Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Planning Joy

This past week was a miserable one for me - sinus infection got me down and I was convinced that life is just one damn chore after another in a life filled with fatigue and misery.

But in my perpetual search for joy, I came across a web site with some ideas for putting pleasure back into my daily slog through life.

Creating a comfort list and pleasure program is the page I wound up on. This woke me up to the fact that I've been forgetting to have fun, lately. When I look around, all I see are the chores and what I "should" be doing. Somehow I think I can't have fun until I've gotten out from under those chores.

In an effort to squeeze in some fun, I bought a jigsaw puzzle and set it up on the dining table. Not a good idea. While I do enjoy a bit of that from time to time, I can't say I really think of that as fun, as in make me laugh and spark my imagination. Plus it's in my way when I eat (which is a lot more fun to me than any old puzzle!)

What I like about this list at the Straight from the Heart website, is that you can plan fun things of different time requirements, so that there's always something you can squeeze in if you want. Also, looking at the example list reminds me that I do some of these things already, but don't remember to enjoy them as much as I should -- I think of them as escape, which invokes guilt and resentment, instead of as respite, renewal, and comfort, which I so richly deserve.

This list also reminds me to think about what I really like. And one of the things I'd forgotten about was -- novelty. I don't like doing the same things over and over, even fun things, such as reading a good book. I need to see new places, or try new things. That's a big jolt of fun for me.

But what I really like about this list is that it reminds me that I can have fun if I want to. And that gives me the most hope and joy -- to remember that it's all under my control.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Objects in motion will not stay in motion all by them-goddamn-selves

I remember back when I was learning to play squash. Tiny room, hard, bouncy rubber ball, running people, flailing rackets. I spent a lot of the time getting:
a) round bruises from being hit by a ricocheting ball, and
b) footprint-shaped bruises from being run over by my teacher.

This is because I was so astounded every time I actually hit the ball, I would stand in place and look to see where it would go.

"Get out of the way," my teacher would yell as she shoved me aside. "Stop admiring yourself and keep moving!"

It's good to celebrate what I've done, such as write posts in this blog. I'm proud of them.

It's not good to keep reading and re-reading the posts over and over, marveling at my brilliance (but it sure is a nice, cheap thrill). That way I'll never move beyond just writing, to writing better. I'll never get enough distance from the writing to finally see the flaws and less-than-perfect phrasing, so that I can move towards improving and getting stronger.

I used to think, "I don't want to be a writer, I just want to have written."
Now that I've started writing this blog, I've changed my mind. I want to write, and keep writing better and better.

Otherwise, what's the point?

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Get rid of your buts

Here's a speech I gave at a Toastmasters meeting a few months ago:

There’s a big but problem in America today, but it’s not what you think.

You’re probably thinking I’m talking about smoking, right?

Or maybe you think I’m talking about losing weight?

Well, I am. I’m talking about losing a weight that really drags a conversation down. You see, in Toastmasters, one of the things we try to do is to get rid of what they call “verbal crutches” – ums, ahs, you knows. Those get in the way of clear communication.

In my never-ending quest for the secrets of clear communication, I’ve become aware of something like an um or an ah – a phrase we interject a lot in conversations that’s definitely an obstacle to communication. I call it -- “the Big But.”

Here’s an example:

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago.

“Gee, I’m a little nervous about the conference call I’m having in an hour, so I’ve been doing some deep breathing, and getting myself calmer.”

“But you don’t have anything to be nervous about,” she said. “You’ve been on lots of conference calls before.”

“Yeah but, this time my boss wants me to lead the call, and do the introductions. I’ve never done that, so I’m a little nervous.”

”But, you’re in Toastmasters, you should be used to that by now.”

"Yes." I said, "but this is in front of my bosses – I’m leading the call. It’s something different, so I’m a little nervous.”

“Well, I don’t think you should be nervous.”

Yeah, but that’s how I feel.”

Do you see what was happening? Did you hear how many “buts” we used?

When I said something, and she responded with a “but...,” I felt invalidated. To me, it sounded like she was saying, no, you’re wrong – you don’t have the right to feel this way.
So my natural reaction was to come up with more reasons to be nervous –which did not help me calm down at all.

My friend, on the other hand was trying to help me by giving me reasons why I should not worry. Yet I was buting her, same as she buted me, which had the effect of saying to her -- my reasons to be nervous trump your efforts to reassure me.

My friend and I aren’t the only people doing that.

Here are a few more examples:

A child says “I hate school. I’m not going.”

Mom says, “But you have to go – you’re not sick and I can’t leave you home alone.”

What’s Mom saying to her child? It doesn’t matter what you feel! While it may be true that the child has to go to school anyway, it certainly isn’t true that it doesn’t matter how he feels.

Or a woman says to her husband, “I don’t feel like watching that movie tonight, honey.”

And he replies, “But you’re the one who told me to get it at Tommy K’s. It cost $4 bucks, you know.”

Well, he might be missing out on something even better than a movie if he doesn’t shut up and listen!

When a but is brought in too soon, it doesn’t aid in communication – it obscures it. When you but in right away, it’s a sign that you’re not letting the other person fully express his or her thoughts and feelings.

Steven Covey, of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says that in conversation, you should “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

In other words, when someone says something, don’t just jump in with your objections, counter-arguments, and opinions. You may have a good viewpoint, you may even be right. It could happen! But if you chime in right away, you might be missing the real message.

One way to do that is to stop yourself before you’re about to say “but…” Remember: buts don’t belong in front.

Instead, really listen to what someone is saying without thinking about your counter-points. Respond instead with something that shows you understand what he or she has said (you don’t have to agree.) Or, respond with a request for clarification.

This may take a little more time – you’ll have to wait a little longer for your turn to straighten that person out! Steven Covey also says, “With people, fast is slow and slow is fast.” In other words, if you really want to connect, take some time in the conversation. You’ll connect sooner than if you rush in with a big but.

And there’s another plus -- when your conversational partner feels understood, she might will be even more receptive to your viewpoint, because you’ve given her time to explain hers.

For example, when the child says "I hate school; I'm not going," her mother could have responded with something like, "It sounds like you're angry about school."

"Yes, I am. Tommy called me a name! I hate him."

This way, she can get to the root of the problem, which is not that her child hates school.

And how about this alternative to the movie conversation:

Wife: "I don't feel like watching that movie tonight, honey."

Husband: "Gee, yesterday you told me to go get it -- what changed your mind, honey?"

Wife: "Why you, big boy!"

And here’s how the first conversation could have gone:

Me: “Gee, I’m a little nervous about the conference call I’m having in an hour, so I’ve been doing some deep breathing, and getting myself calmer.”

Friend: “You think your nerves might interfere with the call?”

Me: “Yes, it’s an important call for me – my boss will be there, and he wants me to lead the call.”

Friend: “You’re nervous because you’ll be performing in front of your boss.”

Me: “You bet!”

Friend: “Are you afraid you won’t do well?”

Me: “A little. So I’ve been preparing – got my notes; and I’ve been rehearsing. Plus I’ve been doing deep breathing exercises.”

Friend: “It’s good that you’re working to control your nerves. Yet it seems to me that you’re focusing on the negative. Have you thought of any reasons why you might do well?”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Aha! Then she could bring out all the same reasons as in the first conversation. The difference is that this way, I’d listen.

I’m not saying you should never say “but” -- that would be impossible! But’s a good word, and we’re all attached to it.

I’m saying with every conversation you have an opportunity to really communicate and not just talk. So, from now on, remember -- if you want to really communicate, you’ve got to kiss your buts goodbye.