You Are The Architect of Your Reality

There is an accident on the way to that critical meeting. You will never make it in time. Well, that deal is lost. Your coworker called in sick. Ugh. That project is stalled yet again. Can we never make a deadline? Your son is not returning your text. He must have been in a car accident. Or abducted by aliens. Or in jail. The one constant in all these situations is your negative bias in the interpretation of events. It’s stressing you out. Believe it or not, you oversee how you view these events. But Cathy! How can I possibly view these things in a different light?

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I just started reading Shawn Achor’s book Before Happiness. Shawn suggests that success is based on being a positive genius. A positive genius is someone who can change their brain patterns to view the world in a positive light; to take in  information and put a positive spin on it rather than wallowing in negativity. Seems hard, doesn’t it? So much easier to succumb to the negativity bias that our brains are seemly hardwired for. You can change it, though. You can overcome your predisposition to view information in a negative light. You can. Really. Imagine all the worry and stress you can let go of if you choose to be the architect of your reality.

Here are Shawn’s three main points in choosing the most valuable reality:

  • Recognize the existence of multiple realities by simply changing the details your brain chooses to focus on. This reminds me of Byron Katie’s The Work. The first question in The Work is “Is it the truth?” I want to look at my son not returning a text as, “He doesn’t love me.” I can ask myself, “Is it the truth?” Let’s see. He drove 13 hours at Christmas to be home with me. He’s been really supportive with recent issues with my house. He sent me flowers for Mother’s Day. Nope. It’s not true. Of course, he loves me. So I need to realize that there are many interpretations of the information I have. So what if it’s been twenty minutes since I texted him. Maybe his phone is dead. Maybe he is working out. Maybe he is sleeping in. Focus on the details in a more positive light. As Mike Dooley says, “Thoughts become things. Choose the good ones.” There are multiple realities at any given time. Decide on which reality to focus on.

 

  • See a greater range of realities by training your brain to see vantage points and see the world from a broader perspective. Shawn quotes a study where a group of people were asked to draw a coffee cup and saucer. EVERY person drew the cup from a side perspective. EVERY LAST ONE. I have to admit, if I am asked to draw a coffee cup or a house (for that matter), I will draw it from the side perspective. But can’t you draw it from a bird’s eye perspective? Are both true?Don’t you look down at your coffee cup in the morning? Isn’t that the perspective you usually see? There are hundreds of vantage points. It’s so easy to get caught up with our status quo perspective. We don’t typically re-frame it. There is a whole range of views. If my coworker is sick and the project might be delayed, maybe there are more resources I haven’t thought about. Maybe this is my chance to step up and own the spotlight. Maybe we need more data before proceeding. Open up your perspective to see more points of view.

 

  • Select the most valuable reality that is both positive and true, using a simple formula called the positive ratio. This is not creating a panacea. Choose data that is true and the most positive. If you constantly seek positive data, the outcomes are better. In companies, a Losada ratio of 3 positives to one negative indicates a more profitable business. So, when you get a seemingly negative data point, look for something positive. Rethink it – the car accident on the way to work, not a big deal? If you had been five minutes earlier that could have been you in that accident. At least you are still on your way to your destination. Be grateful for not being involved in an accident and still on your way. As Achor has advised, “Go out of your way to build employee strengths instead of routinely correcting weaknesses. When you dip below the Losada line, performance quickly suffers.” Look for the good and it will appear.

 

I’ve been trying to live by this over the last week or so. I look to interpret the current reality in a positive light. I’m not saying that my negativity bias doesn’t creep in from time to time, but I am slowly changing my default to looking at what’s right, rather than what’s wrong. Be a positive genius.

In the Short Rows

We are finally getting there. In the short rows. The short rows is a farming term for the rows at the edge of a plot that are shorter due to odd angles of land. It means we are almost finished. In fact, I hope that when this publishes (I’m usually a few weeks ahead on my posts), that my head will be resting on my king size bed pillow with a view of Lake Wackena. We will hopefully be at least sleeping at the house and eating and relaxing there. My husband, dog Baci and I have been displaced by Hurricane Matthew for almost 6 months. Actually, it will be 6 months to the day on April 8th. It’s been a challenge and a half.

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Our generous friends have rented out their lovely in-law to us, and it’s nice to have a private place to call “home”, or as we refer to it, as “Camp Matthew.” We’ve basically gone from 3000 square feet down to about 600. From two computers, two printers, two television sets, a gas range, four bathrooms and three couches down to one couch, one television, electric range, one bathroom, one computer and printer. This would normally be a piece of cake for a week or two. Or the original guesstimate of 2-3 months. But it’s turned out to be 6 months.

 

This is what I’ve learned about being in the short rows:

 

Focus.  I have been driving my husband nuts.  I ask a thousand questions a day about the house. “What about the closets?” “What about the vent cover in the garage?” “Should we fix the light in Benson’s room now? Or later?” “Have you watered the plants?” It’s endless. He stops me in the morning and says exactly what we are working on. Yesterday we did an inventory of everything (at the moment) that we need for the house and then we went to Lowe’s and bought it. This morning we moved all the furniture from one bedroom to another. Thank God my husband has focus because I am a scattered mess. So when it comes to a big project at work or at home, make sure you have someone who can focus the team (especially if I am on it).

 

Positive.  I recently found out that one of my top five strengths is positivity. Thank goodness for that! In fact, one day a few weeks ago, we had a setback on the delivery of the linchpin cabinet we needed for the kitchen. Nothing could continue until we had that cabinet. Well, my husband started grumbling about the cabinet and looked at me and said, “Don’t get all positive on me.” So I went off on a tirade basically, that went something like this: “This sucks. We are never moving back in that house. We are going to be living on top of each other forever.” He stopped me. “Ok. Ok. You can stop now.”

It’s funny how we need some glass half full people around. It keeps everyone’s spirit alive.

 

Lead.  I’ve learned to give up the leadership to my husband. He used to be a contractor and is incredibly knowledgeable about all things construction. In fact, he is usually referred to as MacGyver. Duct tape and a popsicle stick? Kevin will figure out how to fix the water heater. This morning, he figured out how to get an enormous, awkward treadmill through a door that was too small, without any equipment except a hammer and screwdriver. He didn’t even damage a single freshly painted wall. I was there to “help” but I know he would have done it single-handedly nonetheless. Find out the best person to lead this particular team and let them lead.

 

Visualize.  Every morning for the last few weeks, I’ve been visualizing laying on my bed back at the house and staring out the window at the lake. My husband and I have been repairing on the deck for the last two nights. We are “acting as if” we are back at home. When I started visualizing being back in the house, the log jam that was holding us up cut loose. The cabinet that was missing in action finally was delivered and everything started falling into place. Half the house was carpeted last Friday and the rest will be done tomorrow. We quit waiting on the fireplace and decided we could move with the carpeting in or without it. I coach several clients who worked on acting “as if.” They get stuck and can’t sell the house or get the job of their dreams and then they start acting “as if” and suddenly they are in forward motion.

 

I’m really getting excited that we will be home soon. There are a few more hoops to jump through like counter-tops and some plumbing fixes but we are really close! We are almost out of the short rows and onto living on the Lake instead of with the nightmare of the Lake.

Take a photo, it will last longer. Apparently, it won’t.

I’ve read a few articles recently that dispute the theory that taking a photo will make the memory last forever. I can hear my children applauding this finding and, from this point forward, will never ever let me snap another group, holiday, vacation photo again. Ever. It’s disheartening. I first read about this in The Rotarian in an article by Frank Bures called “Photographic Memory”. He was reflecting on a trip to Hong Kong and being atop a mountain called the Peak. He sat there for hours enjoying the experience and watched throngs of tourist come up and snap several pictures, delete the worst and then move on, never taking a moment to take in the view. Never appreciating the experience. The photo was just one of a myriad that documented their trip but they never stopped to take it in.Take a picture it will last longer.

I remember being asked to video tape one of my college roommate’s wedding. When we got to the reception after the wedding, I was videotaping all of my old college friends dancing on the dance floor and an old friend said “are you just going to watch or are you going to experience it?” I put the camera down and joined in on the old Animal House hit by the Isley Brothers “Shout”. I will never forget that moment. It took me back to my Junior year of college. I got out from behind the camera and experienced the moment. Alas, there is no video of me singing “a little bit softer now” but I have it tucked away in my gray matter forever.

So what should you do? Dump your camera app from your phone? Nah. Nothing that rash. But here are some ideas on how to be more present and less dependent on your phone to capture the moment:

1. Cut. Cut back on the amount of photos you are taking. If it’s not your wedding or 75th birthday, one or two will do. There was a time when I took a picture of each present my children opened on Christmas morning (boring!). This year, I took one photo of my parents with Santa hats on. It’s a great picture and, as my Dad turns 90 this year, who knows how many more opportunities there will be. My children were both home for about three weeks over Christmas this year (a very rare occasion). I am proud to say I only took three pictures. Or should I say I was only permitted to take three pictures. Cut back on the volume of pictures you are taking.

2. Accept. Be open to accepting the experience. Bures in his article quotes Susan Sontag, “Travel become a strategy for accumulating photographs. A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it.” I experienced this when I went to San Francisco last year and traveled to Battery Spencer at the Marin Headlands to see the Golden Gate Bridge. There were groups of tourists walking out to the overlook to take a picture and then head back. There were those who sat and accepted the experience. It was a magnificent view. The pacific wind was blowing, the sun was lowering in the west and I remember hearing at least 5 different languages from the crowd milling about. Accept the experience.

3. Observe. Take a moment to observe. Bures cites a study by Linda Henkel at Fairfield University. 27 undergrads were asked go to a museum and observe 15 items and take a photo of 15 other items. Their memory recall on the objects they only observed was much more precise. Henkel calls this “directed forgetting”, where we tell our brain that it doesn’t need to remember something we have taken a photo of. I went to the National Gallery in Washington DC last year purely to see an Andrew Wyeth exhibit. The exhibit was the only place where I was not permitted to take pictures. I have to say that I took my time and observed. Every gossamer wisp of a curtain blowing in the open window. It’s etched in my brain. Observe. andrew-wyeth

4. Focus. In some of Henkel’s studies, if the photographer focused in on the details, they were more likely to remember the details. I went on a trip Brazil when I was in my mid-twenties, I remember videotaping a big black tarantula spider crawling on the side of the road. I recently saw the video again. It’s precisely as I remember. So when you take a photo, zoom in on the gray heron or the tree branch or the sail boat. Focus on the detail.

5. Present. It’s not that you shouldn’t be taking photos but that you need to be present regardless. Photos are just push pins in your brain. They work more effectively if you stand back and take in the experience. Breath in the salt air, listen to the sounds of the breaking waves, touch the tree, smell the fresh baked bread and taste the crème brulee donut. Be there. Right now. Pause. Then, if you have to pin it to your brain for future use, take a picture. But first and foremost; be there, be present.

6. Organize. When you have a catalog of photos, make sure you organize them. In order to relive the experience, you will want to go back and look at the photos. If they are in a box dated 1970-2010, you have a problem. They are jumbled mess. So put them in folders by date or by topic or by person. If you keep them in a jumbled mess, you are not likely to sit back and review them. My grandfather was an avid photographer and he painstakingly (way before iPhones) put his photos in albums in chronological order, with dates and each person labeled. What a treasure trove. Put your photos in some kind of organization so that you and your loved ones can go back and reminisce. Organize your treasures.

I have to say that I went back to my phone after reading the article and deleted any picture that wasn’t of a person. I have also tried to take pictures on a more judicious basis. But the most important thing is that I am in the moment and less about documenting it. It’s an amazing place to be.

Got Horsepower? Found Mine With A Horse Named Lollipop.

I had the great privilege to work with Renee Sievert and Michele Woodward at an Equus Coaching outing (a methodology created by Koelle Simpson) a few weeks back in the hills of Northern Virginia. Equus Coaching involves interacting one on one with a horse and, through that experience, have a better understanding of yourself and how you “show up” in the world. I thought I was going to be learning about horses but the horse held up a mirror to me.

My past experience with horses had been at camp when I was about 8 and a few trail rides. I always felt disconnected to horses. I felt like they were leading me and I had little to do in directing the path. I was just the terrified kid bobbing on top hoping we ended up at the end of the trail in one piece. I am happy to report that the Equus experience brought about a new appreciation for horses and a new self-awareness.

Rusty on the move.
Rusty on the move.

This is what I learned from my teachers, Lollipop and Rusty:

1. Attention. I love to be the center of attention. Lollipop came right over to me as I went into the round pen. He is a smaller, younger horse and he made a b-line for me. I had ten minutes to spend with him, and I think I would have been happy just petting him the entire time. I realize now, it’s one of the reasons I adore my dog, Baci, because she will follow me around the house and lay at my feet wherever I land. I feel a bit guilty, but I love the attention.

2. Intention. I need to be clear in my intention. Renee initially modeled how to lead a horse in the round pen. She stood alone in the pen with Coco (a horse she had never worked with) and through focus, attention and directed arm movements, Coco magically moved in a circle around the pen. No harness. No whistling. No strings. It was amazing (I had goosebumps). By just telegraphing her intention to the horse, she got her to move wherever and whenever she wanted. You have to know what you want to get done so if you want to be the world’s best purple squirrel catcher, set your intention and get started. Be clear in your intention.

3. Focus. I can’t lose my focus. I was amazed that I was able to move Lollipop in the same way around the pen that Renee had moved Coco. I focused in, moved my arms and he followed my intention and focus. Pretty soon he was galloping around the pen in a circle….magic….but….I lost focus. The very second I took my eye off of Lollipop, he came over to me like a moth to a flame. I lost my focus and Lollipop came back to me to find it again. This shows up everywhere in my life: unfinished books, deserted projects, languishing relationships. Stay focused.

4. Sync Up. When you are working in a group, sync up. This is going to sound crazy (cause I thought it was crazy) but I was on a team of three women that had to herd a handsome, albeit obstinate horse named Rusty without communicating using the most obvious of skills, spoken language. Using hand jesters, hope and a little bit of grit, we had to decide where we wanted Rusty to go and then go make it happen. In the end, Rusty didn’t do exactly as we expected but that was largely due to the fact that all three of us had slightly different agendas. Where does this show up for you? Did your assistant put in too much detail maybe because you didn’t communicate your expectations? If all three team members are on even the slightest different tangent, the horse does not know where to go. Sync up your team.

5. Power. I need to find my power. At one point, when we were trying to move Rusty, he stood there; and.would.not.budge. My teammate tried and then she motioned me over. I went over and got behind Rusty. I started slapping a rope against my leg. He.would.not.budge. Ugh. I was getting frustrated. I was going to move this horse. I summoned my power. My energy. I put it into my entire body and slapped the rope against my leg with full force, intention and focus. Magic. Rusty started to move. I stayed on him focusing all my intent and energy forward. He moved. I moved a 2,000 pound beast by finding my power. You cannot phone it in. If you want to move mountains, you need to find your power; FIRST.

It’s amazing how much Nature can teach us if we just pay attention to the lessons. Having a facilitator like Renee was really enlightening. She was constantly observing and saying things like “what’s your body saying to the horse?” or “where is your focus?” Think about how you show up in the world and how you are being observed. Pay attention. You can change more than you think you can.

Waiting for Happiness? 7 Ways to Embrace it Now.

I’m not sure this is an American construct, but I have felt that for most of my life that I would be happy once I: Got out of college, got a job, got married, got divorced, bought a house, moved, made a million dollars. Funny; I never got there. There is always one more elusive hurdle. It feels like I’m on this constant treadmill; happiness is always around the next corner.

As Shawn Achor says in his book The Happiness Advantage, we’ve been sold the idea that once we are “successful” we will be happy. Turns out, it is the exact opposite. The research has shown that you need to be happy to find success, or at least it helps you get there faster. You need to be happy in order to be a success. Happiness comes first in the equation. finding happiness

Here are some ideas on how to make happiness part of your life (instead of waiting for the elusive success milestone):

1. Fall up. As Shawn Achor prescribes, it’s all about how you handle adversity. Instead of falling down you need to fall up. When I trained for my half marathon last year, I would look for adversity. If Saturday was going to be hot (90 degrees plus) and Sunday a breezy 60…run on Saturday. Rain in the forecast? Run on that day. Look for it. Embrace it. On the actual race day? It rained. No biggie. I’m falling up.

2. Kindness. Pick a day to practice kindness; a sort of “pay it forward” kind of day. Shawn Achor recommends picking the day in advance. So if you did a couple of nice things today, start over tomorrow and call it Kindness Day. This is actually harder than it sounds…yes, I’ve tried it. I tried to do 5 kind things today. I’m up to 4 but the day is not over. I feel like going to Starbucks so I can buy the person behind me their drink. But I have to say, when you are on a mission to be kind, it feels great. I’m looking for an opportunity to pay a compliment, hold the door and smile. Try a bit of kindness.

3. Internal Locus of Control. Say what? This is whether you blame everyone else (the world is out to get me) or you are the master of your own journey. Sail your own ship whether there is a hurricane or not. Accept responsibility for your life. It’s not your mother’s fault, the stock market, Obama ..Yada Yada Yada . Folks who see life with from the external locus of control view are not as happy. They are constantly at the whim of fate; waiting for the next wave to wash them out. If you can move to an internal locus of control, you take control; you act on the world instead of the world acting on you. Let out the jib, stay the course and take control of the rudder of your life. Embrace an internal locus of control.

4. Blessings. Count your blessings. Do you have a roof over your head? Enough food? Clothes? People you can count on? Your dog loves you. It’s sunny outside. It finally stopped snowing. It finally started raining. Be grateful and count it up. I journal three a day. What went right and write it down. Start counting your blessings.

5. Reframe. Think about how you frame events in your life. If your flight was delayed, are you happy you met someone new waiting for seat assignments or are you thinking about how you will miss the first session of the conference? It turns out that if you can see the joy, the serendipity of “bad events”, you will be happier and be able to find the light in the darkness. Reframe the situation from slogging through the mud to playing in the mud. Have you ever seen pictures of folks after an obstacle course race? They just lived through a 5 k and 10 different obstacles but they are ecstatic. Reframe how you see obstacles (and maybe get a little muddy).

6. Focus. Focus on what you can control. Make it a very narrow focus. Shawn Achor calls this the Zorro Circle. It’s empowering to take care of the things within your control. I can get this blog post done, clean out my inbox and make dinner. Whew. What a relief. I’m happy when I’m not overwhelmed and focus on the things that I can change or do. Focus.

7. Anticipate. Plan an exotic trip a year from now and anticipate it every day. That sounds crazy doesn’t it? But the anticipation makes you happy. You are more positive and forward thinking. This even works if the trip is make-believe. So mark you calendar for that cruise to Alaska and start counting down the days. Plan the zip line tour, the fishing trip and the photos you are going to take. Anticipation is the antidote.

I think the main thing is to quit projecting into the future for the next milestone and it’s elusive “happiness”. Take stock of what you already have and share it with others. Happiness begets success, not the other way around.

Where do you find happiness?

5 Tips on Optimizing Your Results. Hint. Don’t Eat Radishes.

Willpower is a finite resource.  I’ve been reading “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg at the suggestion of Cindy Lamir from Impact Business Coaches.  It’s amazing what researchers will do to college undergraduates.  In one study, they had two groups of participants.  The first group was put in a room with a bowl of radishes and a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies and they were told to eat  all the cookies they wanted but ignore the radishes (easy enough) for 5 minutes. The second group was told to eat all the radishes they wanted and ignore the cookies, so they spent 5 minutes resisting the warm cookies.  Afterwards they were given a difficult puzzle to solve.  The cookie folks spent an average of 19 minutes trying to solve the puzzle, the radish folks (in addition to being grumpy) gave up after 8 minutes.  The radish folks had spent their willpower. bowl-of-radishes

In another study with two groups of participants, one group was given an altruistic  reason to resist eating warm chocolate chip cookies for 5 minutes and treated with respect. The other group was treated rudely and told to resist the cookies.  The group that was treated with respect out performed the other group when given a cognitive test.  The disrespected group had spent their willpower.

All of this involves your prefrontal cortex which, as I described in my post “The Big Lie”, is a small stage with room for maybe three actors. Unless you can make something a habit and, therefore, moved off the stage, you will be exhausting your resources.    So how can you get the best results from your prefrontal cortex and optimize your results?  Here are 5 steps:

1. The early bird.  Your best work is in the morning.  Your tank is full.  The stage is clean and there plenty of resources available.  If you need to deal with a difficult situation (perhaps reprimanding an employee or talking to your ex) do it in the morning.  If you are going to be creating (writing your novel, painting a master piece, or developing a new project) the early bird gets the worm and better results.

2. Unplug.  The last thing you want to do is spend time on email, voice-mail, social media or sit around the water cooler.  This seems counter intuitive – doesn’t everyone spend the first hour at work cleaning out their inbox and putting out fires?  You are going to need to turn it off to do your best work.  Putting out fires will only deplete your fuel tank and leave less resources for your creative best.

3. Focus.  Set the timer for one hour and focus on your masterpiece.  If you can’t possibly handle an hour, then start slow with 15 or 30 minutes .  There are apps for this as well.  Check out the link for some apps that are available to keep the distractions from your desktop at bay.  Anywhere from 60 to 90 minute chunks are optimum for flow.  Try for one chunk per day and then move up as your schedule (and distractions) permit.

4. Break. Take a break after your chunk of flow has been completed.  Powering through on for 2 hours or 10 will diminish your abilities.  Your prefrontal cortex only has so much in the tank and it needs some time to recoup.  If it’s not possible to go for a walk, talk with a colleague or call your mother; kill some time doing menial tasks like cleaning out your inbox or clearing off your desk.  Just be sure to step away from your masterpiece.

5. Return.  Get back into the project only after you have completed steps #2 thru #4.  Remember that as the day wears on, you are expending precious resources and that your best work is likely behind you.  This is true so long as you can stay away from the radishes and rude folks.  If you are starting a diet, upset with your cable company or just found out you bounced a check…walk away from the project.  If you can’t do your best work with all of your resources and a stage with one actor on it – leave it for another day.

So now you are thinking – but I won’t get anything done.  You can get things done and the quality of your work will be far superior if you just plan ahead.  Take care of your prefrontal cortex to maximize your results.  Stay away from the radishes for breakfast.

What would you do?