In the world of people and families with disabilities, we like to talk about using people first language. What that means is to focus on the person, their wants, needs, interests, and unique personalities. So, rather than say a disabled person, instead say a person with a disability. This is a simple, trivial example, but the point is to make a connection with the person, not the disability.
I’m always in search of great books with strong characters. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across Sam’s Top Secret Journal – Book 1: We Spy, by Sean Adelman. Sam’s in middle school, enjoys her friends, talks about boys, sometimes gets frustrated at her younger brother but mostly loves him and admires him. This fun story highlight’s Sam’s adventures, worries, ideas, and relationships with family and friends. Oh, yeah, as an aside, Sam has Down Syndrome.
Written for middle-school readers, this book kept me engaged from page one. I can’t wait to pass it on to some of my friends. Thanks Dr. Adelman, for giving us a great book that we can relate to!
Caring for an aging parent or family member? Here’s a must-read article. I can’t even begin to articulate the insights Michael Wolff describes in his feature about his Mother’s life. http://nymag.com/news/features/parent-health-care-2012-5/. If you are experiencing or have experienced something similar, you know what a nightmare end of life care can be in our current system. My heart aches that this sad story is repeated thousands of times a day. I wish for you courage, wisdom and strength when you are faced with this profound period of caring for someone you love when everything they used to be is gone.
No, this is not about losing weight and exercising more. We get enough of that in the popular press. <grin>
I do have some work-related resolutions to share, though.
- I will contact at least one colleague a month for no other reason except to check in and see how they are doing. I won’t wait until I have a business excuse for the contact.
- I will examine at least three of myÂ standard business processes that are somewhat frustrating for me and see how I can improve the process to add more value and reduce wasted time and effort.
- I will ensure that at least 10% of my time is focused on important but not urgent work; which often gets overlooked in the press of immediacy.
- I will remember it is not about me when people express their fear, frustration or anger through their behavior, and I will try first to respond with compassion.
- As a small business owner, I will remember that rest provides important regeneration, and will create a time off pool similar to what other professionals have.
I’ll check back within six months to let you know how I’m doing on these goals. Best wishes for a productive, meaningful and happy 2011. Blessings to all.
I’ve been reflecting on the amount of anxiety I experience and see in others lately. Some of it is well-founded, but frankly, quite a bit of it is self-generated or caused by external factors that we can moderate. And, it seems to be dramatically escalating all around us.
Certainly there are times and situations in our lives which bring us anxiety. For me, when my life is filled with uncertainty, I am anxious. That’s reasonable, understandable and expected.
I had the same feeling though, the other day when I saw a movie trailer about an out of control train laden with toxic chemicals, racing toward certain disaster. My breathing got shorter, my heart started racing, and I experienced that same anxiety I feel with periodic real life situations.
TV news is the same way. I rarely watch TV, and almost never TV news. My relatives came to visit last week though, and they are TV news fans. Sure enough, I found my breathing changed, along with all those other familiar symptoms of anxiety when I found myself caught up in the dramatic lead-ins and stories on the local channel.
Several months ago, I picked up an audio copy of the 4-Hour Work Week. I never finished it, but I did glean a few gems from the author. He never reads or watches the news, primarily to save time, but also to avoid getting emotionally hooked with issues and stories that had little or no real impact on his life. He reasoned that others would tell him if something really important occurred, and that he could periodically scan headlines as necessary to keep up on local and world events.
I’ve really thought about that idea since then. I used to read the paper religiously every morning, starting with the front page and local section, then the nation/world, and if I had time, the living section. I used the sports section for washing windows <grin>. It took about an hour; I felt well-informed, but I also ended up carrying anxiety for many of the stories of tragedy or conflict, which seem to dominate most news sources.
So, I’ve been experimenting with news diets, where I forego reading the news regularly, relying on the Sunday paper or periodic scans of headlines. Guess what — I did stay reasonably informed of big picture issues, and mercifully unaware of many un-stories that did nothing but add worry and anxiety to my day to day life. Another thing I’ve done is subscribe to targeted news channels, in the industries where I work like health care and the financial world. This brings me headlines I can scan and filters out stuff that literally can shorten our lives. We know now that stress can be caused by good or bad events, and that it impacts our health and our bodies in subtle ways with long-term consequences.
I encourage you to try something for a week, then follow up for another week with a different approach. In the first week, reflect on what is causing you anxiety and stress. Try to discern the stuff you own, like issues with work, family, finances, etc., and the stuff you don’t own, like news stories, dramatic TV shows, and other people’s issues. Chances are, at least half of the time, the anxiety and stress you are feeling are caused by sources and factors that do not directly impact you, but that you allow into your life. Then, in the second week, make some choices to do something different. Instead of watching Law and Order, consider reading Maeve Binchey, or one of the Wizard of Oz children’s books. Listen to upbeat music in the morning rather than talk radio; yes, forego even NPR.
At the end of the second week, reflect on what you lost by your anxiety diet, and what you gained. Were your experiences more pleasant? Did you find your interactions with people you love more meaningful? Were you able to notice how pretty the leaves were when you went on your walk?
Finally, if you get a chance, let me know what happened with the hours you gained.
I’ve been a part of an integrated health care system for all of my adult life. At Group Health Cooperative, when I need to see a specialist, my primary care doc has immediate access to all the information through my electronic medical record. I order prescriptions online, and they show up in my mailbox a few days later. If something is bugging me that isn’t worth a trip to my doctor, I just email her. She emails me back. I think I’m one of the lucky ones when it comes to havnig great, coordinated care that fits my schedule and my life, and is focused on my well-being.
In one of my recent posts, I talked about my Mother passing away. In this one, I want to share a bit of a story about her experiences with the traditional fee-for-service medical system.
During the last six months of her life, she was in and out of the hospital and skilled nursing facilities, seeing not only her primary care physician, but her blood doctor, diabetes doctor, heart doctor and oncologist. I traveled to Montana at least twice a month to support Mom and help my sister coordinate her care. The sad part is that it took heroic effort to get the disconnected parts of the system to work together, and frankly, we still didn’t do a very good job. More than anything else, I wish Mom could have been served by a coordinated team, where everyone had access to her whole treatment plan, not just their part.
I think the most frustrating part of this story is that it is so universal. Almost all my friends and colleagues have similar stories to share, and I’ve read dozens more just like this.
I’m a great fan of Shannon Brownlee, author of Overtreated. In this book she talks about the maze of the current health care system. The thing I especially like about this book is she talks about the economics of the current system in a way that a regular human being can understand.
If you do nothing else to change health care this year, pick up this book and read it. I think you will find it an eye-opening experience. I’ll have more recommendations later, but this is a great start.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. 2009 was a difficult year. I spent much of my time in Montana with my Mother, during the final stage of her life. She passed away, and it took me awhile to get back the energy to engage in thoughtful writing. Since I’ve been reflecting about her so much lately, I wanted to share a bit about that. This entry is more personal than normal.
I’ve been dreaming about my Mother periodically — nice dreams, where she is reasonably healthy and able to get around. They are such a gift, and I wake up with a kind of happiness that borders on poignancy.
There’s so many things I wished I would have asked her about her early life, before kids; about my birth father, about her mother, grandmother and other relatives. I often read the obituaries in the paper, and realize that those few short paragraphs to describe a life fall far short of conveying who the person was. I’m always left with the impression that the person was well loved, and loved their family and friends. However, I also end up feeling that the description of the person who loved gardening failed to describe the person who delighted in serving tomatoes still warm from the garden with a dollop of cottage cheese to her grandchildren, who helped their grandmother keep the secret that vegetables were actually yummy when their parents swore they could never get them to eat anything healthy. Or, the woman who volunteered at her church, who in actuality held the hand of a lost and grieving widow during the wake, and who faithfully set up coffee and cookies every third Sunday for the past 37 years, even when she was sick with her own chemo treatments.
Those stories are not my Mom’s stories; just what I imagine when I think about how 85 years can be condensed into 4 column inches. One of the first people in my life to die was an older man, not my grandfather, but someone who was very much a grandfather figure to me. Lyle Compton was a gentleman, a cowboy, an artist, and a mentor. He was a sheep rancher for much of his life, never married. When I was 10 or 11, I told him I would marry him when I grew up. He laughed sweetly, since he was around 80 at the time. Just as I was starting to drive, he ended up in Stillwater Nursing Home. I would drive over to visit periodically, and I’d bring a milkshake. Vanilla was his favorite, and chocolate mine. I think of him periodically, and recently did an Internet search to see if there was any mention of him, or his art. Sadly, I found nothing, and the people we knew in common are becoming smaller in number as well. Who will remember this wonderful man, who taught me the value of a trust relationship with my horse, who listened to my teenage troubles, and who expressed himself through his paintings?
What I remember about my Mom was her courage. Her courage when she started over, two infants in hand, temporarily moving back in with her parents who said â€œyou made your bed, now lie in it. I remember crawling out of my crib and sneaking down the stairwell, blanket and pacifier in hand, waiting until she got home from her job at the IGA at midnight. I remember her strength, when she had to start over again, now three children in tow, leaving Wisconsin after a house fire took everything, living in a popup camper for months and months, when promises of cheap land and dreams of work evaporated. I remember her resourcefulness, when weathered barn siding became paneling on the walls of an abandoned farmhouse. I remember her wisdom when she told me that they can never take away your education, and though she couldn’t afford to send me to college, nor had any idea what college was like, she encouraged me, and supported me, and helped ensure that I had more choices available than she did at my age.
I guess the point of this story is that our actions and words have influence, far beyond what we know at the time. Our actions and words teach others, shape lives, calm fears, encourage dreams. I know for sure that I would not be the person I am today without the influence of my Mom, and others who have touched my life.
People are often astounded when they learn about someone’s bold dream being realized. They think, “I could never do that.”
So often, we are our own worst enemy. We judge ourselves far more harshly than others do, we put more faith in others’ ability to make miracles occur than we invest in ourselves. We fail to dream and we consistently accept situations that are less than optimal for us.
What’s stopping us from realizing our wildest dreams? In my experience, I see people stumble in several common areas:
- Making assumptions
- Being unwilling or unable to ask for what you need
- Believing that external factors have more control than they really do
- Staying so busy that you are out of touch with your inner self
How can these factors work against you and limit your life? Here’s some real life examples.
When we make assumptions about situations, we build whole stories that we then start to believe. I saw this recently at a homeowners association meeting where some people automatically assumed another person was “out to get them”. They couldn’t even open up to hear her message, because they were so invested in their assumption about her motivation. It turns out she wasn’t out to get them, and she did have a valid concern, but it took a lot of effort to get people to let go of their original assumption.
It’s tough asking for what you want or need. It’s definitely possible you won’t get what you ask for on the first try. Certainly there’s that unrealistic, “I need a million dollars”. Chances are you won’t find someone to meet that need, and if you do, let me know, okay? How about this example instead–I need to feel loved, cherished and secure. I’m finding it difficult to ask for what I need, because the fear of rejection is high, and it is a painful experience to not have this core need met. However, most of the time our needs are not met simply because we didn’t express them. Perhaps we made an assumption that the other person should be able to just know what our needs are without us telling them. Sometimes we need to ask more than once, but generally, healthy people are delighted to support us in the ways we need. Think of how wonderful it feels to help meet someone else’s request. Realize that you are giving someone a great gift when you give them the opportunity to respond to your need. It all starts with asking.
I think it’s one of the worst things to be stuck in a situation where you don’t have control, where external factors or circumstances appear to limit your choices. We should all be free to choose — where to live, where to work, who to love. When we feel external circumstances control our choices, we get frustrated, angry, and resentful. Freedom comes from security, and if we don’t attend to this primal need, we can’t take control of our lives. Suze Orman is a passionate advocate for building security into our lives. Personally, I’ve experienced both, and I don’t ever want to go back to that place where security doesn’t exist and external factors loom larger than I have the ability to confront.
Lastly, our world is made up of a constant barrage of stimulation. Our inner self is quiet, and typically can’t be heard over the din of our day to day lives. So often we don’t dream big because we aren’t in touch with ourselves and what we want and need. We tie up our value in what we do and what we can offer to others, rather than recognizing we are wonderful, lovable, and special, simply for who we are. I think this is probably one of the hardest life lessons for me to learn, but I’m coming around to understand this important truth.
So, wrapping up, these hidden stoppers collude to limit our life’s joy and freedom. We make assumptions, we fail to ask for what we need, we assign greater control to external factors than they warrant, and we avoid listening to that still, quiet voice that helps us see the truth.
My hope for you is that in some small way you take a step toward your wildest dreams.
One of my most difficult lessons to learn is about living in the moment. I am so often engaged in thinking about what could happen that I forget to enjoy each day as a gift.
Two ways I fall into this pattern of future thinking are reactive and fanciful. In my reactive mode, I’m “strategizing”, “planning”, “analyzing”, or “competing” based on what has happened in the past, and what I think might happen in the future. This is not bad, per se; it’s just that we sometimes need to set future-thinking aside to recall what’s really important.
The other pattern of future thinking that always trips me up is fanciful thinking. It’s not based in past reality, but is simply a projection of future wishes. Have you ever gone on a date and found yourself tripping about what a future would look like with that person? Or, applied for a job and then planned your ascension through management ranks before you even got an interview? Again, not entirely a bad thing; but we sometimes forget to live in the moment when we are engaged in future dreams. The challenge of course, is when reality meets fantasy and it’s different than what you expected.
One of my current favorite books is The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz. In it, they offer four simple but powerful steps for reflection; ones which have the potential to radically change your relationship with your world.
Be impeccable with your word
Don’t take anything personally
Always do your best
Don’t make assumptions
Sound intriguing? Visit their website for more information.
In the Pacific Northwest, salmon are king (no pun intended). One of my favorite t-shirts I see periodically is a picture of a salmon, with the phrase “Adapt or Die”. It brings up the extraordinary environmental changes faced by an entire species, within a few short generations.
So what’s the connection to group wisdom? I was at a professional coaches association chapter meeting a few days ago. Our presenter, Dr. Miriam Reiss talked about the special challenges of coaching individuals with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). As she described the telling signs of ADD, like losing track of time, having difficulty focusing on important tasks, and getting sidetracked easily, I started identifying these challenges within myself, and within 97% of the people with whom I work. Yikes!
She ended the lively evening with her thesis that ADD is a massive evolutionary adaptation to the speed and multi-tasking we are experiencing now. As we live our lives, we can see this adaptation occur. My young friend Mandy, 18 and just starting college, held an engaged conversation with me while she was texting, researching and keeping an eye on a NASCAR race in the background. I sure can’t do that.
Miriam ended her presentation with an remarkably insightful question that moved me from distress to embracing our collective experience — What’s the blessing here? Indeed, we can look at this rapid evolutionary change we are all experiencing as either a burden or an opportunity. We can find the greatness in distraction and non-linear learning. We can delight in discovering new structures that work for us when we absolutely have to get things done. And, we can cut ourselves some slack, celebrating the fact that we are adapting, growing, learning and changing.
You most likely know what I mean when I refer to complex problems–the ones that keep you up at night and make you want to pull the covers over your head. You might even consider a career change as a barista, or simply ignore these issues, hoping they will go away. Complex problems are tough by definition. What makes them even tougher is that quite often in today’s business environment we aren’t able to bring our best brain to address them. Why? Because each day we are drawn in a million directions, with inputs bombarding us in all forms. Count the time between interruptions in your work life–one minute you get an email, the next a phone call, followed by a walk-in. It seems we’ve conditioned ourselves to be ADHD, and we don’t have a supply of Ritalin at the office to settle down.
Now, imagine the luxury of having uninterrupted time to focus on one issue with all of your brain. No phone calls, no emails, no colleagues asking for help. Just reflective time, clarity of thought, persistence of vision. Imagine the feeling of finding new insights–all through the process of focused thought.
Imagine taking that one step further, to a group of people owning and solving complex problems by accessing deep group wisdom. Sound improbable? To many it is, especially those of us accustomed to superficial meetings where we engage only a fraction of our capacity.
It is possible to experience this level of collective intelligence. In fact, it’s repeatable and frankly, almost effortless, once you get the hang of it.
I use a proven method developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs, called Focused Conversation. It follows a four-step process designed to uncover the depth of the issue and reach solutions, using contributions from all group members. The steps are:
Objective: What are the facts and external reality?
Reflective: What are our personal reactions to the facts?
Interpretive: What meaning, values, significance, options and implications might we assign to this?
Decisional: How do we define our resolution, wrap-up, and commitment to a solution?
This methodology offers a framework to apply our collective wisdom, tapping into multiple levels of our intelligence, and recognizes that complex issues are inherently participatory. I have successfully worked with hundreds of people with all sorts of complex issues, where stakeholders have competing interests and different levels of information.
Try this the next time you have a tough issue. Go to a quiet place for fifteen minutes. Apply each of the steps above to help focus your thoughts. Simply divide a piece of paper into four sections and jot notes on each step, starting from the first and moving forward. My guess is that you will have gotten further in that fifteen minutes, applying this method, than you would have ever imagined; just by using the discipline of focused thought to tap your extraordinary intelligence.