What Is Hard For Us

Knock knock. Who’s there? Interrupting Cow. Interrupti.. (MOO!).

This is the joke I was trying to teach my 86 year old Dad. His first language is a dialect of Mandarin. His English, though good, is still somewhat limited. Cultural references might as well come from Mars.

The lessons did not go well.

“Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side,” was slightly easier.   Not by much.

He got tired and asked if we can talk about something else.

I feel his pain.

When considering my VIA Character Strengths, humor is at the bottom, #24. Literally. I guess I know where I got it.

It’s not that I have no sense of humor. I just can’t tell a joke to save my life.  These two jokes are pretty much the only ones I know.   (Well, there’s one about a skunk in a blender, but that’s pretty gross). I laugh at other people’s stories and jokes.  Though if someone in the group that doesn’t get the joke, that person is likely to be me (or Dad, apparently).   I can be snarky and sarcastic to make people laugh.   I can do funny dances, especially when out in public or in front of their girlfriend, that make people moan and slap their head. That counts as humor, right?

I have to resist the urge to just give up on being funny. Aristotle (I think) said that we can improve any of our virtues, even the ones at the bottom. Just like I can work on my perseverance or temperance, I can also improve my humor.

So let me try again:

Yo mamma is so fat, when I swerved to avoid her in the street, I ran out of gas (Laugh of the day, jokefactory.com).

Hm.

Maybe not.

Impatience and the Future

No one is a bigger fan of being present than I, but just like most everyone else, being present can be a struggle for me. The main enemy of being present for me is my impatience. From the strengths perspective, the culprit is my activator theme. It has me eager to get going. I’m that person jabbing the button on the elevator. Combine activator with my zest strength, and you’d think that my life depended on getting that elevator door closed in the next 0.85 seconds.

The combination is great in the sense that it makes me a very productive person. I work hard. I enjoy staying busy almost 24/7. Chris calls me the Energizer Bunny.

And not always in a good way. If I were to be completely honest with myself (uh oh; beware the person claiming to be honest) then I would guess that most of my mistakes and regrets emerge from my impatience.

  • I make mistakes when I hurry.   I have to work at following my own advice of slowing down.
  • Not giving others sufficient time to make their own choices.
  • Focusing too much on the future: what will happen, where will I be?

For example, my biggest regret from college was rushing through straight to degree rather than taking time to explore other interests and pathways. Focus is a strength too but it’s the opposite of well-rounded. With relationships, focusing too much on the future can be disastrous and/or a huge lost opportunity to form a deep connection with a loved one.

I’m getting better at learning to manage my impatience. I’m trying to slow down during the day and be very intentional about how I go through my task list. When deciding deadlines for self and others, I deliberately add 50-100% more time than my initial inclination. When getting into elevators or lines, I make a point of becoming a student of my surroundings, using an appreciative eye to study all that I see. A recent hour wait in line flew right by! Though there’s still much room for improvement, it’s slowly getting better.

I’ve also learned that when I’m overly focusing on the future, that it’s a good time for me to go inward and be more reflective about what is in the now. I believe I have fairly high introspective intelligence, so it is a natural counterbalance to when I’m being too outwardly focused.   Using a strength to manage another strength that is over-the-top is a great strategy – not just for me.

So now you know why I have typos and grammatical errors in my blogs, at least in part (do I look like I was an English major?).   For me to partner with someone who is deliberate and detail-oriented would be a great match! In the past, that person would just frustrate me when, in fact, they’re my perfect collaborator.

Now, excuse me. I’m running out the door for yoga.

Taking the Fear Out of Self-Awareness

That inward journey is scary. You never know what you will find.  Will I like what I discover about myself?  Will I hate it?  Will I find that I’m fundamentally flawed and deficient if I go there?

Perhaps we can agree that even the most saintly heart on the planet experiences envy, greed, selfishness, aggression, hate and despair at one time or another.  We are human, after all, and being fraught with imperfection is a truth we all share.  Ignoring that fact is kind of like ignoring the fact that my teeth will rot (and will give new meaning to the phrase ‘dragon breath’) if I don’t brush them.  Sticking my head in the sand about what is universally true does not change that reality.  Similarly, accepting our imperfections will not magically make them worse either.

I argue that our imperfections are not a problem; they are, in fact, an opportunity for growth and improvement.  In addition, our imperfections make us beautifully human and relatable.  I was talking to a student recently who described a peer as ‘perfect.’  This perfect young lady was so intimidating, no one could imagine dating her.  How does she share her fears, insecurities and struggles when no one can imagine that she has any?  How do you share your fears and insecurities with someone that doesn’t have any?  How can you feel seen if no one can see you?  Distancing yourself from emotions is a recipe for emotional isolation.

Instead, I argue that we should we focus on our strengths instead of our imperfections.  Our imperfections are there.  We accept them.  But trying to fix our weaknesses feels defeating and counterproductive because it is.   In addition, what we may call our weaknesses are sometimes actually strengths that are being poorly used.

Identifying and optimizing use of our strengths helps us feel energized, successful and authentic.  We can also develop strengths we didn’t realize we had and expand our repertoire of skills.  Finally, we can use our dominant strengths to improve in the areas we’re not so strong.  In this way, we address our weaknesses without giving them power.

Yes, this is about power.  Our personal power.  By refusing to acknowledge or accept our personal truths, we give power to what we will not name or discuss.  By shedding light on our Voldemorts and managing them in a positive way, like Harry Potter we reclaim our power and ability to grow and change in ways we could not have imagined.

Now what’s so scary about that?

Exploring the Nature of Flow

Flow

Flow

I have been contemplating the nature of flow from both my scientific background and my emerging spirituality.  The flow I’m talking about is when you’re in that sweet spot where your talent and passion collide and actions and events seem to fall into place smoothly and easily.  During flow, you lose track of time, and people say to you, “wow, how did you do that?”, or “you should do that for a living.”  Don’t dismiss those comments.  Just because it’s a no-brainer for you doesn’t mean it’s that way for others.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the metaphors around flow have to do with water:  go with the flow, in with the tide, versus swimming upstream, going against the tide.

I suspect that if you asked 100 people if they’ve had the positive flow experience, the vast majority of them would say that they had.  If you asked the same 100 people if they had experienced the swimming upstream metaphor, all 100 people would reply in the affirmative.

So what is it in our life that provides this shared experience of flow?  Is it something spiritual (the will of the universe?) or something that can be explained logically?

Given my recent obsession with StrengthsFinders, I am inclined to approach a logical inquiry by starting with our strengths.  The positive psychology literature shows that when people work with their strengths, they are happier, more productive, engaged and creative.   I would also surmise that they are likely to be more present and in the moment.  The net result is that they will also have greater access to their intuition (probably why they have a strength there to begin with), are more observant, are able to convert that information that others may completely miss and rapidly channel that into a fascinating opportunity.  Others take note of that talent and doors begin to open.  An obvious and logical path emerges as one moves towards a goal.  Success builds upon success in an upward spiral.

Conversely, if we’re working in an area of relative weakness, then we are struggling and must work harder to accomplish the same task.  We may fail to note what may seem obvious to others, and will have difficulty putting the pieces together in a useful and meaningful way.  Others may simply view us as clueless,  incompetent or not trying.  Continuing to pursue areas of weakness may feel like we’re constantly swimming upstream as we find that doors fail to open for us.  Resisting the flow and fighting the directionality of our lives is exhausting, depressing and discouraging.  All of the above makes it harder to succeed, resulting in a downward spiral.

I am not sure the above explanation accounts for all the pieces that often seem to fall into place when we’re in flow.    Sometimes when in flow, factors that seem completely unrelated may have a role, subtle or conspicuous,  in shaping the outcome of a situation.  When we’re in flow, perhaps we’re less likely to allow hurdles to deter us and more likely to take advantage of an opportune event.  Or perhaps this is where the universe steps in.

Regardless of whether the reason for flow can be explained or proven with scientific inquiry or logic, I believe that being in flow is an indicator that we are engaged in our life’s purpose.  Since we all have strengths (as described in a previous blog), then it follows that everyone, from the biggest screw-up to the most successful billionaire, all have unique talents and strengths that can be channeled into their own version of genius!  We are all savants in some way, and that discovery is ours to uncover.  Should we be so willing.

Sometimes it seems we are all too willing to discover our failures as a person.  What about our successes?  Where are you looking?