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.

Fast or Slow?

Is time moving fast or slow? In general, we accept that time feels as though it moves slowly when we’re young, gradually speeding up as we age. But I’ve become increasingly aware of  other factors that affect my sense of time. On the surface, that seems inconsequential. But on another level, it feels incredibly important to thriving.

When a vendor’s business burned years ago, I remember someone saying that from that point on, his time would be divided into before the fire and after the fire. That sounded right since we mark time in unexpected life-changing events as well as cultural milestones- birthdays, graduations, jobs, marriages, and anniversaries. 

Our perception of time forms the basis for setting priorities, making decisions, establishing commitments, and meeting deadlines. It’s not uncommon for someone who faces a life-threatening event to suddenly be ready to commit to a relationship. When we feel the shortness of time, priorities change. 

On a daily basis, my sense of time is affected by the presence or absence of family, deadlines I must meet, how safe I feel, the goals I’ve set and my sense of accomplishment. When I have family in the house, time seems to stretch out. It’s an odd paradox. There’s often more to do, but it feels like I have more time to do it. 

For over 20 years, my work had an understandable flow. It wasn’t predictable exactly, but each job had a particular flow and collectively, there were repeating rhythms. Most of it was driven by customer or reporting deadlines. I’m an expert at creating backward timelines. All I had to do was coordinate 60ish timelines at once.

Now I have fewer established deadlines and a wider variety of tasks. Each of those utilizes different tools and has multiple moving parts. While I have more control over the schedule, I also wear more hats that require me to shift my attention. This affects how I perceive progress and the time each task takes. 

I could say that your priorities are reflected in the things on which you spend your time. I think I have said it. And it’s true, but not necessarily in a one-to-one kind of way. If you spend a lot of time doing laundry, your priority could be laundry. It could also be your children. Or it could be other people’s opinion of how you take care of your family.

Becoming aware of your perception of time is important when you begin to map what thriving looks like for you. Each intention will require an investment of time. It may not be possible to achieve the maximum goal in each area and still have a calm, peaceful life. If thriving for you includes calm and peace, you may need to back off of the ideal and choose an achievable goal.

No matter how lofty your goals, how efficient your system, or how intentional your choices, time is a limiting factor that will determine what you accomplish. If you devise a life plan in which accomplishment moves fast while feeling slow and easy, you’ll have achieved the balance I like to maintain.

Sometimes, it’s just hard to know whether time will feel like it’s moving fast or slow.

Wine Isn’t the Only Option for Deglazing

Wine isn’t the only option for deglazing a pan. None of us want to miss that tasty brown crust lining our skillet or pan. Some of the most complex flavors lie there just waiting to add flavor to the dish. Deglazing is the process of adding liquid to the hot pan to release those delicious morsels. It’s common to use wine to deglaze, but it isn’t the only option.

While I don’t mind using wine if I have a bottle open, I don’t want to uncork one just to deglaze. Other suitable liquids are chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, pot likker, milk, cream, nut milk, coconut milk, coffee, and water. I try to use something that will complement the flavors of the dish or sauce I’m preparing. I might even use peppermint tea when cooking lamb.

One way to approach this is to choose a liquid that will be included in that or a similar dish. Coconut milk is excellent to use after stir frying chicken for curry. Of course, chicken stock would work as well since the base of the dish is chicken.

I often use pot likker from Cooking2Thrive Killer Beans to deglaze beef I’m cooking for tacos, burritos, or enchiladas. The beans are seasoned with chile peppers and cumin so I’m enhancing the flavors that I’ll use to season my dish.

There are some combinations that may be best to avoid. I wouldn’t use coffee with chicken, but I don’t hesitate to use it with red meat and in brown gravy. And I can’t think of a time I’ve ever used vinegar as a deglazing liquid. If you’re unsure which flavor profile will work best, use a tool like “The Flavor Bible” or do a quick internet search.

Since the goal is simply to remove the caramelized food that is stuck to the pan, use a minimal amount of liquid. I usually pour in a little, stir with a spatula, then add a little more liquid if needed to dislodge any remaining remnants.

When making a sauce, you may desire more liquid in the end, but I deglaze first, remove the main dish ingredient, and allow any remaining deglazing liquid to evaporate before adding a thickener. From that point, I stir the thickener into the fat until it’s smooth and then add the liquid that forms the base of my sauce. After that, I allow my sauce to simmer and reduce. If I add all of the liquid when I deglaze the pan, I end up making my job more difficult.

If your dish doesn’t require a sauce, but needs a little something, something you can add a can of Rotel® Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies and use the liquid to deglaze. When I do this, I don’t treat it as a sauce, I just dump them in and stir to deglaze. The same can be done with tomato juice, tomato sauce, or strained tomatoes when making chili.

In the past few days, I’ve deglazed numerous pans and I haven’t had to open a bottle of wine. I’ve used chicken stock (already open & in the refrigerator), coconut milk (already open and in the refrigerator), and water instead. And there were other workable options in my pantry.

 So, if you’d rather have your wine in a glass, you’re in luck. Wine isn’t the only option for deglazing.

Openness and Thriving

Does your level of openness affect your ability to thrive? Here’s a little more food for thought as we ease into the rhythm of this new year.

I love tests! Back when Tickle.com filled a website with tests, I took a LOT of them! Personality tests are some of my favorites.

Like me, you may have run across personality tests that identify the big five traits – openness, agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Dating sites sometimes use a measure of these characteristics to generate matches.

Some of us are very agreeable. Some of us are only slightly agreeable. (When I’m hungry, I can confidently say, I’m 100% DISagreeable, but that’s another conversation.) Where each of us fall on the spectrum of these traits appears to be 40-60% inherited, and 40-60% environmental.

There is no perfect combination of traits and possessing almost none vs. an extreme amount of any of them is neither good nor bad. You can easily get through life without knowing where you fall in any category.

But what if knowing could make it easier to thrive?

Let’s take openness for example, also referred to as openness to experience. Those who are more open to experience are more likely to be imaginative and spontaneous. They’ve also been characterized as curious and unconventional. They may feel practical, routine things are boring or unnecessary.

The idea of climbing Mt. Everest or being a space tourist could appeal to someone who’s open. Or they might marry someone they just met on a cruise. But it’s not as if you can pick someone out of a lineup and immediately know how open they are.

If someone has a high openness score coupled with a high conscientiousness score, the experiences they embrace will most likely be tempered by discipline. I would think that commercial pilots would have high scores in both openness and conscientiousness. They, in fact, do score highly in conscientiousness, but I haven’t found a correlation with openness yet.

That particular combination of traits would seem to be well-suited to careers in research as well. Someone who embodies curiosity and imagination as well as a careful, disciplined approach would be a natural fit for acquiring knowledge through adherence to the scientific method.

Of course, we all sail through life when our everyday circumstances fall in line with areas in which we are comfortable. It’s when we’re faced with something that feels foreign, unnatural, or hard that we struggle. It stands to reason that minimizing the clash between personality mismatches and life circumstances will increase our chances of thriving.

Since we can’t always control our circumstances, it’s important to understand that we can shift our basic personality to reduce our discomfort. The 40-60% of us that has been determined by environment, is more malleable than we sometimes recognize.

This malleability can have both good and bad results. In abusive relationships, the results will most likely be to the detriment of both the perpetrator and the victim. No one comes out of an abusive relationship unchanged.

I’m not suggesting that it’s possible to be your best when you’re embroiled in a toxic, or abusive relationship or that you should alter your personality in order to stay in one. On the other hand, shifting your traits for a short period of time may save your life.

Yes, the cost is huge and long-lasting. But if you must shift while you put an exit plan in place, the cost may be worth it. While this idea can create a feeling of shame, just remember that saving your life or the lives of your children is never anything to be ashamed of.

But malleability is not always detrimental. When we say we want to be better people, aren’t we saying we want to change something about our personality that isn’t measuring up? So many of us say we want to be better and then fail miserably at becoming better again and again and again. Perhaps that’s because we fail to get to know ourselves well before we begin the process.

That’s where openness circles back into the conversation. The more we are open to a new idea of ourselves, the more likely we are to be able to change toward that idea.

Being more open will also improve our comfort level when adapting to new jobs, new babies, new diets, new exercise routines, and new health requirements. Being curious can pull us collectively forward. Think of all the scientific discoveries that are the answer to someone’s curiosity. And being open to the ideas and interests of others will go a long way toward winning us friends.

I often think of openness as receptiveness. Am I receptive to learning, changing, feeling, and stretching my comfort level? Am I receptive to compliments, accolades, and praise? Am I receptive to novelty, the unexpected, and the beauty around me? Am I receptive to friendship, companionship, affection, and love?

Does my idea of myself allow me to be open to the idea that I deserve all of the above? If not, would my life be better if I were?

The answer to that question will answer the question that started this whole thought journey – does your level of openness affect your ability to thrive?

For me, the answer is yes.