☺️ How to Be a More Effective Listener

The gift of being a great listener is a selfless act. It requires empathy, emotional intelligence, fortitude and focus.  It is so much easier to zone out on your eighth zoom meeting of the day, continue to watch television when your mother calls or scroll through your phone on that webcast and wait for something to call your attention back. If I learned anything from working remotely over the last two years it’s that distraction control is job one for me.  Whether it be my neurotic dog Baci staring at me with some unknown demand or a ding on my laptop or weather alert on my iWatch, it can take all my energy to stay focused on my client on my laptop screen. 

Here are some ways to be a more effective listener:

Shut it down. When I get a call from my mom, or FaceTime call from my daughter, I shut everything down.  I shut down the television, turn down the stove and close my laptop.  If I am unable to because I’m in the middle of a client call, I shut down the notification.  There was a time where I would have tried to multi-task and maybe mute the television and try to focus on the phone call or scroll through my phone while on a zoom call.  It’s now become second nature to shut any potential distraction down.  This auto pilot move improves my ability to focus on the person or group in front of me.

Uni-tasking. Multi-tasking is a fallacy.  Unless it’s a mundane task like chewing gum and walking at the same time, multi-tasking is just skimming through tasks and is an enormous energy drain.  As Chamorro-Premuzic wrote for Fast Company, “Distractions, stress, worries, and multitasking all interfere with high quality listening, as we all know from everyday experience. Contrary to popular belief, tasks that require active attention cannot be done simultaneously. Multitasking is a bit like intuition, sense of humor, or musical taste: just because we think we are good at it doesn’t mean we actually are.” I think of initial client coaching calls I have had. If my new client is calling me from their phone while making their breakfast or shopping at Lowe’s, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be a productive collaboration.  Try to uni-task to be able to focus.

Cultivate Connection. I recently watched Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart on HBO and have subsequently received the book of the same title.  One of the most impactful parts of that show is the last section when she models cultivating connection. Brene and Aiko Bethea do a role play where Brene is the manager and Aiko is the underling with a problem presentation. Brene plays the role of manager in several non-productive, harmful ways and then finally connects in the last role play. In the last role play, she was able build connection by empathizing with Aiko’s discomfort without taking over and telling what to do.  She was able to “be with” Aiko and asked for ways she support Aiko with the situation.  This was really powerful for me.  I can feel the urge to take over and fix a problem whether it’s my daughter’s wedding plans, my client’s strategic plan or friend’s home sale. Effective listening requires one to offer support but not taking over to solve.

Self-control. This is by far the hardest hurdle for me on coaching calls.  I can find myself interrupting my client when I should be trying to be present and let the client talk it through.  It’s an exercise in presence and mindfulness.  I might have a great idea, or applicable antidote to tell but that is interrupting the client doing their best thinking.  I actively have to focus on making the space for the client to work things through.  As Chamorro-Premuzic wrote, “This is why mindfulness is a consistent predictor of better listening. Waiting for the other person to finish, and even counting two or three seconds after they’ve gone quiet, is a simple exercise to keep your feelings and thoughts under control. Even if you feel you are right, or you don’t like what you are hearing, you will be much more likely to win the argument if you wait until the other person finishes unless you don’t want them to listen to you.” Practice self-control and be present.

Mirror, reframe or clarify.  This is the last and most impactful step of effective listening.  It’s basically letting the other person know that you heard what they said.  You can mirror back what they said, “So you were mad because your boss didn’t listen to you.” Or you can reframe it, “So you were frustrated because you couldn’t get through to your boss.”  Or clarify, “Does this happen often with your boss?  With others?” In any of these examples, you are letting the other person know that you heard them.  If you are brainstorming, you could summarize the other person’s point, “So you think it’s important we finish by September 15th and we need at least two engineers on this project.” Let the other person or group know that you heard them.

I am a much better coach and facilitator when I use these techniques. It’s not easy and I’m just a work in progress but it’s amazing what the results are if I am able to be an effective listener.  I am able to create more connection and a space for discovery and insight.  What techniques do you use to be an effective listener?

How to Quit Asking Why 

I was the member of a Mastermind Group about ten years ago.  It was a terrific experience working with Human Resource professionals from different industries around the Raleigh/Durham area.  I always remember one of the ground rules for Mastermind, which is a group of like-minded professionals who discuss confidentially current issues in their job or business and meet on a regular basis. The ground rule was to not ask Why. I remember thinking that that seemed odd.  After all, haven’t I been asking why since I was about 3 years old?  Seems like an obvious, simple question to get to the bottom of an issue or problem.  But think about it for a moment when I ask you the following questions:

Why?

Why are you late?

Why are you early?

Why are you on time?

Why are we going?

Why is it hot?

Why haven’t you?

Why won’t you?

Why don’t you?

Why is that there?

Why don’t you just…?

How does that feel?  I know it makes me feel defensive and diminished. Like I belong on a stool facing the corner in my kindergarten class.  Is this really how I want to treat people? It can be interrogating, demanding, confrontational and judgmental all at the same time. It focuses on the problem instead of insight and solutions. What about some alternatives?

How to quit asking why:

Describe the situation.  Let’s say your employee is late with an important project.  Instead of asking “Why is this late?”, you could ask:

Tell me about the timeline for this project.

How did this get off track?

What were some obstacles you had to deal with?

What were the circumstances that led to this situation?

You are more likely to get better insight into what is causing delays for the employee that you may not realize; and be more proactive towards solutions going forward. This tests your assumptions and can open your eyes to the whole situation.

Getting unstuck. Let’s say your employee rarely seems to make progress on one aspect of their job like sending in status reports or proofing their work.  Instead of asking, “Why haven’t you completed the reports?” Or “Why don’t you check your work?”, you could ask:

What have you tried so far? 

How did it go? 

What is getting in the way? 

Who could help you? 

What other resources do you need? 

It’s important that this doesn’t open the door to you, as the boss, to take over.  It’s more about discovery for your employee to find ways to get unstuck. Instead of you prescribing the answer. 

Look for understanding.  What can be loaded into “why” is implying that the employee isn’t good enough.  Like, “Suzy finished on time so why didn’t you? “Or “Joe’s slideshow had 50 slides, why did you only have 10 slides?” This is loaded with blame and makes the employee feel less than.  You could ask instead:

What was your thought process…?

What other options have you explored?

How did you arrive at this decision?

Tell me more.

Tell me about that.

It’s important at this point to sit back and listen with an open mind and curiosity.  Frequently, if we are a new leader or new to the organization, we feel like we need to have an answer and solution for everything instead of looking for the wisdom in those that work for us.  

As a coach, I really try to steer clear of Why, and a little bit of shorthand for me is to ask either, “How” or “What” or “Help me understand”.  How about you?  What do you use in place of Why?

How to Say No

Saying no is painful. Deep inside I’ve just wanted to please the people in my life.  I don’t want to let anyone down.  Even when I muster up the courage to say no, I have a hard time holding my resolve.  I immediately start thinking how the requester will be angry with me or dislike me.  It turns out there is a reason for my dislike of saying no.  As Lauren Moon wrote for Trello, “This is because evolutionarily, it was beneficial for humans to live, hunt, and work together in large groups. Staying within the group increased the odds of survival thanks to shared resources, food, and an easier chance of finding “the one” (as far as dating or mating went back then). As a result, humans (even as far back as hominids) learned to adopt behaviors that were agreeable to a group dynamic. If someone was perceived as hostile or combative, they risked being ostracized from the group and subsequently, its shared resources.” Realizing that I’m hardwired to want to be agreeable and please others is the first step in understanding myself and the struggle to say no.

In Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith’s book, How Women Rise, this is the Disease to Please. As they wrote, “The disease to please can undermine your ability to make clear decisions because you’re always trying to split the difference about competing needs in hope of creating consensus or avoiding giving offense.  This can impair your judgment and leave you vulnerable to manipulation by people who know how to use cult to get others to accommodate their needs.  It can rob you of the capacity to act with authority for fear of disappointing others or making them even temporarily unhappy. It can make you an unreliable advocate or ally because you are so easily swayed.  It can distract you from your purpose, squander your time and talents, and contribute to your general stuckness.” I find this interesting because, to some degree, my inability to say no is impacting how I can be perceived as easily swayed and an unreliable advocate. This is the last thing I want to have happen.  My inability to say no is making me be perceived as weak and indecisive.

5 techniques to saying no:

Be timely.  I find that the longer I wait to respond to a request, the more likely I am to say yes.  So, I’m thinking, well since I haven’t responded to Suzy’s email in the last week, I better say yes or she’ll really dislike me.  I’ve already been a jerk by not responding, I better say yes so she doesn’t kick me off the team.  And even if you still say no, now I’ve put the other person in a bind because they haven’t found another resource for help.  What ever you do, yes or no, respond with your answer quickly.

Be concise. I’ve used this in all sorts of difficult conversations like terminations and performance issues.  Come up with one sentence or two that summarizes succinctly the issue and the action you are taking.  Example: I can’t work on the widget budget at this time, unfortunately it’s not a good time for me. Or Sadly, I can’t be on the marshmallow project team, it doesn’t sound like the right fit for me. I find that if it’s concise and to the point, I don’t hesitate as much, I’m less likely to say things like “um”, and I don’t ramble as much.  When I ramble, it opens the door to saying yes. I also think that being clear and concise is more confident and decisive. 

Be polite. The main reason you don’t want to say no is that you don’t want to be rude.  Keeping kindness in mind is helpful in saying no. As written by Jessi Christian for Flowrite, “People want to feel seen and appreciated, even when you have to deny them their request. So let the other person feel good about themselves! You might have heard of a “shit sandwich” when giving feedback to an employee, but it also works perfectly when you have to say no. A shit sandwich works simply: You start on a positive note (“This sounds like an interesting event”), tell them the bad message (“But unfortunately I won’t be able to attend as a speaker.”), and end with kindness (“I’m sure you’ll have a successful conference in any case!”).  In emails, try not to use abbreviations for Thanks (thx) or Your Welcome (yw) as well.  If you’re turning someone down, make the extra key strokes to be polite.

Be clear if the door is open or closed.   I can remember when I was a Human Resource Professional that there were annual time sucks like budgeting and company wide annual reviews. I wasn’t available for anything additional at all.  Period. But the middle of July was pretty open.  So, if you can’t help out, ever, clearly close the door with Thank you so much for thinking of me. Given my current workload, I’m unable to do a good job on your project, as my other work would suffer. On the other hand, if this sounds like a real career boosting project and, although you can’t do it now, think about leaving the door open with: “I’m unavailable right now” or “I don’t have the capacity at the moment”.  If you want the door open, you may want to spell out what interests you and when you might be available.  

Refer them.  Benjamin Franklin once said that “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” Sometimes I end up with a full plate because the requester didn’t realize there was someone better qualified to answer their question or work on the project.  Think about whether you are the correct person to be working on this.  Is there someone else whose job this is?   As Christian wrote, “A simple referral can be a huge help for your counterpart. Introducing them to another person that can take over the job or that is even more suitable for the task can be worth taking your time, especially with people you work with long term.” See if there is someone better suited to help out.

I think I’ve learned to be more discerning in the last year after retiring from my full-time job.  I recently had a client ask for a time slot on a Friday.  I have tried to keep Fridays free. I hesitated but said I didn’t have any available slots on Friday.  I think if they had pushed, I would have acquiesced, they didn’t.  Sometimes it just takes practice to say no. How do you say no?

8 Strategies to Stop Procrastinating

This is the first blog post I’ve written in about 2 months.  I have found hundreds of distractions and reasons to push off writing.  I think I have a headache, I need to do the laundry, I want to hike a new trail today, there’s a notification on my Facebook page, there’s a new email, I don’t know what I’m having for dinner, maybe my son is coming to visit this weekend, it looks like rain, I don’t have any ideas to write about, maybe I’ve written about everything I can write about, etc. In reality, the main reason I didn’t write is because my computer has been SSSLLLLOOOWWWWIIIINNNGGG down. I spent three weekends trying to figure out what the problem was with my desktop pc and I have finally resorted to writing on my laptop.  I’m amazed at how one hang-up like a computer can derail me for weeks.  I say to myself “Whelp, it’s taking too long; might as well go watch Netflix.” 

So how did I finally stop procrastinating and get to work?  Here are some strategies I put into place that might work for you too:

  1. Break it down into the tiniest of pieces. I mean really tiny.  Like instead of saying “I’m going to read Gone with the Wind”, say “I’m going to put the book next to my reading chair”, or “Open the book and read one chapter, or one page or one paragraph”.  This is advice from BJ Fogg and his excellent book, Tiny Habits.  The tiny habit should take less than 30 seconds to complete, according to Fogg, so that time is not a deterrent and the new habit grows naturally. So, to get started on this post, I set up the actual blank document so it was ready to go.
  1. Change your environment.  I had no idea that this was holding me back but I usually have my desktop computer and laptop on the same desk.  I kept getting sucked into the abyss of the “My desktop slowing down” and not responding to even the smallest of actions.  Pretty soon, I had my phone open and I was scrolling Facebook while “I waited” for a page to load on my computer. I had my fully functioning laptop on the same desk but I still never started to write.  I was completely hung up on using my desktop.  So, I got the bright idea to move my laptop yesterday to my “writing” chair.  And suddenly, perhaps because the laptop was in plain sight and in a different environment, I started writing. Changing my environment got me at the keyboard once again.
  1. Music.  This may not be for everyone but I play classical music when I write.  It has to be an instrumental for it to be the right vibe for me to write.  I don’t want to get caught up in the lyrics of a song.  Turning on a classical playlist sets the right tone for me to work.  It also sets the tone that I will be working and writing if there is classical music playing in the background.  I find my muse in classical music.
  1. Shut down distractions.  I take coaching calls most of the day on my laptop.  If I hear a beep or ding or a notification shows up on my screen, I will research the source of the distraction and eliminate it.  Outside of my calendar reminding me of my next appointment, I don’t want to have anything disrupting my coaching calls.  By eliminating these distractions, I am able to be fully present for my calls.  This has the added benefit of eliminating distractions when I’m writing as well.  I generally try to write on the weekends so there aren’t usually any upcoming appointments but I’m also not receiving email or social media notifications which could potentially derail me from focusing on my writing.  Shut down distractions.
  1. Serializing. This is a terrific suggestion from Oliver Burke in his book, 4000 weeks. Burke wrote, “Focus only on one big project at a time. Though it’s alluring to try to alleviate the anxiety of having too many responsibilities or ambitions by getting started on them all at once, you’ll make little progress that way. Multitasking rarely works well — and you’ll soon find that serializing helps you to complete more projects anyway, thereby helping relieve your anxiety.” So set up on your schedule that you’ll work 30 minutes each day on the Gnarly Project or the budget or the annual review process.  Once the 30 minutes is done, move on and come back to it the next day.  Serialize big projects.
  1. Eat that frog.  Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Start your day with the worst thing you don’t want to do and then it’s clear coasting the rest of the day.  It might be that a five-mile run, cleaning out the garage, or finishing the annual review for your worst performing direct report is the best way to start your day.   Eat that frog.
  1. Choose what you do.  Change up your self-talk around that which you are procrastinating.  As written on MindTools, the phrases “need to” and “have to,” for example, imply that you have no choice in what you do. This can make you feel disempowered and might even result in self-sabotage. However, saying, “I choose to,” implies that you own a project, and can make you feel more in control of your workload. Elect to work on a blog post instead of “needing” to. 
  1. Celebrate or reward.  This made a big difference in my flossing habit in the morning. Dr. Fogg advocates either a high five or fist pump when you finish a new behavior like flossing your teeth.  It wires positivity into your brain.  You could also set up a reward when you are done like a latte from your favorite coffee shop or phoning a friend or watching an episode of your favorite show.  Wiring positivity helps set up the expectation that something good will come after eating the frog.

I used several of these tools to get back to writing again.  It feels good to get back to writing and the sense of accomplishment is a reward enough for me at this point.  What are some of your tricks to overcome procrastination? 

Leaving Pieces of Daddy

My father passed away three years ago at the age of 94.  He was a lifelong adventurer;  Whether  being a Merchant Marine in WWII or stationed in Korea, hitchhiking across the United States or traveling to the Great Wall of China in retirement. He led teenage boys from Camp DeWitt on canoe trips into the uncharted deep woods and rivers of Quebec and dragged a 26-foot camper behind an aging station wagon with his young family from coast to coast to coast.  He loved to pull off the highway in the Sierra Nevada’s to appreciate a view, marvel at the Terracotta Army in Qin Shi Huang China and appreciate the classic romantic architecture of Saint Petersburg.  My father was the definition of wanderlust.

My father, Benson Noice, traveling the world.

I requested and received a small portion of my father’s remains after his passing.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them except to put some in a necklace.  It was my keepsake for good luck as well as keep him with me wherever I went.  I had a trip to New Hampshire to support my then boyfriend on his hike of the Appalachian Trail. I decided to take some of my dad’s ashes to leave pieces of him in some of the memorable places of his life (and some of my life as well).

These are some of the places where I left a piece of my Daddy:

The Cove at Camp DeWitt

Camp DeWitt is a boy’s camp that my father was the Waterfront Director every summer from the mid-1960’s through the 1970’s.  My father stood on the beach overseeing the sunfish sailboats, canoes and kayaks and countless life preservers while teenage boys, including my brothers, cycled through different activities throughout the camp.  My mother and I lounged, tanned and swam in the crystal-clear waters of the lake. Camp DeWitt was sold some years ago and now has elegant homes along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.  When I think of my happiest, most serene, carefree moments of my childhood, they are on that beach. The most frightening moment would be an errant crayfish or not putting on enough sun screen. I left a piece of my father on the beach of the former cove of Camp DeWitt.

The Statues of Major General Sedgwick

General Sedgwick is a family ancestor who fell at Spotsylvania in the Civil War whose famous last words were “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” My father wrote his Master’s Thesis on John Sedgwick and we did countless trips to Gettysburg where there is a stunning statue of Sedgwick on horseback on Sedgwick Drive.  Over the last few years since my dad passed, I’ve traveled to the monument where Sedgwick fell in Spotsylvania, the statue of Sedgwick at West Point where legend has it that a cadet who spins the spurs on boots of the statue at midnight, wearing full parade dress gray will have good luck on his or her final exam, and to his equestrian statue at Gettysburg. I left pieces of my father at each monument.

Hoosac School

My father spent his teenage years attending boarding schools thanks to his beloved Aunt Sadie.  Growing up in a broken home during the depression and moving countless times, Hoosac school was a safe haven for my dad.  He played football, wrestled and sung in the choir in this remote prep school in upstate New York, just spitting distance from Vermont.  As I was driving to New Hampshire and was trying to avoid the traffic in the greater metropolitan area of Boston, my circuitous route took me, serendipitously through Hoosac New York.  There I was driving alone and looking at the GPS when it showed that I was on Hoosac Road as I headed towards Vermont.  I felt like my father was willing me towards this prep school that I had only heard stories of and had never seen.  Sure enough, the sign for the school was along the road and I drove on campus. There at the top of a hill and at the base of the bell that I’m sure my father heard daily as a teenager, I left a piece of my father.

Penobscot Bay

Last fall, I traveled to the coast of Maine in the fall to see the changing foliage and to see where my parent’s relationship began.  My parents met aboard The Adventure, a schooner that traveled the islands and coves of Penobscot Bay, my mother as a guest and my father as crew.  As we drove into the quaint town of Camden, there was a lone parking space available on the crowded streets right in front of a sign for daily schooner tours out of Camden harbor.  It felt like a sign that I needed to get on one of the boats.  The next day I did, and even though it was cloudy and windless, I imaged my parents meeting in that boat some 65 years earlier; the prologue written that summer when my father turned 30 and met the woman of his dreams. I left a piece of my father in Penobscot Bay.

There have been other places along my travels to scatter pieces of my dad, Longwood Gardens where my father proposed to my mother, the top of Mount Washington, Goat Rock on the Sonoma Coast, Mount Rainer, and his headstone at St. Joe’s on the Brandywine.   I’m never sure of the next location but I know he’ll let me know like an ethereal tug on my attention.  I do know one location for sure and that is Peyto Lake in Banff.  In my father’s last days, he said it was the most beautiful place on earth and I’d like to leave a piece of him there so that he can be a part of that spectacular view forever. 

4 Ways to Combat Gender Bias at Work

In every office I have worked in, it’s always a woman making the coffee. At every meeting, it’s been a woman keeping the notes, all the guys beg off (if they are even asked) because their handwriting is supposedly illegible. It’s also a woman who is watering the plants, refilling the printer paper and making sure there are donuts for the morning meeting. I have been a part of the problem as well; I’ve made thousands of pots of coffee and ordered cake for the retirement party for years. In an article by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg for the New York Times called Madam CEO, Get Me a Coffee, “This is the sad reality in workplaces around the world: Women help more but benefit less from it. In keeping with deeply held gender stereotypes, we expect men to be ambitious and results-oriented, and women to be nurturing and communal.” So while I’m making coffee and taking notes, some guy is getting the promotion. Yep! 

In an article by Dana Wise in HR Magazine called Bringing Bias into the Light, it turns out that some of this gender bias is unconscious. I have always been the breadwinner for my family but when I recently took the Implicit Association Test (IAT) on Gender – Career, I discover I have a moderate bias towards men being associated with the workplace and with women being associated with family and the home. Me! My mother was the only person who worked outside the home on my street in the mid-sixties and my father dutifully did the dishes every night but regardless, I subconsciously associate men with the workplace.

4 ways to combat gender bias at work:

1. Discover. Take the IAT and discover if you have a bias. Odds are that you have a least a slight bias because the overwhelming majority of assessment takers did. You can’t know that you have a bias unless you find out where you are on the continuum. I tested into the largest cohort (32%) with a moderate bias. Now that I am aware of it, I can look at more objective data like scoring applicants on years of experience, certificates held and level of education. You don’t know what you don’t know.

2. Equalize. Make sure tasks in your workplace are handled equally by both genders. In the Times article they suggest “Assigning communal tasks evenly rather than relying on volunteers can also ensure that support work is shared, noticed and valued.” So ask Joe to make the coffee on Tuesdays or have the minutes be taken on a rotating basis. I actually knew a Vice President who did this with his team and one of his managers was responsible for setting up the minutes and agenda on a rotating basis (two male managers and one female manager). Share the load.

3. Public. Make sure that the efforts are public. In the article, “studies demonstrate that men are more likely to contribute with visible behaviors — like showing up at optional meetings — while women engage more privately in time-consuming activities like assisting others and mentoring colleagues.” This can be especially difficult for women. We are much more comfortable going behind the scenes and making it look easy. So guys out there? Make sure your female co-worker is being acknowledged publicly for pulling that project off. Make it public.

4. First. Women need to put themselves first. I can remember reading in Sheryl Sanberg’s book “Lean In”, that women will advocate for everyone else but themselves. So become an advocate for yourself. Sometimes I think it’s a great idea to imagine that you advocating for yourself fresh out of college. It’s easier if you think about yourself in the third person. I can ask for a raise for my twenty year old self but not for my middle aged self. According to Grant, “numerous studies show that women (and men) achieve the highest performance and experience the lowest burnout when they prioritize their own needs along with the needs of others.” This means that the women out there need to put themselves first, if not equal to everyone else. So don’t wait to be the last to grab a cookie from the plate, grab it first.

I have to say that as I write this, I asked both of my children to take the IAT (it’s free by the way). I am curious to see how both my son and daughter measure up on the Gender – Career assessment. I really hope that I have been an example of a hard working career minded women and that, on some level, it has seeped into my children’s subconscious mind. I’m guessing that it’s difficult to move gender bias in just one generation.

Give Up on Waiting

This is a quote I read from Eckhart Tolle last week: “Give up waiting as a state of mind. When you catch yourself slipping into waiting, snap out of it. Come into the present moment. Just be and enjoy being.” Quite the thought-provoking quote. I have spent a lot of time waiting. Countless hours, days, weeks, months, years – just waiting. Red lights, grocery store lines, dial-up (old school internet connection), waiting rooms (heck, it even has the waiting built right in); buying the house; for him to graduate; for her to ask; for the promotion; for him to sign; for her to forgive.

ben-white-292680-unsplash

Waiting is painful, exhausting, a waste. To reframe it as Tolle suggests is very interesting. Instead of looking at your watch or calendar, come back to the present moment. Instead of gnashing your teeth, planning a detour, counting up all the wrongs you are suffering, come back to the present. Engage.

Here are some tips giving up waiting:

Value the time

As Elisha Goldstein writes for Mindful“Most people believe that waiting is a waste of time and it’s best to fill that time with something…anything.” What if this is an investment in the present moment? What if this is a time to be with yourself? Instead of striving to move on, past the traffic jam, or off the detour, you could embrace the extra moment with yourself. Instead of taking out time from your personal time bank account, you are making a time deposit. So, if the doctor is delayed, or the cashier has a price check, you suddenly have more time for you! It’s a windfall! Value the time you have gained for yourself.

Don’t default to distraction

Look around at the DMV, doctor’s office or line for the movie theater (I know…old school): everyone is on their phones. There MUST be something out there on the web, social media or my inbox that’s more interesting than this present moment. I’m guilty of this at a red light. I pick up my phone without a thought to see if I have anything in my inbox or some interaction on social media. One more “like” or comment or useless promotional email. It makes time slip away by just skimming without any value. 99.9% of the time. Looking at your phone is absolutely valueless and it excites your brain to expect the email saying you finally hit the Mega Millions lottery. That email won’t come and expectancy of some kind of windfall depletes you. Stay off your phone and from the pull of distraction.

Find the opportunity

As Goldstein writes, “In those moments, instead of grabbing something to fill the space, you recognized it as an opportunity to be okay with just waiting.” I think this is about reframing it as a positive. An opportunity. Found money in your jeans pocket while doing the wash. Savor it. Relax into it. Again, Goldstein prescribes: “You can soften the muscles in your body that have just tensed due to a mini fight/flight/freeze response and just recognize you’re safe.” I’ve caught myself over the last week when I hit that one red light that seems so much longer than the rest. Take a deep breath and slide into the moment of right now. Everything is OK. As Goldstein says, “You’re safe.” In reality, 99.9% of the time, you are safe. Find the opportunity to be aware that you are just fine.

Practice, practice, practice

So the best part about giving up waiting and snapping back into the present is that there are endless ways to practice. As Goldstein wrote:

There are so many opportunities to practice.

  • You can do this while waiting for the bread to toast,
  • waiting for someone to get out of the shower,
  • waiting for a certain report at work,
  • waiting for a screen to load,
  • waiting for your partner to clean the dishes,
  • waiting on hold on the phone, or
  • even while waiting for your newborn to settle down as you’re doing your best as a parent to soothe your baby.

There is a treasure trove of opportunity to practice! I have noticed that, since reading Tolle’s quote, I have practiced this over the last week and just noticing my reaction to waiting has been a good start. The moment I say, “Ugh, I can’t believe there is a line of six cars,” I reframe it. I can catch myself and come back into the present moment. It’s just a practice of self-control.

It’s difficult to control our brain’s negative bias towards catastrophe. I found that awareness alone has helped release the tension of those anxious moments when I feel I am needlessly waiting. The first thing is to notice that you are doing it. How can you reframe waiting?

5 Reasons to Go Vegan

I decided to go plant based about 4 years ago while dating my previous boyfriend. On his dating profile, he said he had been a vegan for about 9 months and found it boring. Being that I am quite the foodie, I assumed I could convert him from the “dark side” of boring bland veganism back to being an omnivore. Well here I am, single and four years later, and I am practically a vegan although I have succumbed to cheese pizza and my beloved cambozola cheese. There is also the about once-every-two-months bite or two of seafood, but that has occurred less frequently over time.

My ex slowly indoctrinated me into going plant-based by first sharing a few documentaries, Forks Over Knives and What The Health. These are films not about animal cruelty, but focused on the health affects of eating meat and dairy. I come from a long background of seeking out and preparing culinary delights, regardless of if said culinary delight had a mother or not. Alligator, escargot, caribou, foie gras, yellow tail…I have tried it all and enjoyed it immensely. Vegetables and fruit were in my diet, but I was lucky to be having one or two servings a day. After the documentaries, my ex turned me on to NutritionFacts.org by Dr. Michael Greger. He sent me YouTube video after YouTube video on meat, chicken and pork. I asked him to not send me anything on dairy, as I was not ready to give up my beloved cheese. I finally acquiesced and he started sending me the YouTube videos on the evils of cheese. I am at this point of being 95% vegan, with only small amounts of dairy products in my diet (perhaps some cheese in a salad or a cheese pizza about once a week).

Here are 5 reasons to go vegan:

Cheap

I have saved a ton of money going vegan. I thought it would be more difficult to find ingredients, but every grocery store has apples, blueberries, grapes, mixed greens and a whole plethora of dried and canned beans. I have had a more difficult time finding vegan cheese at my local, rural Walmart, but as long as I stock up when I am at a specialty grocery or natural foods store, the rest of those items are incredibly cheap. I think I used to spend $10 per meal on flank steak, chicken tenders and lamb chops. Focusing on having meat for one, two or three meals (bacon and eggs for breakfast) is a lot pricier than two cans of beans, a bag of greens and several types of fruit. Outside of specialty items like vegan cheese or substitutes like beyond or impossible meat items, the rest of the items are very inexpensive.

Cholesterol

Two years ago, after I had lost 50 pounds from eliminating alcohol.  I had high cholesterol when I visited my doctor. I was on a low carb diet at the time. I had assumed with a dramatic weight loss that all of my “numbers” would have been terrific. Not so. My doctor threatened me with statin drugs if it didn’t improve in the next year. I assumed it would work itself out and that the cholesterol was just a fluke or age-related. I became a vegetarian about two months later and mostly vegan about five months later. When I returned to the doctor for my annual exam, all of my cholesterol numbers were in range. I have to say, I was shocked and assumed that when I returned to the doctor, I was going to walk out with a new prescription for statins.

Prescriptions

I have been on asthma and allergy medications for the last twenty years. I am allergic to dogs (yes, I own my beloved Brittany Spaniel, Baci), cats, dust mites, trees and grasses. I read Dr. Greger’s book, How Not to Die, about a year ago. He addresses how being plant-based can eliminate many drugs from one’s diet. Well, I decided to drop one medication for about four weeks, and then another, and then another. So that now, I don’t take any medication related to my allergy-induced asthma. I went from 5 drugs daily down to zero. I have no scientific reason for it except that meat and dairy cause a lot of inflammation (which is why it is tied to so many cancers). So here I am prescription-free, which is a huge cost saving and hassle-free.

Interesting

I love a challenge. I want to figure out how I can take an old tried and true recipe and make it vegan. It might mean finding a vegan cheese or meat substitute, or searching the internet for how to make cashew blue cheese. It’s all out there. I have some terrific cookbooks like Thug Kitchen and But I Could Never Go Vegan, which really helped in the first months I took this challenge on. There was a point where I just didn’t care about trying to replicate something I would have had as an omnivore. The impossible and beyond products are great but replicating meat isn’t my desire anymore. I prefer beans (Rancho Gordo is the best!), tempeh and whole grains. It’s taught me to flex my culinary muscles and I can make a chili now that you would be hard pressed to even realize it’s vegan.

Easy

In retrospect, it’s much easier than I thought it would be. I think that initially I figured I’d be out there buying tofurkeys and chorizo substitutes. I did a little of that and bought crazy ingredients like EnerG Egg Replacer, Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, White Miso and Nutritional Yeast Flakes on the Internet. It’s now mostly buying seasonal items, like butternut squash, figs and Cosmic Crisp apples (they are awesome). Going to a restaurant has gotten easier as well. There are more vegetarian menu options (they will frequently have cheese…usually too much cheese) or even at chains like Cracker Barrel or BBQ restaurants, you can order three or four vegetables as an entrée. Almost everyone has a salad on the menu – you just need to make sure there isn’t any bacon or feta cheese in it. I do carry a vegan protein bar in my purse, but it’s rare that I have to resort to that. Peanut butter on an apple or banana is a perfectly healthy vegan meal…it’s just not that hard.

I never thought I would be a vegan at this point, but as I have been culling out my kitchen over the last few months, I decided I needed to donate my electric knife, whose sole purpose over the last twenty years was to slice up turkey on Thanksgiving. I can’t see going back to being an omnivore at this point. There is no upside and I’ve lost my desire for bacon and foie gras. If you had asked this foodie ten years ago if I would be a vegan today? I’d have said you were crazy. Seeing all the positive impacts it’s had on my life, I can’t imagine going back. What stops you from being a vegan?

Benson Noice Junior the Great

I originally posted this when my father succumbed to Congestive Heart Failure on July 12, 2019. We had celebrated his 94th birthday as a family just a few weeks earlier with the theme being “Benson Noice Junior the Great”. I thought it appropriate to republish the post on what would have been his 97th birthday. I love you, Daddy.

Originally posted on May 24th, 2019:

“Benson Noice Junior the Great,”this is the title of a book my son, whose name is taken after his grandfather, wrote about his beloved grandfather at the age of 11. I recently discovered the hard-cover illustrated book amongst some other treasures like my Master’s thesis, my brother’s journal of our cross-country trailer trip in the late 60’s and a book of poetry I wrote in high school. I read Benson’s masterpiece to my dad over the phone last week and choked through the tears as I realized how much my son idealizes his grandfather. As I reflect on my father’s life, I realize what a tremendous gift my father has been to his students, his friends and his family.

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Benson Robles and his grandfather Benson Noice Jr. (the great)

These are the reasons that Benson Noice Junior is so great:

Perseverance

My dad is the oldest of three kids and was born in 1925. Being born in 1925 means that the Great Depression had a long-standing impact on him and his family. His father, Benson Noice Sr., left the family after the stock market crash of 1929. Imagine being my grandmother with three kids ages under the age of 5 as my grandfather took off. The impact is that my father has always been very self-reliant. He ended up moving 28 times by the time he graduated college. My father hitchhiked, survived on donuts and milk and spent the night on the Staten Island Ferry as a young adult. All of these hardships are in line with his oft-quoted motto “toughen you up for life.” Dad had a tough life especially in the first 30 years, and the result shows in his perseverance.

Teacher

My dad taught eighth grade history for over 30 years. In my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, I can remember running into his former students at the mall, school district picnics and at the grocery store. At the time, I would be mortified that people would come up to him and thank him for being a great teacher. There were several men who saw my dad as their mentor. He would meet them either as students or counselors at a boy’s camp where he was the waterfront director. I can remember them either writing or phoning or making the pilgrimage to our house in Wilmington to see their teacher and mentor. As a kid, I was jealous of the attention my father garnered. I can remember hearing him talk extensively about history or economics or politics late at night as I feigned sleep in the bedroom above the living room. Now I can see what an impact he had on these young men and all the students that went through his classroom.

Memory

Considering my father is almost 94, he has an incredible memory. He may not know what he had for lunch or what television show he is watching, but he can still tell you practically anything about the Civil War, the American Revolution and World History. Does he know when Napoleon was born without using Google? Yep. Can he discuss with me the importance of the siege during the Civil War as he did on the phone yesterday? Yep. Can he reflect on George Washington’s merits as a President and how King George couldn’t understand why Washington would relinquish power after 8 years as president? This is amazing to me that he can have a conversation with a neophyte like myself amid his breaths from his oxygen tube to carry on a complex conversation on a subject that is near and dear to him. This conversation, by the way, was brought on by my reading of a book he recommended by Ron Chernow called Grant. I was never a history fan as a kid, or even adult, but over the last ten years, I believe my father’s love of history has infected me or maybe I just wanted to tap into his treasure trove of historic memories; extend the conversation with him.

Unconditional Love

This is my father’s greatest gift and very few possess it. As I have reminisced with him recently and I asked him what he learned from his mother, he said “unconditional love.” My dad was never a good student or at least that’s what he professes. He didn’t marry until he was 30. I can imagine that moving from college to college and not settling down, probably caused my grandmother some heartburn as well as ache. But he said he always knew she loved him. Well, as I sit here, I know I caused my father a fair share of pain over my lifetime between being a rebellious teenager, an impulsive young adult, and a single mom on the brink of financial ruin. My father always has been there for me. Without fail. He has been there for my children, including uprooting my mother to move from Northern California to North Carolina so that he could sit in cold and windy football games on a Friday night, drive for hours to marching band competitions or walk two miles to my daughter’s graduation from Duke University. I know that I haven’t committed a felony or been a high school drop out, but I sorely tested both of my parents. My dad recently received a cell phone. Yes, my dad learned how to use a cell phone at age 93. I am so amazed when I see his number flash on my phone and know that somehow, he figured out (with the immeasurable help of my brother Rick and my mom) how to dial my phone. He reaches out to connect from Albuquerque, New Mexico to make sure I’m OK and let me know that he’s OK and to maybe impart a history lesson or two. Benson Noice Jr. is unconditional love.

If you measure a life by the impact you’ve had on others, my father has had a very rich life. He has spread his knowledge through countless students, campers and proteges. He was a stable, patient father who rarely raised his voice and only became passionate during debates with my older brothers around the dinner table. He was courageous to serve in the Merchant Marines during WWII and in the Army during the Korean War. He was a phenomenal chess player, writer and sailor. I would bet my life that there is not a single person who wasn’t better off for meeting such a generous, patient, humble man. Benson Noice Jr. the Great is my father and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Decide on Happiness Now

I have struggled over the last few years with finding happiness. I have strained, pushed, and worked on finally arriving at the railroad station, boarding the rail car called Happiness. Having taken this very circuitous route, I’ve come to realize: it’s not a destination; it’s not arriving or departing. It’s not being on standby. The thing is that it’s always been in me. It can be in me right now. It’s funny because as I write this, my dog Baci just relaxed into my lap as I wrote that sentence. She isn’t struggling any more; she is just deciding that laying next to me is perfect. And that is just perfect with me.

I recently read Michael Neill’s The Space Within. It’s a thought-provoking book about just letting things be. About giving up control and focusing on what is. To letting go of your thinking and worrying and just letting things be. I think this is about just deciding to be happy right now. Just let life work itself out and yet embrace happiness now. It doesn’t take a milestone like buying a house or the divorce to be final or for you to complete the marathon; be happy right now. The key is to decide. So go ahead and decide on happiness right now.

Here is how to decide on happiness:

Happiness is not the goal

This seems counterintuitive. If you view happiness as the goal, you never find it.  There is always one more hurdle to jump over. One more thing to check off the list.  You never seem to arrive. I have the new car but I won’t be happy until it’s paid off.  Once the car is paid off, then I’ll need to get new tires. Once I get new tires, then the brakes will need replacing. There is always one more thing before happiness is ours, right? The finish line keeps getting extended. We never achieve satisfaction. We never ever arrive. Quit focusing on happiness being the goal.

Happiness is not dependent on others

I can remember thinking as a kid that I would be happy when I found the love of my life or when I had children. Basing your happiness on someone outside of yourself will lead to disappointment. It all starts with you. When it’s dependent upon others, others disappoint. They let you down and then your happiness evaporates. When you can find it in yourself, there is no disappointment. There is only your mindset. If my dog wants to snuggle next to me or not. If my lover tells me they love me or not. If my child gets the job, or graduates from college or not. Happiness is within me and is self-created.

Happiness is not about getting what you want

As Neill writes, “The secret to happiness is simply this…your happiness does NOT depend on getting what you want.” This means that similar to The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy always had home in her heart. She just needed to tap into it. Happiness is within you right now. You don’t need to get the next thing: The new car, house, jacket or coffee maker. Happiness does not exist in the striving for what you want but rather in you right now. Let go of the wishlist and be happy right now.

Happiness is not in the doing

Neill writes, “If you are doing things in order to be happy…you’re doing them in the wrong order.” For me this means to be happy while doing. It starts with the mindset of being happy right now. Start with being happy. Start between the ears. Doing will follow. Just start with a smile on your face and bliss between the ears. Neill suggests looking for the space between words. It’s difficult to look for the space between words when you start looking for it. It’s in the space. That pause. That moment where the infinite is. For me that is being present. Not multitasking. Not looking at your phone. Just be.

Happiness is not a short cut

Neill espouses, “By taking the time to live life in the slow lane, we quickly experience a deeper, more profound experience of contentment.” I opted for a walking meeting with a coworker of mine. The meeting took at least 30 minutes longer than I had expected. The thing is, I connected with the coworker and found out about some recent health issues she was having. I only had thirty minutes on my schedule but the walk and the conversation led to places I didn’t expect or anticipate. It’s letting go of control and letting the path unfold as it needs to. No need to rush, take short cuts or push through. Take the long way, the slow lane and don’t miss a thing.

I wrote myself a note in the Silence Course I took several years ago. The first item on the note was to smile more. Several people at the course had told me what a beautiful smile I had and how it lit up my face. We all have beautiful smiles. We all need to smile more often. Don’t wait to smile or be happy. Be happy right now. Smile right now. It’s infectious. Are you happy right now?