They are Listening

A while ago, I posted Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk about our body language and the impact it can have on us.

Shortly after watching this talk, I mentioned this to our younger kids and had them stand up straighter, and even lift up their hands in a “V” pose with their hands overhead and spread out. This came to be known as the “victory” pose around our house when frustrations such as homework, or other issues caused frustration or anxiety. But as time passed, these moments became infrequent, or dismissed from my perspective as “Dad being Dad.”

Flash forward more than two years.

We were on a long road trip. An important trip where missing the waypoints, or hitting delays have large consequences.

Car trouble.

Frantic search for a dealer.

Work that will most likely result in a delay.

PANIC.

Shuttle to a local mall.

Waiting. Wandering. Waiting.

Then it came.

Encouragement.

Small simple words.

A reminder to hold our hands high.

A reminder to walk in the “victory” pose.

A reminder that we were safe, and that it was going to be okay.

BUT.

The words and reminders were not from me, but from our kids.

The world slowed. (And so did my breathing)

I took their advice, and I raised my hands high and walked around that little mall.

My perspective and emotional state shifted.

We all smiled, laughed, and joked.

Our world shifted for the better that day.

I suddenly realized the impact we have around us, in our circle, and in the lives of others.

I also realized something else, perhaps even more important.

They are listening.

Homework, Frustration, and Emotional Intelligence

Homework

While having lunch the other day with a friend, the conversation moved from simply catching up on the details of our lives to deeper places. We started to talk about emotional intelligence and the role it plays in our success.

To provide an example, I shared a story.

A few years ago, while trying to help one of our daughters with her homework, I got upset. The helping, the explanations, and the examples were not gaining traction. In fact, it seemed to make things worse. My emotional glass got cloudy.

I have already admitted to having Emotional Rickets when it comes to emotional intelligence. Of the five hierarchical steps by Daniel Goleman, the first two always help me unpack issues that I may be having.

Step 1, Self-Awareness

Step 2, Self-Regulation

If I am having a problem with Self-Regulation (getting upset), I go back down a Step to Self Awareness and try to figure out what is happening.

What is the negative emotional trigger? What else may be going on inside?

“Why is helping with her homework causing you to get upset?”

“I don’t know, maybe because I want her to succeed.”

“Ok, that is one possibility, but helping her succeed shouldn’t cause you to be angry. What else is happening, what are you afraid of?”

“I am afraid that she won’t do well, that she won’t get into college, that this time was somehow wasted.”

“Keep going.”

“I am afraid that this means that I have not helped or prepared her enough. That her failing is a reflection of me. That I am not a good Dad.”

There it was: the real issue. Fear of failing as a Dad.

I was trying to Self-Regulate an emotional state around homework that was really about something else. By going back a step, by finding greater Self-Awareness, the Self-Regulation becomes easier.

It was never about the homework. In fact, the inability to Self-Regulate was actually contributing to that fear becoming a reality.

Thankfully, she still lets me help with homework. (After some serious apologizing and a few tears.) Those feelings or fears still exist, but the ability to regulate the emotions in the moment have become much easier.

The next time you find yourself getting upset about homework or having trouble with Self-Regulation when [insert your specific story here] try this simple process.

Take a step back, ask yourself the hard questions.

What is really happening? What are you afraid of?

Iodine on Eczema

vintage_iodine_bottles

(Image Courtesy of http://www.misopocky.com)

A few weeks back, I was asked for some advice about how to address the media about a recent story where a news outlet really got the story wrong. The reporter got a hold of some facts, but out of context the story unfolded in a negative light.

The person was prepared to unload on the reporter based on some advice, and “set the record straight.” While we talked, we discussed the possible outcomes and various questions.

Would this approach improve the situation? Would the reporter write a better story as a result? Would this escalate or calm the negativity?

As the conversation progressed, they shared a story with me.

When their child was young, they came home with something that looked like ringworm on their arm. Based on some advice, they immediately applied iodine to the area (look it up kids, this was our parents cure for a lot, especially minor cuts: we think it was the sting that they liked the best).

The area worsened, and became more inflamed. More iodine was applied and the cycle continued.

Eventually, they sought additional advice from a doctor.

“What you have here is a case of eczema.”

“So it is not ringworm?”

“No, and that iodine is just making it worse.”

While we spoke again about the reporter and the story, the question became an easy one: Is this going to be like putting Iodine on Eczema?

The answer was simple: Yes.

Instead of an aggressive approach, they decided to put the facts together like a story. A story that wove in the reasons and the successes associated with those original facts. Instead of just sending it along, they called the reporter and asked for a meeting.

A few days later, I received an email with a link to the new news story. It was positive and even the headline made reference to the earlier article being like comparing apples with oranges.

I had to ask myself, when have I put Iodine on Eczema? When would a little healing salve made things so much better for my situation, my work, my story, or my relationships?

The Cost of Free

FreeRecently, someone was describing a difficult relationship. This is no ordinary difficult relationship, but one with someone who is deeply connected with this person.

They have a long history.

It has been difficult.

They still have to interact on a regular basis.

To make matters worse, the other person offers things for FREE. Since these things are typically valuable, there is an incentive to accept these FREE items or events.

As this person described the situations, conversations, or interactions leading up to these FREE offerings, something became abundantly clear.

These offers were anything but FREE.

The COST OF FREE was significant to this person, their family, and those close to them.

The COST OF FREE to this person was in the emotional stress and obligations that these FREE offerings came with after the fact. They became indebted to this other person.

The COST OF FREE to their family was the toll the stress had on their ability to connect with them during these difficult times, and the time away that the other person would eventually require as payment.

The COST OF FREE to those close was also in the form of stress, but also the inability to have the time to connect because they owed someone else their time, energy, and creativity.

I encouraged this person to calculate the COST OF FREE from now on and compare it to the value of what was being offered. Before this, they just saw the value of what was being offered and felt the obligation to say YES.

Now they can calculate the COST OF FREE and if that cost outweighs the offer, they can say NO.

Have you considered the COST OF FREE? Maybe it is time count the cost.

You may find a way to FREE yourself.

Your Super Secret Bonus Day

While having breakfast with a friend yesterday, I was reminded about an idea I had a few years back.

“You know what I need?  I need one of those secret bonus days you talked about inventing.”

It had been so long that I had forgotten my radical idea/invention, time altering notion.

(Image Courtesy of Western Michigan University Registrar’s Office)

The idea is a simple one, but does require altering the space-time continuum.  Everyone, and I mean everyone gets a Super Secret Bonus Day each week.  It appears on your calendar.  It can be between Wednesday and Thursday, after a hard Monday, anywhere you like, it is up to you.

The Super Secret Bonus Day is yours.  You get to do those things that you never get to do for yourself given your busy almost crazy paced life.  Read that book, go to the beach and lay in the sun, write, paint, sing, or just rest.  There is a catch.

No one else knows you are gone during your Super Secret Bonus Day.  You may have spent that day at the beach between Monday and Tuesday, but no one noticed.  For them, it was business as usual, but you are surprisingly tan and relaxed.  There are no logistics that you have to work out to have your day, no child care, no guilt for wanting to spend some time alone away from your significant other, kids, parents, co-workers, boss or friends.  It is your day and everyone gets one.

As we talked a little more at breakfast, I began to wonder.  Why is this concept so attractive, yet so unattainable?  (Besides the whole altering time thing…)  We are so busy, so stretched, and so scheduled that there is no time left for us.  We all have these lists of things we would like to do, but time slips away and they become a somewhat resentful reminder that there was no time to accomplish these things.

Given that a few years have passed and I have been unable to alter the course of time (despite a few good attempts), I have a new idea.  We can still have our Super Secret Bonus Day, but it may look a little different.  Everyone can have a Super Secret Bonus Day but the reality is you need to schedule it on your calendar.  Once a week may be too much to start, so I am going to try for once a month (for some of you, once a quarter may be more realistic).

Here is my plan.  I am going to put my Super Secret Bonus Day on the calendar once a month.  A day for just me to ponder life, read, and write a little while sipping coffee in some amazing local coffee shop, eating a lunch without the rushing of managing young kids, and quiet time in a library or art gallery.  What will your Super Secret Bonus Day include?

A few Super Secret Bonus Day Guidelines (no rules, this is supposed to be fun right?)

1.  It is your day.

2.  Do something you like that is not work related.

3.  Come to some agreement with those within your sphere that you each get a day, and let it happen without making the other person feel guilty for taking their day.

4.  Help someone else take their day (watch their kids, encourage them to schedule it).

5.  Have fun!

The Intersection of Stress and Creativity: Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block.  It was bound to happen, right?  Here I was typing away week after week; telling stories, posing questions, and offering some advice.  The journey has been difficult at times, but there was progress.  Until now.  What happened?

I heard from someone tonight that was reading some of the older posts (the one about the laundry facility, one of my personal favorites) and I described that I was stuck and didn’t know what to write next.  They immediately started to pose questions to me.

“Do you have a big project at work?”

“No, but I have been pretty busy, spending a lot of time traveling and have a stressful week and a seminar this weekend.”  (Hey, I am usually the one that asks the questions.)

It all started to become clear.  It was stress.  That subtle drain on our resources, creativity, and ideas.  The trouble with stress is the cumulative increase comes in like a trickle that can go unnoticed until it becomes a wall between us and our goals.

What can we do about it?  Recognizing that it was stress helped…a lot.  Identifying the barriers in our lives is always a good place to start.  What is it for you?  Is it stress? Worry? Fear?  A combination of all three?  If it is, that is one intersection where we should not linger too long.

Processing this out with someone else also helped.  Remember, we are not alone on this journey.  We don’t always have to tough it out by ourselves.  There are others in our circles who can lend a hand, offer an encouraging word, just listen when we need it most, or even simply ask the right questions.

“Are you thinking of anything you’ve wanted to write about but were not sure if it was good enough?  You should write that, since someone probably needs that message or will just enjoy it.”

Funny, that someone turned out to be me.