Kindly remove your toe from my nose. Thank you.

“Kindly remove your toe from my nose. Thank you.”

Those were the first words out of my mouth one morning 20+ years ago. I was on a 10-day kayak trip through the San Juan Islands with a group of fellow campers attending one of the Teen Adventure camps put on by the summer camp I had attended since 3rd grade. Those words were spoken to my paddling partner, who at 14 had already hit 6’3”.

There is, of course, more to this story.

About a week before the morning in question, and shortly after one of those “group bonding exercises” you always read about and pray you won’t have to participate in, we had gathered on the beach to conduct our “flip test.” This is where we paddled out as a group, rafted up (pulled our kayaks up next to each other and used our paddles to hold us all together), then one by one released from the raft and flipped ourselves into the water to test our ability to get back in said kayak should this happen on the trip (say in the wake of a ferry, or perhaps during a storm with 6’-8’ swells…more on that later).

What the counselors failed to alert us to is the fact that the waters in this part of the Puget Sound stay at a crisp 50 degrees all summer. Even this close to shore. With the air temps in the 80’s. When the body of a male human hits water this temperature, the first thing that tends to happen is that his testicles run for higher ground, seeking refuge somewhere between his chest cavity and his throat.

Now, this being a YMCA camp, and us becoming a tight-knit group and caring for each other and all that, the first thing we were instructed to do was check in with our paddling partner.

When one’s testicles have sought shelter in one’s throat, speaking can be…troublesome.

“CROAK aarrggghhh yoouuu CROAK ooohhh kkkaaa, CROAK!?!?” apparently wasn’t what they had in mind. Yet that’s all either of us could get out.

Once some semblance of acclimation has happened, which takes somewhere between 15 seconds and for-fucking-ever, the voice finds its way home, kicks out the testicles that have been squatting in the throat, and communication becomes possible again.

However, by this point, all feeling has left the extremities and the hands become either blobs of jello or completely rigid, claw-like structures.

Right, back to the flip-test. The process we were to use is what’s called the “buddy rescue.” This entails working together to get the kayak righted, then one partner swims around the boat and prepares to brace it, while the other partner uses their paddle to brace while simultaneously kicking themselves onto the kayak deck. Then all one has to do is slip gracefully into the cockpit and prepare to brace for the second person’s re-entry.

Or you know, not.

I mentioned that my partner was 6’3” at 14, right? Coordination for this guy literally meant getting through a day without tripping over his own size 13 feet.

Being the captain (he didn’t fit in the back, where the pedals you steer with are), I went first and got in on the second try and set about bracing. He then proceeded to make ~437 attempts to get himself the hell back into the boat.

Aaand our trip is off to a roaring good start.

Fast forward through the first couple of lovely days paddling, watching the resident Orca pods breach ~100 yards from us, and just generally loving life. Then the summer storm rolled in. Now we’re beached at a campground that’s technically already full, the only available site is intended for 4-6 people and we’re 12 + 2 counselors.

If you’re familiar with the concept of Blue Tarp Camping, you know what comes next.

We string our tarp between trees (well two trees, a signpost, and the side of what used to be a pit-pot, yep, we were camping behind a decommissioned crapper), lay out the other one as a ground cloth, and proceed to pack ourselves in like the sardines we always dreamt of becoming.

One counselor, the one who was apparently spatially challenged, proceeded to point to each of us in turn and say “you, over there, head on that end.”

And it is thus that I woke up the next morning with the big toe of my 6’3”, size 13 wearing paddling partner disturbingly close to my left nostril.

And that was only the first of what turned into 3 mornings spent on this beach, it seems a summer storm the likes of which we were beached by hadn’t been seen in those parts for many years. The San Juan Islands are *technically* in a rain shadow cast by the Olympic Mountains, so *technically* they see far less rain than down in Seattle.

*Technically*

By morning #3, let’s just say tensions had risen and we were all more than ready to get off this beach. Luckily for all of us, the beach, and all the other poor souls who had been trapped alongside us dozen teenagers…the storm broke and at 5:30 that morning we set out. Yep, you read that right, we had to be up, packed, and speaking moderately coherent sentences by 5:30.

Now, at 40, I’m able to do that. 16 year old me…AHAHAHA, NO.

We set out and headed for our pickup point back on our home island. We had to cross one of the busiest ferry channels in the islands to get there. As we headed out, the water was glassy smooth so there were no worries to be found. In fact, the counselors were so sure of everything they allowed the two smallest campers, who happened to be best friends, to paddle together.

What could go wrong? This, this is what could go wrong:

The instant we crossed that channel the wind picked up a bit. Then the water seemed to start…swelling a bit. The instant the lead counselor put away the radio after checking in and verifying our arrival time…all hell broke loose. And by hell I mean ferry wakes started crossing with 6’-8’ swells and the rain started coming down sideways.

We all realized the danger we were in when the counselor’s only instructions were:

“get your asses to the beach, NOW!”

I have few distinct memories of what happened next, there are snippets of trees going horizontal as our kayak went up the sheer faces of those swells, rocked over the top, and slid down the backside. Paddles were hitting air more than they were digging into the water. In the end, after what felt like 2 weeks we hit the smooth waters of the inlet where our pick up beach was located.

The aftermath of this story involves one broken rudder (when those two tiny kids managed to beach their kayak on the wrong beach), 12 exhausted teenagers, 2 exasperated counselors (one of whom was also wet and sandy after one of the aforementioned exhausted teens dumped him out of his kayak 2 feet from shore), and a long-ass bus ride back to the showers…I mean camp.

No, I mean showers.

Do you have any idea how bad 12 teenagers smell after a week of camping?

It’s not you. It’s not me, either. It’s US

Another deceptively simple-seeming concept I recently came across can be summed up like this:

“It’s not you. It’s not me. It’s US.”

Seeing a relationship like this lets both parties view it as something outside themselves. Something that exists independently, and therefore as something that can be dissolved without reflecting negatively on either person. It’s not that you’re a bad person, nor am I, it’s just that this relationship isn’t working.

Finding this concept came at a meaningful time for me, as I was contemplating leaving my day job due to ongoing toxic relations with my boss. I was working for a small, like 7 people small, company, so there were few options to escape a toxic relationship.

This seemingly simple concept turns out to be an extremely powerful way of looking at toxic relationships. It effectively takes the *blame* off of both parties, and puts it squarely on the interplay between them.

It turns the squishy concept of a relationship into a tangible thing, a thing that is not working.

I wish I had some sort of concrete advice to add here, the fact of the matter is that I don’t. Relationships are not a strong suit for me, and as such I hesitate to make suggestions in this arena.

What I wanted to do was share this perspective in the hopes that maybe it will help someone else see their own way out of a toxic situation in a way that leaves both parties feeling OK about themselves, and secure in the knowledge that it wasn’t their *fault*.

Really, Friday? REALLY!?!?

Preamble – I wrote this draft several months ago when I still worked at the mentioned tiny company. At this point, I’ve been gone for 4 months so I made some edits to reflect the passage of time.

I saw reference to a Twitter horror story some time ago. it read, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Monday…”

With that in mind, let me tell you about a (at this point not-so) recent Friday. I’ll start with the decidedly un-funny bits, then there will be some neutral bits, and finally, I’ll wrap up with the (at the time) downright hysterical bits.

I worked at a small IT services company. As in 7 employees and the owner’s dad moonlights as the development guy. Needless to say, we’re all up in each other’s business. So when one person’s father passes away, we all know pretty much immediately. That was the first happening on this particular Friday and the decidedly un-funny bit.

I was the operations manager at said tiny company. As such, I was the central repository of all knowledge, scheduling, appointments, etc. I was also the chief bottle washer and tp roll changer (because apparently IT guys truly are untrained monkeys).

The first text came in around 9:15, “bus didn’t show up again, going to be late.” OK, I can work with that.

20 minutes later, “was stung in the back of the head by a wasp or something, going to be later than expected.”

AND THUS IT BEGAN.

A bit later, “girlfriend was walking down the same block and got stung in the face, just got off the bus to call her, will let you know.”

(Only later did I later found out that he had to get off the bus because he had to find wifi in order to call her back. Because he hadn’t paid his bill and his cell service was cut. SIGH)

While this is going on, I notice an email from a relatively new client, “I was under the impression we had an appointment for 9:00 AM today, why didn’t anybody show up?”

ARE YOU &$^#@ KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?!?!

At this point it’s 10:15 or thereabouts and way too late to send someone out there, this guy had to move on with his morning, albeit without a working computer. (I can only imagine what he thought of us as he rang up his customers with his backup abacus)

OK, so now I’ve got to track down the missing technician. Eventually, he appears online, “Sorry, woke up late to a dead phone. It’s also my alarm clock.”

Of course, it is. OK. Found missing technician. One down.

10:30 and the wasp sting is being dealt with using what the stingee calls his “eye-in-the-back-of-the-head patch.” In other words, he’s got an ice pack taped to his head.

Which leads, logically, to talk of the stealthy nature of the critter that stung him. The naming went roughly like this:

Stealthy Pirate Bee (see above eye patch reference) > Ninja Pirate > Ronin Wasp > Lego Ninja Yellowjacket (except black, because ninja and clearly he had no clue what actually got him) > The Greenlake Ronin Ninja Wasp from Hell, 2017 Edition.

To add some perspective on this discussion, I’m the oldest employee at 40, the youngest clocks in at 33. So these are full grown, ostensibly adult type people.

At least nobody called it Waspy McWaspface.

It is at this point that the utterly ridiculous nature of the morning hit full force and I couldn’t stop laughing. Like, full grown man about to piss himself laughing. At the Ronin Ninja thing. Which on the face of it really isn’t that funny or clever. The benefit of hindsight tells me that, now.

At the time, coffee was coming out of my nose.

And I wasn’t the only one. The whole room was getting that cathartic release that only a really good, deep, almost uncontrollable laugh can give.

Thankfully the rest of the day went smoothly. Although, and again in hindsight, with the way it started – what other direction could it have gone?

Meditation, Mindfulness, and Attention

There are a lot of misconceptions out there around just what meditation is – and what it “should” be. I’m not going to address most of them. That’s beyond my pay grade. What I do want to address – in an extremely brief way – is how it can help increase general mindfulness on a day to day basis.

Q: How long should I meditate?

A: How should I know?

That quote is attributed to several different monks and meditation teachers. I like it for its simplicity, for how well it conveys an idea that could otherwise take several pages (or several entire books) to get across. To fully grasp the idea, it helps to understand one of the fundamental aspects of mindfulness:

“Recall that in a line 6 inches long there are an infinite number of points, and in a line one inch long there are just as many.”

    – Jon Kabat-Zinn

If you change ‘inches’ to ‘minutes’ in the above analogy, then how many finite moments are there in a 45-minute meditation session? How about 20 minutes? 10? 2?

Exactly.

If you can bring your focus to this moment, this one right here – then what’s stopping you from bringing that same focus to the moments in a 2-minute meditation session? And if you can do that, why not 10 minutes? See where I’m going with this?

Bottom line – it doesn’t matter how long you sit. What matters is that you bring your attention to the present moment. If you can do that for 2 minutes a day, you’re succeeding and increasing your mindfulness.

Congratulations!

If you can do it for 10 minutes, fantastic! If you take this time sitting at your desk before you start work in the morning, that works. If you can do it before you leave the house, sitting on a cushion, great.

The point is to bring attention to the present moment. Because each moment is fleeting, and when you can bring mindfulness to even one more of them each day you’ll appreciate that day a little bit more.

And every little bit matters.

“Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose…”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn

This brings us, in an admittedly roundabout way, to the topic of this article – Mindfulness and Attention. We live in a culture that wants our attention. The thing is, it only wants our attention long enough for the ad company, or the social media feed, to make their pitch and move on. If you want to dive deeper into something, like a good book, the deck is stacked against you in a big, big way.

I have another post in the works about the Attentional Economy and my own recent experience with it. What I will say here is that there are always ways around this engineered content, ways you can take back your attention and put it to use doing what YOU want it to do. I don’t want to start sounding like a conspiracy theory type, but your attention is yours, don’t let it be hijacked by ads and *curated* content that doesn’t mean anything to YOU.

And just what is this wonder method, you ask? If you’ve read anything else on my site, or even if you just noticed the title of this piece, you know the answer…

Be Mindful.

Mindful of where your attention is being drawn.

Mindful of what you click as you scroll through your Facebook feed (is that what it’s still called?).

Mindful of what you’re spending your attentional resources on, and how that use is serving you.

It helps to think about attention as a finite resource, something that you can definitely use up. You only have so much attention per day, and if you use too much of it scrolling blindly through Instagram, you may not have enough left to work on that novel you keep meaning to start.

And finally, be mindful of who is watching how you’re using those resources.

Without sounding conspiratorial, the recent kerfuffle around FB data and who was using it how brought to light that it’s something to keep in mind. When you click “Like” then find yourself wondering how the next site you visited knew to target that particular ad to you at just that moment, remember that the two may be related.

Cognitive Blinders

Now for a quick word on those culturally based blinders I mentioned in my last piece. Don’t think you don’t have them. We all do. The trick is being able to see them BEFORE they get in the way. Part 2 of the trick is being able to push them aside to see what they’ve been blocking from view. One of the benefits of the practice of reframing is that you have the chance to consciously, and mindfully, do exactly that.

There are 2 primary blinders I want to discuss. The first is called the Availability Heuristic.

In summary, this is how we use the information we have collected from previous experience to judge what’s going to happen now, in this moment. Let’s say you’re sitting at a stop light. The Availability Heuristic is what tells you that within 30-90 seconds that light will turn green and you’ll be on your way. This comes into play with Reframing because it’s this heuristic that tells you what to think about your options for the issue at hand.

If you’ve ever experienced something similar to the current situation you’re working with, you already have some idea of how to handle it. The problem is that the previous experience you’re using to formulate these ideas may not be as closely related as the heuristic tells you it is. If you don’t take the time to acknowledge this blinder, you may not realize any of this until it’s too late.

Blinder #2 is what Daniel Quinn calls “…the voice of Mother Culture humming in the background…”

This is the accumulated detritus of the culture you were raised in. Let’s say you’re in the US like I am. This would include everything from what you learned watching Sesame Street to what you learned watching one pop star beat up another, then continuing to sell out stadium shows with no repercussions. It includes the lessons about sharing you (hopefully) learned in kindergarten, and it includes what you’re learning watching the current political…situation. It includes what you learned playing outside with your friends as a kid (if you’re at least my age and your parents let you play outside), and it includes what you learned from watching and internalizing 20+ years worth of commercial TV and Hollywood blockbusters.

Both of these blinders are easily addressed. First, you have to be present enough to realize that they’re in play. Then, you have to take a moment to ask yourself what these blinders are blocking, and what they’re forcing you to focus on. Once you can reconcile the difference between these two things, you’re beginning to see the whole picture.

Now take a step back and reframe the situation. Once you’ve finished this exercise, as I mentioned earlier, you may very well end up at the same conclusion you arrived at pre-reframing – and again, that’s OK. Having looked at the issue from all sides, you can rest assured that that is indeed the most appropriate solution, in this moment, for the situation at hand. This can be a powerful tool in your arsenal as you move through life, from conflict resolution at home to the direction your career is going. I encourage you to give it a try the next time you find yourself appraising a sticky situation, you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

Reframing, or Perspectives Revisited

Let’s start with a definition of terms, from Wikipedia:

Cognitive reframing is a psychological technique that consists of identifying and then disputing irrational or maladaptive thoughts. Reframing is a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives.

In other words, reframing is taking an issue, situation, or interaction and turning it around in your head in order to see it from different perspectives. For the visual learners out there, look at it as separating the issue from your Self, setting it on the floor in front of you, and walking around it.

The concept of separating an issue from your Self might seem…woo-woo, or just a tad odd to some of you. No worries. The first step is to understand that what you’re experiencing is not who you are. The situation you find yourself in is just that, a discrete thing. It’s something that’s happening in this moment. The Self that is experiencing it exists independent of that situation.

Internalizing this fact is what will allow you to view the incident as something you can set down in front of you and examine. This lets you see it from many different angles, taking in multiple perspectives on the issue. Do several laps. Really let each distinct perspective sink in and make an impact on how you view this thing that is your situation.

In performing this separation, you will gain distance from the issue. This will allow you some room to breathe, to really examine the issue from these alternate perspectives and get a better grasp on it. You’ll see additional possibilities that may have been hidden previously due to the cultural blinders we all wear. These blinders are the inherent biases we all carry with us every day; the things we think we know and the societal assumptions we make, often unconsciously.

Time for a personal example.

For something like 15 years now, I’ve worked in IT support in one way or another. I figured out years ago that this was not the field I was supposed to be in, yet with the passing years and increasing experience, it becomes difficult to make any substantive career moves. I didn’t get into this field for any of the reasons people expect. I don’t particularly like computers. I like helping people. I like being able to help them solve a problem that allows them to be their best selves and do what they need to do more efficiently and effectively. It turned out I had an ability to fix computer and software issues. Don’t ask where that came from. No clue.*

After going through my own health journey over the last several years, I discovered a new field called Wellness Coaching. Coaching relies on skills that I seem to have innately. Things like listening intently (and listening before speaking), only asking deep questions that cause people to really think through their answers, and using intuition to interpret the pauses in conversations. This leads to discoveries on the part of the client, helping them find their way to their own definition of wellness.

Fast forward to the present. I’ve completed a Graduate Certificate in coaching, incurring the student debt I’ve read so much about recently, and have moved back to Seattle. Yet here I am, on the hunt for another IT job. How to make sense of this perceived lack of movement away from IT? That’s where reframing enters the story.

This part hit me in a blinding flash of ‘Duh’ the other day. My training in coaching positions me nicely to fill the role of team lead, or senior member of a support desk team. These roles often come with the expectation of mentoring/coaching younger members of the team, along with the usual customer interactions. I can now use the traits I already possess and felt like I had to quash behind my mask of IT Guy. When I can tell a coworker is having a bad day, I can gently inquire and see if talking about it helps them move on and refocus their energy on the day’s tasks. I can use my intuition to help with reviews. the possibilities are endless now that I’ve made the cognitive shift to seeing my traits and training as boons to my IT career rather than as a failed attempt at changing careers altogether.

This perspective shift, or reframing, changed my view on the time and money I put into this certificate. I now see it as a way to further my current career trajectory. And at the same time, it gives me a way to use some of those traits that were previously getting in the way and causing a disconnect in my day to day life.

That example kind of got away from me, yet remains on point for this topic. You can do this exercise with any situation you encounter. Whenever you find yourself saying, “OK, here’s what happened, now what do I do?!?!” Or, “here’s the only option I can see…” This is your cue to try reframing. You may very well end up right back where you started, and that’s OK. If so, you’ll get there having examined the situation from all these perspectives and you’ll be confident that your course of action is right for the situation and the moment.

Next time, I’ll go into a bit more depth on those culturally based blinders I briefly mention above. They deserve more time and attention than I could give them here, at least without making this more of a tome than it already is.

* OK, that’s not strictly true. I’m pretty sure it relates to where I fall on what’s called the Global ⇔ Sequential Thinker spectrum. I’m all the way global. This means that I look at a problem and see it all at once as a single, unified whole. Sequential folks see things as a series of logical steps, to be followed in order, one at a time. The benefit to me in being a global thinker is that I can often see where the glitch is with only a minimum of input from the customer and/or a minimum of poking around – rather than following a series of 10+ steps, most of which are irrelevant to the problem at hand.

Shift Your Perspective

This is an amalgamation of what started out as 3 posts on a previous blog. I’ve edited it heavily and in the end decided to combine the whole thing into one longer piece, hoping that the resulting total is indeed more than the sum of its parts. Trust me, it’s going to make more sense and be easier to digest this way. Think of it like throwing the entire week’s leftovers into one pot and turning it all into a stew. Just goes down easier than the individual bits do.

Perspective is everything

I stumbled on an interesting piece on Placemakers some time ago that had a great, brief history of the NIMBY movement (Not In My BackYard). The article’s point was to pinpoint where the movement took a turn for the…for argument’s sake let’s say, worse, and it includes what I think is a fundamental life lesson about perspective:

“The burden now falls on you to stop telling them what you don’t want. And start telling them what you do want.”

In other words, if you go through life focused on the negative, you’ll likely miss all the positive that’s out there. This seems extra timely given the content of the 24/7 news cycle. Don’t become so focused on a negative, let’s say news story, (or worse all of them at the same time) that you miss out on all the positive ones that are also happening, often right under your nose.

Take a step back and see negative situations/stories as a learning opportunity. Learn about the importance of shifting your perspective. Instead of “you can’t do ABC,” try “I wonder if XYZ would work?” By reframing things in the positive you may be amazed that you can get results you’ll be proud of, results that get you something you want, rather than just NOT getting something you don’t want.

Back to the source quote and article for a second. NIMBYs focus all of their efforts and energies into blocking things they don’t want; bridges, trails, airport runways (to use some examples from Seattle) – that they often miss what they already have – community. What if these groups of neighbors got together more often than just every time there was a hearing where they wanted to oppose something and decided instead to build a community garden on a vacant lot? Or got together to help an elderly neighbor fix up their house so they could continue to live independently – and remain a part of their community?

Time to Flip It

“So maybe it’s time to flip our perspective upside down. Instead of talking about ‘lifestyle disease,’ maybe it’s time to start talking about ‘diseased lifestyles.’ This simple reversal will yield some new insights.”

Frank Forencich

It seems so simple on the surface. All you have to do is flip your view on something 180 degrees and you get a whole different perspective. You might find that you’re able to see it from someone else’s point of view, making it easier to come to an agreement. So why is it so effing hard most of the time? Well, for starters there’s this thing called The Backfire Effect. At its most basic level, this idea says that no matter how much ‘fact’ you throw at someone, at best they will not alter their strongly held belief at all – and at worst you’ll actually strengthen said belief. So the chances of you getting this person to ‘see things your way’ don’t look so good.

In terms of what Frank is talking about above, our western medical system is the manifestation of a strongly entrenched belief system that says ‘treat the symptom.’ It says nothing whatsoever about the cause. If you present with a stuffy nose, you’re going to get a decongestant to dry out the mucus in your sinuses. If you have a fever, you’ll get a pill to bring your temperature down. Never mind that the mucus and fever are your body’s natural defense, its way of fighting off an intruder. By treating the symptom you never get to the point of finding out just what it is your body is trying to protect itself from, and you effectively cut off your own defenses before they have a chance to get started doing their job.

And to start treating causes, you have to look at the root cause, not just the immediate one. So if your symptom is that runny nose, the immediate cause might seem to be a seasonal allergy. If you look deeper however you may find that you’re leaving yourself open to that seasonal allergy because your immune system is taxed past its limits because of the amount of sugar and refined wheat you eat (yes, that one was personal experience). So we’ve gone from taking a decongestant for relief from the snot to examining a cultural assumption (wheat is part of a healthy diet) in order to find the root cause and eliminate it.

All that from what should be a simple shift of perspective.

This 180 flip from symptom to cause can be useful in other situations as well. Take many of the culturally based assumptions we make about consumerism, the idea of keeping up with the Joneses. What if, instead of trying to out-spend the Joneses, we focused on out-experiencing them? Instead of buying a bigger plasma TV (is that still the top of the line option? I don’t own a TV anymore) how about taking a trip with your family and making some new memories?

Or instead of that new car you’ve been eyeing, how about selling the extra car and trying a cargo bike? The conversation on the way to school will shift from what video they want to watch to what bird made that noise, or how much fun it is to fly past all the cars stuck in traffic. All this from asking, “what if I did this instead of that?” Or “what might the outcome be if I did XYZ instead of ABC?”

Next time you have a decision to make around consumption, stop for a second and flip things over in your head. The results might surprise you.

“If you change how you think about it, it’s impact on what you feel and do changes.”

– Walter Mischel

This quote is a nice, tidy summary of the whole idea of shifting your perspective. By definition – If you want to see something from the “other” side, you want to change how that something is impacting your life. What Mischel is saying is that the simple act of looking at it differently can be all it takes to accomplish this.

That takes us out of the realm of disease prevention and consumerism. In fact, it pretty well opens up any and all topics and situations for exploration. Having a discussion with your boss about when that big project needs to be ready for presentation? They say next week for the leadership meeting and you say 2 weeks later in time for the shareholder meeting? Instead of sticking to your guns, take a step back and look at it from their perspective. You may find that having a dry run for the leadership group could, in fact, be beneficial, plus you’d then have 2 weeks to make changes and tweak your presentation before it goes public.

In many ways, this is also connected to staying grounded in the present moment. When you get wrapped up in defending your perspective, what’s really happening is you’re focusing on the future – and just one possible future at that. What you’re seeing is an extra 2 weeks of procrastinating, of being able to focus on other tasks that you view as more important than the project presentation. When you pause and take that step back, you return your grounding to the here and now. This is what gives you the opportunity to shift perspectives over to that of your boss and see the future results of your actions now.

In staying focused on your side of the discussion (argument really), you’re also staying focused on just one possible outcome. Being able to see an alternative can be extremely helpful in many areas of daily life. From work to your commute, to asking how your partner’s day went (or knowing when to avoid asking). Even from crashing on the couch in front of reruns after dinner to playing a board game with the family, or reading a book, or maybe taking a quiet walk around the neighborhood.

All that from the seemingly simple act of taking a step back, staying present and shifting your perspective.

This piece took on a life of its own when I started editing. The idea was to show the wide variety of situations and topics where shifting your perspective can open up new vistas and possibilities. Perspective as a topic holds a special place in my heart since one of my traits is the innate ability to see things from multiple perspectives by default. I’ll address that trait and what it means to me in a future post, or possibly a series of posts.

Narrative (Fallacy) in Everyday Life

The narrative fallacy addresses our limited ability to look at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or, equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship upon them. Explanations bind facts together. They make them all the more easily remembered; they help them make more sense. Where this propensity can go wrong is when it increases our impression of understanding.

—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Black Swan

Narrative Fallacy as a concept relates to our innate tendency as humans to construct a story to fit the facts we’re confronted with. It’s how we concoct a backstory for a situation, without knowing the actual backstory. We do this all the time, watching the news we want to know why that guy did what he did. We want to know how that middle-aged dude ended up working as a barista at our local coffee spot. Or why our coworker is particularly grumpy today.

We want to know the WHY.

Did that barista get laid off recently from a high paying executive job and now he’s just looking for health care coverage? Or has he been a barista for 20 years? Did your co-worker’s wife leave him last night? Or did he just miss his morning jog/coffee/have a bad commute? What would our day look like if we didn’t construct all these backstories? If we just took what we saw in the present as all there was?

Might we see people for who they are now, in this moment, and might that be all we really need to know?

Being in the moment. Might this simple idea be a solution to lessen the hold Narrative Fallacy has on our daily lives? It’s an idea that comes up often as I delve further into the world of Coaching. It’s also a way of being that has interested me for years. It’s why and how I started meditating. It’s how I got through years of uncertain work situations. It’s how I’m dealing with once again being jobless – thinking in the present helps me construct enough story for interviews that the questioner doesn’t fall back on Narrative (Fallacy) to fill in the blanks. It’s also how I keep from dwelling on the past.

I can’t change what happened that led me to where I am. What I can do is address my present moment.

Will knowing the ‘why’ of that middle-aged barista change how you interact with him? Probably not, and if so that should tell you something about yourself rather than about him. And as for your co-worker, treat them with kindness and respect and you may alter the course of their day – whatever the cause or backstory.

Wellness Defined, Part 3

Let’s jump back into the Wellness Defined series with a quick definition of the terms disease and illness. Then we’ll look at a different way of seeing health, wellness, disease, and illness.

The shortest and most eloquent definition I’ve found for these terms goes as follows:

“Illness is what a person feels on the way to the Doctor’s office, disease is what they have when they leave.”

For a more technical look, we return to Dictionary.com:

Disease: – a disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors, infection, poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavorable environmental factors; illness; sickness; ailment.

Illness: – unhealthy condition; poor health; indisposition; sickness.

Defining wellness using terms like disease and illness brings up some issues. First, the two don’t have to have anything to do with each other. Next, putting disease/illness opposite wellness necessitates seeing things in a good/bad kind of way – and that’s not always the case.

Disease is a malfunction of an organ or system in the human body and illness is – well, it’s “feeling bad.”

Put another way, disease resides in the body, illness in the mind. Where does this take us in terms of our discussion of wellness? It takes us to the idea of the Sense of Coherence and to seeing health and well-being as existing on a continuum, that “health” is a heterostatic thing that will change over time, rather than the more pervasive idea that it is homeostatic. Another way to state this second view is to say that health is zero-sum, you have it, or you don’t. Period.

OK, now we pause for more definitions. The Sense of Coherence is an idea put forward by Aaron Antonovsky in 1979 as an attempt to explain why some people got sick and others didn’t. To quote directly from Antonovsky:

Sense of Coherence (SOC): A global orientation that expresses the extent to which one has a pervasive, enduring though dynamic feeling of confidence that (1) the stimuli deriving from one’s internal and external environments in the course of living are structured, predictable and explicable; (2) the resources are available to one to meet the demands posed by these stimuli; and (3) these demands are challenges, worthy of investment and engagement.

In other words – a person who has the resources to deal with what comes their way, and knows they have these resources, has a high SOC and stands a better chance of staying healthy. The shorter version – a high SOC can stop an illness from becoming a disease. There are several factors that go into a SOC, and many scholarly articles have been written on the subject – however, for our purposes, I’m going to leave it there.

Homeo– and heterostasis are terms describing the condition of our internal systems in the face of constantly changing external conditions. It’s long been assumed that “health” was a homeostatic condition. Either you were healthy, or you weren’t. Health was seen as a set point that a person’s body either was at, or they weren’t healthy.

The idea of health as being heterostatic is a newer concept that grew out of the investigations into SOC. In essence, this idea states that human health is a moving target. What health means for someone at age 24 is one thing, when that same person gets to 42, that definition will likely have changed. This also applies one person to another, what I consider healthy for myself is different than what the person sitting next to me as I write this considers healthy for themselves.

Where was I? Oh yeah, disease vs illness. We can now see that a person can have an illness without having a disease – and that it’s also possible for someone to have a disease without necessarily having the accompanying illness. There are also multiple stages in between, depending on each individual’s SOC and ability to deal with what they’ve been handed healthwise.

What does all this add to our discussion about wellness, besides muddying things up real good?

It highlights what I said way back in part 1 – that wellness is a moving target. What I hope you take away from these 3 posts is that wellness and overall well-being is not one static thing. Achieving it takes work. It takes accountability. It takes time. And most importantly for today’s discussion – it takes experimentation. Trial and error is how I lost 80 pounds.

The key is not seeing the errors as failures. They’re signals that you might want to try something different. That’s all.

Another key is to remember that even while you’re trying multiple paths, your destination may be a moving target as well. That is to say, your definition of Wellness will change over time, so it’s important to keep this flux in mind when you’re laying out the next path to explore. Check in with yourself to be sure you’re aiming the right direction for your current definition.

And now for the obligatory self-promotion. I am a Wellness Coach, so if you think you want to get started making some changes to your well-being, and maybe increase your own SO, and you aren’t sure where to begin – get in touch. Initial consultations are always free, and I’d love to talk you through some ideas and see if working together will benefit you in your wellness journey.

Wellness Defined, Part 2

Welcome back! Here in part two of the “Let’s Define Wellness” series, I’ll be taking a look at the second part of the dictionary definition of wellness to garner a starting point for your journey.

part 2 of dictionary.com definition:

Wellness: 2) an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases.

This one presents some sticky points in our discussion. For example, preventing illness. This sounds like an admirable goal and there are indeed many illnesses that have proven to be preventable with intervention. What if you’re one of the millions who is already living with one of these illnesses? Is it too late for you to find wellness?

Absolutely not.

While it may be too late to prevent a disease*, it is never too late to learn how to live well with your illness*. The trick is in realizing that your definition of wellness has changed with time and diagnosis. Even if you aren’t living with a specific illness, you may simply be feeling the effects of the passing years – feeling down about the fact that your runs have been getting shorter, that you’re feeling out of breath playing with your kids/grandkids, or that you’ve started noticing it takes more trips to get the groceries in from the car.

The common denominator here is time and shifting definitions. In all of the above cases, there are things you can be doing, right now, to improve your situation and your well-being – things that may very well keep you from developing a disease.

Any of us can benefit from many of the same behavior changes and from developing some of the same habits. The trick is to be willing to try new things, to experiment, and to NOT be disappointed when something doesn’t work out. When a new behavior doesn’t accomplish what you want it to, that’s a cue to try something else. Maybe the second, third, or even fourth thing you try will prove to be the right one for you.

Sounds kind of like what I said about paths in the last post, huh?

These changes range from the simple and easy to institute, to major life alterations. These changes involve diet, activity level, job situation, family dynamics, or sleep patterns. One thing all of these potential changes have in common is that you, the changer, need to have the willpower and tenacity to stick with a change long enough to know whether it’s going to help, hurt, or be neutral.

This takes accountability. It takes a deep understanding of how to tap into your store of willpower. It takes time.

* In Part 3 I’ll look at a more concrete definition of the terms Disease and Illness, and we’ll see how they’re often conflated yet actually refer to divergent aspects of related situations. I’ll also look at a different way of looking at them in your life, one that I hope will bring some perspective to your search for wellness.