Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Story of "I"s

One day, Ted was waiting for his business partner George, who was perpetually late. When he finally arrived, Ted reminded him that he had made a promise to be on time today, as they had vital things to discuss in a now short time. Ted said he felt let down.
“Aw come on!” George responded. “Lighten up! I may not always be on time, but I’m never late!” he laughed at his own joke.
Ted was not amused. If he added up all the half-hours he’d waited for George it would probably amount to several days! But George was unperturbed. “Anyway, it’s not my fault. I set my alarm and was ready to go this morning when the rain just came chucking down! Man, did you see it?! My car was parked a ways up the road, and I would have got drenched, so I had to wait.”
“What happened to umbrellas?” Ted inquired.
“Oh, I couldn’t find one, and anyhow I don’t remember promising to be on time.. did I really?”
“Yes,” Ted said, “you did. But if you can’t be sincere with yourself, how can I expect you to be sincere with me?”
“The trouble with you is, you speak in riddles too much! What the heck has sincerity got to do with it anyways?!” George was losing patience. So was Ted, who just shot him a quiet look under raised eyebrows.
George continued; “It’s just that sometimes the “me” that wants to get up early is not the same “me” who just won’t cooperate and get out of bed! We all have several parts to us – you do too, don’t you? I mean, sometimes we have internal conflicts, like when it comes to keeping a secret for instance. One “I” makes a promise to keep a secret, then after maybe a few glasses of wine, a second “I” urges the person to just tell his wife and then forgets to tell her it’s a secret. I mean, that happens to everyone, right?”
“Are you referring to our discussion last week, when we agreed to keep that highly confidential information, ahem, ‘highly confidential’?”
“My wife and I had a few drinks and it had been on my mind and it was so incredible, I just had to tell her! Then, well, she told her brother and… “ he trailed off, but got quickly back on track. “But it was good man, because her brother had a few suggestions that I think we should seriously consider – it may make all the difference to our decision about the merger!” he became instantly excited. Ted was silent. George went on; “Anyway, it’s hardly my fault. You should have made it clearer.”
Somehow, this was the last straw for Ted. Enough was enough.
“George,” he began, “I could not have made it clearer. But listening to you reminds me of an ancient teaching that says If one of your “I”s offends you, pluck it out. If you cannot make yourself agree internally, you will continue to justify all your dysfunctional actions by blaming circumstances or other people. It is obvious that last week, my “I” met with another of your “I”s than the one I went into business with. All of this just tells me we must dissolve our partnership. I’m done.” And with that, he stood up and walked away.

Inspired by “Shooting the Monkey” by Colin Turner

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Appreciating The Small Stuff

A plate is placed on the small cafĂ© table in front of me. On it, a perfect, golden brown, puffy croissant – straight out of the oven. As I gingerly hold it by its two hot claws and pull gently, it falls apart, pastry flakes scattering on and off the plate. The croissant center is revealed, hot and steamy, soft and yellow. I place a small piece on my tongue and can taste the butter through the flavor of sweet pastry. Yum! As I break off small pieces and eat them slowly, one by one, I leave the outer, crispy, flaky pieces for last. Savoring every bite of this mouthwatering pastry, I occasionally indulge further in sips of foamy cappuccino, enhancing the croissant’s sweetness even more. Eventually only those crispy flakes remain. I take a deep breath and smile in anticipation. Lifting one to my lips, I await the crunch and the taste of not quite burnt, sweet buttery pastry. There it is – ahhh. What bliss. Finally the last bite; I let it melt a little then chew gently and it’s gone. Washing it down with the rest of my cappuccino, I exhale in satisfaction and appreciation. Aren’t I one fortunate person to be indulging in such a treat, today!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Parents Worry More – About Technology!

As an add-on to my last Blog, I am compelled to respond to the several parents who have emailed me with their concerns about their children’s use of technology; specifically Facebook, texting, and Internet technology in general. As if there wasn’t enough to worry about before, now there is this added question for many: is all this technology damaging my child?

There are many research findings out there that give us multiple reasons why unlimited use of technology is not a good thing – especially for young developing brains – including some scary links to ADD, ADHD and other labels. But I’m not going to quote any of it here. (If you have an interest in the research, there’s so much out there you can just Google it!) In this Blog I think it may be more helpful to just go back to basics: what are your children’s needs? how can technology help/hinder you to get them met? And what is the right thing for you to do?
I’ll try to keep simple what I have learned while working with children and parents on this issue.

Children need opportunities to work out basic relationships, especially family relationships, so they can understand both themselves and relationship dynamics. Ask yourself: Is their use of technology facilitating this process? Used mindfully, both Facebook (and other such IT) and texting can be beneficial both socially and academically. However, if it replaces face to face human contact, it will not help the development of skills we as humans need to ‘read’ other people, and to express ourselves appropriately through out body-language and other ‘live’ visual, auditory, and tactile cues.

Children need to learn how to manage their own emotions and stress reactions live and in real-time, as they work out their relationships with others, developing their emotional intelligence, including empathic competencies, in the process. The impersonal, brief but delayed, and abbreviated nature of interactive communication such as texting and emailing have shown to impair this learning process considerably. I can vouch for this finding, having witnessed it not only in many, many children in schools, but also amongst countess professionals in corporations, where it causes costly conflict! (One Fortune 500 CEO was described to me recently as “an emotional train-wreck”).

So, before your child grows up into a fully dysfunctional and miserable corporate player :-), let’s look at what you can do – realistically, day-to-day:

Do you Multitask? Multitasking is a significant aspect of Internet technology, and its appeal. Check whether you multitask yourself before you tell your child not to. Do you drive and talk on your cell-phone at the same time? Do you text while you’re having a family meal out? Do you … hmm, get the picture? Gauge how you would like your child to be, against your own actions. “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t work anymore!

When it comes to your child’s school work, multitasking may not be detrimental in itself, - although for some children it undermines their capacity to focus – but it does tend to slow down the process of getting the work done, making it more likely for her to be studying well into the night and rushing her assignment when she’d tired and cranky and her brain is not functioning at it’s full capacity – and more importantly, she probably won’t be getting enough sleep.

You are the parent, not the buddy – dare to be unpopular. Every young person needs his guide more than anyone, and you are it! Take the time to observe where your child’s development is being helped or hindered by technology. Use your intuitive knowledge of each child – they all respond differently to technology, as to anything. Discuss with your co-parent or another adult who holds the same values you do. Make mindful choices about what your boundaries are or need to be. Plan to engage your child, to consider his views and be open to some leeway with him, but be sure you know and stay true to your own limits. Apply your emotional mastery skills to get centered and really ‘tune in’ to what you know, in your heart, is right.

When conversing with your child about setting boundaries or consequences (these or others), set up a time for conversation when both of you are in a good space. (For instance, giving advance notice, serving Pizza, and letting your child select some of her choice of music to play in the background, might set the stage better than yelling after her as she disappears up the staircase.) If you, for instance, are setting time limits for the use of Facebook, try to get their buy-in, but be clear that you are the parent. Eliminate your emotional need to be liked or approved of, (having managed your emotions before the conversation!)

This brings to mind a story I heard recently about a comment the Duke of Windsor made after spending time in the US. He said, (sarcastically I believe), “What I like about America is how well parents obey their children.” Oooops! Check that this doesn’t apply to you!

Of course the very best thing you can do is your own 3 R’s:
whether your emotions are serving you and your child, & if not, stop.
Release any tension, appropriately (‘take Time-out’ and scream into a pillow, write, run, etc.)
Relax into a ‘feel-good’ state – breathe slowly 3 times and focus on feeling appreciation.
THEN, come back to the issue. With your emotional energy managed, your brain will be clearer and you can behave and communicate more the way you really want to!

Internet & communication technology is here to stay – but rather than gritting your teeth and bearing it, the job of parents is to find ways to reconcile it with what we know for sure about our human needs, and being brave enough to do what is right, regardless of whether it’s popular in the moment. The less emotional energy you have around that, the easier it will be! That’s my experience, anyway!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Parents Worry!

Most people worry sometimes. ALL of us who are parents, worry - a lot! It is part and parcel of being a parent – to worry about our children. When they start a new school, we worry. When they begin going off to parties on their own, we worry. When they make choices we do not approve of or understand, we worry. When they grow up and move away to run their own lives we continue to worry, although it feels a little different, because we no longer have any control, not even an illusion of control! :-)

Worry is what I call a ‘what if?’ emotion. Like anxiety, fear, concern, eagerness, hope, and expectancy, it anticipates and attempts to predict the future. The imagination, prone to run rampant, joins in and, if unchecked, feeds the emotion as various scenarios are envisioned. The best thing to do when you catch yourself in the throes of this experience is to say to yourself “Time Out!” Check where in your body you are holding the tension that has been created – and release it! I for one, tend to hold worry in my jaw and neck, so a good old roll of the head and shoulders, and an opening and closing of my mouth helps to loosen things up! With the tension released I take three deep breaths, focusing all my attention in the area of my heart, feeling my torso expand and contract around the heart as I breathe. I suggest you try it – it feels exceedingly pleasant!

When you really feel fully present & centered in your body, breathing calmly, visualize your child perfectly safe, happy, and learning what (s)he is meant to learn. Know that your child has his or her own journey to make through life and trust that you have given them the necessary values and skills to navigate through it – and whatever that looks like, don’t judge it but rather know that it is perfect.

Quite frankly, much as we do it, worry does nothing to help with anything. Try instead to “send” your child all your love and just be there, living your own life as best you can, but always in a loving state for them. That is the best support you can possibly give your child – and guess what? I’m telling myself this now, as my (very) adult daughter travels across another continent. As a matter of fact, I find myself using this process on quite a regular basis!