The World is Better, but You Don’t Think So

I’ve been writing this blog for eight years (yeah!) and there have been times when I have used a metaphor that seems completely insensitive. I write these pieces sometimes weeks in advance and I never know what even might happen between writing the piece and its actual publication. For example, I’ve written about a course correction of an airplane only to realize that an airplane had recently gone missing. Find a new metaphor. It can feel like the world is in constant disarray and we are on a collision course with the sun.

adolfo-felix-572763-unsplash

My oldest brother Dave mentioned to me last year that we were safer in the world than a century ago. My immediate thought was, No way, we have to be less safe. There were airport bombings and 9/11 in recent memory. There were mass shootings and terrorists. This thought prompted me to read Hans Rosling’s Factfulness this past month. It’s a well written book that helps you reframe the way you look at the world. He looks at poverty, health, safety and economic progress and the news is good. The problem is, as Rosling points out, most of us believe we are worse off.

Here are the misconceptions most of us believe:

Negativity bias

Negative information holds more weight with us. When my boyfriend asks about my day, I think back to my daughter injuring her back, my dad being in the hospital, or not taking a walk as promised. Folks at work refer to coworkers by the name “Nancy”, as in Negative Nancy. I end up dwelling on what went wrong instead of what went right; the bumps in the road. I had ancestors that were good at seeing danger like a saber tooth tiger, so therefore, I am here. We are all here because our ancestors were good at paying attention to the negative. In today’s day and age, this makes us come off as Nancys. It keeps us focused on what is going wrong instead of what is going right. We decide that every trend line is going down instead of up. The negativity bias skews the way we see the world.

The gap instinct

I think of my parents telling me to eat all the food on my plate because there are people starving in Albania. I was brought up thinking there was a huge gap. Seeing the favelas in Rio de Janeiro and Caracas some thirty plus years ago, helped keep that gap wide open in my mind. As Rosling wrote, “Human beings have a strong dramatic instinct toward binary thinking, a basic urge to divide things into two distinct groups, with nothing but an empty gap in between. We love to dichotomize. Good versus bad. Heroes versus villains. My country versus the rest. Dividing the world into two distinct sides is simple and intuitive, and also dramatic because it implies conflict, and we do it without thinking, all the time.” In reality, we are all on a continuum. There is no gap. We are not divided. It’s not us versus them.

If it bleeds, it leads

The media needs to sell news. It needs you and me to click on a link. It needs to get our attention. They do that through headlines that focuse on the unique, the frightening, and the outliers. As Rosling wrote, “Here’s the paradox: the image of a dangerous world has never been broadcast more effectively than it is now, while the world has never been less violent and more safe.” The media is myopic in that it focuses on the sensational. Rosling espoused, “Forming your worldview by relying on the media would be like forming your view about me by looking only at a picture of my foot.” This is, in large part, why I try and stay away from news. Its focus is on just a small part of what is really going on day-to-day. So much so, that we aren’t even aware that things are getting better.

Outdated information

Similar to the starving Albanians from my childhood, we never update our data files. I still thought that extreme poverty was continuing to grow. As Rosling wrote, “How much has your world changed? A lot? A little? Well, this is how much the world has changed: just 20 years ago, 29 percent of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Now that number is 9 percent.” So, while I was working, rearing my children and focusing on my tiny corner of the world, extreme poverty has dramatically improved. I didn’t know that. I need to update my database. Less of the world is living off one dollar a day. The textbook from my 8th grade World History class is way out of date. Most of us are basing our thinking on outdated information.

Single perspective

Rosling wrote, “Factfulness is … recognizing that a single perspective can limit your imagination, and remembering that it is better to look at problems from many angles to get a more accurate understanding and find practical solutions. To control the single perspective instinct, get a toolbox, not a hammer. Test your ideas. Don’t only collect examples that show how excellent your favorite ideas are. Have people who disagree with you test your ideas and find their weaknesses.” Rosling’s antidote is to travel. I agree. Most of my travel has been to South America but it’s still another perspective. I can remember traveling to Santa Marta, Colombia and staying in a cinderblock house without running water or windows. But the people that lived there were happy and healthy. Seeing other perspectives creates a quilt of experience to reframe your world view. As Max Rosen of Oxford University wrote, “We live in a much more peaceful and inclusive world than our ancestors of the past.” He says, “The news is very much focused on singular events. All of these trends that I’m looking at are slow changes that happen over decades, or sometimes even centuries. These developments never have a ‘now’ moment that would make them interesting for news that is following current events.” Take that in. We are on the upward trend and the world is better off than one hundred years ago. Isn’t that great? Find information that challenges your instincts or take a look at this link my friend Susannah sent to back this up. What is skewing your perspective?

5 Reasons to Keep the Status Quo

Status quo is Latin for “existing state.”

When my marriage came to a screeching halt over a year ago, I wanted to escape. I looked at flights to Copenhagen, I checked out apartment rentals in Durham, and I even looked into qualifications to teach English in South America. I was grasping at anything that would get me out of my current state, figuratively and literally. I also looked locally for other avenues to pursue new interests. Luckily, I stayed put. I didn’t want the status quo. I didn’t think I needed the status quo. But looking back, it was the best thing I could have done.

sashank-saye-151587-unsplash

There is a rule of thumb that you shouldn’t make a major life decision such as moving for one year after a loss like a divorce or a death. I wasn’t thinking about this rule of thumb when I stayed put. I stayed put due to financial reasons. Initially, I wasn’t happy about that. I wanted to escape. I wanted to be on a beach drinking massive amounts of fruity rum drinks with umbrellas in them. I wanted to turn my life upside down and move the hell on. In retrospect, l am happy I didn’t. I’m glad I stuck with the status quo.

Here are five reasons to keep the status quo:

  1. Internal locus of control. I needed to take stock in feeling like I had control over my own well-being. Getting on an airplane or throwing out all my furniture was not going to bring about inner peace. Staying right where I was, in my job, in my house, with my beloved dog, that made me understand the importance of overseeing me. I am sovereign. There is no one else to blame. There is only me. If I had taken off to parts unknown, I would have been blaming the world instead of taking stock of myself.

 

  1. Getting back to homeostasis. As Annie Grace wrote in a recent newsletter, “Homeostasis is defined as the maintenance of relatively stable internal physiological conditions (such as body temperature or the pH of blood) in higher animals under fluctuating environmental conditions; also: the process of maintaining a stable psychological state in the individual under varying psychological pressures or unstable social conditions.” I realized that my homeostasis was vastly (not dramatically) improved when I didn’t drink anymore. I was in a constant state of equilibrium. I didn’t need the fictitious relief of a sip of wine. After several months, I was free from the pull of numbing out the pain. I felt like the ship I was on was stable and that the waves weren’t as high. Homeostasis is your body’s status quo.

 

  1. Tinkering with what works. By staying put and confronting the reality of the separation, I was able to make small adjustments. As Stephanie Vozzo wrote for Fast Company, “Instead of trying to be like someone else, appreciate your own qualities. For example, if you’re an introvert, don’t assume life will be better if you transform into an extrovert.” I made small adjustments. I tried Tai Chi. I tried a Body Pump class. I traveled to Assateague island for a weekend. Some things I liked, some things I didn’t.  But I had my own laboratory of “what makes Cathy happy.” Tinkering with small adjustments are on the fringe of status quo.

 

  1. Decluttering is manageable. When my attic was finally completely (yes, completely) empty, I felt an enormous sense of relief. The thing is, that attic took months to empty, organize, sort and pitch. If I had decided to move to Peru, I might have thrown out something irreplaceable and precious like a book my son wrote for his grandfather or my daughter’s artwork. Being able to take time to selectively declutter could only be accomplished in relative status quo.

 

  1. All you have is you. You can be in Copenhagen, Paris or Lima, but it’s still you under it all. Drastic change or a year of adventure would not have changed the pain that was under it all. As Robert Frost wrote, “The best way out is through.” The best way through for me was in status quo. Keeping my environment the same helped me feel my way through. Escape into something new and unknown would not have helped and likely would have masked it all. At the end of the day, you still have you. It’s still you in there.

 

I’m not recommending that you never engage in adventure again. That you never test the edges of your status quo. I just know that relaxing into what was known, familiar and comfortable over the last 18 months has been rejuvenating and restorative. Do you need to stay in your status quo?

Resolutions Don’t Work

You’ve told yourself a million times you would start going to the gym. But it’s 7 AM and you still haven’t put your running shoes on. You roll over and hit snooze again. You’ve promised to eat a salad for lunch, but you decide that the drive-through at Hardee’s looks a little bit easier. Double cheeseburger it is! You told yourself three years ago that you were going to start writing that book. But you binge watch Modern Family instead. This is the effect of most resolutions on most people. We fail. Over and over and over again.

roven-images-601197-unsplash

 

There are many reasons why resolutions don’t work. Here they are:

 

  • It’s just too big. Resolving to lose 20 pounds, write a book, or run a marathon is pretty BIG. It’s daunting. It’s overwhelming. It’s so easy to get discouraged and give up before you even start. You can’t eat a 24-oz Porterhouse in one bite. And when you don’t, you give up your resolve and throw in the towel. You’ve got to break it down into itzy bitzy pieces.

 

  • There are a million distractions. As Beverly Flaxington wrote in Psychology Today, “Even the most minor distractions slow you down, wasting your energy and time – consequently adding more stress to your everyday life – and keep you away from things that you really want. Distractions cause you to miss many opportunities in life. They make you feel busy and tired all the time, and frustrated at the lack of progress despite your best efforts.” These distractions are stressing you out and keeping you from achieving your higher goals.

 

  • You don’t write them down. Believe it or not, keeping your new resolution in your head is not that effective. It’s difficult to keep it at the top of your head all day when you don’t have it memorialized somewhere. In addition, you have a world of distractions (see the bullet above) that are constantly taking you off course. As a coach, I write my clients goals down and then they make a copy themselves, or my clients write down their goals as we talk. Writing them down helps embed it in your head.

 

  • You don’t clarify what is at the heart of the resolution. Resolving to lose weight or quit smoking isn’t really the heart of the issue. It’s probably more about feeling energized, having a more positive outlook, or regaining your confidence. What is at the core of this new resolution? Knowing what is at the core will help you see it through when your willpower is waning.

 

So what do you do about it? It’s the New Year and you have a whole new clean slate. I’ve got the solution for you and it’s free.

Try out my 102 Itzy Bitzy Habits. Just click here to receive your free copy.

102-itzy-bitzy-habits.jpg

Give Up Waiting as a State of Mind

This is part of a longer quote I read from Eckhart Tolle last week. The entire quote was: “Give up waiting as a state of mind. When you catch yourself slipping into waiting, snap out of it. Come into the present moment. Just be and enjoy being.” Quite the thought-provoking quote. I have spent a lot of time waiting. Countless hours, days, weeks, months, years – just waiting. Red lights, grocery store lines, dial-up (old school internet connection), waiting rooms (heck, it even has the waiting built right in); buying the house; for him to graduate; for her to ask; for the promotion; for him to sign; for her to forgive.

ben-white-292680-unsplash

Waiting is painful, exhausting, a waste. To reframe it as Tolle suggests is very interesting. Instead of looking at your watch or calendar, come back to the present moment. Instead of gnashing your teeth, planning a detour, counting up all the wrongs you are suffering, come back to the present. Engage.

Here are some tips giving up waiting:

Value the time

As Elisha Goldstein writes for Mindful, “Most people believe that waiting is a waste of time and it’s best to fill that time with something…anything.What if this is an investment in the present moment? What if this is a time to be with yourself? Instead of striving to move on, past the traffic jam, or off the detour, you could embrace the extra moment with yourself. Instead of taking out time from your personal time bank account, you are making a time deposit. So, if the doctor is delayed, or the cashier has a price check, you suddenly have more time for you! It’s a windfall! Value the time you have gained for yourself.

Don’t default to distraction

Look around at the DMV, doctor’s office or line for the movie theater (I know…old school): everyone is on their phones. There MUST be something out there on the web, social media or my inbox that’s more interesting than this present moment. I’m guilty of this at a red light. I pick up my phone without a thought to see if I have anything in my inbox or some interaction on social media. One more “like” or comment or useless promotional email. It makes time slip away by just skimming without any value. 99.9% of the time. Looking at your phone is absolutely valueless and it excites your brain to expect the email saying you finally hit the Mega Millions lottery. That email won’t come and expectancy of some kind of windfall depletes you. Stay off your phone and from the pull of distraction.

Find the opportunity

As Goldstein writes, “In those moments, instead of grabbing something to fill the space, you recognized it as an opportunity to be okay with just waiting.” I think this is about reframing it as a positive. An opportunity. Found money in your jeans pocket while doing the wash. Savor it. Relax into it. Again, Goldstein prescribes: “You can soften the muscles in your body that have just tensed due to a mini fight/flight/freeze response and just recognize you’re safe.” I’ve caught myself over the last week when I hit that one red light that seems so much longer than the rest. Take a deep breath and slide into the moment of right now. Everything is OK. As Goldstein says, “You’re safe.” In reality, 99.9% of the time, you are safe. Find the opportunity to be aware that you are just fine.

Practice, practice, practice

So the best part about giving up waiting and snapping back into the present is that there are endless ways to practice. As Goldstein wrote:

There are so many opportunities to practice.

  • You can do this while waiting for the bread to toast,
  • waiting for someone to get out of the shower,
  • waiting for a certain report at work,
  • waiting for a screen to load,
  • waiting for your partner to clean the dishes,
  • waiting on hold on the phone, or
  • even while waiting for your newborn to settle down as you’re doing your best as a parent to soothe your baby.

There is a treasure trove of opportunity to practice! I have noticed that, since reading Tolle’s quote, I have practiced this over the last week and just noticing my reaction to waiting has been a good start. The moment I say, “Ugh, I can’t believe there is a line of six cars,” I reframe it. I can catch myself and come back into the present moment. It’s just a practice of self-control.

It’s difficult to control our brain’s negative bias towards catastrophe. I found that awareness alone has helped release the tension of those anxious moments when I feel I am needlessly waiting. The first thing is to notice that you are doing it. How can you reframe waiting?

Discoveries from My Walk in the Woods

Taking a casual walk in the woods can seem mundane enough. There shouldn’t be much to it, one would think. Simply put: one foot in front of the other. When it comes to walking in the woods on the Appalachian Trail, you might think it’s pretty easy. The trail extends from Georgia to Maine and crosses 14 states. More than 2 million folks hike a portion of the trail each year; a much smaller percentage complete the approximately 5,000,000 steps required to complete the entire trek. Well, if 2 million folks can survive a piece of the A.T., so can I.

44991981_10156710018068688_274218973061447680_n

I haven’t backpacked since I was at Camp Merrowvista in Ossipee, New Hampshire. Deciding to leave the comforts of a Hampton Inn and venture out overnight into the woods was nausea inspiring. I was nervous. Thoughts rushed through my head. Maybe I was too old. Maybe I was just too klutzy. Maybe I didn’t have the staying power to make it back to the starting point. Maybe we needed someone to meet us at the end with the car and refreshments. I am obviously writing this, so we all know I survived. But the venture educated me as to my abilities. And it truly was a life affirming challenge.

Here are my discoveries from my walk in the woods:

Roots

I have hiked in Utah, New Hampshire, California, New Mexico, and Oregon. I have never seen so many roots in my life while on the A.T. In lower elevations between 2,000 and 4,000 feet, the entire trial felt like a web of roots. When we started off on our 6-mile trek up to Wesser Bald Shelter from the Nantahala Outdoor Center, I was immediately struck how lumpy and bumpy the entire trail seemed. This was in stark contrast to my training ventures on the sandy trail Roy & I hiked out at Fort Macon, North Carolina. The problem you ask? Roots get wet. Roots are slippery.  Roots catch the toe of your shoe. Roots blend in under a coating of fallen leaves.  Roots are uncomfortable to sleep on. And roots can be handy when the trail evaporates to rocks for places to grab onto. There are roots on the A.T. Roots can be obstacles but sometimes they are the way only through. Grab hold.

Rocks

I have seen rocks before on a trail.  In Arizona and New Mexico, there is a lot of scrambling on rocks when you hike. I did not expect to be scrambling on rocks on the southern A.T.  I had seen enough Youtube’s on the White Mountains and the 100-mile wilderness in Maine to know that the Northeast had plenty of rocks to scramble.  I did not expect them on my hike to Wesser Bald Shelter. When you see a white blaze on a rock (there are approximately 165,000 over the entire A.T.), you know you will be scrambling. I managed to scramble down on my hands and knees. I drug my butt down steep slabs. I adapted body movements to what I believed would help me survive. Rocks on the A.T. are not just in New England. It’s best to embrace them as a challenge. It doesn’t have to be pretty.

Dirty

You are likely thinking I am naïve….or nuts when I say my next statement. I did not expect to get dirty while on my walk in the woods. I planned on staying upright and strolling through the autumnal trees. You know, an afternoon stroll. When we came upon a section of the trail that seemed to disappear under a slide of fallen trees, leaving only roots and a slab of rock visible, Roy made his way across by holding onto the roots of the trees above. There was a sliver of footing for Roy. I had no idea how I planned on getting across. I remember thinking, “I’m not grabbing onto a root; it’s covered in dirt.” I remember Roy telling me to grab the root. I reached out grabbed ahold. There will be dirt. In retrospect, this was completely irrational to think I would not get dirty on the A.T. or that I wouldn’t have to grab onto a dusty, muddy, dirty surface. Or even that the rain pants I wore on the first day wouldn’t have mud splashed on them. I’m sure you won’t make this mistake, but I did. You will get dirty on the A.T. It’s like stomping in mud puddles as a kid. It’s freeing to let go and get dirty. There will be a faucet, eventually.

Leaves

We were on the trail the last week of October. The leaves were about to peak in color. There was a ton of leaves on the ground. There’s a lot to be said about observing the Fall beauty from a distance as opposed to being an active participant. The first day of the hike, they were soggy and wet. This is an optimum surface for sliding regardless of your shoes. I slipped. I would catch my breath and slow my pace. The leaves are a mask for what lies beneath. It’s a handy cover for the roots and rocks that lurk beneath. You never know what is lurking below the surface. Day two of the hike, brought wind and sunshine and the leaves mounded up higher. They were beautiful but still camouflage for what lies beneath. If you hike in the Fall, there will be leaves and hidden scary things.

Animals

I could not believe that as we were four miles into our hike, I saw a tiny orange snake skitter into the leaves as I was scrambling up rocks. That I didn’t panic, and backtrack ten yards is beyond me. I don’t like snakes. I’ve had an irrational (OK, maybe it is rational) fear of snakes my entire life. Somehow, I just kept going on. I was amazingly calm. “Roy, there is an orange snake.” He wanted to see but it had slithered beneath some leaves. I guess it could be a copperhead, but I kept on my walk in the woods. Later at the shelter, there was a warning about black bears. Roy suggested I not read the warning. I didn’t. He later told me that the warning was about bears foraging in the area. Roy put all our food in a bag and put it up on the cables provided. I kept imagining those bears grabbing our bear bag and taking all our food as I recalled Roy recounting a story about a couple who lost all their food to a bear. I started “catastrophizing” about losing all our food and praying I didn’t smell delicious as I tried to sleep in our tent. It’s amazing what you can hike and sleep through, if need be.

Wind

The wind was howling through the night as we camped. The moon was glowing and all I could see were the leaves’ shadows from the tree branches swaying in the wind. I imagined a branch breaking and landing on top of us in our tent. The trail the next day was covered in small branches and leaves that took flight. I was just thankful it wasn’t rain. I’d rather be hiking in wind and sunshine than rain and lightning. It’s amazing what you are thankful for when walking in the woods.

The elements dictate the outcome. You have no control over the elements. Surrendering to control over what surrounds you is the way. I discovered that on this journey. It may have only been twelve miles but learning to let go is transformational. It sure was for me!

Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking on the Appalachian Trail

This is actually the over fifty’s guide to backpacking on the AT. For me it’s actually a guide to returning to the woods after forty plus years. I have hiked a multitude of places, from Mount Saint Helena in Napa, California, Tent Rocks in New Mexico and Machu Picchu in Peru. None of those hikes were with a twenty-pound backpack. They were all day hikes; rather like a scenery stroll. And they all ended where I was sleeping comfortably in a cushy bed with running water, a flush toilet, and a solid roof over my head. The last time I had a backpack on was when I was at Camp Merrowvista in Ossipee, New Hampshire and I was sixteen years old. Things have changed. More importantly, I have changed.

45415072_277551429561820_681331862123053056_n

My boyfriend Roy attempted hiking the entire Appalachian trail in 2015. If you are unfamiliar, this is no small task. It can take upwards of five to seven months to complete the 2,190 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. Roy made it 531 miles before a medical issue derailed his attempt. This brought me to wanting to experience the allure of the trail.

Here are my findings:

Water

This is a whole different ball game when it comes to backpacking versus day hiking. Though towns are close to the trail, it isn’t the point to hike and drop back into civilization. There aren’t handy convenience stores, faucets, or water fountains out on the trail. Carrying five to ten days of water is not feasible. Roy bought me a Sawyer Mini Water filter about a month before we went backpacking. I threw it in my closet and figured I’d be carrying my water with me. Nope. Water is the heaviest item you are carrying, so you should try and keep enough for one day. Make sure you know where the springs or water sources are along the trail. It’s not like a road trip, where you can stop off at the next exit to refill on water and use the restrooms! We had several empty water bottles to help filter from our bladder bags when we refilled at a water source on the trail. We were fortunate that the water source was a cistern on the trail versus a spring along the trail. It would have been a process and a lot more time consuming to retrieve water from a natural source. Sawyer filtration systems are very easy to use and are highly recommended by practically every A.T. thru-hiker. Don’t leave home without a water system at the ready and located water sources.

Guide

I was fortunate to be guided by a seasoned hiker like Roy. He knew that we needed the most recent A.T. Guide Northbound 2018. Roy had ripped out the page we needed for our hike. It showed the elevation, the location of the shelters, and water sources along the route we were taking. If we didn’t have the guide, it would have been impossible to know where the next water source or shelter might have been. You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a GPS or paper map. Make sure you have one that is most up-to-date before you head out. On the A.T., the white blazes on the trees and rocks are your guide. However, there are blue blazes (indicating a trail to a water source or shelter) and double white blazes (indicating some type of change coming up, such as a fire road crossing) as well. These indicate when you are off the main trail or if there is a change coming up. You might wonder why you need the most updated guide for the trail, but there are changes each year as trails become rerouted due to damage or are remeasured by volunteers. In contrast, my previous day hikes were trails that were heavily marked with frequent mileage indicators. The A.T. has very few signs, so the guide is invaluable when heading out. I found it frustrating, in retrospect, that I didn’t know whether I had walked a half mile or not. Most day hikes have a lot more signage with progress indicated along the way. It would be very easy to get lost rather quickly if we didn’t stick to the white blazes.

Clothing

My daughter Natalie is an experienced backpacker, as is Roy. Both kept warning me about not having ANY cotton clothing on the trip. Cotton will absorb sweat like a sponge and will not properly insulate. Boy, am I glad I listened. I opted for everything to be nylon or polyester, except for my wool socks. I tried a few shirts on that were merino wool but that particular material irritated my skin. In my practice hikes, I tested out several sets of shirts and pants to make sure nothing rubbed against my backpack. I cut every tag off every piece of clothing that I took with me. I get aggravated by anything rubbing against my skin. I didn’t want to be looking for a pair of scissors two miles in. I had a total of three (yes, three) jackets. One rain jacket for rain and wind. I started off the hike wearing a jacket since it was 40 degrees and windy at the start. I also brought a fleece jacket, which I changed into once the wind died down, as it was still cold. Finally, I wrapped myself in a puffy down jacket at the actual campsite since I was no longer exerting myself as much and needed to retain my body heat. I had a base layer under my hiking pants, which I kept on the entire trip to stay warm. The only thing I didn’t wear that was stored in my pack was my extra underwear. So my entire list was three pairs of wool socks (one for each day hiking and one pair to sleep in), two pairs of underwear, one short sleeve shirt, one long sleeve shirt, rain paints, convertible hiking pants, base layer pants (long johns), sports bra, bandana, buff, wool hat, cap, fleece jacket, rain jacket and down jacket. My advice is to try them all out with your backpack in different temperatures and weather conditions. Being as comfortable as possible is key.

Food

I figured that I would be starving the whole time we were backpacking. I’m not sure if it was nerves or exhaustion, but I ended up not eating that much. We had some peanut butter crackers, trail mix, and oatmeal bars. I think it’s easy to overthink and over-carry on food. We probably brought back about half as much as we started with. But gratefully, nothing went wrong on the trip. If we had been stranded for some reason due to injury, we would have needed all the food. We cooked a rice package for our only dinner on the trail and didn’t even bother cooking the ramen we brought. Having a hot cup of tea at the end of a daylong hike in our campsite was restorative. Coffee, the next morning, when it was 38 degrees was important as well. There is something about a warm beverage that makes everything feel better. Before you head out, make sure you’ve tested your burner and cookware. I’m not sure I would have been able to figure it out on my own in the waning light of day. Warm food makes a huge difference out on the trail.

Light

I had a light attached to the end of a cap for my entire trip. I knew where that hat was whether it was in the tent, in my pack or on my head. We hiked at the end of October and the sun was setting around 6:30 PM. I did not want to be stuck hiking, eating, finding water, or unpacking my sleeping bag without a light. It was critical to be able to see at night, especially when trying to go to relieve yourself. There were warnings about black bears in the area and being aware of my surroundings was critical. Have a light and know where it is always.

There are more must-haves like a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress. Trekking polls were invaluable as well. If you take anything away from this at all, test out everything you are planning to take with you in as many ways possible. You don’t want to find out five miles into your trip that your hiking shoes are uncomfortable, your backpack is too small, or that the tags on your clothes won’t stop rubbing your skin. When you head out backpacking, you have your entire life on your back. Thankfully, we only went out for a two-day hike, but getting the right combination of necessities can make the difference between a miserable and wonderful hike. Make sure you have the right basics for you.

Decide on Happiness

I have struggled over the last two years with finding happiness. I have strained, pushed, and worked on finally arriving at the railroad station, boarding the rail car called Happiness. Having taken this very circuitous route, I’ve come to realize: it’s not a destination; it’s not arriving or departing. It’s not being on standby. The thing is that it’s always been in me. It can be in me right now. It’s funny because as I write this, my dog Baci just relaxed into my lap as I wrote that sentence. She isn’t struggling any more; she is just deciding that laying next to me is perfect. And that is just perfect with me.

ryan-tang-273377-unsplash

I recently read Michael Neill’s The Space Within. It’s a thought-provoking book about just letting things be. About giving up control and focusing on what is. To letting go of your thinking and worrying and just letting things be. I think this is about just deciding to be happy right now. Just let life work itself out and yet embrace happiness now. It doesn’t take a milestone like buying a house or the divorce to be final or for you to complete the marathon; be happy right now. The key is to decide. So go ahead and decide on happiness right now.

Here is how to decide on happiness:

Happiness is not the goal

This seems counterintuitive. If you view happiness as the goal, you never find it.  There is always one more hurdle to jump over. One more thing to check off the list.  You never seem to arrive. I have the new car but I won’t be happy until it’s paid off.  Once the car is paid off, then I’ll need to get new tires. Once I get new tires, then the brakes will need replacing. There is always one more thing before happiness is ours, right? The finish line keeps getting extended. We never achieve satisfaction. We never ever arrive. Quit focusing on happiness being the goal.

Happiness is not dependent on others

I can remember thinking as a kid that I would be happy when I found the love of my life or when I had children. Basing your happiness on someone outside of yourself will lead to disappointment. It all starts with you. When it’s dependent upon others, others disappoint. They let you down and then your happiness evaporates. When you can find it in yourself, there is no disappointment. There is only your mindset. If my dog wants to snuggle next to me or not. If my lover tells me they love me or not. If my child gets the job, or graduates from college or not. Happiness is within me and is self-created.

Happiness is not about getting what you want

As Neill writes, “The secret to happiness is simply this…your happiness does NOT depend on getting what you want.” This means that similar to The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy always had home in her heart. She just needed to tap into it. Happiness is within you right now. You don’t need to get the next thing: The new car, house, jacket or coffee maker. Happiness does not exist in the striving for what you want but rather in you right now. Let go of the wishlist and be happy right now.

Happiness is not in the doing

Neill writes, “If you are doing things in order to be happy…you’re doing them in the wrong order.” For me this means to be happy while doing. It starts with the mindset of being happy right now. Start with being happy. Start between the ears. Doing will follow. Just start with a smile on your face and bliss between the ears. Neill suggests looking for the space between words. It’s difficult to look for the space between words when you start looking for it. It’s in the space. That pause. That moment where the infinite is. For me that is being present. Not multitasking. Not looking at your phone. Just be.

Happiness is not a short cut

Neill espouses, “By taking the time to live life in the slow lane, we quickly experience a deeper, more profound experience of contentment.” I opted for a walking meeting with a coworker of mine. The meeting took at least 30 minutes longer than I had expected. The thing is, I connected with the coworker and found out about some recent health issues she was having. I only had thirty minutes on my schedule but the walk and the conversation led to places I didn’t expect or anticipate. It’s letting go of control and letting the path unfold as it needs to. No need to rush, take short cuts or push through. Take the long way, the slow lane and don’t miss a thing.

I wrote myself a note in the Silence Course I took over a year ago. The first item on the note was to smile more. Several people at the course had told me what a beautiful smile I had and how it lit up my face. We all have beautiful smiles. We all need to smile more often. Don’t wait to smile or be happy. Be happy right now. Smile right now. It’s infectious. Are you happy right now?

It’s not my only line in the play

I heard this quote at a conference in October. It really put things into perspective. We have a lot more shots at a goal than we imagine. I think back to grade school theatrical productions and not wanting to flub the one line I was given. But in reality, we have a ton of lines. For that matter, a ton of plays in life. I can get wrapped up in perfection in the job interview, or the presentation to the board, or the first date. It’s freeing to realize there are a lot of opportunities in life and it’s grand to not get wrapped up in the perfection of your next line in the play.

wei-cheng-wu-484559-unsplash

I can relive conflicts in my life where I have an epiphany about what I should have said. The perfect comeback. The perfect redress. The perfect reparation. Finally putting someone in their place, and yet, the opportunity is long past. I can live in a loop in my head about how I should have played the situation differently. It takes energy. It zaps me. It’s completely unproductive. It was only one line.

So here are some ideas on how to move on to the next line in the play:

Piece it out

I facilitate a bunch of different trainings. They can range from Ethics, Sexual Harassment, or Human Resource Certification. Sometimes I present about CRR Global’ s “Lands Work”, Gallup’s Strengthsfinder, or Leadership Retreats. The thing is, when I first started facilitating, I would get completely caught up in the three upcoming events I had scheduled. I’d be worried about the one in three weeks when I was prepping for the one tomorrow. I would be overwhelmed and not sleep well. The secret is to focus on the next project. The next training. The next coaching client. By piecing it out to one project or event or client at a time, I can focus, be calm and better prepared. Focus on the next line in the play.

It’s about them

Delivering a line or a song or a presentation is all about the audience. Moving off of my own ego and onto the group in front of me is lifting an enormous burden off my shoulders. It’s not worrying about if I look fat in this outfit or if I can get a laugh out of the room. It’s delivering one piece that helps someone in their day. When you focus on them, it becomes a service. It makes it easier. I know that can seem like a lot of pressure but if I go into a room of two hundred people wanting to impress them all, it’s overwhelming and sure to fail. If I go into that same room with the intention to impact just one person’s life, it’s much easier. If it helps more than one person, terrific. If everyone gets it and loves the presentation? Even better. But the goal remains all about them.

$hitty first draft

Practically everything I facilitate, coach, or write is a first draft. I try not to overthink things. Granted, I have an editor for my blog, but the rest of what I deliver is on the fly. It’s in the moment. I’ve said some dumb things; I’ve said some witty things; I’ve said things I want to completely forget about (and usually don’t). Aren’t most conversations in life just $hitty first drafts anyway? Let go of perfection and be in the moment. If you mess up this line, there is another line coming up.

Be present in the moment

I’ve spent a lot of time rushing ahead. Planning. Mapping things out. I can be exhausting to be around. I can also spend a lot of time dwelling on the past. The Monday morning quarterbacking type stuff that is just as debilitating. The important thing is this moment right now. I facilitated a new group a few weeks back. I had never worked for this organization before. There were a bunch of unknowns: the audio visual; wall space for flip-charts; seating arrangements for the table. That’s all just flotsam. The real object is being present for the people in that room. It’s being present to tease out the wisdom in the room. It’s letting other folks shine their light for everyone else to benefit. If I’m more worried about the perfect room set up and refreshments, I’m not present for those in the room. So maybe you have to adjust the line in the play to fit the group in the room. Be present so you know it.

Be silent

It’s OK to be quiet. Not everything has to be filled with words. Time for folks to reflect is super important. Time for you to reflect is important as well. I think back to my first date with Roy. There was plenty of silence. I was OK with not filling every moment with language. I remember becoming certified to deliver a Myer’s Briggs facilitation. The instructor told us to wait 20 seconds after asking the group a question. Count out twenty seconds in your head.  Go ahead.                It’s an eternity, right? It’s an adjustment to be OK with silence. You don’t need to have language filling the air at all times. Give everyone time and space to reflect and digest. Some of the most profound moments in a play are when it is silent. Think back to all the pregnant pauses in a Hitchcock film. Rear Window would not be as griping without the silence. Silence can be powerful.

At the heart of all of this is just being authentic and present for as much as you can. Give up the need to know how it’s all going to end up. Every play is going to be different. Every line you deliver will have a different impact. What’s your next line in the play?

Finding Patience

I have been learning how to unearth my patience for a long time. I’ll admit that I figured since it was not naturally occurring within me, that there was no hope. I am always going to be staring at a clock, willing it to stop, while I am late for an appointment and stuck in traffic. How did patience skip me? How did I not learn this? My dad is the most patient man I know. I mean, he taught eighth grade History for over 30 years. He even watched my basement play productions and paid the 25-cent admission fee. He taught kids how to sail at camp; no easy feat. This is a man of infinite patience. How could this possibly skip a generation?

deniz-altindas-38128-unsplash

It turns out that patience is a skill. It’s possible to learn it. Whoa. No more blaming my impatience on my upbringing or DNA. It’s like finding out about the growth mindset as coined by Carol Dweck. It is possible to improve. I can learn this just like I can learn Spanish, crochet, or playing the guitar. I can learn how to employ patience. And so can you.

Here are some ways to find patience:

Acknowledge the need

Not all people move at your pace. Not everyone has the same schedule as you (I get up at 4:30 AM sometimes). Not everyone inhales a plate of food in 5 minutes. Realizing that everyone comes to situations from different places and mindsets is important to acknowledge. Maybe I need to just slow down. Maybe I need to go grab a book or magazine and relax. Everyone is on a different path and they are all engaging in life at a different pace. Realizing this can help you embrace the need for patience.

Gentle forbearance

I think this is my father’s secret. As Michele McDonald wrote for Bicycle, “We may be on the verge of making a brilliant retort to a coworker, but we hold our tongue rather than say something hurtful. Even though our impatience is triggered, we can tap into the deeper reservoir of our motivation not to do harm.” It’s all about getting back into the moment and realizing that we don’t want to prod someone else with our impatience. I can remember my restaurant days when a customer was obviously in a bad mood, I would be overly nice. Kill them with kindness nice. Sometimes doing the opposite of what I want to do is the best antidote. Embrace gentle forbearance.

Endurance of hardship

Again, from McDonald: “Patience isn’t passive; it’s motivated by an acceptance of and compassion for suffering rather a desire to eradicate it. When we feel impatient with our relationships, our work, or our spiritual practice, we need to realize that we are resisting how things are. A sense of humor and curiosity about our lives can also help us confront impatience.” Compare this to curiosity being the cure for fear. Curiosity can be the cure for impatience as well. So if I can add a little wonder to my impatience, I can change it up. Hmmm. I wonder why I am so impatient with the installation of my dishwasher. Is this really about the need for control rather than clean dishes? Do I really feel like Lowe’s has intentionally delayed the install or is it just happenstance? The important thing is that I have the choice to endure with bliss or with anger. Choose your response wisely.

Acceptance of truth

Accept what is the reality of the situation. You are late. Your son is late. The project is late. The flight is late. “Acceptance of the truth, means that we accept our experience as it is—with all its suffering—rather than how we want it to be. We recognize that because our experience is continually changing, we don’t need it to be different than it is.” As I sit here with the third delay of my new dishwasher to be installed, I am calm and accepting the reality of the situation. To some degree, it’s just fine. So I wash dishes for another week, or month, or year. Washing dishes is actually a Zen experience for me and it’s really not that bad. As my boyfriend Roy says, “This is a first world problem.” Acceptance helps end the suffering.

Bring it back to your body

So much of what helps you move forward when you are impatient is paying attention to your body. What are the signs that you are impatient? Is it the rapid heart rate? The tapping of the foot? The clenched fist or jaw? When you sense the warning signs, come back into your body and slow it down. Unless there is a Polar Bear chasing you, there is no need to elevate the stress in your body. Get out of your head and into you body. Relax. Feel into your toes. Get out of your head and slow down your adrenaline. Most of your perceived threat is in your head. Bring it back to your body.

Build your new skill one moment or situation at a time. Celebrate the small wins you can make over your response to stressful, impulsive situations. What do you need to have patience with?

Being Responsive to Change

I’ve been writing this blog for over seven years and I never know where I will find inspiration. It might be a trip to Paris with college friends, a statue of a dog in Wilmington, North Carolina, or a client mentioning a new idea like “wabi sabi”. This past week, I opened an Honest Tea bottle and inside the cap, there was this quote from Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” Well isn’t that thought-provoking?

martino-pietropoli-691998-unsplash

I look back at the last two years since Hurricane Matthew, and I have been through radical change: from transforming my flooded home, surviving divorce, sobering up, and adopting a plant-based eating lifestyle. That is a lot of change. That is also a lot of responding to change. And I feel like the species of “Cathy” is on a completely different trajectory than I ever would have imagined three years ago.

Here are my takeaways on being responsive to change:

Appearances are deceiving.

I think of the fable of the frog being boiled alive because it didn’t detect the water temperature slowly changing. The water looked the same but the temperature was rising. It’s that way in relationships. The slow changes in a relationship can be imperceptible. The rules of the relationship have slowly morphed overtime and suddenly you don’t recognize yourself or your partner anymore. Right after the water receded from the flood, we stayed in the house for about three weeks. There was no HVAC, but because the weather was beautiful outside (low humidity and mid-70’s – beautiful for Eastern North Carolina), I had deceived myself into believing that we would not have to move out. The house looks fine, the relationship seems “normal”, and the water doesn’t seem that warm. Take a look below the surface and see what’s really going on. Things may have radically changed and you forgot to notice. Can you really live in a house without HVAC? Can you be in a relationship where you are no longer valued? Can you stay in the water when it’s starting to heat up? Don’t be deceived by appearances.

Patience is the key.

As Abigail Brenner wrote for Psychology Today, “Don’t be impulsive or try to rush the results. Patience will help you arrive at the best possible place you need to be.” There was the lost cabinet that was the linchpin to moving back into the house. It was at least a month to two months longer than expected. There were the slippery slopes of the mountains of bureaucracy associated with the insurance company, mortgage company, FEMA, and contractors. Patience, not my strong suit, was critical. It’s the same with the legal process of divorce. I wanted to just get it all wrapped up neatly in a package and move on. Nope. There is bureaucracy associated with that. I remember thinking over and over and over again, You can’t push a rope. This too shall pass. It’s difficult for someone as impulsive as myself, but the old Alcoholics Anonymous saying of “one day at a time” has incredible value. Relax when you are blindsided by change; lean into it.

Feel the feels.

Pain is difficult. It’s easy to take shortcuts to get around the pain. Eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, an Amazon Prime shopping binge or polishing off a bottle of Chardonnay. Numbing out of the experience. As the old Children’s song “Going on a Bear Hunt” says, “Can’t go over it, Can’t go under it, Can’t go around it, Got to go through it!” The way to go through is to feel the pain. Feel the feelings. Grief feels like this: tight stomach and clenched teeth. Anger feels like this: tight shoulders and fists. Then sit and feel the feels. Label it and feel it. Stuffing, numbing and ignoring aren’t helping you. It makes the change that much harder because you are trying to go around and not through. I know it can seem daunting. I remember thinking I would never get over the end of my marriage. I thought I would grieve every day. And I did for a while. But I think allowing grieving every day really helped me move on. Feel the pain of letting go of the past. Be with it.

One small step.

In my booklet 102 Itzy Bitzy Habits, I espouse the wisdom in making one or two small adjustments. I think we have all tried to take on the exercise regime, often over do it the first time out, and give up. Or we try the low carb diet and dump all the pasta, cookies and bread out of the pantry only to head to the drive thru the next day. Change is much more palatable with small steps. When I started to remove dairy from my diet, I started with breakfast. What could I eat for breakfast that didn’t have eggs or dairy? Oatmeal with blueberries. OK. One meal that is more plant based. Done. I still had cheese at lunch and dinner. I just removed it from breakfast. I avoid alcohol with one club soda and lime at a time. It’s just as easy to walk up to the bar at the reception and order a club soda with lime.

Give up on perfection with all this. Change isn’t easy. I facilitated a workshop this week and the food choices weren’t very plant based. I had some cheese. It’s OK. It’s good enough. It’s not all or nothing. There is 95%. It’s most important to focus on responding rather than reacting. Change will come. How will you respond?