and how he settled into it eventually despite not being attracted to it at first. I see two parallels for myself personally, in the geographic-move respect – India versus the US, and Detroit versus Houston, with the second being more instructive than the first. After having lived in the Detroit area for close to two decades, our recent move to Houston was definitely a big change. Visually the two cities aren’t particularly different, just in degree – Houston has the same roads & freeways (maybe larger), similar sprawling suburbs with similar houses (maybe larger), more bugs for a larger part of the year, more Mexican-food restaurants, and so on. But the big difference is the weather – Detroit’s maximum temperature is invariably lower than Houston’s minimum. Detroit’s winter can stretch out to well over six months, whereas in Houston you could be out in shorts enjoying carnival rides at Christmas.

But the instructive part for me is how the winter used to absolutely dominate our daily conversations, plans and activities in Detroit. Come to think of it, that’s probably because of the wonderful multi-dimensionality of winter. You have the regular low temperatures, below-freezing and windchill factors. You have regular wind and Arctic winds. In the precipitation department, you have flurries, frost, snow, snow showers, squalls, lake-effect snow, blizzards, clippers, ice storms, freezing rain, wet snow, sleet, and black ice. In the warm clothing category, you have fall & winter jackets, coats, overcoats, parkas, scarves, hats, boots, gloves, mittens, and earmuffs. I won’t even start enumerating all the winter sports, road hazards, driving precautions or health issues resulting from wintry weather.

Whereas in Houston’s weather, we have … heat. That’s it. Just more or less of it (at least, that’s what I’m choosing to see right now; I’ll report back in a couple decades).

So it would appear that a whole lot of time (and probably some money) is now freed up for discussing and doing non-weather-related things. More time for life, so to speak. More space for What We Want. Hmmm. I could probably look back and see how well we have used this extra life we have been granted.

In my initial years in Michigan, when I was still new to the winters, I did spend prodigious amounts of time and energy on it, just like everybody else around me. But it quickly dawned on me that the weather was paying no heed to my complaints. It was always amusing, and sometimes astounding, to see the extent to which even lifelong Michigan residents were invested in complaining about their state’s weather.

In general, I think I get used to things pretty quickly, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that our new location quickly became part of my mental landscape and merged with the background. But I’m also aware that not everybody is like that. In particular, I have a colleague with a remarkable ability to find their present situation objectionable in comparison with the past. I’m also thinking of another person who mobilizes the most amazing amount of energy and intensity every day into resisting something that has been part of their life for over twenty years. This ties in with our recent discussion on accepting what is (in the sense of recognizing or acknowledging, not being resigned to). A great deal of the unhappiness we see around us comes from incomplete acceptance of what is, or was. One can be so attached to a particular desired outcome that they get completely bent out of shape when it doesn’t happen. “How dare you do/say such-and-such”, “I just can’t get over how X” or “I can’t BELIEVE Y happened” are fairly reliable indicators of non-acceptance.

To visualize perfect acceptance, I usually channel Tom and Jerry. Picture then, in slow motion, the mischievous Jerry, with his gleeful smile, beginning to tip over a jug of milk at the edge of the kitchen counter. Tom spots the first drop leaving the jug. Expression of shock and terror on Tom’s face. Stream of milk inexorably descending. Tom racing around madly trying to find any available vessel to catch it. The first milkdrop hits the floor, and - voila! freeze frame - the manic piano allegro switches to soothing violins, peace replaces terror on Tom’s face, he rights the milk jug, takes it away from Jerry, grabs a mop and begins wiping up the spill. Then a caption at the bottom appears – It’s No Use Crying Over Spilt Milk. Fade to black.
I’m also fascinated by the process by which people make changes in the way they think and see life. Or, to use this blog’s language, the way we make and change our beliefs. I hope to record my musings on that later. I’ll end with a couple of relevant quotes:
“When it rains, I let it” – 113-year-old man, when asked for the secret to his longevity.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there” – Rumi.

The Future of an Illusion

Over the past couple of weeks, I've observed folks who've lost the capacity to see anything they do as wrong, no matter how vindictive, harmful or hateful. I know an otherwise nice guy who in getting divorced has gone beyond wanting what's his to taking what's hers, even if what's hers doesn't serve him in any way. I've know an otherwise ethical business women who's dealings suddenly went all buyer-be-ware as she dropped all consideration for the other parties, deciding to take all she can get no matter what the cost.

And I've wondered: how does someone get there? How does someone get to the point where he can do no wrong? What causes someone who is normally reasonable, rational, caring and loving to lose all her perspective and simply want to win? What is it that blinds people to the negative impact of their actions, or even to delight in them?

Now, before you jump on my use of the word wrong, let me start by saying that I'm using wrong self-referentially; if the person in question were to observe another conducting himself in a similar manner, she would see what he was doing as wrong. Wrong is in the eye of the beholder, until the beholder beholds himself.

Denial, Delusion, Love and Acceptance
Many of us who contribute to and read this blog are advocates of love, acceptance and a non-judgmental attitude: towards others and towards ourselves. Psychologists focused on positive psychology and happiness, caution us to the potential adverse effect of too much self-love and acceptance. In the extremes, there's a fine line between high self-esteem and sociopathy. Psychologists tell us than when people become too loving and accepting of themselves, they can take on a grandiose sense of who they are, lacking shame, remorse and guilt, and losing the capacity for empathy and caring, i.e., they become sociopathic.

However, I would suggest that the challenge does not lie in having become too loving and accepting of one's self, but instead, in never having learned to love and accept one's self. To truly love and accept one's self involves seeing who you are exactly as you are with excruciating clarity and specificity, and then deciding that it's all good. Instead of this, what many of us do is to deny who we are and what we've done and to morph all the unacceptable and unlovable stuff into something acceptable and lovable.

Doing the former (let's call it love and acceptance) requires you to drop judgments and leads to being really comfortable with who you and what you are; the latter (let's call it denial and delusion) allows you to retain judgments and leads to loving and accepting someone other than yourself.

It's quite amazing how total denial and total acceptance seem to meet somewhere in the middle. At first blush, they can appear to be the same thing. Two people struggling with all they've done and how they hate themselves for it, suddenly discover self-love and acceptance.

They look the same. However, one has magically morphed the facts of what he's done into other facts that are acceptable; he's remade history to suit himself. The other has looked the facts straight in the eye for what they are, stood firm in onslaught of all their implications, and then understood that he was doing the best he could given what he knew and believed. The results appear similar, but one path leads to sociopathy and the other to sainthood.

The biggest challenge/benefit with either approach is that they tend to compound over time. Neither love and acceptance, nor denial and delusion stand still. They grow. We either become more loving and accepting of ourselves and others, losing judgments as we go. Or, we become more delusional and blind, growing judgments as we go.

Hope for the Delusional
Of course, each of is capable of doing both denial and delusion, each of us is capable of love and acceptance, and each of us probably does a bit of both.

It's easy for any of us to feign love and acceptance while judging the hell out of things. We all do it to some degree from time to time. For example, I advocate love and acceptance, and at the same time I have some pretty strong judgments about delusional deny-ers feigning love and acceptance. From my perspective, they best represent what one might call "pure evil" if one believed in purity.

So, if any one of us can be truly loving and accepting, and any one of us can employ denial and delusion, and if the effects of either can appear to be the same, and since the effects of denial and delusion are, well, delusional, how can one tell when he's blinded himself through denial and delusion and set himself on the path to sociopathy?

I think the answer is fairly straight-forward: look at the places where you hold the strongest judgments. If you have a hard time identifying when you're being judgmental, then look at the times when you see something happen and you become unhappy about it. The level of blindness (denial and delusion) is directly proportional to the strength of judgment. If I judge the hell out something, it's highly unlikely that I'll see it in myself. So, focus on the strong judgments first.

Once you identify your judgments, play with them, become friends, open your mind to the idea that from time to time you may in fact behave in a manner that you would judge. Just crack the door a bit. I would go so far as to say that, if you hold a judgment, then there must be denial going on somewhere. So you don't even have to wonder about whether or not it's there, just about where it is and when it occurs.

Another way to uncover points of denial is to look is simply at the things about yourself that you don't like to talk about. Really fertile ground.

My thoughts on this are still developing a bit, but I think there's a lot to explore here...

Happy Friday,

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mrs Hyde's Message

Today I was both Dr. Jekyll and Mrs Hyde, though mostly Mrs. Hyde!  I felt blah early in the day, and persistently chose annoyance, irritation and downright ill-temperedness over being joyful and grateful.  It just felt easier to feel bad.  So I'm rambling along in my thoughts connecting today and some recent explorations....

I have been looking at this idea that I am not my body, so things could be physically uncomfortable (a sprained ankle, a headache, allergies, PMS) and yet I can choose to remain joyful and vibrant.  I am revising the thought.  I think I am my body.  Isn't my mind a part of my body? So, if I can choose one response of my body (happiness, gratitude) then can I choose another response (pain, discomfort).  Is this what people who can walk on fire, or slow their heart rate down do?  

I believe I can choose discomfort, but the idea that I can choose pain is new to me.  Does this mean I can choose no-pain?   That is a fascinating thought.  I believe most physical pain is useful and instructive communication from my body.  So though I may be able to learn to choose a different response than physical pain in a particular situation (maybe again like the fire walkers), I might find the information from the pain useful.  I'm wondering if I can apply a similar frame to my feeling discomfort.  I am growing in my ability to choose comfort and to explore my beliefs, but I'm wondering if the ease with which I felt like crap today could be useful information, if I paid attention to it.

Backing up, I recently sprained my ankle and after icing it for a day, I felt fairly good, so I went about my 'normal' life.  By the next day, not only was the ankle hurting, but my arm, my neck, my back, my knee,...  Mrs Hyde, with physical symptoms!  I really needed to have been off it for a while, but the very idea!  Now, 6 weeks later, the ankle is still somewhat swollen, but is improving.

So if I am my body, what could Mrs Hyde be cluing me into?

So many thoughts rush to mind!  

  • I am not an introvert, yet right now, a cabin/hotel room/suite in a quaint little town where no-one knows me sounds perfect!  I remember noticing that my body works optimally  when I have absolute down time for a full day at least every 2 weeks.  I haven't treated myself to that in months.  In fact, we just came back from a family vacation which was the total opposite of relaxing down time.
  • I haven't been eating as many veggies as I used to.  My juicer broke and I fell out of the habit of drinking my green juice in the morning.
  • I have been craving sugar, and indulging in the craving at every opportunity.  If sugar is as inflammatory as I believe it is, the inflammation all over my body (including brain) could well be adding to the static crackle in my head.  My mind is yelling "Too much noise!"
  • And speaking of noise, I tend to have a  high arousal sensory system which benefits from specific activities to help it remain in an optimal state.  I can say accurately that I have been doing none of those things recently.  There is a noisy traffic jam at most of my processing centers.
So, is it useful to explore my impatience with Zachary's insistence on dressing like Tolley (a cartoon character) oblivious of the 90+ degrees and the condition the clothes were in? Absolutely!  I can even do the exploration pretty quickly and get to the belief that 'people will think I'm a bad mommy' when they see him dressed that way, and tunnel down to more core issues for me.  Yet, the thing screaming Mrs Hyde is yelling at me is self care!

When I see Jay looking like he isn't coping with whatever, I give Jay care.  I think about his body chemistry, his sensory system and fill in whatever gaps I notice.  When my daughter is having a melt down, I say extra fish oils for you today!'  A friend once told me that being an adult is about being able to parent oneself.  I think she is right.

So I am my body.  My body right now needs space to think its thoughts and adjust beliefs, nourishment, massage and some very grounding bass rhythms (very deliciously organizing, I have found... I think I will find a song now!)

The thing is that I don't have to let Mrs Hyde carry on for the entire day before coming to these conclusions.  I can be more present and curious with myself.  It's interesting that the moment I stop, ground myself and think, all the answers, all the information that my body has wanted to get through to me all day rushes in like a flood.  I can remember the moment in the day that I noticed my blah mood. What if I took this information in the nanosecond that it was given?  What if I looked at it, embraced it, loved my body for wanting to communicate this to me?  I'm not sure, but I think I would have made some different choices and Mrs Hyde would  have lost her job.

I'm going to take a few moments now to think about tomorrow, and set some clear intentions about how I'm going to nourish all the systems in my body, in addition to reaffirming some under-utilized, more helpful beliefs about my parenting.

Treat your mind and body to a spa today.  Be well nourished!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

You're Not Too Big

In the movie Big Fish, William Bloom goes home to be with his family as his ailing father, Edward passes away. During his time there, William recalls the outlandish tales that his father told about his own life, always swearing they were true.

One tale involves a discussion between Edward and a giant, Karl.
KARL: Why are you here?

EDWARD: So you can eat me. The town decided to send a human sacrifice, and I volunteered. My arms are a little stringy, but there’s some good eating on my legs. I mean, I’d be tempted to eat them myself. So I guess, just, if you could get it over with quick. Because I’m not much for pain, really. Look, I can’t go back. I’m a human sacrifice. If I go back, everyone will think I’m a coward. And I’d rather be dinner than a coward. Here, start with my hand. It’ll be an appetizer.

KARL: I don’t want to eat you. I don’t want to eat anybody. It’s just I get so hungry. I’m too big.

EDWARD: Did you ever think maybe you’re not too big? Maybe this town’s just too small. I mean, look at it. Hardly two stories in the whole place. Now I’ve heard in real cities, they’ve got buildings so tall you can’t even see the tops of ‘em.

KARL: Really?

EDWARD: Wouldn’t lie to you. And they’ve got all-you-can-eat buffets. You can eat a lot, can’t you?

KARL: I can.

EDWARD: So why are you wasting your time in a small town? You’re a big man. You should be in the big city.

KARL: You’re just trying to get me to leave, aren’t you? That’s why they sent you here.

EDWARD: What’s your name, Giant?

KARL: Karl.

EDWARD: Mine’s Edward. And truthfully, I do want you to leave, Karl. But I want to leave with you. You think this town is too small for you, well, it’s too small for a man of my ambition. I can’t see staying here a day longer.

KARL: You don’t like it?

EDWARD: I love every square inch of it. But I can feel the edges closing in on me. A man’s life can only grow to a certain size in a place like this. So what do you say? Join me?
What Do You Want?
Since writing Deconstructing the Onion, I've been thinking a lot about the seemingly simple question, "What do you want?" I've been wondering about what makes answering such an easy question so hard.

My friend Jonathan has spent the last few weeks living in a rented apartment in a residential area of Nice, France. As I listened to him passionately sharing his experiences of the past few weeks, I thought to myself, Maybe New Jersey’s just too small.

Over past couple of years, at a time of life where most people have settled in to who they are, I've watched Jonathan, who was already somewhat bigger than life, grow and change remarkably. He can be simultaneously quite happy with all that he has, and yet, still hungry, still looking for something that doesn't seem to exist: I love every square inch of it. But I can feel the edges closing in on me.

This morning, I thought about how infrequently I meet people who are really exploring and recreating themselves; the numbers are statistically insignificant. That being the case, if you are exploring and recreating yourself, the likelihood of your environment (your town, your job, your social circle, your routine) becoming too small, is statistically significant, i.e., it approaches 100%.

So, it occurred to me that one of the reasons we find it difficult to put our fingers on what it is exactly that we want is that we've simply become too big, or, the options before us are too small.

I love every square inch of it. But I can feel the edges closing in on me. A man’s life can only grow to a certain size in a place like this. So what do you say? Join me?
Family Values
Another thought that occurred to me is that we often value what we're brought up to value. In this case, I'm not so much talking about moral code (although that may be a subset), but instead, about what's important to us in general: having a good job, raising a family, owning a home, getting ahead, living in the suburbs, living in the city, having many friends, being respected and well thought of, being recognized, safety, security.

So much of what we consider to be valuable was simply adopted. In a world where we are constantly buying and selling beliefs, when it comes to values, we tend to start with a full shopping cart; only occasionally do we put things back on the shelf.

The problem is that, what's valuable to our parents, to our teachers, to our communities, may or may not be valuable to us were we to start with an empty cart.

Yet, where we live, with whom we associate, our jobs, our partners, all our activities are defined by what we consider to be valuable. Perhaps it's difficult to answer, "What do you want?" because our stated values (the ones that we've adopted without thought or consideration) are not our actual values. What if we were to leave the cart in the middle of the store, go grab an empty cart and start shopping for values all over again? Would what we want suddenly emerge?

Greener Grass
Of course, oftentimes what we want is whatever we don't have. Some of us keep it a secret. Some of us talk about it. Some of us go for it.

My mom grew up in a mill town in the northwest corner of South Carolina. At a fairly early age, she knew that she was going to New York City. She dreamed of it. She loved the lights, the glamor, the excitement, the sophistication. She wanted to break away.

For her, the grass looked even greener close up than from afar. For others, having is not is often not as good as wanting. In either case, you never know, until you do.

What Lies Beneath
Of course, the opposite occurs as well. When I moved to the Berkshires, I did so because of the work I wanted to do, not because I was enamored of country living. In fact, I loved living in our townhouse in the city: no lawn to mow, a hundred restaurants in walking distance, the subway stop just a couple blocks away, never needing a car, and so on. The idea of moving to the country was, well, less than appealing.

I now drive a half-mile just to get from the house to the road. We have two cars (well, one's a pickup truck) whereas in the city we'd been considering having zero cars. There are trees everywhere and an acre of lawn to mow. Good restaurants (or clusters thereof) are few and far between. And you know what? I love it.

It didn't come quickly, but it came. I love being able to play music as loudly as I want at 2:00AM with no one anywhere near to be bothered by it. I love mowing the lawn. I love looking out the window and seeing the mountain in front me. I never thought I would, but I do.

I think it started with the resolution to actually live here, not to just be transient here. That somehow opened me to seeing past the surface of what I wanted and into the depths of what I wanted. For example, I like the city because the city is full of people. I like Cambridge in particular because it's full of people who think and talk about what they think. As I opened myself to being someone from Great Barrington instead of being someone from Cambridge who was living in Great Barrington, I found that Great Barrington is full of people who think and like to talk about what they think.

It's been amazing to see how you can find what you want right where you are when you finally decide to.

What Do You Want?
At first blush, much of what I've written above might seem self-contradictory, but I think it's just situational. Sometimes we simply outgrow what we have; we love it to pieces, but it's just too small. Sometimes others outgrow us and we become the too small part.

Sometimes what we've held valuable has nothing to do with what we really want in life; sometimes it forms the absolute core of who we are.

Sometimes the grass is truly greener on the other hill; sometimes it's not.

Sometimes everything we want is right there in front of us; sometimes it's halfway around the world.

What do you want?

Happy Wednesday,

Monday, June 21, 2010

It's All Make Beleive

After reading about ADHD and talking to I psychologist who was supposed to have knowledge in the area I decided to try Ritalin.

First I went to my doctor. Since he didn't want to prescribe anything, I asked him to run some tests on my general health and vitamin levels. He didn't find anything that seemed to be abnormal (according to his beliefs).

After five months, I finally got an appointment with the psychiatrist, and guess what: she sent me to get cardiovascular test.

After another month (now knowing that my heart rhythm seems to be normal) I finally got my prescription.

Trying Ritalin
My biggest issue has been getting stressed late at night which makes it hard to get to bed (and later to sleep), which ends up leaving me constantly tired.

The psychiatrist told me to not take the Ritalin if there were any chance I would be driving within three hours or if I'd been lacking sleep. I had just told her that I had been constantly lacking sleep for more than a year; she didn't really help me to feel comfortable about taking the drugs.

The same night I decided that postponing trying the Ritalin would cause me to obsess, thinking about how it would be. So rather than questioning my belief, I just tried it. Wow, what a relief. The nervous tiredness had changed to just being tired, and it has now lasted for a week without taking further medications!!!

What Changed?
So now I wondering what happened.

Over the last months I made up a belief - inspired by the audio book Scattered minds by Gabor Maté - that ADHD can be a behavior chosen by a sensitive person in response to certain stress conditions in early childhood.

As some of you may know an ADHD mind tends to produce delta-waves (go to sleep wave), when you would expect beta-waves. The delta-waves occur during times of excitement and other strong emotion.

According to Maté, this starts as we are small children responding to uncomfortable feelings and situations. It then grows into regular behavior.

When I do dialogs or therapy, I always start yawning when I "go deep". So making up that this was a chosen behavior I asked my mentor/counselor, "Would you please ask me what I was feeling just before I yawned?"

The typical dialog question would have been, "Why did you yawn?" However, this small change led me to some very deep early childhood memories; I could feel different tensions in my body and put words to what they might mean.

Why So Restless?
Gabor Maté also inspired me to look at why I felt restless before sleeping. I used to ask myself for the reasons for not going to bed, and I used to come up with reasons such as concern about things I had or had not done during the day (maybe the flat needed to be cleaned), and whether or not I had said something that someone else didn't like. Some days I made up that it was the fear of never finding a partner or the fear of how other people would see me, because I was single.

I knew there was some kind of lack of self-trust, but I wasn't aware that this was a common thing for ADHD. Instead of looking for the reasons in the present or in the future, I started to believe that it could be in the very distant past and that it might not be important to know exactly why. Still, I could just work on accepting and loving myself when the feeling arrived.

I've been doing this with the em-wave-training that I sometimes practice. Em-wave training is a way to practice heart coherence, focusing on breathing feeling empathy - with the help of a software or a portable device.

Well, neither the dialogs nor the em-wave had done much for the stress before bedtime, but one dose of Ritalin did! This might make sense to a doctor who believes that ADHD is a genetic or chemical thing and that medicine is the only cure. But how does it explain that the stress didn't come back for more than a week now?

I believe that I am in the midst of changing my mind, that the Ritalin has helped me (and might do it again), but that mind-training and changing beliefs and behaviors is what will help me in the long run.

Well, that's my make believe.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Deconstructing the Onion

What Do You Want? Seems a simple enough question. And yet, for many of us, it's a question that's difficult to answer. When we do answer, it often feels as though we've missed something or that our answers are a bit off the mark.

The other day, I was talking with a friend who had been frustrated in his attempts to work through challenges with a former employer. He'd left his job on good terms and his boss had agreed to be a great reference for him as he brought on new clients. However, he'd recently found that his boss had seen the people he'd sent for reference as potential clients for his former company and had essentially been damning him with faint praise. He was pissed.

So, he'd written a scathing letter to his former boss, accusing him of atrocities, calling him a liar, demanding that he live up to what he promised, etc., etc, etc. Before sending it, he'd asked me to take a look at it.

I read through his note and then asked him, "What do you want?"
"What do you mean, what do I want?"

"I mean, what do you hope to accomplish by sending this letter?"

"Well, ummm, I want my boss to do what he said he was going to do and to recommend me to people I send to him as a reference."
I glanced back at the letter feeling the eyes of my friend staring through me as I considered his words. Finally, I said, "Do you think that your letter is going to get your boss to do that?"
"Well, uh, yeah. I mean... What do you mean?"

"If you received a letter like this, would you be predisposed to comply with it?"

"Sure, I would want to do the right thing."

"I know you would want to do the right thing. Would getting a letter like this open your mind to seeing what the right thing was?"

"Well, umm... Look, I just want him to know what an asshole he's been."

"OK, nothing wrong with wanting that. However, wanting that may get in the way of what you said you wanted before. Remember? You want him to provide great references."
We sat silently as he considered this apparent conflict in his wants.

Constructing the Onion
So often, we lose touch with what it was we wanted in the first place. You start out with: spending my time doing something that I love to do.

You recognize that it's also nice to eat and have a place to sleep, so you modify your want to: getting a job where I can spend my time doing what I love to do.

You find that getting a job where you really get to what you want to do ain't all that easy, so you modify your want to: getting a job where I can spend SOME of my time doing what I love to do.

You get the job and realize that in order to really do what you want to do, you must first get promoted. So, you modify your want again to: getting a promotion so that I can spend more time in my job doing what I love to do.

You realize that getting a promotion requires you to work more hours and to dress better; you change your want again to: getting a new suit and overtime hours so I can get that promotion (that will allow me to spend more time in my job doing what I love to do.)

The overtime hours start providing you more cash and you start thinking to yourself, "Wow, maybe I could afford a car? Having a car would be really nice."

Before you know it, you're still working towards that promotion, but you've completely lost sight of why you wanted that promotion in the first place.

Why Do You Want That?
Of course, for many of us, "Why do you want that?" often feels like an indictment or a demand for justification. We get defensive. We do anything but explore the question. We don't simply ask ourselves, "Hmmm... why do I want that?"

The problem is that it's only through answering "why?" questions that we peel back layers of the onions we've constructed. Our defensive postures serve only to fortify the existing layers or create additional layers.

When we start honestly and openly answering "why?" questions, the layers start to peel away revealing answers we've long forgotten and providing opportunities for additional questions.

It's amazing what you can find when you stopping defending the outer layer of your want onion and begin peeling; there are often many more layers than you would expect.

By the time most of us have finished school, we've added so many layers to our onions that we have no clue as to what lies beneath. We do, but we dare not look.

Wanting to play the piano becomes wanting lessons becomes wanting to play really well becomes wanting a better instrument becomes wanting a place for that instrument becomes wanting more money to afford that place...

Wanting a place that is warm and comfortable becomes wanting my own place becomes wanting a house becomes wanting to own a house becomes wanting a bigger house becomes wanting a bigger house with better furniture...

The pathologies vary, but the core dysfunction is always the same.

Deconstructing Your Onion
Sundays can be a great time to spend peeling want onions. Brew a pot of coffee or pour some tea, take the hand of someone you care about and drag them over to the couch, and spend a few minutes of tearless onion peeling. What do you want? Why do want that? Do you think that what you're doing will get you that?

Happy Peeling,

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Saturday Morning Trivia Questions

Which of the following best characterizes the changes in your world over the years (the blue circles representing your world)?

Which of the following best characterizes the relationship between your interests and your world?

Which of the following best characterizes the relationship between your world and your wants or desires?

Which of the following best characterizes the worlds of you and your partner when you first met?

Which of the following best characterizes the worlds of you and your partner today?

Which of the following best characterizes the combined worlds of you and your partner?

Which of the following best characterizes the mutual interests and desires of you and your partner when you first met?

Which of the following characterizes the mutual interests and desires of you and your partner today?

Which of the following best characterizes your relationship with your partner?

Which of the follow best characterizes the relationship between what you want in a partner and your partner?

Which of the following best characterizes the relationship between what your partner wants in a partner and you?

Which of the following best characterizes the relationship between the you of today and the you of ten years ago?

What do your answers to the above questions tell you about yourself? About your partner? About your relationship? What if anything would you like to do about it?

Happy Saturday,

Friday, June 18, 2010

Lost in Translation

It's been fun talking the past few days about the difference between definition and belief.

It all began with the word important. In Blinders, I referenced a conversation in which a friend and I were discussing what was important. I had said something on the order of, "Whenever someone asks me what's important to me, I look at where I'm spending most my time. That's what's important to me."

My friend had responded with, "That's just your belief."

I in turn responded with, "No, that's how I define important."

Through ensuing conversation and comments, I've come to the conclusion that for some of us, there's no distinction between belief and definition; for others, the distinction is purely theoretical and has not practical merit. And for others, the distinction is simply unclear.

I find the distinction to be significant and practical: downright important.

You Don't Love Me
Let's say that someone you love dearly says, "You don't love me!"

Typically, one's response would be, "Oh, but I do love you."

You might hear, "No, you don't!"

Then, "Yes! I do!"


The word love provides gazillions of opportunities for us to confuse belief and definition. When someone we love says, "You don't love me", we often experience this sense of urgency to correct the belief. We want to make sure that they know that we do love them. We want to prove it to them. We debate the belief regarding whether or not we love them.

The thing is that, in the moment, neither of us knows what the other means by love. We get so caught up in the question of belief (do you love me or not) that we don't stop to ask for a definition. The simple solution to this, one that would immediately end countless debates is, "What do you mean?"

The question changes the dynamic. One person might say, "Well, you never call me anymore?" Another might say, "You never send me flowers." For someone else, it might be, "You completely ignore all that I do for you and never thank me for it." Another might say, "You always talk about our personal stuff in front of other people."

Typically the statement "You don't love me" is code for "If you loved me you would..." However, the word love is so loaded (overloaded) for us that we often don't hear that, we simply hear a belief to which we must respond. If instead of responding to the implied belief, we first paused to better understand the meaning, things would go differently.

So, your partner says, "You don't love me!"

You say, "What do you mean by that?"

Your partner says, "Well, if you loved me, you'd call me every morning after you got to work, every day at lunch, and every afternoon before you leave work."

You might respond, "Well, if that's how you define love, then you're right: I don't love you."

End of discussion.

Or, you might say, "Well, I never considered doing that to be an indication of my loving you or not, but if you'd like, I'd be happy to call you three times a day."

You might then proceed to discuss what each of you means by love more generally.

This Is Really Important
Let's say your boss runs into the office and says, "Hey, I want you to take a look at something that is very important!"

I've had bosses for whom important meant considered redirection of resources: drop what you're doing and pursue this, now. I've had other bosses for whom important meant passing interest: I was reading in the New York times that... In the case of the former, you could count on her following up to see what progress had been made, what resources would be required, etc. In the case of the latter, you'd be surprised if he even remembered talking about it the next day.

I've seen a lot of people do poorly in job ratings working with a passing interest type of boss while taking important to mean considered redirection of resources. In some cases, they would disagree with what the boss called important and begin arguing their belief that it was not important. In other cases, they would simply accept the boss's belief about what was important and then proceed with their own interpretation of what it means to be important: dropping everything and pursuing a new set of activities.

In either case, it didn't turn out well for them. They would end up being seen as argumentative and difficult (spending valuable social capital arguing something that the boss was going to forget about anyway) or they would be seen as someone who didn't follow through on whatever it was that they'd dropped in order to pursue the important thing.

If they'd simply observed how the boss used the word important (what he meant by important), rather than focusing on whether or not what he was calling important was indeed important (the belief), they would simply have sat and listened, acknowledged the boss' excitement, and then carried on with whatever it was they were doing previously.

Definition Before Belief
One of the challenges I've seen many people face when learning to conduct formal dialogs is being so excited about uncovering a belief that they skip past the clarification part (the definition or meaning). Someone says, "It's really difficult to learn to play the violin at 60."

It's really easy to go right to, "Why do you believe that?", when the most useful questions would involve defining both difficult and playing the violin. Difficult might mean anything from one's capacity to learn as she ages, to affording and instrument and lessons, to squeezing it into a busy schedule. Playing the violin could mean anything from a playing a simple tune to joining a symphony orchestra. Oftentimes the clarification of the meaning precludes any discussion of belief. We see that our belief was in fact a response the vagueness of the definition, not to the object of the belief itself.

So What?
My thought is that we often find ourselves arguing over beliefs simply because we haven't been clear on what we mean by a statement. At work, we used to talk about people being in violent agreement. They agree, but just can't see it because they're holding steadfastly to their own definitions of words as if the definition were somehow true, not simply a way of stating what one means by a word.

Having incompatible definitions is no problem: you know that when I say important, I mean thus-and-such. I know that when you say important, you mean this-and-that. The challenge that most of us face is when we have incompatible beliefs; that's when reconciling can become, well, important.. However, we can't adequately address incompatible beliefs until we've agreed on what each of us means by the words we use, even if we each mean something different by them.

If we were to stop more often and ask, "What'dya mean by that?", we might find that we disagree on definitions of words (which is no problem as long as we keep a lexicon), but totally agree on beliefs.

Believe it or not.

Happy Friday,

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fall in Step/The Gift of Loving Listening

I have been processing some relational issues for a few days and just started to feel like my head was too small for all the thoughts swirling around.  My brain must have been breaking the speed  limit.  Before I could get a hold of one specific thought, it scampered away into a corner and 10 more jostled for its place.  This issue was demanding exploration and everything else was crawling at a nail's pace, I was so otherwise occupied.  "Mommy, are you going to make the smoothie?" someone asked pleadingly.  It was almost noon and the food consumption tab for the tribe only had two items so far: vegetable juice and water.  Such meager rations reminding me of Oliver Twist, I tried to shake myself out of my snail like pace, clear my head of the bombarding thoughts and get to the work of the day.

Interestingly, this week, I facilitated a discussion on Self Care among some parents of special needs children.  I defined self care as anything a person does that helps them experience more personal health and energy.  What was clear is that parents know what they need, they know when they need it, yet they often times talk themselves out of it, providing arguments that minimize their need in the face of some other issue.  We had a lively discussion about this dilemma, and encouraged each other to be willing to observe it happening more specifically and ask ourselves questions about it.

This morning, I knew I wanted to stop and explore the my responses to a few recent happenings, but I insisted on continuing the tasks at hand.  I had a lot to do, the children needed blah blah blah, I can do the exploration with myself, I have explored this before, who can I call on such short notice, do I really need to talk to someone, ....  Finally, I decided to call my cousin.  We have a great relationship and I knew she would be the non-judgmental presence I needed.

I told the parents this week about my bout with post-partum depression after my first baby.  I remember so clearly getting up one day and deciding to do something about how I felt.  I opened the phone book and called a therapist.  The feeling of relief and calm after setting the appointment was palpable. I decided to act and I acted.  The act of deciding was more therapeutic than the actual therapy.  I regained my position of personal power.

I had the same feeling after deciding to call my cousin.  It was as if I stood up to my full height in the swirling chaos of my thoughts and said, "Order!  First you, then you, next you.." as I pointed out my thoughts and prepared them for an orderly examination.  I decided to resume my position of being in charge.  I was taking care of myself.

When I did call her, she wasn't available.  We scheduled some time in 2 hours, yet when she called me back, there were at least 8 things needing my attention.  Though tempted to try to attend to all 8 things before speaking with her, I stopped.  I paused the reading of "Emily's Runaway Imagination" (quite a fun description of drunk hogs in chapter 2, you should definitely let your young person read it), sat by myself and just talked.  What a wonderful treat!  It's a pleasure to beloved and listened to.  Thank you, Judith!

Loving listening is an amazing gift!  More than anything else, today's experience was organizing.  I got some of those unruly thoughts sorted and filed so that I had access to them for further exploration (which I have been doing all day almost automatically).  It was as if I dumped out the entire contents of my desk drawer, neatly organized it, threw some stuff out, and put the rest back in.  The gift of an extra pair of hands to help with the sorting, without interfering, judging the contents or the state... it was delightful.  I can't say it enough.

So, if you see a frazzled looking mom with some children asking her tons of questions, yet she looks dazed and unable to answer then quickly (or even ask the children to put a pause on the questions) she may just need someone to fall in step with her, take a child by the hand and lovingly listen to her explore what's on her mind.  Maybe you can be that miracle for someone today, as we keep the miraculous happening everyday.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Slow Down

The other day Joy (from Denmark, vs Joy my daughter in Jersey) commented on wanting to improve her speed running. This reminded me of a time when I decided to become athletic and a technique for acquiring speed that I haven't practiced in a long time: In order to do anything fast, you have to do it slow.

Playing Slow
I first discovered the benefits of slowing down at Berklee College of Music. When I applied for admission, I declared piano as my principle instrument. I was a composer and arranger, and although I played sax and flute, I figured I best become good at playing the piano. Nowadays, thanks to sequencers and music software, playing the piano is less important, but in those days, if you wanted to actually hear what you'd composed or arranged, you could either assemble an ensemble or play it on the piano.

One of the many things that overwhelmed me as a novice piano player living and studying among experts is how fast the experts could play. In high school, I'd heard people who could play fast, but never in a manner where each note was precisely positioned and articulated. The speed was accompanied by dynamics and emotion. And to make matters worse, no one seemed to be working that hard at it.

I would spend time pounding through scales as fast as I could. I'd look at the clock and then begin playing a Bach invention trying to improve my time from beginning to end. I got a little faster, but it always felt like work. My forearms and shoulders would tighten up and after a bit I'd simply have to stop playing.

I would emerge from the practice rooms, surrounded by people asking themselves, "How the heck did he get into school here?"

I started wondering the same thing.

Then one day, a guy who was in my arranging class, a blond haired Texan who was one of God's gifts to the piano (in other people's opinion and not his own) , walked up to me after class and said, "Hey man, the key to playing fast is playing slow."

I had no idea what he was talking about. I mean, I could play slow! I wanted to play fast.

He apparently picked up on my line of thought and continued saying:
"What you want to do is find yourself a metronome. Go sit in the practice room and set it set to 60 (beats per minute). Then play your scales one hand at time with one note per beat."

"As you're playing don't focus on your fingers. Play with your whole body. Move from your shoulders. Breathe. Listen."

"After you get your hands working perfectly independently, then put them together. When you get to the point where you can play your scales perfectly at 60, with dynamics and flow, with no tension in your body, set the metronome to 61."
Standing Naked in the Light of Day
So, I walked down the street to the music store, got myself a metronome and headed over to the practice rooms.

You know what? Playing slow is hard. You know how much better you look naked when you're well tanned, the lights are turned down, and the candles are burning? Well, playing the piano super slowly is kind of like standing naked in front of one of those mirrors that shows you front and back, turning the all the lights on and then having someone walk in with a magnifying glass just in case. There's more than enough time to analyze every little thing. There's no gliding past mistakes, even the little tiny ones. Getting your notes to align perfectly with the tick-tick-tick of the metronome is simple, but it ain't easy.

It took me a couple of weeks of practicing hours each day before I could put my hands together and play a respectable C scale. However, I improved. Whereas I was initially hyper-focused on the metronome, trying not to get ahead, trying not to fall behind, after a couple of weeks, the metronome became a friend who I knew would show up exactly on time. My body relaxed and playing became playful. Everything felt easy. After a while, I graduated to 61.

Over the months I progressed from 61 to 180. I went from playing quarter notes to eighth notes to sixteenth notes. I started playing scales in intervals. Whenever I started feeling myself getting sloppy or tight, I would crank everything back down to a speed where I could play well.

Playing slow, worked.

Running Slow
So, when it came time to become athletic, I decided that I wanted to learn to run fast. I'd never been athletic, let alone fast. I grew up being the last one picked for a team and the first one traded away. I never won anything that involved running. I can remember being beat in the 50-yard dash by a kid with chronic asthma who wasn't supposed to exert himself but decided that he could at least beat me.

Nonetheless, when I was thirty or so, I decided that I would become athletic. I started paying attention to what I ate (turns out that carbs are my friends). I learned that, if you exercise rigorously for an hour a day, you can pretty much each whatever you want. I lost weight and I started feeling really good. But I still wasn't fast.

One day, I decided learn to run in a manner similar to how I'd learned to play piano. I ran slowly paying attention to every nuance of my stride: how my foot hit the ground, how my knee moved, where my center of gravity was, where I carried my tension, where my internal clock was. All very slowly, painfully slowly. It was tough because I'd got used to that high you get after working out really hard for an hour. I was running so slowly that my pulse rate increased never reached my aerobic range (let alone my anaerobic range).

However, I got so that I could run slowly without effort, without tension and without pain. And then, slowly, I started to speed things up.

Running slowly worked.

Although, I never got to the point where I was super fast, I could run ten miles (sixteen kilometers) in just under an hour without any pain or residual effect (other than euphoria). I also got so that I loved running.

Thinking Slowly
I can't remember whether it was in Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman or What Do You Care What Other People Think? (read both of them), but in one of his books, quirky Nobel-laureate Richard Feynman talks about how he always had problems reading about physics. He simply couldn't understand anything that he was reading.

One day his sister suggested that he start reading slowly, super slowly: never proceeding to the next phrase until he completely comprehended what he'd read so far. Feynman describes building specific models in his mind as he pursued general theories and concepts. Each time a new step was introduced, he would map it into his specific mental model so that he could see it.

In Surely You're Joking, Feynman writes:
At all these places everybody working in physics would tell me what they were doing and I'd discuss it with them. They would tell me the general problem they were working on, and would begin to write a bunch of equations.

"Wait a minute," I would say. "Is there a particular example of this general problem?"

"Why yes; of course."

"Good. Give me one example." That was for me: I can't understand anything in general unless I'm carrying along in my mind a specific example and watching it go. Some people think in the beginning that I'm kind of slow and I don't understand the problem, because I ask a lot of these "dumb" questions: "Is a cathode plus or minus? Is an an-ion this way, or that way?"

But later, when the guy's in the middle of a bunch of equations, he'll say something and I'll say, "Wait a minute! There's an error! That can't be right!"

The guy looks at his equations, and sure enough, after a while, he finds the mistake and wonders, "How the hell did this guy, who hardly understood at the beginning, find that mistake in the mess of all these equations?"
I think this approach of going slowly and building a mental framework on which you can hang all the things you're learning is wonderfully powerful. If you've ever struggled with math or logic or chemistry or physics, it's probably because you've skimmed quickly past something simple, something that you would normally learn early on, something that seemed inconsequential, but upon which everything else depends. The solution is to stop, go back to the beginning and proceed slowly, never going to the next step until you've mastered the current one.

Slow Down
I bet you can think of something that would benefit from slowing down. If you'd like to try it, there are a few things to remember.

Find a Clock. When going slowly, we all have a tendency to speed up. Going slowly often reveals things we don't particularly like to see. It can feel tedious (typically, because we're still focused on going fast.) Since you'll tend towards speed, it's important to use something outside yourself to establish your pace. It might be a metronome. It might be a treadmill. It might be a series of questions that you ask yourself after reading a paragraph of text.

Pay Attention. Dismiss thoughts on the order of "is this working" or "am I getting faster" and focus on your process, your technique, your method. Notice everything, your breathing, how you're holding your shoulders, where you're carrying tension, the things that distract you.

Be Perfect. OK, this is a case where perfect is actually a quite useful concept. When I was teaching Iris to play flute, one day we stop playing little duets and I asked her to simply play a perfect C-sharp (a C-sharp on the flute involves no fingers on any keys; it's all about your lips, your mouth and your breath.) We must have spent an hour, playing, listening, deciding what could be better, how it could be better and then trying again. We didn't proceed until we had an amazing C-sharp. As you practice slowly, strive to make the simple things perfect.

End Perfectly. We tend to internalize whatever we did last. You can play scales slowly and flawlessly for an hour and then sloppily play just one more really fast. And you know what, it's the mistakes and slop of the last run that stay with you. Why? I don't know. But it seems to be the case. So, always end on a good run, no matter how slowly you have to do it.

Happy sweet and slow Tuesday!