Tuesday, October 29, 2019

What Would Betty Crocker Do?



Some of you may remember who Betty Crocker was. For those of you who don’t, Betty Crocker was a fictional character, created in the 1920s to give a friendly face to cooking and baking products.  She was a cultural icon right through the mid-90s. To many over the decades, she represented kindness and goodness personified.

A dear friend of mine’s dad was an exec with General Mills, which owned the Betty Crocker name and likeness. He had a company portrait of “Ms. Crocker” on his home office wall. Whenever one of his children would act up or say something deemed inappropriate, their mother would ask: “What would Betty Crocker do?” The errant child knew immediately what that meant. Betty Crocker certainly wouldn’t say or do whatever misbehavior the child exhibited. it was a surprisingly effective disciplining technique that my friend has never forgotten.

To this day, when she’s in a quandary about something, my friend will ask herself: “What would Betty Crocker do?” and she knows right away what would be the appropriate, usually moral, high road to take.

You may have your own version of Betty Crocker (fictional or otherwise), the name matters not. What matters is that you have a ready example for yourself of how you would like to behave.

One of the most critical things such a “moral high road” person can teach us, is how to use our words to help, not to hurt.

You may think you can only hurt someone by name-calling, and certainly, attaching nasty labels to people is hurtful: “you’re bad, stupid, lazy." What we too often ignore, is how criticism--not just name-calling--can be more hurtful than helpful. To say to someone “You’re doing that wrong,” “You never help with the dishes,” “You’re always late,” may be accurate statements, but they may not be helpful.

Before you open your mouth to criticize, think first. What do you want to achieve? Do you want that “wrong” thing done differently? Instead of criticizing, suggest, graciously: “Did you want some help with that? I may know a way that’s easier.” If they say “no,” leave it be. Do you want help with the dishes? Ask for it, nicely! “Would you help me please with the dishes?” If you want someone to show up on time, ask for it (nicely!) in a way that’s more truthful: “I worry when I don’t see you at the time we agreed on. Can you text me or something if you’re running late?”

Yes, you may need to have a full-on conversation with the person about failure to help, or chronic lateness, but for that, you’ll want to engage in a proper discussion using good communication skills, which are beyond the scope of this post.

For now, simply ask yourself “What would Betty Crocker do?” and see how far you can get with a small dose of graciousness, of simply being nice.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Halloween’s Gift to Us: F.E.A.R.



Halloween is almost upon us, and grown-ups are planning Halloween parties, while kids of all ages figure out what costume to wear and whether to trick or treat. For all the fun we have at Halloween, it is still a day in remembrance of all things scary; ghosts, zombies, witches, spells and curses.

Fear. Or, as I prefer to think about it, F.E.A.R: False Evidence Appearing Real. The “ghost” is a sheet fluttering, the “witch” is but a black robe and tall hat, the “zombie” an amalgamation of tattered clothes and white ghoulish make-up. Yet fear is a real emotion. Any time our survival, our well-being--or that of a loved one--is threatened, we experience fear.

The problem lies, not in that initial survival emotional knee-jerk, but in what we choose to do with it. At Halloween, we may be startled by an apparent ghostly apparition, but a moment later we dismiss it for the illusion that it is. In our daily life, however, too often we confuse our feeling of fear, with something to be afraid of, rather than something to deal with.

I learned this forcefully many years ago when I was rear-ended not once, not twice, but seven times over the course of a year. Even though only the first accident resulted in significant injury, by the seventh I was terrified to get back in my car. I was working, in my late 20s, public transportation in Los Angeles was scarce and Uber wasn’t even a thought in someone’s mind. I had to drive. I couldn’t afford to be too afraid to drive. In desperation, I consulted a hypnotist, something I’d never done before. It worked. In my desperation I did the thing I needed most to do--deal with my fear.

You see, fear is actually designed to be a warning sign: “Pay attention, danger ahead!” I was hit, I was scared--how hurt was I? Would I be OK? But once fear has alerted you to paying attention to your survival/well-being, its job is done. Maintaining a state of fear prevents you from enjoying the life in front of you; your present, the now moment, really the only time you have. Which is why F.E.A.R. makes sense: if you’re on the way to dealing with whatever the threat is, then fear is “false evidence,” persisting merely because you haven’t released it.

Think about it: you had a miserable divorce. You’re afraid to get into another relationship because he/she might be a jerk. Again. You’re hanging onto your fear rather than dealing with how to recognize and avoid jerks. Or, you hate your job. You’re afraid of quitting because you’re afraid you won’t be able to get another job. Your fear gets in the way of exploring your options, such as improving your skill set, checking out where employees are needed, looking into job-search resources.

False Evidence Appearing Real. Just like that scary witch who was nothing more than a dressed-up 12 year old, your fear is nothing more than a “heads up, pay attention here” warning sign. Important, yes. In your best interest, yes. Something to dwell on? No.

Heed the warning; dismiss the fear. Give fear its due, thank it for doing its job, and let it go. The sooner the better. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Patience and Flexibility




One of my favorite shows got dumped from Netflix. I know that’s not an earth-shattering event, nor for that matter are most of the annoying hiccups of daily life: the trash pickup doesn’t happen, the stylist you’ve come to depend on leaves the salon, the dog/cat breaks your favorite dish.

I find though, that if I’m not mindful, I can let these annoyances turn me into Ms. Grinch, not a pleasant consequence for those around me, much less myself. Granted, there’s that immediate hit we get from blaming someone/something, but frankly things just don’t go well for me when I’m in Grinch-mode. I can’t afford to stay there for very long.

Lately I’ve been telling myself something a dear friend shared with me. She was about to embark on a family vacation. Lest you cry “So what? No big deal!” let me point out that her family of 20(!), all traveling together, included four generations, the oldest of which are somewhat health-and-energy-challenged, the youngest of which (great-grandchildren) are a blur-joy. You know, the running around in circles, high-octane munchkins.

My friend’s way of coping with the ensuing mayhem, hilarity and general chaos of corralling these disparate folk onto airplanes, through airport connections, into a foreign country, and then through the two-week vacation itself, was to remind herself of how her grandfather approached travel; “Patience and flexibility” he would say. All it takes is “patience and flexibility.”

What a great mantra for life! I mean, really, apart from the few major disasters that we may suffer through our lives, most of our daily irritations and annoyances are readily solved with a dose of “patience and flexibility.” OK, so my favorite show got nuked. Well, with a little patience and flexibility, I’ll find something I enjoy just as much. The trash didn’t get picked up. The nice lady at the trash company asks if I’m willing to wait an extra few days for pick up. Of course I am. Nothing horrible will happen if the bin is out there two more days. I can always find another stylist, it’s not the first time. And, I did love that dish, but oh well. I’m certainly not going to live without pets.

Thus it is. I find that if I just say to myself, “Self, be patient. You’ll figure out something. Be flexible. There’s always another way,” my irritation quickly dissolves, my load is lighter, and somehow the day goes better.

Patience and flexibility!