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skills and tools for developing mastery and fostering creativity

FIND YOUR OWN VOICE

FIND YOUR OWN VOICE

Probably every wanna-be Creative has been told (at some point or other) that in order to reach their full potential as a writer, visual artist, musician, performer or whatever, it is imperative to “find your own voice.”

Now, in the Age of Social Media and Self-Branding — when the “Creative Mindset” is supposed to be The Way to $ucce$$ and Happiness — we are told that we must go looking for our individual, unique voices.  Our success depends on it.

I confess, I almost lost it when a pragmatic, more literal-minded friend snarked, “I KNOW where my voice is.  It’s right here in my mouth!”  Gales of laughter came bubbling up.

Explaining this “voice” thing gets confusing because even people who are engaged in developing themselves in a craft or an art or some other skill that doesn’t use words and doesn’t engage the mouth’s ability to make sounds can get all tangled up in trying to figure out how to find their own “voice.”

Now that the business world has turned on to getting creative, it seems that everyone wrestles with the idea of developing a voice.

There are Titans out there – the guys who built empires using their strengths and compensating for their weaknesses by surrounding themselves with people who have other, complementary strengths.  Lots of people admire them and want to be them.

There are Mega-Stars and Rainmakers and Heroes and Idols and Headliners and Leaders and Big Cheeses and High Muckamucks and Household Names and Treasures and Wonders and Leading Lights and so on and so forth, ad nauseum.  

Every one of them will probably tell you that they reached the stratosphere of massive accomplishments because they were successful in finding their own unique “voice.”

WHAT IS YOUR VOICE?

This concept of the elusive “voice” all wanna-be Successes are supposed to be nurturing is the crux of a story I encountered in a blog published by a flamenco dance teacher, Rina Orellana.

She relates how students come to her asking, “How do I find my voice?  How do I allow myself to become the dancer I want to be?”

When dancers ask her this, she says, to her it’s an indication that the dancer is “not quite comfortable in their skin.  They’re thinking too much and not feeling or allowing themselves to be in the movement.”

Her advice to these students is particularly insightful, I think.

Orellana tells them that they “need to allow themselves to be the bad-asses that they are” and she reminds them to “look at themselves in the mirror not to correct any physical part of the dance but to CONNECT with themselves as the person dancing.”

She assures them that looking at themselves in the mirror with acceptance will ultimately lead to their being confident in their movement and in their skin.

flamenco-dancer
“Flamenco Dancer” by Natalia Ba via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Being comfortable in your own skin is how you tell when you are speaking with your own voice.

Your “voice” is how you’re recognized by others.  It’s the “tone” and the themes of your body of work (whatever it is).

Every time you do anything that other people notice, whether you’re an artist, a businessperson, an intellectual, a scientist or a geek, you are also putting your values and the unique perspectives and skills you bring to your work on display.

What is on display is the meaning and the mana that you have developed so far in your life.  Your work shows how you are standing in the world.

Like every other human thing, your “voice” changes as you grow and evolve.  It develops nuances and layers.  It deepens.  It may develop greater clarity or get muddied up by life-induced confusions.

TWO TEACHERS

As an accomplished dancer and teacher, Ornella says, she cannot help passing along her own ways of moving and styling as well as the basic theories and techniques surrounding the craft.

However, in the middle of all that, her aim as a teacher is to encourage each individual dancer to find and focus on the movements that feel “right” for the dancer and to explore the rhythms that resonate.

Kevin Fitz-Gerald, a professor at the USC Thornton School of Music, in this YouTube Video “ARTS: Finding Your Voice,” which was published by the school in 2007, agrees with Ornella.  The video was produced by artistshousemusic.org.

As Fitz-Gerald points out in the video, the things that his students point to as things they don’t like about themselves are very often what sets them apart and makes them unique individuals.  It is those things that can help them move beyond being “average” or “mediocre” and generic.

Both of these teachers advise their students to discover and develop their own natural strengths and make allowances for their inherent weaknesses and limitations by working on improving their techniques and by choosing a framework within which they can reach for their best work.

Both of them say that you will only be able to discover and use your own voice to present a message that is unique to you when you are able to explore and accept the whole package that is you.

VOICE, AUDIENCE AND YOU

All performers (and businesspeople are performers too) need an audience.  It’s part of the dynamic of this self-expression jones Creatives have. They trip out on the reactions they can engender in their audiences.

Every Creative understands that their audience will have an effect on how the artist does what he or she does.  Often the audience will determine whether the artist can continue to do it.

As a performer you want your audience to actually see who you are.  You want them to pay attention to what you have to say.  The audience doesn’t have to like what you say.  They don’t even have to like you.

Getting these others to pay attention to what you need to say can be the most important, life-affirming thing a human can do.

As a young girl who was a victim of sexual abuse by a trusted adult, acclaimed poet Maya Angelou had to choose between going silent and remaining trapped in an untenable situation or finding and using her own voice to get the help she needed to escape and to transcend this soul-shattering thing.

The girl chose to speak, and she kept on speaking and affirming life throughout her long and productive time on this earth.

In this YouTube Video, “Finding My Voice,” published in 2010 by visionaryproject, she tells how she brings herself out of her inherent tendency to go silent and closing herself down by deliberately making herself speak and speak and speak.

As Angelou points out in the video, mutism and freezing when overwhelmed by the circumstances in your life can be a very dangerous thing.  It can become too comfortable.

You become invisible.

Angelou was acclaimed as a poet, story-teller, and writer.  At one point she became an actress, playwright, producer, and director.  She was renowned as an educator and as a civil rights activist.

Angelou died in 2014, at the age of 86.  Throughout her long life, she was not invisible.

THE SHAPE OF THE SELF YOU SHOW

Your audience – anybody who’s watching what you do – will respond to the You that you present to them in your performance.  They can only know what you choose to show.

Maybe you’ve decided to spend your time imitating what those who have become the icons and the “best-of-class” in your field do. Maybe, you think, if you do what they did, then you will glow with their kind of shine.

There’s only one problem with doing this:  The You that you are showing to your audience will never be more than just a copy of somebody else.

For example, there are excellent Elvis imitators out there.  They serve a useful function:  They help keep the legend of that good ole boy alive.  But, really…off the top of your head, can you actually recall the names of these performers?

fat-elvis
“Fat Elvis (#2)” by allison via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
The same is also true in any other field of human endeavor.   Imitation is its own reward.  Maybe you win a lot.  Mostly not.

I suppose, “finding your voice” is all about choosing the You that you want the World to know.  And, probably, you do hope that the You that you choose to show will not be ignored, dismissed or mocked.

Let’s be frank here.  You really do want at least some of the other people in this world to like that self you’re showing them because, basically, you do need to win enough support for what you are trying to do so you can keep on doing it.

Part of that is a matter of survival.  You have to eat.  You need a place to lay your head that’s more comfortable than a piece of cardboard under some highway underpass.  You need to take care of the people you love too.

And you have to achieve all that among all these other people (seven billion and counting) who are wanting to do the same thing as well.

However, it seems to me that if you’re any kind of a Maker, what you really want out of all this dancing around is to get to a place where you will have the freedom to get on with doing what you like to do best.

fountain-dance
“Fountain Dance” by Diana Lee Photography via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

HOW DO YOU GET ON THE BUS?

The biggest problem with all this head-scratching and mooning around trying to hear your own voice is, as jazz great Miles Davis once pointed out, often a matter of spending enough time just doing what you want to do.  Miles said, “Sometimes you have to play for a long time to be able to play like yourself.”

For one thing, there are a lot of different “selves” inside every one of us.

All the wise guys and smarty-pants agree.  All of us humans are pretty much assemblages, made up of the bits and pieces we’ve picked up over time from the other people around us as we continue to wander through the world.

These assorted bits get glued onto the basic package. Sometimes all those life-bits turn us into lumpy messes.

To find the self that best encourages other people to respond positively to your spending your days in ways that resonate with that self you actually started out being can be a bitch of a project.

Every hour of every day and night you’re dealing with the pressures and demands of all of your dailynesses.  Work, and the needs of your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors, and your stuff eat up your time.

Trying to deal with satisfying other people’s priorities, goals and expectations and maintain the life you’ve become accustomed to is often simply overwhelming.

Now, on top of that, we’re supposed to dig out our true selves and find our own voice as well?  Ri-i-i-ght….

dizzy-wood
“Dizzy Wood” by Marco Nürnberger via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Todd Henry is the founder of Accidental Creative, a company that works with people and companies all over the world to foster creativity, productivity, leadership and passion for work.

His book, LOUDER THAN WORDS: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, is a good one to explore if you choose to accept this latest mission:  finding out who you are and what you want to say and do and then figuring out how to get other people to buy into that.

Besides explaining why finding your voice is important if you are looking for the meaning and mana in your ordinary life and in your work, Henry puts forward questions to ask and ways to find your own answers to them.

Here’s a list that he put together:

  • What angers you? What triggers an urge in you to rectify a great wrong?
  • What makes you cry?
  • What have you mastered? What do you do well?
  • What gives you hope? What do you look forward to?
  • As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  • If you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do?
  • What would blow your mind?
  • What platform do you own?
  • What change would you like to see in the world?
  • If you had one day left, how would you spend it?

YET ANOTHER 30-DAY CHALLENGE SERIES

It occurred to me that Henry’s question list would make good 30-day challenge material.  Here’s the how-to:

  1. Grab an ordinary small-kid kind of composition notebook and a pen and label it “The Voice Project.” (No need to get fancy with this.)
  2. Now, choose one of those Henry questions or make one up that’s your own, then make a commitment that for just ten minutes every day for the next 30 days, you will think on that one question and write down your answer to it in that notebook you’ve labeled. (If the time you take to answer the question stretches past the five minutes, that’s fine too.)
  3. Do this notebook thing every day for 30 days.   Be honest with yourself.  Nobody else is going to see this thing.  Just you.
  4. If it starts to get boring, you might want to use colors and drawings and other stuff to illustrate the thing. Cut out magazine pictures and stick them in there.    Write a poem.  Whatever.  Have fun with it, but answer the question.
  5. By the end of that time, you’ll at least get some idea about the kinds of thoughts that arise when you ask yourself this one question.
  6. After you finish the first 30-day challenge with the question of your choice, do it again for the next question, then the next, then the next.

Ten minutes a day for thirty days equals 300 minutes – a minimum of 5 hours total in a 720-hour time period.

It’s less than the time spent attending yet another workshop or working your way through one more online course.

It’s less time than the time spent participating in networking events listening to everybody else’s pitches and slinging some your own self.

In between the question-answering sessions, you might want to go back and read over and look at the stuff you’ve produced.  You might ask yourself whether you really agree with all this blather and B.S. you’re shoveling.

That’s when you really start figuring out what you actually think about the thoughts you think.  You find the shape of your own basic self – the one that just sits there waiting for you to notice.

It gets to be quite fascinating after a while.

composing
“Composing – 67/365” by Andreanna Maya via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
I notice that the weirdest result of this little exercise is how just answering these questions and others like them affects you in your daily life.

You might start doing things that surprise you:  accepting an invitation to a gathering that you might normally not consider, taking on some project or supporting a cause that resonates strongly with you, or trying something you never tried before just to see whether you might like it.

These things may have some pretty amazing results.  It can be a very good thing.

Here’s a poem:


THAT IS THE SAD

Melancholy sits, a knot at the small of my back,

My companion as I walk through sunshine and through rain,

As I do my days,

Charging at windmills,

Taking in the wonderments,

Drinking down the joyousness,

Choking on the tears.

 

Maybe I’m understanding now:

The sadness is only the residue

Left behind as a flood flows

Through my heart cave yet again,

Leaving behind a high-water mark.

 

You know, of course, that all that shiny stuff

Running through all of our heart-caves are

Tributaries that merge together into a great river

Running through this ancient universe,

Pumped out by the jostling masses of living creatures,

Flowing all together like the notes of one grand song.

 

The birds singing their morning hosannas as they greet the sun

Go on through their day with the sound of that

Mighty chorus sounding in their ears,

Content that they’ve established their place in the world.

 

I am thinking we humans are no less connected than they,

But ours is a darker richer song,

Its complexity woven into our days and nights like a subsonic rumble

As we delude ourselves into believing we are immune –

Apart somehow – from the music we are making,

That grandiloquence that touches the edges of our own universe and beyond.

 

We fool ourselves and think we can sidestep the consequences

Of our myriad tiny choices,

That we can stand apart and inviolate, away from the all of everything.

And so we stand uncertain, unsure that this how, this place is righteously ours…

Unlike the bold birds who understand otherwise.

 

That’s the deep sadness, I am thinking,

The “suffering” wise guys ponder – this forgetting that is uniquely human –

The disremembering that, one and all, we are

The favored children of this old universe…

Welcome, gifted and alive,

Swimming in the same golden stream.

 

That willful denial keeps us grabbing at the silly, glittering flotsam,

That awful lostness rasps and scrapes us raw,

Dogging our days and trotting us around all crazy.

That’s the sad, I think.

That’s the suffering.

By Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit: “Who Is Speaking?” by Daniel Horacio Agostini via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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USE YOUR FEAR AS RADAR

USE YOUR FEAR AS RADAR

How many times has THIS happened?

You have a really crazy idea that you absolutely, deep down in the pit of your stomach, KNOW will be totally RIGHT for you.  You want this.  You irrefutably NEED this!

You get a truly awesome limited-time chance to make it happen and it is imperative that you do this thing right now, or else….well, you just keep doing whatever you’re already doing.

Right then fear will rear its ugly head.

You get the shivers running up and down your spine.  All the hair on your body — on your arms and behind your neck — stand up.   Sweat pours out of you.

Your eyes narrow down and your nostrils flare as you get really, really focused and all the Boogey-Man thoughts take over your brain.

Your head aches because all of your internal sirens are wailing and every one of the alarm bells are bonging and clanging.

Maybe you start trembling.  Maybe you want to cry.  Maybe you want to throw up.

You get tense and you are all ready to rabbit away…run-run-RUN!  Or you freeze in place, paralyzed by all the noise in your head.

panic-attack
“Panic Attack” by James Barkman via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
(Yeah, yeah, I know.  I’m exaggerating a bit.  Sometimes you’ll just get a squirmy feeling in the pit of your stomach, nervous foot-shuffling and a really dry throat.  Other times it’s just a teensy twinge of tingly nerve endings rather than a full-blown panic attack.)

WARNING!  WARNING!  WOOT!  WOOT!  WOOT!

I’ll bet that every time you were on the verge of doing something that was different than what you had done before — every time you tried to push the edges of your comfort zone and every time you tried to go somewhere or do something that you really wanted to do or faced something that was new-to-you and most uncertain — all this trauma-drama showed up like a scary pop-up.

It is a given:  Fear will show up EVERY time you’re growing or going in the direction of your dreams and every time you have to face something new or different or other.

Fear always shows up when you are getting ready to undergo any kind of change — anything that disrupts the life you’ve known so far.

It doesn’t matter that the change is going to bring good things into your life or stop bad things from happening.

It’s Change-with-a-capital-C, and with change there will always be that feeling of risk.  There will always be the feeling that you’re stepping out of line somehow.

out-into-the-world
“Out Into the World” by Aaron Hawkins in Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Basically, the smarty-pants who study such things say that all these body-symptoms of fear are like the blip-blip-blip of the standard-issue radar equipment that’s part of your internal early warning system.

As you go through your day, your mind always scans ahead, looking for things that are out of place or different.  When it detects something that is not-the-same, your brain responds by sending out these fear signals throughout your body.

Fear puts you on alert.  This is fear’s job.  It gets you ready to respond to whatever is coming out of the ethers at you.

Fear is a signal that you are moving into a situation that is different than what you’ve experienced so far.

It is invaluable when you are facing situations that are dangerous and/or life-threatening.

(If you’ve survived for a while in the world, you’ll probably be able to recognize those dangerous or dicey situations easily enough and can work on figuring out how to avoid, mitigate or arrest any developing debacles.)

It becomes problematic, however, when the fear-signals trip you up on your way to your own kind of better.

WHEN THERE’S A TIME-LIMIT

The worst thing about this automatic response-readying system we call “fear” is that it can screw up your ability to take an appropriate action at the time when it’s really needed.

There are times when you are one critical choice away from accepting an opportunity to move forward and reach towards whatever goal you’ve set and that choice is in-your-face right NOW.

freedom
“Freedom” by Padraig O’G via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
If you let the fear-signals stop you, the chance for change will dissipate.  It just won’t be there anymore.

Maybe that’s okay for you.

But, what if it’s not?

In one of his blog posts, productivity and marketing guru  Seth Godin once pointed out, “By the time the fear subsides, it will be too late. By the time you’re not afraid of what you were planning to start/say/do, someone else will have already done it, it will already be said or it will be irrelevant.”

Godin advises that you can use your fear-signals to guide you in your actions.  Rather than shying away or coming to a dead stop, he suggests that you go towards that thing that’s scaring you.

He says, “The reason you’re afraid is that there’s leverage here, something that might happen. Which is exactly the signal you’re looking for.”

If you can make a practice of moving forward to meet and deal with your fear of the opportunity you have been given to make progress in the direction you want to go and to do what you really want to do, then maybe you’ll be able to find more and more ways to keep on doing that.

Maybe you’ll even grow enough to be able to keep on doing it over and over again until you make your dream become real.

go
“GO” by Ludovic Bertron via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
The quintessential go-for-it guy, Richard Branson, once said, “Don’t let fear hold you back from achieving your full potential…I know I’d rather look back on life and say ‘I can’t believe I did that’ than ‘I wish I’d done that’.  How about you?”

HOW TO GET MOVING WHEN YOU’RE SCARED

The thing you have to understand, though, is that your body is really lousy at math and logic.

Rational thoughts and piles of paper spreadsheets, goals, schedules, and lists of pros and cons as well as to-do lists constructed in your more lucid moments do not help make the fearful, fearsome blip-blip-blipping stop.

Being all prepared and everything won’t get you moving.

clutching-her-foot
“Clutching Her Foot…” by Christopher via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
This YouTube Video, “The Secret to Stopping Fear and Anxiety (That Actually Works) was published in 2017 by motivational speaker Melanie “Mel” Robbins.  She is an on-air commentator on CNN, a television host and a serial entrepreneur.

Her book, THE 5-SECOND RULE:  Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence With Everyday Courage, goes into detail about the many flavors of fear, anxiety and other negative thoughts.  It presents assorted techniques and strategies that allow you to stop fear and anxiety from tripping you up.

The technique Robbins demonstrates in her video is one she developed to help people understand that the kind of fear you experience when you are trying to do something outside your own comfort zone can actually be reframed as “excitement” and can be used to push yourself forward.

“The secret isn’t knowing what to do – it’s knowing how to make yourself do it,” she says.

Here’s a poem:


CALLING OUT CAMP GIRL

Camp girl, camp girl,

Those tiny, tiny dreams of yours are

Way too small for the wings you’ve grown.

Time to spread those wings out now,

Make the world your own.

 

Camp girl, camp girl,

You’ve been growing big inside.

Playing small won’t cut it now.

There’s no more need to hide.

 

Camp girl, camp girl,

Winds are calling your name, and

The old fears don’t hold sway.

Now is the time…

It’s your turn to play.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Radar Star” by eskwebdesign via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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JUST PAY ATTENTION

JUST PAY ATTENTION

“Pay attention!”  What happens in your head when you hear those words?

Childhood memories of parents, teachers and other Big People ordering you to do it probably aren’t your fondest memories.  It almost always meant, “I’m going to tell you something you probably are not interested in or something you don’t want to hear.  Listen anyway!”

pay-attention
“Pay Attention” by Nigel Goodman via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Public address and warning system pronouncements and alerts that begin with “Attention!” are either boring, unintelligible, or scary…stuff that produces sinking feelings in the pit of your belly or a blank-out of white noise in your head.

In the military and other groups, “Attention!” is an order.   There’s even a special, specified way to “stand at attention” that indicates to the leader-person that you are, indeed, alert and ready to receive your next order.

team-moo
“Team Moo” by will_cylist via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
I suspect that whenever most of us hear the call for attention, there’s a kind of automatic shut-down.

For many of us, our attitude on being ordered to attend to something is summed up by Quora contributor Josh Manson’s comment in this 2015 thread that centered around defining the meaning of the phrase:

I am too broke to pay attention most of the time.

I’m too broke to pay my respect to anything.

I am ok with paying no mind to things that don’t concern me.

To pay means to give something of yourself to another. It is normally associated with money, so we don’t need to specify anything when it’s money we pay, it will be assumed. But to pay attention or pay respect is still giving something of yourself to another.

One question that springs to mind is this: “Okay, so I pay attention.  What does that buy me?”

THE VALUE OF PAYING ATTENTION

As adults, the value of paying attention is likely to be self-evident.  Somehow, we know, it’s the key to many things related to our lives.

  • We have to pay attention to walk across a busy street.
  • Our self-esteem and the authenticity of the way we walk develop according to the attention we give to our own thoughts and feelings, needs and values, beliefs and ideas.
  • Our happiness and the satisfaction and fulfillment we feel as we meet the goals and aspirations we set for ourselves is enhanced by our attention.
  • Our relationships and the communities we build are a lot more satisfying if we actually pay attention to each other and to the world around us.
  • Our business affairs, our careers, and the work we do to develop various skills require our attention.
  • Learning anything new demands our focused attention.
  • Our finances certainly benefit from our attention.
  • If we have health issues, we need to pay attention to our way of living in order to heal ourselves.

We can miss many of the moments of our life because we are not fully present for them and are moving around on auto-pilot, going through our daily routines, unaware of what we’re doing or experiencing as we ignore the world around us and multi-task our way through our days.

pay-no-attention-to-the-blues-singer-in-the-rear
“pay no attention to the blues singer in the rear” by Mary via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

ATTENTION VS JUDGMENT

Okay.  Now it gets convoluted.

In order to do this “paying attention” thing right – the kind that can change our lives — first we have to understand that there is a difference between “attention” and “judgment.”  Very often the definitions of those two words get mixed up.

Attention is neutral.  We just notice something.  We “pay attention” to it and see that whatever we are noticing is just there and we are there with it.

Judgment, on the other hand, is what comes after the noticing.  We humans are really, REALLY good at doing and fixing and solving stuff.  Because we are bent that way, we tend to look at everything we see as something that needs to be assessed, critiqued, and then probably “fixed” or rejected or enhanced.  We want to do something with this thing we noticed.  We jump right in and start rearranging and moving stuff around.

We even do it to each other, which leads to all kinds of story-making, poetry, tragedy and comedy and such and all sorts of turmoil in our lives.

While “judgment” is certainly useful, it is not “attention.”

Attention is about noticing and being with something without trying to change it.  Attention means taking the time to fully explore, to discover whatever there is to know about something, and to watch as things change by themselves with no interference from us.

everyone-paying-attention
“Everyone paying attention” by André Luís via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
Hmmm….

Isn’t that starting to sound familiar?  It’s like that stuff we’ve heard from all kinds of wise guys about “being mindful” doesn’t it?

It’s also a lot like what all those life-coaches and love counselors tell us about the most effective ways to enhance our relationships with others:  Be open.  Notice all those other people without judgment or criticism, welcome them, accept them, be patient, be kind.

The same advice applies to developing your relationship to your own self.  (The best thing about being an adult is that we also have the capacity and the wherewithal to pay attention and to nurture our own selves as well.)

And the key to all of that is just simply to “pay attention.”

YOUR BRAIN ON “PAYING ATTENTION”

It’s an amazing thing.  Numerous studies by neurologists and other smarty-pants scientists keep showing that the way we think and what we pay attention to does physically affect us and have tremendous impact on our lives.  Those wise guys of old were right!

One 2009 best-seller book, BUDDHA’S BRAIN:  The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson, PhD with Richard Mendius, mixes neuroscientific breakthroughs with ancient wisdom teachings from thousands of years of contemplative practice and is filled with information about the practical tools and skills that help you deal with life in our complex and complicated modern world.

Hanson, a psychologist and a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley California, is also the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom.  According to him, the scientists have found that “attention shapes the brain.”

What we pay attention to is literally what we will build in our brain tissue.  Whatever we focus on affects how the neurons in our brains develop and wire themselves together.

This YouTube video, “How To Change Your Brain,” was taken at the Greater Good Science Center as part of the “Science of a Meaningful Life” series.  It is a fascinating look at how mindfulness meditation, a way of practicing disciplined attention, is like training your muscles.

The practice, he says, can strengthen our brains as well as help us focus our attention.

ANOTHER TAKE

Emily Fletcher is the founder of Ziva Meditation and the creator of zivaMIND, the world’s first online training (it says here).  She is highly regarded as a leading expert in meditation for high performance.

Her YouTube video, “What You Put Your Attention On Grows,” was published in 2014.  It is a lovely reminder that you do have a choice about what you want to pay attention to.

Here’s a poem:


AW, GOOD GRIEF!

‘Kay.

So I took the road less-traveled

Way-back-when, while in my youth.

I recall it was my “Seeker” phase.

(I remember I was all

“St. George” and “forsooth.”)

That day I stopped in this dark woods,

I don’t think I pondered deep.

I had no previous appointment,

No promises to keep.

 

I took off running like a shot

Past t’s to cross and i’s to dot.

Booking it faster than my fears

I ran on down the faintest track,

Blood all singing in my ears.

I abandoned that clear-cut highway that

Headed right into the tried-and-true,

The Mama-says-not world

That kept making my brown eyes blue.

(I don’t recall one glance back.)

 

I wandered and I wondered

What the heck this thing’s about,

Got tangled up with other folks,

Never did quite figure it out.

I’ve been up and down and sideways

On so many tracks and trails,

Traversed bits of this old mountain side

(Had to run sometimes and sometimes hide).

Puzzles sought and solved,

Conundrums all untied,

Mysteries unveiled,

Companions who lived and died.

 

Those tracks and trails meander on

Through the thick surrounding brush,

Then over the great forest comes

A deep and poignant hush.

 

And me,

I look around and realize:

Dang!

These things are wild pig trails.

 

Ummm….

Where am I?

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit:  “Huh?” by Morgan via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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WALK THE REAL

WALK THE REAL

I’ve been beating my head on the wall I’ve made using the flood of abundance-mindset and positive-thinking books – past and present – that populate my shelves as well as articles and posts and audio tapes and video thingummies and podcasts that lurk in the spaces my computer can reach.

It all sounds so good.  It’s all warm and fuzzy and smiley-face cool.

It’s also cotton-candy unsatisfactory.  I’ve got a really bad sugar-high going and the crash is imminent, looming, and certain.

THERE IS PLENTY – INSIDE AND OUT

It’s a truth, you know.  It really does feel better to understand that, for real, there is plenty for everybody and that we live in a spectacularly abundant natural world.

Understanding that there really is enough for you and yours is a marvelous thing to carry around with you in your head and in your heart.

As a wise old guy I knew once said, “You live most of your life inside your own head, so it makes sense to make sure it’s a good space.”

I’ve always liked that one.  It’s been one of my guiding lights as I wander around in this old world.

lighthouse
“Lighthouse” by Peter Merholz via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
No matter what’s going on outside, if my inside is together and is what Hawaiians call “pono” – righteous and balanced between myself and others – then I can keep on walking and keep on getting to where I want to go and I can walk lightly instead of stomping around like some cut-rate T. rex.  (Dinosaurs are so yesterday, ya know.)

Building up our internal abundance, as Marianne Williamson points out in her book, EVERYDAY GRACE:  Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness and Making Miracles, does, indeed, work to mitigate external lack and turn it around.

She says, “As long as we remain vigilant at building our internal abundance – an abundance of forgiveness, an abundance of service, an abundance of love – then external lack is bound to be temporary.”  She’s right too.

Teacher, speaker, and author Charles Eisenstein has spent a lifetime looking at the Big Questions (Where do I come from?  Why am I here? Where am I going?) and fiercely focuses on themes like civilization as we know it, human consciousness, money, and cultural evolution.

His is one of the best explanations of the effects of so-called “scarcity thinking” I’ve ever come across.

In his book, THE MORE BEAUTIFUL WORLD OUR HEARTS KNOW IS POSSIBLE, he lays it out:

“From our immersion in scarcity arise the habits of scarcity.  From the scarcity of time arises the habit of hurrying.  From the scarcity of money comes the habit of greed.  From the scarcity of attention comes the habit of showing off.  From the scarcity of meaningful labor comes the habit of laziness.  From the scarcity of unconditional acceptance comes the habit of manipulation.”

And that’s another truth.

ABUNDANCE IS NOT ALL THERE IS

The thing is, I do sort of agree with Richelle E. Goodrich, a poet and novelist who does epic young adult fantasy books and has published a couple of collections of musings about life as well.

In one of her books, SMILE ANYWAY, she says, “You can add up your blessings or add up your troubles.  Either way you’ll find you have an abundance.”

wall-full-of-happy
“Wall Full Of Happy!” by Steve via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The whole abundance thing can easily get to be…well…sort of dogmatic.

It’s easy to maintain the mindset when you’re surrounded by supportive group-think folks.  It’s like being in the middle of a wonderful group hug.  It feels really good.

But, the whole abundance movement thing can get hairy when you’re not surrounded by like-minded people and affirmations are a really crummy shield when there are guys gunning for you and acting out of their own sense of scarcity and not-enough.

There are predators in the world.

There are manipulators.

There are bad breaks and you can get blindsided by factors and conditions you haven’t noticed or considered.

At any given time, there are resources that you want and need which are not available to you when you want or need them.

While it is a truth that you create your own world, it is also a truth that everybody else creates their own worlds as well…and together we make the world we all have to live in.

The one thing about being human is that nobody is the sole creator of this consensus world of ours nor are we the progenitors of Life-Its-Own-Self.  Humbling, I know, but there it is.

Some parts of our consensus world are not so good.  It’s a work in progress, after all, and the builders often disagree on what goes where and what happens next.

An old proverb (probably German) tells us, “God gives us everything we need, but he doesn’t throw it into the nest.”

well-hello-there
“Well, hello there” by Bill Collison via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
That one’s been around a long time.  Another truth.  It’s all out there, but you have to notice it.  Then you have to get up and go get it.

I find that I’m leery of the idea that I’m a magnet à la that Law-of-Attraction thing.  I keep seeing images of stuff flying through the air and hitting me upside the head.  Ouch!

MY OWN THOUGHTS

My own thought is that abundance-thinking is just a part of your Living Life toolbox.

What the abundance-thinking mindset helps with is figuring out a way to go for it which does not cause a lot of collateral damage that comes back to bite you or that haunts you until the end of your days.

This, I think, is a very good thing.

Maybe the positivity thing is like vitamins and minerals.  You need a minimum daily dose of the things for your body’s optimal performance and you can take supplement pills to make sure you get them all, but you do have to stay aware that even stuff that’s good for you can kill you if you overdo it.

lucy-in-the-sky-with-diamonds
“Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” by Steven Depolo via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

THE ANTIDOTE TO THE PARADOX

Perhaps the only antidote to this paradox is developing receptivity and looking at the appropriateness of any given action.

“Receptivity” is all about noticing.  You see and accept what’s in front of you.

“Appropriateness” is doing just enough to move something in a certain direction and nothing more.

It’s like an aikido of the mind.  The whole point in aikido is to notice the direction your partner-in-play is making and to help them go in that direction (perhaps more definitely than they want) and, thus, to move them out of your own way.

aikido
“Aikido” by Javier Montano via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Then you’re free to go do what you want to do.

ALWAYS MORE QUESTIONS

Here are some questions to consider before you go off loaded for bear or walk through an outlaw town as the guy or gal without a gun:

  • Is the action you’re planning to take an appropriate response to whatever circumstance you are facing?
  • Are you receptive to the world around you? Are there conditions or factors in a situation that could have an impact on what you are trying to do?  What can you do about them?
  • Are you noticing things that are wonky in another person’s walk? What can you do to mitigate the effects of that?
  • Are you noticing things that you are doing that just don’t work? Can you do something different that might work better?

One of my favorite quotes is from poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

That last may be the biggest test to run on any action before you take it:  How will it make other people feel?  Are you good with that?

swirling-a-mystery
“Swirling a Mystery…for Kim Marie and Aunt Hinkle” by QThomas Bower via Flicker [CC BY 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


I WILL KEEP WALKING

 I guess it’s confusing for

Some people in my life.

They’re never quite sure

Whether I am a grizzly

Pretending to be a chipmunk

Or a chipmunk

Pretending I’m a bear.

 

I figure that’s cool.

I think that’s fair.

 

The ones who care about me

Apparently don’t mind:

That creature-feature’s just me,

And the ones who love me embrace it,

Knowing that just as they walk their way

I am walking mine.

 

I figure that’s great.

I think that’s fine.

 

The ones who have agendas

And shoulds and oughts and want

Their opinions to have dominion

Are likely to think twice

‘Bout coming at me sideways,

May think the cost of doing that

Might not be worth the price.

 

I figure that’s cool too.

I think that’s nice.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Making Cotton Candy” by Steven Depolo via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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GET BACK YOUR KID MOJO

GET BACK YOUR KID MOJO

Children fascinate me.

The coolest thing about kids, I think, is this:  They come into this world as a bundle of wonder and curiosity.

BEGINNER MIND POWER

Kids know they don’t know, they’re hard-wired to find out, and they are absolutely single-minded in their efforts.  They are the epitome of relentless, the very best role models for persistence.

Every one of them is working on mastery.  They all want to know how to do it all well.

It doesn’t stop:  walking, talking, tying shoelaces, making friends, riding a bike, playing games, finding out how something works and why you do this and not that.  On and on and on.

halcyon-days
Halcyon Days” by Sel Felin via Flickr [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]
They notice everything (especially the stuff the adults would rather they didn’t) and they are interested in every single little thing they encounter.

Their major mistakes are usually the result of ignorance.  They just don’t know enough yet and a lot of their plans fall apart because of that.  (That tends to give the people who care about them the heebie-jeebies, but so what?)

When they’re starting out, kids are determined to catch on and catch up.

determination
“Determination” by Susan Lloyd via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
They want to do it themselves.

They want to get good and they want to show they know what they know.

SMALL IS COOL

Kids start small.  After all, they are little and they are weak and have to depend on the Bigs around them just for survival.  (But, THAT is gonna change!  Uh-huh.)

small-steps
“Small Steps” by john mccaffrey via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Every time they make a misstep, it’s usually just a small hiccup in their forward progress.

The little guys haven’t gotten to the big stuff yet and if they’ve got Bigs who help to keep them mostly safe from the ordinary life-threatening stuff, kids can pick themselves up and try again…and again and again…until they get to where they want to go.

If the circumstances in their lives are harder, more unfortunate, or even downright dangerous, then the ones who survive learn more and they learn faster and often they get even better at not giving up.

ratchathewi-skytrain-stop
“Ratchathewi Skytrain Stop (Bangkok, Thailand) by drburtoni via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Every little win is its own reward.  (One more down, what’s next?)

TIME IS ON THEIR SIDE

Kids know time is on their side.

time-is-on-my-side
“Time Is On My Side” by Daniel Novta via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
They’re going to get bigger.

They’re going to get those flabby muscles built up and that tongue moving right.

They already know how to act cute, and they are going to learn how to make friends and influence all those Bigs too.

They’re going to keep on going until they get there.

Kids only absolutely know they have Now, and Now is when they want to do something, so they work with whatever they’ve got going and they do what they can with it.

They’re going to find out everything they need to know about everything they want to know…just, EVERYTHING.

PLAY AS SERIOUS WORK

Kids also know that play is really serious work.  It’s how you learn what you need to know.

When they get the chance to play, they will go for it.  Why not?  Maybe they will learn something.

hard-at-work
“Hard at Work” by quadrant via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
You can just see the wheels turning as they play.

You can just imagine them thinking, You watch:  I’m going to get out there and I’m going to rock the world!  Yes, I am!

GETTING BACK TO THE MOJO

Sounds familiar, right?

We all started out like that.  Some of us manage to hang onto the wonder and use it to leverage ourselves up and on to doing more and more amazing things.  The rest of us wonder how come we don’t.

There are a lot of lessons you can learn about mastery by watching kids.  Here are some examples:

  • IT ALL STARTS WITH WONDER AND INTEREST.  Even as adults, we know this.  If you are not interested in something, you just don’t pay attention to it and you don’t notice the lessons that are right there in front of you.
wonder
“Wonder” by Cristian via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
  • SMALL WORKS. We’re all little compared to the Universe.  We all have limitations.  We get to where we want to go by doing what we can with what we’ve got.
vancouver-snowmen
“Vancouver Snowmen!” by danna & curious tangles via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
  • NOW IS WHEN YOU DO SOMETHING. It’s the only time when you can.  You can’t change the past.  The future is out of reach.  There really is no other when to do something.
now
“Now” by Kai Schreiber via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
  • PERSISTENCE AND WILL RULES. If you haven’t gotten to where you want to go yet, then that’s a sign that you’re not done yet.
persistence
“Persistence” by Jeff Sandquist via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
  • MIS-STEPS AND MISTAKES THAT DON’T KILL YOU DON’T MATTER. So you fell down.  Ouch!  Now try to get back up.  Not happening?  Well, hell…you can crawl, right?
mistaken
“Mistaken” by Paradis Photographis via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
  • KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. Whatever you know is what you know.  What you know can be used to get to where you want to go.  What else do you want or need to know?  Go get it.
kids-at-deep-space-8k
“Kids at Deep Space 8K” by Ars Electronica via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
  • PLAY IS HOW YOU LEARN.

public-service-announcement
“Public Service Announcement” by Jason Mrachina via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Isn’t it funny that these lessons are the same ones that we hear from all the wise guys and life counselors and self-help books?

FINAL THOUGHTS

My theory is that somehow, on our way to learning how to be adults, we got distracted by the details and have forgotten the power with which we were born.

I get the feeling that power’s still there, waiting for you to notice, and if you’ve forgotten what it looks like, then the Universe has lots and lots of little guys who can help you remember.

My own feeling is, if you’re stuck in the suck of trying to be a cog in some wheel not of your own making, the best thing you can do is watch kids…your own kids, kids belonging to your friends and family, stranger kids doing their thing, whatever.

Watch what they do.   See what works.  Do that.

This YouTube video is a compilation of jaw-dropping performances by some amazing kids.  It was put together by People Are Awesome in 2017.

Here’s a poem:


SAME LESSON

The world is a bigger cup

Than your small hands can manage.

It is heavy and close to overflowing.

The hot liquid heart-blood it holds

Burns your fingers

As you concentrate on not-dropping,

As you try yet again to

Navigate over another

Wide, slick, sparkly-clean floor.

 

Your wrists ache

And you grit your teeth.

You try, try, try,

Harder and harder,

To hold onto that cup

That seems to get heavier

As you walk along.

 

There it goes…

Another splat,

Another slip,

Another mess.

The cup’s lying there, emptied,

And all the stuff’s spread out

In one grand sploosh spattered all over

That proud new pair of shoes

As old issues come bubbling up to blindside you,

 

As the shouting starts you notice that

The issues are not even yours.

 

Toddler lessons revisited:

My small, but not my bad.

It helps to remember that

The world is heavy

And it’s way, way big for small people…

It helps to remember that

We are all small.

 

Hmmm…

Maybe we just need smaller cups.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Power” by BadWolfBobbi via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

 

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GIVE UNTIL IT HELPS

GIVE UNTIL IT HELPS

Here’s a thing from Jay Conrad Levinson’s GUERILLA MARKETING EXCELLENCE:  The 50 Golden Rules for Small-Business Success:  “Give till it helps.

It’s a very different take than the more usual “give until it hurts” that Mother Theresa espoused.

Mother Theresa’s thing seems to encourage a degree of selflessness that’s way over the top.  Some folks take it to mean that you’re supposed to give and give and give until you’ve nothing left to give….and then you give some more.

With that one, I’m not quite sure what you’re supposed to do when you’re totally depleted and unable any more to take care of your own self, your own dreams, and the responsibilities that are yours.

totally-exhausted-fathers
“Totally exhausted fathers” by smumdax via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
I’ve often wondered.

MINDFULNESS AND GIVING

Levinson’s take on the whole giving thing seems, instead, to encourage mindfulness, looking at whether the “help” you’re giving is actually a help to the other person and is not a detriment to yourself.

  • Is this help you are giving effective?
  • Are you empowering the other person?
  • Does the help you are giving encourage the recipient to continue walking their own road?
  • Does it help them to build themselves up so they can tackle their own problems?

Very often, you have to watch to make sure that the responses and moves you’re evoking from the other person as a result of the actions you’ve taken are heading in the direction that can allow them to make the best use of the energy (money, time, talent) that you’ve expended on their behalf.

So, what happens if it doesn’t?  What if your gift keeps the other person from learning the lessons they need to learn?  What if your gift actually diminishes them?

An everyday example of that is the effects of being raised by a so-called “helicopter parent.”

A well-meaning, overprotective parent who does your chores and your homework for you; tries to resolve your every social problem; is your personal rally squad who cheers you on for every little thing you might accomplish and attempts to completely eliminate any sort of contact you might have with frustration of any sort is NOT a help.

If every obstacle is eliminated for you, how are you going to learn how to do your own work-arounds and develop your own strengths to power on through the potholes and hurdles and to fix your own mistakes?

she-climbs-a-tree
“She Climbs a Tree…” by Walt Jabsco [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
If your way of giving involves solving another person’s problems without giving them the chance to face their own challenges, the net result is that your gift can prevent them from developing their own abilities and making their own choices and decisions.

It sends the unfortunate message that you don’t think they can do it without your help.  Is that a message you want to send?

AND WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Also, a major question you might want to ponder is this:  When you are making this gift, are you using your available resources in a way that adds meaning and mana (inherent power) to your own life?

do-i-know-you
“Do I Know You?” by Tom Waterhouse via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg has written about the positive effect generosity can have on one’s sense of freedom and our own sense of self.

When we give, we continually test our limits, she says. The practice of generosity is about creating space. We see our limits and we extend them continuously, which creates a deep expansiveness and spaciousness of mind.”

The late poet Maya Angelou once famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

try-my-boy
“Try my boy!!” by matthew Fang via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
What other meaning does the power of giving lend to your life?  Is it worth the cost?

TWO ENDS OF A GIFTING TRANSACTION

It occurs to me that every gift has a giver and a receiver.  The gift is a transfer of life-energy from one to another.

Gifting is always a transaction between the one who gives and the one who receives.

helping-hand
“Helping Hand” by istolethetv via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
The thing is, human relationships are always complex.  Questions to ask yourself before you offer to help someone with more than an easy-fix problem are these:

  • Does the person want your help?
  • Is the person ready to accept your help?
  • Do you have the skill, the time and the inclination to do what is really needed? Trying to help people when you don’t have the skills or the time or the commitment to a project is likely to do more harm than good.

Jumping into somebody else’s life and messing with their “stuff” does require a lot of heavy thinking beforehand.  Be respectful.  Be careful.  That may be somebody’s heart you’re stepping on.

stone-and-flesh
“Stone and Flesh” by Rachel Titiriga via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
HOW ARE YOU HELPING?

Sometimes it’s just a matter of pitching in.  Some project needs to be completed and you are willing and able to lend a hand.

The goal is clear, everybody agrees on the purpose and the method is fairly obvious.  You go.

helping-hands
“Helping Hands” by Andree & Edward via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
However, it does get more confusing and a lot more difficult when you’re trying to help others as they cope with circumstances that are catastrophic or perhaps the result of societal issues over which they have little control.

This YouTube video, “Help That Helps – Giving What Is Really Needed,” was published in 2016 by the Visalia Rescue Mission.  It was put together by people who spend their days providing concrete help in many different ways for the homeless in their area.

The major take-away from this one is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the bigger, more problematic circumstances humans often face.

stew-and-sympathy
“Stew and Sympathy” by Neil Moralee [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Two prominent economists, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, wrote an investigative book called WHEN HELPING HURTS:  How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself. 

The book has a Christian bent.  Its goal is to educate missionaries and ministries as well as other helpers who work in poverty- and disaster-stricken areas about how to effectively alleviate poverty for the long-term.

The authors advise that these helpers need to focus on the resources and abilities a community already has rather than focusing on what the community does not have.

The book is an interesting read for anyone who’d like to gain a better understanding of the different facets of helping those in need.

compassion-and-generosity
“Compassion and Generosity” by K. Kendall via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

HOW TO TELL WHEN YOU’RE GIVING TOO MUCH

Professor Shawn Meghan Burn’s 2014 article in Psychology Today, “Twelve Signs That You are Giving Too Much,” gives a rundown of the signs that the help you are giving to someone may be dysfunctional and unhealthy.

To read what she has to say, click-here

 

The good doctor has also written a book, UNHEALTHY HELPING:  A Psychological Guide to Overcoming Co-dependence, Enabling, and Other Dysfunctional Giving.

You may want to check it out if you think that maybe your giving is not a help.

SOME TIPS ON EFFECTIVE GIVING

Generosity researcher Adam Grant, the author of GIVE AND TAKE: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, describes generosity as “micro-loans” of our knowledge, skills, and connectIons in ways that transform and shape other people’s experiences.

He says the most successful and effective givers are those who rate high in concern for others and also in self-interest.

These givers contribute in ways that reinforce their social ties and they say yes to the things they for which they have the unique skills, resources or time to give.

They also limit what they do.

power-in-the-palm-of-my-hand
“Power In the Palm of My Hand” by Matthew via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Failed givers, Grant says, tend to say “yes” to everything.  Often they end up either overwhelmed, ineffectual, or resentful and put-upon.

LOOKING FOR THE SIGNS

Perhaps Levinson is right.  Looking at the real effects of what you do to help other people can guide you in determining how much you give and how.

  • If what you are doing is truly a help, then it makes sense to keep on doing what you’re doing.
  • If it does not help (either because you’re making stupid or ineffective moves or because you’re dealing with blind people), then it’s probably a good idea to stop whatever you’re doing and reassess.

warning-sign
“Warning Sign” by oatsy40 via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
As one commentator pointed out, if you help the wrong person for the wrong reason or in an ineffectual way, you may miss opportunities to really help the right person who needs the kind of help you can gladly give.

GIVING IS A GOOD THING

We all agree that helping people is a good thing.  We believe that it’s a way to ensure our own happiness.

Wise guys have told us that forever.

There’s a Chinese proverb that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.  If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.  If you want happiness for a year inherit a fortune.  If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”

neighbors-helping-neighbors
“Neighbors Helping Neighbors” by Arlington County via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Saints, power dudes and other famous sorts all tout giving and serving others as the way to happiness.

Even scientific research provides compelling anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness.

The guys in the lab coats have used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technology to map out how giving activates the pleasure centers in the brain, just like food and sex.

Humans are hard-wired to feel great about giving, it says here.  We like doing it.  Giving makes us happy.

reminder
“Reminder” by Ryan via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
For some people, giving is as natural as breathing.  For others, not so much.

If you feel like you are starving to death and the world is set up to take everything you have away from you, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be moved to generosity very often.

Generosity is a learned response and you can learn it from the people around you.

That’s what research by Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith suggests, anyway.   He concluded that it is certainly possible to absorb lessons for or against generosity.

This 2015 YouTube video, “Joy” was a story presented by Ashok Ramasubramanian in Speakeasy DC’s monthly storytelling series.  It was part of a show at Town Danceboutique, a bar in Washington, DC, on the theme, “The Charismatic Leader: Stories about those we follow for the right and wrong reason.”

The video gives an example of how someone can be influenced towards more generosity.  It’s also an engaging story.

Smith is not completely convinced that the increased activity that happens in the brain when we are being generous is actually responsible for increasing our happiness.

Maybe all that cogitating is triggered by questions like, “Should I?”, “Can I?”, “Is this worth it?”

He’s one of the guys who suggest that, maybe, because generous people tend to view the world as safe, secure and abundant, it could just be that they are happy because they have a generally sunny outlook. Whatever.

It’s a funny thing, though.  Even seeing other people’s generosity tends to be uplifting and induces a bit of teary-eyed smiling.  This sweet video, “The Most Generous Boy in the World,” published by filmmaker Meir Kay in 2017, is a smile-maker that way.

Another science of generosity finding backed by a lot of anecdotes and stories is that the more adversity someone has experienced, the more compassion he or she often feels.  This compassion is likely to increase the tendency to be generous.

One of my favorite YouTube videos is this 2013 short film made by TrueMoveH, “Inspiring Power of Giving and the Power of Veggie Soup” that was published by Get Your Health Up in 2013.  (Got your Kleenex handy?)

Here’s a poem:


FRIENDS

An everyday wonder are the friends of your heart,

They see you and they let you know you are there with them.

They cherish you for who you are

And they honor what you are making of your own true self.

Their love’s embrace is soft,

But the love is solid and deep.

 

Like a gentle bay, they invite you to come and play

On warm, golden sands shaded by tall trees

With leaves that rustle in the softest breezes,

And swim in calm waters ringed by strong reefs.

You can build sand castles there.

You can float in the water cradled between sand and sun,

A peaceful bit of flotsam among the ripples.

 

Like the moana beyond the reef,

The deep, rolling waves of their love

Carry you on your way beyond the horizons

To new worlds that you can only imagine

As you dream on the beach while you watch the sun set.

In your sailing canoe you will go

To where today meets tomorrow

Supported by the love that surrounds you,

The love that knows who you are.

 

Friends stay with you, enfold and embrace you,

Cry for your pain when lovers go away.

Friends will cheer you and keep near you,

When the world hammers at your soul.

They remind you not to give yourself away.

And, you know, it occurs to me:

It would be a very sad thing

To have a world full of lovers

And not a single friend….

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit:  “Helping” by eltpics via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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THE THINKS YOU CAN THINK

THE THINKS YOU CAN THINK

I’ve just read Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s book, THINKING FAST AND SLOW, which is a summary of Kahneman’s lifetime study on how the mind works.

Kahneman, now in his 80’s, has been called “one of the world’s most influential living psychologists.”  His work – which includes things with names like prospect theory, loss aversion, anchoring, separate mental accounting, the representativeness bias and the availability bias — has helped to shape and continues to influence the field of behavioral economics and finance.

For laymen, the book lays out Kahneman’s insights about two often-conflicting systems we humans use for making decisions.  The book is written in a clear and engaging style that led to the book becoming an international bestseller in 2011.

I’ll probably go back to read this book several more times.  It’ll be a reference book for me, sitting on my shelf.

THINKING FAST AND SLOW is one of those primers that is just chock-a-block full of useful insights that can be applied to regular living.  It’s worth more than one visit.

THE TWO “SYSTEMS” OF THOUGHT

In his book, Kahneman builds mind-constructs that delineate and explain the two main ways we humans use our minds to decide how to move in the world.

These constructs are based on work from the decades-long collaboration he maintained with another brilliant psychologist, Amos Turyev, whose focus of study was decision-making and judgement. Turyev died in 1996 at the age of 59.

Kahneman sticks labels that he got from psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West on the constructs – System 1 (the automatic system) and System 2 (the effortful system).

As Kahneman explains them, these systems each have inherent strengths and weaknesses.  They are available to us at all times.  If we can learn how to work with both of them, then we’re likely to reach better decisions than if we rely only on one or the other.

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“09.05.14 (Creative 365 Project)” by Michelle Robinson via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

GOING ON AUTOMATIC PILOT

System 1 operates with little or no effort.  It’s sort of like breathing.  You don’t need to call it up and you don’t have to pay any attention to it.

System 1 is always there, at the ready for action, and it is lightning-fast.

fast
“Fast” by Sandor Weiz via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Because of this system of thinking we are all really good at creating a consistent story from the data and the observations we have on hand.

With that story, we can make up ways of walking and directions to take.  We can create new things, evoking a Something out of the possibilities that present themselves because we have and believe that story.

This is cool and all, but there does happen to be a downside to it.

With System 1 running, we see what we see, throw in memories of old lessons learned and mix in assorted hints and rumors and allegations we’ve heard from someplace or other to build a logical sort of a story that becomes a platform from where we can launch off in some direction or other.

Kahneman likes to call the underlying mode of this system by the acronym WYSIATI for “what-you- see-is-all-there-is.”

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“Café Au Lait and Beignets, Café Du Monde, New Orleans” by Viewminder via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Notice how the picture above is an automatic story-starter.  (You can check out the photographer’s story about it by clicking on the caption.  Did your story come close?)

In our almost-immediate story-creating, we do tend to ignore sometimes-critical information.  After all, if we can construct a logical story from the information we have, why bother to see new facts, figures or ideas? Right?

Rebel-psychiatrist R. D. Laing once famously said, “If I don’t know I don’t know, I think I know. If I don’t know I know, I think I don’t know.”  (Read that again.  Like much of Laing’s work, it’s confusing but it does make sense.)

The fact that we are so prone to take things at face value does have a bearing on the problem with just running with System 1. When it comes to making decisions, we can be fearless in our ignorance.

In the absence of detailed, accurate knowledge we can construct stories that support our beliefs and act on those beliefs with a confidence that can border on insanity.

Using System 1, you can effortlessly form impressions and generate feelings that can be used to build complex patterns of ideas that engage your interest and influence your decisions.

You can even react to a threat before you recognize that it is one.  (Sometimes you’re even right.)

The one fly in the soup is this: System 1 is radically insensitive to both the quality and the quantity of information we hold.  All it looks for is a coherent, believable story.

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“Bug In Soup Bowl” by Paul Sullivan via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
It’s the consistency of the information that matters for a good story, not its completeness.

We can make totally believable stories with next to no facts.  We can even make totally believable stories out of downright lies.

That can be a problem.

Very often in our System 1 parkour-style free-running through life, we neglect to suss out the big drop on the other side of the low wall we’re jumping over and…ouch!  Street-pizza happens.

[This awesome 2018 YouTube video, “Late For Work – Parkour Run,” was published by urbanamadei.  I figured we needed a break from all the heavy-duty thinking.]

WORKING ON THROUGH SYSTEM 2

Kahneman calls the conscious and deliberative System 2 thinking “effortful.”  It is neither automatic nor is it easy.

You would be likely to tap into System 2 thinking when you’re trying to solve one of those durned word puzzles on a math test.  Very often these riddles are tricky.  The first answer that comes to mind is probably not going to be the right one.

Here’s a cute animated YouTube video published in 2017 by funza Academy, “The Bat and Ball Problem That 50% of Harvard Students Got Wrong.”

As the video points out, we really have to push ourselves to get into the process of System 2 thinking.  The mental work involved is deliberate, effortful and orderly.

If you are really grinding on a complex problem, even your body gets involved.  Your muscles tense up, your blood pressure rises, your heart rate increases.  Your pupils dilate. You stress.

It doesn’t stop until you either solve the problem or you give up.

Only the slower System 2 thinking can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps.  To activate it and use it, you do have to pay much more attention to what you are doing than when you use the automatic System 1.

Think of an American driving in Europe for the first time.  There she goes, driving down what she totally feels is the wrong side of the road.

You’d better believe she is paying strict attention to what she is doing, especially if that road gets busy.

The other thing System 2 can do, Kahneman says, is to overrule the freewheeling impulses and associations of System 1.

System 2 goes into action when you need to control yourself.  When you’ve already made a mistake because of your inattention that requires fixing, you’ll reach for the System 2 thinking.  When you need to be logical and rational, System 2 will be there on-call.

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“Decisions – Taichung Park” by steve: they can’t all be zingers! (primus) via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
System 2 will keep you polite when you’re angry.  When you’re driving at night, System 2 helps to keep you alert.

Also, when System 1 runs into difficulty, when tried-and-true solutions to some problem does not work or when you encounter a question for which you have no answer, System 2 can be mobilized to look for new solutions and for better answers.

The biggest problem with System 2 thinking is the urge to keep looking for one more factoid, one more factor, or one more aspect or angle.  You can get so caught up in analyzing and philosophizing that you forget to get up off your behind and start doing.

“Paralysis by analysis” sets in and you need to call in System 1 thinking to cut to the chase.

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“they call me a gear queer…” by Alane Golden via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
When you get to the point where all the fact-gathering has you in “Park,” you need to dismiss the System 2 thinking and let the System 1 thinking take over again.  Otherwise you’re never going to get out of the parking lot.

You take all your new insights and information from the System 2 thinking and you build another story using the System 1 thinking.  Then you go.

The following YouTube video, published by The Commonsence in 2018, presents some thoughts on how to work with both of the systems in day-to-day living.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Knowing fast and slow thinking are a part of your mind’s toolbox means that you’ll be able to use them appropriately as needed, it seems to me.

I do recommend Kahneman’s THINKING FAST AND SLOW.  It has a plethora of insights and ideas that can help you understand about how you are thinking and why you do that.  It can also help you direct your course corrections more consciously.

One thing that Kahneman does not emphasize in the book is the part where you take all the insights you’ve worked so hard to gather using the System 2 explorations and figure out how to sink that new knowledge down into your bones so that the insights become a more permanent part of your System 1 story-making.

That one is the result of doing, repetition and deliberate practice — something athletes, martial artists and Makers of every stripe know is necessary to develop mastery.  And that’s a whole other story….

decisions
“Decisions (Story of BA-253)” by Robert McGoldrick via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


SLOW THINKER LAMENT

This is irritating!

 

In a world of fast thinkers and pyrotechnic wizards,

Here I am…

Stuck with a mind that dives deep

Looking for crystal caves and other wonders

Under all that surface stuff.

 

In the alphabet soup of life,

How come everybody else is already

Moving past the letter ‘g’

And I’m still stuck on ‘c’?

 

This is NOT satisfactory!

 

They’re doing shrimp tempura,

Gobbling down the pupus, one and all.

Me, I’ve got a kalua pig in the imu.

 

Pfui!

What’s up with THAT!

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  Decisions 3 by Justin C via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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TEACH SOMEONE AND LEARN BETTER

TEACH SOMEONE AND LEARN BETTER

Every time I open a book I smile.

I remember.  As a child who was just beginning to learn to read, my favorite time was spent sitting on my grandpa’s lap and “teaching” him how to sound out the squiggly lines on the pages.

He would laugh and hug me as I sternly scolded him and got him to sound out the words as I was learning to do in school.  Together we made it through several adventures of Dick and Jane and Spot.

Papa, I suspect, was severely dyslexic.  He could sign his name, but he never learned to read – in English, anyway.

I think those times when he would sit still and let his baby girl “teach” him from her primer books probably set the foundation for my love of books and word-play.

SEE ONE.  DO ONE. TEACH ONE.

In his book, SMART THINKING: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate and Get Things Done, author Art Markman says that the cornerstone of medical education is, “See one.  Do one.  Teach one.”

When medical students are learning a new procedure, the first thing they do is watch someone who knows how to do it carry out the procedure.  This gives them a general idea of how the thing is done.

The student will then practice the new procedure until he or she can carry it out.  Doing it helps the student understand the various elements and techniques involved that aren’t apparent from just watching someone else do the procedure.

After that, the student is encouraged to teach this procedure to someone else.  This helps the student see whether he or she has enough knowledge of the procedure to show someone else how it is done as well as explain, in a simple, understandable way, why the procedure is useful.

As Albert Einstein famously pointed out, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

I found it interesting that these same principles are also used by tradespeople, craftsmen, artists, performers and cooks to pass along their specialized knowledge as well.

discover-the-possibilities
“Discover the Possibilities” by Georgie Pauwels via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

TEACHING HELPS YOU TEST YOUR OWN KNOWLEDGE

Markman points out that in order to teach somebody else you do need to form a complete and organized, easily-understood explanation of what you’re trying to teach.

It’s like writing down a recipe for making muffins.  Stirring the liquid ingredients into a mound of dry ingredients works a heck of a lot better than vice-versa. It’s a good and helpful thing to mention that to someone making muffins for the first time.

If your attempted explanations confuse your student, it’s probable that you need to work on filling in the gaps in your own knowledge.

  • Perhaps the student doesn’t understand the words you are using. Do you?  Are there other more common words or alternative ways of explaining that you can use instead?
  • Perhaps the student needs more information than you are giving them. Take it back down to a more basic level.  Find out what the student knows and does not know and start from there.
  • Maybe the way you’ve organized and presented the information confuses the student. How can you make the steps easier to follow?  Are some of the important steps in a procedure missing in your attempted explanation?  Are they in the right order?

In 2009, Columbia University professor Simon Sinek was interviewed by Erik Michielsen, founder of Capture Your Flag, a virtual mentoring platform.  The following YouTube Video, “How Teaching Others Build Your Knowledge” is a snippet published around that time.

In it, Sinek says, “Teaching forces you…to break down your knowledge into components that give you a deeper understanding of your own knowledge.”

JUST PLANNING TO TEACH SOMEBODY ELSE HELPS YOU LEARN BETTER

Interestingly, researchers have found that students who thought they were going to be tutoring or teaching others worked harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately, and apply it more effectively.

The guys in the lab coats dubbed this “the protégé effect.”  If we are going to teach somebody else, then we know we need to pay attention to the most important, relevant points and organize them in our minds so that we can present them in a coherent, understandable way.

This way of “relational learning” happened even if, ultimately, the students were not actually required to teach someone else.

This YouTube video, “Why Teaching Others Is the Best Way to Learn” published in 2013 by Art of Smart TV features resident nerd Rowan Kunz explaining the value of teaching others in order to get feedback about your own level of knowledge.

Art of Smart describes itself as a “movement that is changing the world through a new kind of holistic tutoring and mentoring for young people.”

An important point Kunz makes is the one about repetition.  Every time you go back over the material you are teaching someone else, trying to help the other person make sense of it, the knowledge gets embedded more clearly and more deeply into your own mind.

It all helps your brain build neurotransmitter pathways that help you access the information in your head.  Cool stuff!  Perhaps, by teaching (or planning to teach someone else) you’ll find other ways to widen and deepen the knowledge you hold.

ANOTHER TAKE ON TEACHING

There are more than one way to teach.  Some of them don’t use words.

The following YouTube video published by Fred Then in 2014, “Learning By Doing and Not Teaching” dramatizes one little Thai girl’s lessons from her mother, a vendor selling fresh fruits from a trolley at a market in Petchburi province.

The girl, Achara Poonsawat (also known as “Nin”), won a scholarship from the Sarnrak Project that allowed her to complete a Bachelor’s Degree program and become an elementary school teacher.

Nin’s mother’s methods of teaching were not academic since she was herself unschooled.  However, they were based on real-life fact-finding.  Nin’s mother encouraged the girl to observe what others did, analyze why their methods worked and try the methods for herself.

Sarnrak Konkeng Huajai Krang (Good Kids, Good Hearts) is an initiative operated since 2000 by AIS, the largest mobile phone operator in Thailand.  The children targeted by the initiative are “underprivileged children who demonstrate love and close tie to their families.”

While the scholarship recipients go to school, their families receive financial aid from Sarnrak as well since that allows the youngsters to attend school without worrying about having to help support their family.

Here’s a poem….


PAPA AND HIS NET

Papa sits on the gray-green sand.

His skin is leathered by the sun.

Jewel drops of water sparkle in the darkness of his hair.

White salt traces down his arms, his back, his chest.

His rough, brown hands weave the shuttle delicately.

Like a bird, it flies intricate patterns over and through,

As the net grows whole.

 

Papa talks about the fish the net and he have captured.

It is a strong net, his best net.

Not even a big uhu could escape it.

Manini and weke they have caught by the score.

He snagged it on some rocks and it was wounded,

Torn upon the cruel, black pōhaku.

He mourns the jagged tears as his hands deftly flutter,

As the net grows whole.

 

Papa argues with a friend, things fishermen argue.

He swaps lies about the ones he and his net “almost,

And he brags about the ones that didn’t get away.

His eyes twinkle when he shows his teeth in laughter.

They shine in amusement at the whoppers and the toppers

And the ones that flop,

And his hands – his rough, brown hands – keep on flying,

As the net grows whole.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Teach Me” by Giovanna Matarazzo via Flickr [CC BY-NC]

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STEPLADDER TO A DREAM

STEPLADDER TO A DREAM

I am reading a fascinating new book, STICK WITH IT:  A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life – For Good.  It’s by Sean Young, the director of the UCLA Center for Digital Behavior and the UC Institute for Prediction Technology.

For over 15 years, Young and his team have been working on finding ways to help people change their behavior and make those changes last.

In his work and in the book, Young puts together a framework that describes what he calls the “seven forces of lasting change.”  He lays out how you can use each of these forces to develop an effective, unique-to-you way of walking that will lead to the changes you want to see in yourself.

The acronym he uses is S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (mostly, he says, because he wants people to remember that the existence of the forces he’s talking about are actually based on “thousands of validated, peer-reviewed, scientific studies.”)

If all of these forces are used together, Young says, then you will have a much better chance of persisting in the new behaviors that you evolve as you work on making the changes that you want to make in your life.

You might be able to actually keep that New Year’s resolution you make every year that always falls apart three weeks later.

banana-chocolate-sundae
“Banana-chocolate sundae” by Rian Lemmer via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

THE SEVEN FORCES OF BEHAVIORAL CHANGE

  1. People are more likely to change when they can focus on small steps, studies have shown.  However, the small steps do have to be the right kind of small.  Sometimes your “small” may actually be really big.  Young calls the model he developed from this data “stepladders.”
  2. The people with whom you interact are a powerful force when it comes to effecting behavior changes.  Young helps you understand why this is so and gives strategies for harnessing the power.
  3. People change behaviors when the end result they get and the actions they make are important to them.  Young explains what makes something “important” to a person and what that word actually means in real life and how you can use it to foster your own stick-to-itiveness.
  4. Changing your behavior is more likely to happen if the change is easy to do and easy to keep doing.  Young shows you how to build a structure that will make it so.
  5. Young teaches you mind-games – a set of mental shortcuts – that help you reset your brain so you can make the kinds of changes that last.
  6. You have to make any behavior change “captivating” enough so that you will keep doing it.  You have a capacity for getting addicted to all kinds of things. Young gives tips about using that capability for your own good.
  7. Your brain also has the ability to develop auto-pilot moves that don’t require constant applications of strong willpower or steadfast thinking, thinking, thinking.  Young shows you the mechanics of making something routine.

For each of these forces, Young tells you the science behind the concept.  Then he gives examples of how you can use the concept in your life and apply it in your work or business.

Each one is cumulative.  You do one thing, add on another thing, and then another and another and, together, all the moves you make becomes a kind of synergy.

Each force is a part of a process, he says, and it sounds like the process is sort of like a perpetual motion machine, with each part feeding energy to all the other parts.

Every move you make builds on the other ones until one day you look up and you notice that you’ve become more of what you’ve wanted to be.  It sure does sound like a good thing to me.

ladders-to-reach
“ladders to reach” by thefuturistics via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

TAKING THE ONE SMALL STEP

Over the years, the author developed a thing he calls “Stepladders.”  This way of thinking and the process that Young lays out starts from the age-old advice every change-seeker gets: “Just take one small step.”

How many times have you been told that the way to reach a dream is to slice and dice the parts of your walk towards your dream into little bits and then to make goals with deadlines and to set your intention and keep your will strong while you take incremental small steps towards each goal until you kill it?

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“stepladder to heaven” at Kuhstall (Elbe Sandstone Mountains, Saxon Switzerland) by Ralf Schulze via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
That thing’s endless.  To get to the pot of “goals” at the end of that rainbow you are dreaming about, it seems you are fated to keep chunking that dream on down and doing an inexorable walk á la Godzilla.

It works.  It’s real.  Everybody who is anybody did it and keeps doing it.  Uh-huh.  You, however, have been through that drill, usually with less-than-perfect success.

Example.  You really wish that you could lose that extra 15 pounds that have crept up on you after a whole bunch of hearty living.

You are determined.  You’re going to go all in and destroy that weight.  You’re going to get it done in a month, you say, so you can look all svelte and gorgeous for the big do with all of your old friends.  Uh-huh.

Even the healing after you get all the excess fat sucked out is going to take longer than a month, girl, you are told.  Not only that, it hurts big time.  You are not going to be feeling gorgeous much for a while.

You understand, and maybe even accept, that losing all of the weight you don’t like isn’t going to happen in a month.  (Rats!  The dream of you in that dress-to-die-for withers.)

Never mind.  Get started at least.  Okay, so you go looking for the one small step.

Yup, yup, yup.  In your head, you agree with all the varied and various advice-givers in the books and magazines and blogs and vlogs and whatever else who regurgitate checklists and round-ups of stuff you can do to get rid of your extra avoirdupois.

How about getting up out of your chair and going out the door?  We’re not even talking about getting your buns into a gym here.  Just going for a walk around the block or maybe even walking up and down some stairs.  Right!  Boring!  Not going to happen for very long.

If your automatic reaction to just reading about the “small step” is whining, moaning and feeling put-upon, how long is your change campaign going to last?

The future doesn’t look so bright as, yet again, you fail to take the one small step just for you. (Never mind about the one small step for Humankind.)

SMALL IS RELATIVE

Young says one of the problems with that small-step advice may be one of definition.  What, exactly, is a “small” step?

He points out that when you devise a plan of action, it’s a given that the size of the steps you plan to take depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

Most people, when asked to write a list of steps to accomplish something will usually make a plan consisting of three to ten steps.  It doesn’t matter what size the goal is.

Now, let’s say you are focused on a long-term dream, like setting up a food truck business by the end of the year.  Your cousin, on the other hand, is trying to plan a dinner party in the next two weeks.

According to Young, you may both have the same number of steps on your to-do list, but your ten steps are going to be a heck of a lot bigger and harder to accomplish than his.

Because your dream is bigger than your cousin’s goal, even though the steps are similar (decide on a location, plan a menu, buy the food, prepare the food, and so on), the scale of the time, cost, and execution involved in these elements are going to be very different.

the-large-and-the-small-of-it
“the large and the small of it” by Roger Smith via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
In light of our tendency to make really short how-to-do lists and to miscalculate how big our “small” steps might actually be, it is no wonder that people can get really frustrated when they focus exclusively on their dreams and then cannot understand why the results they want to see are not happening very quickly.

The whole point of achieving goals is to get the bennies that come from doing them and making it all good.  You do all that stuff so that you can celebrate at the end.

The celebration re-focuses you on doing the whole megillah over again on another project, and another, and another….

Woo-hoo!

THE STEPLADDER MODEL

Young’s solution to this dilemma is to re-define the time it takes to work dreams, goals and steps.

According to Young, dreams are plans that you have never achieved before that typically takes more than three months to accomplish.  Reaching for a dream fuels your efforts to learn and try new things and helps generate the energy and motivation to stick with and persevere in your plans.

Dreams are bigger than goals.  Sometimes they are so big that it can feel like they are never going to be achieved…or, at least, not by you.  Focusing on dreams too heavily can lead to burn-out and to giving up.

That’s why Young recommends focusing most of your energy trying to complete the steps and goals on your way to your dream.

Goals are the intermediate plans people make.  Long-term goals typically take from one month to three months to achieve.  Short-term goals typically take one week to one month.

Note the time-frames.  They are important.

whats-the-time
“What’s the Time” by Png Nexus via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
If you accomplish the short-term goals, you get more energy to keep going for the longer-term goals.

You keep going until eventually the dream becomes real.

Goals are more easily quantifiable than dreams.  You can measure goals.  You know when you’ve met them.

(Goals are actually more fun than dreams, especially if you make a point of celebrating whenever you meet one.)

Young also says something very interesting about this dream-goal dichotomy.  If you’ve accomplished a dream before – say, getting a million downloads for an app – a reiteration of the successful dream plan becomes a goal, even if it takes more than three months to achieve.  (You did it once and so you are much more likely to do it again.  You know how.)

Steps are the little tasks that take less than one week to accomplish, according to Young.  They populate your To-Do List.  As you get them done, you check them off, and are that much nearer to accomplishing your goal.

ladders
“Ladders!” (Mont Blanc) by JWU via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Young recommends that you have goals that take about one week to accomplish and that you plan steps that take fewer than two days.  (You can put your dreams on a vision-board that you hang by your bed.  It’ll help you get up in the morning.)

In his research lab, Young says, the students and staff keep an updated end-of-week chart that describes the goals they have set to achieve for the following week.  This lets them get together at the end of each week to discuss the steps they need to take in order to accomplish their goals on time.

The end-of-week meeting also lets the team see what they’ve already accomplished and gets them excited about continuing the journey towards their dream.

This regularly scheduled assessment of how it’s going so far goes a long way to helping you stay on track.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve focused on Young’s Stepladders model here because, for me, it is an exemplary example of Un-Seeing.  This model is a most effective, very different way to look at dreams and goals that allows us to work on them effectively using genuinely small steps.

The rest of Young’s STICK WITH IT is loaded with extraordinary insights into the way our brains work and with other ways to build perseverance and dancing with change effectively.

I do recommend it.

ladder-man
Photo credit: “Ladderman” by ^bkc via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0] (work by Israel sculptor Tolle Inbar)
Here’s a poem….


GOING ON THROUGH

There is no way to go but through.

I keep telling myself that,

A mantra that lifts my soul

Up once again from where

It’s fallen to the floor.

No whining, no whimpering….

Go through.

That is the whole of it.

 

And it’s a funny thing.

I do get up,

Put my legs under me again,

Put my feet back on the ground.

I stand.

I walk.

And somehow, some way,

Getting through happens.

by Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit: “raise the roof” by super awesome via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

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TALK TO STRANGERS

TALK TO STRANGERS

This YouTube video, “Why You Should Talk to Strangers,” features Robbie Stokes, Jr. giving a TEDxFSU talk at the Florida State University.   It was published in 2013.

In it, Stokes, a former Washington, DC events coordinator for a congressional delegate to the United States House of Representatives, tells how, the year before, he quit his job, sold all of his stuff and chased his dream about wandering around the world and talking to strangers.

Over the course of 110 days, he traveled the world, visiting 17 countries.  He spent his time talking to strangers.  Here’s what he learned….

Somewhere in there, Stokes also created the I TALK TO STRANGERS Foundation with a bunch of help from his friends.  They call themselves a “social movement whose philosophy encourages and challenges individuals to create genuine relationships through meeting new people.”

The Foundation’s “initiatives,” – an impressive array of projects, programs and events organized in North America, Africa and Southeast Asia is detailed in the 2012 – 2017 Foundation Report. 

GROWING UP CONNECTED

I grew up in a miniscule place.  Molokai is the fifth largest island in the Hawaiian island chain.  It measures a mere 38 miles the long way and 10 miles across at its widest point.

A lot of the island is empty.  The people cluster in a few communities scattered here and there on the island.

When I was growing up, the population of the entire island stood at around a little over 5,000 folks.  Wikipedia says a “town” has anywhere from 1,000 to 20,000 people.  Back then, according to this, the whole island of Molokai would have qualified as a small, very rural town.

molokai-shaka
“Molokai Shaka” by Samuel Apuna via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
For me, there were no “strangers,” only cousins and aunties and uncles I hadn’t met yet.  Even the grown-ups who weren’t officially related to me were “aunty” and “uncle.”  It was good manners and proper to notice people and to greet them and to “talk story.”

It was only later, when I got off that little rock, that I encountered the rule about not talking to strangers.

I got into all kinds of trouble for acting polite. (“What do you mean, I can’t talk to that guy on the street corner?  We see him every day.  He’s really nice, you know….)

conversation
“Conversation” by Sarah Herman via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
I never did get the “don’t talk to strangers” thing right.  Maybe that was a good thing.

TALKING TO STRANGERS CAN BE GOOD FOR YOU

According to the smarty-pants who study such things, just noticing the folks around you and being noticed is a good thing.  (They can’t “prove” that yet, but there are strong indications, they say.)

In 2014, a study published by psychologists at the University of Michigan was one of the first to look specifically at neighborhood social cohesion and heart attacks (a fact of life for more than 700,000 Americans every year, it says here).

The study looked at all kinds of factors and the neighbor connection was just one correlation, but as researcher Eric Kim suggested, being friendly with neighbors has some pretty obvious benefits.

conversation
“Conversation” by Christine Vaufrey via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Neighbors who know each other tend to check in on one another.  They talk story and share health-related information.  They tend to watch out for each other.  Often friendly neighbors share resources as a matter of course.

conversation
“Conversation” by Lotus Johnson via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
More importantly, the casual hand-wave and friendly “Hi, how are you?” adds up to a feeling that somebody sees you and acknowledges that you are there.

Just the feeling that somebody’s got your back is worth the effort to be friendly, if you can.

Other studies since then have shown that people who talk to the other people around them rather than staying inside their own little bubble when they travel on public transportation or zoning out in a checkout line or hiding behind a book at a table for one, report that they enjoy their daily commutes, doing non-recreational shopping, and feeding their faces more.

conversation
“Conversation” by Bernard Laguerre via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The everyday nitnoy annoyances get less stressful when you’re all in it together, it seems.  If you can include and engage with familiar strangers (like the guy working the cash register, the barista serving up your fancy coffee fix, or even the person you see on the bus every day), there’s a warm fuzzy feeling that trails around after you all day long.

CAN TALKING TO STRANGERS MAKE YOU SMARTER?

Not only that, but all kinds of studies have shown that talking to strangers might even make you smarter.

It’s all based on a thing called the “confirmation bias.”

Every one of us tends to think the same thoughts over and over again.  We look for evidence that our thinking is “right.”

We also tend to hang with people who think the way we think, act the way we act, and so on.  It’s comfortable.  You don’t even have to go into spasms about it.

Strangers, on other hand, “think different.”  Often, that makes them annoying obstructions and challenges that you just want to ignore because they take you out of that comfortable space.

conversation
“Conversation”) by Mark Zastrow via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Sometimes, however, their different way of thinking may be just what you need to help you get past your own blind spots when you’re wrestling with a complex problem.  Sometimes strangers can present some other way of looking at a thing that helps you move forward on some project.

You do the same for them.  It isn’t a one-way street.

It could help you to think of strangers as exotic resources you can tap.  What do they see?  Why is it so different from your way of seeing?  Is there something in there that you can use?  Hmmm….

This could lead to exploratory journeys into parallel universes, you know.

Peace
“Peace” by Bart via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

WHAT IF YOU DON’T KNOW HOW?

I have figured out, though, that a lot of people really do have a hard time just talking to people who are different.

Take a look at this YouTube video posted by The Atlantic magazine in 2016.  It is an episode of its If Our Bodies Could Talk series.

In it senior editor James Hamblin (who is apparently not so good at talking to strangers) tries out different techniques suggested by Kio Stark, author of WHEN STRANGERS MEET:  How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You.  Stark is really good at talking to strangers and she knows all kinds of ways to develop that skill.

The video was shot in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

The fact that talking to strangers is a skill is an important concept.  A skill can be learned.

It does take a bunch of practice stepping outside your comfort zone.  It also requires a certain recognition of other people’s boundaries as well as an acknowledgement of your own …..

Sure it looks funny at first.  You do get better at it.

TWO CAVEATS

Okay.   Now for an important message from your Inner Smarty-Pants….

First of all, if you’re going to get outside your comfort zone, you still have to pay attention to what your body, your head and your heart is telling you.  If a person or a situation gives you the shivers, do not, not, NOT ignore those feelings in the name of “open-mindedness.”

Whatever else, fear is always real.  You are feeling it and it is giving you a very important message.  Your fear is your early-warning-system and it deserves your attention.

The fear you feel may not even raise a blip on somebody else’s radar.  But, then, it’s not somebody else’s fear.

Get out of there and then when you can breathe again, check in with yourself and try to figure out what set off the alarms.  Was it something tangible, something that makes your backing away a sensible move?

If so, thank your fear and get on with your life.  If not, then take the fearful reaction as a signal that you need to slow down and take smaller steps towards your goal of being more open to experience.

Just ‘cause you’re trying to be more open-minded does not mean you want your brains to fall out nor do you want to fall into a vortex of new experiences that confuse you so much you can’t even think straight.

open-minded
“Open-minded” by Eddi van W via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
Keep practicing as you can.  It’ll get you accustomed to testing and challenging yourself .  It will also re-set your fear monitor.

Of course, as with all these types of things, it’s always important to remember boundaries.

  • Don’t spark up a conversation with someone who’s not interested.
  • Don’t push it if people don’t reciprocate.
  • Be respectful of other people’s time and mindful of other people’s boundaries.

If you’re lucky, you might find someone else interested in sparking up a random little conversation as well.

conversation
“Conversation” by Michèle Chauffaux via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Here’s a poem….


not strangers

people with the same loves

are not strangers,

even if we’ve never met.

our worlds dance to rhythms

that mesh and climb, overflowing

into other spaces, other times

that we recognize when

we finally, at the last,

touch each other with our minds,

a hall of mirrors, each to each,

reflecting one another’s span,

refracting and expanding into many,

the penultimate one.

 

awww…that just sounds too esoteric,

makes it seem like angels flying.

 

Let’s get real:

Howzit, braddah?

How you, sistah?

What?  You like play?

by Netta Kanoho

Header Picture credit:  “The Conversation” by David Schroeder via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

 

 

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