Saturday, February 27, 2016

How you label your stress changes your experience

Think for a moment about being a tree in winter.

You have LOST your leaves.

Your branches are BARE.

You SHAKE in the wind.

You are one stressed tree.

Think for a moment about being a tree in winter.

You are FREE of leaves.

Your branches REACH for the skies.

You STRETCH in the wind.

You are a tree who loves a challenge.

Which tree are you?

Friday, February 19, 2016

The difference one word makes

What do you see in this picture? If you had to choose just one word to describe it, what would that word be?

Would it be BEGINNING?

People are always celebrating a FRESH START. Do you think this is what they envision?

A fresh start begins with destruction of what came before. Nothing begins fresh - even a tiny embryo carries a lifetime of baggage in its DNA. To change, we need to destroy.

Or we can look at this picture another way: destruction is the way the soil is prepared for new growth.

We seldom speak in just one word. We speak in long, flowing patterns of words. And yet, within those patterns there will be a word with oomph, a word that defines the mindset represented by our language. This word is the frame through which we see, the state the describes our experience.

If you had to choose just one word to jump from this picture, what word would you choose?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Calm: A quiet space in a complicated world

Here's what we imagine family life to be: serene, calm, harmonious. At least, this is how we imagine other people's families, the ones we see in the perfect Facebook photographs. Our own families are more. . . complicated.

Family Day weekend is a good time to reflect on perfect images. As I write this, the sun is shining on bright white snow. It's also about 25 below zero (celsius). It's a great day to sit by a window.

We think that photographs tell the truth, but they only ever tell part of the truth. Words are like that too. They turn our focus to one thing, and other things disappear. Even when we use words like complicated, we miss something. There are elements in every situation that are simple, uncomplicated, true.

When you use a word like calm, you can focus on difference. Calm is not complicated, not crazy, not loud, not anxious.  Or you can simply focus on one thing that is grounded and real and clear. As you read this, you can hear that last phrase: grounded and real and clear and notice how it feels as you say it to yourself. Then you can ask yourself: "what's one thing, however tiny, that I know for sure is grounded and real and clear?" Now notice how focus on this one thing makes you feel.

And notice what I have done here: I pulled you in with a picture, but it was the gradual focus in my words that allowed your breathing to shift, your thoughts to slow down just enough so that you walk away feeling a little more calm.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

How to understand other people better

How many times a day do you hear what someone says and wish you understood what they meant. Vocabulary is one kind of language barrier: if you don't understand the words being said, it's hard to grasp an overall meaning. But sometimes language itself is the barrier: you understand all the words and yet they don't add up to understanding what is being said. You are focused on the words and losing the message.

There's a better way to listen so that you understand. Before you get caught up in what the words mean, pay attention to the experience of the communicator. Notice changes in their emotions or attitudes as they speak. Where are they more tense or more relaxed? What changes do their words trigger in them? These changes carry as much of the message as the dictionary meaning of the words. The best listeners don't worry about the meaning of the words until they have a good idea how those words are changing the speaker.

Here's an exercise. With people we know well, we are often more interested in how they are than we are in what they say. Take that unconscious pattern and make it conscious. As you begin to interact with someone this week, let yourself label what you are noticing about their mood or attitude and energy level. (You can do this because you can think almost 10x faster than they can talk). Once you have a label, notice how that changes what you hear in their words.

There's a bonus. You'll find you also understand your own responses better. Some part of your mind has already been tracking the state of the speaker. Now that part is welcome to cooperate in making meaning instead of being at odds with your understanding of the words. You'll feel clear and more grounded as you listen.