I Stink at Positivity

When you listen to people, you can hear the funniest things. We were connecting with a friend the other night and were talking about being positive.

“I stink at positivity!” They blurted out.

We all laughed.

For the remainder of our time together I kept coming back to that statement. I haven’t been able to shake it.

Our words reveal so much about us.

We can be so hard on ourselves.

Our words can create self-imposed limits.

We stop pushing against and become defined by those limits.

Spend the next few days listening to your own words, and those around you. Listen especially for the “I am” statements. Once you understand the landscape, maybe a similar approach can be used to reverse the trend.

Instead of limits, we could speak of possibilities.

“My positivity can be better, and I am making progress.”

This conversation reminded me of another recent interaction I had with someone who runs. I kept hearing the same statement over and over.

“I am not a runner.”

When I pressed further, I realized that this person ran about five races last summer. They trained hard, but past self-limits had convinced them that they were not a runner. They had convinced themselves that “a runner” was a specific kind of person who was better, faster, and thinner than they were.

We talked about how contrary this self limit was in the face of the evidence.

Running Shoes: Check.

Running regularly: Check. (But the internal voice kept telling them it wasn’t enough.)

Running outfits: Check.

Running five races: Check.

The evidence was clear: and it added up to a runner.  However, the self-limiting narrative remained. It took few tries, but eventually they were able to articulate the change.

“I am a runner.”

Without these self-imposed limits…we may just Change the World.

Jumping to Offense

Cliff Sign

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

The other day during a conversation with someone close, I noticed something about our interaction. It was a simple conversation, nothing too deep or seemingly important, but a pattern revealed itself.

The pattern was simple: I jump to offense.

Let me explain. This means that my mind appears to be on a quest to find a way to be offended at what someone else is saying. By quest, I mean that my mind considers this its highest priority and will devote both time, energy, and resources to ensure the quest’s success.

Here are a few examples:

“It is getting kind of late for sending out Christmas Cards”

My Jump: So are you saying that I should have sent these out?

“It would be nice to do more interactive things at the next holiday with everyone”

My Jump: So they expect me to plan this then be responsible for meeting everyone’s idea of what is fun?

“We need to make sure we are attentive to the bottom line”

My Jump: So they are saying that I am overspending?

There are risks in jumping to offense, just like the risk of jumping off a cliff. It is dangerous and there is unseen peril just beyond the lip. Luckily I am beginning to notice this pattern as it occurs (or shortly afterwards).

I realize that I need to retrain my mind to see the warning sign on the edge of that cliff before I go off jumping. Picturing that warning sign helps, but also explaining to the person I am talking with if it begins to happen.

Here are a few tips for my fellow jumpers:

  1. Recognize your bent toward Jumping to Offense.
  2. Understand that Jumping to Offense is dangerous, for you and others.
  3. Slow down and listen, don’t respond right away.
  4. Ask clarifying questions, make sure you understand what the other person is saying.
  5. If you do jump, climb back up and reconcile with those around you.
  6. Repeat steps as needed.

Where are you Jumping to Offense? Take a few moments to think about where you could, as my grandmother always used to say, “look before you leap.”

P.S. I am going to print out this photo and put it where I can see it every day.

The Optimism Zone

optimistic2

(Image Courtesy of Real Balance Wellness)

Soccer, youth travel soccer to be specific, now fills most of our days. Practices fill the week. Games fill the weekend.

Each week we are surrounded by increased skills, increased playing ability, and an increased level of teamwork.

Each week something else has also increased: the negativity of the spectators.

Negativity creeps in, when something doesn’t go the right way. At first negativity is hard to notice, and it may begin as disappointment.

The collective “OH NO, TOO BAD” when a goal is missed, turns into “UGH.”

The “GOOD TRY” becomes “WHY DIDN’T YOU MAKE THAT PLAY.”

About a week ago, the negativity became so loud during the game that it made my emotional glass cloudy. For hours after that game, I had the kind of emotional hangover that lasted for more than a few hours.

At the next day’s game, we set up early and made a declaration:

“This area right here (pointing to the imaginary large circle surrounding our folding chairs) is a declared Optimism Zone. If you feel the need to be negative, you need to go someplace else.”

For the first few minutes of the game we had to remind others a few times.

“As a reminder, you are in the Optimism Zone, all statements and comments should reflect that, if not, you should find another area to sit.”

The game, the comments, and our experience improved dramatically. We were returning to positive comments, and encouraging remarks.

The original negativity comes partly from how much these parents, friends, and family care about the players and how much they want them to succeed, and to win.

What began as coaching, became tearing down. What began as cheering, became criticism. Once negativity becomes the dominant way to express emotions, it slowly becomes the only channel.

Our attitudes and emotional state are contagious.

Perhaps we could all use an Optimism Zone to recalibrate our interactions.

By the Book or What Book?

DISC

In an earlier post, we talked about the impact of having high Drive or D style and how it can manifest. As a reminder these four categories are part of a DISC assessment based on the work of William Marston. Today we will look at another style, one that measures how we view and comply with rules around us: the C style.

The C in DISC measures a person’s compliance or how they view the rules around them. A higher compliance person is “by the book” and a lower compliance person often asks, “what book?” 

One of the easiest way to determine where you fall on this scale is to think about how you cook. Do you follow the recipe or do you just wing it? Do you look up how to measure a dash, or do you just put it in? The higher compliance people follow the recipe, and lower grab a few ingredients and hope it turns out well.

We recently had a friend over the house to show them how to cook a turkey. (I have a theory that our parents and sitcoms made such a big deal about cooking a turkey that we have somehow determined that they are hard to cook.) Prior to their arrival, I tried to explain how easy it is to cook these birds. You just unwrap it, take out the bag of nasty stuff from inside, rub it with oil and some spices, and sit around for 3 hours while it cooks.

Convinced that this was harder than described, we walked them through the procedure while they took copious notes. The preparation took less than 5 minutes. We joked about their style, and how their high compliance at times looks for rules and procedures, and without a clear plan or recipe, this person can feel a little lost.

On the flip side, this high compliance is an amazing trait. This person is thorough, detail oriented, and keeps an eye on quality. They bring an amazing ability to make sure project are done well and on-time. After we laughed about the note taking, we realized that we had the next 3 hours to connect.  Not a bad recipe for relationships, especially when there was wine.

Are you by the book? Do you follow the recipe, or do you just grab whatever is on the shelf? Do you look at rules and assume they were meant for other people? Next time you are cooking or around someone who is, take a moment and watch.

If you are interested in obtaining your own DISC assessment to see where your compliance ranks, contact me for more details.

The Long Hardened Road

800px-The_Long_Road_Ahead

Photo by Jon Rawlinson accessed on Wikimedia Commons

While working with a group we were discussing the stress associated with their jobs.  We discussed the role of that emotional intelligence plays in dealing with that stress, and how their glass can become cloudy.  The conversation took an interesting turn.

The cloudy glass image helped them identify their current emotional state, but did not address the larger picture.

They were on a journey.  They began their careers with hopes, dreams, and a passion to serve.  Over the years, the negative or stressful parts of their job, caused a hardness to form.  With every subsequent negative event, they would take a step down a long hardened road.

This journey was not overnight.  Each step was subtle, and not readily noticeable.  Days passed.  Weeks passed.  Years passed.  One day they found themselves becoming so hardened, so far down that road that they were was almost unrecognizable.

“How did we get so far down this road?”

“When did we become so hardened towards the job and the people?”

“How do we get back?”

The trouble with incremental steps is the difficulty noticing the change.  They never planned to go so far down that road, to become so hardened.  It was just one step.  But one step became another, and another, and another.  It wasn’t until they looked back years later that they saw the distance they had traveled.

I began to wonder.  How many times does this happen to us?  A bad event happens, and it hardens us.  Then another comes our way.  Another disappointment, another failure, another hardship.  We begin to walk down that road and the result is a hardness as our hopes and dreams fade.

Where have you walked down this road?  How can you begin to take a step back?  This group collectively agreed to find their way back.  May we all find the strength follow them.

The Adventure Within (the Adventure)

The Adventure Within (the Adventure)We try to get outdoors as often as we can as a family.  With all of the work, school, life, and errands, this can be a real challenge.  As part of the yearly goal setting, hiking a certain mountain where we live was on the list for 2012.

Labor day weekend seemed like the logical choice for us, and this hike was on one of the oldest daughter’s “bucket list” for college.

What a perfect way to cross off a goal on a few lists while spending some quality time with the girls.  Our backpacks were full of snacks, water, supplies, band aids, eye drops, extra allergy medicine, bug spray and a few random things like headphones and a few toys.

The route was selected based on a consensus of research.  The route was a bit longer but a less steep path since this mountain is bigger than our casual small hikes of the past.  Walking sticks in hand, our small tribe’s adventure began.  The day was perfect, mid 70’s with a cool breeze and good spirits all around.  We were entertained by a series of jokes at the expense of a small dam.

“Looks like we are on the dam trail.”

“Hey, I am walking on the dam footbridge.”

” Welcome to the dam, I will be your dam tour guide, and I will be here to answer all of your dam questions.”

“Hey, is that the damn dam over there?”  (It got a little out of hand, and we had to redirect the conversation.)

After about an hour, our middle daughter mentions that the tread on the tip of her boot is coming loose.  We stop, and a small bungee like cord from a backpack wrapped around the toe seems to solve our problem.  We hike on.  After a short while, she mentions her boots again.

“Ummm, Dad, I think you need to see this.”

“Did the bungee come loose?”

“Nope, but this did.”

She was holding the entire boot tread in her hand.  It had come completely separated from the boot and we are miles from the starting point, and not quite halfway to the summit.  We spring into action, searching for every kind of solution we can in our bags.  Now it had been a while since we did serious hiking and we packed pretty well with one exception.  There was no tape.  Not even that white medical tape you typically find in first aid kits.  What we would have given for a roll of duct tape!

Luckily a friend of ours had given us a few paracord survival bracelets (small woven bracelets made from parachute cords), and the kids remembered to wear them.  We separated the cords and tied up the shoe.  The hike continued.  It wasn’t a perfect solution, but we had a mountain to climb.  Another 20 minutes went by.

“Ummm, Dad, it is happening again.”

Her second boot suffered a similar fate.  The tread had completely separated itself from the boot.  We stopped in a little clearing to eat lunch and assess our situation.  After additional attempts to tie the treads on, a few tears, lunch, and asking every passing hiker if they had any tape, it was clear that the summit was not a reality.

The hike down was not easy, and included continual evaluation and readjusting the cords and the addition of a few hair elastics.  Eventually some medical tape was provided by a sympathetic passerby.

Towards the end, one of the treads came completely off again.  Instead of stopping, or even missing a step, my daughter simply held it up high above her head and marched on.  Her strong defiant stand against the day’s difficulty was signaling that she was not giving up, and she was going to make it.  And she did.  We all did.

Later while in the car, we were discussing the high points of the hike, and what each of us remembered.  Besides another round of jokes about the “dam footbridge” by our youngest, we talked about working together to solve the boot issue, and what we liked best about the day and what we were thankful for.

“Remember when my boots fell apart, I was kinda scared, but we worked it out and made it back safe.  Now it is pretty funny.”

We all laughed about the boots.  Once safely in the car the fears or even tears became a distant memory.  We never made it to the summit.  The adventure that we planned was not the adventure that we had.  But isn’t that the way life is sometimes?  The unexpected challenges or obstacles bring both hardship and excitement to our adventure. 

But I am not that way with YOU!

What we say matters.  How we interact with others matters.  Lately there has been a pattern in many conversations that almost went unnoticed until someone close to me pointed it out.  I call this pattern the unintentional high standard.

A quick definition is in order.  The unintentional high standard is when someone describes their expectation of something or someone else then proceeds to discuss how that other person or thing is not meeting that standard.  This can be in the form of a rant, complaint, or sometimes a tirade.

“I cannot believe that [insert name here] has not called me more often.  I feel like this relationship is one-sided.”

“Did you see the dish they brought to the party, did they even try?”

“I cannot believe [insert spouse or significant other here] wasn’t more [pick one: caring, compassionate, understanding, loving, excited, interested, engaged] about [insert topic here].”

At some point in one of these interactions while you are simply the bystander or listener, you begin to wonder how often this person says the same things about you to others.  If they are holding up this standard for others, even if unintentional, they must be holding this standard against you too.  Maybe you even dare to ask.

“So, is this the way you feel about me?  When I don’t call as often, or brought that crappy side dish to the party?”

“No, I am just ranting, but I am not that way with You!”

Really?  Are you the one exception to this high standard?  Do you get a pass that the rest of the universe doesn’t receive?  And how does it feel to be around someone who is always pointing out where others are not meeting the mark?

For the next week or so, spend a little time listening and see how often we all create these unintentional high standards.  Maybe we should do a little less ranting and a little less complaining.  I pointed this out to someone recently, and the saddest part was they didn’t even realize they were doing it.