blackboard formulas

Simple is the Solution

The other day I found my husband’s Reader’s Digest magazine open to a puzzles page. One of the puzzles consisted of five simple addition formulas using letters, like A+B=C. The goal was to replace the letters with the given numbers. I started out with analyzing the letters; how many times was each letter used as either an additive and as a sum. Then I analyzed the numbers; I figured out how many different ways I could add them together to create sums that would fit within the given set of numbers and using this data, I uncovered how many times each number could be an additive or a sum. Then I spent hours trying to use all of this data to solve the problem. All to no avail.

blackboard formulas
Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

In the middle of the night, I woke up with the solution. I threw out all the complexity I created, all the comparisons and analysis. Instead I simply looked at the formulas. Based on the formulas to solve, I created a simple greater-than-to-less-than scale of the letters based on the formulas. Then I started to plug in the numbers. This number had to be all the way to the right because it is the largest, that number is somewhere in the middle because it can be both a sum and an additive. Once I had the majority of numbers where they had to be based on this logic, I started to plug them into the formulas to uncover the position of the other numbers. In less than five minutes I had it solved. It was simplicity and simple deduction, not over-complex analyzation that allowed me to solve the problem.

This reminds me of a few elections ago, the first time the electoral college caused a bit of an issue. By chance, it was the first time a television network used a fancy new electronic tally board. As the night went on, it became less clear what was needed for the candidates to win the election in this neck-and-neck race. The fancy electronic board had tons of data and cool images and pre-programmed formulas, but it couldn’t handle this unexpected situation. The host of the show, Tim Russert, asked for a white board. He threw out all the complexity of the super computer and went back to the facts. Using simple calculations, he was able to more accurately predict what was needed for each candidate to win.

How often does our self-created complexity cause more problems then it solves? Sometimes it is our making a situation too complex. Sometimes it is having too much complexity, too much stuff in our minds. Brigid Schulte author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time first introduced me to the concept of “tunneling.” Tunneling is the result of being too busy. Our brains are overloaded with what is on our plate, all the details, all the continuous thoughts, all the worries and fears. When we tunnel, when we are caught up in the complexity of life, we can not see broadly anymore. We have tunnel vision losing our big picture thinking. And we lose 13 IQ points in the process. Lost in the complexity of tunnel thinking, we can not see the solution that is staring us in the face. We are lost in our thoughts and not thinking clearly.

I don’t know about you, but I can easily point to times in my life – more than I care to admit to – where I was caught up in the tasks, in the responsibilities, in the overwhelming challenges. My mind swirled with all there was to do and fix. I didn’t identify it at the time, but yes, I was not using my whole brain. I was so consumed by the complexity of the small details that I couldn’t see the simple answer right in front of me.

Where in your life are you currently challenged? What obstacles or overload of challenges are consuming all your gray matter right now? Can you put away all the details for just a bit and look at it with fresh, expansive eyes?  How does it feel to be stuck in the tunnel? Are you effective? How would things shift if you got out of the complexity and into simplicity?

work in progress

Continuous Improvement

The reason I became a coach is because I didn’t like who I was. I could be condescending, judgmental and self-centered. In other words, at times I was a real bitch. And I was unhappy. I am not proud of who I was and how I acted. I wanted to change. My first client as a life coach was myself so I could work through all the negative traits I expressed in my life. I wanted to be a better person.

And I continue to do this work.

work in progressChange is not a one-time event. It is constant improvement. Yes, I made amazing strides not to be the person I was 20 years ago. And I am also working on myself every day to be better 20 years from today than I am right now. No matter how much work we do, how much we improve, there is always still more to learn and improve.

A few weeks ago, I had a potential client reach out to me. In our conversation, I mentioned how I am not perfect. I don’t have this life thing down. I have a lot of tools I use and I do my best every day. Yet, it is still a journey for me. Every day I learn and grow. Every day I mess up things I could have done better. Every day I brush myself off from my failures, make amends to those I hurt in the moment, and vow to do better.

In looking over my life I can see improvement. And I intend that every day I will improve a bit more.  As a perfectionist, it is sometimes difficult to admit when I have failed. Yet, it is in this awareness, recognition, and acceptance of my failures where I have found the most growth. Self-improvement does not end in the destination of perfect. Self-improvement is the willingness to see our warts and all, and to use this information every day to make better choices in the moment and in the future.

Part of the work I am doing now is healing the hurt I caused others in the past when I was not at my best. To do this healing it is necessary to take responsibility for my actions and to admit my failures. Consciously or unconsciously I have hurt others during my journey. Some incidents I am painfully aware of, and some pain I caused I may never know about. It may be terrifying to go back to painful times and admit my wrongs, but it is one of the most healing acts to experience for myself and for those I hurt.

Today I received an email from someone I hurt decades ago. The message resurrected my awareness of who I was and how I may have hurt others because of it. Unfortunately, this person chose to write to me anonymously, so I don’t have the opportunity to work through the damage I caused. I truly hope they reach out to me so I can understand the extent of the pain I created and so we can work together to heal.

a delicate dance

The Delicate Dance

It has come to my awareness recently how much of my anger, sadness, resentment, and victimization all stem from focusing on my ego. It is important to differentiation what the ego is and is not.  Lately every time I am triggered by something it is because I assume someone is doing something to me or not thinking of me, therefore bruising my ego. The truth is, I’m not that important. Others are taking care of themselves. They are thinking about themselves. They are doing what they are choosing to do. All with zero or minimal thought of me. And rightly so. I do the same. We are all the lead character of our play, while everyone else is but a small bit part. My ego takes over when I assume I am the leading character in everyone’s play therefore making everything being done because of or to me. Not true.

Our ego gets us in trouble. The ego is constantly wanting to be seen, protected and focused on. The truth though is we are not our ego. We are not our career; we are not our role as mother/sister/daughter; we are not the labels we have adopted (conservative, liberal, feminist, gun rights advocate). We are not the star of anyone’s play, even our own. What we truly are is what I choose to call our soul. Our soul is our being without any title or label. It is that ephemeral drive which makes some of us love horses and others love Shakespeare. It is what has created our theme and challenges in this life. It is what exists no matter where we live, what we do, and who we interact with.

Our ego is of this world. Our soul is beyond it.

What is fun – and challenging – about this lifetime is we need to be in this world, but much of our happiness steps from being beyond this world. When I returned from Peru, I did not feel or act of this world. I stopped playing the game of wanting a certain job, being consumed by the latest television show or fad, and being worried about anything this transitory world produced. I had never known peace like that before. Think about it. Write down the top five things you are focused on or concerned about right now. Would they matter to someone on the other side of the world? Will they matter in five years? Is your belief about its importance based solely on your chosen societal values? Did you value the same things ten years ago? Will you still value them ten years from now?

a delicate dance
Photo by 7 SeTh on Unsplash

All of the anger, sadness, and resentment I experience is based on and in the transitory world. Remember being devastated at not receiving an A on your college thesis or not being asked to the dance by the person you were smitten by? How important is that class now? Can you remember your crush’s name? Remember the 5×5 rule and release any pain being created by the transitory. Releasing the focus on our ego world is what gives us peace.

And yet, we have to focus on the world around us. Unless you are a monk cloistered away for the rest of your life, you need to be in and deal with the world around you. That is the dance of life. Meditate in the morning to touch the great beyond. Deal with traffic going to work. Open your heart to a friend who needs love and support. Spend five hours on hold with your cable provider. Use music, movement or creativity to release your passionate soul. Spend an hour making a meal that will be consumed in five minutes.

As the saying goes, “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” It is amazing and wonderful to touch on the enlightenment of seeing beyond this world. While we are simultaneously loving and dealing with living in this world. That is our delicate dance.

bunny on the subway

The Definition of Insanity

I saw a little boy learn a lesson the other day. At least I hope he learned from the experience. I was at the bank and the front of the bank was all glass. Even the doors were glass. The doors were not trimmed with metal; there were just two brackets top and bottom and the rest of the door was all glass. I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the glass doors. A young boy was playing with the door. He opened the door enough so he could touch the difference between the wall glass and the door glass. And then, unfortunately, someone left the building and the boy’s fingers were stuck between the door and the wall. I have never heard someone scream out in pain like that before. And then it was heartbreaking to see his mother have to open the door, causing more pain, to get his fingers out. It was traumatic for him and everyone who witnessed it. I can’t blame him for the incident. The door was cool and I can see how it would be fun to play with it. I am guessing this was his first time seeing this type of door and he could not have known better.

bunny on the subway
France mass-transit system Photo: Melissa Heisler

What I would blame him for is if it happens during his next visit to the bank. Sometimes we need to have painful experiences to learn lessons from them. It happens. But if we constantly repeat painful experiences, we have to ask ourselves why? How many of us have painful experiences, but instead of learning from them we keep repeating them again and again? We know bad boys are only going to break our heart, but here we are again dating a tough guy. We know we have to take heartburn medication after eating certain foods, yet our next meal we choose the same dish that upset our stomach the last time. Why do we keep repeating our mistakes? Why do we not learn from our mistakes and decide to choose differently next time?

I think it has to do with our expectations. “Men are always going to hurt me.” “My family all have stomach issues so I will too.” We think we are predestined to pain and disappointment. I do not believe that is true. Yes, we could have been born into a social setting filled with people we could not trust. Yes, we may have some genetics which make certain foods irritable. I do not believe however, that we must continue to choose to bring pain into our lives. As adults we have a choice of who we hang around, what we put in our bodies, and how we approach life. Yes, we can choose to repeat things that bring us pain. And we can also have the courage to choose to do something different and ultimately better for ourselves.

What is causing you the most pain right now? Is this the first time you have felt this pain or can you point to other similar issues? Are there any thoughts which make you feel like you deserve this pain or that this pain is inevitable? Are those thoughts 100% provable true in a court of law? Do you know three (3) people personally or in the larger world who act as if your beliefs are not true? How would your life change if you did not believe those thoughts?

As you go about your day, watch for painful thoughts and incidents that you are repeating in your life. What thoughts make you believe this is just a part of life? Even if it is just a little bit, how can you choose differently?

planning

How to Change

I have been listening to John Siddique on Insight Timer. One thing he shares is about how self-help articles often tell us what to do – we should have more self-esteem, we need to treat our bodies better, we need to release our past – but they don’t say how we accomplish these things. I believe if I asked you each right now what you should do to change your life for the better, you could easily come up with a list of things you should do. And if I asked you how you were going to make them a reality, you may come up short. Or if you do have a plan to make them happen, you probably find it hard to follow your own program.

Below are a few tools I use to create change which help me and many of my clients to accomplish our goals.

Ask Why Change is Important

planningWe know what we should do. We know what is best for us. We read the data; we know the facts. However, many times we don’t really buy into it because we are fearful, feel unworthy, or just think we can’t accomplish it. As Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough.” Knowing what we should do is not enough. We need to dig deeper. We need to get down to the real reason we want change. I found a great TED talk that recommends that we “start with the question.” I often do this when I coach people; I call it being the two-year old. I ask “why” and then to each of their answers, I ask “why” again. With each “why” we get closer and closer to the real truth. The real desire. The real fears. It is not what we think should do but what we are driven to do from the deepest part of our being that empowers us to make change. We have to get past our lies or others’ expectations, to the truth of what we really want. It is in this vulnerability that we can choose and stick to what we really want.

Stop Looking for the Reason

We use “why” to help us get to our personal truth, but asking the bigger “why” – the reason behind our situation – is not helpful. The other day I was learning about indirect objects in my Spanish class. In a few situations, verbs are not handled like they are in English. Instead of saying “I like chocolate,” the direct translation in Spanish is “Chocolate is pleasing to me.” In the Spanish sentence structure chocolate is take the action, not me. Because the concept is so different, I wanted to know the “why” behind it. I wanted to use logic and knowledge to help me learn. Truth is, there is no logic per se. It just is. It is a fact of that language. Personally, I spent many years trying to find the reasons in my past of why I act and think like I do. Some of this reflection was good and a little bit of understanding is helpful. But knowing the deep-down sole reason “why” things are like they are is not necessary for change and does not always exist. Don’t get stuck in trying to find the why. It only keeps you from moving forward.

Don’t Be Rigid

When we want to make changes in our life, we often create a plan we are going to enact – a daily diet plan, the number of times we will go to the gym, or other resolutions – and we try to force ourselves to adhere to that said plan. And to which we usually fail. The reason why is that we think we know the right answers today for what is going to happen tomorrow. We don’t. Life changes and we need to adapt to it. What we think will work may not and we need to adjust. Instead of creating a rigid plan to follow, have some simple goals like “I choose to be healthy” or “I am deepening my relationships.” Then in each moment ask yourself if the belief or action you are choosing is making you more healthy or is improving your relationships. If not, choose differently. After choosing for a few weeks, you will see a pattern of good choices arise that will then become your new way of being.

Be in the Moment

As mentioned above, instead of following a plan, change is best accomplished by making moment by moment choices. To make moment by moment choices, you need to, obviously, be in the moment. Throughout your day, try to focus on the present moment. Steer away from replaying the past or worrying about the future. As Ram Dass wrote, “Be here now.” Use meditation and mindfulness tools to help you retrain your mind to be in the moment. You can not change the past or control the future. Change only happens in the moment.

Choose, Don’t React

You are empowered to change. Really. You may not be able to change circumstances or the actions of others, but you can control your reactions to people and situations. One other benefit of being in the moment is to that you can learn how to choose your thoughts and actions, instead of having them be unconscious reactions. First, strive to be aware. Next, discern the thought/action which will serve you best.  Finally, act. A friend once told me, “You are responsible for your second thought and your first action.” Our first thought is usually a knee-jerk reaction based on fear and past experiences. This is human and part of us all. The key is not acting on this first thought. Take a breath, think about options, and choose the healthiest thought you can. Then act on that second thought. Breaking out of a reactionary way of being empowers us to make better choices.

I hope one or more of these concepts will help you create the changes and life you want to live.

march of the penguins

Think Before Committing

Have you ever watched March of the Penguins or any other penguin documentary? Those silly little birds who can’t fly are pretty tough creatures. They migrate for hundreds of miles and then overcome amazing odds to feed their young. If I wanted to choose an image for persistence and perseverance, it would be a penguin.

march of the penguinsI am a penguin. I am very good at doing, at persisting, and at pursuing difficult challenges come hell or high water.  What I am not good at is choosing where I should put my efforts. I am still learning to discern and choose.

Last August I participated in a yoga class that consisted of doing a twelve-step sun salutation for one-hundred eight (108) repetitions. Penguin powers activate!!!!! Somewhere in the smart part of my brain, I knew that I should not have accepted the challenge. It was clear halfway through that I could not maintain the speed of the rest of the class. I finally had to recognize that one of the twelve moves was difficult for me, and my doing it incorrectly was hurting my lower back and shoulders. But I didn’t want to stop. I felt I chose to take the course and I should persevere no matter what my body was telling me. Thankfully, I finally chose to recognize and fulfill the needs of my body and stopped.

How many times do we feel like we have committed to something and have to see it through?  I understand that some of us make commitments we never intend to complete, or we have a hard time with follow-through. I am not talking to this camp. I am talking to those people, or all of us at times, who push ourselves harder and harder to complete something we don’t really want or worse, which may be hurting us. If you are like me, you need to learn to stop, discern, and choose what is really best for you.

Stop

Before raising your hand at the PTA meeting or just jumping in to fix something, take a breath. Count to 10. Turn off the knee-jerk reflex to do and allow there to be space to decide.

Discern

When we allow space, we are able to more clearly see the right choice. To discern is to come to know and to recognize one choice from the other, and which is right for us. Take the time to see what the options are and how they affect our experience and goals.

Choose

Sometimes we can discern what is best for us, but we do not feel we can choose it. We always have the power to choose. When working with career transition candidates, sometimes they have to take the first position offered so they can keep their family afloat. That is a choice. It is also a choice to continue to search for the ideal position while working the new not-so-perfect position. Choice is always available to us. Sometimes we receive the result immediately, sometimes in the future, but we can also choose the path we take.

As you go about your week, notice the things you are pushing yourself to do. Stop. Discern how this project could benefit you, or not. Choose what is for the highest and best of all involved, especially for you.