SPEND A few hours with children, and you’ll learn how to be a Grown Up
For all the training, education and professional development that we adults engage in, sometimes we forget the most essential lessons. I don’t have the privilege often enough of being in the company of kids. When I am, I am reminded of how difficult I make life for myself. Here is what I learned from hanging out with some spunky pre-schoolers.
1. Stop not being in the moment.
I took a walk around the block with one of our little sweethearts. Moment by moment, his eyes and mind would capture interesting bumps in the sidewalk, a bumble bee hanging out with the begonias, a mysterious lock thrown into the bushes, and a hidden brick pathway. His delight and joy forced me to stop my own mind from racing into the future, worrying about problems that couldn’t be solved by thinking, creating mental to-do lists, manufacturing anxiety. This is what I learned: I spend too much time in unproductive worry. By letting go of that, I make room for contentment –which promotes a feeling of well being, which in turn is productive. A deeply philosophical education as taught by a 3 year old. So, take a moment, breathe in. What do you notice right here, right now?
2. Everyone just wants to be heard and understood.
Our little guy would get very sad and cry when his Dad would leave for work in the morning. Because he didn’t have the language for his feelings, emotion came out through tears. His tears said what he had no words for — my world is unpredictable and I’m having trouble dealing with it. I have those moments too, do you? When is the last time you encountered a cranky co-worker, cashier, or family member or random person in traffic and wondered, “What is up with her today!” or “Gosh he is such a jerk!” If you really stop to think about it, you have no idea what led to that outburst. We’re all human, we’ve all gone through difficult break ups, job loss, sickness — the world is an unpredictable, scary place. Bottom line: Learning the language to communicate feelings is an important skill. Acknowledging those emotions makes us feel better, and helps us handle anything that comes our way. We’re all connected, every human deserving of compassion.
3. Watch out for dog poop!
Little kids have dog poop radar. Unfortunately, I forget to look out. I was jogging along in the grass while our little beauty rode her bike. By the time we got back to the house and kicked our shoes off, there was a powerful doggie odor coming from me, and the kids were the first to notice. I hadn’t been paying attention to where I was going and I’d walked right into it! I started to get irritated with the irresponsible pet owners in the neighborhood. But the kids started laughing, then showed me where the hose was, and laughed some more. Pretty soon I saw the joke too.
My takeaway: Walking down the path of life, you’re going to step in a lot of doo doo. But don’t fret, just clean it up, and laugh it off.
4. Sometimes you need to let go of ‘THE PLAN’.
I’m a good one for coming up with ‘projects’, then getting frustrated when they don’t go according to prescription. Being with children is the best antidote to rigid thinking. Just try to plan out exactly how things should go with young ones. We were making a birthday cake in the kitchen, each kid had a job. One would pour the milk in. One would wash the strawberries. I knew just how to do it. But pretty soon, the kids were getting ‘creative’ and next were eating strawberries behind my back. My first thought was ‘This cake is never going to get made!’ that thought was quickly followed by “We are having fun in the kitchen, making memories”.
I’ve had the same experience at large events with adults. I create an agenda, I know how everything should go, what experience everyone should have. And then, people don’t behave according to my plan. I get upset and defeated. Everyone ends up cranky, complaining or quitting. This is what I have learned: When I lay out all the materials, design an open/safe/fun environment, empower all participants, AND THEN LET GO, magic can happen. People need to be free to have their own experience.
Give yourself permission to be a kid sometimes. Full of wonder, full of surprises, full of laughter, full of curiosity. And magic can happen.
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“The conscious mind determines the actions, the unconscious mind determines the reactions; and the reactions are just as important as the actions.” ~E. Stanley Jones
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Re-Framing the Picture: Spring Back to Optimism
The sun was gloriously spilling through my kitchen window this week, with the Vernal Equinox, the angle of light announced that winter was passing and spring was slipping in. I was sipping my morning coffee, drinking in the sunshine. Sitting with this glow, my eyes began to see all the new dirt that had accumulated. The blizzards left grit on the windows.The cobwebs I hadn’t been able to see in the gloom of winter. My good mood began to fade, and within seconds I had shifted my viewpoint from the hope of spring to ‘when am I going to find time to clean?’ From drinking in the sunshine to slipping down the muddy slope of anxiety and ill-humor. Yes, I am a human being, and that’s what I do. How about you?
This is a simple example, but it has larger implications. Because of this: It is what is at work underneath the slipping down (that’s how I envision it) that is important to reflect on. What are the beliefs you have hidden there (not immediately obvious to you)? Those hidden beliefs are what are at work, deflating your positive desires …….
A thought might come up in your mind, “I want to take that class that sounds so interesting.” Then, the next thought, “But I can’t, the kids need me to make dinner for them.” bursting the hope. ‘What’s underneath that? “No one else can do it, I’m the only one. I come last.”
“It’s time I took that trip to Hawaii I’ve always wanted to take.” Next thought, “But I can’t, Mom’s going through some stuff, and may need care soon, I can’t leave now.” What’s underneath that? “I won’t be a responsible daughter if I take care of myself.” You get the picture. A slipping down, from hope to gloom in a swift moment.
Here is what you can do instead.
1. Pay attention — be aware of your thinking.
2. Ask yourself, ‘Is this really true?”
3. Dig deeper — what are my beliefs below the surface?
4. Give yourself permission to return to the positive — to honor your desires.
5. Know you are human, and give yourself credit.
Practice the process. And let love and joy slide in.
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How do you encourage an open and productive workplace, one where everyone can do their best work? How do you do that when you’re not in charge? How do you begin a conversation with your boss, when you’re feeling angry? Do you put up with ‘stuff’ at work, but you’re finding it has a big cost?
You can initiate change.
For example, your boss puts you on a committee without asking you first, and you’re already overwhelmed with a mountain of work. Or your boss is rude and verbally abusive — and feels free to express this side at will. You decide that you can no longer tolerate it. But what should you do?
Why is it hard for people to respond in a pro-active way? The authors of “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” suggest that when faced with difficult situations where we feel we have no power, we begin operating in the ‘fight or flight’ part of our brain, the part we call on when we are in stress or our emotions are triggered. Which do you typically choose: ‘flight’, which looks like “I’ll suck it up because I can’t rock the boat” or “Fight”, and your days will be numbered at work. Either way sets an unhealthy precedent.
There is an alternative.
Take positive action. Make a decision to talk with your boss. In preparation for this conversation, ask yourself these questions (Most people find it helpful to write out these thoughts)
What’s the issue?
Where are my choices?
What does my boss care about?
What do I care about?
Where is our common ground
What is my Plan B
When you are ready to speak to your supervisor, use the sandwich approach. State the issue, quote your common work interest, ask for what you want. If you don’t get what you want, follow through on your Plan B. It might look like this:
(For the scenario, your boss feels free to vent)
“John, when you raise your voice with me, it makes me feel terrible and hurts my productivity. I know that your job is difficult, and that you want me to do a great job. Our shared goal is for our department to shine! It would help me to do that great job, if you stated what you want from me when you are not upset.”
If you don’t get results from this conversation, employ your Plan B choice. Either way, You’ve gotten good information. And in the end, you will have empowered yourself to make your next move.
Do you think this approach would work with personal relationships too? I’d love to hear your view!
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There was a note of panic in her voice in the telephone message. As she laid out the problems she was facing, I heard “but what if this happens, and what if……” Two days in a row, I saw faces full of anxiety, heard words that lacked energy, people who appeared vulnerable and without power. Stories of sleepless nights, brought on by impossible expectations or the specter of trouble ahead.
I heard a lot of ‘overwhelm’ stories this week after my last newsletter article (“It’s Snowing Overwhelm”) This is how it went………Small anxieties became large worries that became distress that spiraled into sleepless nights. Trouble fermented like a large pot of ugly stew.
When you were a kid and you went to the county fair, were you drawn to the cotton candy booth? The paper cone swirls around the vat, a few strands wind on, pink fluff begins to collect and by some magical force it creates a big ball of fleecy sweet. Worry and overwhelm spin out like that. Stress multiplies and snowballs. Only it’s not sweet. It’s toxic.
It’s time to be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. If you begin to feel a sense of panic, stop, breathe, and make a plan. Here is the framework:
Analyze and ask yourself —
What is it I need to know?
What is the one essential thing that needs to be done first?
What is an action I can take that would help?