Focus on What You CAN Do

Balance what you can’t do by shifting to focus on what you can do. Right now, there are so many things we can’t do. We can’t go to work. We can’t sit in our favorite restaurant or even take our laptop to Starbucks for some people watching. We can’t have a birthday party. We can’t get always get the food we want, the laundry detergent we prefer, or toilet paper at all. It’s legitimately frustrating and can lead to a pattern in which we get caught in a loop of negativity.

This is a challenge that’s faced during normal times by those of us who have to restrict our diets in certain ways to feel good and be healthy. That too is legitimately frustrating. The key to avoiding consistent low level anger and stress in both situations is to balance what you can’t do by shifting to focus on what you can.

puzzle

I love puzzling through problems. When I have a computer issue, I get so caught up in the steps of trying a solution and observing the response that I lose track of time. Hours can pass before I remember to get up and move around.

It’s not that the problem doesn’t irritate me. It’s not that I’m happy that I can’t get my work assignments done. But I also recognize that my mind is invigorated by troubleshooting and I am usually successful!

Conquering the machine is a great feeling! That’s what I choose to focus on when a computer problem arises. And if I can’t directly solve the problem, I look for a work around. That’s another invigorating puzzle.

My grandmother used to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” While that’s a pretty gruesome visual, I took the message to heart. Any time I feel stuck, I repeat that to myself. When I can’t immediately see an alternative, I walk away from the problem and do laundry or dishes or file the papers on my desk–something to keep my hands busy and let my mind wander.

Before you know it, an idea will pop into my head. If that option doesn’t work, at least I know I had an idea. If I had one, I bet I can have another one. Before you know it, I’m in a spiral of ideas that are moving me forward! I get caught in a pattern of positivity.

I’m certainly not immune to the feelings of anger, sadness, and loss that come with giving up what was or how I want things to be. I struggle and fill my friends’ ears full sometimes. I try to be aware enough to make sure that’s part of the process of letting those feelings move through and out rather than a way to wallow.

The past month has presented an ever-growing list of things we can’t do. The upcoming months will present more. Accepting that reality while holding the idea in our minds that there will be other things, perhaps that we’ve never considered, that we CAN do is the key to keeping us from a cycle of negativity. My intention for this week is to be mindful and put my focus on what I can do.

So I’ll end with the obvious questions this brings. What can I do? What can you do?

If Your Work Does Not Garner Attention, Is It Worth Doing?

If your work does not garner attention, is it worth doing? In 2009, my son’s friend Ester directed the documentary film, Butterflies. The film follows the lives of six people dubbed weblebrities for gaining fame for doing nothing but appear on a website called YouTube. At the time, YouTube was only four-years-old and there was no such thing as an influencer.

In fact, although the film explores the power of the internet to challenge the future of traditional media, I don’t think anyone took the weblebrity phenomenon too seriously. I know I didn’t expect that 10 years later a 7-year-old could make $22 million in one year reviewing toys on YouTube.

As timing would have it, there was a synergy in the effects of the Real Housewives, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, smartphone cameras and YouTube. What was initially viewed by most as distasteful exhibitionism morphed into acceptable and then a model to emulate.

Growing alongside those franchises were FaceBook and Twitter soon followed by Instagram. While these are marketed as ways to connect, they are equally ways to garner attention. Clicks and likes became a measure of whether you matter in the world. The fact that likes are generated by the lewd, violent, or dangerous as well as the cute and cuddly lost any distinction.

Ten years after Butterflies, being a YouTube star has become a career goal. This is not inherently a bad thing. Using YouTube to showcase art, music, spoken word, fashion, dance, interior design, cooking, scuba diving, sailing, rowing, gymnastics, workouts, gardening, auto repair, appliance repair, history, 3D printing, and new technology is a great use of the platform. Showcasing new products is fine too. But hoping to be famous for being famous or outrageous has limited value to society.

On the other hand, being famous for being famous or outrageous now pays really well. Because we use money as a primary measure of success in this country, celebrity for celebrity’s sake has been legitimized. So what if you create an algorithm that improves hospital efficiency, design an improved washing machine, engineer a safer bridge, or improve the delivery mechanism for chemo? What if your true talent is caring for a disabled child or fragile senior?

What if the most significant contribution you make does not get any attention at all?

The truth is that the most important work you do in life may not garner much attention or much money. We used to know and accept this. We followed internal guidelines that focused on hard work, dependability, honesty, integrity and doing our best at any task we were given. Our sense of accomplishment was based as much on HOW we did the job as it was on what we achieved or how much we were paid.

When we tried hard and failed, we weren’t crushed as long as we had done our best. We absorbed the experience, learned something, and moved on. We expected less from others and more from ourselves.

During the past decade, there has been a shift from primarily internal to primarily external motivation and validation. And the shift hasn’t been to external validation from people who can look you in the eyes or hold you when you’re crying, but to validation from total strangers who only know a one-dimensional version of you and only care about you when you stand out from the digital noise.

Depending on someone else for a feeling of accomplishment or measure of success takes away our power. It leaves us vulnerable to a sense of self based on fickle trends and short attention spans. With more exposure to that vulnerability we are seeing skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, addiction, suicide, and mass killing. And why not?

When your sense of self is based on other people, how do you know you matter if you don’t get any likes? How do you know you’re living up to your potential if you turn off your phone to focus on your kids and can’t see whether you have any new followers? How can your accomplishments matter if only your boss knows you wrote the code to make a driverless car stop? If your friends aren’t DMing or tweeting you, do you even exist?

We can shift back to internal value systems, but it will take courage and introspection. It will take parenting differently. It will mean making a conscious decision that it’s more important to make a contribution than to be known for making that contribution. We can take back our power and choose not to react if our achievements are hidden, overlooked, or under-appreciated.

  • What if the only thing you accomplish in your career is making everyone else’s job easier? Is that a bad thing? Wouldn’t you appreciate someone else who makes your job easier or more pleasant?
  • What if your courage allows you to stop the line more often than anyone else when you see something amiss? You may be considered an annoyance to your supervisor, but you are contributing to quality and safety.
  • What if the only thing you give to society is making sure your children feel not just loved, but valued? That single accomplishment could save lives. When we have been valued, we are more likely to value others. Valuing ourselves and others makes it much more difficult to take another person’s life.
  • What if you never make much money, but give comfort and assistance to those who are struggling on a regular basis? Is this not a valuable and badly needed service?
  • What if your accomplishments are to keep your home clean, organized, and peaceful? Those are significant contributions to your family’s well-being. They provide a foundation for the family to excel.
  • If you are an agent for change, you may get more negative attention than positive. Does that mean your work is not worthwhile or that you should stop pushing for change?

Our sphere of influence may be as large as the universe or as small as our nuclear families. Within either realm, we have power and responsibility. What we do and how we do it matters. It feels great to have our accomplishments noticed and appreciated, but if the reward is not in the work itself we will never feel satisfied.

Considering our current focus on external response, it’s worth asking whether your work has to get attention for it to be worth doing. If it does, are you setting yourself up to feel perpetually dissatisfied?

Big questions may be hard to ask, but they’re so easy to answer! It’s just fear that keeps us from asking. I feel strongly about doing something that comes with internal motivation and reward. It’s the way to feel as though you haven’t worked a day in your life. And if you choose something you know is worth doing, it won’t matter a whit whether anyone notices or posts a like.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1381735/?ref_=nm_knf_i1

https://www.businessinsider.com/ryan-toysreview-7-year-old-makes-22-million-per-year-youtube-2018-12

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4853817/

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/09/america-without-family-god-or-patriotism/597382/

https://www.netflix.com/title/80202283

https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/being-agile-eleven/9780133375640/ch09lev2sec1.html

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Speed Kills

Remember the ad campaign, Speed Kills? I can’t remember if I first heard the term in an anti-drug campaign or an attempt to reduce speed limits. The phrase has been used for both. This week, I’m thinking of Speed Kills in totally different terms.

Last weekend I went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor. This movie chronicles the career of Fred Rogers, the creator of MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD. There was nothing speedy about Mister Rogers. His slow pace stands in stark contrast to other children’s entertainers. This was deliberate. It was also significant.

Mister Rogers understood that very important things happen when we’re still and quiet. He included long pauses and silence in his television program. This is considered a no-no in the TV world, but as someone observed in the movie, there were many times when nothing much was going on, but none of the time was wasted.

On some level, parents and children must have sensed the significance of this. They certainly responded. Mister Rogers became hugely successful in spite of doing everything “wrong” for a television audience.

In my home, I observed that when my boys watched MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD their behavior was markedly different than when they watched He-Man. He-Man led to an afternoon of hitting each other, breaking toys, and generally violent behavior.

MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD, on the other hand, had a calming effect. After watching, the boys were kinder, gentler, and quieter. They played together instead of fighting. My house was infinitely more peaceful.

At the time, I didn’t take time to analyze why this was true, I just did the practical thing and banned He-Man. If I needed the kids to have screen time so that I could clean up the kitchen or do the laundry, we opted for MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD or the video disc Free to be You and Me.

Now, with much more experience under my belt including many years of working long hours, never missing an event, frequent travel, work-work-work-play-play-play and rarely saying no, I understand the importance of being still. Being present requires taking pauses to notice what has happened and how it makes us feel.

I know you may read that and say, “duh,” but look at how we live. We rarely pause between activities, much less during them. We fill our waking hours with movement, noise, and electronic distraction.

One of my grandchildren has 4 structured activity classes per week – he’s 9 months old! Will he be able to lie on his back, stare at the clouds smelling fresh-cut grass and feeling the solidness of the ground supporting him when he’s three or will he be lost without constant activity?

It seems we have some level of awareness that we need to increase our sense of well-being. Ways to increase wellness are often featured on morning TV. The number of people practicing yoga in the US has doubled since 2008. The mindfulness movement touts the health benefits of meditation.

In contrast, we see our friends, neighbors, and family members numb themselves with work, gaming, social media, TV, sex, food, alcohol, and drugs on a regular basis. Sometimes we see ourselves doing the same. If we know we need to feel better, and we know that slowing down to reflect and be present in the moment will help, why do we keep speeding forward?
speed
What’s difficult to admit, much less discuss, is what lies underneath a need to speed through life at a level of maximum distraction. If you have lived in an environment of chaos and/or danger to your physical or emotional well-being that you could not escape, it is excruciatingly hard to sit still and be present. It is also necessary if you are to heal the wounds your spirit has suffered.

It is in this context that I now view the phrase – speed kills. Speed kills our connection to our spirit. This removes us from knowing, accepting, and loving ourselves. It removes us from the very best parts of ourselves. At its worst, this disconnect allows us to act out our anger, hurt, and frustration in vindictive, destructive ways.

In the face of a tragic, hostile act, we often wonder – what kind of person would do that? Often the answer is simple: someone who has suffered in ways you cannot see and may not be able to imagine.

Remaining present and emotionally open in the face of violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning, is intolerable for most everyone. It is absolutely healthy in those situations to engage in fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning in order to protect yourself.

The problem is many, not just some, MANY of us have lived in an environment in which violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning were the norm. Living in persistent, unrelenting physical and/or emotional danger creates wounds that are both physical and emotional and result in disconnection from ourselves. Constantly being in a state of fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning creates long-term barriers to calm, peace, connection and joy.

When we have the strength and courage to sit still and be present, it opens the door for all the emotions we have been avoiding to come rushing in. This is a great opportunity to release those emotions and the hold they have over us. That’s easy to say, but terrifying and hard for many of us to do even if it is worth it in the long run.

I’ve spent years unraveling the knots in my stomach and my spirit. I know that I did not choose the environment that created them. I was born into it. Accepting this hasn’t eliminated the seemingly bottomless well of sadness I feel in my solar plexus. It hasn’t removed every trigger that can send me into an emotional flashback that I simply can’t outthink. (I know this isn’t some particular defect in me. Signals from the amygdala can override executive function, but it still feels terrifying and out of control.)

Mindfulness has helped me rewire my brain away from anxiety toward noticing small ways in which I feel good. I feel less braced for the (as I learned to view the world) next inevitable attack. My new level of awareness lets me deliberately shift my focus in order to feel better in a given moment.

I am painfully aware how difficult it can be to find support for a healing path. Even places we expect to provide a cushion for processing trauma, grief, depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms – the therapist’s office, doctor’s office, church, or support groups, may not provide the type of support we need. Feeling unseen, unheard, dismissed, targeted, or misunderstood can leave us feeling even more alone and, sometimes, revictimized.

Healing can bring immediate improvement, but I do not know of a straight or swift path to wholeness. That journey is a process unique to each of us. The best support along the way is to be seen and accepted just as we are at any given moment.

Perhaps this is why I so appreciate Mister Rogers simple affirmation that he likes us just as we are. But I cannot fully receive that message unless I am sitting still.

http://www.doitnow.org/pages/psas.html

http://focusfeatures.com/wont-you-be-my-neighbor/

https://www.fredrogers.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_to_Be…_You_and_Me

https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/untold-story-america-mindfulness-movement/

http://childhood-developmental-disorders.imedpub.com/systematic-review-of-mindfulness-induced-neuroplasticity-in-adults-potential-areas-of-interest-for-the-maturing-adolescent-brain.php?aid=8553

https://seattleyoganews.com/yoga-in-america-2016-statistics/

https://www.speakcdn.com/assets/2497/domestic_violence2.pdf

http://besselvanderkolk.net/the-body-keeps-the-score.html

http://www.traumasensitiveyoga.com/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5518443/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/yoga-perfect-home-workout/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/sometimes-stop-order-start/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/travel-tip-17-stay-home/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Forget Mindfulness!

Mindfulness pshaw. Forget Mindfulness! What I need is a little MindLESSness!

Don’t get me wrong, my life is filled with mindful practices and I believe they’re important. I practice yoga 3 or 4 times a week. I may squeeze in a guided meditation. And, I’m immersed in a Daring Way class where I’m learning to practice empathy that includes mindfulness. There’s nothing WRONG with mindfulness. In fact, sitting in the moment and being present has led me to recognize that I am worn out!

I need to turn my mind off temporarily. I don’t want to consider anything. I don’t want to answer a text, send an email, or read any research. I don’t want to cook a meal, test a recipe, or review any video. I don’t want to pay a bill, wash a dish, or plan anything! And I know I don’t have the emotional energy to listen with empathy to someone who is making my life more difficult. I just don’t have it in me.
mug
I want to lie in the sun, feel it’s warmth and ENJOY it rather than feeling like I need to dig up tulip bulbs from my yard while the soil is soft. I want to float in the pool and feel nothing but the softness of the water as it supports me. I want to savor my coffee in the morning and eat chocolate at leisure with some wine at night. I want to laugh at everything silly, jump in a pile of warm laundry, take a nap at 10am, find a new show to binge watch, or read a page turner.

Feeling carefree may not be achievable, but it’s a good goal.

It takes a lot for me to feel overloaded, but if there’s never any relief — no full day off, no carefree moments, not enough laughter, no one to depend on to pick up the ball when I drop it, I can get to a point where I’m constantly poised for the straw that may break me. It’s easy to say, set better boundaries so you don’t get overtaxed, but difficult to practice if you’re a caregiver, sole provider and parent, sole proprietor, or just financially strapped.

For me, it’s better to recognize and accept that I may not be up to any greater challenge than lying on the couch than to numb my feelings with food or alcohol, to lash out in anger, or to turn in a half-assed performance at work.

Is it difficult for me to admit this? YES!!!! I am driven to achieve, solve problems, and fix things.
It’s really hard to admit I may not be up to the task. While I know this is temporary, it feels huge and frightening!

It’s worth remembering that down time often provides powerful insight. It’s easy to think of doing nothing as time wasted, but that’s selling it short. Putting my mind in neutral allows it to travel paths it would otherwise miss.

I just talked to a friend on the phone who asked what I was writing. When I told him, he said, obviously taken aback, “That’s what you’re writing!?” I could tell he thought the decision was risky. But I know I’m not alone. I’m not the only one who feels this way, and maybe, just maybe, you need to know that because you need some mindlessness too.

So, if you’re in my boat, let’s just let it float with the current. We’ll be able to get back to shore when we need to. I’m certain of it.

http://thedaringway.com/