spock - that is highly illogical

That is Highly Illogical

The last few years have been a struggle to understand why everyone is losing their shit. Ok, maybe that is not stated correctly. Obviously, there appear to be valid reasons for people to be on edge – a pandemic, global climate change, and misuse of power. But the reason we are all on edge, the reason we are emotional, the reason we are at our wits end are not those real hard-core factual logical reasons. We are in pain, individually and collectively, because of how we feel about these facts.

It is never the circumstance that causes us pain. It is our thought or feeling about that circumstance that causes us pain. Our perception of the world and how it works – if it is fair or unfair, if it is ending or being reborn – is constantly being played in the background of our mind. All of the information we receive is funneled through our perceptions and beliefs and adjusted to fit our worldview.

A simple example I provide in my book, is having $100 in our bank account. The amount of money is a fact. However, what having that money means is based on our perception. We can look at our checkbook at the end of the month and think, “Thank goodness, I have $100 left in my account after paying all my bills.” Or we can think, “Oh, my god. I am in trouble. I only have $100 left in my bank account.” The fact of the amount of money has not changed, but how we choose to interpret that fact is what causes us emotional pain or joy.  

All of the conflict that I am watching between friends, family, and society as a whole is not because of the facts of pandemics, vaccines, or the state of the government. It is caused by each person’s unique viewpoint on what those situations mean. If a news event happens and I watch Fox News, CNN, and the BBC reporting on it, I can often get the feeling three completely different events occurred because of how the story is reported and what emotional embellishment is added.

spock - that is highly illogical

My personal pain through all of this is in trying to determine how to help those I love. I see and feel the pain that my friends and family are experiencing, and I don’t seem to be able to provide relief. Many of us are trying to use logic to help each other see the “truth” or the “right” way. The problem with this is that logic is based on facts, and the pain and emotion being felt are based on perception and belief. The way to provide relief to those we love is to deal with dishonest beliefs, not the facts.

Next time you disagree with someone, instead of debating facts, seek to understand the other. Be open to hearing why they interpret the facts in the way they do. Inquire into their history and see how their past experiences are coloring current events. Investigate what they value to uncover what their fears are and why. When we can objectively see the truth and understand another’s perception, we can help someone else to see circumstances in a new light, not discolored by their or our own fears and dishonest beliefs. When we can put aside our own perceptions and beliefs, we can then objectively and compassionately understand another.

No matter the circumstances, we have a choice of how to react. It is our thought or belief about a circumstance or event that causes us anger, worry, or fear – not the event itself. This is why having a debate on the facts with those who disagree with us do not work. Because none of us are being affected by the facts. We are being influenced and controlled by our beliefs about the facts. If you truly want to create a more peaceful world, be open to exploring how your beliefs are coloring facts and have compassion for others who are also struggling with their own dishonest beliefs.

be the change

Unenlightened Blame

We all have our favorite Greek philosophers, right?  Mine is Epictetus. He never wrote any of his philosophies down, but his students would scribe his talks. As I wrote my book, From Type-A to Type-Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, again and again I ran across quotes from Epictetus which were in direct alignment to my thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about life.

Recently I started reading, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, where Sharon Lebell shares collected passages from his talks. The passages are in bite-size chunks perfect for daily reflection. One passage, “No Shame, No Blame,” really stood out to me. In this passage, Epictetus exposes unnecessary self-created pain. Here is what he said.

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Blame

He starts out strongly saying that it is not the circumstances or issues we face that cause us pain, but our  feelings about them. I have thought and written about that before. Epictetus takes it one step further – which is obvious, but I hadn’t tied the two thoughts together. He says when things are difficult, “let us never place the blame on others, but on our own attitudes.” Pretty obvious – and powerful – right?  I always focused on self-improvement. How do I improve my thinking to resolve a painful situation? And yet, I might blame the other party for their role. That guy is a jerk for doing X, Y or Z, but I am going to rise above it and change my thinking. If, however, I am going to truly, completely accept that it is our “feelings about things” that torment us, then the others involved are not to be blamed, at all. Yes, they may be acting in inappropriate ways and perhaps we need boundaries to protect ourselves, but it is our feelings, not their actions that are causing us pain. We can not blame them for our experience. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” If you are feeling a certain way, you can not blame anyone except yourself because you are choosing to suffer.

Moral Progress

Epictetus then takes this concept out to society as a whole. “One of the signs of moral progress is the gradual extinguishing of blame.” Wow. Sit with that. What if our current culture stopped pointing their finger at the other side? What if we stopped attacking others for taking away our freedoms or putting us at risk? What if we stopped feeding our negative emotions with biased, sensationalized viewpoints? What if we stopped playing victim and instead stepped into responsibility for our own lives? Epictetus saw society moving from the small-mindedness of blaming others, to blaming ourselves for our situation, to “a life of wisdom” where we embrace the truth that blaming others or even ourselves does no good. This is true acceptance and compassion.

A New Way

As you go about your day, notice who you are blaming. Is it the driver in front of you who is going to make you late for your appointment? Is it yourself for something said or not said? Is it politicians or extremists? Take a step back from the circumstance and look at your feelings about the situation. What is causing your emotional reaction? What are the beliefs, attitudes, and expectations that are causing your anger or sorrow? You may not be able to change the circumstance, but you can ALWAYS change your attitude about it. Let’s all make strides to move our society into the way of wisdom, not unenlightened blame.

Regret, Jealously, and Courage

Lately the topic of people not wanting to work because they are getting generous unemployment seems to be prevalent with family and friends. I would like to share some thoughts on this topic based on my experience. As with many hot topics, there are many sides and viewpoints to this issue. I do not claim to be an expert. I am simply hoping to share my experience coaching others through career and life transition, and to provide you with some new thoughts to consider.

Regret

Recently I shared a valedictorian speech which asked us to look at what was really important – striving for our 15 minutes (or seconds) of fame or our human connections. Somehow the American work ethic has led to our work life taking precedence over everything else – over our family, over our friends, and even over our own health. The current pandemic has been a wake-up call for many. We are asking ourselves what is really important. We are reconsidering what a successful life looks like to us.

For those I work with in job transition, many are taking this time to re-evaluate where they are heading. Many are leaving what they have known and are trying something new. Whether starting their own business, learning a new trade, or retiring early, many are deciding that their day-to-day happiness is more important their paycheck. Yes, some of these people profit financially from the transition, but many others embrace a new lower financial status so they can live a more healthy, relaxed, and loving life with less regrets.

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Jealousy

When my husband and I left our safe corporate positions to move to Mexico many of our friends were jealous. They would say that we were very lucky to be able to do what we were doing; that they could not. They wished they could just quit their life and move to a beach. And they could. Nothing made my husband and I special. We just took the plunge. Our friends’ fear is what kept them trapped in their jobs and from the lives they could have. People were jealous of us but not willing to take the risk themselves.

I believe one of the reasons people are being attacked for being lazy and not finding a new job, is actually jealousy. At the root of people’s anger is it not simply that they are jealous of those who are no longer playing by the rules. Ask yourself why you are angry at those choosing not to work. Is it not a little because they are getting away with what you chose/choose not to do? Are you not angry that you played by the rules and these others seem not to have to?  In a similar way, recent information about how little corporations and wealthy individuals are paying in taxes has also created jealousy. As I file the quarterly taxes for my husband’s business, I often ponder how his small business if paying four-figures quarterly while major corporations pay nothing.

Courage

It takes a lot of courage to go against the norm. My entire life I was groomed to work. Do well in school so you can get into a good university. Get a good degree so you can get a good job. Do well in your position so you can get a promotion. Professional advancement was instilled as the end all and be all of living. When one steps off the conveyor belt of professionalism, it takes a lot of courage to go against what has been preached and believed by those around us.

Nothing amazing ever happens by doing what we have always done. If you want change in your life, if you want to make things better for others, we need to change our expectations of business as usual.

As a side note, if the nice woman who cut my hair last June at SuperCuts decides that receiving unemployment is better than her $15 an hour position where customers come in outraged that they need to wear masks, I get it.

support group

Learning from History

When I wrote my book, From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, I was sure I had a novel and new idea. But I did not. Turns out Epictetus, a philosopher from around 100 AD said pretty much the same thing. He thought philosophy should be lived, not just discussed. He taught acceptance of what is and releasing the desire to control things we can’t control. He believed in self-examination and self-discipline. Many of his quotes could have been easily integrated in my book like, “People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.” Or “Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.” And “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

At first, I was bummed that I was my writing was not groundbreaking. Then, after I accepted that there was nothing new under the sun, I started to see his writing as a validation of my thoughts. We saw the world similarly and having the same thinking as someone else lent credence to what I intuitively believed. This was no longer my experience but a shared experience.

support group
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Often when something happens in our lives, we believe it is new, novel, and singularly unique to us. The truth is that someone, somewhere has gone through what we have. It may not be exactly the same, but it will be close enough that we can learn from that person’s experience, strength, and hope. We can understand their challenge and how it relates to ours. We can learn how they approached the issue, and what worked, or didn’t. We can be inspired to act knowing how their actions netted a positive result.

Learning from history and from others’ experiences helps us to create our own plan of action. This is different than receiving some guru’s three-step plan to happiness. This is learning from someone’s experience, applying it to our lives, and discerning how we should mirror, or not, their choices. This is real life experience that can be applied, not some sterile one-size-fits-all expert formula. Learning from others is learning to fish, not being given a fish.

Learning from others can happen on many levels. It may be talking to others who went through something similar and discerning our options based on what they tried. Small and large business can learn much from the practices other businesses have had in the past. Learning from others can also be applied on a global level so we can learn from and not mindlessly recreate history.

It helps to go through this process with a confidant; to have an outside objective voice to work through your problem. They will be able to spot things quickly and more easily because they are outside the story, outside the emotion. If they have gone through something similar, it is even better because they will know what to watch for which you may not yet realize.

What is your current challenge? Are there those you know, support groups, or memoir books which explore your challenge? What can you learn from their choices? Is there a mentor who can help you navigate what you learn and how it applies to your situation? Knowing that others were able to rise above their challenge, are you ready to try to tackle your own?

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Are your means leading to your ends?

The other day a friend shared with me a simple reality check for our behaviors. He said that he looks at his goal and then reviews the methods he is using to reach that goal to determine if those methods are actually moving him toward his desired end result. Very simple. Very telling.

Here are a few examples where the means are not getting to our desired result:

I have often wanted to have deeper, more loving relationships (goal). My actions (method) have been to be distant and aloof to keep me from being hurt.  The result is that my distance kept others distant which prevents my having deeper, more loving relationships.

A millennial dreams of owning his own house (goal). Every day he eats out breakfast, lunch, and dinner (method). The result is that he is not able to save enough money for the down payment.

A spouse wants to be trusted by her partner (goal). Yet she continued to lie and manipulate him (method). The result is that she is less, not more trusted by her partner.

A worker wants to receive a promotion and be respected in the company (goal). He constantly complains to his co-workers that he is not treated fairly (method). The result is that his co-workers see him as a complainer instead of management material.

Looking at the goal, method, and results is simple in design and difficult in practice. The two challenges that come up are the ability to look at our methods objectively and second, to know that if we are not headed toward our goal, we need to make changes.

Being Objective

Humans are very rational beings. Or maybe I should say that we rationalize things to make ourselves feel better about them. We can do awful, unethical, or at least not wise things, but if we can find some story or premise to explain our choices, we feel justified. To learn from the Goal-Method-Result tool, we need to look at each action objectively, without excuse or justification. If we explain away our less-than-ideal choices, we can not learn to do better.

Goals

The goal can be something specific like buying a house or the goal may be something less tangible like being more peaceful. It is important for your goal to be YOUR goal. It should not be what others want you to do or what you believe you should do. In your heart of hearts, what would make you happy?

Method

Next, look at your current actions, words, and beliefs. This is not a time to analyze, just uncover. Be honest with yourself. What are you doing?  What are you not doing? How are you currently acting, speaking, and feeling?

Result

Now play out those methods to the end. Are they moving you toward or away from your goal? If they are not moving you toward your goal, what is the end result you are heading toward? Look at the examples I provided at the beginning of this article. The methods applied were in direct conflict with the end goal.

Change

Nothing changes until something changes. It is hard to honestly look at our methods (actions and beliefs). It can be more difficult to be willing to change those methods. First you need an honest desire and willingness to be and do different. We may want change but the actual transition into something new can be terrifying. Even welcomed change is scary because it is not what we have known. Humans crave consistency. Our stress levels are lower when life continues in the way we are accustomed. That is why so many people stay in a bad relationship or an unfulfilling position longer than they should. It is the devil they know. Moving into something new upsets the apple cart, takes us out of our comfort level. But it can also move us toward our goal.

What is the life you want (goal)? What are your current actions and beliefs (methods)? Are you heading toward or away from what you want? Are you willing to make a change to head you in the desired direction?

couple talking

Interior Monologues

Have you ever had a conversation where you didn’t feel heard or understood? Have you ever become angry at someone else because their words didn’t seem to match their actions? Does it feel like our conversations, maybe more so now, seem to be disconnected?

The reason why communication is usually stilted is because we do not know, own, and express our truth, and because we are taking people at face value instead of looking at the motivation behind their words. One of the most powerful notions I have learned lately is that everything someone says and does, is ALL and ONLY about them. Let that soak in. What people are saying and doing is simply a reflection of their needs, expectations, and perceptions.

Let me give you an example. I help with administrative tasks for my husband’s business. To get done what I need to get done, I need information from him. He is very busy, and it is often difficult to receive the information I need from him. For a while, we had some conflict. I was playing the nagging wife trying to get information from him. He would then, rightfully so, get angry at my nagging.

It wasn’t until we looked at what was under the surface, at the true motivations we both had for our words and actions, that we were able to understand and improve the situation. From my side, I thought my husband didn’t care enough about me to get me the information that I needed. I wasn’t pestering him for information. I was desiring love and attention. From his side, my husband thought my nagging was an attack on his ability to do his job. He thought I was berating him for being incompetent. Much larger topic than just workflow, isn’t it?

To help us navigate the real issue, we need to take a step back, seek to understand, and share our truth.

Take a step back

As I help others with conflict, the first thing I tell them is to remember that everything someone says or does is all and only about them. Taking a step back to uncover, as much as we can, the story behind the story, provides us with understanding, empathy, and the ability to address the true issue. Instead of focusing on what seems to be the issue, when we can see the bigger picture and we can work to resolve the real cause of the conflict.

Seek to understand

The first hurdle here is willingness. It is much more comfortable to be a self-righteous victim and attack the other for what they are saying and doing, than it is to take the higher ground and seek to understand. However, as we saw in my personal example, if I stayed in my self-righteousness and just continued to pester for information, nothing would be solved. It is beneficial to all involved to understand the truth of what is going on.

Share our truth

If we don’t share our truth, if we don’t explain why we are acting the way we are, we can not expect our problem to be solved. The first step here is taking the time and having the courage to look at why a situation is difficult for us. What is our underlying backstory? When we can uncover that and share it, we are then closer to having our needs met.

Look at some of your current challenges. Take a step back. What is the real issue for you? Have you communicated your truth and your needs? Have you sought to understand what may really be going on with the other person? Are you working to solve what is below the surface?