Posts tagged ‘choices’

June 4, 2012

Anger as an Entity

ImageEckart Tolle presented the very compelling metaphor of the “Pain body”. The way Eckart describes it, the “pain body” is an entity separate from us that subsists on our negative thoughts and energy.

I feel this analogy works very well in describing anger. When I get angry, I feel like there is a part of me that continues to seek justification for my anger. My anger may just start out as mild annoyance. When I am mindful of my thoughts, I realize that I can just let the issue go and move on. But, when I start to think about the cause of my annoyance, these thoughts begin to justify my annoyance. With this validated feeling of annoyance, I find myself beginning to observe more life events as potentially annoying. The more this feeling of annoyance is given sustenance; it can then grow into a feeling of general frustration. The more my frustration is fueled by my internal dialogue, that frustration can grow into anger.

For example, the other day I was biking home and a car absent mindedly pulled out from a driveway and almost hit me. The first thought I had was “okay, that person was just not paying attention”. This thought was drown out by another voice clamoring, “forget that, I was almost knocked off my bike. I could have been killed.” The rest of the way home, I focused on every event where a car was not considering bike safety. By the time I got home, I had a general feeling of “poopy-ness.”

Our tendency to become angry is greatly influenced by a thought and physiological response feedback loop.  When we experience a perceived threat, our body is flooded with stress hormones priming us for that edgy feeling. Since we feel the physiological response to stress / anger, we begin to composes a story of what is going on that is consistent with our stressful feeling. Since our stress chemistry typically lasts longer than the stress event, we have a moment where there is a potential inconsistency between our thoughts and our feelings. If we are mindful and are well practiced at observing our thoughts, we can more towards letting it go. However, there is a chance that we will continue to compose an internal story to explain the remaining stress chemistry. Since our thoughts have the power to trigger a stress response, we can be stuck in a stress/anger cycle.

If you find yourself repeatedly becoming annoyed, frustrated or angry, remember that you can take a moment and reflect on your thoughts. You have the power to thing of something different. Stop feeding the anger within.

 

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May 21, 2012

What’s Your Story?

Most of us do not realize the power of our own internal story telling. We assume that our identity if fixed and we are just experience life as it comes to us. What we may not realize is the fact that how we choose to experience our life is influenced by many unconscious assumptions related to how we are “writing” our own story. Once we realize that we are authors of our own story, we are better able to guide the narrative of our lives.

Setting:
The setting is really just where you are in the moment. It is your specific location in time and place. The setting is just part of our story. It can have an influence on us, and our actions. Our current setting does not define us. Just because you may have lived in the same location for your entire life does not mean that that will always be the case. You can change your setting is you so desire. If you do not like a particular setting such as living with someone who gives you more frustration that affection, then you have the ability to leave. Our setting has an influence on us, but it does not control us.
Character:
You have control over the elements of your character. Your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, habits and attitudes guide your actions. How you frame your role in different situations will affect your response and possible outcomes to these events. The role of your character may change depending on the setting, how you view your involvement in the current “plot line” and in relation to the others around you. You may perceive your role as:
– the victim
– the hero
– the complex misunderstood character
– the comic foil
– the central character
– the social observer
– etc.
Remember, you are the one constructing the narrative in your own mind. How do you want to see yourself?
Plot:
We are in control of the perceiving meaning that we discern from our life’s events. However, we do not have control over many things that happen to us. Based on our beliefs of our role in our lives settings and routines, we will distill meaning from what happens to us.
If we see ourselves as the unfortunate victim of life events, the coffee that we accidentally spilled on ourselves on the way to that important job interview will be construed as a tragic element in a series of unfortunate events. We may proceed even further with our internal plot line by acting in some unfortunate subconscious way that leads to a nervous unflattering job interview that leads to losing the prospective new job.
When we see ourselves as the fortunate protagonist, the coffee spilled on our dress shirt will just be a minor obstacle to conquer. Our plucky character will find a napkin and soda water to clean the stain or even would use the incident as a humorous anecdote to start the job interview. Even if this perceived “champion” does not get the job, our internal dialogue will weave the story as just one step of many in the quest for optimal employment.
How we “write” our plot will control how will remember the event. When we tell stories about our lives at the end of the day, it is clear to the plot lines that we see ourselves in and the role our character plays.

In closing, I realize there is so much more to say about this topic. I want to give a shout out to Lem at  The Identity Specialist  (http://identityspecialist.net) and Karen Wan at Writing your destiny (http://writingyourdestiny.com) since they thing about these concepts as well.

Now go write yourself a good story!

May 20, 2012

Ghosts of Habits Past

I fervently wish that I could write to you all and proclaim, “I have made it! I have no more non-productive habits”.  Sheepishly I have to admit that this is not the case.

Lately, I have experienced the influence of old habits as if they were haunting me like an old ghost crying, “feed me”, “pay attention to me” or just “hang out with me like the old days”. These habits can sneak back into our lives since them seem so familiar and in an odd way, comfortable. They fit us like a well-worn pair of shoes, they fit our feet snugly but they stink really badly. These “bad habits” may give us a sense of comfort, but we may forget the customary price we pay each time we engage in them. We may have initially adopted these habits as a form of escape. Now these proverbial “old friends” come and visit like an errant college buddy and sidetrack you from your goals.

When I made a goal to attain my optimal body weight, I worked on developing a new habit of avoiding snacking after 7 PM. This seemed like an easy habit to develop. It made sense that there was no point to eating shortly after dinner and so close to going to bed. One day after having a small party at our house, I was surrounded by crunchy, tasty salty snacks. Unconsciously, I grabbed a bowl of grub and sat down in front of the TV after the kids went to bed. My old habit sat comfortably next to me on the couch.

Some times these unscheduled visits from wayward patterns of former behavior can serve as a reminder of why you tried to leave these unproductive traditions in the past. Another item that was left at our house at our house after the party was multiple forms of alcoholic beverages. I assure you that this plethora of alcohol did not lead to me drinking myself into a drunken stupor every night. However, I did start drinking one or two beers a night for a while. After about a week of this habit, I noticed I was waking up tired and more dehydrated than usual. I also noticed that I did not feel that incredible after drinking as well. I realized that my longstanding habit of drinking socially upon occasion was a lot more enjoyable of daily adult beverage consumption.

Photo Credit: askinyourface.com

The next time old unproductive habits stop by your house for a visit, be cordial and acknowledge what these habits have meant to you. As soon as you can, show these old “friends” out the door.

Related Articles:

–       21 Days To Create a Habit

–       5 Self Improvement Tips

–       Developing Good Habits

May 11, 2012

Choose Well!

Today, I experienced a situation that was a prime example of how choosing your response to a given situation can effect how you feel about a given situation.

This morning, I went surfing with a friend of mine at La Jolla Shores. This surfing spot is characteristically crowded and frequently has surfers of a wide range of abilities. In general, if you get up set if there is someone “in the way” every time you paddle for a wave, you will most likely have a very frustrating surf session. If you surf within your ability and are aware of where everyone is in the lineup, you will more likely enjoy yourself.

For those unfamiliar with surfing, each wave has a “peak” where the wave starts to break. A surfer can choose to surf on the right, or on the left of the peak. On one of the waves that I was planning on paddling into, I clearly pointed right indicating that I was going right and I angled my board to the right so it was clear where I was going. As I stood up on the wave, a surfer who was to my right angrily shouted, “where are you going”? At this point I could choose to respond to this person by explaining to them that I had clearly communicated my intention and that it was all surfer’s responsibility to look both ways down a wave before taking off. The option that I choose was to let it go and keep surfing. Later in my surf sessions, a surfer with less experience got in my way on the inside of the wave causing me to cut out early. This surfer apologized for getting in the way. At this point, I could have chosen to angrily shout, “What are you doing?” Instead I choose to say, “no worries, it is all good” and we chatted for a while about the characteristics of the surf spot.

At the end of the session I felt great. I caught waves consistently. The water was warm and the surf was fairly consistent. By remembering to respond to others with forgiveness and understanding, I was able to remain in a calm, positive emotional space. However, there is an alternative reality of what could have happened. If I had initially chosen to respond to the angry surfer with anger, we would have had an angry exchange in the lineup. We would have both likely “bummed out” the surfers around us and the entire experience would have been defined by that anger. I would currently be writing a story about how inconsiderate other people can by and I would likely frame my role as either the “victim” or “hero”.

Choosing our reactions to situation can be one of the most important things that we control. How we choose to respond can significantly influence the others around us.

Choose well!

Photo Credit: http://www.everyspot.com

May 8, 2012

The Joys of Deadlines

Photo Credit: Emily Dolton amazing wife, mother and artist

Most people do not envision a joyful scene when they hear the word “deadline”. In fact, the word has “dead” right in it. If we said “lifeline” instead, you would think you were on “Who wants to be a Millionaire”.

All kidding aside, deadlines have their benefits. I imagine that most people have at least some aspect of their job that they find less enjoyable than other aspects of their work. Since most work situations require all of the tasks to be done, there are tasks that may need a little boost of motivations. That is where our friend the “deadline” comes in. Once we have established that a task has a deadline, it now has a perceived priority or urgency. This task will then find its’ way to our “to-do” list and placed in the cue to be worked on.

At work, if I did not have deadlines, I would most likely relegate assessment report writing to the status of perennial procrastination.  Luckily (for the fate of my reports) each of these reports come with tangible unyielding deadline. Fortunately for me, having a report deadline helps me prioritize my job responsibilities so I can make the most of my workday.

Recently, our family was motivated by a “deadline”. On May 5, 2012, our garden was a participant in the “Clairemont Garden Tour” (see video of garden here). Before even considering the Garden Tour, we had already accomplished a lot around the house. All the hard-scaping and structures were completed last summer. The main thing that we had not completed was painting our house.  Finishing painting the exterior of our home is the task that benefitted the most by the “deadline” of May 5, 2012. I had started painting our house last September. Over the winter, we had many wet weekends and our kid’s activities and other fun weekend events took priority. A month ago, just about one half of our home was completely painted. A week ago, only one side of the home remained. On May 4th, 2012. The task prioritizing effects of the magic “deadline” facilitated the painting of the complete exterior of our home. I am very thankful for the effect of this deadline since I now have a significant life task off my proverbial “plate”. I would be remiss to leave out that this deadline also helped get the entire home clean from inside and out. The house looks the best that I have seen it!

Another benefit of deadlines is that deadlines can stimulate the decision making process. When you are “down to the wire” on a deadline, you really need to consider what is essential to your mission and take the necessary action. When my wife (who is the creative genius behind the garden endeavor) was performing her finishing touches on the garden, she had to leave out a few artistic elements from the final reveal. She ultimately focused on the tasks that would generate the greatest amount of benefit for the moment fellow gardeners started visiting.

The next time you hear the word “deadline”, remember that this tool can actually help you decrease task stress by giving you a method to prioritize your work. Deadlines help kick things in gear and encourages you to make the “tough decisions”. Deadlines are just another form of a “lifeline”.

May 3, 2012

Embrace the continuum

I have found that life is rarely “black and white” and most things have at least some “shades of gray”. Though our brain typically likes to organize things into neat little categories such as “black or white” or “good or bad” since this easy heuristic helps us process 400 billions of pieces of information per second. We may notice that when we ponder situations that we are more familiar with, we are able to understand that these situations are best expressed in the forms of a continuum.

When I was a teenager, I was introduced to the “yin-yang” symbol. I felt that this symbol is an excellent representation of the balance of life. Some things are more “light” than “dark” and other things are more “dark” than “light”. For example, people are rarely “all bad” or “all good”. When considering the political spectrum, there are people that are “all the way to the right”, there are people “in the center” and people “all the way to the left”.

As I write my blog of “influence versus control”, I fully acknowledge that the line between influence and control can be expressed as a continuum as well. When we consider health, we have control of all the habits that lead to good health including getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating well. However, we cannot control if we get sick or not. When considering wealth, we can control how much we spend. If we earn a paycheck, we can control how much comes in each month. If we earn a commission, we have greater influence on how much money we could earn in a month, but we cannot control weather other will buy our product. We also do not have control of unforeseen expenses such as flying across country to visit a sick family member.

All in all, it is wise to consider the shades of gray. When considering an action, it is helpful to write a list of the pros and cons and see if this action has a greater chance of benefit than detriment. Life is too colorful to be seen as just “black and white”.

 

April 13, 2012

Finding your Rhythm

When changing a habit or when adding a new activity to your lifestyle, it is helpful to find a time for this new habit/routine.  If we do not know where to place this new habit/routine into our schedule, it is very easy to forget to perform this activity. Once you habit becomes a part of your daily rhythm, it is a lot easier to maintain.

For my own “habit change challenge”, I found that that only way that I could be consistent with implementing my target habits was to find a regular place for them in my daily schedule. Since I have two young children, I found it was best to add my new activities during times of the day when my children are asleep. In the morning, I exercise, meditated and listen to positive meditation podcasts. At night, I blog, journal my successes and list the things for which I am grateful.  Having this structure in place has helped immensely. I have been waking up early and exercising for over a year. After exercising, I have just enough time to shower, get dressed, make lunch, eat breakfast, kiss the family goodbye and leave for work. I have found that I needed to meditate and perform my affirmations before my workout since it was better to have a slightly shorter workout than to miss the opportunity to perform these activities all together.

What works for you! Please share your ideas of ensuring that you have time for some positive time for yourself.

April 12, 2012

Success may come….

… when you least expect it

Sometimes progress or goal completion come to fruition in due time. There have been many moments in my life when things appear to “happen” without much effort.

For example, I will a bunch of items on my “To-Do” list and then forget to look at that specific list for a couple of weeks. The next time I look at the list, I notice that about 90% of the items have been completed. In this case, the items written on the initial list were likely incorporated into my unconscious processing. Therefore, I kept on working towards this list without much conscious thought. The thought behind the practice of looking at your goals / vision board/ mission statement / affirmations on a daily basis is that the more that we consider where we want to go, it is more likely that our unconscious thought processes will problem solve the way to our envisioned destination.

Other times, things just happen when the right conditions are in place. You may wait for years for a project or an idea to be approved. Once there has been a change of management, you find that your idea now has a lot of support.

Honestly, all I really wanted to say is that my son started riding his bike without training wheels yesterday. I am very appreciative for this accomplishment. We had been trying to get him to ride his bike a few times without training wheels with limited success. He would let the bike fall over or he would be completely resistant to the idea of riding his bike. Since he was not showing any interest in riding his bike, I did not think of asking him to ride his bike since last November. In the last few months, he has had more fun riding his kick-scooter. Yesterday, I thought we would just bring the bike to the park. At our local park, there is about a 100-yard path from the parking lot to the play structure. I thought practicing biking on the way to the play structure would be a worth attempt for the day. The first time my son started pedaling, he required some support on his seat. The 2nd through 5th attempts, he tried to pedal on his own. On his 6th attempt, he was up and running. For the rest of the day he did not need any help. He started pedaling the bike on his own and he demonstrated great balance. As we were packing up at the end of the trip, he asked to bike some more. Some things just need time.

The next time you “hit a wall” or roadblock, it may be helpful to place the project aside for a while to give yourself some breathing room. You may just find that when you come back to it, a solution to the roadblock will become apparent or the roadblock will no longer be there.

Good luck with all your endeavors.

March 28, 2012

Habit Change Challenge

 We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. ~ Aristotle

Motivation is what gets you started.  Habit is what keeps you going.  ~Jim Ryun

A habit is something you can do without thinking – which is why most of us have so many of them.  ~Frank A. Clark

The unfortunate thing about this world is that good habits are so much easier to give up than bad ones.  ~Somerset Maugham

I have heard so much about the notion that it takes 21 days to change a habit, that I just thought of this as fact. As I was getting ready to write this, I discovered the that notion of the 21-day habit change theory only goes back to one primary source, Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s book titled, ”Psycho-Cybernetics”. One source is hardly hard science. However, committing to 21 days of working on a habit can at the very least develop a pattern.

Alcoholics Anonymous has been working on helping people change destructive habits one day at a time. When we focus on making a commitment on a daily basis, we can focus on the moment and we reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by our goal.

Whether it is 21 days in a row or just a day at a time, I had the following suggestions of some positive habits to try on:

  • –       Meditate, pray or find some quiet time for yourself for one minute or more per day.
  • –       Exercise for at least 10 minutes per day
  • –       Create a journal with at least one item of gratitude per day
  • –       Create a journal with at least one item of Success per day.

Of course these four items could be expanded. I am all for more exercise, more meditation, more success and more gratitude. In fact, you could add more habits such as getting adequate sleep and eating right. Sometimes it is good to start with sustainable habits to get the momentum going.

Want to join me for 21 days?

March 27, 2012

Responding to Gossip

I have wanted to write something about gossip for some time. I thought it would be easy. I thought I could just write “gossip is bad, avoid it at all costs”. Unfortunately for me, this is much more of a nuanced subject. In 2006, Jennifer Bosson published a paper demonstrating disliking a third person creates a more powerful social connection than a mutual preference for somebody. This supplies us with another example that the world is not simply “Black or White”.

When reviewing the literature on gossip, there are challenges on how to define gossip. Is gossip just a conversation about a third party without the third party present? Is it gossip only when we are talking about someone we know, or is talking about a celebrity count? Is it gossip if we are “talking smack” about someone who is in earshot (like children have been observed to do)?

In Eric K. Foster’s paper “Research on Gossip: Taxonomy, Methods, and Future Directions” (Review of General Psychology, 2004, Vol. 8, No. 2, 78–99) it is stated that a common definition of gossip for research purposes is: “In a context of congeniality, gossip is the exchange of personal information (positive or negative) in an evaluative way (positive or negative) about absent third parties.

Eric K. Foster’s paper breaks down gossip into major social functions including: information, entertainment, friendship (or intimacy), influence and evolutionary utility.

Information: Gossip can be an effective tool of distributing information. Historically, before the advent of print media, radio, television and the Internet, most information was passed through an oral tradition (gossip). In smaller social groups, gossip is how group members exchange information about each other.

Entertainment: Gossiping for entertainment’s sake does not need to be malevolent in nature. In this instance the gossiper and gossipee may just exchange information about third parties without any salacious details. However, more “sensitive” or controversial information is often seen as more entertaining gossip. In this context, the enjoyment of the gossip is considered more important than the information itself.

Friendship: “The friendship or intimacy function of gossiping refers both to dyadic interchanges and to the way in which gossip brings groups together through the sharing of norms, thereby establishing boundaries to distinguish insiders from outsiders.”

The 2006, Jennifer Bosson study on gossip fits into this category. When two “strangers” meet and find they have a mutual dislike for a third party, the gossip about the third party creates a new “in group” and the “strangers” now feel that they have something in common. Gossip for the sake of friendship can be positive in the sense that gossip can enhance the social bond between select people. The downside of this type of gossip is being on the out-group, where this type of gossip may lead to one feeling like a victim of the gossip of the in-group.

Influence: Gossip has the power of significantly influencing our behavior. Many of us fear being “caught” engaging in a behavior that our “in-group” may deem odd, eccentric or a violation of a social norm, since this violation will be likely topic of gossip. If we know that rule violations are spread quickly through our social group, our behavior is greatly influenced. This type of social functioning is “positive” if gossip is used to dissuade a group member of engaging in an activity that is harmful to a group. However, the influence function of gossip is “negative” if this social mechanism targets freedom of self-expression, religion, political affiliation etc.

Evolutionary Utility: This is the type of gossip that keeps cousins from marrying Cousins and alerts community members to the health risk of interacting with “infectious” people. In the old days, the matrimonial custom of “speak now, or forever hold your piece” was essentially a query to the local community of; “Hey folks, the word has been out for a while that these two are going to get married. Does anybody know if these two are related?”  In Malawi, a country in southeast Africa, gossiping is used to alert community members as to who has HIV and who does not (see This American Life).

As we have seen, gossip does provide some social functions. However, as many of us has experienced, there is definitely a “down-side” to gossip.

Reputation – Gossip can be used as a tool to harm someone’s reputation. During every political cycle, one party brings up a tawdry piece of gossip about the other party. This type of gossip can be based on truth, or completely fabricated.

*Response: When you hear about a piece of gossip that is obviously designed to “take someone down”, remain objective. Look to a neutral third party for verification. If this piece of gossip does not affect you ignore it. Do NOT pass it on if you have any doubts to the intent or veracity of the gossip!

Productivity – Idle gossip, though “entertaining” is unproductive. Excessive gossip at work or school lowers overall productivity. If the work environment allows any gossip that maligns the character of any employee, there is a great chance of a “toxic work environment” being created where gossip wars are fought by varying in-groups.

*Response: When you hear co-workers gossip on a continual basis, resist the urge to join the chorus. Sometimes it can be valuable to change the topic to something more positive or at least something bases on facts. Whenever possible, it is best to stay out of gossip between “warring factions” at work.

Self-Esteem: Hearing gossip about oneself can be harmful to your sense of wellbeing.

*Response:

  1. Remember that you are in control of how you choose to think, feel and react. You can always ignore gossip if you have the feeling that it is innocuous and it will just go away.
  2. Be wary of the truthfulness of all gossip. Avoid being “Iago-ed”! In Othello, Iago continued to fill Othello’s ears with lies until (SPOILER ALERT) Othello killed his wife. If someone is telling us gossip that they heard someone else say, consider their motivation. Are they trying to get you in their in-group? Are they trying to socially isolate you? Are they honestly trying to be helpful?
  3. Refrain from retaliation. Once you retaliate, you are an active participant the “gossip game” and with any game, there is a great chance you may lose. Spreading gossip makes you a target for more gossip.
  4. Set the record straight.  If someone is saying something that is untrue, make sure the truth is known. If gossip is happening at work, it is best to inform your employer. However, it is your boss that is spreading gossip about you, it may be wise to consider human resources or your union representation.
  5. Share what you want shared. Sometimes it is best to keep your private life private. If you don’t want your co-workers to think that you are an “irresponsible drunk”, don’t talk about the one time that you drank too much.

It would be easy to say, “gossip is the problem”. However, gossip has historically been a positive force of social communication. The challenge comes with how we use gossip or respond to gossip. I hope that you are able to learn to be mindful of gossip to strengthen social bonds as well as being able to respond to gossip so you can maintain high self-esteem.

All comments/ feedback are appreciated. (Rumors and innuendo are discouraged).