👌Got Plan B?

“The most successful people are those who are good at plan B.” -James A. Yorke

You are frustrated because they cancelled the show you bought the tickets for six months ago.  You don’t get the promotion you’ve been dreaming of since you came to this company.  The proposal you sent to your ideal client which is going to double your income this year, is turned down.  Is the universe ganging up on you?  Nope.  You just need a Plan B.

I a few years ago I traveled to New England on business and pleasure.  I ended up with several Plan B moments.  I was staying on the 17th floor of the Hartford Hilton.  The fire alarm went off at midnight.  Sleep was Plan A.  Descending 17 flights of stairs on foot was Plan B. I was staying at my friend’s beautiful country home (in the middle of nowhere in the Berkshires) and planned on writing while there.  There was a thunderstorm that plowed in overnight. Phone and wifi were dead.  Plan A was writing.  Plan B was having a lovely day long conversation with my friend.  I missed a connecting flight at Washington Reagan airport.  Making the connection was Plan A.  Walking 10,000 steps in Terminal C was Plan B.  The important thing was being open to Plan B.

This is how I remained open to Plan B:

  • Keep the goal in mind.  I’ve retold the story of taking 17 flights of stairs and more than one person told me, I think I would have just stayed in the hotel room.  Truth is I didn’t smell smoke but in a 22-story hotel, how could I possible know what was above me.  The goal was avoiding participating in a fire and if trudging 17 flights kept me safe, then that’s the goal.  Getting home safely was the goal when I missed the connection in DC.  It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration of a change of plans but if you focus on the end goal it calms the anxiety.
  • Know where your essentials are.  When a fire alarm goes off and there is an annoying strobe light to accompany it, it’s disorienting.  I tried to turn the light on next to my bed.  It didn’t go on.  I thought the electricity was out.  Fortunately, when I fumbled over to the desk lamp it worked. But I had no idea where my sneakers and glasses were.  Having shoes and glasses were essential.  During the thunderstorm two nights later and the lights flickered, I made sure I had my glasses and shoes next to my bed.  Socks?  Laptop? Nope. Not essential. So in a work situation if you end up not having an LCD projector, use a flip chart.  If you don’t have a flip chart, have someone take notes on paper.  Figure out what’s essential.
  • Label the feeling.  I was sitting in the last row of the plane when we finally pulled close to the gate and making my connecting flight was very present in my mind.  I had a ton of anxiety and, frankly, I was angry that we were sitting 10 feet from the gate but were not actually “at” the gate with the door open.  I consciously sat in my seat and thought, this is what anger feels like.  My forehead is hot and my stomach is clenched.  OK.  And this is what anxiety feels like.  My stomach is flipping and my throat is tight.  OK.  I sat there inventory-ing my feelings as they arose and labeling them.  I was able to witness the feelings instead of getting sucked into them. Labeling the feeling keeps you from stuffing it away as well.  Let it rise and vanish as you consider each one.  If you take anything from this post, work on labeling your feelings; it will keep you from getting sucked into them.
  • A plausible alternative.  When someone cuts me off in traffic, I try and imagine that they are headed to the hospital on an emergency.  When I was sitting in the back row of the plane, I decided it must be some safety issue and the plane couldn’t pull up to the door.  When the client I sent a proposal to doesn’t respond,  I imagine my offer ended up in their spam folder.  Better reach out by phone.  A coach friend of mine, Michele Woodward, recommends that you reach out to a potential client three times.  That’s a great rule of thumb.  With smart phones and bulging email inboxes, the world is a giant distraction.  It takes patience and persistence to get through the clutter.  Assume that they want to get back to you, they are just overwhelmed.  There is always a plausible alternative or explanation.
  • What opportunity is available.  When I realized I missed my connection and had four hours to kill, I decided that I could listen to my book on Audible and walk 10,000 steps.  I’m not sure there weren’t a few folks who saw me walking by them 15 times who didn’t think I might be lost or a lunatic but here was an opportunity to get a few hours of my book done and get in 10,000 steps.  The opportunity in Hartford was seeing some thirty Hartford firefighters.  These guys were there to potentially save my life.  What bravery.  They do this every day.  Run in while we run out.  I don’t have the opportunity to see that every day.  The opportunity in the Berkshires without wifi?  Isn’t it obvious.  20 hours without social media and email and phone.  Priceless.  All I need is a good friend and a dog and the opportunities are endless.

I’ve always had my father as an example of patience.  I have always admired his unflappability.  Whether it was a flat tire or a teenager changing their mind with Friday night plans, “Daddy, can you drive me and my friends to bowling instead of playing Monopoly at home?”  I try and tap into his patience when I face my Plan B. Tools help.

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.

Finding Patience

I have been learning how to unearth my patience for a long time. I’ll admit that I figured since it was not naturally occurring within me, that there was no hope. I am always going to be staring at a clock, willing it to stop, while I am late for an appointment and stuck in traffic. How did patience skip me? How did I not learn this? My dad is the most patient man I know. I mean, he taught eighth grade History for over 30 years. He even watched my basement play productions and paid the 25-cent admission fee. He taught kids how to sail at camp; no easy feat. This is a man of infinite patience. How could this possibly skip a generation?

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It turns out that patience is a skill. It’s possible to learn it. Whoa. No more blaming my impatience on my upbringing or DNA. It’s like finding out about the growth mindset as coined by Carol Dweck. It is possible to improve. I can learn this just like I can learn Spanish, crochet, or playing the guitar. I can learn how to employ patience. And so can you.

Here are some ways to find patience:

Acknowledge the need

Not all people move at your pace. Not everyone has the same schedule as you (I get up at 4:30 AM sometimes). Not everyone inhales a plate of food in 5 minutes. Realizing that everyone comes to situations from different places and mindsets is important to acknowledge. Maybe I need to just slow down. Maybe I need to go grab a book or magazine and relax. Everyone is on a different path and they are all engaging in life at a different pace. Realizing this can help you embrace the need for patience.

Gentle forbearance

I think this is my father’s secret. As Michele McDonald wrote for Bicycle, “We may be on the verge of making a brilliant retort to a coworker, but we hold our tongue rather than say something hurtful. Even though our impatience is triggered, we can tap into the deeper reservoir of our motivation not to do harm.” It’s all about getting back into the moment and realizing that we don’t want to prod someone else with our impatience. I can remember my restaurant days when a customer was obviously in a bad mood, I would be overly nice. Kill them with kindness nice. Sometimes doing the opposite of what I want to do is the best antidote. Embrace gentle forbearance.

Endurance of hardship

Again, from McDonald: “Patience isn’t passive; it’s motivated by an acceptance of and compassion for suffering rather a desire to eradicate it. When we feel impatient with our relationships, our work, or our spiritual practice, we need to realize that we are resisting how things are. A sense of humor and curiosity about our lives can also help us confront impatience.” Compare this to curiosity being the cure for fear. Curiosity can be the cure for impatience as well. So if I can add a little wonder to my impatience, I can change it up. Hmmm. I wonder why I am so impatient with the installation of my dishwasher. Is this really about the need for control rather than clean dishes? Do I really feel like Lowe’s has intentionally delayed the install or is it just happenstance? The important thing is that I have the choice to endure with bliss or with anger. Choose your response wisely.

Acceptance of truth

Accept what is the reality of the situation. You are late. Your son is late. The project is late. The flight is late. “Acceptance of the truth, means that we accept our experience as it is—with all its suffering—rather than how we want it to be. We recognize that because our experience is continually changing, we don’t need it to be different than it is.” As I sit here with the third delay of my new dishwasher to be installed, I am calm and accepting the reality of the situation. To some degree, it’s just fine. So I wash dishes for another week, or month, or year. Washing dishes is actually a Zen experience for me and it’s really not that bad. As my boyfriend Roy says, “This is a first world problem.” Acceptance helps end the suffering.

Bring it back to your body

So much of what helps you move forward when you are impatient is paying attention to your body. What are the signs that you are impatient? Is it the rapid heart rate? The tapping of the foot? The clenched fist or jaw? When you sense the warning signs, come back into your body and slow it down. Unless there is a Polar Bear chasing you, there is no need to elevate the stress in your body. Get out of your head and into you body. Relax. Feel into your toes. Get out of your head and slow down your adrenaline. Most of your perceived threat is in your head. Bring it back to your body.

Build your new skill one moment or situation at a time. Celebrate the small wins you can make over your response to stressful, impulsive situations. What do you need to have patience with?

Being Responsive to Change

I’ve been writing this blog for over seven years and I never know where I will find inspiration. It might be a trip to Paris with college friends, a statue of a dog in Wilmington, North Carolina, or a client mentioning a new idea like “wabi sabi”. This past week, I opened an Honest Tea bottle and inside the cap, there was this quote from Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” Well isn’t that thought-provoking?

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I look back at the last two years since Hurricane Matthew, and I have been through radical change: from transforming my flooded home, surviving divorce, sobering up, and adopting a plant-based eating lifestyle. That is a lot of change. That is also a lot of responding to change. And I feel like the species of “Cathy” is on a completely different trajectory than I ever would have imagined three years ago.

Here are my takeaways on being responsive to change:

Appearances are deceiving.

I think of the fable of the frog being boiled alive because it didn’t detect the water temperature slowly changing. The water looked the same but the temperature was rising. It’s that way in relationships. The slow changes in a relationship can be imperceptible. The rules of the relationship have slowly morphed overtime and suddenly you don’t recognize yourself or your partner anymore. Right after the water receded from the flood, we stayed in the house for about three weeks. There was no HVAC, but because the weather was beautiful outside (low humidity and mid-70’s – beautiful for Eastern North Carolina), I had deceived myself into believing that we would not have to move out. The house looks fine, the relationship seems “normal”, and the water doesn’t seem that warm. Take a look below the surface and see what’s really going on. Things may have radically changed and you forgot to notice. Can you really live in a house without HVAC? Can you be in a relationship where you are no longer valued? Can you stay in the water when it’s starting to heat up? Don’t be deceived by appearances.

Patience is the key.

As Abigail Brenner wrote for Psychology Today, “Don’t be impulsive or try to rush the results. Patience will help you arrive at the best possible place you need to be.” There was the lost cabinet that was the linchpin to moving back into the house. It was at least a month to two months longer than expected. There were the slippery slopes of the mountains of bureaucracy associated with the insurance company, mortgage company, FEMA, and contractors. Patience, not my strong suit, was critical. It’s the same with the legal process of divorce. I wanted to just get it all wrapped up neatly in a package and move on. Nope. There is bureaucracy associated with that. I remember thinking over and over and over again, You can’t push a rope. This too shall pass. It’s difficult for someone as impulsive as myself, but the old Alcoholics Anonymous saying of “one day at a time” has incredible value. Relax when you are blindsided by change; lean into it.

Feel the feels.

Pain is difficult. It’s easy to take shortcuts to get around the pain. Eating a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, an Amazon Prime shopping binge or polishing off a bottle of Chardonnay. Numbing out of the experience. As the old Children’s song “Going on a Bear Hunt” says, “Can’t go over it, Can’t go under it, Can’t go around it, Got to go through it!” The way to go through is to feel the pain. Feel the feelings. Grief feels like this: tight stomach and clenched teeth. Anger feels like this: tight shoulders and fists. Then sit and feel the feels. Label it and feel it. Stuffing, numbing and ignoring aren’t helping you. It makes the change that much harder because you are trying to go around and not through. I know it can seem daunting. I remember thinking I would never get over the end of my marriage. I thought I would grieve every day. And I did for a while. But I think allowing grieving every day really helped me move on. Feel the pain of letting go of the past. Be with it.

One small step.

In my booklet 102 Itzy Bitzy Habits, I espouse the wisdom in making one or two small adjustments. I think we have all tried to take on the exercise regime, often over do it the first time out, and give up. Or we try the low carb diet and dump all the pasta, cookies and bread out of the pantry only to head to the drive thru the next day. Change is much more palatable with small steps. When I started to remove dairy from my diet, I started with breakfast. What could I eat for breakfast that didn’t have eggs or dairy? Oatmeal with blueberries. OK. One meal that is more plant based. Done. I still had cheese at lunch and dinner. I just removed it from breakfast. I avoid alcohol with one club soda and lime at a time. It’s just as easy to walk up to the bar at the reception and order a club soda with lime.

Give up on perfection with all this. Change isn’t easy. I facilitated a workshop this week and the food choices weren’t very plant based. I had some cheese. It’s OK. It’s good enough. It’s not all or nothing. There is 95%. It’s most important to focus on responding rather than reacting. Change will come. How will you respond?

Traveling DNA: Lessons I Learned From My Son

“Because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to

go but everywhere,keep rolling under the stars…” -Jack Kerouac

In a span of about a month, I traveled separately with my 88 year old father and then with my 18 year old son. Not surprisingly there were some vast differences along with some ironic similarities considering they are 70 years apart in age. Both trips were insightful, it really was a lesson in learning more about myself.

My son, Benson, sailing off the coast of Key West.
My son, Benson, sailing off the coast of Key West.

My son is in the last weeks of his Freshman year at the University of Miami. The timing of a weekend trip to Key West was not likely ideal considering he was supposed to be studying for finals, but his willingness to adapt his schedule to accompany his mother to the end of the Continental United States is admirable. Key West with your mother…when you are 18…that is one secure teenager.

So these are my lessons from this trip:

1. Patience. My Father might have patience, but mine was sorely lacking the morning I arrived to pick up my son to drive to Key West. I thought we would be leaving promptly for the 3 plus hour drive. He was at the track, running sprints. Two hours later we were finally on the road. I have to say I had to take a breath and say to myself, “Cathy, you will wait patiently for your Father to use the Men’s room but you can’t be patient with your own son?” Chill out and be patient.

2. Agenda. Let go of it. I had a plan to make it to a recommended lunch spot in Marathon (some 2 hours away) When we left 2 hours late and my son suggested Cracker Barrel, I needed to let go of my agenda. Again, I didn’t seem to care where I ate with my Father, why did it matter with my son? He was used to heading to bed at 3 AM (yes…or even later) but he hit the sack at 10 PM. He could have stayed up watching YouTube until 2 AM but he didn’t have an agenda to stick to. Give up your agenda.

3. Generous. My son is generous to a fault. So generous that, he once went to an ATM to give a homeless man twenty dollars. When his uncle gave him a twenty dollar bill at the ripe old age of 5, he took it to the Boys and Girls Club and bought every soda and snack in the vending machine and shared it with his compatriots. My son’s first thought when we arrived in Key West was what gifts he wanted to buy for his friends. So maybe his generosity isn’t a fault but something I need to embrace myself. Instead of looking at what coffee mug I want for myself, I need to take a lesson from his generosity to others. Be generous.

4. Flexible. My son is flexible to any change in course. We wanted to see the famous sunset from Mallory Square on the edge of Key West. We had an hour to kill and he was open to where we ate, what we ate and didn’t care how long a walk it was. If the roles were reversed, I would have had a checklist of “must haves” before leaving the island (i.e. Oysters, conch fritters, mojito…etc). If I told him we were going to the Waffle House, he would have been on board. Much like my father, my son can change course easily and be flexible.

5. Curiosity. While my son doesn’t have random conversations with anyone he meets (like my father), he has the same wanderlust. In fact this is definitely in the family DNA. Me -“Do you want to check out the southern most point in the US?” Him – “sure”. Me -“Do you want to take a sailboat ride?” Him – “sure”. Me – “Want to check out the oldest restaurant in the US?” Him -“OK”. When we were driving back to Miami, he turned to me and said “What is our next adventure?”. Be curious.

6. Co-pilot. My son is an excellent co-pilot. Whether taking pictures, cueing up music or finding change for the toll, he is at the ready. We both love to listen to podcasts like “The Moth“, “This American Life” and “A Prairie Home Companion”. He was the car DJ setting up the one’s he wanted me to hear even if he had already heard them. I actually look forward to long drives with him as my co-pilot, because I know we are going to listen to some interesting stuff.

7. Line. My son knows when to draw the line. A waiter had forgotten an appetizer we had ordered. My son spoke up. We got a free dessert. When he had to spend some time studying (did I mention this was just days before finals), he stayed behind to study. When we were headed back and were short on time, he found a lunch place close to campus. He knows when to cut loose and when to reign it in. He knows where to draw the line.

I’m glad I got to spend some quality time with my son. I know that times like these are few and far between as he continues on with his college studies and then on to a career. It was time well spent. It’s great when your children can teach you things about yourself. It makes me proud to be his mom.

Cutting Loose. Lessons From Traveling With My 88 Year Old Father.

My dad’s 87 year old brother passed away suddenly several weeks ago in Florida. My dad wanted to attend the funeral and asked me to assist him. It turned out to be quite the adventure and gave me the opportunity to see my dad in a different light. My parents have traveled the world but in the last 15 years have remained “set” in their day to day routines. In retirement “auto-pilot” of doctor’s appointments, “Civilization” (a computer game), Food Network, checking for the newspaper and mail their rigid schedule is capped with dinner at 4:30…yes, 4:30. In the span of about 24 hours, we had made the arrangements and were prepared to venture beyond the envelope of about a 15 mile radius of our hometown. Ready or not, here we come.

This is my Dad's Thai lunch....ice cream.
This is my Dad’s Thai lunch….ice cream.

The amazing thing is that the trip opened my eyes to my dad’s resilience, adaptability and patience. One would think that one so set in his ways would have a difficult time adapting to modern technology, broken routines and uncertainty. Nope. Not a problem. It made me realized that a guy who traveled to Korea, hitch hiked across the US in his twenties and canoed in the wilderness of Canada…can handle just about anything you throw at him. Just because you usually live in a well honed routine, doesn’t mean you can’t break loose and venture out.

So this is what I learned:

1. Open. You need to be open; whether it’s Thai food, switching seats on the airplane or waiting to find the bathroom. My dad had no pre-set notions and was open to any change in course. I don’t think my dad ever had Thai food before but when my cousin suggested we eat there as a group, he was all in. Some folks sitting in his row on the airplane asked to switch seats…gladly. If we needed to find the gate at the airport before finding the men’s room; no sweat. Be open.

2. Trust. My dad trusted me completely. This was really gratifying. He had unfaltering faith in all the arrangements. I told him to check his bag (although he asked if it was free) he was willing to follow my direction and understood the rationale when everyone else came on the plane lugging a slew of carry-ons. Hotel, rental car, flights, parking, directions…he never questioned a single decision. If you want to break loose, go with someone you trust implicitly.

3. Patience. Pack some patience. My dad has this in spades. Anyone who taught 8th grade history for 30 years, has to have it in their DNA. We had two delayed flights and weren’t sure we were going to make a connection on the way home. He wasn’t anxious for a second. He would just open up his magazine and keep reading. Did I mention he is 88? If you aren’t blessed with the patience gene, try a little meditation.

4. Flexible. Anytime you want to break out of your routines, you need to be flexible. When we were connecting flights in Atlanta, we needed to find some lunch. “What do you want Dad?” Whichever line is shorter. Pizza it is. At a Thai restaurant for lunch but all you really want is dessert…ice cream it is. Three hours to kill? Head to the hotel for a nap. On the way back to Raleigh, we needed lunch again. Chinese food by gate A1 before getting on the plane. Be flexible.

5. Curiosity. When you venture out, make sure you have some curiosity. My dad can talk to anyone…I mean anyone. I remember when we were kids, if my dad was missing in action, he probably met someone in the check-out line. Upon his return, he would regale us with how interesting so and so was. He knew everyone in his row on the plane by the time we landed. You cannot talkto just anyone unless you have curiosity. Pack some curiosity when you break loose.

6. Habits. No matter where you venture to, you need to maintain some habits. Brushing your teeth, showering, and coffee in the morning. My dad has been telling me for years that he does 30 sit-ups in the morning…every morning. Sure enough, there he was at 7 AM in the bed next to me doing his sit-ups. Even amongst all of the travel and mayhem of unscheduled time, he managed to take his daily medications. Habits keep us on track and give us some normalcy amidst the chaos.

7. Prudence. Anyone from the depression era has a healthy dose of prudence. My dad wanted to know if the coffee on the plane was free…and the cookies as well. Was the coffee in the hotel lobby free? Was the breakfast free? It pays to double check. We didn’t realize some of the roads in the Orlando area were toll roads, but my co-pilot was ready with quarters by the second toll booth. It always pays to have a little prudence.

The experience of traveling with my dad was enlightening. I really admire him for his ability to roll with the punches (or plane delays) and his openness to constant schedule changes. Spending those three days with him was priceless. I’m glad we got to cut loose together.

6 Steps to Slaying the Clutter Monster

One of the biggest attention suckers is clutter – Physical clutter.  I’m sorry, all you pack rats out there; it’s time to purge.  A post in the unclutterer states that “scientists find physical clutter negatively affects your ability to focus & process information.Basically, visual clutter grabs your attention so that you can’t focus on the process, decision or project at hand.  Might be time to clean up all those nick-knacks or piles of newspapers, huh?

I’m a chronic pillow straightener.  I can’t leave the house unless the pillows are in their place.  In fact, this causes both my dog and husband to deliberately knock pillows off the couch.  Because they know it will get under my skin.  I can hear my husband chuckling in the other room as I walk in and sigh from exasperation when I see the chaos.  Now I know why – they are messing with my visual cortex!  Lay off my visual cortex, will ya?  I want to get something done today.

Not my actual living room.
Not my actual living room.

I bet you know someone in your office that is a clutter monster.   You know, someone whose desk looks similar to Andy Rooney when he was on 60 minutes.  No wonder his pieces were only 5 minutes each week, his visual cortex was holding him hostage.  I’ve walked into a colleague’s office and, often wondered, “How do they get anything done in here?”  They don’t.  They are being held hostage by their clutter monster.

So how do you slay the clutter monster? Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Commit.  I know we’ve all watched at least one episode of “Hoarders”.  These poor people basically bury themselves in objects.  Even with therapy, most of them can’t commit to keeping clutter at bay.  You’re going to need to commit or there is no point in entering the ring to fight the monster.  Your best work, project or masterpiece is under that load of visual clutter and you are going to need to make up your mind that it needs to surface and the clutter has got to go.

2. Plan.  It can be overwhelming to decide to declutter your entire office or home in one day.  Make a plan and break it up into parts that can be accomplished in 15 or 30 minute chunks.  Such as: top two book shelves, bottom two book shelves, right bathroom cabinet, left bathroom cabinet, etc.  Then schedule it on your calendar.  Maybe every Saturday morning you work for 30 minutes or Mondays and Wednesdays at 5 PM for 15 minutes.  Plan it out.  It will help eliminate the overwhelming need to run out of the house screaming as well as procrastination.

3. Prepare.  You might want to agree to some rules  such as, if I haven’t worn it in the last year, two years, decade (scratch that…if you haven’t worn it in a decade, it’s out of style) then out it goes.  If your last paramour gave it to you, probably bad mojo;  let it go.  That’s a whole other kind of mind clutter.  Is it worth donating?  Is it trash? Is it worth saving?  I went through cookbooks not that long ago and those that were of sentimental value are in a box in the attic, otherwise, I’m either using them or they were donated.

4. Dig in.  Grab two garbage bags and get started.  How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  It’s either a donation or trash.  If that blouse has a stain on it that you couldn’t get out – neither can Goodwill.  It’s trash.  If you wore those pants thirty pounds ago – someone at Goodwill can wear it now.  It’s a donation.  If you aren’t sure if you want to keep it, put it somewhere that would take some effort to get to.  A box under the bed, the basement, the attic, or your Mom’s house and give it three months.  If you haven’t thought about it, time to purge.

5. Containers.  You’re going to feel tempted to run out and go crazy at the Container Store before Step #1.  Don’t.  You’ve got to start untangling first before you can start organizing.  You won’t know what you need until you’ve started digging in.  Purchasing 50 – 20 gallon fluorescent pink tubs might seem like the right fix but once you’ve unpacked all your kitchenware, you figure out that the cupboard will work just fine.  Do you really need a coffee mug from your old bank in California?  Sometimes an old basket will find a new purpose.  And sometimes, one 20 gallon fluorescent pink tub will work just fine.

6. Rinse and Repeat.  Clutter monsters seem to grow back like kudzu along southern freeways.  Set up a reminder to go back through your office in six months.  On the second pass, you might finally get rid of that conference binder from 6 years ago on employment law. Might be time to refresh the pictures on the credenza (your son gave up soccer 5 years ago).  You still haven’t found a pair of shoes to wear with that dress – time for it to go.  As Christine Kane says “If it’s not an Absolute Yes, it’s a No.  You’ll need to say No as you move forward to continue to keep the monster under control.

If you buy a new dress, pair of shoes, coffee mug or stapler, swap it in kind with an old dress, pair of shoes, coffee mug or stapler.  Starve your monster, your visual cortex will appreciate it.

What would you do?

7 Steps to Letting Go. Lessons From Having Surgery.

 Nothing to do. No where to go. Just be here now” – Stephen Cope

I had surgery on December 19th.  I did not anticipate the struggle that would ensue.  It turns out that I have a really hard time letting go.  I am an obsessive pillow straightener (and I have a dog who loves to push them off every chair), I cannot have dirty dishes in the sink and I have been making dinner for my family since…well…I gave birth to my first child some 20 plus years ago.  I am compelled to “be doing”.   So imagine my surprise, when being released from the hospital, that the instructions from the doctor were, no housework for 4 weeks.  I smirked.  Sure.  I can do that.  Piece of cake.  Eat bon bons and sit on the coach for 4 weeks.  This is my dream.  I’ve been waiting 20 years for this.letting-go-300x2561

It has not been easy.  In fact, I’ve over done…several times.  I know that I have over done because I start to get dizzy, I feel weak, my incisions start to ache.  So why?  This is the dream of a lifetime to “let go”;let my children and husband wait on me.  But flicking the switch to be the pampered is not easy.  I hate to ask for another glass of water or for my husband to put my socks on.  Like Sampson cutting his hair, I have had to let go of my strength. But, the magical thing is, that others have shined beyond my imagination.

So here are the lessons I’ve learned from letting go:

1. Agenda.  I’ve had to let go of my agenda.  I am now at the whim of everyone else’s schedule.  If I wake up at 5 AM, well, so be it.  I am stuck.  If there is no one in the house awake at that hour, perhaps I need to roll over (if possible) and get another hour or two of sleep.  Letting go means not having an agenda.

2. Hands off.  So I guess I am more of a control freak than I realized.  If my son is making dinner, I need him to fail or succeed on his own.  I cannot step in and take over;because I physically can’t.  I must say that some of the food that has been coming out my kitchen has been fabulous.  Keeping my hands off has let my family’s culinary talents shine!

3. Small steps.  I’ve learned that the smallest steps, are now, some of the greatest rewards.  My daughter was in the hospital room the morning after the surgery.  Walking to the bathroom was an enormous, if not insurmountable, task.  She cheered me on.  Unabashedly, literally, cheered me on.  “You can do it, Mommy”.  Her enthusiasm was infectious.  The small steps count.

4. Patience.  I am so patient with others but fail miserably with myself.  I want to be doing, but after testing my limits by actually going to the grocery store 10 days after surgery (note to self, REALLY bad idea) I have learned that I need to be patient with my recovery.  I am not the only one who can push a cart through a store and get out a debit card.  Really.  I am not the only one in a household of six who can do this.    And, there is a point, in the not so distant future, where I will have the privilege (sarcasm) of grocery shopping again.  Patience.

5. Accept.  I learned to be accepting of other’s help.  I’m not sure why this is so hard.  I am surrounded by a loving household.  Everyone has made me breakfast or lunch.  Every over easy egg has been different (some seasoned, some not, some stiff, some runny) but they have all been prepared with love.  I just needed to accept it.  With love.

6. Perfection.  I need to give up on the constant striving for perfection.  So what if the dog barks to get in for 10 minutes because I’m the only one hearing her.  So what if there are crumbs on the table from last night’s dinner.  Who cares if you haven’t worked on your book for the last two weeks.  I live with imperfection, no harm done. No harm, no foul.

7. Vulnerable.  I’m learning that being vulnerable can enhance my relationships.  My husband has had to do countless personal things for me, including drying me off from a shower and helping me dress.  My daughter helped me in those first few trips to the bathroom in the hospital.  These are the things I have been doing for myself since I was a toddler.  I’ve learned to be vulnerable and found deeper connections with my family.  They are there for me.  No matter what.  And that is wondrous.

So many folks have risen to the occasion to help me in my recuperation.  Letting go has been difficult but the rewards have been incalculable.  There are so many people in my life that were there for me, I just needed to let go to finally discover it.

Interesting but Not Useful

I’m not sure this is a tenet of the NeuroLeadership Group or if master facilitator Paul McGinniss coined this phrase.  Heck, it may have been Albert Einstein who said it first.  Regardless, it’s a great concept.  I was working with my coach, Steven Starkey, this week and he corrected himself by saying “interesting but not useful”. It caught me off-guard.  Wow do I spend a lot of time on interesting but not useful.  It really cuts out the fluff and drama in daily life if you focus on the useful. interesting but not useful

Imagine focusing on what is useful in your daily conversations.  You know – if you stayed on track and didn’t go meandering into all the juicy details so you could raise your coworker’s eyebrows and if you stayed on message instead of whispering all the sensationalized (perhaps exaggerated) tidbits.  We wouldn’t need a water cooler anymore.  Going to work could be less Soap Opera and more DIY. What is the use in gossip if we are staying focused on solutions? Seems daunting, doesn’t it?

Here are some tips on focusing on the useful and steering clear of the interesting:

1. Solutions. Keep focused on solutions.  As espoused by the NeuroLeadership Group, staying solution-focused keeps the conversation out of the drama and details and moving forward. It’s good for your limbic system.  If you can keep it from lighting up, you are going to move mountains.  Fear shuts people down.  Reward or positive energy keeps people motivated.  Keep it solution based.

2. Listen. William Shakespeare said “Listen to many, speak to a few”.   Being present and listening will bring you a wealth of information.  Granted, there will be a lot of drama and details in that information.  But it will help you cull through to find the useful.  When you do the lion’s share of the speaking, it’s easy to go off track into the interesting and not useful.  Practice listening.

3. Silence. Be comfortable with silence.  I had a coaching client yesterday who really needed to digest and think.  I sat there in silence.  Listening to the clock tick.  Counting to 20 in my head.  Biting my tongue.  He had a breakthrough.  If I had interrupted to “fill the silence”, he wouldn’t have had the breakthrough to find the useful.  Accept and embrace silence.

4. Generous.  Be generous with your attention.  It’s always about them.  Them as in, your boss, your assistant, your coworker, your spouse, your child, your client.  Focus on what is useful for them.  The greatest gift you can give is your attention.  Give your attention generously.

5. No judgment.  Unless you are in court, and behind the bench, don’t judge.  Take some time today to listen to how often you hear judgmental statements.  “Can you believe?”, “I don’t understand why?”, “Did you hear…”.  Or worse yet when people put themselves down or limit themselves.  “I’m horrible at this”, “I’ll never be able to…”, “I can’t…”  Judgment is negativity in disguise.  Optimism is the road to the useful.

6. Bless his heart.  When you hear this in the Southern United States, run.  Whatever is coming next is not going to be positive.  This is the southern, gentile way of saying, “I’m about to run the bus over someone.” This makes whoever is saying it feel superior to whoever they are blessing.  It’s apologizing before you put someone down.  Stand clear.

I’m not suggesting that it’s not fun to do interesting but not useful things.  I was an avid Sudoku player for a while and I am an Anthony Bourdain addict, although I doubt I’ll be eating at a roadside stand in Myanmar anytime soon.  The point is that if you want to get something done and have more productive conversations, focus on the useful instead of the interesting.

Do You Need to be Right?

In the workplace, in sports and in relationships there is a high priority placed on who is right. I had the great pleasure of seeing Edward G. Hochuli speak last year at a conference.  He is a NFL referee and has been for some 20 plus years.  He studies the rules of the game every day…all year.   Yes; every day. This is a guy who has to get it right or he’ll receive thousands of emails, bad press and public ridicule.  How about you? Edward Houchali

I think this illustrates the importance that is placed on rules and, in turn, who is right.  The problem is this can be counterproductive in the workplace.  Having the last word and being right has the potential to be really damaging to the relationships around you.  Even Dr. Phil, whether you like him or not, refers to Right-fighters.  It’s the perfect term for those who are mono-focused on winning their point at all costs.

Think about it for a moment.  Who was the last know it all that you enjoyed being around, or collaborating with, or, worst of all, reporting to.  I’d like to suggest that maybe we should try to just let that ego attachment go.  This can be quite a challenge especially for any of us baby boomers out there who had to line up for recess, cross the street at the cross walk and never raised their hand in class unless they were positive they had the right answer. 

I think that Dale Carnegie got it right when, in his principles for “Win People to Your Way of Thinking”, he said “Show respect for the other person’s opinions.  Never say, “You’re wrong.” 

So you’re probably wondering how to you bite your tongue when our culture and workplace have placed such a high priority on being right

Here are 5 ways to find peace and do that:

1. Listen.  Figure out if there is something you can find agreement on.  You might disagree with the direction of the project at hand but you might be able to agree that you’ve got the right team assembled and that you will not all agree but you all need to listen and respect others opinions.  There must be that acknowledgement that you’re all trying to get to completion and benefit from the process.  Listen for agreement.

2. Reflect.  Reflect on the impact.  How important is it to put someone in their place?  What will you gain from it in the end?  What will this do to the value of your “stock”?  In, other words, who else is going to want to work with you or value your opinion if you are constantly pointing out that you are right….and therefore, everyone else, is wrong.  Reflect before you start pointing your finger.

3. Patience.  Is this the time and place to “put this person in their place”? If this is your direct report, a peer or, worse yet, your boss…think long and hard about how this might damage your relationship.  At least find a more opportune time (i.e. less embarrassing) to sit down and listen to their reasoning and talk it out so that you come to a common understanding.  Swallow your pride and be patient.

4. Check in.  What is your own ego saying to you?  Are you really that dependent on being right to feel good…to have self-respect?  Is this the measure of your self-worth?  Do you really want to be known as that Right Person at the expense of all else? Check in to keep your ego at bay.

5. Silence.  It’s golden.  In this world of bombarding news, marketing and media; sometimes silence is the most powerful message you can have and share with others.  Just keep your mouth shut and embrace silence.

Several of my coaching clients keep track of when they try to make a personal change.  They will record every time they change their perspective on a situation and the way they changed their reaction.  See if you can give up on the almighty rightness and find peace.

It’s good to ask yourself on a fairly regular basis – When was the last time you “fell on the sword” and let someone else be right? Leave a comment below so we can all learn.