the voice behind the choice

How’s your summer going?”

A variation of this question was posed to me three times, in quick succession, one afternoon very recently. I had not yet left for the summer and was working steadily to finish all the tasks left to do before I could begin my break.

Nursing a deep resentment for still being at work while most colleagues were on the golf course, at their cottage or otherwise relaxing, my reaction to this question each time was to launch into what tasks I still had yet to do and a litany of reasons why it was taking so long for me to complete those tasks, this year in particular.

I saw a similar glazed-over look that was a cross between boredom and disinterest in the eyes of each person as I spoke to them. If we had still been children, one of them surely would have rubbed their index finger and their thumb together in front of my face declaring it was the world’s smallest violin playing and that it was playing just for me.

If it had just been this one day, I could chalk it up to simply having a bad day but it was clear to me that over the past few months Moaning Myrtle was becoming a default persona so I did a little experiment to see how this would play out long term if nothing changed.

 

I’m 85 years old and I’m walking with purpose to the Saturday morning farmer’s market pulling my empty two-wheeled cart behind me. A young woman who lives on my street greets me kindly as I rush by her with my jaw set, my brow furrowed and focused on my very important business that will surely involve bartering the best price for Bartlett pears. As I pass a shopkeeper sweeping the walk in front of his store, he looks up, stops sweeping, smiles at me and asks how I’m doing on this fine morning? So I tell him how much I have to do, how I have to find time to get train tickets for next month’s visit to my son and then there’s that closet I have to get cleaned out and figure out how to the get the contents over to the thrift store. I am also sure to tell him that I didn’t get much sleep last night because the neighbours had guests over for a barbecue and they stayed until the ungodly hour of 11 pm.  As I ramble on, the shopkeeper gets the all-too-familiar look in his eyes. It is the same look I’ve seen in the eyes of my colleagues, friends and family for longer than I care to remember. 

 

Not a pretty picture. And certainly not the future I want.  For me or anyone near me.

Now the work is to look behind the repeated choice to complain and find out what underlying beliefs are informing Moaning Myrtle’s rants. What are my beliefs about hard work, about what I think I deserve and what attention I think I should get based on my perceived competence and productivity?   

And based on clarity of beliefs and tweaking any outdated or unhelpful ones, what will the new scripts be when I’m asked how I’m doing?

 

Since I am now on my summer break, I’ll have to get to that work after I go for a walk or a bike ride, have a cup of coffee on my porch, take a nap and read a book.  Moaning Myrtle’s voice is fading as she has been sent packing on a break of her own.

 

Happy Nasturtiums 2

 

By the way, my summer is starting out to be the nourishing break I needed, thank you very much for asking!

 

 

 

carved in stone

 

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone

creates the urgency for you to prove yourself over and over”

Carol S. Dweck, PhD,

Mindset: A New Psychology of Success and Achievement

The image above is from a friend and gifted sculptor, Steve Fraser, who infuses life into stone with his work to the point that you can almost see the face he created in the stonework smiling, breathing comfortably, ever-growing in awareness and contributing to the world around him.

The reverse process of encasing life in stone does not work so well.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like to be on a firm foundation in life with some consistency, some continuity to rest in.  But creating a rock-solid version of the story you tell yourself about the way things really are leaves no room for potential, mystery, poetry, hope, distress, recovery or resilience.  If your truth is already carved out then what’s the point of getting up in the morning?

Resilience in the face of turbulence calls for the courage to be creatively flexible.

What could happen if you would:

  • Listen to the thoughts you think
  • Notice the words you choose to use
  • Become aware of the emotions that arise
  • Recognize how your story sprouts directly from the frequent repetition of these
  • Believe you are absolutely creative enough to re-write several possible story lines
  • Re-script the thoughts and words to craft a stellar ending with killer plot twists!

The story grows, changes, evolves and you have a key role to play in writing the ending.

 

 

words. create. reality?

 

I am a twin.

Well, I guess it is more accurate to say that I was born with a twin. My womb-mate, although technically fraternal, seems identical to me in so many ways yet indescribably different at the same time. Some days it feels as if she’s from a different egg altogether!  Weird.

Twins

Being twins, there’s a slight chance that we were treated more similarly, more alike than just siblings, especially since we were only sold as a set. Two of everything for years on end. Side by side for the pureed peas, high-chair feedings and dressed in matching outfits in every class photo until middle school.

Birthday parties were double the fun, for our guests. But my twin sister and I began to share knowing, resigned glances as the party-ready guests arrived each bearing their single-package gifts knowing that we were about to receive a lot of board games and other items to be shared between us. My twin and I were close, but did not relish spending hours together playing Battleship and Connect Four.

And although, our mother was thoughtfully aware enough to not compare us to each other, the labels we created in our individual self-talk perception journals were very clear. My personal black and white journal from way back then read something like this.

Me: I am the smart, introverted, persevering and sarcastic one.
She: She is the pretty, creative, social and sarcastic one.

I told you there were some similarities. The twin and I have a long-standing joke between us where we will end up sitting side-by-each in a nursing home where the experienced nurses will whisper warnings to the newbies to “stay away from those two, they bite!”

The fifth-grade “I am” statements I had scripted all had some foundation in whatever form truth takes when you’re that young. My twin indeed knew how to successfully socialize and seemed to always have plans with friends. Me, not so much. I preferred to be alone rather than hanging out with friends, chose the library stacks to the sports field and often reading a book over talking with a group of girls who were talking about a group of boys. And her creativity was expressed fluently through art, playing piano by ear or even the way she dressed with a genuine style and flair. Again, me not so much. My untapped creativity was trapped beneath a impenetrable mix of perfectionism and procrastination.

I guess I could say it’s natural to design our own labels but what is the long-term impact? What invisible doors of opportunity in our lives appeared only as walls because the risk involved would only be taken by someone with a different “I am” descriptor than the one we had for ourselves?

Recently, I started listening to my current, daily list of “I am”s and the resounding bass line of repeated phrases is interesting.  And kind of sad.

I am tired.
I am too busy to do any more.
I am too busy to get all of this work done.
I am definitely much too busy for a social life.
I am overwhelmed.
I am done.

Now there’s a snapshot of an exhausted life by design. Morbid much?  Designed to run on the steam of the consistently uttered, out-of-breath “I am”s.

But, in a given moment, am I actually tired? Or am I Danette who may at the moment be feeling the weight of a long day expressing itself as lethargy, the need for a relaxing and nourishing meal and simply a brief break from social interaction and multiple deadlines?

As soon as I say “I am tired”, my body is all too quick to agree. My posture imperceptibly crumples, with shoulders rounding forward and breath getting more shallow by the moment. Just enough though for the mind to get on board. “Yes, I am definitely tired. Exhausted even. I need a break. I work too hard.” Clearly, it must be true because I thought it.

Yet, even contemplating inverting those “I am” statements and converting them into less weighty ones might lead me perilously close to the edge of the forest where the secret life of the ‘be positive’ fairies live and dance with the woodland imps and magic fire-flies. Yikes.

Wouldn’t that just be switching one concrete for another? What about not labeling ourselves at all? But then what would we say when we are compulsively chronicling our lives in every conversation. Yes, yes, yes, I am (truly) acutely aware of the irony of that statement coming from an avid Compulsive Chronicler in blog form. Doesn’t mean I can’t question.

True confession time. I invert. And I am a converter. I recently grabbed my most common doomsday “I am”s and turned them on their heads to come up with something less lethargic, with more ease and a little less damned-if-I-do-damned-if-I-don’t.

The experiment is to use intentional word tools to see if I can rewire some of the negative, patterned, unconscious reactions. I may be just blowing sunshine up my own kilt but I’ve felt the weight of bearing these old “I am’s” and would like to see if more light-infused statements will be enough to begin some initial re-programming. I’ll keep you posted. If I start posting as a positive-thinking-will-solve-all-your-problems guru, you have permission to tell me to get my head out of my arse!  I won’t be offended. It would’ve been something my dad would’ve said so I’d respond well to it.

I do know though that things can change because when I look back on my twin-based, matching outfit litany of “I am’s”, I’ve noticed that they have oddly morphed into truthful descriptors for both me and my twin sister even if the expressions of them may appear different in varying situations. We are separately, uniquely all of them.

Not to leave all cynicism in the dust of this power of positive thinking party, I’ve still got money on the fact that the twinster and I will be an acerbic pair of old grannies, sitting in wheelchairs with knitted blankets folded on our laps,complaining about getting another board game for our 90th birthdays.

Twins

pattern interrupted

 

We each contain within us a multitude of patterns and unconscious reactions. They’re often thinly disguised in thoughts and phrases such as “I can’t help it, this is who I am”.  Or perhaps they come to light in a moment of “Why do I always do that?” or when we catch ourselves consistently and insistently complaining about a particularly annoying person or event.

But what if a pattern is no longer beneficial and even becomes a hindrance to our growth and prevents us living freely, then what?  What if a pattern is trapping us in our own Groundhog Day experience? Or if it becomes a pleasingly patterned yet hard-to-penetrate and limiting brick wall?

Patterns

The point is to interrupt the pattern. Whenever a pattern is interrupted, there is a moment of awareness (often accompanied by a moment of panic). That interruption gives you a moment to see or exercise another possibility.–Ken McLeod, Buddhist teacher and writer

Four Steps to Pattern Interruption

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with using these four steps in response to the regular fall-out of my own pattern of staying hyper-busy/ compulsively over-working.

1.  Notice
2.  Uncover
3.  Re-Write
4.  Repeat

Notice
This may be easier for some patterns than others.  For me, the “work” pattern has become clear to me by way of a frantic mind, an oft-weakened immune system and chronic irritation that results when I work to exhaustion.  According to Ken McLeod, interrupting the pattern requires pausing just before the pattern is repeated instead of staying in a trance.  This will be a challenge since my tendency to overwork sort of steamrolls right over pauses.  Meditation has definitely been helpful in disengaging the pause-crushing steamroller and creating more space for noticing.

Uncover
Using the 5 Why’s to uncover the underlying story that informs my pattern has been quite useful for me.  Sometimes I can even rationalize up until almost 10 why’s.

I can’t stop working right now, I’m too busy!
Why?

Because I have this job/ task that must/should be finished.
Why?

Because I’ve already started and it is easier to just push through and finish it before I take a break.
Why?

Because I’d feel better, once I was resting, to not have to see the unfinished task in front of me.  I’d be much more relaxed if it was just finished.
Why?

Because I’d feel guilty sitting down when there’s work still to be done.
Why?

Because I feel valuable when I am productive and get work finished. My value stems from how much I accomplish.

BINGO!

My hidden story is that I believe my value is based on how much I accomplish so my value, in my mind, goes up the harder I work. Clearly there’s a deeper back-story there but, in order to maintain focus, let’s just leave that for when there’s time for self-reflection later and now consider the next step.

Re-Write
The story of “work = value” is an interesting one but is far from liberating and not one that I want to have as a silent director of my actions and decisions. Time for a re-write of that old script.  New script says “Working or not, productive or not, I have value”.  


Repeat
To make even a dent in the ancient story I’ve held to as truth for so long, this new script will need to be be expressed verbally every day until it becomes the new pattern.  New decisions will be based on the freedom of choice, not within the confines of a claustrophobic story.

I’m famously stubborn so this process might take longer for me than it does you.  I already caught myself pushing stoically through to the end of writing this post without taking a break when my mind and body were asking for one.  And this is only one of my patterns!

One pattern, one step at time.