Saturday, September 22, 2012

The power in "what ifs," part 2.

Last time I wrote about what what-iffing all the bad things that might happen could do, and what could go differently if you what-iffed how good things could be.

Today? The power in phrasing ideas as "what ifs" to allow someone to see something differently in an encouraging way.

I'm sure we all know someone who, being on the outside of his or her life, we can see that a lot of what he or she is complaining about is obviously either being blown out of proportion or, if anything, something that he or she is bringing on himself or herself. (All of that to be gender-neutral without using the plural, "they.")

For example, a client was recently moving into a new place, and he was telling me how stressful the move was becoming for him and how crazy he knew the move would make him. After a few weeks of this I realized that it sounded empty, like he was convincing himself that moving would make him crazy without it actually doing so, but I couldn't put my finger on why. He then explained some of the crazy circumstances he'd been in during previous moves that had made moving before more stressful because of the other situations needing his attention -- none of which was the case now. It suddenly made sense, and I asked him, "What if moving didn't have to be stressful and make you crazy?"

This happens a lot with people; the idea that it doesn't have to be this way simply doesn't occur to them until the idea of an alternative is presented.

Now, consider the difference in phrasing:

"What if it didn't have to be this way?"
"You know, it doesn't have to be this way."

What sort of gut reaction did you have just reading the two different wordings? One suggests an alternate possibility that you might like to explore; the other basically tells you you're doing it wrong. Which would you rather hear?

And what about you? Whatever you're struggling with right now, what if it didn't have to be a struggle? What if it were actually easy? Who would you be if it were easy? Why not be that person now?

The difference in the mindset with which you approach something -- expecting it to be hard vs. expecting something good to come of it -- can make all the difference in the world.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The power in "what ifs," part 1.

I'm sure most of us know how this works. Some kind of trigger comes along, something unexpected happens, and the what-iffing begins.

What if I can't find another job? What if I don't get accepted into the grad school I want? What if talking to her about it makes her mad at me? What if I say something wrong and look stupid? What if it rains? What if he says no? And on, and on, and on. We what-if ourselves into worst case scenarios and before you know it, you're freaking yourself out over something you think might possibly happen. So then what do you do? Possibly nothing, because what if it goes wrong?

I have two responses to this:

1) Okay, what if it goes wrong? What if you tell your mom you don't want to go to the choir concert with her and it makes her mad? Then what? Then you won't have to go to a concert you don't want to go to anyway, and your mom will get over it, that's what. What if it rains? Plan ahead of time for the possibility and it won't be a big deal. What if he says no? Well, hey, you know now that you're brave enough to ask even if you aren't sure what the answer will be. Really, what's the worst that could happen, and how bad is that, really?

2) What if it goes right? What if you find the perfect job? What if you do get into the grad school you want and you absolutely love it? What if talking to her about it actually clears the air and you don't ever have to what-if yourself about this again as a result? What if you say the perfect thing at the perfect time? What if the weather is absolutely beautiful? What if he says yes? What if you put yourself out there and everything works out exactly as you want it to, or better?

It's easy to jump to worst case scenario, but what typically happens when you do that? You lose momentum, you lose interest, you feel generally yucky about something that you could, potentially, be excited about instead. Then if something unpleasant happens, you can prove to yourself that you were right about how bad it could go, and you can do the same thing next time.

But what if you were to look at the other side of the what-ifs to what could go well, how fabulously everything could come together? Then, you're not looking for something to go wrong; you're looking forward to a good experience. Chances are, with this kind of energy behind something, even if it doesn't go perfectly, you'll feel more well-equipped emotionally to handle it.

Coming soon: How a simple "what if" can get someone to think differently, gently.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

When you see your wish, pursue.

As a continuation of my previous story -- and this is the short version...

You know, I just had to. I had to. Ever since I first watched "Into the Woods" in college and discovered just who it was I'd passed up the opportunity to interview for an English paper I regretted that I'd never jumped on that chance, and here it was, again. I had to!

After seeing "Into the Woods" performed live recently with Kim Crosby (who originated the role of Cinderella on Broadway 25ish years ago) as the baker's wife, I took the chance and emailed her husband (who, note, was also Prince Charming, and works where I work) saying that, as he'd said I would, I loved the show, and (a lot of words later) would he be willing to share contact information in one direction or another so I could initiate an invitation to coffee?

He gave me her email address, and cc'd her for a heads up.

I emailed.

And waited four. agonizing. days. for a reply. She accepted. I was giddy. (And that just might be the understatement of the year.)

Four more days later (which brings us to yesterday), I was in the car on my way to meet her, giggling to myself as if I were still 18 years old and saying out loud to no one in particular, "This is actually happening!"

I was five minutes early; she was four minutes late. Those nine minutes were incredibly long, with a lot of glancing out into the parking lot watching every car that drove near the front of the store. Is that her? No, that's a guy. Is that... no. Is that... nope. What time is it? Only two minutes late. That's fine. I'm usually five minutes late. Is that her?

As soon as she arrived we recognized each other (I, because I knew exactly who I was looking for, and she, because I was the only one standing in the lobby fidgeting and watching the door). I insisted on paying, she psh'd at me about it, and from that moment, conversation was nearly as effortless as with someone you've known for years. She was so friendly, so nice, and so casual. Casually discussing the way costumes were put together on Broadway. And also kids, food, life, and watching this cute little 2 year old girl in a pink princess dress and gold sandals tripping around the restaurant with her dad chasing her. I may have made a comment about the little girl's "slippers as pure as gold," followed up with "Yeah, I went there." What?

We discussed the way Sondheim puts together train-of-thought lyrics and how you're lucky if you have a rest anywhere in the music, what it was like to be in the performance from another character's perspective, how her own life experiences helped her identify more with the baker's wife now (since she's married and has children, as opposed to being single and childless as Cinderella), and just she was so nice.

It was fabulous. It was absolutely fabulous. Twelve years of regretting a missed opportunity resolved so casually and it was absolutely worth putting myself on the line and making my heart pound for a few days anytime I'd see new mail in my Inbox for that to happen. (Also totally worth being too excited to sleep the night before. Don't judge me.)

I've seen it said that the things you most regret in life are the things you didn't do. I am so appreciative for getting a do-over on this one. And though I am definitely not a proponent of missing opportunities on purpose just so they can be resolved later, I can say with a great deal of certainty that meeting her yesterday was a lot more fun -- after 12 years of anticipation and understanding just what the opportunity was -- than it possibly could've been as a shy high school junior who really had no idea what this was all about, yet.

And since I've had "Into the Woods" songs stuck in my head since I saw it 11 days ago, I'll end with some appropriate lyrics :).

To be happy, and forever,
You must see your wish come true.
Don't be careful, don't be clever.
When you see your wish, pursue.
It's a dangerous endeavor,
But the only thing to do.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hi, Prince Charming!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for me to be a total musical nerd.

When I was in high school, my English class got an assignment to interview someone in the profession that we wanted to be in when we grew up and to write a paper about it. At the time, I wanted to be a stage actress. (My mom was trying to convince me to be an accountant.) I mentioned to my teacher that um, where do you just find a random professional stage performer? And she said that actually, Kim Crosby was in town; I could probably get ahold of her and do an interview.

Cue nervousness. Get ahold of an actual professional stage actress are you serious?! So I didn't. I don't remember who I actuallydid end up interviewing, but it wasn't a performer. Something lame and which I did also not become. Fast forward to college. One of my friends thought that her boyfriend and I would enjoy Into the Woods, so the three of us watched it together one day in her dorm room, and I loved it! Given that this was the age that anything I loved I, you know, really loved and became crazy obsessed with, I listened to the album a gajillion times and looked up all kinds of information on the actors and actresses to see what else they'd been in and found out that Cinderella was played by... Kim Crosby. Cue 11 years of kicking myself for not taking the chance to interview her while I was in high school.

Fast forward to recently. Into the Woods is playing in town, so basically the second they started advertising it my general reaction was OMG I HAVE TO GO SEE INTO THE WOODS I LOVE INTO THE WOODS OMG. And then they started advertising that Kim Crosby was going to portray The Baker's Wife and I was like, OMG INTO THE WOODS AND KIM CROSBY OMG WE HAVE TO GO OMG NO SRSLY WE HAVE TO GO. So being me, I kept dropping hints that the husband didn't pick up until I finally said something approximating, "Are you getting the THOUSAND hints I'm dropping? Get tickets!" And then he said, "Can we spare the $50 for tickets?" And I sighed and pouted and said something mature like, "FINE. NO. WHATEVER." Which of course meant that it was a go.

I have to give him credit here. He specifically wanted front row center balcony tickets, but the only show they were available for was the one that conflicted with an event I've been helping the School of Metaphysics put together. So, he told the lady that he really wanted those seats (I'm not sure exactly how this conversation went), and she actually called the people who had the tickets for those seats for the following night, and got them to move, so we could get the seats he wanted to get for me :D. WIN.

Fast forward to yesterday. My day-job supervisor has been working on next year's catalog, which I've been helping her proof. Yesterday, it was Theater. She made an offhand comment about how the department head had been trained in New York; I raised an eyebrow and said, "Trained in New York?" and she said, "Yeah, he was actually in the original Broadway cast of Into the Woods." PAUSE. WUT?! "Who?!" She turned the catalog page toward me so I could read the department chair's name, I Googled, and OMG YOU GUYS. Our Theater department chair was Prince Charming and the Wolf in the original Broadway cast of Into the Woods. OMG PRINCE CHARMING WORKS WHERE I WORK OMG AND THEN. She commented that, yeah, Kim Crosby is his wife, actually. I'M SORRY WUT?! Totally starstruck. I then related to her all of the stories I just typed out above this paragraph.

And then. As I was sitting there pondering the idea of camping his office and giggling, my supervisor announced that he was COMING TO OUR OFFICE TO DROP OFF SOME CATALOG CHANGES. She pulled me into the conversation casually to retell those stories again and you guys, I totally admitted to him that I was starstruck BECAUSE I TOTALLY WAS. He said that his wife definitely would've given the interview when I was in high school, because she's just like that, and heck, she still would, and I WAS GIGGLING ON THE INSIDE BECAUSE HELLO, I AM TALKING TO THE ORIGINAL BROADWAY PRINCE CHARMING (AND WOLF). I COULD STILL MEET KIM CROSBY AND STOP KICKING MY HIGH SCHOOL SELF. DO YOU GET THAT?

After he left the office, my supervisor apologized if she put me on the spot and I said, "No, that was awesome." Because it was.
So there you have it.

The awesome of my yesterday.

I met Prince Charming. Who married Cinderella.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Self-awareness gained through pain conditions.

Recently, I was invited to give a talk in my pelvic pain support group. The topic "time management or something?" was suggested, which I kind of figured was some version of, "That's what you do, right?" Immediately, though, that didn't feel like the right topic for a support group. I'd had another thought brewing for a while anyway, that seemed to fit perfectly: the idea that pain conditions can give people an amazing amount of self awareness.

The idea occurred to me when I discovered the "spoon theory" on The way the girl telling the story described living with Lupus, I realized how much more consciousness she uses in her day than the average person; she has to consider the effects of every minor decision, while most of us are rushing through our days taking the ease of things like showering and dressing for work for granted.

So, I started thinking about other ways that living with a pain condition could actually serve to raise your consciousness.

  1. We have the opportunity to celebrate little things in a way the average person wouldn't typically think of. For example: I just went pee and it didn't hurt! or Look! I can raise my arm up to shoulder height! or I caught my kid when he tripped and it didn't throw my back out!
  2. We get to learn to trust in ourselves. A lot of pain conditions are hard to diagnose, which can easily lead to a string of doctors telling you that it's really nothing, maybe it's psychosomatic, perhaps you should see a therapist, or "Did you ever think of [the most obvious thing ever]?" You can feel really crazy in the middle of that -- Maybe it is all in my head. But you can also learn to trust yourself that no, something isn't right here. How validating is it when, after years of doctors telling you you're crazy, it turns out you were right? Very.
  3. And through that process? We learn a lot of strength and persistence. You learn to push through the people telling you you're crazy, to find someone who will help you heal. You gain a higher awareness of how your body works, and what does and doesn't work for you, and if you find something you think will work that doesn't, you learn from it and try something new until you find what does.
  4. We learn a lot about things that we didn't even know we didn't know about. Before trying to figure out my own condition, and watching my mom try different things for her fibromyalgia, I had never heard of the low inflammation diet, the IC diet, the low oxalate diet, the low acid diet, the anti-candida diet... and that's just diets off the top of my head. I had also never heard of reusable cloth menstrual pads or menstrual cups, and (though support group discussion) never would have considered roller skating to be a trigger for bladder pain. It's been really interesting to learn all the different ways a body can work (or what can cause it to not work).
  5. Daily, we are reminded that no matter how we're feeling, there's still stuff we have to get done, and we can still get that stuff done. It's not like sitting there thinking about how bad you're feeling makes you feel any better. You know you can move your attention to where you want or need it to be. Now, what if we were to step that up a level and be more conscious with our decisions of where our attention is going? Instead of "distracting yourself," what if you were to consciously choose to collect your attention, remove it from your pain, and place it on something that brings you happiness? I have this mental image of my attention being like laser lights at a concert. They can scatter in a dozen different directions, or they can collect themselves into one solid beam. I collect my attention into one "beam" and intentionally point it in one direction. If I notice one little beam floating off onto something different, I bring it right back. 
To make a long story short (too late), we always have a choice of where we choose to put our attention, and how we choose to view the world, our bodies, and situations we have found ourselves in. How much different could life be if we were to look for the learning opportunities (hint: they are in everything) and ways to grow from where we are in life?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Five things we teach our kids, that we ought to remember ourselves.

A couple of weeks ago after a very challenging morning with my little guy, I posted this to my Life Spiraling Forward Facebook page:

I told my son this morning, "Use nice words to ask for what you DO want instead of yelling about what you DON'T want." Good idea for grown-ups, too!
Of course, I realized later that switching the phrasing into, "Instead of yelling about what you DON'T want, use nice words to ask for what you DO want," would've been a more positive way to say it, but, you know, Angry Mommy moments don't always produce the best possible wording.

Anyway, not the point.

After I posted that I got to thinking, and realized that there are probably a lot of things that we teach our kids, that we could probably use a good reminder of ourselves, starting with a repeat of the above.

1. Instead of yelling about what you don't want, ask for what you do want.

I'm sure by now most if not all of us know something about the Law of Attraction -- wherever you focus your attention, that's what you get more of. How many grown-ups do you know who focus more on what they don't want? Too many bills (attracts more bills), not enough money (attracts more scarcity), not enough time (attracts more "busy" energy, not to mention your attention probably isn't on what you're doing now). Or how about this: you're complaining that your partner isn't giving you the type of attention you'd like, or that your boss doesn't value you. Instead of putting your energy into noticing more of what you don't have, what about asking for what you'd like to have, and then working to get it? Which brings me to my next point...

2. Appreciate what you do have.

We didn't have to get you any ice cream! One scoop is enough! It's so easy to get caught up in what you don't have that you wish you did, that sometimes it's hard to notice what you do have and appreciate it. I see this a lot in my son lately (which I mentioned in a previous post); one day he made the mistake of telling us that he complains about what he doesn't have because he just doesn't get enough stuff! (Believe me, he gets enough stuff.) After that moment he really appreciated that we let him keep his blocks in his room after everything else was taken away for a while, and he appreciated every toy he earned back over the course of the next week or so. We've been working a lot on saying thank you for what he does have anytime he feels like he wants more. So, what if this concept were applied to adults? We live in a culture where we're practically expected to want more and more and more, and as a result, we tend to live in a constant state of feeling like we don't have enough. But when you really think about it, do you have enough? Chances are, you do. Would you be able to survive, even survive happily, without a lot of it? Chances are, you would. Look around you and see, and really appreciate, how abundant your life truly is.

3. Remember to say please, thank you, and you're welcome.

How many times have you, personally, prompted a kid, "What do you say?" expecting to produce one of those three answers? But how many adults remember to use our manners as often as we remind our kids? Hey, hand me the remote. Oh, you're getting some juice? Get me some while you're there. How much more often could we remember to say please, thank you, and you're welcome? And this doesn't just apply to saying it to other people -- why not use them for ourselves and the world at large, as well? Please, Self, remember to make healthy choices today. Thank you, God / Universe / Whomever, for providing me the opportunity to learn one of my weaknesses today. I made healthy choices today, Self; you're welcome!

4. Give [close relative] a hug and kiss bye bye!

Numerous studies have been done on the physical need for human contact that we all have. We prompt our kids to give Grandma a hug and kiss bye bye when she leaves, but how often do we rush out the door yelling, "Bye!"? Slow down. Appreciate the time you've spent with people you care about, and appreciate the people and yourself by initiating just a little more of a human connection than you may be used to. I'm not saying you should hug your boss goodbye at the end of a workday, but what about just making sure your partner gets a kiss goodnight before you go to bed? Which ties in with...

5. We need to get you to bed on time so you can be well-rested tomorrow!

We know that if we miss our kids' tiredness window, instead of getting more tired and being easier to get to sleep, they'll get overtired, get wound up, and argue over everything from what cup they're using to rinse with after brushing teeth to insisting that they want the one pajama set that is sitting in the washer. On top of that, we'll pay for it the next day, because going to bed late doesn't necessarily mean sleeping late; they'll be tired and grumpy and argumentative all the next day, as well. Well, what can be said for us grown-ups? How often do we stay up too late, to the point of sheer exhaustion, flop into bed at night, wake up groggy and grumpy the next morning, and have a hard time focusing all day? (I am totally guilty of this. Like, right this very second.) Love yourself as much as you love your kids; get to bed on time! Set yourself up for success!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Turn off the radio in your mind.

Tonight, I taught my son (WHO TURNED FIVE TODAY, I MIGHT ADD, WHAT??!) a visualization which I do quite often myself, and which I thought I'd share.

We were snuggling in his bed reading a book at bedtime, and I could just tell, because I'm the mom, that his brain was going a thousand miles an hour; his body wasn't far behind -- feet rubbing together, fidgeting fingers, and when I asked if he felt like his body was very busy right now, too, he thought for a second and said, "No," while twirling both hands through his hair.

I used my Calming Voice and asked him to still his body, starting with his feet, then his legs, now his hands and arms, and then I asked him to listen to his thoughts for a moment, to see if he heard any. "What kinds of thoughts?" he asked. "Oh, any kinds of thoughts," I answered, and explained that we think a lot, and that sometimes, you have so many thoughts playing in your head that it gets very loud and distracting in there, and makes it hard to focus on the thoughts you want to focus on. So I asked him again if he heard any thoughts in his mind, and he said, "Yeah. A lot."

We talked a little bit about how the thoughts come from us, so we can learn to control them if we want to -- if we're having thoughts we don't like, we can get rid of them and think different thoughts. And if our thoughts get too loud and distracting, we can quiet them.

"Imagine," I told him, still using my Calming Voice, "that all these thoughts you're hearing are coming out of a radio. Are all your thoughts coming out of the radio now?" "Yeah," he said, and I could already see his mind stilling. "Now," I said, "imagine yourself reaching out to the radio, and turning the volume down." I lowered my voice to a whisper. "Are your thoughts quieter now?" "Yeah," he whispered back.

"Now," I said, "imagine yourself reaching over to the radio, turning it down alllll the way, and then switching it off." He reached out into nothingness with his skinny little 5-year-old hands, and mimicked this. I grinned, and told him that he can imagine doing it, in his mind, without even having to move your body. "Now, your radio's off. Your thoughts are quiet. You can't hear any more thoughts. It's quiet inside."

"My radio turned back on," he said.

"That's okay," I told him. "Mine does a lot, too. But you know what? It's your radio, with your thoughts, in your mind. You can reach over and turn it off again."

"I think I have a hundred radios," he told me. I replied, "Well, that's no problem. It's your imagination. If you want to, you can imagine a remote control that can turn off all the radios at once." "All at the same time??" "Yep." I saw him imagine this. "Now it's quiet. Now we're calm," I said.

Three minutes later, he was snoring, and I kissed his birthday-forehead goodnight, and quietly left the room.

This radio visualization? I use it all the time, when I catch myself getting too caught up in my own thoughts to notice anything in the world around me. It's faster for me now -- just a quick flash of my radio, and my hand turning the knob all the way down to Off. It may only last for three seconds, but that's a pretty calm three seconds.

Try this sometime, and let me know how it works for you :).

I'm curious, too -- what does your mental radio look like? Mine looks like the old-fashioned radio used before TV was invented -- the type the family listened to Little Orphan Annie on in A Christmas Story. The little guy said his was green. What's yours?