What You See is What You Get

What you see is what you get could be rephrased as what you don’t see, you can’t enjoy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched one of my kids or grandkids struggle to find a toy that’s right in front of them. It’s always funny because I can see it so clearly while they overlook the toy with a blank stare. If they continue to overlook it, they don’t get to play with it.

In a similar way, I sometimes find myself seeing every single problem around me and failing to see what’s going well. It’s right under my nose, but I look past it to the next problem. I know I’m not the only one. I have seen friends, family, and clients do the same thing.

And why wouldn’t we? For some of us, life has provided inescapable circumstances that made it necessary to guard against a next inevitable outburst, attack, cruelty, or manipulation. We learned to be astute detectives of negative energy. We can feel the slightest shift in tone, mood, tension, set of a jaw, or raise of an eyebrow.

When we have repeatedly been blamed for someone else’s mood or behavior, we learn to personalize the negativity. Again, why wouldn’t we?

We meet each day with a foundational slant toward self-protection. Self-protection can be a part of self-care. But it’s only healthy when balanced by an ability to recognize and absorb the positive, to solve problems rather than just avoid them, and to have the capacity to step back and gain perspective.

This can be difficult when a day bombards us with things that are noisy, annoying, frustrating, unfair, difficult, and stressful. It’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of disagreeable, anger-making people and events, especially when we are tired, overworked, underappreciated, sick, or suffering from trauma or loss. Once we’ve been sucked in, it becomes even more difficult to see anything beyond what’s wrong in every relationship or situation.

And it can be hard to argue with our position because our complaints may be on point. Customer service should be more knowledgeable and helpful. Bosses should treat all employees fairly. Police shouldn’t profile. Minorities shouldn’t experience discrimination. White people should get the same consequences as POC. Rich people should be held accountable for unethical or illegal behavior. Policies should protect the vulnerable.

For anyone whose vortex pulls toward self-limiting thoughts, those may also feel true. Statistically, it may be less likely for you to get your dream job because of your race or your age. You may be less likely to get into the college of your choice if your parents cannot donate to its Foundation.

It isn’t unusual for someone to get caught in a cycle of negativity. And given the current failures of so many systems and institutions, it can be more difficult to extract ourselves.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to help change that.

Start by recognizing that what you see is what you get. When you focus on negative. You’ll only get negative. The good may be right there, but you will not get the benefit of it because you are focused elsewhere.

Collectively, we know this. How many movies have you seen where a character overlooks someone offering love, kindness, loyalty, and dependability in favor of someone who does not?

Find a token that reminds you to notice each small kindness or lucky break in your days. A bracelet, ring, watch, desk ornament, screen saver, bookmark, plant – anything will work. It just needs to be something that will pull your attention regularly.

If it helps you, keep a tally. You can do this as a text thread to yourself. Create a new contact on your phone just for this. Each time someone smiles at you, holds the door, tells you they appreciate something you did, apologizes, compliments you, helps you lift something, add it to your tally. Add up the score each day or each week. Sit with that number and allow yourself to see how it makes you feel.

Practice opposites. This is fun for rebellious people like me. We like flipping things anyway. Here’s how that may look. When you have a thought like: I won’t get that job because…(negative, negative, negative), flip it around to an opposite idea: I will get that job because I’m willing to work harder than anyone else (Even if you can’t bring yourself to say you’re the most experienced, talented, or best candidate, you have the ability to exert effort and claim that as a reason to hire you.) Trust me, I’ve hired a lot of people. I’ll take the employee who works hard over the most talented any day!!!

Question yourself. No one has to know you’re doing this. Just do it as an exercise. When your self-talk says: My boss always wants me to fail, question that thought. Begin by stating this as a belief rather than fact: I believe my boss wants me to fail. Follow that with this question: Do I know for a fact my belief is true?

Unless your boss has told you or someone else in the organization, they want you to fail and unless you have seen that in writing or heard a recording, you don’t know it for a fact. You have that perception, but it could be wrong. Stick with that possibility for a minute and ask this question: If I am wrong and they don’t want me to fail, what would I do differently?

Turn the answer into action. Do whatever it is you would do differently in response to the above question as an experiment. Commit to it for a period of time (at least a month) and notice the results.

Let yourself be surprised. Since you’re doing an experiment for yourself, you will not lose face if you’re wrong so let yourself be surprised by whatever happens. If things get worse, you just learned you need to get out of a situation that’s never going to let you fill your potential. If things get better, whoo-hoo you win! There’s really no downside to this.

Trust yourself. I know you may read this and say I am trusting myself. That’s how I know things are bad. True on one level. But that’s only one level. When you fully trust yourself, you’ll be able to set that aside and know you can be okay even when things are bad.

And the more you learn to trust those parts of yourself that may not have had the safety to develop, the more you will recognize you can be more than okay. You can achieve, inspire, be your best self…thrive.

The good is there. You just have to see it. What you see is what you get.

Uncertainty

Every day, I am acutely aware of the uncertainty that surrounds me. In my state, one in five are uncertain whether they will have access to enough food to live a healthy, active lifestyle. That’s 20% of the population facing food insecurity.

In 2020 when my city recorded 49 murders, the rate was 24.8/100,000. That was above the national average of 6.5/100,000 people. To date this year, we have had 70 murders. These include a small child who was shot and killed in a car riding to the zoo.

Not all shooting victims die. Last week, a mother and her two-year-old were wounded while driving on the interstate. Three nights ago, gunshots rang out at the end of the block when I was standing on my front porch saying goodnight to my sister. We all flinched, shook our heads, and went back to business. My neighborhood stopped calling the cops over gunfire years ago. It was pointless.

Before you get too excited by that statement. Yes, we call 9-1-1 if someone gets hurt. Even that can be dicey. A few years ago, I called to report that there was a man outside my house yelling that he had been shot. First question from 9-1-1, “What color is he?” Huh?! How ‘bout just send an ambulance?

Then came the pandemic in which we’ve amassed the eighth-highest death rate from COVID-19 in the country. We’re 33rd in population so those12,000ish deaths that represents haven’t been enough to trigger support for mitigation policies or push the number of those fully vaccinated to 60%.

Life is more tenuous here than in many places. And we haven’t even gotten to the high incidence of chronic health conditions, high ACE scores in children, high rate of domestic violence, or the number of children needing permanent homes.

How does all that uncertainty affect us?

Uncertainty is a fact for everyone, but some are able to construct situations that keep the feelings of worry and anxiety it can bring at bay. But with the pandemic came uncertainty for everyone for a time. It swiftly became clear our mettle was going to be tested as individuals and as a society.

We haven’t yet gotten ahead of SARS CoV-2 so we can’t fully analyze who dealt with its reality best. But there are indications that many of us white-knuckle clutched onto anything from before the pandemic that made us feel more certain (or normal).

And we have demanded those things even when scientific evidence could not support us having them – large weddings or funerals without masks before vaccines in indoor spaces; sporting events; concerts; indoor dining; maskless classrooms. This leaves me to ponder whether we’re more concerned about losing our artificial sense of certainty than we are about sacrificing our actual safety?

I also wonder whether the undertow pulling progress backward in states like mine is related to discomfort with uncertainty. We know what happens if we do things like we’ve always done them. We aren’t so sure what will happen if we vary.

Some people may think I’m talking about fear of change. But we willingly change things all the time. We change our hair color, houses, décor, clothes, schools, jobs, hairdressers, doctors, vacation destinations, etc. We embrace change we have determined will bring something we desire. We may not have absolute certainty, but we have an adequate level of confidence to feel comfortable taking the risk.

When change is forced on us, uncertainty comes with it. In that situation, some thrive. They seem to be able to rely on the fact that they’ll be okay even if they don’t know what comes next.

I feel like that’s the key: The knowing you’ll be okay whether things are certain or not. Because things are never certain. You may think they are until lightning strikes, a hurricane blows in, or a stray bullet hits your window.

If that’s the key, it would follow that progress, growth, and improvement are all facilitated by a deep knowing that whatever happens, we will be okay. That sounds really big! It is. And that’s for another post.

For now, I’ll leave you with a few things to contemplate:

  • Can you sit with uncertainty and still feel calm, safe, and comfortable with yourself and your path (maybe not every moment, but overall)?
  • Do you tell yourself the truth even when it makes you feel less certain than denial or fantasy?
  • Are you comfortable with allowing for the possibility of an unknown outcome?
  • Are you confident enough to learn rather than jumping to conclusions that feel certain?
  • Do you sell yourself short in order to create a more certain outcome?
  • Does uncertainty cause you distress in some situations, but not others?  
  • If you were certain it would turn out okay, what would you do that you’re not doing now?

Certainty is a powerful illusion. One that we often count on to our own detriment. We can change that but first we must get more comfortable allowing ourselves space to feel uncertain.

Is Bias Affecting Your Decisions?

Ever wonder how bias is affecting your decisions? It’s hard to make healthy decisions, especially these days. We have access to a ton of information. We also have access to a ton of disinformation. Bias enters the picture to add further complication.

We can carefully vet our sources, but even information from credible sources may be biased. And once we absorb information, it is subject to our own bias.

All of us are biased. Our brains use prior experience as a shortcut to form a perception of reality in the moment. If bullets have pelleted my home in a drive-by, my perception of the sound of gunfire may be quite different from someone who has only heard that sound at a gun range. Or, if I’ve only heard gunshots on TV, I may perceive a gunshot outside my home as a car backfiring.

We often remain unaware of our biases or those that have long persisted within our culture. This is as true in healthcare as it is in other areas of life.

For example, you may have had a health professional recommend a low-fat diet to improve heart health. This sounds logical, reasonable, and is a widely issued recommendation. It is easy to assume that research backs up this advice. And yet, that’s not the case.

According to a study published in 2015, a relationship of causation between fat consumption and coronary heart disease was never established. In spite of that, guidelines for fat consumption were established as if causation had been established. The guidelines were included in the 1977 McGovern report and persist in many doctors’ practices today.

Bias in policy and decision making has been on daily display during the pandemic, resulting in a mishmash of barely discernible pieces of fact-based guidance. In fact, public health guidance has been such a nightmare to navigate that I’m not going to try to decipher it here.

Instead, let’s focus on personal bias. Here are a few things to watch for when attempting to determine whether bias is influencing a decision:

Judging Yourself – Judging yourself may prevent you from recognizing bias. It can be difficult to isolate personal bias if you judge all bias as bad. Remember, bias assists your brain with processing information quickly. We are wired for this. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t interrupt the circuit. Some bias creates real harm. Still, having bias is not, in and of itself, inherently evil.

Feelings of Danger – There is no real danger in questioning beliefs. Questioning is how we progress and grow, but when we hold a belief so closely it feels like part of our internal workings – part of what makes us, us –  it can feel dangerous to question that belief. If we look too closely, we may find our sense of reality shaken. It can feel better in the moment to turn away from danger rather than face potential bias.

Lack of Perspective – Without perspective, we may not be able to turn an issue around to observe whether our view is informed, balanced, fact-based, or reasonable and whether it affects us in a positive or negative way. Further, we may not be able to see the effect our position on an issue has on others. It is hard to gain perspective from the middle of something. That’s why we have the cliché – you can’t see the forest for the trees. We must sometimes invent a way to increase distance from an issue so we can see it more clearly.

Defending the Status Quo – Discovering personal bias requires internal examination. Sometimes when we feel uncertain, we ask for another person’s opinion. External observations may be helpful when exploring the layers of a belief but substituting another’s opinion for your own assessment won’t necessarily result in ferreting out bias. In fact, relying on someone else’s opinion of your process or position may tempt you to defend the status quo.

Allowing the Past to Prevent Progress – Bias is often defended overtly and tacitly by explaining that we do things according to tradition or the way they’ve always been done. Using the past to determine the future can feel grounding and safe. And there’s no denying it’s important to learn from the past. But holding onto beliefs just because they’ve been around a long time and are widely accepted can perpetuate unhealthy bias and prevent progress.

Human nature urges us to present ourselves in the best light. Discovering bias in our beliefs and/or actions may require some detective work. It can also help us determine whether bias is influencing our decisions.

Ultimately, recognizing and eliminating bias can lead to healthier life.

More Lessons From the Countertop

The past week, I’ve been learning more lessons from the countertop. As I’ve mentioned before, my kitchen cabinets are topped with teak planks hand-rubbed with tung oil. Keeping them in top shape requires a light sanding and a couple of coats of oil every year-and-a-half or so.

For the first 8 years, I was meticulous in maintaining this routine. An occasional stain would require a sanding and blending in between. I would do this relatively soon. And so it continued until 2016. At that point, a series of events in my family changed my priorities.

Since then, a significant amount of my time has been devoted to caregiving and administering affairs. Oiling the countertops fell close to the bottom of my priority list. The surface of the teak suffered.

Last week, I decided now is the time to sand, oil, and even out the surface. I allotted two days of disruption and moved the dish drainer, cutting boards, knives, coffee setup, and spice rack. The microwave, mug tree, mugs, and snack bowl had to go as well. The dining table was covered.

I began the project. Two days turned into four and the difference in condition proved slight.

Each coat of tung oil has to dry for 24 hours before another sanding can be done or oil can be added. After 5 days, there were still lighter and darker spots. And I discovered the rim around the sink needed special care.

After another day of adding oil only to lighter spots, I thought I’d lightly scrub with steel wool, add a coat of oil, and be done.

Nope. While that coat went on smoothly, once it dried there were areas that continued to show wear.

Today is day nine. The surfaces I use most must still be kept empty. Cooking is more difficult. Dish washing is more difficult. (Oh yeah, I have no working dishwasher because I managed to melt the handle of the knife against the heating element. But that’s a whole other saga to be dealt with.) My table still has no free surface and I need to clean out the refrigerator. It would be an understatement to say, I am ready for this project to be done! I am more than ready!

I was tempted to treat today as the last day no matter what. Truthfully, I’ve had that thought for days. But after wiping off the excess oil from carefully chosen areas of wear this morning, something happened…I could suddenly see that the spot treating was making an improvement.

NINE days of sandpaper, steel wool, oil-oil-oil, steel wool, oil-oil-oil, steel wool, oil-oil-oil until I can finally see the process will work…eventually. We’re still a few days away.

Yesterday, I was frustrated by the mess, tired of the work-arounds, annoyed by trying cook with the spice rack in a different room and a small wooden tray to hold bowls and pans for prep. Today, I feel less frustrated. Why?

Because today I can see the value in what I’ve been doing.

So what are the lessons from the countertop?

1)If something does damage over a long period of time, the time it takes to repair may be lengthy as well (although short in comparison – years vs days).

2)Repair of deep-seated scars must be done in layers that must be given time to dry, jell, set, or cure. Glossing over too much too fast will not create a resilient surface.

3)It is difficult to keep going when you can’t see progress. It takes faith, commitment, and perseverance.

4)Allowing frustration to rule leaves no room to practice patience.

5)Seeing the value in a process makes related tasks less frustrating.

And while I’ve been learning these lessons specifically in relation to wood repair, they apply to pretty much everything I can think of.

Try them on and see if they fit your current frustration.