Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Easy Button

Have you seen the commercial where they question why things have to be hard and then just push a button that says “easy” on it?  Wouldn’t it be nice if there really was an easy button for life’s challenges?  

I was recently walking my little dogs and noticed lots of the little poop bags linings the trail (not empty if you know what I mean).   I complained to myself about how it’s inconsiderate to not pick up after your dogs, especially in this particular park because it’s located right on the water shed.  As we walked it got me to thinking.  On other trails in different parks I never saw so many people not cleaning up after their pets and realized the difference is that on most of our urban trails we have frequent stops with disposable poop bags and trash bins.  It really makes it easy to do the right thing.  On this particular trail though it’s more remote and while there is one stop where poop bags are available, there are almost no trash receptacles at all.  

Now, we might be thinking – it doesn’t matter.  We should pick up after our pets regardless of whether it’s convenient or not.  I know…I used my least favorite word “should”.  I don’t like “should” because it usually goes with shame or regret and rarely leads to problem solving.  So….to make that point, yes, it would be nice if everyone picked up their dog poo convenient or not.  But, why not make it easy?   I’m almost certain if there were more trash bins then we wouldn’t have little bags of treasure lining the trail.

Isn’t this true in life in general?  We sometimes make things harder than they need to be.  Instead of looking for a solution or remedy, we get stuck in blame or regret.   Don’t like your relationship?  Do something to improve it.  Hate your job?  Start looking for a new one.  Kids driving you crazy?  Get a sitter for a night.   It's not about never doing something hard or difficult.  Sometimes choosing a difficult path is the right choice.  But it is about being aware of your choice and knowing when to push the easy button.  In fact, before every decision, ask yourself "is this going to make my life more difficult or easier?".  If the answer is more difficult, make sure it's worth it.  I think you'll be surprised how often we can push the easy button to create a more simple and relaxed life.


Friday, April 1, 2016

The Cat versus the Monkey

On a recent vacation with my son to Costa Rica, he formed a close relationship with the ho tel owner’s cat.  While we were staying there the two were inseparable, the cat even sleeping in my son’s bed.
At the same time, the whole reason we were visiting Costa Rica was my son wanted to see monkeys.  We were really excited when we discovered the hotel grounds were full of them, especially the mischievous white face monkeys (the ones known to steal cameras and food out of backpacks). 

Near the end of our trip we talked to the hotel staff about the close relationship my son and their cat had formed.  My son was devastated to find out one reason the cat had attached himself to him was that the monkeys had been trying to eat the cat.  Evidently after several attempts at being carried away, the cat had learned to hide out in the guest rooms.

This new information caused my son a great internal dilemma.  He loved watching the monkeys play but now knowing they were a threat to his new cat friend, he was struggling with his feelings about them.  It reminds me of a lot of some of my clients around the holidays.  They love their family, but some of the things they do or have done drive them crazy.  The struggle between loving someone and not loving what they do can even be conflicting.  This conflict can be created even within ourselves.  How do we love and accept ourselves after we’ve made a mistake or done something that we don’t approve of?

In discussing this situation with my son, we talked about the circle of life, how the monkeys were not malicious but responding the way only they knew how.  I think most people are the same.  They’re not malicious, they don’t mean to be harmful, they’re just responding the only way they know how.  Hungry animals need to eat.  Hurting people do hurtful things.  By building compassion and depersonalizing their behavior, we can maintain our bonds and connections even with those we don’t agree with or have very different belief systems.  Even more importantly, we can love ourselves even when we don’t like ourselves.

In the end, my son and I were able to enjoy the monkeys and at the same time love on the little cat.  (Needless to say the little cat spent a lot of time in our room).  It greatly helped that the monkeys we saw were only eating mangos.  So.…don’t feel like you have to choose between a monkey or a cat.  You can love them both.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Cliffs Notes of Our Life

Anyone else remember Cliffs Notes from high school or college?  Or study guides where all information you really needed to know was condensed into one place.  That way, you really didn’t have to read the whole book or study everything in a particular subject – all you really had to do was to know the condensed version.

I recently had a conversation with my son because he was disappointed in a test score.  His frustration was that there was information on the test that wasn’t on the study guide.   It wasn’t fair he kept saying, because he didn't know all the questions in advance.  We talked about how study guides and Cliffs Notes were great tools but that they didn’t cover everything.  There were no guarantees that the test wouldn’t include material not in the notes.   My poor son who values predictability (and good grades) was not happy with our discussion since I really didn’t give him the sympathy he was hoping for. 

This discussion got me to thinking – life is kind of like that.  We usually have a blueprint for our lives, some idea or maybe some goals in mind, maybe even a strategy to reach them.  Then, something comes up that wasn’t part of the plan.  It’s not that life isn’t fair – it’s just that we just have an abbreviated version of what we think is to be.  We don’t know every factor, every potential outcome, every turn our journey might take.  If we embrace that we don’t have all the information – all we have is the Cliffs Notes - it helps when we make a mistake or have to change paths.  We can acknowledge that our mistakes are not always personal shortcomings but a lack of information.  

I know for me, I’ve had a number of times in my life when I thought I had all the info I needed only later to find out I had made a wrong choice, chosen the wrong direction, invested in the wrong person,  etc.  I think by remembering I made the best choice I could at the time with the info I was provided, has given me the confidence to keeping moving forward.   So remember – we’re just working with the Cliff Notes, the study guide, not the whole picture.  We don’t have all the information so we have to give ourselves some grace when we make a mistake….including my son for not studying as well as he could have J.

Monday, February 22, 2016

You Can Be Happy Regardless Of Who Is Elected

Oh the drama of election season.  I’ve had several friends this week mention how one of the candidates is either going to make their life terrible or great.  People are un-friending friends on social media due to political comments or jokes made.   There was a report of a business that refused service to someone with a t-shirt on for an opposing political party.  People are arguing and loosing sleep over the debates.  There are even those threatening to leave the US if the elections don’t go their way (though famous people have made those threats before and to my knowledge never followed through).

There is one thing I want to say about all this – and it’s not support for a specific candidate.    It’s this – there is NO person who is going to make your life great.  There is NO person that is going to make your life horrible.  (I have to remind myself of this every now and then).  Yes, political leaders have great power and can affect things we really care about.  But haven’t you lived through a term of a politician you didn’t like?  Did you survive? If you’re reading this I’m guessing so.  Did life as you know it stop?  No, it didn’t.  You still were able to enjoy time with friends and loved ones.  You created priceless memories.  You might have even reached important goals or achievements. 

My point is that only you are in charge of your happiness. Isn't that better? Does that mean you just ignore the elections?  No.  I think just the opposite.  You can’t control the outcome but you can control how you contribute to it.  Vote, give money to a candidate,  join groups that support the causes you care about.  I've even been known to participate in marches and protests.  Do whatever you feel you need to do but know that the outcome doesn’t determine your future happiness and our social relationships and connections are more important than our political ones.  If your candidate doesn’t win, life will go on.  You can be happy….you might just have to try a bit harder :-)   

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Life Lesson from a Purple Scarf

I’m one of those people that make year’s resolutions every year.  This year I’ve been hard at work de-cluttering.  (I’m even working on a new book on how our environment – home/work space - effects our emotions).  One of the first projects was my closet.  I’m not a big shopper but I do love accessories.  I’m kind of like a crow – attracted to shiny things.  At one point I got frustrated with the number of scarves I had.  They’re a pain to either hang or fold, especially when you have way too many. 

About a week after my big closet clean out, my son and I did our monthly Mobile Loaves &Fishes volunteer activity.  (Mobile Loaves & Fishes has a truck they send out with food and donated clothes for the homeless).  It was an unusually cold night and by coincidence one of the things on the truck to distribute where scarves.  Evidently I wasn’t the only one who cleaned out closets and donated scarves. 
One of our stops was in a parking lot where some of the homeless panhandle.  One of the ladies there was so excited about the scarves.  She was running her hand through the soft fuzzy fabrics and admiring the pastel colors.  You’d think with the cold weather she’d be more concerned with gloves or heavy sweaters but she was totally focused on the scarves.  She reported people often mistake her for a man (short hair, baggy clothes).  With a big smile on her face she chose a purple fluffy scarf and said now everyone would know she was a girl.   See, the very same things that were a nuisance to me meant the world to her.  

I learned a couple of life lessons that night.  One, no matter what our circumstances, our self-identity is important.  We all want to physically express who we are.  For this young lady, creativity and self-identity was as important as her physical needs.   Two, the whole time I was cleaning out my closet, I could have had a spirit of appreciation and gratitude instead of annoyance.  I was frustrated at the chore of having so many things that I didn’t have enough space for them all.  Each of those scarves had served a purpose, kept me warm or dressed up an outfit.  It doesn’t mean I should have kept them, it just means my attitude about discarding them could have been better. 

So for this New Year, I wish you all a spirit of thankfulness and appreciation for the things you have as I continue to work on my attitude of gratitude.  Also, never underestimate the value of a good scarf!

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Lottery Curse or Curse of The Lottery?

As you may have heard, there is a huge Powerball lottery drawing (over a billion dollars) pending for Wednesday night.  (For fun I just bought two tickets, one for myself and one to put in a friend's birthday card).  There has been so much discussion about what people would do with that much money if they won.  Answers ranged from cursing out their boss and quitting their job to traveling the world (hopefully their boss wasn’t watching the interview).  The sad reality is that most lottery winners journeys don’t end that well.

I saw a TV special one-time about lottery winners and how their lives were changed.  Very few were positive.  Most had very sad stories of a life out of control, drug abuse, family estrangement and even suicide.  I have a theory about this.  Most of us at one time or another have thought “If only ____, then I’d be happy”.   I know I’ve fell into that trap.  Usually whatever obstacle the blank represents (paying off debt, getting a house, owning a car, not having to go to a job we don’t like, etc.)  can be fixed with a huge sum of money.  Once that blank is removed, we should be happy.  What happens when we’re not?  

I think that’s the dilemma of a lottery winner.   What do we do when we banked on this one thing making us happy and it doesn’t?  (Or worse, we buy into the idea this is the only thing that will make us happy, and it doesn’t happen).   I think we all need to remind ourselves that happiness can’t come from outside ourselves.  I know it sounds cliché to say “money doesn’t buy happiness” but the lottery is a great example of why this is true.   Mike Rowe (from the TV show Dirty Jobs) does a great Ted talk about how he discovered some of the happiest people he met were ones doing horrible jobs (we’re talking septic workers and jobs most of us would avoid).   He discovered it was the person’s attitude and outlook that made them content.  Their ability to find joy and meaning (even in dire circumstances) was a better indicator of happiness than their income or job status. 

So, if I win Wednesday I’ll have a great time spending it – probably lots of travel and birdwatching.   AustinPetsAlive – where my pups came from - would receive a big bonus.  But if I lose, that’s OK too – because I understand my happiness is not dependent on some outside circumstance I can’t control. Odds of winning are one in 280 million- not odds I want to bet my happiness on!  Good luck to all you lottery players but remember, your happiness is not dependent on the little colorful balls falling into place Wednesday night.