Tuesday, October 28, 2008

If you're going to give up

The next twelve months or so are probably going to be filled with doom and gloom. Whether or not you are hard hit by the financial downturn, you will be hit hard by the anxiety in the air. Optimism will be in short supply.

It is a good time to make a decision. Crudely put, it goes something like: dig in or give up. Either decide that you have the gumption to make something good out of a tough time, or quit now. If you are going to give up at some point during this downturn, there is no sense in waiting. Why not forgo the roller coaster of hope and doubt and simply get to the end that much faster?

Or. . . if you are not prepared to give up, why not decide to survive? Why not incorporate - as the hypnotists say - the negative vibes and the fear and the general angst? Notice it and acknowledge it as a predictable consequence of being in business and move through it as a swimmer moves through an icy patch of water or a climber moves up a piece of raw cliff? Hardship is difficult, but lots of people choose hardship when it is part of a path they are eager to travel.

Decide now what story you will live in while the rest of the world moves through one of those darkly ironic modern stories of hope gone wrong. Tell yourself where the hardship fits into your (better) story of challenge and pioneering spirit and ultimate success. If you are going to endure the aggravation, you might as well win in the end.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Reflections for a Sunday night

Sunday evenings are an edge: the boundary between the weekend and the week beginning. The edge is reflected in calendars which sometimes make Sunday the first day of the week and sometimes the last. I think if they were more precise, it would be Sunday evening that seems to be part of both and separate from both.

Edges are always, mysteriously, unfamiliar. No matter how many Sunday evenings we live, each one remains caught in the tension of being neither end nor beginning (and certainly not a middle). The tension remains whether we choose to make the evening a time of preparing for the week or a time of lingering in the weekend.

This seems especially true to me since many of my weekends are work-time. It is work I love unreservedly - as people love their favourite recreations - and it is work nonetheless. During the weekends, I teach people how to find the resources within them, and how to draw resources into the attention of the people around them. On Sunday evenings, I am often alone. It is my time to face the question of how much we can manage our states and our outcomes and our results - on our own.

As a writer, I imagine connections that are real but not physically present. I let my mind populate my thoughts with resources drawn from many times and many lives - some of them mine. I send my thoughts out into the world as words so that other people can imagine connections that are not physically present in their lives at that moment.

Imagined connections change our brains and our minds and our states.

Sometimes it is enough.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Back on the edge

As I consider my own business, I am aware that we are walking a very thin edge - and that many others are walking the same edge. It is the nature of a business to move - we do not have the option of clinging to the edge and waiting for something to change. Work is a verb - when we work we keep moving and when we move, we make choices.

I wonder how you are making choices now you are uncomfortable, incongruent, maybe even afraid.

The world would be a gentler place if all our edges were wide and soft and only a short way above safer ground. They are not. We are called on to make choices when we are not safe and not comfortable. We make these choices all the time. The question is: what makes the difference between good choices and bad choices on the edge?

One answer - provided by both history and experience - is that when we cannot trust our instincts, we trust our principles.

Another way of looking at this is that there are some situations in which we know we cannot be congruent and yet we know we must act. When we cannot be congruent - cannot get a good 'gut' feeling or cannot get a clear vision or cannot get the voices in our heads to speak in harmony - then we need another yardstick for judging decisions. Our unconscious minds come looking for input from those newly developed executive functions in our brain.

What principles or beliefs will see you through this winter?

Think about them. While you may not feel congruent about your choices, you can use congruency to test your principles and beliefs. And then you can make choices about how to apply those principles or beliefs to the choices facing you. You will not always feel better.

It is the nature of the edge to challenge your feelings. It is the nature of your whole mind to give you many ways to make choices so that you can walk with balance even when you cannot walk with congruence.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The day after the election

Here we are: the day after the election. I live on the border between two ridings and they both have new MPs this morning. Oddly, no one expects much to be different as a result.

Yesterday, I asked college students why people vote. A few of them thought it had to do with a sense of duty or a sense of belonging. Some thought it had to do with protecting things that mattered to them. None of them thought that voting meant supporting terrific leaders who would help us do great things collectively.

Today, I watched a man load a sign into a truck - the beginning of the great clean up that marks the end of 15 years for one MP. All endings impose chores. So do beginnings - although the winner's signs all seem to be in place. For the people who help, it might seem like something has changed. For almost everyone else, the only thing that changes will be the amount of noise in the landscape.

If we want change, we have to expect change. If we want leadership, we have to expect to find leaders. If what we want is for life to be relatively stable - all we need to do is what we are already doing.

That's not all bad, is it? Do you really want your life to be changed by your vote? Probably not. Elections in Canada are about balance - that's why Ontario regularly sends one set of politicians to Toronto and a different set to Ottawa. Change happens and we deal with it. It doesn't mean we have to encourage it.

Not for ourselves. But what about the people who wake up this morning - as they woke up yesterday morning - scared or angry or hungry? If voting will not make a difference for them, what will?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Notice the difference when you say thank you

In our trainings, we play calibration games in which we notice the difference between two states - from the inside and the outside. This weekend, practice different ways of saying Thank You. Notice the difference between saying the words with your voice and saying them with your voice and your smile. What changes when you make eye contact as you say thank you? What changes in you when you catch yourself being thankful for something or someone?

We talk more often about the need for praise than we do the need for thanks. Like praise, thanks requires that we notice something good and stabilize it. Thank you gives us something more than praise. Thank you gives us the recognition that some good things are given - that they are extras. We give praise for a job well done - we give thanks for the little bit extra that went beyond what was required. We give praise for results - we give thanks for moments in which we connect and feel better or stronger for the connection.

The more we give thanks, the more we stabilize our experience of a world in which good things are offered and requirements are met with more than required.

This weekend, say thank you. Say it and notice the difference it makes.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Some days you just hang in

There are days when I believe in dreaming dreams and setting goals and building. And there are other days - days when the news is scary, and the work is piling up and unhappy people are throwing their complaints at me. On those days I take a deep breath and do what I can do - I count the things I can count on.

And then I celebrate. With good food and movement and music.

Sometimes I read a book where I know the good guys will win. Sometimes I eat food that has a satisfying crunch or a deep mellowness. Sometimes I look at old family photos.

I believe in blessing. Not everyone does, but I do. I believe that a Grace beyond words touches our lives and makes them bearable. Not always easy. Not always joyful. Not always successful.

Still. Think of the way a baby smells, fresh from the bath. Think of the way rain deepens the colour of autumn leaves. Think of apples on the tree, and apple pie in the oven. Let all your focus rest in one small good thing.

And realize that the Leafs just won the season opener. Improbable victories happen. People survive one day to thrive the next.

Be thankful that you held on last time. Be thankful you are hanging in now.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fight Flight Freeze

What happens when you come face to face with something that wants to eat you?

We have all heard that we have three choices when faced with a threat: we can fight, we can run away, or we can stand very still and hope the problem goes away. If the threat persists, we sometimes try all three choices in sequence.

This fall feels threatening. As the days get shorter and cloudier, the economic forecasts also get gloomier. National elections never bring out the best: leadership in a campaign consists of getting your version of the world's woes placed squarely in front of every voter. Vote for me, they say, or face certain doom.

One of my very favourite stories is told in a children's book called "Everybody knows what a dragon looks like" (by Jay Williams). When faced by threats on all sides, the leaders of a village decide - systematically - that they cannot fight or escape, and that hiding is unlikely to be effective. So they pray for help. And then they hide.

When help arrives in response to their prayer - and it does arrive - the leaders cannot accept it because it does not look the way they expected it to look.

That's always the case. We pray for difference - and when we get something that is truly different, we try to send it back. We respond to hope the same way we respond to threat - fight, flight, freeze.

In the story, a little boy welcomes hope when it arrives. He does not believe in it and he does not recognize it. He just welcomes it and responds to what it asks of him.

In the face of threat, the little boy persists in being himself. He does what he would do on any other day.

Integrity does not create hope and it does not always recognize hope. It does treat hope - even new and different hope - with the respect it needs to do its work.