Breathe and Make Choices [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~ William James

A note from the Rejuvenation Fairy: the relief we seek may depend upon the phrase we choose. For instance, consider this phrase: coping mechanisms. What ease might become available if we viewed ourselves as something other than machines? Turn this dial. Adjust this screw. Add a little oil. Check the battery. Do this, then that will happen. Turn down the pressure gauge. Talk to others. Take a break. Cause and effect.

Breathe. Sentient beings are much more complex and subtle than apparatus made from iron and steel.

We story ourselves. For reasons no one will ever fully comprehend, we sort to the tragic. We imagine the worst. Ask any good storyteller and they will confirm that conflict is the driver. Yearnings meet obstacles and stories ensue. Everyone, without exception, is telling themselves a story. Everyone, without exception, is starring in their own movie, complete with impossible mountains to climb, monsters to face, dreams that remain just out of reach. Robert Sapolsky has it right: zebras don’t hold onto their tale of stress while human beings are reticent to let it go. We like to tell it again and again and again.

If we cast ourselves as victims in our movie, our stories will be filled with ogres to blame. If we reduce ourselves to the mechanical, our stories will be endless attempts at fixing what’s broken, looking for the right hose to replace. How to recharge the battery. The fortunate few recognize that their movie might be a story of choice. Choices made within given circumstances. The storm, like time, passes. How do we stand in it?

There’s little doubt that we are living in stressful times. There’s nothing like a deadly pandemic to turn up those mechanical pressure gauges. Add another notch or two of pressure with extreme national ideological division, cowards at the switches of government, mix in some economic stress…there are plenty of choices on the angst-menu. All are visceral. All are circumstances to the story we choose to tell, the story I choose to tell.

I came across a few universal coping strategies. Eat healthy. Exercise. Give yourself a break. Get plenty of sleep. Talk to others. Recognize when you need help and ask for it. I wondered why these good choices are reserved for times of stress. Why not give yourself a break as an everyday expectation. Talk to others. Eat healthy. Weave a calm center it into the fibers of daily life. Make choices. Especially in the story you tell yourself about yourself. The thought upon which you choose to fixate, to play over and over again in your movie-mind.

When Kerri and I fall off the pony and run around like our hair is on fire, we make chicken soup. I am the sous chef. She is the master mind. The recipe comes from her mother so the making of the soup is more than food prep, it’s a love-touch to her anchor. We touch love. And, of course, defying the advice of experts to avoid alcohol, we enjoy a glass of red wine. We choose the glasses: Jamie’s? Or Skip’s? Or Joan’s? For our wedding, we were gifted with many special wine glasses from many special people. Recently, Jay and Carol and Rob sent us wine. When we clink our glasses, we touch the depth of our support and reach of our friendships. We call 20 and laugh. As the soup simmers and the wine disappears, we realize that our hair is not on fire, that, although we are not zebras, we are infinitely capable of releasing our tale of woe. We need not cope or distract. We can grasp hold of the full tale of the enormity of our lives. We need only refocus our eyes, see the depth and expanse of our story and choices, enjoy the warming soup. Appreciate the story of the wine.

read Kerri’s blog post about CHICKEN SOUP & WINE

Sit On The Wire [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

birds on a wire copy

Google the question, “Why do birds sit on a wire?” and you’ll get a curious tidbit of information. This is what I read: birds are able to sit on electrical wires because the current ignores the bird’s presence.

It’s human to ask the question “why?” In fact, asking the question “why?” is probably a central characteristic of the critter called human being.

Another characteristic of a human being is personification: attributing human characteristics to things non-human. For instance: the current ignores the bird’s presence. I laughed heartily when I read the phrase. The electrical current dissed the birds on the wire. Wait. Is that why the birds sit there?

Now we have two possible questions.”Why?” you might ask, “did the current dis the birds?” OR, you could ask,”Why do the birds taunt the electrical current?”

Either way it sounds like the beginning of a really good joke. Or, a good question to ask in a philosophy class: why and when did the conflict between birds and electrical current start?

All good stories, like all good jokes, begin with a hearty conflict. Yearning meets obstacle. Bird meets wire.

Why?

We critters are excellent at asking the question. Why, you might ask, is there rarely a definitive answer? Well, asking the question seems to be the point. Curiosity is what makes us human. Don’t ask me why.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about BIRDS ON A WIRE

 

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Stand On Any Street Corner [on Merely A Thought Monday]

kindness kerouac copy

For reasons that are beyond my pay-grade to comprehend, human beings are obsessed with seeing conflict and division. The news of the day is generally antagonistic and despair-inducing – and that is not unique to our day. Ancient temples and modern televisions alike are overrun with images of war and hostility.

One of the greatest powers a human being can achieve is the power of focus placement. ‘Seeing’ is, after all, a matter of choice.  It is not passive. In any given moment there are multiple points of focus, there are multiple stories, there are many interpretations to choose from.

Stand on any street corner and watch the world happen. Watch the overwhelming number of acts of kindness and generosity. The small moments of simple kindness and consideration. They are everywhere. People giving way, making way, helping. You will be surprised to find that the kindnesses by far outnumber the rudeness, the antagonism.

Stand on any street corner and watch where your focus goes. In the midst of a tsunami of kindness, if you are human and like all other humans, your focus will be captured by the angry guy honking his horn, the commuter shouting at the bus driver. “Such an angry world,” you think and close your eyes, despairing. Anger is so much louder than kindness.

Tell a story of discord, see a story of discord. Practice a story of discord, live a story of discord. Discord is easily leveraged. Division is easily sold. It is like selling candy to a kid. It is readily chiseled into pillars and hungrily read into teleprompters.  It is so easy to see.

Tell a story of kindness, see a story of kindness. Practice a story of kindness, live a story of kindness. Although it is more readily available it is, somehow, more difficult to see. It is less sell-able and, so, is discarded as trite. It requires choice and discernment rather than default. It requires opening your eyes and your story to what is actual, what lives beyond the thundering chorus of conflict-peddlers.

The angry shooters and tweet-happy presidents live on the far margins yet they garner the majority of the attention. Stand on any street corner and open your eyes. There is a sweeping quiet kindness that permeates the vast majority, that defines the middle ground. You can see it if you so choose.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

 

 

 

 

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Organize Your Principle [on Not-So-Flawed Wednesday]

tupperware wall cropped copy

On a snowy cold day a few weeks ago, Brad and Jen rearranged the books in their library according to color. Their shelves are now a gorgeous gradation of color through the spectrum. “It’s cool,” Brad said laughing, “but now we can’t find anything.”

Organizing principles. They are the silent partners in most collaborations and conflicts. If shared, they make things easy to find. If not, they make things impossible to see. The genius of our government is based on the simple recognition that there is more than one way to organize. The breakdown of our government comes with the refusal to consider that there is more than one way to organize. My-way-or-the-highway is a great organizing principle if you are a hermit but a lousy choice if community is part of your equation.

‘I am my brothers’/sisters’ keeper’ is an organizing principle. As is ‘every man/woman for him/her self.’ “We The People…” is a declaration of an organizing principle.

With growth comes new necessities. That generally also brings a need to revisit the principles of organization. A teenager operates according to an entirely different set of imperatives than did their 5 year old self. Nations grow and change. They mature (one hopes). We have courts ostensibly to help us hold a common set of principles amid the pains of growth and change.

Distraction and deflection, intentional clutter, concocted chaos sometimes obfuscate the presence of organizing principles. But the greater principles do not go away. Dust settles. The principles remain. We will hear them again when we speak in quiet voices.

Kerri and I walked through School Days Antique Mall, through booths, many stacked with clutter. It is fun to sort through but hard to see what’s really there. Because I am usually awash in metaphor I thought how much the Mall felt like our nation. Stacks of chaos. Warring organizing principles. But, just when I felt like I couldn’t breathe, we rounded a corner into a highly organized room of colorful Tupperware. Hope! There was space and air. It stopped me in my tracks. Tupperware organized by color. The same system as Brad and Jen’s books!  I laughed aloud. The color-organizing-principle! Applied to Tupperware, I could in an instant find anything. I could see.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about COLORFUL TUPPERWARE

 

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Look For It [on Merely A Thought Monday]

it's not a problem correct aikens box copy

We live our lives diving for pen and paper or whipping out our phones to text notes to ourselves. We dive or whip because someone just said something interesting. We are trying capture something we just heard before it slips away. It is the reason we created Merely-A-Thought-Monday.

Watching an old episode of Life Below Zero, Sue Aikens, living on the frozen tundra, tossed off this yummy phrase and we both leapt. Kerri was faster on the uptake, “I got it!” she said, texting at lightning speed. I was still looking for a pen.

It is a statement of optimism made all the more meaningful because of the extreme challenges Sue Aikens faces everyday. Her bears are real. She can’t afford pessimism.

When you are a collector of phrases, a watcher of behaviors, a student of story, a few things become immediately clear. People generally focus on the negative. Take a trip to the office water cooler or go to the local coffeehouse and eavesdrop. You’ll listen to tales of dissatisfaction and conflict.  Stories of blame. There’s tons of interesting customer experience data about how readily and disproportionately we tell our tales of woe versus how rarely we tell our tales of wow.

Conflict makes for good storytelling. Tales of wow and tales of woe are both conflict driven, both rife with challenges. I dove for pen and paper because this simple phrase, Sue’s mantra, captures perfectly the distinction, the line that defines a tale as wow or woe.

It depends upon where you place the conflict. In most water cooler tales of woe, the conflict is an endpoint. “Can you believe that happened to me.” The main character, the storyteller, is the victim in the story. Tales woe are told and forgotten. They are replaced by the next yummy woe.

In tales of wow, the conflict is a driver, a propeller toward an end that is not yet visible. The main character is a seeker. The challenge is fuel. “I will find it. I will make it happen.” Tales of wow are unique in that they are usually told by others.

It is human isn’t it? A messy walk between woe and wow. Who hasn’t screamed to the sky, “Why is this happening to me?!” Who hasn’t stopped the presses, found a quiet spot, and thought, “I’m going to figure this out.” Not a problem.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SUE’S QUOTE

 

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Expand Your Bubble [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Everyone has their insurmountable mountain to climb. Everyone has their fear to face. Everyone bumps against the edges of their comfort zone. Everyone.

And, the beauty of this life is that the insurmountable mountain is different for everyone. What seems easy to you might be impossibly scary to me. You show me it is possible. I show you it can be done. We inspire another look at what’s possible.

In the film, FREE SOLO, Alex Honnold says that, for him, fear is not something to be conquered. Comfort is something to be expanded. And, comfort is expanded through exploration and practice. Through experiences and reaching. Testing and discovery. Trying again and again until what once looked like a monster becomes known. It’s remarkably practical. It is what education is supposed to be.

How we ask the question determines the paths we see or don’t see. It’s all in the language we use. “Facing a fear” is oh, so, warrior-esque. We are inundated with “going to battle” metaphors. Defeating a part of myself in a battle against myself seems…contrary to the bigger picture. Win by losing. Division as the only available route? Armor, armor everywhere.

There is wisdom in putting down the swordplay. There is hope in choosing cooperation instead of conflict. Instead of picking a fight, instead of perpetuating the power of the fear, how much better might it be to turn and look. Really look. Study. To reach and test. To take a step. To try and fall down so that you might try again with a little bit more experience. Study. Open to possibilities.

It’s a pattern. Focusing on the obstacle, fighting the fear, is learned. It’s a great strategy for keeping yourself afraid and encased in armor. Other patterns are available and far more productive. It’s possible to climb like Alex: study your mountain, learn the terrain, practice the difficult moves over and over, internalize safety, and one day, when you are ready, when you have a relationship with something other than fear, climb your once insurmountable mountain.

 

read Kerri’s blog post on COMFORT ZONES

 

 

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Shift The Frame

another of my illustrations for Lucy & The Waterfox

another of my illustrations for Lucy & The Waterfox

I’ve been sitting in my fair share of waiting rooms, coffee houses, and gathering spaces lately and so I’ve been eavesdropping on conversations. Who knew there were so many problems in the world! Based on my public space sample you’d think that things were dire. The news of the day concurs with the casual coffee shop discourse. Problems abound. Wars rage, resources dwindle, political leaders squabble, corporations pillage, siblings rival, and people cut each other off in traffic! As my friend Albert used to say, “Good heavens! Just drop the bomb, already!” With so much devoted suffering, so much impending doom, ill intent and disaster anticipation, it’s a wonder we can sleep or step out of our houses in the morning.

Why is this the story we tell? We talk about life as if it was happening to us, as if we play no role in making things happen. I used to make it my practice to count the acts of kindness I saw each day and compare them with my count of acts of cruelty. There was never a day when the cruelty outpaced the kindness. For every example of road rage there were 20 instances of road generosity. In fact, in my count, the acts of kindness so far outstripped the cruelty that it became ridiculous to keep the count. We are far more kind than cruel, far more capable than inept, far more connected than detached, yet our narrative reverses the order. We tell a story of separation, of dog-eat-dog, of the inability to cooperate.

Many years ago the good folks at Disney conducted a study and found that when people had a bad experience at Disneyland they’d tell on average 18 other people. If they had a positive experience at the park they’d tell 3 people. That’s a significant imbalance. We seem reticent to share our joys and adept at sharing our fears.

It’s as if we are addicted to conflict and, well, we are. We delight in defining ourselves by our problems. It’s a pattern. More, it’s a story imperative. We are, after all, storytelling beings. We never cease storying ourselves through our inner monologues and outer dialogues. We justify. We defend. We interpret. In general, stories – lived and scripted – are driven by conflict; conflict moves the story forward. Stories are made meaningful by overcoming the forces of opposition. Our lives are made meaningful by the metaphoric mountains we climb. We mistakenly define a good life as the absence of conflict. Conflict is necessary; it is our relationship to conflict that keeps us hooked on the drama like so much sugar.

There is a significant threshold, a passage into health and power that happens in a life when the narrative changes from, “things happen to me,” to a story of, “I make things happen.” Conflict is present in both story frames. In the frame of, “things happen to me,” conflict is an oppositional wind. In the frame of, “I make things happen,” conflict is fuel, we no longer are at the mercy of the forces but in alignment with them. The metaphoric wind is at our back moving us forward.

When we make this story frame shift, we no longer need the drama; we no longer seek to fix things. We see a different set of options. Literally, we see a different set of possibilities. We create and live from a different pattern. We see choices instead of victimization. We see active participation, conflict as challenge, engagement, and opportunity.

The, “I make things happen story,” necessitates responsibility: wars can’t just happen, resources can’t just dwindle, political leaders just can’t squabble, corporations can’t just pillage. We would tell a story of “we,” and take the step into maturity that the story of, “things happen to me,” obscures.

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Tug On The Idea

631. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Sean drew a picture of a tug-of-war. The rope was taut. He said, “Any good process has two sides pulling on the idea. To stay out of the extremes and off the margins we need the tension from the other team. We need the other side to pull as hard as we do; that’s what makes it all work. That’s what keeps us playing in the center. ” And then he paused and thought about it, adding, “In a way, it’s this kind of tension that makes collaboration happen. Collaboration isn’t about absolute agreement – that’s not generative at all; collaboration is how we do conflict. Collaboration is healthy conflict.”

I laughed at the phrase and I think it is accurate. If we can pull on the idea rope without negating each other, if it’s not personal, then it is healthy. It’s all about focusing on the idea, pulling on the idea instead of diminishing the other; a great collaboration is subject centered, it is about a better idea and that requires some tugging. It is not about being right or winning; it is the game that is essential.

I once took a class from the great Kichom Hyashi. One day he divided the class into two teams from a mock organization: 1) the finance folk and 2) the creative team. He posed a challenge and asked the two teams to try and pull the other side into their point of view. We immediately began diminishing the ideas of the other side. Kichom stopped us. He asked us to begin again only this time he would facilitate our conversation. He did not allow us to diminish or negate the other team. We entered the heat, argued the idea instead of negating the people, and an extraordinary thing happened: the tension mounted until it was palpable, crackling, and then a 3rd channel broke open. A better idea, previously hidden, burst forth. It was not a solution but a better idea, an expanded vision. The tension transformed into excitement. The two teams were now one voice chattering about the possibilities.

Kichom sat back in his chair and smiled, saying, “It’s not a mystery. This is how it is supposed to happen.”

Step Toward The Wolf

615. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

It’s an analogy I use often with groups: In the story of Little Red Riding Hood, which character is necessary to move the story forward? The wolf. Without the wolf, there is no story. Without the wolf there is no conflict. In story terms, conflict is the motor that drives a story forward. In personal and organizational growth terms, conflict serves the same function; remove the conflict and you will impede your growth. Conflict, obstacle, hurdle, challenge,…chose your word; it is the wolf, the trial that serves as midwife for the opportunity to emerge. New perspectives become available and necessary when old perspectives snarl and howl.

Processes of change in an organization are exactly the same as processes of change in an individual. The mistake we make in both cases is to attempt to eliminate the wolf from our story. We’ve confused good process with comfort. Discomfort, not comfort, is the hallmark of a vital change process.

Teams that always agree are inert. Teams that know how to disagree are dynamic. The greatest artistic collaborations I have ever experienced were comprised of people with opposing points of view and no investment in being right. They were artists dedicated to bringing their best ideas to a team, knowing that there would emerge from the group a vision greater than any single member could imagine. Collaboration is a cauldron that requires heat. It also requires an understanding that agendas like “needing to be right” or “have things my way” will sully the gold. Great collaborators step into heat unguarded; they do not attempt to eliminate the heat because they are in service to a vision and not a scorecard.

Collaboration is a group of people evoking the best from all involved; they are invested in the success of the whole, they are actively creating power with their team. The fear of conflict is a sure sign of power-over games; it is the sign of individuals pretending to be a group, seeking their worth from their peers instead of bringing their worth to the collaboration. When a group attempts to eliminate conflict it is a sure sign they are afraid and, therefore, necessarily invested in control.

If you or your team feel stuck, it is a good bet that you’ve eliminated the wolf from your story. Like all good growth steps, the thing you need to do often feels counterintuitive; rather than play nice, play honest. Bring your best offer and don’t forget to invite the wolf to your party.