Thriving During the Trump Presidency

Last week I attending an inspiring and beautiful tribute to the late Martin Luther King Jr (thank you Office of Institutional Diversity and Michelle Garfield Cook!).   I did not realize prior to that event that I was carrying a large load of grief and sadness for the upcoming presidential transition.  Dr. King’s vision never seemed in so much jeopardy.

Yet I’m trying to maintain my sense of optimism.  Here’s what is helping me:

  • 20% of the US is freaking out right now, which is a different 20% that freaked out when Obama was elected. We felt they were being unreasonable and over-reactive at the time, and so I probably am overacting to some degree as well.
  • We’ve had 8 amazing years with the Obamas’ wisdom and grace. His election, twice, says as much about America as this current election.
  • Even if Trump may not be the best mechanism for needed change, change will happen. Change is usually painful and difficult, and the lower we fall, the more change we will be willing to undergo.  For that reason, I usually celebrate the opportunity when someone hits rock bottom, and I will celebrate this now, given that most of us are in agreement that something is broken in Washington.  Good change will be informed by understanding, compassion, justice and an aspirational vision for a better future.
  • All this catastrophizing I’ve been doing is causing me pain. I remind myself that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”  (Shakespeare).  My thinking is causing me pain so I’m trying acceptance.
  • Acceptance does not mean being passive. Acceptance means I understand that our reality is changing and that I should take whatever action I can to create a positive outcome.  I keep trying while also accepting my limited ability to make an impact.  I will use my negative emotion to motivate me, and use my strengths to contribute the best way I can.  For example, I have not felt the urge to blog now for 6 months and now I am once again inspired to do so.
  • All things are impermanent.  The Obama presidency had to end, and so will Trump’s.  We will survive, and even better, our post-traumatic growth will be spectacular.

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    Growth and beauty during adversity.  Photo credit

Part 2: Thinking-Feeling Spectrum – Our Alien Brain

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In Part 1, we discussed the Thinking-Feeling spectrum and the presence of the dynamic interplay between T-F despite our T or F preference. If we only factor in one set of data, we are unaware of the unseen influence of the other half on our internal experience and our external world view.

My own experience affirms this notion. As a person with a strong T tendency, I have not always been in touch with my feelings. Even now, though my self awareness is much improved, if I have emotional garbage flying beneath my radar, I tend to be more reactive, less patient, more judgmental, and more impulsive. I back it up with logic and explanations and accuse you of being unreasonable.   The thoughts in my head were pretty much absolutely true, no matter how unrealistic, dysfunctional, or abusive they were. They would then invisibly fuel my emotions in this treacherous downward spiral, ensuring my misery.

Hudson: “We’re on an express elevator to hell, going down!”

I’m less of an F but can imagine the same dynamic, but in reverse, holds true. We hold many unconscious beliefs that impact how we view the world and ourselves and thus how we feel. If we are unaware of those beliefs, we cannot see how they drive our feelings.

In other words, we often disassociate our thoughts from our feelings, as if there is an alien in our head (or heart) with which we have no connection. And unfortunately, as a T, I’m here to report that the thoughts in our head do not represent a friendly alien. At best, that alien is complicit in justifying our automatic behavior (see Haidt’s Righteous Mind). At worst, the alien is a constant stream of negativity, fear and anger that damages ourselves and others.

Ash: You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.

Lambert: You admire it.

Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.

Unlike the movie Aliens, we just can’t take automatic weapons and blow out the scary alien in our head.   But we can tame them. It’s not easy at first, but improves with practice.

Ripley: How do we kill it, Ash? There’s gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?

Ash: You can’t.

Parker: That’s bullshit.

First, be present. Being sad or angry means we are living in our past. Being worried or anxious means we are living in the future. Living in this moment we have everything we need. Notice dysfunctional thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge their presence but don’t give them any power by believing them to be real or permanent.

Kane: Quit griping.

Lambert: I like griping.

Second, be mindful. Notice when you are not being present. Come back to the present moment when you find yourself straying.

Third, toxic recurring thoughts should be challenged. Those thoughts tend to be very one-sided, so be open to exploring other perspectives (see Katie’s Who Would You Be Without Your Story).

Finally, find a more balanced perspective using your forgiveness and gratitude.   Remember that the alien in your head is here to steal your peace, and the bigger, braver part of you, your Riley, is here to restore it. Think of that alien as the holy-terror child within that needs to be heard and validated, but doesn’t get to make the decisions about your life and peace of mind.

That’s how you teach the Alien some manners.

Ash: There is a clause in the contract which specifically states any systematized transmission indicating a possible intelligent origin must be investigated.

Parker: I don’t wanna hear it…

Brett: We don’t know if it’s intelligent.

Parker: I wanna go home and party.

Dallas: Parker, will you just listen to the man?

Ash: On penalty of total forfeiture of shares. No money.

Dallas: You got that?

Parker: [chuckling] Well, yeah.

Dallas: All right, we’re going in.

Parker: [to Brett] Yeah, we’re going in, aren’t we?

8 Tools For Thriving During Change

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Embrace change!  Photo credit

The only constant is change, yet we often fear, dread, or fight change. It’s a natural tendency since, as a species, we tend to be wary of threats to our wellbeing, and change is just as likely to bring challenge as opportunity.

In addition, we have a certain change style, where our affinity and comfort with change ranges from low to high. Conservers prefer to take a measured and incremental approach to change, whereas Originators like rapid and broad change. In the middle are Pragmatists who prefer change that is practical and effective. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages; respect for and understanding of our own and others’ change styles can help change occur more smoothly and effectively.

We do not always have the luxury of the pace and extent of change matching our change style.   Often change is faster or slower, broader or narrower, than our comfort would dictate. When change is not under our control, it will feel challenging.   As with any challenge, I use my main Go To Tools to help turn that challenge into an opportunity:

  • Be mindful and present – Plan for the future but don’t dwell on it. Worrying about the future creates anxiety. The present moment elicits neither sadness, regret, nor anxiety.
  • Take care of yourself first – Rest, exercise, a healthy diet, and time for play are good antidotes to stress.
  • Reflect – Change is scary. Acknowledge your fear, anxiety, distress, or sadness. Feel it. Put a name to it. Feel it some more. Then let it dissipate.
  • Identify and challenge your belief or schema – What is the belief that is causing your emotion? If it’s a negative emotion, then name and challenge your belief or schema.   Introduce doubt into that belief. If it’s a positive emotion, then savor and amplify your optimism.
  • Identify the downside of the status quo – What’s bad about maintaining the current situation? What opportunities will pass you by if you resist change? What damage can occur by failing to grow?
  • Find a positive perspective – Your negative feelings result from focusing on the worst-case scenario. Instead, consider what is the best possible outcome.   Imagine it in full detail. What does it look like? How does it feel? What did you learn? How did you grow? What is the pathway to this outcome?   What challenges might you encounter, and how would you surmount them? What would your future self, who is enjoying this positive outcome, say to your current self?  Say it to yourself. Repeat as necessary.
  • Identify your strengths – Given this ideal outcome, identify what strengths (either StrengthsFinders or VIA) that you can use to achieve this outcome and surmount those obstacles. Make a plan.
  • Identify your support – Who can help you on this journey? Maybe you need a sounding board, a sage, a playmate, a home team, a cheerleader. Enlist their support, and be specific about what you need from them. Continue to communicate with them so they understand what their roles are as the situation evolves.

Now, go get ‘em! You have a positive future, go create it!

Your Call to Embark on Your Hero’s Journey

Almost every great story follows the format of the monomyth, or Joseph Campbell’s description of the Hero’s Journey.   But it’s not just a great story in a book or movie. The Hero’s Journey has to do with our daily, even ordinary lives as well.

My masters capstone was on callings. During my research, I have come to believe that a calling is really just our sense to pursue our own Hero’s Journey. That Journey is comprised of distinct phases, most of which are not easy. Pursuit of the Hero’s Journey requires that we face our inner or outer demons, grow and change.  The story of Luke Skywalker is perhaps the classic example of a Hero’s Journey, and compelling and universal for that reason.

However, given the epic nature of the Skywalker tale, the images of the Hero’s Journey are always in a circle, as so astutely pointed out by The Sage Abyss. Does that mean Luke has to repeat the cycle again and again? Doesn’t he just go home and retire? Get book deals and interviews and live the good life?

Apparently not.

I suppose each Hero’s Journey cycle isn’t necessarily of the epic scale of Skywalker. But look at the Harry Potter tales. Harry apparently had at least 7 Hero’s Journey cycles while at Hogwarts, each rising to their own epic proportions.

Thankfully, each of us are not likely battling the likes of Darth Vader or Voldemort, though our own challenges may feel that way on certain days. As I look back on my life and the times that I felt called to pursue a scary path, I realize that each one represents a Hero’s Journey cycle. The turning points in my life include deciding to value myself when others were trying to control or devalue me, moving away to graduate school 1500 miles away, choosing an academic career, choosing to stay in academia each year when I felt on the brink of failure, choosing to give up tenure and research for a healthier life, choosing to separate from my husband of 20 years, going back to school to focus on positive psychology, and choosing to distance myself from those who were trying to subjugate, devalue and control me (note the cycle there too).  Each challenge resulted in greater growth and wisdom   That’s 9 or so cycles, and I’m only 52.

Buddhism tells us not to get attached to things, situations or circumstances because all things are impermanent. The Hero’s Journey tells us that each phase of the cycle is temporary (as long as we don’t get stuck indefinitely) and that upon completion of the cycle, the cycle will later return in another form.   I suppose we can resist our own Hero’s Journey cycle and insist on staying stuck in one place. After all, the devil you know…

Choosing to stay stuck in one place may feel safe in the moment, but it’s much like financial investing. I’m worse than an amateur when it comes to money but even I know that doing nothing with your money (savings account or mattress methods) means that I’m missing out on financial opportunities. The stock market historically yields 8% interest, so as long as you can stomach the swings, over time you’ll do much better than your mattress.

Same with your life.

Monomyth says your life will cycle, but over time, you’ll grow and reap the rewards of your investment. It’s scary. You have to be brave and ride out the downturns but the reward will be yours in the end.

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Hero’s Journey cycle

Exercising My Whole Self

Old habits die hard, especially when they are taken for granted. Most of my life I have taken for granted my “right brain” (emotional and creative side), and I have since decided to try to be intentional about developing and exercising that side of me.   Maybe I can be twice as smart than just developing the cognitive side of my brain!

Since then, I have done much to explore and foster my Self that exists when I shut off the cognition (subject for another blog). I doubt I can come even close to saying that I’m twice as smart, but I’m much more….. satisfied? Intuitive? Confident? Inspired. Joyful. Peaceful. Connected. Complete. It’s hard to say with much specificity, but I do feel different, and in a good way.

Accordingly, my exercise routine has also evolved to be more comprehensive. I used to be a cardio, and/or a weights-only type of gal. However, my cardio and weights routines often focused on the same set of muscles each time. For example, most people know to do sit-ups or crunches, but often forget to exercise the opposing muscle group, the lower back. I am trying to mix up my classes more so that cardio and strength training do not over-focus on the same muscles.

Even assuming I attended to all my muscle groups, cardio and strength training really only covers half of the desired exercise outcomes for me these days.   My routine must now include my inner self, ie my ability to be present, connected and not only strong, but flexible muscles.   Each week I try to do tai chi, which works on my balance/core and connection to the universe, yoga/pilates/piyo which works on core/flexibility as well as connection, and walking which provides a little cardio while connecting me to nature and to Chris and puppies.

Skipping the emotional/spiritual workouts leaves me inclined to worry, ruminate, obsess and feel more stressed and isolated. Skipping cardio/strengths leaves me just feeling less energetic and a bit flabby. When I practice the combination, I feel strong, flexible and peaceful.

Not that I always have time for 4 classes per week plus walking. I try to mix it up a bit each week and combine activities (walking with loved ones) for a win/win and to have a balanced portfolio over a several week time-frame.

This journey has taught me that there is yet more that I am missing, even in my attempts to be holistic. I don’t even include beautifying or cleaning the environment (fortunately I have a maid), which is another important element of my world. I don’t make much time for the piano or music, and creative expression is limited to blogging for the most part. I know as our knowledge and wisdom grows, my concept of holistic will also change, and so will my practices.   My challenge will be to continue to stay open and balance maintaining a routine with avoiding getting into a rut.

What else am I missing?   What types of exercises do you do to build and grow yourself holistically? What is the value to you, if any, of broadening the focus beyond our muscles?

Acceptance Through Cost Averaging

One of my earliest financial planning lessons was on the concept of cost averaging. The idea is that you automatically invest a fixed amount each month into your mutual funds or stocks. When the stock market is climbing, then you’ll watch your stock value grow. It’s the quintessential buy low, sell high. A great idea!

When the stock market is falling, it’s still a great idea to buy because now you’re getting more shares for the money. Your number of stocks will grow. When the stock market climbs later, you’ll have even more stocks to take advantage of that growth. Another great idea! In other words, whether stocks are rising or falling, you’re doing the right thing by continuing to invest every month. Even better, you can just set it up and forget about it.

However, for this model to work, you have to have the stomach to stay in the game when the market falls.  I know some who have a hard time with this approach because they can only see the downside of the falling market.  Their tendency will be to sell, not invest, when the market is falling, i.e., buy high, sell low. Not a strategic financial management plan.

What does this have to do with well being? The cost averaging analogy applies to the ups and downs in our lives, the good times and the bad. When times are good, you can just sit back and enjoy the ride, savoring the experiences and positive emotion.  When times are tough, like the market, there are really good opportunities if we can see the opportunity. During tough times, we have an opportunity to learn important life lessons, make critical changes, and foster our personal growth. People rarely make needed changes when times are good. Change and self-investment occurs when we’re uncomfortable or miserable, not so much when we’re feeling joyful or at peace.

Thus, when bad times hit, it’s a golden opportunity to learn and grow. When good times return, we have created additional internal resources, and we can enjoy those good times all the more, especially since they were hard-earned. The trick is, we have to see the opportunity hidden in the tough times and invest in ourselves. Otherwise, we may do the psychological equivalent of buy high, sell low.

So you see, there really is no such thing as “good” or “bad,” it all just depends on your perspective. Pessismists will view the downside of even a growing stock market and optimists will see the upside of the falling stock market. How will you see the ups and downs in your life? Remember, your perspective is a choice.

The Language of Diversity

For most of my life, I have felt like I was in this weird no-man’s land of diversity.  I’m neither “underrepresented” in my chosen profession (though Asians are not in leadership positions at the same rate), nor part of the majority.    During segregation, some of my relatives stated they weren’t sure which facilities they were supposed to use – colored or white.   Though thankfully we don’t have this conundrum today, the language of diversity – what we call each other, what we call the behavior, how we describe the situation – is still just as troubling to me.

I get it though.  Life and people are complicated.  Everyone’s experience is different, so finding the right language to describe such nuances is difficult and fraught with emotion and connotation.  And in our attempt to not offend, I believe we have instead opted to minimize.

For example, when examining our policy around diversity, we use the language of “prohibited behavior.”  You may not harass, discriminate or retaliate against people if they are in a protected class.    In other words, if you are not targeting someone because of protected class status, then feel free to harass, retaliate and discriminate with impunity.  Apparently it’s legal, assuming you can prove it’s not based on a protected class.

Even the phrase “prohibited behavior” minimizes what it is.  When I was in school, also prohibited were wearing skirts above the knees, sleeveless shirts, T-shirts with graphic images or offensive words, chewing gum or having other food in class, and kissing in the hallways.   These sorts of prohibited behavior are hardly on par with those that create inequity and a hostile environment, yet we use comparable language to describe them.

“Prohibited behavior” also focuses on the person committing the offense, sanitizing  the impact on the targeted person.  Such behavior is, in truth, oppressing, abusing, bullying, marginalizing, controlling, criticizing, subjugating, excluding, devaluing, mistreating, denigrating, ignoring, violating, demeaning, treating contemptuously, etc.   This type of prohibited behavior is, at best, a bad idea and at worst, is damaging and immoral.  

I understand why we do it.  We all have biases, both conscious and unconscious.  When confronted with our biases we often react defensively and angrily.  Neutral language is sometimes required to even allow the conversation to happen.  However, as we’re placating the perpetrators, what are we doing to those who are suffering from the discrimination?

Though I’m in this weird class of a sort-of-minority, I have experienced racism and even sexism most of my life. Though I believe I have processed that contempt and become a better person because of it, I still have difficulty recognizing and healing from discrimination unless I fully acknowledge its presence and impact on me.   This neutral language, though probably designed to allow people to confront their biases, is a barrier to having an honest dialogue, real accountability and healing.

I really don’t know the solution to this conundrum.  However, my own healing requires that I recognize and name the behavior for what it is, and acknowledge the impact it’s having on me and even on our community.  I recognize the need and benefit of an indirect approach but fear that in the end, it does more damage than good.