Half-Time.

Half-Time

I make an effort to avoid sports references because my level of ignorance on the subject usually complicates even the most straightforward metaphor. Half Time however seems to belong to the world of pop culture, where I have more secure footing.

Half time is in fact the only thing I know about the Super Bowl, and it occurs
half way through the big game. (Please let that be right)

This is probably as far as I will be carrying this analogy.
We are currently, halfway through 2020. 6 months finished and 6 months to come.

This may come as a relief.

To others of you, it is a full-throated wake-up call, a reason to panic or judge oneself very harshly.
Conversely, it may be news of complete disinterest, and still others of you may use a different calendar or measuring units to determine what we arbitrarily call the date.* This is because we all have our own thoughts about everything, including June 30, 2020.

For those of you who look at the calendar and think that you aren’t where you had hoped to be by mid year, I am talking to you.

Maybe you had some resolutions at the beginning of the year which have fizzled out (see my earlier blog post Fail or Fizzle).
Maybe you had hoped to be further along by now with your

Career
Weight loss
Fitness goals
Education
Savings
Debt Reduction
Reading List
Home Organization

Maybe you are thinking that time is just flying by and what difference does it make, you can never catch up.

Well since we are all probably telling ourselves all kinds of stories, none of which is objectively true from a thermodynamic or laws-of-physics sort of perspective, how about telling ourselves a festive little story about Half Time.

Half Time

This is where your imaginary Beyoncé, Gaga, J-Lo, Adam Levine, Bruno Mars or The University of Arizona Symphonic Marching Band (Super Bowl I, 1967) come out to tell you that

It’s not over
It’s only Half Time
Anything can still happen.

Not one single thing will be improved by looking at today’s date and feeling bad.
Coaching is one of the best ways I know to set and commit to goals that move us forward.
If thinking that 2020 is half over brings up negative thoughts, remember that they are all optional.

You probably accomplished a few things during these past 6 months that you
Never
Ever
believed you could do.

Take a bow.
It’s Half Time and you’re on.

Anything can still happen!

*8 Tamuz 5780 in Hebrew Calendar;
21 Shawwal 1441 in Pakistan;
In China Cycle 78, year 37 (Geng-Zi), month 5 (Ren-Wu), day 10 (Jia-Chen);
Best not to get started on the Discordian Calendar….( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discordian_calendar )

Brains Can be Nutty

We tend to think of the brain as a single entity, but there are a number of structures and one of the more mischievous of them is the amygdala. One of the 2 parts of the amygdala is shaped and sized somewhat like an almond, from which it gets its Greek name.

But this small area has other popular metaphorical names you may have heard, such as the Lizard Brain and the Fear Factory.*

The amygdala represents the oldest most primitive part of our human brains and it is primarily concerned with instinct, automatic reflex and adrenaline-fueled fight, flight or freeze.

The amygdala is what helped us suss out prehistoric dangers and jump away from saber toothed tigers and it still works when you are walking to your car in a dark parking lot or camping on a Yukon adventure.

The problem is how this little almond shaped primeval relic functions in day-to-day 21st Century life.

If you’ve experienced loops of procrastination, self-doubt and fear of embarrassment then congratulations, you have a functioning amygdala.

The amygdala is why you don’t do what you think you want to do.
It is why you don’t say what you planned to say.
It’s why you gave up on your dream.

It’s particularly uninterested in you doing anything:
New
Creative
Different
Experimental
Good

The amygdala is the source of what Stephen Pressfield calls the “Resistance,” in his book on writing Do the Work.

Resistance is what comes up when we sit down to write, or paint, or compose.
Resistance is procrastination.

Resistance is harsh self-judgment, collecting evidence that the project is no good,
and ruminating on how many geniuses get vilified and mocked.

Resistance demands more research, new certifications, advanced graduate degrees, a more supportive spouse or a rich benefactor.

Shut up.
Sit down.
Run away.

That’s about all the nuance this little almond shaped packet of nuclei has to offer.

Coaching clients often explain that they just can’t get anything done on their creative projects. They imagine it must be a bad sign if they can’t settle down and work.

It must mean that the book/the song/the painting/the new idea/the invention is no good.

It’s your amygdala! It doesn’t even speak English!

You’ve got books and poetry and paintings and inventions and businesses to create!
We need you.

If you think your amygdala has been giving your brain nutty feedback there is a way to beat it at its own game.

Welcome all the bad ideas.
Give yourself permission to do mediocre work.
Embrace failure and defy that little dinosaur with regular habits to decondition the alarm bells it sends out.

My coach says fear is just shallow breathing, cramping bowels and a little vomit in the back of your throat.

No big deal.

As soon as you remind yourself what it is, you can override that little nut.
You’ve got the rest of that brain to use and you’ve got work to do.

Time Out

Time and lack of time come up ALL the time in virtually every conversation.

It’s time.
Not the right time.
Is it time?
Time is money.
Time is just dragging.
Where do I find the time?
He has all the time in the world.
It’s about time.
I’m just killing time.
She wastes so much time.
They don’t respect my time.
Where did the time go?
Why can’t he be on time?

People have very different thoughts and judgments about time but usually they think those thoughts and judgments are just true. Facts.

I have a thought about appointments: “15 minutes early is 10 minutes late.”

It appears no one else that I know has this thought, so along the way I learned that it might not be an incontrovertible fact.

How we “spend” time is very similar to how we “spend” money: everyone has an opinion about the right way or the responsible way to manage both.

Some of us feel the need to spend every penny and fill every minute whether out of anxiety or zest for life.

Others make a point of saving time and money, sometimes out of fear of the future and in other cases to build a compelling future.

The point is that there are far more thoughts about time than there are facts but most of us get very strong emotions about the subject on a daily basis.

How you spend time,
how you think about time,
and how you judge others regarding time are always good areas in which to be curious.

Curious. Not furious.

Any plan, any new idea, any change means a different thought about the way time is being allocated. Most humans are pretty sure they are already allocating their time the only possible way. Or they are pretty sure that they do not have the ability to manage their time in a new way. Both of these thoughts are untrue.

If you recognize that time is a perennial issue in your life, hold off on making sweeping changes. Notice the urge to label yourself as disorganized, lazy, obsessive or broken in any way. You are not doing anything “wrong.” There is nothing to fix.

Just take a little time out and get curious. Not furious.

Our patterns of managing time are created over a lifetime to help us deal with all the many things that have gone on. There is no need to judge those patterns, but if we notice that some of them are no longer serving us, the best way to make a change is with self compassion and fascination.

This week, take a mini Time Out every time you notice that “time” is a trigger for your thoughts and your emotions.

Stay curious. Not furious.

Discomfort Zone

Want more success?
You probably need to double or triple your rate of failure.

Failure is one of those emotions most of us have learned to avoid, and there are so many ways of avoiding it.

Easy entertainment – food, drink, TV, video games, and online shopping.
Playing small – keeping your sites on things you already know how to do.

But what is the problem with failing? The word. I agree. Most of us have a long unhappy relationship with the word failure.

But everything we have ever learned was built on failure.

Around age one we are failing at walking until we are walking.
We fail at riding a bike until those training wheels come off.

Some of my clients have a hard time remembering the last time they put themselves in Failure’s way.

My teacher, Suzy Rosenstein, talks about her son learning to ride a unicycle. Right from the beginning, he was told it was going to take about 9 hours. That was what happened. For about 9 hours he was failing at riding a unicycle until he stopped failing and was actually riding it.

In my Russian language classes as a child, our teacher would read to us in September the lesson that we would be able to understand by the end of the school year in June. It was always incomprehensible and somehow 8 months or so later it was easy.

Examine failure a little more closely and you realize it is simply the state of not having reached some expected goal yet.

Any achievement is built on failures, and if you disagree it’s probably because
your goals are too small.

Even in cultures where negative outcomes need to be minimized down close to zero including medicine, manufacturing, and aeronautics failure is part of the learning process until the final results. Failure in the testing and learning process needs to be embraced and transparently studied precisely to minimize loss of life.

Coaching is the best way I know to help people fail forward. When we help our clients set an Impossible Goal we always include lots of opportunities to strategically fail.

Double your rate of failure.
Dream a bigger dream.
Keep a failure log.
Talk to young people about failure and help them understand it is not something to be ashamed of. Too many of us quit because of our thoughts about that word.

Instead of “Winning or Failing” try on “Winning or Learning,” but don’t rob yourself of the opportunity to be who you could be with some failures under your belt.

Today is a good day to enter the discomfort zone.

Won’t Hurt A Bit…

This won’t hurt a bit.

We’ve heard it said and we’ve probably said it too – “This won’t hurt a bit.”

And the voice in the back of our head responds – “Sure it won’t hurt a bit, it will hurt a LOT!”

Right from the beginning we humans think things shouldn’t hurt and at the same time we are skeptical of pain-free promises.

How many industries are built on promising change without discomfort?

Coaching reminds us that the ONLY things standing between us and what we want to accomplish are our uncomfortable emotions.

Not too many of us want to experience:

Embarrassment
Failure
Self-Loathing
Fear
Guilt
Shame
Anxiety

They are just emotions, but when they pop up, most of us are quick to try and change or cover up those emotions.

We distract ourselves with food, an adult beverage or Netflix.
We yell.
We clam up.
We get busy with something easily accomplished.
We find proof that what we wanted is impossible.
We find someone or something to blame.

We do a lot of things so we don’t have to sit with those feelings.

Brooke Castillo teaches us that discomfort is the currency of our dreams.

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, build your business, stop drinking, or write a book the reason you’re not having success is because you are trying to avoid those negative feelings.

“The more we choose discomfort…, the more successful we’re going to be, period. If you want to be further along in your life, you have to embrace more discomfort.” (Brooke Castillo)

There’s nothing you really want to accomplish or learn that won’t bring up some of those terrible thoughts and they are just that… thoughts.

This week watch what comes up for you when you hit a snag in your diet.

Notice what you start to think when you don’t finish your project.

Pay attention to how you start to think when you have to make that business call you’ve been putting off.

What if I promised you that nothing has gone wrong here.

“Discomfort is the currency of our dreams.”

Once in a while, it’s going to hurt… a bit.

Ugly Babies

So yesterday we discussed “murdering our darlings.”
Today? Ugly babies.

I am a newly minted grandmother of one exquisitely handsome grandson (his mother may be reading this) but there are occasionally, so one understands, ugly babies.

In his 1994 book on creativity* Ed Catmull (coFounder of Pixar and later president of Disney animation) writes about the way even successful and beloved movies like Toy Story start out.

It’s a baby. It’s like the fetus of a movie star; we all start out ugly. Every one of Pixar’s stories starts out that way. A new thing is hard to define; it’s not attractive, and it requires protection….Every new idea in any field needs protection. Pixar is set up to protect our director’s ugly baby.

So often we, who would snuggle and adore a wrinkly newborn human or puppy or kitten, stare in exasperation and disgust at our newly hatched projects.
A new business plan.
A first chapter.
A first year garden.
A fitness goal.
A quick sketch.
A new eating plan.

We are more likely to throw these attempts away and ridicule ourselves for ever having thought we could create something new than cherish and protect our ugly new baby.

Ed Catmull confesses what every creative needs to know and remember:

Early on, all of our movies suck. That’s a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I’m not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so—to go, as I say, “from suck to not-suck.”

You may recognize a reference to military slang here: “Embrace the suck.” Ed Catmull is perfectly capable of making a more poetic statement, but he challenges us to appreciate not just the finished product but
the wrinkly baby,
the tantrum toddler,
the awkward tween
and the cringe-worthy adolescent stages of our project babies.

How can you make friends with the idea that your new goal may be a little embarrassing?
What part of your new project is so awful that you can laugh and love it?
What if it weren’t a problem that your first draft was mostly unintellgible?

My grandmother used an expression about her doting mother, “All her geese were swans.” It’s a bit of an old fashioned expression I guess, but commonly refers to parents who over exaggerate the beauty and talents of their young.

Stop comparing your new idea to someone’s finished masterpiece. Remember all those masterpieces started as ugly babies and like the ugly duckling that transforms with time and care to an elegant swan, that is just as it should be.

*Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Murder Your Darlings

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, writer and lecturer at Cambridge University on the subject of language and literature appears to have been the source of the aphorism, “ Murder your darlings.”

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

Typically repeated by writing teachers to remind us to edit ruthlessly, Sir Arthur recognized the tendency of writers to fall in love with their writing and not see it clearly.

We all have enthusiasms, pet projects and dreams that we perennially hope to fold into one ideal career, work of art, or life.

The biggest obstacle to any goal is not time, money, talent or connections. The biggest obstacle is the other goals we have.

You can incorporate new habits into your life in 5 minute increments, but a goal means constraining and committing. Goals compete for attention, energy and mind management.

My clients often push back against constraint, but in the vast majority of cases it is the fastest way of achieving those long lingering projects and resolutions. It can feel a little like murdering your darlings, but if you haven’t been actively nurturing those darling goals, you’re already neglecting and starving them with inattention.

We think we just need a little more time, but what we really need to do is decide.

We want the success story to look like:
more money
better health
published bestseller
promotion
but Mark Manson* suggests we decide first what kind of pain we are willing to endure? Instead of thinking primarily of the rewards we want to enjoy, what costs are we willing to pay?

With a list of goals big and small, professional and personal, health and financial there is no way we can commit to the discomfort and challenge involved in achieving all or even some of them at once.

Choose one today- it really doesn’t matter which. Your brain will fight it, but cross the other darling goals right off your list and make the one goal your priority. You have just increased the likelihood of all those other goals one day coming into fruition simply by constraining your focus, your energy and your frustration tolerance.

Or you can keep those pale undernourished darlings languishing on your to-do list for another year or two or ten.

Coaching is the best way I know to get the support and focus needed to achieve goals with clear systems and powerful thought work. When we fall in love with our dreams, our to-do lists, and our vision boards we lose sight of what we are actually creating.

Constraint does not mean giving up on the other goals, it means giving them the respect they are due.

*https://markmanson.net/question

Chaos: like it’s a bad thing…

Monday morning I settled in to do some (overdue) focused work at our weekend house. Within minutes, the painters showed up to to repair the decks and the vibrating sounds of power washing, power sanding and nail guns came at me from all sides. Chaos.

No problem, universe. I got this. I can control my thoughts. I then turned on the computer only to find that the internet is out.

Within a few minutes I decide not only that there is no way I can work this morning, but the whole day is shot and now I will be behind all week.

And I will NEVER be able to do what I want because:

Our lives are too unpredictable.
There’s too much going on,
I wilI never be able to coach if the internet and a quiet room are not reliable,
I can’t write so I can’t keep up with my goal of posting 25 blog posts in 30 days.
I can’t think, so I can’t create the content for my coaching clients.
Why did I ever even think I could take the time to do this?

And then, suddenly…. Quiet.
The painters are pulling out coffee thermoses and bagels and quietly chatting on the lawn. I can hear birdsong and the wind in the trees.

Blissful quiet?
No. Not this girl. I’m on a roll.

Because the noise is only going to start up again, right? In 10 minutes? Maybe 30?
The minute I settle in they will rev up again and
I. Just. Can’t
Nope it’s impossible the whole week will be catch up and since it’s mid June already I am definitely falling behind for the second quarter. And then the year is half over…

So my brain has run away with me and I’m blaming everyone and then the big guns. Not nail guns.
The angry self talk.

What a baby you are?
Do you know how lucky you are to have gotten these contractors over here this week?
And that you can afford to pay them?
And that you have a weekend house?
And that your contractors are such great people who do such good work?
When exactly did you want them to come? When it’s convenient for you?

So, first the bitch session. Then the self-loathing. And it’s only Monday.

What do I do now? The same thing I tell my clients. Start with the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.

Facts: Monday AM, power washing, power sanding & nail guns around the 4 sides of house. Internet Not working.

Thought (about Fact): It’s ALWAYS CHAOS here.

Feeling (about Thought): Hopeless

Actions (when feeling hopeless): Distracted. Complaining. Pacing and looking out window at the workers. Keep saying “It’s always like this.” Not enjoying being in my weekend house. Not appreciating having ability to hire contractors to make house look better. Telling myself that I will never catch up. Not writing. Not figuring out a place to go with internet and quiet. Then judging myself harshly that if I were a grown up I wouldn’t be acting like a baby.

Result: I add to the chaos by behaving chaotically.

Using the 5 part Thought Model helps me see that even though I think my feeling of hopelessness is from the Painters using their tools and the Internet being out, the real problem is that I am thinking “It’s Chaos Here!”

As I was finishing up the model I received a text from a client and I responded:
“Let me get back to you in 45 minutes, it’s chaos here.”

My client shot back immediately:

“You say “chaos” like it’s a bad thing.”

How are my clients so smart? I am definitely saying “Chaos” like it’s a bad thing.

NEW MODEL:

Facts: Monday AM, power washing, power sanding & nail guns around the 4 sides of house. Internet Not working.

Thought (about Fact): It’s ALWAYS CHAOS here.

Feeling (about Thought): Instead of Hopeless, AMUSED

Actions (when feeling amused): Go out and talk with contractors. Find out their time frame. Tell them what I need and see if we can make a plan. Laugh. Remember how much I like the contractor and what good work they do. Decide to switch up my plan so the quiet focus work will be later. Tell my client that she made my day fun in one sentence. Notice that my life is a little chaotic and that’s exactly what I want.

Result: I remember that Chaos doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

IF YOU GIVE A YAK A SHAVE

Somewhere in the intersectional world of Ren & Stimpy* and computer coding a term emerged in the 1990’s called Yak Shaving.

Coined by an MIT Ph.D. Carlin Vieri, Yak Shaving is the experience many of us have when we set a straightforward goal but a series of seemingly random, unanticipated and even unrelated tasks appear between the goal-setting and the outcome.

-You are submitting a report on line.
-The scanner requires an update.
-The desktop computer now requires an update to be compatible with the scanner update.
-After the update your passwords need to be re-entered but you can’t remember the passwords at the moment so you request a new password and it doesn’t come through immediately.
-You realize what the password was and it no longer works because you are in process of setting a new one now.
-The updated scanner is now requiring a reboot and keeps flashing a message that the printer paper is jammed.
-Even though you do not need the printer side of the scanner or any paper to submit the report, you need to address the paper jam before proceeding.
-You can now request a new password but they require a longer password with special characters that you have never used and it requires multiple attempts.
-Now you need to save this newly created password that you know you will never remember and you pullout your phone to save it on one of your apps and notice that your office has texted you 5 times.

You are now Shaving a Yak.

Who knew this aggravating universal human experience had a name? There are endless daily permutations in every life and industry and NOW that we know the term we can notice the scenarios that tend to pitch us into the Yak Shaving arena.

No one sets out to shave a Yak, but like the unintended consequences that cascade from giving a mouse a cookie in the children’s book by Laura Numeroff**, certain tasks appear on the surface to be one-offs even though we know from experience that there are multiple actions implicit below the surface.

Yak Shaving explains why a simple to-do list that seems so achievable and drama-free on Monday morning can be a source of crippling self-doubt and emotional exhaustion by Friday afternoon.

If Yak Shaving is the unwritten action item on your to-do list week after week, it is typically a sign that your systems are in need of some attention.

Is your technology or your equipment up to date?
Are your filing and paper handling habits supportive of your responsibilities?
Are you communicating clearly with colleagues and family so that timelines work for you rather than against you?
Do you regularly underestimate the time your work takes or neglect to build in reminders to your calendar?

If you shave that Yak once in a while, just knowing the term can really help you build awareness into your week. Chronic Yak Shavers, and you know who you are, notice when recursive thinking is sending you down the wrong path.

Coaching is one of the best ways I know to build positive systems and dismantle persistent Yak Shaving. In the meantime, attack that Yak with increased awareness.

*https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101178/ [Ren & Stimpy Show]

** If You Give a Mouse a Cookie he will require milk, a straw, a napkin…