Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda…

“All the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas Layin’ In The Sun, Talkin’ ‘Bout The Things They Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda Done… But All Those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas All Ran Away And Hid From One Little Did.”

Shel Silverstein

Have you ever given much thought to your life moments when someone tries to help you think about options to an issue you are facing and they say, “Hey, maybe you should…”? Or how about when you make a hasty decision and then realize in hindsight you “should” have chosen differently?

How about when you play the game of if I were you I would, those times in our lives we imagine trading places with someone else’s chances to make better decisions, like “Oh, if only I were rich I would….”.

What about when the “I can’t” takes control where the little voice inside of you comes up with all kinds of reasons why you just can’t get something done, or volunteer, or find the time. “Well you know I would help if only I could get out of this other thing I’m doing” or “I could go with you if….”.

I think it is safe to say that we have all been through these scenarios at least once.

What if I told you there is a way, a real way, to feel more confident about how to approach these situations when they arise?

Let’s break it down:

For the most part, these 3 words, would, could, should, have top implications even though they each have a variety of definitions. For example,

SHOULD usually implies a personal obligation. “I should have been more careful.”

WOULD implies consequence. “I would lose too much time taking that other route.”

COULD indicates possibility. “I could go out with him tonight if I get my homework done now.”

When thinking about a “should” situation I have found that people are very eager and willing to help others by telling them what to do or giving them ideas about how they should go about solving their dilemma or how they should address a specific situation that crops up. I myself have used the word should a thousand times with my husband. “Hun, you should take the older chairs to Goodwill before we bring in anything new.” Or, “Well, I think you should spend time with the kids today because it’s important.”

When “should” comes along it leaves a very dictatorial presence and takes away a piece of autonomy from the person trying to figure things out. What might be obvious to you is not usually so obvious to the person with the problem. I have found that turning the should into a question gives power back to the person trying to solve the problem. The reframe sounds like this: “Hey hun, what are your thoughts about taking the chairs to Goodwill first?” or “Hey babe, what are you doing with the kids today?” Rephrasing the should implication into a question of choice leaves the person you are speaking to in charge of their own issue and more importantly their own decisions. What if the person with the problem asks you for your opinion? Should you offer up your own should? In cases like these I like to simply ask, “Well, what do you think you should do?” Sometimes it helps to be the sounding board for all the options they might offer up. Power to the people.

In the instance of “would” there is pressure to decide and be right because being wrong not only feels awful but creates doubt in oneself and doubt toward your decision-making process from others. When facing a “would” situation I have seen many times where clients choose to just not decide rather than make a wrong decision and so there is no forward movement. Again, I have used this line of thinking in my own relationships and on myself more times than I care to count. It sounds something like this: “I would consider going to that meeting but I hate driving in the dark” or “If I were you I would….”; that’s a tried and true one right there especially with my children. It almost crosses the line into “should”.

We can’t possibly ever be that other person so let’s find another way down this rabbit hole, shall we? There is an awesome technique that works just about every time I use it with my clients assuming I get their permission to try it. It is called the “if, then” game. Here is how to play:

My client presents a situation where she perceives her reputation is on the line with the decision she ultimately needs to make or she just doesn’t want to decide because she is having a hard time finding solutions. She is honestly looking for me to consult her rather than coach her and this means that I am being looked upon to give her A, B, and C options to choose from. No way says I. You, my dear decision-making client, will be creating your own best fitting option. The situation goes something like this: “I promised I would bring dessert to the meeting tomorrow night but I realize now that I really do not want to go to the meeting and I hate driving home in the dark and I do not have time to make a nice dessert and well, I just don’t want to go to the meeting.”

Let’s create an if, then option plan. “If I go to the meeting then I could…., If I don’t go to the meeting then…?”. In this creative decision-making game, the client gets to think up many options that run the gamut from crazy out there to more down to earth and realistic possibilities. The idea is that at some point the client, you, will have created an option that fits, an option he/she can live with and feel empowered by because the final decision feels right. The crazy out there options always get a laugh or two and truly relieve some pressure.

Finally, the “could” situation. This word is positive in its implication. “Could” creates possibility, is hopeful and has an air of lightness and freedom to it. The situation that creates the “could” might not be great but the outcome might turn a negative into a positive. Let’s give it a try: “I could be sitting on this highway all night if the news report is right.” Not a great situation. At this point ask yourself, what are my options? It seems obvious to me that this would be the question to ask, thinking of ways to not have to sit in traffic but I have found that when I or my clients ask the question out loud then in that moment their bodies are starting to de-stress because the brain is going into problem solving mode. Sure, you could scream and shout and curse and stay annoyed and wallow in self-pity for your rotten luck or you can get creative and think about ways to get moving. Even if there are no other roads to take at least you tried and can live with the trying.

Throughout our lifetime we are all faced with uncomfortable situations that we must get through. These situations cause us to, in hindsight, create wishful thinking feelings, things we wish we had done or said in that critical moment. By course correcting, taking a bit of time to ask ourselves some simple but key questions and/or doing a mental comparison of pros and cons we all can get a bit closer to an outcome of resolution we feel proud of.

Call to Action

Share some of your woulda, coulda, shoulda situations with me. How did you get through it?

What were the consequences of your decisions? Remember, consequences can be good and/or bad?

In what ways have you learned from each incident that has made you more aware and self-confident the next time a woulda, coulda, shoulda situation presented itself?

Ways to Communicate without Anger

In 2014 I wrote this post based around a client of mine going through a holiday get-together that most of us are all too familiar with experiencing.

I was recently was asked to re-publish this post and as I went through it I thought about how relevant this particular issue is today more so due to the presidential election coming up and the emotional state of  our country as a whole. So now I wonder…

If there was truly a way to work through  this post issue, anger, how would you want to learn to manage it and use what you learn in your small corner of the world? Maybe this will spark some ideas…..

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There are times when the ocean is not the ocean – not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most.” M. L. Stedman – The Light Between Oceans

What I’m learning is that the light is in the asking of the questions and the heart of every human being. The answering is the communication where peace can begin. But I think it matters to go back a little step and start by asking:

Why do people get angry?

Why does anger live so long within us?

Are anger and communication based only on defending, judging, criticizing and/or withdrawing?

Are there rules to communication so that anger can be lessened?

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” Aristotle

On a coaching call this week my client talked about wanting to better understand and get control of her anger toward her in-laws each and every time they all get together. She started out our session absolutely dreading the upcoming holiday. Her dilemma revolved around the criticism and judgments thrown at her by her in-laws and her own sensitivity to it all. She did not grow up with this kind of self-centeredness and judgment. Logically she knows that people bring their own pasts and life experiences to the table (no pun intended) but she just felt helpless to look at their way of communicating in a non-judgmental way. The overall feeling of anger toward her in-laws was coupled with the knowledge that this was driving a wedge between her and her husband and creating more problems than they both knew what to do with.

So why do people get angry?

Ryan Martin, Ph.D. wrote an article for Psychology Today about the scientific study of anger. In his article he references Dr. Jerry Deffenbacher’s 1996 model of anger by defining what Dr. Deffenbacher calls the trigger event; the event that happens right before someone gets angry for example, perceiving an insult or being cut off in traffic.

“The implication is that those kinds of events caused the person to get angry directly. If that were true then we would all react the same way to such situations.”

There are more than trigger events at play when anger sets in. Individual characteristics such as personality traits and the individual’s pre-anger state are 2 things that matter.

“Competitiveness and low-frustration tolerance are some ways in which a person’s personality characteristics play into anger. As for the pre-anger state of a person just before the trigger event, physiological and psychological situations play heavily into this arena. Feelings of being tired, anxious, stressed out, nervous are considered to be pre-anger triggers. A nervous person already has an elevated heart rate so he/she doesn’t have far to go to become angry.”

Ryan goes on to explain:

“Dr. Deffenbacher’s model of anger is mainly based on the appraisal of the situation by the person on the receiving end. When a person appraises a situation as blameworthy, unjustified, punishable, etc. it pushes buttons with in that person to react with anger. If the person interpreted the situation a little differently he/she wouldn’t have become so angry. The important thing to remember about appraisal isn’t necessarily that the person’s reaction is inaccurate but there are always 2 sides to every story.”

The next question then is how do we communicate effectively so that anger doesn’t show up or take over?

In his outstanding and amazingly insightful book, Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life, Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph. D and author tells of his preoccupation with 2 questions and his attempt to find the answers:

“What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively and what allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?”

“When we give from the heart, we do so out of the joy that springs forth whenever we willingly enrich another person’s life. This kind of giving benefits both the giver and the receiver.”

While getting deeper into the coaching session my client started to become aware of her own compassionate nature and how she deeply desired to live on that plane and not engage in anger and despair. She is by nature a giving, loving, and curious person and realized that she always wanted her marriage to be one of love out loud and as an example to others of what real love looks like. That realization turned the whole session around. But how to get through the inevitable anger she will feel at some point during the holiday visit?

Dr. Rosenberg says:

“There are 4 steps to express anger: (1) Stop and breathe, (2) identify our judgmental thoughts, (3) connect with our needs, and (4) express our feelings and unmet needs. The key to all of the anger is empathy. Empathize with the other person so that he/she will be better able to hear us when we express ourselves.”

The coaching session concluded with awareness that although my client can’t change how other people behave and communicate she can change how she behaves and communicates. By showing up fully for her husband and not giving in to her personal feelings she will be able to create an ally in her husband. More than anything she wants him to know how much he means to her and how much she understands that the holiday get together is equally difficult for him. “Living out loud the loving, caring and supportive marriage I always imagined having is so much more powerful than giving in to the anger and judgments of others.” She now has a plan of action and tools to help her achieve her ultimate goal of making this family holiday one in which she will cherish and not regret. My client says:

“I can’t believe how I am feeling at this moment realizing that it is so much easier to love not only myself but my husband and our child. It feels freeing to know that I can choose love rather than defensiveness and anger toward difficult people. I don’t know for sure if love will bring about a more positive atmosphere all around us but it will bring about more connectedness and compassion in my marriage and therefore to my child.”

Whether we are face to face or in communication through email or text messages or any other social media venue we are always in a position to respond with empathy and heart.

I often find myself wondering when I read the comments section of other blog posts or I read text messages or I witness a negative conversation what was going on in the responder’s mind at the time of a negative comment. What life circumstances pushed that person over the edge?

All of this leads me to take a stronger, more open-minded approach to reader responses whether it be to a blog post, a comment to someone else’s writing or a face to face exchange.

Here is what I’ve learned so far:

Communicating needs and feelings without creating defensiveness and anger can be successfully accomplished by using “I” messages. For example: “I feel taken for granted when the laundry isn’t put away” or “I am having trouble managing my worry around our finances and as a result I am not sleeping very well.” These messages are to the point and simple; they are not blaming or accusing.

“Reflect your thoughts and watch others mirror them back to you.” Stephen Richards

Don’t respond immediately to the comment or letter. Take a deep breath, re-read the response or think through the exchange and think about how it truly applies to what was originally said. Time can be your ally. Take your time to respond. Be thoughtful.

“In quiet places, reason abounds.” Adlai E. Stevenson II

People are not bad inherently. Sometimes their life circumstances have caused them to form habits that are difficult to deal with. It’s not personal.

“The sound of the words as they’re said is always different from the sound they make when they’re heard, because the speaker hears some of the sound from the inside”David Levithan, Every Day

A really great coaching tool that has worked for many of my clients is when I have them do an exercise called purging. In the case of an email or text or letter, sit in a quiet space and hand write every single feeling you are experiencing and use every single word that will make you feel justified if you were going to be utterly, no-holds-barred honest. DO NOT SEND THE WRITTEN RESPONSE. Save it. Wait a few days and re-read your own response. Be aware of how you are feeling as you re-read. Are you still so enraged? Has your own anger or shock lessened? How would you like to communicate now? The point is to not meet on the impulse level of the reader. Rise above by getting out of your system all that you are feeling and let those feelings go. As a final step, rip your letter to pieces or stomp on it or just throw it away.

“Transferring my anger and pain onto paper turns it into something tangible, something that can be shredded or burned, or at the very least, sealed shut in a box. ~Call Me Tuesday”Leigh Byrne

If you were seeing the anger from face to face interaction how would you respond in that moment? Would you want to also be seen as someone losing his cool? Think about your own tone of voice and how you would like to sound or how you would like someone to talk to you about their concerns.

“We do not have control over what happens to us in life, but we do have control over how we chose to respond.”
Bryant McGill, Simple Reminders: Inspiration for Living Your Best Life    

If it is important that the other person hear from you right away simply send a follow-up email or text or comment right in that face to face moment by stating that you will respond more fully when you are in a better frame of mind.

Your life mainly consists of 3 things! What you think,  What you say and  What you do! So always be very conscious of what you are co-creating!”
Allan Rufus, The Master’s Sacred Knowledge    

If your response is only in the form of writing then before your response goes out to anyone have someone you trust, someone who knows your heart and intentions, read your response before you send it out. The objective person will be able to stay out of the emotional end of this negative situation.

Merely because you have got something to say that may be of interest to others does not free you from making all due effort to express that something in the best possible medium and form.” [Letter to Max E. Feckler, Oct. 26, 1914]” ― Jack London

Here is where curiosity comes into play: If you sense that your colleague is angry or accusatory ask that person if you are interpreting their response correctly. Don’t assume to know for sure what you are reading or hearing.

“Every man, it seems, interprets the world in the light of his habits and desires.” Richard Wright, The Outsider

Whenever possible don’t write but talk, face to face, person to person. Effective communication is most achievable when we are in the present moment. Stay clear of bringing up the past. Stick to what is happening right now.

“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.” Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

There is no substitute for real, live interaction. Your body uses every emoticon there is. Effective communication keeps anger at bay when we remain as calm as possible. Body language can have the same anger inducing affects as something we write. Create breathing space between the parties speaking, reframe when possible for better understanding, keeping advice and opinions to ourselves unless asked to offer that input. These steps all aid in a successful communication process.

We never can completely know what is going on in someone’s life to help us fully understand why they react the way they do. Everyone has something going on that feels overwhelming. Whenever possible put yourself in their shoes and summon a more compassionate you.

Call to Action

How can you begin to speak with your heart so that anger is kept at bay?

Words Are Windows

(or They’re Walls)

I feel so sentenced by your words,

I feel so judged and sent away,

Before I go I’ve got to know,

Is that what you mean to say?

 

Before I rise to my defense,

Before I speak in hurt or fear,

Before I build that wall of words,

Tell me, did I really hear?

 

Words are windows, or they’re walls,

They sentence us, or set us free.

When I speak and when I hear,

Let the love light shine through me.

 

There are things I need to say,

Things that mean so much to me,

If my words don’t make me clear,

Will you help me to be free?

 

If I seemed to put you down,

If you felt I didn’t care,

Try to listen through my words,

To the feelings that we share.

–Ruth Bebermeyer

The Seeds We Sow

 

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“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” Robert Louis Stevenson

Sowing seeds and blossoming has never had a more poetic meaning than when I became a mom. According to the calendar I am now entering into the harvest time of parenting. The time when all the seeds have been sown and all the lessons I can teach my young fledglings has come to bear fruit and to see just what took root inside of them. In hindsight it took no time at all for these many seasons to pass and yet it has taken a long, long time of hope, nurture, love, sunshine, feeding and faith to get to this point. Sowing seeds in our children doesn’t always mean that everything will come up roses and I don’t always like what I see in the blossoming which has led me to ask myself….

How do I know I was a good gardener?

As a parent this question has been embedded in my soul from the moment I held my child for the first time. It became more specifically a question of how do I or will I know I did the right thing or did right by my children? The answer is, I won’t know. How can that be? Free will.

The idea behind free will in my children is that although they are a combination of 2 really great and loving human beings they have the God given right to develop their own set of values and life rules, opinions, choices and decisions, just like we did before they existed. In the harvesting time, like what I am going through right now, where the seeds are blooming in a crazy wild manner in every which way, it feels like weeds have taken root. They try to defy gravity and nature and it gets really scary and feels hopeless at times. As a parent I absolutely will not always agree with their decisions and choices and values, oh my, but above all, I know I must have faith that the seeds I have sown will yield a beautiful crop to be proud of.

“A weed is but an unloved flower.” Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Oh, don’t misunderstand. There have been and there are glimpses of good manners because that is one of the seeds I planted inside of them, there are snapshots of seeing me in the things they do or say because like it or not that is also one of the seeds I planted inside of them and there are moments of joy and love because above all else that is the seed I wanted to grow most of all.

It’s those times when all seems to be coming up weeds and those weeds threaten to choke the life out of the beautiful flowers I am hoping will bloom, that it all starts to fall apart for me and I over nurture and over water and over feed my seedlings. They are searching for their own growth space and I am trying to stand them up tall and proud. But they are not ready for that because they have not decided to stand up tall and proud for themselves yet.

“Parents can only give good advice or put their children on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” Anne Frank

I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to wanting a full bloom in my children. All I can do as a gardener/parent is love them and be there if and when they need me and hope like crazy that whatever seeds I planted along the way of their growth will yield beauty of spirit and mind.

For all of those times when I realize that perhaps I didn’t always plant a good seed and for all of those times when I think that the weed that is growing right now is what will always be truth, I am learning that in order to ensure that the seed doesn’t turn into a permanent weed is to plant faith. Faith is a very needy seed. Faith needs constant nurturing, constant attention and constant awareness. Faith also needs a sense of humor and an ability to see life backwards. In the spirit of seeing life as backwards here is my short list for all those times when it all should make some kind of sense and doesn’t but in the end still has a chance…..

I might be a good gardener/parent if:

I make all kinds of mistakes from a horrible tasting dinner to turning a white shirt pink in the laundry. It means that although I may not be perfect as a parent, gardener, or human being I am always willing to learn and grow within myself for my children.

I have acted selfish or self-centered. It means that I am vulnerable and human just like my children are. It means that letting them see my true colors makes me more down to earth for them.

I feel deep inside of my soul I have failed. It only means that I have tried something and it didn’t quite work out the way I hoped it would but I am still standing and able to try again another day. “I’m sorry” is the same as Miracle Grow.

I find myself feeling scared and helpless. It means that my heart is so invested and striving for goodness. It is okay to experience every possible emotion that exists and still create beauty and love in my children. Living by example gives them comfort and room to bloom.

I know that without meaning to I have said the absolute wrong thing. It means that I was communicating and trying to find a way to break through verbal barriers with people who speak a different language from mine. Parent talk is very different from kid talk.

In any situation, being able to put myself in someone else’s shoes not only connects me to their point of view but it also grows empathy. In each instance I am becoming a more valuable seed within myself.

So……

What kind of gardener are you?

If you plant honesty, you will grow trust

If you plant goodness, you will grow heart

If you plant humility, you will grow connectedness

If you plant perseverance, you will grow courage

If you plant hard work, you will grow success

If you plant forgiveness, you will grow reconciliation

If you plant love, you will grow the world.

Call to Action

When you take a moment to see the world as your personal garden, what would you like to plant there?

How do you see your garden influencing the garden next to you?

If your garden seems to be growing weeds, what kind of nourishment does your garden need?

From your perspective, what are the signs of a great garden?

Always do your best (part 4)

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“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

I think this quote is a great place to start the last of my blog series based on author Don Miguel Ruiz’ book The Four Agreements. Here are the agreements:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Don’t take anything personally
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Always do your best

The idea is that if you are always trying to do your best then you are creating habits that keep you practicing being impeccable with your words, not taking anything personally and not making assumptions.

In order for your day to take shape, to live and to breathe you have to first wake up and then get out of bed. Everything you do once out of bed is up to you alone. You can decide with your very first step that today is going to be a better day than yesterday or an even better day than yesterday. You can decide that whatever challenges you faced yesterday will be met with more courage today.

Whatever you decide to do with your life minutes today give each one of them purpose and meaning and significance by being the change you want to see. EVERYTHING starts with you.

“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

To look at my daughter you would never know that she struggles with having real, true, honest friendships in her life. Oh, she knows a lot of people and is always busy but true, trustworthy friendships, the kind that last a lifetime, are hard to come by. In my biased opinion she is life. She is always busy working at a job she likes that affords her the opportunity to meet new people and forge new acquaintances, she is attending classes at college that feed her imagination and desire to learn, she is going out with people during her personal time that she chooses to spend time with, and she volunteers her time to causes she feels connected to. Yet, through all of her activities and busyness she feels a sense of not belonging and at times a sense of loneliness.

I can’t imagine anyone having a hard time relating to this. There are times in our lives when we just feel like we are so disconnected from everyone and that we just can’t seem to find a place where we belong. When she starts to get down on herself for some unnamed flaw she thinks she has the only question I can ask her is, “are you doing your best today?”

What does your best look like?

Does your best look like smiling even when you don’t feel it? Does your best look like dropping all your to-do’s and helping a friend in need? Does your best look like getting take out for dinner so that you have more time to spend with the kids at night?

No matter what you are involved in during your day or week or month or life, always bring and do the best you can. No one, not even you, can ask more of you than your best and you will always walk away feeling good about yourself. Your legacy in every life moment is left behind in your wake when you give the best you can.

What if my best is not up to my standards because I’m not feeling like myself? That can happen at any time. Don Miguel Ruiz says,

“In your everyday moods your best can change from one moment to another, from one hour to the next, from one day to another. Your best will also change over time. Just do your best in any circumstance in your life. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or tired, if you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself harshly.”

How do you treat yourself, your work or your relationships?

This is an important question toward always doing your best because when you like yourself and treat yourself well you know the end result of what you want others to feel from you. Bringing your best self to your life moments means that you have the potential to bring out the best in someone else.

Here is Don Miguel,

“When you do your best you learn to accept yourself by learning from your mistakes and practicing toward increased awareness. Doing your best really doesn’t feel like work because you enjoy whatever you are doing. You do your best because you want to do it, not because you have to do it and not because you are trying to please anyone. You are taking action because you enjoy the action. It becomes about living fully.”

“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” Neil deGrasse Tyson

What are your core values, your character strengths?

When you are in the flow of a project or experience and lose track of time what actions are you taking that align with your values?

For me it is writing. I lose track of time and space when I am writing and reading and researching. I enjoy the discovery process and I enjoy what I am able to share with anyone who chooses to read what I’ve written. My values are enlisted when I am writing in such ways as authenticity; I never write what I myself am not interested in knowing more about, compassion; I always write about topics that I have experienced and want to share with others, and gratitude; I always write with gratitude for the life lessons I have learned or lessons I am still learning.

In the end Don Miguel says,

“The first three agreements will only work if you do your best. Your habits are too strong and firmly rooted in your mind.

  • Don’t expect that you will always be able to be impeccable with your word.
  • Don’t expect that you will never take anything personally
  • Don’t expect that you will never make another assumption

But you can certainly, always, in all of these agreements, DO YOUR BEST.”

So the question is, how do we even get started on creating our best selves?

In the words of one of my favorite songs by the band Journey, “be good to yourself”. Only you can determine the many ways in which you can show love to yourself. For me, being good to myself shows up in cooking or baking or taking a time out to read in bed at night or writing.

In all things find a reason to say thank you. In the course of just one day whether the day overall was good or bad there is always at least one thing to be grateful for. I know my day was not a total waste when I can say a soulful thank you for something and connect with my own humility.

Ask for guidance. This guidance may come from a trusted friend or clergy, it may come from a beloved sibling or parent or it may simply come from the universe. The point is to ask. We don’t know all the answers so putting the questions out there may help us get clear on what to do next. Staying curious and open to new perspectives is one way to help create our best self.

Let go of expectations. Let go of your version of how something should turn out; let go of trying to control any outcome. See what happens when you do your best and the result is not what you expected. See what comes of a new experience or new perspective. What did you learn? How did you grow?

Mind your words. It matters very much the talking you do inside of your head and heart. Who do you love the most? Talk to yourself the way you talk to the one you love; hold yourself in the same love that you hold that special someone; believe in you the same way you wholeheartedly believe in the one you love.

Call to Action

Here is a different kind of call to action this week. I leave you with a prayer from Don Miguel Ruiz. Practice this prayer every day as often as you can until you believe in every single word:

“Thank you Creator of the universe, for the gift of life you have given me.

Thank you for giving me everything that I have ever truly needed.

Thank you for the opportunity to experience this beautiful body and this wonderful mind.

Thank you for living inside me with all your love, with your pure and boundless spirit, with your warm and radiant light.

Thank you for using my words, for using my eyes, for using my heart to share your love wherever I go.

I love you just the way you are, and because I am your creation, I love myself just the way I am.

Help me to keep the love and the peace in my heart and to make that love a new way of life, that I may live in love the rest of my life. Amen.”

 

http://www.amazon.com/Four-Agreements-Practical-Personal-Freedom/dp/1878424319/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425307355&sr=1-1&keywords=the+4+agreements+by+don+miguel+ruiz

Jumping to Conclusions: 7 Steps toward Jumping in the Right Direction (part 3)

 

 

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“Inner guidance is heard like soft music in the night by those who have learned to listen.”
Vernon Howard

What is one habit we all have but rarely think of it as a habit?

It is the subject of the third personal agreement spoken about in the book, The 4 Agreements by author Don Miguel Ruiz.

Answer: Making assumptions.

Assumptions, what a funny word. What does it mean to assume other than the fact that it truly does make an ass of you and me when we do it?

Think of a time when you needed to hear back from someone and it took a long time to receive that call or note or email. Don’t lie, you jumped to an assumption or conclusion that the person you needed to hear from was blowing you off or not making your request important or just too busy for you. Were you right? In most cases there really is a good reason for not hearing back from someone you typically trust to be diligent with correspondence but as a species we tend to self-protect and so we assume the worst without evidence. Once we start down the road of thinking the worst of people it becomes a habit we can’t easily break.

Now think about a time when you needed to solve a problem or get through a difficult situation. If you are like me then you ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen here?” and try to prepare for that awful conclusion or work backwards toward a more pleasant outcome.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you are a negative person although to jump to that question first can make you feel negative. There is actually evidence now that shows that using this question when trying to solve a difficult problem is actually healthy and helpful. In their book, The Upside of Your Dark Side, authors Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd Kashdan, Ph.D. write:

“We believe—and new research supports—the idea that every emotion is useful. Even the ones we think of as negative, including the painful ones. We don’t suggest an extra helping of happiness or a dash of negativity; we suggest both. It is by appropriately flipping back and forth between these two states that you can achieve a balanced, stabilizing sense of wholeness. Simply put, people who are able to use the whole range of their natural psychological gifts—those folks who are comfortable with being both positive and negative, and can therefore draw from the full range of human emotions—are the healthiest and, often, the most successful.”

Even on the subject of happiness itself these authors have a lot to say when it comes to predicting or assuming what will make us happy or leave us feeling happy after an event or purchase:

“To put it succinctly, we humans are horrible at guessing how happy we will feel in the future, and yet we base important life decisions on these flawed predictions (assumptions). We purchase TVs, plan retirement, and say yes to dinner dates all because of an imperfect guess about how happy they will make us.”

In other words even if it can be proven that making assumptions could work in our favor it is fundamentally not to our advantage, yet we are practically raised to make it a part of who we are and how we function in the world.

The dictionary defines the word assume to mean:

  • To think something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true
  • To begin as a job or responsibility
  • To take or begin to have power or control in a job or situation. Someone assuming the role of a leader or care taker, etc.

It is this first definition that we all have as a habit. The question then becomes why do we assume anything without first knowing or understanding the facts? When do we stop fact finding and decide that what we know is enough to believe  we now know is truth?

The simple answer comes from the author himself of this third personal agreement that we all need to make within ourselves.

“Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.” Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Courage. That really sticks in my gut. I never really paid too much attention to how much courage it takes to ask questions, to be vulnerable with courage in order to get clarity on something. When I think about it specifically now I can relate it to my children and their performance in school throughout the years. There seems to be an aspect of pride involved with asking questions and assuming to know something without facts or truth.

I asked my son, “What stops you from having the courage to ask questions when you don’t understand something?” His answer, “Sometimes it is not that I don’t want to ask a question, I just either might not want to know the answer or don’t want to hear what someone has to say or I might just want to figure it out for myself.” In any of these answers courage and pride seem to be at its heart.

Why is there such a stigma to asking questions?

In his book, A More Beautiful Question, author, journalist and innovation expert Warren Berger finds that “even though children start out asking hundreds of questions a day, questioning falls off a cliff as kids enter formal school. In an education and business culture devised to reward rote answers over challenging inquiry, questioning isn’t encouraged and is in fact sometimes barely tolerated.”

Mr. Berger talks at length about how teachers are discouraged from promoting questions because the curriculum each teacher has to teach does not allow for free questioning and time to explore the minds of the curious child. Teaching to the test is all there is time for. In an environment like that, Mr. Berger says that children learn very quickly that if a “right” question is not asked and a “right” answer not given then it is best to just sit and listen and not get too involved in the education.

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Isaac Asimov

Author Warren Berger says,

“The Nobel laureate scientist Isidor Isaac Rabi came from a home where at least one parent encouraged the children to ask questions.” ”’ While other mothers asked their kids ‘did you learn anything today?’ my mother would say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’”

Scientist Hal Gregersen thinks parents can help their kids be more inquisitive by posing what if questions that help invite children to think deeply about the world around them.” Encourage kids to solve problems in a hands-on way through household tasks and chores. Most students have to do some work to resuscitate their childlike curiosity. The best way to do that is to start asking questions again, lots of them.”

In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes:

“We have millions of questions that need answers because there are so many things that the reasoning mind cannot explain. It is not important if the answer is correct; just the answer itself makes us feel safe. This is why we make assumptions. These assumptions are made so fast and unconsciously most of the time because we have agreements within ourselves to communicate this way.”

So if questioning falls of a cliff at a time of life when it should be greatly and primarily encouraged as a natural human virtue and right, and if our society has accepted that we are raised to be rote, mechanical bodies that are supposed to just do as we are told, no questions asked then how can we ever break the cycle of a bad habit like assumption?

“Ask a question” says Don Miguel Ruiz. “Make sure your communication is clear. When you don’t understand something, ask a question, don’t assume an answer or a rejection of your question.”

In other words take action and create the habit of asking questions in every situation about everything.

“As far as you can, get into the habit of asking yourself in relation to any action taken by another: “What is his point of reference here?” But begin with yourself: examine yourself first.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

To break this down even further author, speaker Byron Katie asks us:

“Can you absolutely know that what you are believing is true?” For me the answer is no most of the time. Once I get to a no then pride steps aside and I have no choice but to keep questioning and seeking more truth.

Here are some other ideas to help break the habit of assuming:

Increase curiosity: Every situation that comes along in our lives has 2 sides to it. To increase inquisitiveness and curiosity ask the opposite question of the situation you are facing. We automatically go to what our habits have become. If you always think the worst of a situation then train your mind to start thinking the best of a situation and as crazy as it sounds, vice versa. Training your mind to see all sides increases curiosity and expands the brain waves of problem solving.

Stop the gossip: Most people gossip in the negative. They talk trash about other people in order to be the one “in the know” and get the spotlight. It is not a good spotlight to have shine on you if you are building a reputation of being someone that gossips. Talking about other people when the person is not around is just bad form. When a group is gathering for a meeting and there is that free time before everything gets underway don’t fall prey to the gossiping. Try to steer the conversation away from gossip by talking about something neutral like a new song or TV show or asking the opinion of the people gathered around you about a book you read or a trip you are hoping to take.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes: This is empathy. What would you want someone to do for you if they saw you were in trouble or sad or lost? Our moods can change as quick as a wink. Knowing that, we also know that we are not in the presence of one particular person 24/7 and that alone means that we don’t have all the facts. Don’t assume you know what the issue is. Be available to just listen if that person chooses to share with you or just offer your support whenever that person is able to talk more about the issue.

Get Pro-Active: Don’t continue to dwell on all the reasons why you think someone is in a bad mood or having a hard day. Offer to help by listening, brainstorming ways to solve the problem toward a more positive outcome, or being a trusted friend. If you are the one assuming something about your own situation then journaling about it might help. Getting all the feelings out on paper instead of out at a particular person will lessen the intensity of the initial feelings. Lesser hostility leads to greater resolution. Another idea is to distract yourself away from the assumption by listening to your favorite music, exercising, cooking or reading a favorite book.

Be clear: We very often assume that certain key people in our lives should just know what we mean or what we are saying without us having to go into too much detail. STOP. Most people have the attention span and listening capability of a 4th grader. Be clear, speak at a normal tone of voice and not too fast, be specific about your needs or wants or directions, remember that your thoughts and ideas are not the only thoughts and ideas that are swirling around at that moment, allow room for participation in problem solving and approach the situation the way you would want someone to approach it with you.

Be the tourist: When my son was living in Florida I used to encourage him to be the tourist. Look at your everyday as if you are new to the area or to the situation you are in. What would a tourist do? How would a tourist solve this problem? Tourists have a ton of positive juices flowing through them because they see things through new eyes. Their open-minded point of view allows for so many possibilities to open up.

Don’t jump to conclusions: Conclusions without support of truth is another way of assuming. If someone you work with or a friend has a sour look on his/her face, don’t jump to the conclusion that it is because of something you did or work related. Step back, be kind, use compassion and ask that person what is wrong. Even if you know for sure what the problem could be you don’t know for sure all the aspects of why something is wrong.

“You have to start with the truth. The truth is the only way that we can get anywhere. Because any decision-making that is based upon lies or ignorance can’t lead to a good conclusion.” Julian Assange

Call to Action

Where can you start breaking the habit of assuming?

In what ways can you make an internal agreement with yourself to always seek curiosity?

How can you encourage others around you to embrace and welcome curiosity?

The Year of Self-Agreements Part 1

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“So I forced myself to step out of my comfort zone and go out and connect with people. I realized that no one knew me here. I could become whoever I wanted to be for these people, and that became my courage.” Charlotte Eriksson, Empty Roads & Broken Bottles; in search for The Great Perhaps

I started this New Year thinking about all the millions of resolutions people will make and break before the first month is over. The very word sits in my stomach like a heavy stone. For me resolving to do something is very much like choosing the lesser of two evils. I much prefer to use happier words like aspire, agreement, choice, decide, declaration, and tenacity.

So I set out this month to find books, writings, and/or motivational words to inspire me to make purposeful changes in my everyday life. As I have been made wonderfully aware, my inspirations are like seeds of growth I want to plant into my existence.

The word agreement sits very well with me right now so I started doing research into ideas that swirl around the word agreement. I found a book I had always wanted to read called The Four Agreements by author Don Miguel Ruiz and a slow January seemed the perfect time to tackle not only the book but to start to set my agreements for the year. An agreement, it turns out, is an arrangement agreed upon between 2 people but in this case the agreement I am seeking is an arrangement between me and my soul.

After reading about the first agreement I knew I had found a great starting point for my personal growth aspirations. So I decided to share with you what I’m learning by parsing through each agreement and how I hope to apply it to my own life’s perspective.

Just like the golden rules exist as guidelines to follow for a peaceful, productive, honest society of human beings to help each of us co-exist and honor the life we were given, the 4 agreements of humanity that are explained in this book, in my opinion, are crucial for each of us to be the leader of our own personal existence by adapting these agreements as further declarations of being.

These agreements are personal because how we interpret them is the essence of how these agreements work. All of these agreements have to start within each of our hearts first before they can blossom out toward the world we live in.

The first personal agreement begins with “Be Impeccable with your Word.”

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.” Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Author Don Miguel Ruiz writes,

“The human mind is like a fertile ground where seeds are continually being planted. The seeds are opinions, ideas, and concepts. You plant a seed, a thought, and it grows. The word is like a seed, and the human mind is so fertile. The only problem is that too often it is fertile for the seeds of fear. Every human mind is fertile, but only for those kinds of seeds it is prepared for.”

Just like a small child is not yet ready to understand the ways of an adult so too are adults not always ready to understand the ways of other adults.

Thinking about the concept of words being seeds and knowing how powerful words can be when spoken in just the right tone of voice I started to wonder what would happen if each of us woke up each morning and paid deliberate attention to how we say “good morning”. What would the tiny purposeful act of saying the words “good morning” do to set the tone for my day and for someone else’s day?

I thought about this particular question because on the second day of a job I am volunteering for I was early enough to watch and listen to people coming in to their job first thing in the morning. Everything is new to me; the people, the language used in this new environment, the sounds of machines and phones and construction so I am quite sensitive to ALL that goes on around me. Upon seeing someone first thing that morning a gentleman greeted a co-worker with a very happy, enthusiastic “good morning” and it stopped the incoming co-worker in her tracks. So much so that before she said her reciprocal “good morning” back she commented on how chipper and happy this greeting was toward her. She was compelled to ask if something wonderful had happened to this person who greeted her because a greeting with such enthusiasm was so unusual. How sad is that? For the rest of the day I didn’t hear negative tones or words from either of those 2 co-workers or anyone around them.

Sometimes my son wakes up in the morning and he has a hard time greeting the day with a smile or enthusiasm. His “good morning” greeting is so down and dumpy it just makes the rest of the family feel so deflated and less energetic. We often want to ask if something is wrong but we have learned that this is the way he greets each day and not to take it personally but I know it would make a great positive impact on us all if he would be a lot more happy and chipper in the morning.

What does it mean to be impeccable with your Word? According to the Toltec Spirit website, to be impeccable with your Word simply means to use your Word in the direction of love and truth.

“Your WORD has to do with the power you have to create through every kind of expression you make. You create through multiple types of expressions including emotions, actions, what you refrain from, and what you express your faith in. Being impeccable with your WORD means paying attention to all the ways in which you speak and interpret and help create images of what you say and of yourself.”

“I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination.” John Keats

Impeccable means not capable of sinning; free from fault or blame; flawless. Other than God himself I don’t know anyone who is impeccable in all aspects of their life all the time. Sometimes we can be impeccable in the way we dress or in how we do a particular job but certainly not every day in every way. To begin to truly understand how impeccable with your Word can translate to happiness and be contagious it would seem to me that I would have to practice all the time and allow myself to re-interpret the ways in which I not only see the world but more importantly my own self.

Mr. Ruiz writes,

“Being impeccable with your Word is the correct use of your energy; it means to use your energy in the direction of truth and love for yourself. If I love myself I will express that love in my interactions with you; if I love you, then you will love me. If I insult you, then you will insult me. If I have gratitude for you, you will have gratitude for me. Whenever we hear an opinion and believe what we hear, we make an internal agreement, and the agreement becomes part of our belief system. Most of the time the power of our Word is completely misused in such ways as blame, guilt, insults, gossip, and revenge. In reality the poison of these beliefs we spread is about how we feel about our own self.”

“The words with which a child’s heart is poisoned, whether through malice or through ignorance, remain branded in his memory, and sooner or later they burn his soul.”Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

How easy does it become to be impeccable with your Word when you realize you have been conditioned by the world you live in to self-protect and blend? When was the first time you can remember believing something bad about yourself? When did you make that first negative belief agreement about you?

Most people use negative words to hold others in fear. If I believe that I am no good as a person or in doing a particular job and it’s noticeable by how I talk about myself or carry myself then that person could use their word to keep me in fear because of the agreement I made within myself of being no good.

For example, this year I decided to live outside my comfort zone as often as possible. Volunteering at a hospital was one of the ways I decided to start. I have never ever had an interest or desire to work in a hospital setting. I am extremely grateful to all the people that help make us well when we are sick but I did not want to be any part of that world. By allowing myself to step so far out of the agreement I had always had with myself of not being capable of doing a job I THINK I will not like I am able to grow my heart and my soul. I realized that as a volunteer I am always in the right place at the right time. Living outside my comfort zone in this way stomps fear to the ground. Who knows what else I am capable of doing and being now that I have started to embrace courage rather than fear; now that I have decided to change the internal agreement I have made; now that I decided not to listen to words that keep me in fear of trying new things. The love and truth I find within myself for each new experience I learn from helps me become more impeccable with my Word.

But sometimes……

“Silence is a source of Great Strength.” Lao Tzu

In the example I gave about the “good morning” greeting, I realized that being the new kid meant that silence and listening were very strong tools I could use right away. Being silent can be part of how I create. Immediately it tells people that I mind my own business therefore I do not gossip, I listen carefully when instructions are told to me and the result of that listening is a job well done, I don’t interrupt or interfere with someone else’s conversation, and I can be counted on to be real.

How else does being impeccable with my Word help me and those around me?

Discard fear: F.E.A.R. is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. If I let fear always dictate my every thought and action then I am not able to be effective as a human being in any circumstance. What am I truly afraid of, for instance, in being the first person to say “good morning” to someone? A simple fear like that can set the tone for so many other fears to take root.

Heighten my empathy: Being impeccable with my Word means that I am purposefully being aware of how I speak along with the words I use. I am putting myself in someone else’s shoes. How would I want to be spoken to and what words will be most soothing and friendly in particular situations. This is by no means easy. It’s asking me to stop almost every time I want to converse with someone and take a deep breath before I answer a comment or question

Practice what I believe or want to believe: When I want to change a habit I know it is going to take conscious effort every day to go from one habit to the next. If I believe that being a beacon of love and truth is important toward my success as a human being then I must be diligent in my daily practice of love and truth. It is very much like practicing to learn an instrument, like say, the guitar. In order for me to get so good at playing the guitar it sounds like I was born to play, I first must make it a habit of practicing and then challenging my practice to keep getting better. This could take a lifetime but that’s okay with me because I have all the time in the world to master something I believe in.

Do my best every day: I know that I won’t always like what I have created on a particular day in my attempt at practicing being impeccable with my Word but I can’t let failure in that moment define all of me. Mistakes and pitfalls will happen but being impeccable means to get right back up and try again. There will be more successes than failures. Learning to forgive my mistakes and try again means I’ve turned the mistakes into a success.

I know that these ideas can be easily applied to many other areas of my life but I find it easier to be specific as I go.

The best part about being impeccable with my Word is that the more I practice and tend to the seeds of love and truth the deeper the roots of my new agreement with myself can grow. What I then believe about myself can go out to the hearts of others and the stronger I feel against the poison of fear of what negative words might come at me. I can continue to cultivate fertile ground for more and more impeccable words and better self-agreements.

Call to Action

What is one thing you can do today to start thinking the best of yourself?

When, in the course of your days, can you be impeccable with your Word?

How do you think it will feel in your heart to stop thinking badly of yourself and start thinking that you can DO anything you set your mind to?

 

9 Times Curiosity Softens Judgment

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“….. it would be interesting to find out what goes on in that moment when someone looks at you and draws all sorts of conclusions.”Malcolm Gladwell

The dictionary defines judgment as “an opinion so pronounced; a formal decision held by a court; the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing; an opinion or estimate so formed.” The word judgment has a kind of negative quality to it and when exercised seems to put a person in a mirage of control and power with regard to their words, thoughts and perceptions.

Discernment however is defined as “the ability to see and understand people, things, or situations clearly and intelligently; the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.” Discernment to me feels more like open-mindedness and forethought. It feels empowering because it seems to take into account all aspects of a situation without negativity.

As a life coach we are taught about the top 24 value characteristics and their definitions and how these values are used to strengthen each individual. Judgment falls into the value characteristic with critical thinking and open-mindedness. The definition says, “Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.” I love this definition because it is positive and freeing. I would love to see the word judgment changed to discernment. It also happens to be in my top 5 strong value characteristics of who I am at my core.

Why am I giving you a lesson in judgment?

Well, I recently came up against a very irate reader who felt compelled to voice her discontent to one of my blog posts. In my quick mental response I was thrilled because it meant that I generated so much emotion that a reader felt so strongly as to write about it in a personal email to me. Upon further perusal of her rant I realized that although I welcome all responses with open-mindedness and curiosity the actual response didn’t get specific in any way as to what was so emotional for her or why she felt compelled to write. I could tell it was a rant because the tone was negative and she used capital letters and exclamation points. Courage dear reader….don’t be shy, let your thoughts fly free.

“One reason we rush so quickly to the vulgar satisfactions of judgment, and love to revel in our righteous outrage, is that it spares us from the impotent pain of empathy, and the harder, messier work of understanding.” Tim Kreider, We Learn Nothing

Maturity tells me do not provoke the monster. Let the reader have his/her say and move on. Not everything I write is going to please everyone and I’m okay with that. It’s almost like an oath writers take when they go public with their thoughts as happens often with blog posts. I couldn’t help however the questions that kept running through my mind:

How does lack of curiosity play a role in judgment?

When does judgment become negative?

Can curiosity keep judgment at bay?

When my children were little I found it fascinating to watch them learn something new. Their curiosity didn’t always include a question right away but their actions and body language and facial expressions showed their desire to know more and learn something. As they got older and the questions started coming along I realized it was a great indicator that they were ready to understand the answers to their questions. How I answered them was just as important as being open-minded to answering their questions for the age they were at. If I didn’t know the answer we would look it up together. I hope I taught them to always get the facts before forming an opinion or judgment.

As adults I have to wonder when did judgment take a front row seat and relegate curiosity to the back of the room?

The pure definition of curiosity is “the desire to learn or know about anything; inquisitiveness.” I can’t imagine what the world would be like if curiosity didn’t exist; if we just accepted what we were taught or what we read without question or wonder or awe.

“Life is an adventure of passion, risk, danger, laughter, beauty, love; a burning curiosity to go with the action to see what it is all about, to go search for a pattern of meaning, to burn one’s bridges because you’re never going to go back anyway, and to live to the end.” Saul D. Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals

As I get older 2 things are happening:

One, mortality screams louder and louder with each passing day and

Two,  curiosity for me means pushing my life to limits I’ve always only been afraid of . Fear now takes a back seat to curiosity. We only have this one chance at life so why hold back from what piques our interests?

“It is simply this: do not tire, never lose interest, never grow indifferent—lose your invaluable curiosity and you let yourself die. It’s as simple as that.” Tove Jansson, Fair Play

So how do we stay curious without judgment?

Here are some ideas that might be of help and interest….

It is human nature to form an opinion about almost everything. Opinions are great but if you don’t have information to back up your opinion, if you don’t show truth and/or facts with your opinion then it becomes judgment and judgment just doesn’t feel good no matter how you look at it. You can still maintain your opinion but be open-minded to new information. My father used to say that the only things that are for certain are death and taxes. I’m not so sure any more about the taxes part but there is no arguing with death although there are people that would argue that they were declared clinically dead and are still alive today so see, even death seems negotiable and curious. The point is that life is open for business and being open is expansive and freeing.

“Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.” Tony Schwartz

Opinions are based on curiosity. Wanting to know the “why” or “how” of something drives our inner self to stay free of judgment for a bit if only because we are learning and growing and seeking truth and wisdom.

“I had discovered that learning something, no matter how complex, wasn’t hard when I had a reason to want to know it.” Homer Hickam, Rocket Boys

Curiosity allows for personal internal expansion. We don’t know what life experiences led someone down a certain path of life or thought and it may not be for us to know but when you are curious about a person and their thought processes, instead of judging without knowing their story or the facts you have the freedom and dare I say responsibility to put yourself in that person’s shoes and imagine what their experiences and feelings are like. This is empathy. Once you can feel what they might be feeling there is no room whatsoever for judgment.

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

Curiosity allows for gratitude. Judgment allows for nothing but walls and road blocks. Sure there are times when I look back over my life so far and can more easily find what is missing than what is right with my life; what is a burden rather than a blessing but then I pull back, step out of my own picture and think about what I still want to learn and experience. How can I make those curiosities happen; how can I be grateful for the opportunity to learn and be and evolve as more of who I am? Being grateful for what life has given me so far allows me to seek and learn about what more there is out in this big world.

Curiosity encourages, no demands, relationship. Judgment screams isolation. In his book, Making Marriage Simple, author Harville Hendrix writes, “We are wounded and healed in relationships. We cannot know who we are except in relationships.” This can be a love relationship, a spiritual relationship, a co-worker relationship, a mentor relationship, etc. If we never expose ourselves to the ideas and teachings of others, if we never allow all the many relationships of our lives to peak our curiosities then what are we living for?

“When I think of the wisest people I know, they share one defining trait: curiosity. They turn away from the minutiae of their lives-and focus on the world around them. They are motivated by the desire to explore the unfamiliar. They are drawn toward what they don’t understand.” Dani Shapiro, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

Always be ready to ask yourself if what you are thinking is of a closed mind perspective or open mind perspective. Questions like:

What exists beyond the way I am seeing this?

How can I learn more about this?

Where might there be another opinion or perspective?

We can’t help judging ourselves but judging others is never a good idea. We are all perfectly imperfect and we all have a lifetime of opportunity to hone and chisel and smooth out those areas of our lives that we alone choose to judge to be wrong or in need of repair. Fear holds us back sometimes, okay, lots of times; fear asks us to face our own truths and we don’t like doing that. It’s hard to look in the mirror and see what we don’t like and easy to then pass on that internal hate toward others. Practice compassion and curiosity with yourself and judgment will find it very hard to settle in anywhere. Find a tiny bit of courage to shine a light on your own troubles or circumstances and you’ll see people rally to help you, no judgment.

“You cannot be fair to others without first being fair to yourself. Know that a well-honed sense of justice is a measure of personal experience, and all experience is a measure of self. Know that the highest expression of justice is mercy. Thus, as the supreme judge in your own court, you must have compassion for yourself. Otherwise, cede your gavel.”Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

Judgment is like poison. It alienates others and at times can be contagious. It alienates others by making people not want to be near your constant judgmental attitude. It can be contagious because if you find someone who enjoys judging others like you do then gossip takes root, judgment grows like a cancer and before you know it feeling bad and opinionated without facts become the disease. Staying curious and open-minded is the best medicine for the poison of judgment.

“If you didn’t grow up like I did then you don’t know, and if you don’t know it’s probably better you don’t judge.” Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Curiosity creates knowledge. The more curious you are the more curious you become and the more wisdom and knowledge you obtain. Your mind grows, your spirit grows, your conversations grow, your connections grow and more doors to the world open up. Judgment keeps all doors closed. Nothing grows in judgment.

“A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet.” Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World

Call to Action

Thanksgiving is coming. How can you practice curiosity with gratitude and without judgment? When faced with family and friends that push your buttons how can you come from a curious place and not a gossipy, judgmental place about those people that rub you the wrong way?