Monday, December 29, 2014

What is the truth?

This morning I was feeling sluggish.  Heavy.  I've eaten way more bread, pasta, cookies, and cakes in the last two weeks than anyone deserves.

When I'm feeling this way I resist stepping on the scale.  My commitment is to live at 190 +/- five pounds.  The last time I checked two weeks ago it was an all-time high of 199.  I don't ever want to see 200 so I simply stopped checking.

But this morning, something compelled me to step on to the scale and get ready for the inner barrage of criticism and justification.  I didn't want to do it, but I knew I needed to.  I needed to know that I had tipped 200.  I needed to see the results of all those biscote.  I needed to step on to the whipping post for some self-flagellation.  Bad Vince.

So I stepped on.  Wait.  192?  Can't be.  Step off.  Step back on.  192.  Huh.

So, the truth is, I feel sluggish, heavy, and simply bad for the way I have eaten my way through the last two weeks.  But, the data shows that I am seven pounds lighter.  What's is the truth?

Is this a trick question?

No.  Because the truth is... I felt sluggish, heavy and bad.  That's the truth.  The FACT that I weigh seven pounds less than two weeks ago is really un-important.  My emotional experience is my truth. 

Now, the truth is also that when the scale said 192, my mood shifted.  I smiled.  I felt less sluggish. 

What I am learning is that much of what we call "truth" are really "beliefs."  Things we believe to be true.  I was believing that I was heavier and my emotions followed with feelings of guilt and slothfulness.  What changed?

Is there a nugget here?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Letting Go

"I share my thoughts so that they can benefit from my experience," he said.

"Did they ask for your thoughts?"

"Well no, but people don't always know what to ask for.  They need help."

"Okay.  Let's look at it from their side.  How might your thoughts influence their choice, their decision?"

"Well, I want my thoughts to influence them!"

"Right.  So, who is taking responsibility for whose life in this."

"You frustrate me, Vince."

"I know.  Do you want to keep going even while frustrated?"

"Of course."

"Okay.  So, when I share what I think, or even ask a clarifying question, I am almost always at some level trying to influence behavior. What if I let go of my need to influence, and instead allowed the other person to pursue their own options, their own choice?"

"Well, they might screw up."

"Indeed.  There is that risk.  What else might happen?"

"They might succeed.  I hate you, Vince."

"I know.  It sounds like you just connected a dot.  When we allow others to make their own choices, then their wins are their wins.  They are owning their own life.  They are becoming leaders.  They are successful because of their own effort and resolve."

"So, I just have to stay quiet?

"Not necessarily.  But perhaps pause first.  Allow them to develop their own options.  Ask some good questions.  Be non-judgmental and non-defensive.  Some people resonate with the idea of "accompanying" someone on their journey.  Because, at the end of the day, it is their journey."

And, on it goes.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What's your Vision?

I'm curious about the difference between people who have a big vision for their life or their business  and those who have a very small vision.  Some people just think in the 1's and 2's while others think of the 100's and 1000's.  What's the root?

After listening to hundreds of personal and organizational stories over the years, I have begun to form a hypothesis that goes like this:
"The only difference between people who achieve big or small visions is that those who achieve bigger visions believe they are worthy of achieving bigger visions."
It all seems to come down to belief. 

Someone was commenting the other day that a big CEO was hired because he had "an awesome rolodex", meaning he had all kinds of juicy connections that the hiring Board thought would be advantageous.  After ten years though, the CEO's alleged file of connections had not produced any fruit.  What happened?

What I learned was that the CEO came in and found an organization that didn't believe it was worthy of a big vision.  All they wanted was to protect their historical significance.  So, there was no entry point for his "rolodex" to connect.  People with big vision don't tend to connect with people with small vision.

My desire is to have a vision for my life that aligns with the gifts, capacity, and experiences that I have been afforded...  To leave behind a world that, like a campsite, is cleaner then I found it… a world of people living on purpose and using their gifts and talents for the greater good… a world connected by a common concern for the future and the belief that all people are resourceful and whole with the capacity to love and be loved.

I know how easy it is to slip into complacency and comfort.  My desire then is to stay on my edge, to stay in what makes life challenging and sometimes uncomfortable, to continue the pursuit of the uncertain outcome. 

What about you?



Thursday, October 9, 2014

What's Next?

Three young adult leaders of the Syrian Armenian YMCA in Yerevan were at a forum last week and we were able to meet up for a few minutes.  Amidst all of their current challenges and opportunities they have found the YMCA to be the place for their self-expression and contribution.  The three leaders were from three different political parties in Syria and would never have associated had it not been for their displacement and unified desire to support their Syrian community.  What they discovered was they had more to bring them together than to keep them apart.  While facing significant challenges in their current situation, we talked and began to break things down.  We addressed some fears.  We talked about what they were wanting.  As we progressed, I could sense a calming and a resolve to action. 
It occurs to me that this is how change comes about.  When challenged, we can hunker down and protect ourselves and likely not change or grow as we focus on simply surviving.  Another way is to face the challenge, honor our fears, and dig into our deeper desires.  From there, a clarity emerges that ultimately drives and motivates our forward action.
So, it's not so much a single question as it is following a path of exploration and inquiry.  What's going on?  What are you wanting?  What's blocking you?  How are your fears playing in the situation?  What is it you really want?  What might you do to get that?  What's next?
I love what I get to do.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

What is Truth?

"I feel sad."
 "I don't believe you."
 "Quit accusing me!"
 "I'm not accusing you.  I'm just not believing you."
 "Well, when I think about what happened, I feel sad."
 "And, I still don't believe you."
 "Well, to heck with you.  Now I'm mad."  (This is the PG version).
What's going on here?  Emotions and beliefs are really inarguable.  You can't say someone doesn't feel some way, and you can't tell someone they don't believe what they believe.  These are called "inarguable truths".  Both sides of this conversation are inarguable.  The feeling of sadness on the one side and the "not believing you" on the other are both truth.

Perhaps then, a more integrated way for the conversation to go would have been:
"I feel sad."
"I don't believe you." 
"I get it.  You don't believe me.  And, I feel sad.  Both are true."
"Yes, they are."

End of story.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Am I doing what I want to be doing?

Now, this is a loaded question.

Some would say that we only do what we want to do.  They would say we create our reality and so everything we do aligns with the reality we are creating.  And, all of our complaints and protestations aside, what we are doing is exactly what we want to be doing. 

Which begs the question, "How does it serve me to do what I do?"  At first, this is hard to get my head around.  "Serve me"?  That's what waiters do.  So, another way to ask the question might be, "How does doing this thing that I complain about help me avoid confronting or facing some part of myself that I might find bothersome, vulnerable, or distasteful?"  Ouch!

It's so much easier to just blame and complain.  To keep doing whatever it is I'm doing and play the victim, villain, or the hero and keep the racket going.  There's a million reasons why doing something else won't work, so why even try?  Or, if I don't do it no one else will so I just keep on keeping on.  It's my burden to carry.  Or, I'll show all of you how great I am by doing this thing that will prove to you how great I am!

Any way you slice it, every step I take is a choice.  No matter how I got here, no matter how messed up my world has been, the next step is a choice.  No doubt I can be bound to old beliefs and old stories and justify my circumstances, but I can also embrace my deeper desires and begin to take steps toward that desire.  But that means I have to get clear on my desire.  What it is I want.  And, that's when the work starts.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's Annual Review Time

When Rocky and I met five years ago we knew that our connection was a "right place at the right time" sort of thing.  I had just gotten back from a trip to Australia and was ready to consider a relationship after five years alone but had no plan, and Rocky had given up looking.  That's when he almost ran in to me as I crossed the street.

Roll the tape forward, and with all this relationship equality stuff aside, living with a middle-aged guy isn't exactly a walk in the park.  We can be grumpy, set in our ways, are happy until we're not, and generally expect the world to revolve around whatever it is we're focused on at the moment.  Either one of us can flip from "my way or the highway" to "just take care of me" in a nano-second.  We can cuss each other out and throw punches one minute and then melt in the next.  There's a part of me that believes that just as teens should be shipped off for the middle-school years, middle-aged men should be locked away for the five-ten years it takes us to come through the realization that the sun doesn't rise just for us, that no one cares nearly as much about our faults as we do, and we're probably not going to be President of the United States so get over it.

This may sound like a rant about Rocky, but it's not.  I'm looking in the mirror at the moment.  In fact, I know that the stuff about him that bugs me most is all stuff that I see in myself when I de-fog the mirror and look carefully.

A lot of beliefs have been challenged these past few years.  A big one that was honed over a lifetime and very hard for me to let go of was: "Relationships are hard, contentious, and meant to be a struggle."  Bologna.  Relationship is just as hard as I make it.  When I choose to be grounded and connected, relationship is a breeze.  Because, whatever is going on in him at that moment is simply what's going on in him.  "Isn't it interesting that he is having a storm right now.  I wonder how I might support him in his storm?"  When I am un-balanced, off-center, non-grounded, and disconnected, whatever is going on in him becomes a direct attack on me.  "Can't we just have some peace in this house?  Do I have to fix everything? How did I get put in charge of you?"  And the tempers fly.

One of the things we agreed to early on was to have an annual performance evaluation for our relationship.  It happens in July and this one was particularly grueling.  Five years is enough time to know where all the buttons are and we're both pretty good at pushing them for each other.  Lots of teeth gnashing, growling, and barking.  We gave each other a 70 and 72 on a 100 point scale ("But I was NEVER a "C" student!!!").  And, at the end of it, we said, "As of today, I am committed to staying in, growing, and building our relationship in ways that work for both of us."

What would the annual performance review for your key relationships say?  And then, "How's that working for you?"



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"It Is What It Is"

Or, is it?

This is not one of my favorite lines.  It tends to shut down conversation.  It sounds fatalistic.  Perhaps something Eeyore (of Winnie the Pooh fame) would say.

What is "it"?  Is "it" a fact?  Is "it" a belief?

If "it" is a fact... a verifiable, documentable, recordable, visible morsel of agreed upon data.. then yes,  "it" is what it is.  The facts are the facts.

My brother turned 60 yesterday and he said "it is what it is" and for perhaps the first time I agreed with that statement.  Yes.  The calendar and the clock are what they are.


If "it" is a belief, then all bets are off.  Because "it" then isn't what "it" is... "it" is what I believe "it" to be.


We all should.  Because when we allow beliefs to become facts... like when the boss says "It's true because I said it is true."... then we put ourselves under the control of whoever has the most power in the room, the loudest voice, or the biggest weapons. 

I've gotten into the habit of listening to the news and inserting these words into just about every statement made, like this:

What they say:  "The economy might tank in the next 60 days."
What I hear:  "Our belief is the economy might tank in the next 60 days."

When I can hear someone's statement as their belief, I can then say to myself, "How interesting that they have that belief!"  And then, ask myself the question, "What is it I believe?"  which moves me to a more mature posture of curiosity and alignment.

Just another day at the office...



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why don't you just __Fill in the Blank__?

Let's make it clear that "Why don't you just __fill in the blank___?" does not qualify as a "good question."

1.  Any question that starts with "why" is calling for a defensive response.  You might as well say, "Defend yourself on this point!"

2.  The question comes from a point of view that "__fill in the blank____" is the right thing to do.  Who says?

3.  The question calls power into the relationship.  It says, "You have the power to make me respond to whatever idea you have, regardless of how ill-advised your idea is."

4.  The question assumes that I do not have the ability to develop my own solution from the options that I consider.  It says you do not trust me nor do you value my competence.

5.  The question keeps me distracted from doing my own work and instead focuses me on trying to make you happy by my response.

So, what you think might be a helpful piece of advice is quite often a shaming, de-valuing, dis-empowering, low trust, defensive move.  Yikes!

When I feel compelled to ask someone "why don't you just...?" I can stop, take a breath, let go of my need to be right, and then ask a really good question.  And if I've exhausted all the good questions and still feel compelled to give my solution at least I can ask, "Are you open to hearing the solution I've crafted for your life?"



Saturday, June 7, 2014

What am I feeling?

Journeying down the tumor and neurological inflammation trail the last few years I’ve had a shift in the way I think about pain and different sensations in my body that might be worth sharing here.
After a 25-year "no-tears" record (from 15 to 40 years old), I began a pursuit of naming my emotional experience.  I was pretty well shut-off emotionally for a long time, so it was helpful for me to ask "How do I feel?" regularly.  And, to keep it simple, I only used the four primary emotions of anger, sadness, fear, and joy.  I became adept at tying emotion to whatever I was feeling in my body.  I believed myself when I would think, "Oh, my shoulders are tight, I must be mad.”  Or, "that sinking feeling in my gut combined with tears is sadness.  I feel sad." 
When all kinds of weird stuff started happening in my body a few years ago I would do the same thing. “Oh, it’s my T2 acting up and causing my feet to go numb” or "My compression fractures are carrying some stress and in pain" and the like.
Then, a good friend suggested that I just allow whatever sensations I am having to simply be sensations, and focus on them that way.  In a sense, he said, “Let go of all the story you make up about the sensation and experience it as a sensation.”  It has been incredibly helpful to me.  Instead of getting wrapped up in any kind of made-up story, I can just simply notice my feet feeling numb, or swollen, or painful, or my legs vibrating, or the base of my skull hurting, or any number of other sensations that I feel regularly.  When I focus on them as a sensation, they tend to abate.  It’s kind of odd but it works. 

What I’m learning about inflammation and pretty much all the auto-immune issues is that they are all tied to well-being.  Everything including food, exercise, rest, emotional expression, connection with self and others, creative outlets, prayer and gratitude, mental challenge and meditation… all of it… contributes to reducing inflammation in my body.  And, that's when I feel most alive.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Time to Shift Altitude?

On most days, I live at an elevation of about 6'2".  Whatever is right in front of me is the thing that I focus on or pay attention to.

And sometimes I want to shift altitude.  I want the one-year horizon.  The five year view.  I want to look at today from the vantage point of five years ago or five years from now.  I can go up to 14,000 feet (about as high as I've ever been on Mount Whitney) or jump in an airplane and rise up to 40,000.

And, sometimes, I want to make a twelve inch shift.  That is, the shift from what I can see in front of me, to what it is my heart wants or sees. 

Shifting altitude is about shifting perspective.  Getting out of the emotion of this moment and looking at life through a bigger lens.

Some folks live by the mantra "Live in the Moment!" and that's cool.  But sometimes, I want to let this moment also be lived in the context of the bigger story.



Monday, April 28, 2014

How is your Warrior?

I love the idea of Archetypes... those characters that live within all of us waiting to be welcomed onto our stage.  My Warrior is a good friend and we've been reflecting about how to mark the benchmark of 40 years on the "battlefield" of the working world.  You see, my first job was at 15 and I turned 55 in March which means I can "retire" at any time and also claim the $1 discount at the local theatre.

To mark the passage, I considered the "clear the decks and take a sabbatical" option but ended up choosing the "one week of vacation each month" option.  And, it's been fun!  Going to Hawaii, Vail, London, New Orleans, and Morro Bay with friends and loved ones ranging from my childhood next door neighbor through virtually every chapter of life up to the Friday morning coffee guys here in Palm Springs has been a joyful ride.

So, my warrior has had a little time off.  Kind of.

It's a funny thing that virtually EVERY TIME I take a vacation, the phone rings off the hook with more groups and more people wanting to work together.  The first four months of this year have been the busiest season since I went out on my own eight years ago.  Crazy!  So, perhaps my answer to the "How is My Warrior" question has a little nuance...

"My energy is clearly focused on celebrating well the 55-year benchmark.  My work is satisfying, enriching, and varied.  The relationships that are important to me enjoy an ease and flow of appreciation and warmth balanced with the give and take inherent with living in authenticity.  My health is stable and sense of self-care is grounded in healthy routines of rest, eating mindfully, and regular physical activity.  I know who I am, what I'm about, and what I'm doing." 



Monday, March 10, 2014

What is it you most want(ed) to hear?

This one requires a little mental gymnastics.  Go with it.

The other night, I was stirred up.  A disturbing conversation with a friend, a long travel week, unfinished chores around the house, an event the next day.  I was out of sorts.

So, as I sometimes do, I said to Rocky, "Is it okay if I give you your lines right now?"

"Sure," he said.

Cool.  Here it is.  "Vince, you're going to be okay.  It makes sense that you'd be stirred up right now.  You seem tired and out of sorts.  Is there more?"

And he said, "Okay, what you just said."   (Rocky doesn't always follow directions well).

AND, I began to sort out.  Back from the edge a bit.  Calmed down.  Got my feet on the ground.

There is something about self-generating some good listening, a little affirmation, encouragement, support.  I know it's not about Rocky saying it back to me.  It's about me letting my feelings be.  Acknowledging.  Allowing.  Accepting.  Once I do that, I begin to appreciate what I have over what I don't have.  I begin to appreciate wherever it is that I find myself.  And, I move to more solid ground.

Try it.  Out loud.  What is it you most want to hear right now?



Thursday, February 13, 2014

What is a Good Question?

A friend asked me the other day how he could become better at asking questions.  Now, that's a good question!

First of all, a good question is NOT one that seeks to probe for data.  Frankly, I don't care where you live or what you do.  I don't care how old you are, what kind of car you drive, or the type of smartphone in your hand.  So, I NEVER (okay, rarely) ask questions of data... the facts and figures typically bore me.  If you want to give me some data, that's your choice.

Data is cocktail party chit chat.  And, I don't really like cocktail parties.

What I DO like is to learn about you.  What makes you tick.  What gets your heart pumping.  What you're looking forward to and what you might be dreading.  I want to know what you are making your life mean.  So, my questions almost always open a door for you to share some of your story.  And, I'm happy to share some of my story as well. 

The big idea here is that stories are mostly fiction.  Our story is what we make all the data in our lives mean.  As author and awesome speaker Brene' Brown says, "Stories are data with a soul."  So, with whatever data you might choose to give me, I can invite you to share some story about it.

You told me you are a new dad.  What was most surprising about your ten-month journey?

You told me you are a weight lifter.  What are you hoping to achieve?  What are you learning about yourself as you gain strength and stature?

You told me that there is twelve inches of new powder.  How do you feel about that?  What is it you want to have happen today?

You told me you went to Israel last summer.  What was gratifying or upsetting?

So, that's the idea behind good questions.  And the fun part of a good question is that I get to listen to the answer.  I connect to you through your story.  And, maybe I get to see a little bit of my story in yours. 



(Wondering what's up with the picture of Glenda from the Wizard of Oz?  Besides plenty of good questions during the movie, her closing question is what allowed Dorothy to go home... "And what have you learned?"  Which is, almost always, a good question!)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

And, why is that so bad?

I love the question... "And, what's the bad thing that might happen?" as a way to get to the risk or fear that might be blocking me.  The other day, someone asked me the follow up question, "And, why is that so bad?"

It stumped me!   "Well, because!" was all I could come up with.

Sometimes then, when I can take a step back and reflect for a moment, the bad thing that might happen isn't all that bad.


Am I Listening?

A while back, someone said to me, “Wow, Vince, you’re such a good listener!”  It made me wonder what it’s like to be a bad listener!  So, I ...