A Survival Guide for Uncertain Times Week 2: Communicate

Ponte che collega le persone

“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” –Mother Teresa

A few weeks ago, I attended the New York City Women’s March. When I got home, I received a call from a friend who voted for Donald Trump.  He felt the Women’s March was divisive and portrayed those who had voted for Donald Trump as horrible people. He said he was not a horrible person simply because he voted for Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton. He told me he had seen on the news signs from the march that proclaimed, “He is not my president,” and “Dump Trump.” He heard a clip from Madonna in Washington, DC that he found violent and upsetting. I tried to express to him how wonderful the March was for me and how the people at these marches care about important issues facing the world today. But my friend could only focus on the negatives he has seen on the news.

As I lay awake in bed that night, I felt overwhelmed that my relationship with this dear old friend had become so argumentative. The next day I called him back. The first thing I said was, “Donald Trump is President of the United States.  I don’t want to discuss the election and I just want to focus on what is happening today.  Let’s talk facts.”

As the discussion continued, the things my friend said to me sounded like a string of Fox News sound bites. I probably sounded to him like a tape of MSNBC sound bites!  Again, we were getting nowhere.  My friend and I took a pause. We each Continue reading…

Are You Too Focused On The Things That Bother You?

New York City - Historic buildings on Gay Street in Manhattan

Last summer, one of my friends invited me to her house for the weekend. As soon as we pulled up to her house, she started to yell about the weeds that were growing by her porch. She spent the first thirty minutes of our arrival in a bad mood, complaining about the gardener not doing a proper job and how her husband should have taken care of the matter. Interestingly, as we stepped out of the car I was admiring the beautiful setting in which we’d be spending the weekend. Just getting out of the city and smelling the fresh air was a treat. Also, the house and yard were charming and had me thinking how lucky my friend was to have such blessings in her life. I don’t mean to say that my friend should not be upset about the weeds, but her reaction overshadowed all that was wonderful in that moment.

I returned home two days later. As I walked around the city on that very hot day, I noticed I was walking around thinking about everything that was wrong and bothered me. I had thoughts like, “the city is really too smelly on a hot day,” “this restaurant should have better air conditioning,” “that store has a distasteful display” and “green is an ugly color for that car.” I had walked by beautiful buildings, lovely shops, neighbors, and so much more but I was only thinking about the stuff that bothered me or that did not fit how I like things to be. All of a sudden I realized I am no different than my friend. I was hot and bothered and searching for all the things that were not right. These thoughts were not the big issues in my life, but were creating some negativity and keeping me focused on being hot and cranky. At that moment, I caught myself and decided to actively search for beautiful things for the next few minutes. I saw a mother walking with her adorable child, I smelled the fresh juices from a raw foods restaurant, I admired the colorful apples in a bin outside a grocery store and noticed all the beautiful flowers in front of an Italian restaurant at which I had never eaten. I immediately felt more joyous. Sure I was still hot, but I just kept looking for the beautiful block after block. After a while I expanded my mindset to include things I saw that I wasn’t sure about or that might normally bother me. I decided to see it all as interesting and to be more curious. I noticed that when it is really hot outside an iced coffee tastes like heaven, people are more likely to speak to you in Washington Square Park in the heat than in the cold and the architecture of the hotel across the street is stunning. I even took a peek in the “ugly” window display of that store and noticed some lovely original art work with vibrant colors. It made me smile.

This simple exercise really changed the quality of my moment and created a better mindset for the day. You can try it while at home, with your friends, at work or just walking down the street. Here are some examples:

1. Home. If you are sitting at home or doing chores, focus on everything that is clean or is working well. This way the little mishaps or messes won’t bother you as much and you can enjoy everything else. If something is broken, try to see it as interesting or try being curious. My dishwasher was leaking two times in six months. When the repairman came the second time, I decided to be curious instead of upset about my resulting slightly warped floor. I learned about the different parts of the machine and found new ways to load and care for it. Sure I would rather have had a working dishwasher but I tried my best and did get something out of it.

2. Relationships. If you are with a friend who says something at lunch that hurts you, try to remember the rest of your conversation as well. Sometimes we get stuck on the one thing a person said that caused hurt and forget everything they said that was positive. You can also do this with your children or your spouse. We can harp on things about them that upset or aggravate us or search for the good stuff too. Often we forget that people around us have some beautiful qualities and we stop enjoying them because we don’t look beyond the stuff that bothers us.

3. Work. Instead of focusing on how annoying or rude your co-worker is, look for her/his good qualities. Try to see the benefits of a project you are working on instead of dreading the long hours it will take to complete. Try to create new ways to approach routine tasks. Maybe being more curious will enable you to see something interesting that you never noticed before. Work can sometimes be a tough environment for a new perspective, but keep at it. You might even find you become more productive when you are willing to see everything with a different state of mind.

4. Walking or Shopping. As for our walks or time shopping, look for what is pleasing, different or fascinating I sometime walk around and say to myself, “that is beautiful,” “that is interesting” or “I wonder how that works.” It makes my walk intriguing and more joyous. The quality of my time out in the world greatly improves when I remain open minded and curious, trying new foods and meeting more people. I also tend not to think about my daily stress and worry because I am busy experiencing the moment from a better vantage point.

It is truly amazing how much joy and possibility you can add to your life when you shift your mindset to see all that is beautiful or interesting. MAYBE give it a try and let me know how you do!

Originally Posted in Psychology Today

Do You Want More Respect and Recognition For Your Work?

young woman showing okay gesture, with copyspace

Years ago I was in a large baby store in Manhattan and I found myself standing near a very famous movie star. He was on the phone and very upset, saying that he was not getting the roles that he wanted in certain movies. I remember hearing him say, “Why can’t I get the respect. All I want is the respect. Why can’t they just recognize my work” My first thought was “Are you kidding me? You are a famous, well-recognized actor and you make so much money in every film you’re in!” But it didn’t matter what I thought. His suffering was coming from his belief that people were not appreciating his work. He was suffering like everyone else when we want to be recognized for what we do in the world. It doesn’t matter if you are the most famous movie star, a president of a large public company or a stay at home mother of two, we all suffer the same way when we want to be valued.

From experience, we know that this approval or respect we yearn for will come and go. Some days the world might let us know we are valued and recognize our work and the next day it won’t. Most of the time, the desire for appreciation and respect from others stems from a fear that things are not all right. We are afraid that we’re not who we should be or we’re not accomplishing enough with our lives. We believe the validation from others will make it all feel better. Yet the trap is that we can’t always get from others what we are looking for and must look within in order to find any semblance of stability and freedom.

So how do we alleviate our suffering and achieve this freedom? A great way to relieve some of our pain is with the mantra “Maybe everything is okay.” It helps us dissipate the fear that we have about our work not being valuable because we realize that Maybe it is. It helps us remember other possibilities are always arising even if we can’t see them in the moment. We see that we are not doomed if that one thing we believe we “need” to happen doesn’t. We begin to understand our need for approval is just a projection of our fear leading us away from our life’s path.

As we embrace the mantra that “Maybe everything is okay” we are also more kind and loving towards ourselves because we are more accepting of where we are in life. We can enjoy our work because we are not worrying what everyone around us will think or how they will judge us. We understand that things always change and we have no idea where a work project, new business venture or our future creations will lead. We realize that Maybe everything is exactly where it needs to be in the moment. Interestingly, when we embrace this mantra, we become most creative and we are more likely to have outward success. The letting go is often the opening of the path to achieve our goals.

So let Maybe be a bridge from fear to love and allow yourself to have the courage and confidence to continue the beautiful work that you do in the world.

Remember, Maybe everything is okay!

 

GIVE YOURSELF A HAND: REACTING LESS TO THE STRESS IN YOUR LIFE

Colorful  solidarity design tree

A few days ago I hurt my dominant hand.   It’s not a serious injury, but I have been trying not to use my hand so it can heal. Without the use of my hand, I need to take it very slowly and think about each step in my day, for example, making a morning cup of tea, the process of getting each item in my cart at the food store and typing on the computer with one hand.  I’m sure many people reading this blog who’ve had a physical injury can relate to this experience.   It can be a reminder to be more appreciative of our bodies and show us how to slow down and be more mindful of each activity. The most surprising aspect of this experience for me is that because I am moving slower and I am more mindful of my thoughts and actions, I am also reacting less to the situations around me.

I noticed my softer reaction when my daughter left her winter coat and some wet towels on the bathroom floor and also left the bathroom light on.   Because of my constant awareness of my hand, I was more mindful of how I was moving and feeling when I entered the bathroom.   I noticed a space between my feelings about her mess and my reaction.   Almost a pause that I did not plan.   Normally I would have approached her with an annoyed tone and asked her to go back to the bathroom to clean up her mess and shut the light. But that pause allowed me to be more thoughtful about my reaction.   I immediately realized it was not such a big deal, and I proceeded to think about how to shut the light and pick up the coat and towels with one hand.   I also was able to calmly tell my daughter what she had done and ask her not to do it again. I then entered the kitchen to find a sink filled with dirty dishes.   I gently asked my other daughter and husband to help me in the kitchen to empty the dishwasher and load the dirty dishes from the sink. I had the space within me to make a choice not to get annoyed about the dirty dishes that they had left in the sink all day. Instead, the pause gave me a larger perspective and a greater appreciation for what I really care about.   I had not seen them all day and the pause allowed me to get through the dish issue quickly and enjoy the rest of the afternoon with them both.   I even felt less of a reaction from a conversation with my mother-in-law!

I feel like my injured hand is giving me the experience of what mindfulness does for our lives. That space we develop from mindfulness between how we feel and how we react makes a tremendous difference in our experiences and our interactions with others.   With more mindfulness we can show up for the constant unexpected events throughout our day with more emotional control and not let each event throw us off course.   This leaves more room for us to cope with stress and worry and instead find the calm and joyful moments each day brings.

There are many techniques people use to create mindfulness so they are less stressed and reactive to events and people in their lives.   Here is a simple exercise that you may want to try that is similar to the experience I am having with my hand.   Try to focus on one of your hands and become more aware of how your hand feels, what it touches and how it moves for a few minutes. As you go about your daily chores or go to work, try to keep this awareness of the sensations from your hand.   First you may notice and appreciate all the experiences you were not paying attention to before from moving a piece of paper across your desk to how you hold the phone or a pen, how you type, eat lunch or hug a friend. Even though you are doing different activities and your sole attention is not on your hand, the partial awareness that you draw to your hand will keep you more grounded and present.   As your mind gets consumed with stressful thoughts at home or work, this is the moment when we are most in danger of overreacting to situations like our children not listening, a disagreement with a co-worker or a difficult client. Our uncontrolled reactions can damage our personal and business relationships, as well affect how we feel each day with a rollercoaster of emotions.   But by keeping a partial awareness of your hand, you will continuously bring some of the energy away from your mind and to your body and this will help slow everything down. You will become more mindful of each moment and you may just find that sacred space between how you feel about a situation and how you want to react to it.   This sacred space may help you show up with more ease, patience and kindness for your children, spouse, friends or business associates when you need it most.

You can also use this tool just at the moment you feel your stress escalating.   If you are getting very distracted with worry about the future or you find yourself overreacting or feeling overly uptight, just slowly bring some of your attention to your hand and you will bring some mindfulness to the situation.

I hope you give the exercise a try.   MAYBE the sacred space created by your mindfulness will be a new beginning to show up for your life with more ease and peace and open you to more joy in everyday