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.

Finally, Sunshine! Let’s Enjoy It!

Finally, Sunshine! Last year was the 4th rainiest year on record where I live and the cloudy, drizzly days have continued into this year. Finally, this morning there’s sun. It’s amazing how waking to a bright sky can lift your mood and boost your energy! This is a great time to prepare for healing by creating a cache of pleasure and joy.
sun
If you’re ill, in pain, exhausted, busy caring for someone else, in danger of losing your job, grieving, or reeling from emotional flashbacks, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine anything that makes you feel good. It’s like there’s just no room in your entire being for a visualization of pleasure. When I am in this spot and a tiny bit of warmth, thoughtfulness, or kindness manages to register, it triggers a feeling of sadness and loss.

While I consciously know this is counterproductive, I also know there’s no point in fighting the process. I have learned that the best way to limit the duration of such sadness is to allow it to flow. It’s hard to measure whether the well in my solar plexus from which it pours gets shallower over time. I hope so, but I just don’t have enough perspective to judge.

Embracing this reality means I recognize I must actively engage in noticing the small gifts life brings each day. Having a system for recording positive feelings is a tool I can use to stockpile feelings of calm, peace, silliness, delight, gratitude, glee, lightness, and mirth. It also gives me a pathway to access positive feelings quickly. But before I create a system, I must open myself to positive experience even if it brings a moment of sadness too.

I was immediately aware of the brightness this morning as I sat in my recliner coffee in hand. I stopped reading and took a moment to breathe while looking at the sky. There are 9 windows in my small sunroom. It gets both morning light and beautiful sunsets.

sunroomA couple of years ago when I removed the cafe curtains from these windows to wash and iron them (I learned my lesson on sending them out to be laundered the year it took $350 to retrieve them from the laundry service. It would have been much cheaper to buy new curtains.), I decided not to rehang the top tier. Not only did that mean less ironing then, it means more light all of the time.

This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. I debated about it, took photos with and without, texted them to a designer friend, and ultimately chose the light. I don’t know that I improved the design of the room, but I improved the quality of my life.

Today, it’s sunny but it’s cold and the ground is frozen. It’s not a good day to dig up those bulbs in the yard or to sit on the porch and write. It’s a great day to do something not on my to-do list: go to brunch, run to the grocery store and get the ingredients for a new salad I want to try, take a drive with my grandson, walk through an open house or two, take a brisk walk, or book a trip somewhere sunny. The key is to enjoy the sun, to bank the positive feelings it brings, and to make a deliberate plan to enjoy the sun in the future.

And so, I’ll leave you here. I’m going to bundle up and get out of the house into the sun.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2290997/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/?s=coffee

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/my-five-feel-good-things-for-the-week/

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Can You Pivot?

When things don’t turn out as planned, can you pivot? Today, I thought I was going to make enchilada sauce. Over an hour into the process, I realized there was no way my combination of ancho and pasilla chiles, charred vegetables, marjoram and Mexican oregano was going to turn out like any enchilada sauce I’ve ever tasted or hoped to make. The flavors had potential, but not as the end product I’d planned.
pivot
I face similar situations regularly. No matter how meticulously I plan, things change. I can either let that throw me, or I can pivot. At those moments, I usually remember my grandmother saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Hearing that over and over let me know that it was not unusual to have to look for another solution.

Changing course is not always easy. Sometimes it requires significant physical, mental, or emotional effort. But with life throwing challenges my way, the ability to pivot has made me less wasteful, more efficient, more creative, more knowledgeable, more confident, and infinitely more resilient. This is true when I’m developing recipes, but it is also true throughout all areas of my life.

Pivoting requires engagement, flexibility and decision making. If I had been determined to end up with enchilada sauce, my efforts would have been wasted. An hour of wasted time with my current schedule can mean I must say no to lunch with a friend or rearrange anticipated down time. That would feel discouraging.

Being able to see potential in the work I’d done allowed me to make a subtle shift that turned the effort into an acceptable mole sauce that can be easily tweaked into perfection. Visualizing a different outcome is one component of a graceful pivot.

Recognizing I’m in a moment that could benefit from a shift comes even before visualization. That was pretty clear to me when adding salt didn’t head the sauce in the right direction. My taste buds called for sweet and something to mellow the bitter overtones. Honey, anise, and chocolate all fit that bill.

Connecting my taste instincts with my food knowledge led to an immediate association of the sauce on my stove and mole sauce. Exploring that thought excited me because most of the jarred mole sauce I’ve found in stores contains crackers or bread. I added a few ingredients to see if my visualized flavor profile would work as I anticipated. It did!

I recorded the changes in the recipe plus a few that I think will improve it next time. Of course, I also had to revise the dish I had planned for dinner. My enchilada pie turned into enmolada pie. It wasn’t that much of a shift and didn’t require a trip to the store.

The pivot, which included recognition of my dilemma, connection to a possible change, exploration of that change, visualization of a new end product, and implementation of the new plan, allowed me to turn a kitchen failure into a successful recipe albeit not the anticipated one.

Imagine what that did for my mood, energy level, and motivation! Instead of feeling defeated or discouraged, I felt excited about all the dishes I can make with mole. Woohoo, my mind is now moving full speed ahead!

The ability to absorb, process, and turn unfortunate events into positive momentum is what allowed a pharmacist I know to purchase and grow his pharmacy into the largest in the county seat, marry and have two beautiful children, and become a pillar of the community in spite of having had polio as a child that rendered him minimal use of his legs.

Instead of viewing his disability as something to hide, he chose to showcase his amazing upper body strength — a pivot that clearly fed positive momentum into the rest of his life. I think of his example each time I walk into his pharmacy.

A willingness to pivot is important for businesses too. If Anheuser-Busch had not reimagined its end product during Prohibition, there would most likely be no Bud Light, Franziskaner, Natty Daddy, or Rolling Rock today. Someone at Molex had to envision a future beyond flower pots and salt tablet dispensers for the company to begin to manufacture electrical appliances. We don’t always notice when a business innovates, but we certainly notice when it doesn’t. We soon become dissatisfied and move on.

It’s common to resist change. But things change whether or not we’re resistant. Hurricanes, floods, fire, and tornadoes reshape communities. Acute or chronic health problems arrive. Spouses leave. Jobs are lost. Violence touches our families. Any of these things can happen at a moment’s notice when we have done nothing wrong. It is at those moments that pivoting becomes a critical skill.

We all want to emerge from shock, trauma, loss, and grief feeling optimistic, energetic, positive, and poised for joy. We all can, but some of us don’t know that we can or don’t know how to get from A to B. That path starts with a simple pivot away from the devastation and toward the possibilities created by that devastation.

I feel fortunate that I can pivot both in and out of the kitchen, but the ability was hard earned. Some tough circumstances early in my life led me to hone this skill. While I’m not all that grateful for some of those circumstances, I am grateful for the resulting resilience. Enough so that I would encourage you to develop this skill even if you don’t see its merits right now.

Sometimes the stakes are much higher than enchilada sauce vs mole.

Dessert First! Day Seven.

I find myself at the end of this week in which I have deliberately savored the rich, sweet moments of every day BEFORE I rushed off to fill an obligation, achieve a goal, or take care of something for someone else feeling as though I’m at the crossroads of two realizations that seem paradoxically at odds with each other. First I feel as though this practice of Dessert First has resulted in additional insight and positive momentum. It has also begun to soften the edge of my communication with others. Because of these positive results, I feel as though it is important to incorporate this practice into each day going forward.

This belief is juxtaposed against the realization that one of the reasons for the positive effects of Dessert First is that it was an interruption to my previous habits and patterns. If I begin to make Dessert First a habit, it will lose the power of the interruptive effect.

So what should I do? This might be a true dilemma for me if I were asking the question two days ago, but as is often the case, the universe has stepped in to assist me with discernment. Last night I was in a state of deep, sound sleep when I was awakened by the phone. It was the alarm company summoning me to meet the police at the office. The drive takes less than 10 minutes. I usually spend that 10 minutes feeling increasingly frightened about the possibility of what I will find when I get there. I know what a break-in feels like. I’ve experienced 3 successful and one attempted break-ins at my home in the last 6 years.

This time, I was awaking from such sound slumber that I threw a ratty flannel robe over my mismatched pjs and headed out struggling to get fully awake. There was no time for fear to take hold. The event turned out to be nothing more than a simple interruption to perfectly comfortable rest. There was no visible reason for the alarm. I could ignore the interruption and stick with my previous plan.

But I made a different choice. I allowed myself to sleep late and refocused my day away from the to-do list and back to taking care of myself. As I made that choice, I realized that the universe often assists me with unexpected interruptions that give me a chance to learn. I need not fear incorporating a positive practice into my day. Whenever repetition becomes a limit to insight, something unexpected is sure to come along to assist me in shifting my focus. I can relax and continue to enjoy the rich, sweet moments of each day.

I am grateful for this week’s insights, grateful for the alarm, grateful that the alarm didn’t mean a real break-in, and grateful for all the beautiful moments each day brings. It has been a fantastic week.