5 Mental Shortcuts to Identify and Mitigate

Life is so much easier when we use shortcuts. Just like shortcuts on your smart phone or keyboard, they make things faster. I had the pleasure of hearing Jennifer Garvey Berger speak on the topic of “Escaping Mindtraps to Thrive in Complexity” at the Global International Coaching Federation Conference recently. The mindtraps or mental shortcuts that she outlined in her presentation were compelling and shed some light on my own behavior.

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As a coach, it’s important to understand my own behavior and how I react to certain traps. If I get triggered, if I have an emotional reaction to a client, it can be difficult to remain present and engaged with that client. These traps or shortcuts or as Berger referred to them “Mindtraps” were universal to me and I can imagine we all fall prey to them at times.

 

Here are the 5 mental mindtraps and how to identify and mitigate them:

 

  1. We believe we are right. It is incredibly uncomfortable to admit I am wrong. My heart rate escalates, my stomach is in a knot and I want to hide in the nearest hole. I owed some documents to someone last week and I was positive I had sent them. When I realized I was wrong, I was embarrassed and angry at myself. Berger’s solution is to listen to learn and NOT listen to win or to fix. There was a manager not that many years ago who was told to apologize to me, I spent thirty minutes listening him explain how I was wrong. He could not give up on winning or fixing. I know I have done this myself but it is much easier to see it when someone else is guilty of it. I love CRR Global’s tenet that I use with every team alliance I facilitate, “Everyone is right…partially.” Having a ground rule that we are all partially right leaves room for everyone being partially wrong.
  2. We tell simple stories. I keep a thumbnail sketch of friends, coworkers, family and enemies. Suzy is sloppy, Jane is lazy, Jerry is a braggart, Bud is always late and Gramma is a stick in the mud. Once I form a story, I rarely if ever revise it. My son is frequently late. I don’t wait anymore. He might have a valid reason but as far as I’m concerned, he’s always late so I don’t wait. I can’t imagine ever changing my story. He’d have to be early twenty times for me to rewrite that story. Berger pointed out, what is the simple story that others are telling about me? What simple story am I stuck in and can’t get out of no matter how hard I try to change it? Berger’s antidote is to envision how that person is a hero. So, while I may see my son as always being late, I can see that he is a hero because he doesn’t rush a process like cooking. He carefully considers the recipe and takes all the time he needs. Disrupt the simple stories you have by seeing the hero in it.
  3. We enjoy it when we agree. I am completely a victim of this.  The path of least resistance is to just go along with the crowd.  I’d rather have everyone nod their head to a decision than be the sole person holding out and shaking my head “no”. Being contrary to the group think is awkward and uncomfortable.  Might as well go with the flow.  This happens so subtly sometimes, I will decide that I don’t like a new policy someone has proposed and by the end of the meeting, I am moved over to agreeing to it; not because it’s a great policy but because I get caught up in the group agreeing with it.  Like being swept along in a river, it’s not worth the fight and so much nicer to float along with the rest. The antidote according to Berger is to disagree to expand the possibilities. I have to say that there are times that I try and question the course of a group decision but I also will try and support someone else that brings up a different solution or possibility.  Just because we all enjoy agreeing with each other doesn’t mean we are coming up with the best or most thought out solution.  Remain open to alternate solutions, disagree or support someone else who does to make sure the best solutions are brought to light.
  4. We like to be in control.  I have so many ways in which I try and control my world.  The temperature of the room, the television channel, the time and date to schedule a meeting, the speed at which I drive my car (and the speed I want my companion to drive a car), the spiciness of a dish that I am preparing, the spot I sit in a conference (usually the back row so that I can make a quick escape, if I want), the restaurant I want to go to near the airport, the list goes on and on. I have to acknowledge that everyone in the room wants control as well.  Berger espouses that to escape our drive to control we need to think about simply trying to enable conditions for success rather than a particular outcome. A simple example is that you may be cold at this moment but instead of increasing the thermostat, go get a sweater, or a jacket, or a blanket or a parka. Perhaps success is measured by being comfortable rather than increasing the temperature of the whole building. Focus on enabling conditions for success rather than being in control.
  5. We protect our identities. I have a difficult time separating feedback from a personal affront. Any sort of feedback can feel like one more pin prick to my ego. This is probably why I end up agreeing (see number 3) so that I can protect my ego.  If I go with the flow and agree with where the project is headed, I’ll protect my ego by not challenging the status quo.  Imagine how vanilla every project would come out if we are all sitting around the table protecting our egos.  It’s probably why a lot of projects don’t go anywhere because challenging the status quo can be scary. Berger’s antidote is to ask “Who would I like to be next?” This is so much more transformative.  Why be stuck with where and who you are?  Think about who you want to be next. If we view ourselves as a work or in a transformative process, we are less likely to hold onto our egos.

Berger ended her talk by asking which of the five traps was the most trappy-est for you. I like this approach.  Don’t try to take on all five at once.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  For me, there was a time when I received feedback from a team I was on; they appreciated my challenging the status quo.  I have slipped away from that as I settled into the ease and “joy” of agreement.  I’d like to make sure the teams I am on are optimizing the team solutions and if I challenge the status quo by not sagging into agreement, it would be one small step toward mitigating my mental shortcuts. Which of the five do you want to work on?

Traveling in Prague

Traveling abroad is a terrific way to expand your horizons, test your assumptions and develop a new appreciation for diversity. I recently went to Prague for the first time and had some discoveries. I have been to Europe before, but this was the first time I had been to a country that had been part of the Soviet Union. Prague is rich with history and strewn with ancient cathedrals, towers and spires. It’s amazing to walk the cobblestone streets and see buildings built in 880, including a university founded in 1347. To think that it was under communist rule for a mere 41 years and occupied by Germany for 6 years, seems so fleeting compared to being the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. It’s always humbling to be an American traveling in such historic sites.

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Traveling with an open mind and curiosity is helpful. There are always quirky and unusual things that seem to crop up and, on this trip, I found several.

Some of my discoveries in Prague:

1.     Money

My pet peeve while traveling abroad is money exchange. I dislike paying a fee to exchange money and there’s always the strange loose change clanging in my purse for years after. In the Czech Republic, I assumed I could use my leftover Euros from a trip to Paris three years earlier. Unfortunately, everything is priced in Czech Crown (CZ), even though they are part of the EU. In addition, prices appear to be astronomical to my American brain so a cup of coffee and croissant is 200 CZ and a dinner of salad, a plate of pasta and sparkling water sans ice is 880 CZ. Divide those prices by 20 and you get the actual cost in dollars, but there’s still that initial shock. Fortunately, I always asked if a place took credit cards so I didn’t have to keep exchanging money and I was able to use up my Euros as tip money. I am hoping to fly back without any Czech Crowns in my pocket.

2.     Coffee

I drink coffee every day; mugs of hot fresh brewed coffee filled to the rim. My first surprise for my insatiable coffee habit was waking from my red eye flight an hour out from arriving in Prague and requesting a cup of black coffee from the flight attendant. I received what amounted to a half-filled Dixie cup of coffee. Perhaps two gulps of coffee. In several restaurants, I received small cups (certainly not a mug) half to three quarters filled with coffee. In my hotel room, I found tiny packs of instant coffee and an electric pot to boil water. Interesting and sufficient, but I am so looking forward to a full hot mug of fresh brewed coffee.

3.     Music
When I took a taxi from the airport, the driver turned the radio to an English music channel. Cher singing “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” and Kansas playing “Dust in the Wind” are a few of the selections that sort of struck me. What an unusual music selection. Familiar music in unfamiliar surroundings. On a boat cruise on the Vltava, an accordion player (yes, a one-man band consisting of an accordion) played Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, which received a round of applause from the mostly German tourists on board followed by “New York, New York”, which received silence. What an eclectic mix of American music from 50 years ago in a foreign land. Interesting and odd.

4.     Ice and straws

I believe I remember this from France, but ice is a luxury. I usually order sparkling water at every restaurant and it was never served with ice. I never saw a straw or plastic utensil. Practically everything at the conference I attended was served on paper plates, with wooden or metal utensils and glassware. I have to say that outside of cigarette butts, I didn’t see a lot of trash on the street.

5.     Begging

The most remarkable thing I saw at least five times as I walked in Old Town Prague was the sight of people kneeling face down on the ground with a cup or hat in front of them. It was a profound sight the first time I saw it. There were both women and men begging in this fashion. My stomach dropped as I could not imagine kneeling for hours as people walked by without making eye contact. It was so human, yet so inhuman not to try and connect. As if to give up all to fate and the grace and generosity of others. Profound.

  1. Traveling while American

Every American I spoke to shared being embarrassed due to the current political situation in the States. But it was worth remembering that Prague had been occupied by Germany and was once under Communist rule. Our guide mentioned that even as recent as ten years ago, they found out that the Communist party was tracking people’s conversations and who they associated with. You can sense that subtle paranoia that keeps people in check and untrusting of truly sharing their opinions. I sensed that guardedness, especially with people over 40. There were interesting other encounters with waitstaff and service personnel that involved laughter and even once being yelled at when we couldn’t find the vegetarian option on the buffet line at the Conference. I was very cognizant of the difference between traveling in an ex-Communist country compared to my travels elsewhere in Europe.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” said Mark Twain. As with any travel abroad as an American, I am always humbled by how open and accepting Europeans are to different languages and customs. Travel to experience new perspectives and to change yours.

5 Steps Towards Compassion

I can get caught up in my own “stuff”. My own little corner of the world with my own little myopic view. Why isn’t everyone vegan, sober or trying to avoid sugar? I become that three-year-old stomping my feet wanting to get my way. If it’s raining, I want it to be sunny or if it’s hot I want it to be cold. The antidote I have found is to be compassionate.

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I recently read Zen Habits: Handbook for Life by Leo Babauta. The book has a terrific list of habits to take on to make life less complicated. Somewhat similar to my own “102 Itzy Bitzy Habits”, it’s a simple approach to take on one or two small changes that can make a significant difference in one’s daily life. Embracing compassion is a mindset to let go of that three-year-old in your head who is having a tantrum. As Babauta espoused, compassion can be learned, it can be developed and cultivated.

The Commonalities Practice, as outlined in Leo’s book, attempts to get us to recognize what we have in common with others, instead of our differences.

Here are the five steps to Compassion:

  1. Support others in their happiness

I can get fixated on seeking my own happiness without regard for others. It goes along with the expression, “Every man for themselves” or “Whoever gets there first wins!” Everyone wants happiness. The waiter, the flight attendant, the construction worker, my child, my mother, my boss, my ex. It’s freeing to accept that we all want it and there is no limit to the amount of happiness available. My slice of the happiness pie doesn’t diminish the amount left for someone (read: Anyone) else.

  1. Everyone experiences suffering

Suffering is universal. We are all trying to avoid it. We have many ways to try to numb out or stuff it or ‘walk’ around it and ignore it. Acknowledging that there is pain in everyone’s experience is humbling. It is the core of compassion. Everyone suffers just like me. Someone is losing their job, their pet, their home or loved one right now. We all want to avoid it but it helps to be surrounded by understanding others.

  1. Complete unseen altruism

Everyone has known heartbreak, been embarrassed, been dumped or cheated on. We all walk around with wounds on the inside unseen by most. The Tibetan practice of Tonglen is to take and receive someone’s pain. To figuratively breath it in. I believe what is so special about this practice is that it is not seen. It is a spiritual practice of empathy and compassion that is carried by the practitioner in their heart. Complete unseen altruism.

  1. Wish-list of desires

Accept that everyone has needs. We all have needs that are more than simply material; perhaps it’s recognition, acknowledgement, acceptance, peace, rest, presence, time, knowledge, friendship, or love. We all have a Wish-list of Desires that contribute to our happiness and well-being.

  1. Life’s learning curve

We all make mistakes and are on different learning curves. Your ex may be on a different learning curve which may have even precipitated your split or at least at a different spot on their journey. The thing is that we all have to live and learn at our own pace. We are all on our own path. I don’t want to see anyone fail, especially those I love; but fail they must. It’s the only way we learn. And it’s incumbent on me to understand and support those I care about.

Remember, you can use these phrases as a prescription for compassion.

Silently repeat these 5 phrases to yourself:

  1.  Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life
  2.  Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.
  3.  Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.
  4.  Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.
  5.  Just like me, this person is learning about life.

We have a lot in common. Sure, there are things that divide us but at the base of it all is the need for compassion as a way to love ourselves and others. So, the next time you are angry and need to get centered, think of the words “just like me” and see if it opens your heart.

Lessons in Tenacity

I have been called tenacious as long as I can remember. I can remember driving in a blinding snow storm to get back to Ithaca, New York after Thanksgiving break. I was alone in my Honda Civic and regardless of the twists and turns down route 79, I was bound and determined to make it back to school. I did. When it came time to reopen my restaurant in Santa Rosa, California after the health department decided I needed a new tile floor at the cost of $20,000 that was not in the budget, I did. When my children wanted to go to Medellín, Colombia for Christmas and my home was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew, I still made it happen. If life throws down a gauntlet, I will pick it up and run with it.

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Vicki and the author kayaking on Lake Titicaca.

A few months back, my resolve and tenacity were tested. My friend Vicki and I sat in a two-person kayak a thousand miles from shore (well, that’s what it felt and looked like) on Lake Titicaca! The wind was pushing waves higher, the water was 40 degrees and there was no one in sight. At the time, I wondered if I had bit off more than I could chew; that maybe this wouldn’t be a happy ending. Obviously, I am able to write about this now, but it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

 

This is what I learned about tenacity on Lake Titicaca:

 

Discern. As we headed to the launch site on a peninsula on Lake Titicaca, we were on a large, comfortable boat. I was observing the water. In retrospect, I was actually assessing the landscape. Vicki and I had initially decided we would be in single kayaks for the 3.5 mile paddle. As I watched the water out the window and saw the waves starting to rise, I asked Vicki if she would be OK in a two-person kayak. I felt like a larger boat would be more stable on the waves. It was a decision I did not regret. Only one brave soul in our group, Debra, did a single kayak and she was sorely tested. When handed a big task, make sure you use your discernment before jumping it.

 

Gear. As we suited up in our rain jackets, life preservers and paddles, I thought back to kayaking on the Newport River about a month earlier with my boyfriend, Roy. I had gotten blisters from the 45-minute paddle. I quickly got the attention of one of the guides and asked for a pair of gloves in Spanish. Luckily, we were the last group to depart from the beach, and he made it back in time with two right handed gloves. I made due with putting the extra right-handed glove on my left hand. The water was cold and I knew that it would be a lot more than 45 minutes for the 3.5 mile trek. Tenacity is important but making sure you’ve got the right gear is important as well.

 

Learn. This was not my first time in a kayak. It was the first time I’d ever been in a two-person kayak. It was also the first time I would be steering the kayak with a rudder and pedals to direct the boat. We watched as two kayaks departed and how the rudder was deployed. Our rudder was not deploying via a pulley as expected. Once in the boat, I checked the pedals to make sure they were operational and asked one of the guys on shore to make sure he physically put the rudder into place. I also made sure my kayak spray skirt was tight so that water (did I mention the water was cold?) did not spray into the boat. I watched as others who had just deployed went in circles in the small bay from our departure point. As you gather information, make sure you use it to your advantage. I had used a kayak spray skirt some three days earlier and knew it would be important to be snug. I knew that operating the pedals for the rudder would be important. When you have a big project, make sure you learn as much as possible with the time allotted to gather it, and more importantly, use the information.

 

Team. The biggest advantage of a two-person kayak over a one-person is teamwork. Vicki and I paddled two strokes on the right side and then two on the left. We started off by saying right, right, left, left. Then we started counting 1 right, 1 right, 1 left, 1 left. This morphed into to 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, etc. We would decide initially on 10 strokes, then 15, then 20, then 25 and took brief rests in between each set. We took turns calling out the numbers and then finally decided to just count the first set and the rest were in our heads. We had the ability to adapt. If 25 strokes were too much, we cut it back to 20. If calling it out loud was too taxing (it was), then we would count to ourselves. If I started to get off course from the waves, Vicki would point it out. I’m not sure I would have made it across without Vicki. As Vicki said, “I really am glad that we did the 2-person kayak. It was only my third time in a kayak ever and my first in a 2-person kayak. I would have been miserable by myself and not sure if I physically would have been able to make it.It was a tough paddle that took about two hours. When you want to achieve something, use teamwork and devise a system, if possible.

 

Strategy. When we initially set off to go to Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca, we had no idea where on the island we were headed. We were in front of all the other kayaks and I just focused on the far-right end of the island, hoping that someone would point the way later. Eventually, a motor boat came along and pointed to the opposite end (the far left-hand side) of the island. I then changed strategies and steered toward the left-hand side. I was open to change in strategy and Vicki confirmed our focal point. A multitude of waves kept taking us off course. A second motor boat came up dragging another two-person kayak behind it. The man on board was shouting to me in Spanish: “Wait. There are dangerous rocks.” I hesitated. I told Vicki what I understood. We seemed to be about halfway to our destination and the lake seemed way too deep for rocks. We decided to muster on. We made the decision to move on but I was cautiously scanning the water for rocks. Once you decide on a strategy, be open to more information and adapt.

 

Calm. I was pretty nervous for most of the trip to Taquile Island. The waves were even higher than I anticipated. When one wave came across the kayak between Vicki (in front) and myself (in back), I was really nervous. What happens if we tip over? I don’t see a rescue boat close by. I don’t think I can swim that far. I had a thousand concerns running through my head. I shut up the voice of doubt. On a rest break, I looked up at the blue sky, I counted two beats longer and just appreciated the fact that I was on the highest navigable lake in the world (at 12,500 feet) and just tried to take it all in. I kept my worried thoughts to myself and tried to remain as positive as possible. Panicking Vicki or any other kayakers was not going to help anyone. Keep calm and carry on.

 

We made it. A total of 4 kayakers were towed to Taquile Island. Three kayaks made it in one piece, although it was a lot more arduous than we expected. The current was against us rather than with us. It ended up being life-affirming and I am proud that we made the journey. I believe that tenacity won out in the end and it made all the difference.

The Joy of Missing Out (JOMO)

You decide against going to the company baseball game on the off chance your ex might be there, and according to the Facebook posts, it looks like it was a ton of fun. You want to go to your high school reunion but you haven’t made your first million yet, so you decide to skip. What if your old boyfriend shows up single and rich? You stay at the Christmas party for one more hour (and one more drink) to see if they finally play your favorite song. These are examples of FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. You say Yes to things you really don’t want to attend or No to things; and then regret that you didn’t go. It can make you either completely over-committed, or wallowing in shame over not feeling good enough to attend.

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My children on top of La Piedra del Piñol

All social media channels fuel the fire on FOMO. The Instagram pictures of fabulous food at the new restaurant you’ve been wanting to try, the fabulous pictures of Glacier National Park your friend just sent you (wow, I want to go there) or the Facebook pictures of your college friends getting together while you recuperate from surgery. There is an antidote for this. Blogger Anil Dash coined the acronym JOMO (or the Joy of Missing Out). For me, it’s an acceptance of being OK where you are.

Here are 7 ways to engage in JOMO:

  1. Other’s Expectations. As Wayne Dyer famously said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” There is true peace in that. Let go of knowing or fulfilling other’s expectations and you will find joy. Isn’t that why you went to the committee meeting on Tuesday, so that you were seen instead of really caring about the agenda? I’ve done that in the past – just shown up so that everyone could check off my name on the list. Cathy was there. Letting go of other’s expectations is where the joy is.
  2. Their moment. When my kids and I went to Colombia about three years ago, my kids wanted to climb the 740 steps to the top of La Piedra del Peñol. I was fifty pounds heavier than I am now and I didn’t figure my adult children would want to wait for me to climb the rock. I waited at the bottom. I figured I would regret it, but it was their moment. I have a picture from the top of the rock, of my beautiful children smiling in the camera with that enormous sense of accomplishment. It is their moment together. Two Colombian-American kids standing at the top of an enormous Colombian rock, taking a selfie. There is joy in letting it be their moment.
  3. Just say No. Christine Kane calls this the Proactive No. It’s one of the reasons I turned down an opportunity to go to a baseball game a few weeks ago. I hate baseball. Don’t go to something that you feel is boring. Unless my kid is playing in the game, I’m not going. Proactive Nos are rules to live by, like: I am always home on a Sunday evening, 2. No horror films (ever) and 3. I will never schedule a flight before 7 AM. These are your guidelines so that you have an easy out of the cocktail party on a Sunday night, “So sorry, Sunday evening is family time.” There is joy in Proactive No’s.
  4. Be complete. You are good enough right now. You are complete. If you are in a relationship or not. If you are overweight or underweight. If you have made your first million or not. If you finished the marathon or not. If you have been to all fifty states or you are missing one (Alaska). You are complete right now. When I was suddenly single two years ago, I knew I had to be completely on my own before finding someone new. No one else or thing or place can complete me. There is joy in recognizing you are complete right now.
  5. Mindfulness. There are many ways to get to mindfulness. It might be yoga, running, or meditation. I personally find that the meditation that I learned from Art of Living is the best way to get me centered each day. I have been doing this twenty-minute meditation without fail for over three years. Focusing on my breath helps me reset my head. Let go of regrets and fears. Joy is all between your ears.
  6. Solitude. At this point in my life, I face an empty nest, except for my beloved dog. Some of you might be rolling your eyes as you face getting the kids’ back-to-school clothes, signed up for activities, all while working a full-time job and trying to get the laundry done. You are just wishing for the time you’re faced with blessed solitude. Initially, the silence was deafening, but eventually, it morphed into peace and joy. Solitude takes getting used to and it’s not easily accepted initially. We end up filling up the solitude with technology, screen time and addictions. Grab that classic book you’ve been meaning to read for the last decade and relax into solitude. That’s where the joy is.
  7. Be grateful (not jealous). I have friends that travel the world, that accomplish amazing feats like triathlons and marathons, and have the means to go to exotic locations like Bali and Antarctica. I am grateful for the people in my life and am so happy an old college friend relocated to Paris for a year. I’m so happy that a college friend traveling to Machu Picchu five years ago prompted me to make the trip myself last year. I personally know over fifteen people that have completed marathons. That is amazing. Being grateful reframes everything into joy.

JOMO is just another way of letting go. Releasing the energy that you might be missing out on something even better. There is joy in just releasing it.

5 Ways to Embrace Uncertainty

I’ve been waiting for a sure thing for most of my life. The sure thing can show up in many ways. The right career. The right spouse. The right house. The right car. The right vacation. The right business. I can remember going to the Brandywine Raceway, a racetrack near my home in Wilmington, Delaware as a kid. I always bet on the favorite horse to “show.” To “show” in horse-betting parlance means to come in at least third. I was always betting on a sure thing. I usually, after some ten or so races, came out a buck or two up by the end of the night. I was very risk averse and wanted to make sure I won. Don’t we all want the sure thing? Don’t we all want to pick the winning horse?

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The truth is there aren’t many sure things. We assume the sun will come up and we’ll take our next breath. The majority of things are unplanned and uncertain. Embracing uncertainty is not easy, not comfortable and not natural for most.

Here are five ways to embrace uncertainty:

  1. Be OK with the unknown

I secretly want to be clairvoyant. I want to know that if I get my degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration that I will one day run an entire hotel chain. While I received that degree, the closest I ever was to running a hotel was cleaning hotel rooms at the Hotel DuPont. I didn’t know that when I applied to Cornell University.

I was hiking with my boyfriend, Roy this past week. We could have hiked two miles, one mile, up to the summit or down by the river. Roy was fine with whatever path we took. He was OK with the unknown. The benefit of the unknown is that it won’t disappoint. It won’t come up short. The path unfolds as it should, whether it be rocky, full of roots, ascending or descending, blocked by downed trees or spectacular views. It is as is should be. The unknown unfolds to become known.  Life unfolds the same way with the unknown becoming known. Be OK with the unknown.

  1. Let go of the ideal

For me, perfectionism breeds procrastination. I will put off starting because I am not confident that I can complete it or make it perfect. I started this blog over eight years ago. It’s only been in recent years that I have embraced what Anne Lamont calls the $hitty first draft. I just let it write. I rarely go back and edit. I just write and let what will be, be. If I wait for an idea to fully percolate, fully come together, to become positively perfected, I will delay; I will hesitate. Don’t wait for the ideal time to go for the promotion, marry your soulmate, have a child, start a book, or open a new restaurant. Life is messy. There are rarely times where things will be ideal. Embracing uncertainty means letting go of perfection and accepting the imperfect.

  1. Lean into fear

Fear lives in your amygdala in the back of your head. When you and I are in our amygdala, we can’t do our best thinking, which generally happens in our prefrontal cortex. Fear hijacks our brain. A hijacked brain wants to fight, flee or freeze. Sit with the fear for a moment. Or a day. Or a week. Fear dissipates as you let it rest. As Meg-John Barker wrote for Rewriting the Rules, “During the time of uncertainty we need to refrain from acting however tempting it may be to do so. This may also involve asking others to give us the time that we need rather than giving in to their demands to come up with an answer. Thus, it can also be quite a socially radical thing to do in a cultural context of quick fixes and immediate responses: being prepared to say ‘I don’t know what I think about this yet’ or ‘I’m not sure how best to respond, let me get back to you’.” I think that leaning into fear does not mean “barging into fear” or “freezing into fear” but leaning slowly into fear. Reflecting into fear so that you can use your prefrontal cortex for you to best understand the uncertainty.

  1. Accept being uncomfortable

I’ve spent most of my life trying to be comfortable. I’ve avoided conflict to stay comfortable. I didn’t challenge that status quo with many of my relationships. Whether it be a spouse, boss or child, I didn’t want to make waves. I didn’t want to assert my opinion and potentially cause friction in my relationships. Even if I avoided conflict, the friction still existed. Avoiding the uncomfortable had no impact on the certainty of my relationships. Just because I’m accepting what is comfortable doesn’t make my future anymore certain. Relationships still fall apart even if you are trying to make them comfortable. As Barker wrote, “Whilst leaning into pain can be incredibly hard, the clearer picture that we gain when we face these things that we are so used to running from can bring a massive sense of relief, once we’ve taken the time to really look at them.” By accepting the pain and getting uncomfortable, it helps reveal the true nature of my relationships. Being uncomfortable sheds light on the uncertainty.

  1. Two beats longer

This idea is from Brendon Burchard’s book, The Motivational Manifesto. Burchard recommended having things last two beats longer. I love this idea because it’s all about being very present in this very moment. Feel the couch you are sitting on, the warmth of the blanket, the breath of your lover, the glint in your dog’s eyes. Be here right now and accept this current moment. Good or bad. Painful or sweet. Being here right now makes what is going on very certain. Certainty is in the moment right now. Appreciate it. Embrace this moment. Let go of what happened and what might be in the future and be here right now, just two beats longer. The present moment is certain. Count two beats longer.

Uncertainty is always present. Moving forward regardless of failure, safety, or certainty is just part of the equation. Letting life unfold is magical and is as it should be. What do you do to embrace uncertainty?

Letting Serendipity In

noun: serendipity; plural noun: serendipities

  1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

 

I was driving alone on Highway 7 outside of Albany, New York a few weeks back. I was on my way to Bartlett, New Hampshire to pick up my boyfriend, Roy who had decided two days before to end his Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I had stayed at a hotel near Newburgh, New York the night before and was about 3 hours into my 7-hour drive to pick up Roy at a motel in Bartlett, New Hampshire. I was driving on a city street in Albany when my GPS labeled the road I was on as Hoosick Road. To practically anyone else in the world, Hoosick Road would be meaningless. But for me? I burst into tears. My father had passed away just two months earlier and Hoosick Falls, NY was the location of his beloved prep school, Hoosac School.

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I was in a quandary. I had promised Roy that I would be in Bartlett by 1 PM but here I was presumably within driving distance of Hoosac School. I was driving in the middle of upstate New York and had no idea how close or how far I was from Hoosac and had no co-pilot to Google the location. I kept going forward on my current trajectory and hoped for the best. I know that in the South at least, a road named for a destination usually leads to that destination; as in Goldsboro Road has Goldsboro at the end of said road. I figured that if Hoosick Road would lead to Hoosick Falls, NY. I asked Siri, “How far is Hoosac School” and she answered: “30 minutes.” I decided to drive another 15 minutes on my current course and if Hoosac School was any closer, I would take a detour. After 15 minutes, Siri answered that it was 15 minutes away. I pulled off to the side of the road. Hoosac School was just .2 miles off Highway 7 (my current route) right before the Vermont border! Before I knew it, I was driving on the school campus and imagining my father as a fifteen-year-old with his fourteen-year-old brother, Jim. This was serendipity. Of all the places in the world, my GPS took me past my father’s alma mater just weeks after his death. It was meant to be.

Here are my thoughts on letting serendipity in:

Believe

I completed the StrengthsFinder assessment when I become a Strengths Coach. Connectedness is one of my top 5 Strengths. People with the Connectedness Strength believe that there are no coincidences. I believe that everything is interconnected. I believe that my father wanted me to see where some of his happiest memories occurred. I believe that the Universe was drawing me to Hoosick, New York and that my path would be less than a mile from Hoosac School. As Cara Thomas wrote for Thrive Global, “One of the first steps to attracting more serendipity is to actually believe that you are surrounded by it.” I can’t say I was expecting my GPS to take me past Hoosac School but I believe that serendipity made it happen that day.

Unknown

When I punched in Bartlett, NH on my GPS that morning, there were three routes, two of which went through Hartford and/or Boston. I didn’t want to go through a big city on a work day and I wanted to go through unfamiliar territory. I saw that it took me around the outskirts of Albany but I had no idea that was close to Hoosac School. Highway 7 is a rural highway with very few services. I didn’t know if I was crossing into Vermont, Connecticut or Massachusetts. I was open to the unknown. The unknown is uncomfortable. I could have stayed on the interstate or the Massachusetts Turnpike, where there would have been restrooms and Starbucks along the way. Thomas wrote, “Say yes to what’s in front of you, especially that uncomfortable invitation. It’s there for a reason. The less you want to go, the more magic is bound to happen.” Serendipity isn’t likely to happen unless you open up to the unknown and uncomfortable.

Grateful

I’ve been writing a gratitude journal for over 8 years. I feel like if I’m grateful for what shows up in my life, there will be more from where that came from. I think of my ex leaving and how that, in part, led to my sobriety. I’m so grateful he left so that I could be fully present every day and every moment. On that day as I was driving to pick my boyfriend and his injured knee in the rural New Hampshire, I was grateful that nothing more catastrophic had happened; that I was able make the fourteen hour drive and that I was brought within reaching distance of a place that was so important to my dad and who he was, one that I had never visited before. As Thomas wrote, “The ‘thank yous’ seem to build resilience to get out of a negative mindset, which only clouds me in my worries and prevents me from seeing the bigger picture — or what great things are in front of me.” I could have dwelled on Roy’s injury or taking off time from work, but instead, I was grateful that it took me past Hoosac School. Being grateful opens you up to serendipity.

Share

There is a “knowing” to serendipity. It’s the expectation that something good is always coming. Instead of foreboding failure or evil, look for and expect serendipity. I’m writing this piece largely to share with you my experience so that you, too, will expect serendipity in your life. Perhaps it’s always looking for the silver lining instead of the other shoe to drop that brings it about. As Thomas espoused, “We multiply our magic by sharing it with others — whether it’s sharing what we’re looking for, or helping others fulfill what they’re looking for. And sometimes serendipity comes from something as simple as a status update and discovering that you’re in the same country as an old friend.” Go forth and expect serendipity in your life.

Probably the most serendipitous for me was that I had some of my father’s ashes with me as I drove along Highway 7. I had left home in a rush to get to Roy as quickly as possible. I knew I was headed to New Hampshire and thought I might travel to Lake Winnipesaukee where, if I had the opportunity, I would leave some of my father’s ashes. So there, at the base of what was an old church and now an admission building, I left some of my father’s ashes. His memories are there and now a small piece of him.

Traveling up Mount Washington

I spent almost every summer of my childhood in New Hampshire. I can see now how fortunate I was to be either near Lake Winnipesaukee or Dan Hole Pond for much of the summer, rather than in the heat and humidity of Wilmington, Delaware. My father was a schoolteacher and had the summers off to work at Camp DeWitt, which gave my family the opportunity to sail, hike, canoe or swim for endless hours. Mount Washington sits proudly at 6,288 feet in the Presidential Range (various mountains are named after presidents) of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I remember it was always a great landmark, much like the Empire State Building is in Manhattan. I would gauge where I was in relation to Mount Washington. Until a few weeks ago, I had never been on top of that mythical mountain.

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Myself on top of Mount Washington and all those rocks!

If you spend most of your childhood summering in New Hampshire, you would figure I had been to the top of that mountain at least once. The issue is getting to the top of the mountain with the time and money you have allotted to spend.

Here are the various ways up Mount Washington:

Hiking

My boyfriend Roy hiked up Mount Washington on Labor Day weekend while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. When thru-hiking, one must either put up a tent in an authorized spot, like Madison Hut or stay in a hut operated by the AMC, which can cost upwards of $120 (but includes a bunk, dinner and breakfast). One can hike up from the town of Gorham along Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which is 7.9 miles long, up 4,000 feet and is indicated as “strenuous” in all hiking guides. It is referred to as the “rock pile” and takes 8 or more hours to hike. Then, once on top of the mountain (if you manage getting there), you must descend the mountain. Hiking the mountain is only recommended for experienced hikers. Mount Washington has had 137 fatalities since 1849 and it also has some of the most dangerous weather on record. Having supported Roy on his thru-hike, I can tell you that the wind speed, weather and wind gusts varied greatly from hour to hour and elevation to elevation. It has the highest wind velocity ever recorded at any surface weather station at 231 miles an hour. Based on all these stats and my current level of hiking skill, I chose not to hike up Mount Washington. I am in awe of those, like Roy, who have accomplished such a feat.

Railway

Before Roy left on his thru-hike, I imagined meeting up with him, hiking up Mount Washington, and taking the Cog Railway back down. I imagined it. Once the reality of how strenuousness the hike would be set in over the months leading up, I realized what a technical hike it would be scrambling over rocks where every footstep could result in a twisted ankle. The Mount Washington Cog Railway opened in 1868 and travels up to the top of the mountain via cogs, not rails.

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Cog Railway on top of Mount Washington

It’s three hours round trip and is remarkable because the engine is in the back of the train as it pushes the single car (with the aid of cogs) to the top of the mountain. The Appalachian Trail goes over the rack and pinion railway as it meanders through the White Mountains. It is the second steepest rack railway in the world with an average grade of 25% and a maximum of 37.5% (!!!). I ended up not taking the railway but it’s still on my bucket list.

Auto Tour

The road to the top of Mount Washington has been open since 1861. It is a 7.6 miles toll road that has always been privately owned and the road climbs 4,618 feet. When I picked up Roy as he ended his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I wanted to take the opportunity to go up Mount Washington while I was in New Hampshire. I figured I would drive up the road but, luckily, Roy suggested getting a van tour up the road. The vans that drive up and down the auto road offer rides to thru-hikers, and Roy had taken one of the rides a week or so earlier. He said that the tour was informative and interesting; that if we drove our own car, we would miss some interesting facts. Was I glad we took the tour! It was interesting but as my dad would say, “there was some hairy driving” on the way up the mountain.

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Roy next to the Appalachian Trail and one of the many cairns.

It is scenic and we had a beautiful cloudless day. This only happens about 40 days out of the year on Mount Washington. But hairpin turns above the tree line? Absolutely terrifying. I was squirming as we passed descending cars on the outside lane as the driver pointed out the sights and I prayed with each gesture that he would leave both hands on the wheel. The only ride I can think of that was more terrifying was a bus ride driving up to Machu Picchu. The view at the top? Tremendous. We were so fortunate that we went up on a cloudless day. There were the cairns to mark the Appalachian Trail, the cafeteria and museum to see the back packers and other tourists who took the far easier way to the top. If you have a choice and suffer any acrophobia, be sure to take the van instead of driving yourself.

I’m pretty sure that at least one of my brothers have submitted Mount Washington but I called my mom to confirm if I had been to the top of the mountain before. It was interesting because as I reflected with my mom, “Paying to drive to the top of a mountain is not a very Noice thing to do”. There is a reason my parents scrimped and saved and, therefore did not spend money to drive up a mountain, it was to send my brother and me to Ivy League schools. Odds are, it was my first time on top of that mountain. And the views from the top confirm that belief as I know I would have remembered those rock covered mountains and deep forbidding notches.

Leaving the Trail

My boyfriend Roy has been thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail since March. He came off the trail September 3rd after hiking 1,439.4 miles of the 2192 miles of the trail. His right knee wasn’t cooperating anymore. It was becoming dangerous to descend the mountain. He was concerned he was doing permanent damage to his knee; perhaps irreparable damage. It was an anguishing decision that thru-hikers make every day. So the mental debate becomes: “If I continue, what damage am I causing to myself and those that love and support me? If I don’t continue, what damage am I causing myself and those that love and support me?” He made that decision and I support it completely.

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Roy standing on McAfee Knob in Virginia

This is what I have learned from my experience helping support a thru-hiker:

Let go of control

As much as I would like to think I can control the temperature, wind and weather that occurred over and around Roy, I had none. You may find this not surprising. I, on the other hand, found it very surprising. I honestly thought that if I prayed, wished and gnashed my teeth enough, that the wind speed on Mount Washington could drop to 30 mile an hour gusts instead of 65 mile an hour gusts. It didn’t. I wished and prayed for that thundercloud to avoid Mahoosuc Notch (the hardest mile on the entire trail) on the one day Roy was there to no avail. I had to let go of control. I could not control anything on the trail. Not Roy’s knees, not the rain, not the temperature, not the rocks, not a thing. The illusion of control is what was causing me the anguish. I have very little control in this world except for my own thoughts about control. Once I let go of the thought of control, things are much simpler.

Embrace the unknown

I met up with Roy about every three weeks while he was on the trail. In preparing for him to go on the trail, I was under the delusion that I would be able to know exactly where he would be four weeks in advance. This is crazy in retrospect. I don’t even know my precise location four weeks from today. I may assume I will be in my home but I’m not completely sure. Roy? He could average 5 miles a day or 7 miles a day or 10 miles a day or 15 miles a day. He averaged all those rates depending on the terrain and weather. As you can imagine, this means upwards of a 200-mile difference in locations. We could end up meeting in Virginia instead of Tennessee. Sometimes the hotel I had reserved weeks in advance was over an hour’s drive from where I met Roy on the trail. Sometimes I found him in the pouring rain and the GPS wasn’t working. Once the GPS wanted to take me up a gravel fire road instead of Skyline Drive which took me an hour out of my way. There were trail towns I thought I would definitely see this summer like Damascus Virginia and Harper’s Ferry which I didn’t. I ended up in places I never thought I would experience like Rangeley, Maine. These last six months have taught me to be more flexible and to accept the unknown.

Be here now

Every time that Roy was able to call, text, or meet up with me were golden moments. I have a new appreciation for technology and the fact that Roy could call me in the middle of the Wildcat mountains to tell me how he was. There was no rhyme or reason why he could or could not get in touch with me. He might be at the bottom of a valley, the top of a mountain, or trudging up the side of a boulder-strewn mountain. I learned to appreciate the moments we had were able to be in touch regardless of the time or place. If we were in a motel in New Hampshire or a hotel in Georgia, it didn’t matter the quality or location of the place, what mattered was that moment. We could be eating at Taco Bell or in a local a diner or driving 45 minutes to a grocery store for a resupply. Take each moment as it comes, regardless of where or when it is. Appreciate the moment, right now.

Hike your own hike

This hike was Roy’s hike. He had to do it his way. My “hike” is my hike. I have to do it my way. We’ve talked a lot recently about what hikes he would do, now that he is done with the AT. I’ve realized that I love to hike to the top of a mountain. I don’t care if I hike back down, or sleep in a tent. I just want to get to the top of a mountain. I’m nervous about carrying 30 pounds on my back, when all I really want is the sense of accomplishment and view from the top. I’m not saying I’ll never backpack again; I just know that what I really want is getting to the top of a mountain. In comparison, the Appalachian Trail skirts quite a few mountain tops.  Many of them are a blue blaze (alternate trial) away. It might be .2 miles or 1.5 miles, but the AT does not go over every mountain top. I think about that in life. Am I headed to the top of the mountain? Am I looking for a view from the top? We are all just hiking our own hike. Perhaps I need to look for the blue blaze to get to where I want to go.

I am so proud of Roy and all that he accomplished this year. Many of the hikers he met were in their early twenties and practically running down the trail. Many were section hikers and only doing a day or two on the trail. He met folks from overseas, retired military, engineers, students, boy scouts, triple crowners, stoners, dropouts, and reborn Christians. They are all out there on the trail making their own way; hiking their own hike. I’m so glad I got to experience this journey with him and most grateful that he is safely home. I can’t wait for the next adventure.

5 Ways to Stop Worrying So Much

Do you want to procrastinate? Do you like to procrastinate? Do you want to come to a complete stop? Start worrying. Worry about the what ifs. Dwell on all the things that could happen? Might happen? Should happen? It sucks the life out of you. Quit awfulizing.

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I had a client recently gnashing her teeth because her child was going overseas for a month. Her biggest issue was the not knowing. How would they communicate? What is Skype? Where would he be living? So my question was: “How is all this worrying working for you?” Well, it’s not. It’s paralyzing, sleep-depriving…a waste. Worrying or not worrying will not change the outcome.

I’m not saying I don’t understand. I have two twenty-something children who have been more than an hours drive away for the last three years (one 11 hours south and one on the west coast). I have a boyfriend thru hiking the Appalachian Trail with countless obstacles including weather and car size boulders. They are making their own decisions, their own plans and their own mistakes. My worrying or lack of worrying won’t change the outcome. But at least I sleep. This has not always been my M.O. (modus operandi). It’s taken me years to back off the Ledge of Worry.

How to get to worry free in five not-so-easy steps:

1. Decide.  You need to simply get on board or not. If you really enjoy thinking of endless ways how your child, your parent or your spouse could be in a car accident. If this is your fuel, then join the fretters club. But if you’re ready to do the mental dump and start living in the moment, then you need to make the commitment. This can’t work unless you do.

2. Optimism.  You will need to be optimistic. This will be difficult for the glass-half-empty-people out there. What if everything is going to be better than expected? Maybe the plane is getting in early. Maybe your team will go to the NCAA finals. Maybe the boss’s office door is shut because they are working on your raise. Everything is possible including the windfall, the referral and the next project. Expect the best.

3. Turn it off.  The news, that is. I was recently at a hotel in Maine and my boyfriend Roy had the evening news on. OMG. Shootings. Drownings. Murder. Car accidents. My blood pressure went up. My mind starts wandering down horrible trails. What if that was my kid, friend, or coworker? Nothing good can come from the news. 98% is sensationalized and depressing. I’ve taken a clue from my daughter. She gets caught in rain storms without an umbrella or in freezing temperatures with flip flops on. She doesn’t watch the news or the weather. She takes is as it comes. Why ruin the surprise?

4. Moment.  As in, Ya Gotta Live in the Moment. This is the most difficult. There is always a certain amount of reflection and planning in life. We just need to stop dwelling on embarrassments, back stabbing and finger pointing. We need to quit anticipating the worst outcome. So your friend has cancer. Worrying for them is not going to help them. Praying for them can. Assuming they will be cured is a much more positive approach. Being with them in the moment is a gift.

5. Alert.  Pay attention to your thoughts. No one else will. You need to be vigilant. Pessimism has a way of seeping into our heads. When you get caught in your fourth red light in a row, chill out. It’s going to be fine. Sometimes, I fantasize that if I didn’t get caught at the red light, I would have been some place three minutes earlier and caused a car accident. This was meant to be. Just make sure you’re staying in charge of those fretting thoughts. You are your own sheriff. Clean out the riff raff.

So the next time your spouse/partner is late, imagine that they’re picking up your favorite coffee or scoring tickets to your favorite theater. It will send out positive energy and you will sleep so much better.

What would you do?