A+

On a recent coaching call, my client John expressed frustration at falling into “same old same old” behaviours. He had set some action steps on our call the previous week and had failed to follow through on them. When I asked him what happened he said, “I just don’t feel motivated around this.” (Motivated, shmotivated)

We talked a bit more about feelings, and how they can’t always be trusted. If we waited to “feel like” doing most things, we wouldn’t get very much done at all. (But we would get lots of sleep, get caught up on a bunch of Netflix series, and eat a lot of junk food!)

I remembered some Powerpoint slide pictures I had used in some workshops a few years back.

“John, since I can’t show you the pictures right now, I’m going to do my best to explain them to you. Picture a well traveled walking trail in the woods – the dirt and brush patted down from hundreds or thousands of foot steps. It’s super easy to walk along because it’s flat and wide.

Now picture trying to walk off the trail and through the woods – stepping over branches, hacking away at small trees and brush trying to forge a way through.

The first path is kinda what your brain looks like when you follow a habit. Your brain makes shortcuts when you repeat a thought or behaviour. But when you try to change it, it’s like forging your way through the bush. So it makes sense that we fall into old habits. It’s so much easier and more inviting to walk the easy path.

BUT, if you continue walking on the new path even though it’s more challenging…it will eventually become patted down and easy to travel. And the old trail will become overgrown.”

John really liked the analogy so at the end of the call, as part of his homework for the week, I told him to find a picture that represents each of the paths so he would have a visual reminder. A few days later I received this picture in an email. (Yes, he had it printed and framed!)

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If coaching homework were graded, I would give him an A+ 🙂

 

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Put the book on the table

A few years ago, a friend of mine was really struggling. She was going through a season of change and was so upset by her current situation that she was obsessing about it. She felt overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do.

I listened to her share the details and she asked for my advice.

“Pretend this book is the problem”, I said. “This is what’s upsetting you.”

And then I held it directly in front of my face.

“When you look at the book from this perspective, what do you see?”

“I see the book,” she answered.

“What else do you see?”

“Nothing”, she said.

“But here’s something interesting,” I continued. “When I put the book here on the table, its not gone.  It’s still here and I can still see it. Clearly in fact. But I can also see my cup, this table, the window, other people around us and so on. All of those things represent everything else in your life that is NOT the problem.” I explained.

“You don’t need to ignore the problem or pretend it’s not here. But you can see it in the context of everything else. The truth is, you get to choose what you focus on. And sometimes you get so zoomed in on your problems that you lose sight of everything else. In those moments, you need to take a step back and put things in perspective. This puts you in a better position to work toward a solution.”

This simple enactment resonated with her and she shifted her perspective almost immediately.

Put the book on the table. It just might help.

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We’ll see

I blame the invention of the microwave.
I can have a baked potato on my plate 56 minutes faster than my grandmother could.
So, is it really my fault that I’ve become impatient and short-sighted in life? I hardly think so.

When I am upset now…like today…in this moment, I don’t remember that yesterday was a good day as was the day before that and the day before that. When I face a problem today, I don’t recall the many times I have made it through similar challenges in the past.

Most days my default mood is a combination of happy/content (thank God for that!). But when I go through a period of discouragement or frustration, the current circumstance can swallow up my focus and shift my outlook. It’s like the theme song playing in the background of my life switches from “What a Wonderful World” to “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

My hard day or hard week can start to feel like my hard life.

I. Lose. Perspective.

A few years ago I heard this simple but helpful fable…
A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living.
One day, the horse ran away and their neighbours exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well.  The neighbours shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg.
The neighbours cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few weeks later, a group of thugs marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for their gang. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury.
The neighbours shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

No event, circumstance or season of life can truly be judged as entirely good or bad, lucky or unlucky, fortunate or unfortunate. Only time will tell the whole story.

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Subtraction

Michelangelo said, “Inside every block of marble is the perfect statue; my job is to take away what is not that.”

This quote gives me pause. It shifts my perspective.

Maybe because I have over-filled my schedule at times in my life. I have added without subtracting — said yes more than no. I have wondered what ELSE I should be doing (in addition to what I am already doing) to get me where I want to go. And many of the “additions” have not been things that move me closer to my goals.

This quote reminds me that it’s important to decide what not to do. Because adding can distract me from what’s important. Adding can create more noise and busyness.

And time spent adding is time not spent carving.

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Failure can feel good

I had an interesting thought on the drive home from the gym the other day.I realized that I had experienced both success and failure in the same workout.

It was testing week at the gym and we were measuring our progress in both strength and cardio conditioning. This particular day we tested our 1 rep max for bench press and for back squats.

We did bench press first and I happily lifted 5 lbs more than the last time we tested (a few months ago). Hitting a  new personal best is a great feeling.  And, normally, I would stop there. I would take my success and “quit while I’m ahead or end on a high note”. This would increase my odds of setting a new PR the next time around (or so I have told myself).

 But this time, with some encouragement from my workout partner, and a recent decision to  try to “fail more often” I decided to keep going.
I couldn’t make the next lift. Half way up my arms stopping moving. I failed.

But oddly enough, I felt really good about it. Glad I had broken out of my normal pattern.

Instead of quitting when I hit a personal best, I went for it.

Who knew that failure could actually feel good?

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Ask and ye shall receive

I shared a good laugh with my son Jordan the other night as I recounted some of the interesting challenges we faced during my three visits to Ghana, Africa…specifically around our attempts to bathe with poor water pressure.

“Honestly, it was like trying to wash your hair with someone just spitting on your head,” I joked.

We often ended up filling a cup with the s-l-o-w stream of water and dumping it over our heads. And we employed this simple work-around for our 2 week trips in 2012 and 2013. (At least this guest house had warm water!)

In 2014, we returned to the guest house in Accra. But on this trip, I discovered some new and interesting information about our accommodations.

I can’t recall how the conversation unfolded or even who it was with. But I clearly remember learning this helpful little tidbit of info — when you want to take a shower, let the manager know and he will turn on the water pump.

My jaw dropped. You’ve got to be kidding. How many “showers” had we attempted with drool level water pressure only to find out that all we had to do was ask?

I had fallen into the trap of assuming once again. It made sense to me that the water pressure would be poor in a developing country. So I accepted it as such and didn’t think any more about it.

It seems this simple life lesson has required a lot of repetition in my life.

Hmmm…in what other areas of life have I settled, when all I have to do is ask?

 

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*In 2012, 2013 and 2014 I had the delightful privilege of leading small teams of volunteers to Ghana with an organization called Possibilities International.

Confession

 

It’s time for a confession.

Are you ready for it?

For the first many years of my marriage, I felt resentful toward my husband for a lot of little things: things like not buying water softener salt (c’mon, who wants water spots on the glasses?), or not changing the furnace filter.

Shouldn’t he take care of that kind of stuff? Why should I always have to remember?

As I said, these are little things…but I turned them into BIG resentment. And since thoughts are kinda magnetic, I attracted lots of other little frustrations into my mind.

This wasn’t good for me. It didn’t create a lot of good feelings. It wasn’t helpful. And it certainly wasn’t good for our marriage.

One day I asked myself some questions, “Is Kevin a good husband? Do you love him?”

That was easy to answer, “Yes, absolutely! He is loving and caring, a good dad, and my biggest cheerleader.”

“So then, is it really a big deal to remember to buy furnace filters or softener salt?” (I knew that if I simply asked Kevin to do it, he would take care of it. I resented him for needing to be reminded.)

“No, it’s not a big deal at all.”

“Can you handle taking responsibility for remembering to buy softener salt and furnace filters for the next 30 years or so…IF nothing changes?”

“Yes, I can handle that.”

(And yes, I do actually talk to myself like this!)

I chose to let go of my imposed expectation that he SHOULD remember these things.
If he is willing to help if asked, what’s the big deal if I am the one who remembers?

The result? Those yucky feelings I carried around are gone (at least around these issues 😉) I am happier with my hubby because I spend more time enjoying all his GREAT qualities – which in turn, makes me happier too.

The moral of the story?
Let’s stop “shoulding” on people. It’s just not worth it.
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