The New Year’s Resolution Revolt – Just Say No

Resurrecting my thoughts for this New Year. Hope everyone has a 2014 full of love, peace and joy.

Silver Lining

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsYou don’t need a New Year’s resolution.  I like you just as you are.

In fact, the whole New Year’s resolution premise is inherently flawed.  You are not.

The premise is that you have to do something better and different next year, and it’s something that you’ve been struggling with this previous year.  As if something about swiping your calendar to the next page is going to improve your resolve.

You’ve already been working on it, why create a promise to yourself that statistically speaking you’re likely to break?

Set yourself up for success instead.  I wish to start a New Year’s Resolution Revolution. Instead of focusing on how we’re going to do better next year, we’re going to focus on, and be grateful for, how we are doing right now.  I don’t know about you, but the people I know respond better to praise and encouragement than judgment and…

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Difficult People – A Paradigm Shift

You know how everyone says obnoxious, arrogant, know-it-all people are really just insecure?  I think that really is true for most difficult people.  Some type of insecurity or fear drives many people who are perfectionists, control freaks, know-it-alls, negative, or hostile. Chances are, these fears and insecurities are on a subconscious level and so the behaviors are probably in their blind spot.  In other words, don’t expect them to have an epiphany about how miserable they’re making everyone around them.

You may not have a choice as to whether you have to interact with this person but you may be able to minimize interaction with that person.  Regardless, to the degree you have to interact with this difficult person and wish to be more successful in dealing with them, consider them from the perspective of that insecure person that you know they are.  I know that’s somewhat obvious, but I’m not sure we actually act in ways that are consistent with our intuition since we often let our annoyance or our own defensiveness and fears get in the way of doing what we know is the right thing to do.

The best way to manage insecure people  is to help them feel more confident or safe.  If they’re concerned about being attractive, in control, smart or right, then direct the conversation to how they look nice, are competent, intelligent or wise.   Focus on areas where you really believe they are talented or excellent and sincerely compliment them or help them savor their past successes.  In my experience, this approach works well most of the time, and an insecure person can become a pussycat if you focus on their good side.   After all, when others focus on our best qualities, don’t we all tend to lead with our best foot?

If you don’t feel like you have the time to affirm your colleague, consider how much time you will waste by arguing or exploring unnecessary diversions.

If you can’t think of anything good to focus on, consider that fact.  Is it really true that some people have no good qualities at all?  None?  Start with one, then find something else to be proud of in that person.  If you can’t, consider what role you’re playing in this dynamic.  Are you sure that they are the difficult person?  What role does being judgmental play in this relationship?

If killing them with kindness doesn’t work and they’re behaving badly, instead of arguing or criticizing, consider that they may just want to be heard.  Affirming another’s feelings as having validity, even if you don’t share their feelings, often allows the other to take the emotions down a notch or two.   For example, instead of arguing why someone should do it your way, empathize with their feelings about that approach or really try to listen to their perspective.  When I’ve made the effort to stow my attitude, I have found I’m a much better listener and more likely to learn something I didn’t know before.  Others tend to be less defensive when I try to really  get them.  Remember, just because they have a different viewpoint does not make them wrong.  Consider that maybe you’re missing something important and you would benefit from listening without judgment.

If that still doesn’t work, or the tirade is continuing unabated, try a little humor.  It can be hard to sneak humor in sometimes.  If I want to cheer someone up, I tap dance for them.  It’s corny, and I have to be willing to look like an idiot, but it works. (Note to wise:  to avoid this embarrassing behavior from me, you know what to do).

In the end, every single one of us is uniquely awesome.  By only focusing on what separates us instead of others’ unique and valuable contribution, we create unnecessary barriers, conflict and alienation without realizing we are doing so.  For both good and bad relationships, it takes two to tango, and a dysfunctional dynamic continues only if both are willing to perpetuate it.  Take personal leadership in your relationships and set the right tone.  Even if nothing else changes, the peace of mind is worth the effort.

Blended Family Get-Togethers

During the holidays, we are often reminded of what we are missing:  our family of origin, our original nuclear family (the one before the divorce), friends or family that have moved or passed away.   We may long for those bygone days where life or families seemed better, simpler or more complete.    But I have made the mistake more than once of taking for granted what was right before my eyes because I was longing for the past or wishing for the future.

I’m not doing that this year.  Though there was something sweet and unblemished by gatherings of the original nuclear family during the holidays, I am enormously grateful for our blended family get-togethers.   I would never say one is better or worse than the other.  They’re simply different and full of their own magical wonders.

Here are the reasons I love blended family get-togethers:

  • New people to get to know and love
  • New traditions to share
  • Breaking old, dysfunctional patterns between existing family members (or potential to develop healthier dynamics)
  • Opportunities for new, and usually very interesting, interpersonal dynamics between new and existing family members
  • Experiencing relationships in a different context (holiday, party, group, etc.)
  • New ideas, perspectives and talents

I know.  There are downsides too.  But if a blended family is your reality, why focus on the downsides?  Taking a positive approach will make you a better problem-solver to manage the downsides, logistically or emotionally.

So give your blended family member a big hug and welcome their presence in your life.  Remember, love is not a zero-sum game.  Harold Kushner (How Good Do We Have To Be?) says that original sin is believing that there is not enough love to go around.  Opening your heart to a new person does not detract or diminish in any way from the love you feel for someone else.  We have an unlimited capacity to love, and that capacity grows with use.  Be willing to reach out and accept your new family member, especially if you have not yet done so or if you’re not sure it will be reciprocated.  Your personal leadership will set the right tone for yourself and other family members now and for the future.  You might as well; after all, you’re likely going to be together a long, long time.


A 15-Hour Homework Assignment for Christmas

Though I had received the grade on my homework assignment a month ago, there was a part of the assignment I needed to finish.  The assignment was to give someone the gift of an experience for Christmas instead of a usual gift.   The write-up of my attempt to do so was already graded, but I still had not actually completed the experience itself until yesterday.

I’m just not a good gift-selector.  I wish I was and I envy those who have this as a natural talent.  So it was not a big surprise when my attempts to give my family the gift of an experience fell a bit flat.

Except with my BFF.

I told her about my pathetic and weak attempts to find the right experiences for my family and she immediately volunteered to do this exercise with me.    She said she’d like me to cook with her to help her to become more present as a cook.   We didn’t want to do something that would be finished quickly because it would limit our learning experience and time together.  So we chose the hardest recipe I’ve ever seen but have always wanted to make:  a croissant recipe from the bakery in San Francisco that made absolutely the best almond croissant that has ever passed these lips.   Though I’m a decent baker, I only dreamed of attempting the recipe since it involves about 30 steps and would take approximately 2 days to make, given the many resting, cooling, and freezing steps.  We decided to camp at my house, wear our pajamas, take mindfulness walks by the river while waiting, and just savor our time together as BFFs.  Her loving and generous nature to share this experience with me made me cry, but that’s why she’s my BFF.

The day arrived and Lisa arrived with suitcase, ingredients and preferment (mix of yeast and flour, chilled in fridge overnight) in hand.  We worked as a team, verbally guiding each other through each step, providing input and feedback as needed to make sure we followed the instructions to the letter.  Chris provided Christmas music and champagne to help us maintain the proper mood.  We chatted and visited in-between steps as we went.

During the longer breaks, we put the little dog on the leash and took long walks to the park, coffee shop and crafts gallery.  We enjoyed the beautiful weather and savored what always seems like precious time together.

Toward the end, my friend/co-worker and newly discovered neighbor Suzanne came over to share a glass of wine and offer words of encouragement.  We laughed, told stories, commiserated, and bonded together over butter, wine, flour, and more butter.  Despite the wine, conversation, walks and food distractions, Lisa and I were able to follow the steps almost precisely to the letter.  But would the croissants come out like I remembered them from my favorite little bakery, 3000 miles away?  The real test for me would be the next morning, after everyone was long gone, when I filled the croissants with the almond frangipane (cream filling) and rebaked them with sliced almonds on top.

After a 4 week planning period, 4 trips to the grocery store, and a 15+ hour marathon, this is no place for modesty.  The croissant was second only to my heavenly  little bakery, and the flavor, quality and texture was better than I have had anywhere since.  Biting into that crunchy, flaky, succulent croissant brought me right back to the doorstep of that magical place.   But more importantly, the time spent with Lisa sharing a meaningful activity will provide fond memories to last a lifetime.  I’m still feeling a high from the fun we shared, and the sugar/fat overload from the tasting.  In the end, there is no greater gift to me than the mere presence of, and opportunity to share time with the ones I love the most.

The fruits of our labor

The fruits of our labor

Loving Versus Being Loved – A Big Difference

Showing and receiving love.  Photo credit:

Showing and receiving love. Photo credit:

Though I feel the VIA character strength construct, available for free at, will be hard to sell to people at work (scientists being told their number one strength is forgiveness?) oddly I believe that my strength of capacity to love and be loved is the most important strength I exhibit at work and home alike.

I have discovered that my passion is for helping others to develop on a personal and professional level.  Being in touch with the love strength not only motivates me to do this, but also intensifies the level and manner in which I approach training and development.  The more in tune I am with this strength, the more I feel the work is meaningful, productive, successful and generates a genuine bond between us.   The love strength also motivates me to give generously of my time and talent.  Humanity and every single member of the human race are a beautiful, precious things and should be nurtured with all of our ability.   In other words, cultivating the ability to love in my development work with others drives my passion, which I consider my calling.

Though the capacity to love has been easier for me to access, I often have difficulty being on the receiving end of love, or letting others take care of me.  I have always been the caretaker, in charge, competent and independent.  To allow myself to ask for help, support, or a listening ear, can be difficult for me.   For years I have held the shadow belief that I will not get what I need from others, so I have taught myself to not ask for or show others what I need.  Though I have improved a great deal in this area, this tendency still lingers especially in certain situations.   I am also not skilled at expressing my needs to others, including when to know when I should express my needs or remain silent.  Though I usually have little difficulty formulating my thoughts verbally, asking for what I need sometimes leaves me tongue-tied.

However, I have learned when I am accepting of my need to receive love and the need or desire of someone else to show love to me, I feel that bond grow even more if I embrace that reciprocity.   Like with maximizing the efficacy of any strength or skill, improving my capacity to be loved has required a conscious effort and practice.  Fortunately, I have many safe testing grounds in my life now to hopefully enable my growth in this area, and allow me to fill in the other half of this very important strength.

What You Focusin’ On?

Looking underneath.  Photo credit

Looking underneath. Photo credit

So much of our world is created by our cognitive habits.  What we notice is often habit, how we interpret what we notice is often habit.  Our beliefs are often habit too.  For example, there was a really long period of time where I did not take a look at the opposite political persuasion to really try to understand their perspective beyond the superficial level.

Those aren’t the only beliefs that are habit.  We carry beliefs about ourselves that we don’t tend to question but that might be completely untrue.  Often those beliefs are self-fulfilling.  For example, if I don’t think I’m smart, then I don’t apply myself in school and then I get bad grades.

I think we also carry beliefs about what we want or need that seem to provide an undercurrent to our motivation each day.  For instance, right now when I have some free time or mental energy, I am focused on writing and school.  I love to write this blog and do the homework assignments given to me.  I also love anything positive psychology and I’m a little pretty obsessed with it.

But this just didn’t start with school for me.  I find I usually have an underlying motivation toward one or two things that drives my decision-making when I’m not busy.  Sometimes it has been reading novels, eating or cooking great food, finding quality time with a loved one, taking care of someone, getting rest, working out, watching television, working, dating, or shopping.     This is what I need to be doing at a given time, and sometimes my perception of my need is below my radar.  I have seen others with similar needs but also with different ones, such as playing sports, discussing politics, sharing stories, gossiping, grooming, partying, or making money.

Oftentimes, these focal activities are being driven by an underlying motivation.  Frequently we are simply pursuing something we love, like a hobby or time with a loved one.  But sometimes the underlying motivation has to do with filling a subconscious need such as  getting approval, affirmation, attention, or validation,  or feeling better-than, worse-than, deserving, or must be seen as (successful, happy, cool…., fill in the blank).    For instance, when I’m looking for rest or good food, I have some shadow belief about what I need or deserve:  I’m over-worked or ill so I need and deserve some spoiling.  When I’m shopping or spending a lot of time grooming I may be feeling entitled to nice things, must be seen as attractive, and seeking approval or attention by dressing well.  I write because I enjoy the process, but part of the reason is also for validation – I like the approval and positive feedback I get from others.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with this.  We are hard-wired to act in what we believe to be our own best interest.  In addition, what would life be without the ability to pursue the things we love to do?  However, when I go over-the-top with my focus and desire, it’s being driven by my subconscious.  Bringing my motivations to consciousness helps me find better balance and other ways to feed my inner spirit appropriately.

What about you?  Do you have a motivation undercurrent driving you to do things for reasons that are below your awareness?  What are they? Does bringing them to light make you feel differently about those activities?

Snap Judgments

I don’t consider myself a judgmental person, but we’re all hard-wired to be hypocritical. The hypocrisy I’ve noticed in myself is in first impressions.  I already know that I’m not a good judge of character.  It’s hard to ‘judge’ someone’s character when you tend to look for only their best qualities.  Turns out, I’m not good at accurate negative assessments either.

In the moment, it seems there are some characteristics that are worse than others, at least in terms of my gut reaction to them.  In my mind, I know that they’re all great when applied properly.  In my gut, there are a couple that just rankle me.  And thus my snap judgment.

I sort of even pride myself on having a good radar for this behavior.  I have these folks pegged right away.

Except for when I don’t.

I know where it comes from.  The behaviors that annoy me are those that made me feel invisible as a child.  So as an adult, I get a visceral reaction – even though objectively there’s nothing wrong with the behavior – and there’s instant dislike.  From a schema perspective, my schema makes me hyper-sensitive to certain behaviors that will go unnoticed by others. From a StrengthsFinder perspective, such qualities are probably strength themes that may not be optimally used.  For example, when I misuse my command strength, I can come across as either a bully instead of a leader.  Every one of us struggles with that balance, so there’s nothing wrong with that either.

On a couple of recent occasions I have found that I’ve been wrong about that negative assessment.  I don’t often feel grateful to be proven wrong, but in these situations, being wrong has been a big relief and an opportunity to get to know another amazing person.

Upon further reflection, I believe I will always be wrong when making a snap (negative) judgment.    If I can push aside my visceral reaction, I will again fall back on my tendency to find the best parts of that person even if that annoying quality is present.  If I cannot, then I will not be open to getting to know another beautiful spirit.

This shortcoming of mine – finding the best in others –  is actually one of my best features. It’s not a perfect feature, but I think to the degree that I can improve will enable me to feel even more connected to those around me.  I don’t need artificial barriers that are of my own creation.  There are enough of those out there already, I don’t need to add one more of my own.

A Fresh Look at Holiday Stress

Going back to graduate school this Fall has been a learning experience, not just academically, but personally.   Prior to this return to school, I was never an academic overachiever.  Usually I was happy with just an A-/B+ level of performance.  I felt those grades were sufficient to get me to wherever I wanted to go without stressing myself out and also allowing me to pursue my other interests.  That worked, for the most part, anyway.

The stakes have changed this time around.  Somehow, in the 20 years since I graduated, apparently I have developed some ego regarding my academic performance.  I have wanted to perform to impress – myself and others.  Suddenly, here in my mid-life, I feel like I have something to prove.

This mindset is insane, given that I just added a full-time graduate program on top of my already busy life.  The stress from my own expectations was impairing my ability to enjoy being back in school and my ability to be present in the rest of my life.  In short, I was making myself miserable and my grades were, well, still A-/B+.

We learned in school about satisficing, or being happy with excellence instead of perfection.  I decided to satisfice more regarding school.  I changed my strategy a bit so that I was working more consistently, even during so called ‘down times’, but I also would stop myself from over-editing by turning my assignments in when I felt they were pretty good rather than editing up to the deadline.

Not surprisingly, I have started to enjoy school and my life once again.  Surprisingly, my grades went up when I stressed less and enjoyed more.

I have found this phenomenon to also often apply when it comes to blogging.  Sometimes when I overthink a blog, the response is well, tepid.  My most popular blogs have been more spontaneous and off the cuff.

How does this lesson apply to the holidays?

Let me digress first to two other related concepts.  Another phenomenon we learned about in school is the hedonic treadmill.  The hedonic treadmill refers to the euphoria we get from things that bring us pleasure, say a nice new television, quickly wears off and then we need something even nicer the next time.  “You got me only one more pair of Jimmy Choos?”   We also learned about the peak-end heuristic: what we remember about an event is the peak experience, whether good or bad, and the ending.  We tend to forget everything in-between.

In other words, most of what we do over the holidays will not be noticed, will result in the need for something bigger/better, will be forgotten, or will stress us out to the point we or others cannot enjoy it or it impairs our performance.   So don’t be afraid to scale it down and choose being present with your loved ones over focusing on the trappings of the holidays.  Being calm and happy during the holidays will make you the Christmas valedictorian.

What You Thinkin’ About?

We all have a tendency to consider our view of the world as a good representation of reality.  My last blog discussed that we choose, on some level, what to notice in our world.  We can choose to either notice goodness, beauty and kindness, or we can notice the opposite.

What we notice arrives into our cognitive centers as neutral data, millions of bits of information every second.  We then assign meaning to that data.  What do you think or feel about the things you observe?

  • When someone disagrees with your strongly held belief, do you judge them as ignorant or do you decide that logical minds can disagree?
  • When someone disagrees with you about an idea, approach, or strategy, do you view them as a threat or someone trying to help identify a better way?
  • When meeting someone with a different accent or unfamiliar clothing, do you decide you couldn’t have anything in common, or do you reflect on how we’re all the same on many levels?
  • When standing in a long line, do you feel inconvenienced or do you take advantage of the opportunity to let the world stand still for a few moments?
  • When a loved one says something hurtful, do you decide they’re inconsiderate and rude or consider the ways that you might have misunderstood?
  • When you experience a setback or roadblock, do you feel victimized or do you consider the detour as an opportunity to learn and grow?

Likely, few of us always approach every situation from only a positive or a negative perspective.  Our response may be very much context-dependent.  For example, I’m less likely to get my panties in a bunch if someone is commenting on my appearance than if they were commenting on my parenting style or my kids.  I may also respond differently whether those comments on appearance are at work or at home, or whether they’re from a friend or family member.

Regardless, I believe we all have ways we can improve our explanatory style, or how we interpret the data we receive.  What you see is a choice.  How you interpret it is a choice. What you do with it is a choice. You can intervene at any stage to decide whether to choose the path of happiness or discord.  Cultivate your personal power and exercise your right to choose beauty, wonder, and connection instead of isolation and anger.

What You Lookin’ At?


A moment to notice.  Photo credit:

A moment to notice. Photo credit:

You know how life is short and we shouldn’t waste precious time with negative people?  Well, life isn’t the only thing that is limited and precious.  So is your attention.  Among millions of stimuli each day, you can only notice and register so many things in a day.  What you notice is probably based on habit.  What are you in the habit of noticing?

  • Do you see that the sidewalk is dirty, or the colorful flowers planted next to it?
  • Do you pay attention when someone is kind to you, like holding open a door for you, or only when people are inconsiderate?
  • Do you notice the smell of the fresh breeze, or only the fumes of a car?
  • Do you notice the smile of your child, even if you see it every day?
  • Do you smell the inviting aroma of your meal, even if you have three of them each day?
  • Do you see the color of the sky as the sun rises, or just the alarm clock that tells you to get out of bed?
  • Did you notice your family member took out the trash, or only that he left his shoes out?
  • Did you acknowledge the compliment someone gave you, or just look for signs of insincerity or reasons to dismiss it?
  • Did you notice the care or creativity your colleague used to complete the task, or just what he didn’t do?
  • Do you see the ice crystals hanging from the branches, or just that you have to scrape your car?

What you notice becomes your reality.  If you only notice negativity, ugliness and pain, that is what will comprise your world.  Notice beauty, kindness, and excellence, and your world will brighten up.  And so will you.