Monday, August 3, 2020

Cool Your Jets

“To open or not to open, that is the question.” Shakespeare is probably rolling in his grave at my lamentable misuse of his famous “To be or not to be” but these days “To open or not to open” IS the question. And it is driving most of us absolutely crazy.

It was one thing to engage our patience and try to make the best of our altered way of life during the first months of the pandemic, but it’s another now that we realize that the end is not in sight and that we don’t know how much longer our patience must endure (along with no jobs, no schooling, etc.). Some of us resent masks, some of us swear by them; some think social distancing is ridiculous, others shy away from their fellow humans by far more than 6 feet. Regardless of our respective preferences, none of us are having a good time, and most of us are downright miserable.

But here’s the thing. Whether the current state of affairs has you scared to death, hopping mad, or swirling into depression, the only thing you achieve with your fear, rage or angst is potentially damaging your cardiovascular system and most certainly your immune system.

You see, our thoughts and emotions trigger certain chemicals in our brains, which then, through an intricate network of neurotransmitters, send messages to our body that impact every system in our bodies: our hormonal system, our cardiovascular system, our immune system, our gastrointestinal system and more. When our thoughts and consequent emotions are strongly negative (fear, rage, anger, despair), our bodies suffer.

What to do? Cool your jets. An expression from back in the 1970s that referred to the need for jet engines to cool off after a flight seems very appropriate today. Why? Because once you’ve taken whatever practical measures you believe are best for your health and well-being, the best thing you can do to assure your survival (mental, emotional and physical) is to let go of your negative emotions and focus on whatever is working in your life.

Easier said than done? No doubt. A fool’s errand? No. I’m not talking about burying your head in the sand and pretending all is well. It isn’t. But you can practice mindfulness (easy to do, lots of Internet help), meditation (let Google come to the rescue), whatever faith makes sense to you. You can journal or exercise, both prime ways of releasing negative emotions. Then you’ll have more head space to focus on what is working in your life, how you might make that better, what other resources or support you can explore.

Cool your jets. You’ll function better, feel better, and in the end, get through these demanding, exasperating, frustrating times better.


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

I'm Not Arguing. I'm Just Explaining That I'm Right

Given my work as a trial consultant, I typically spend a lot of time on airplanes and consequently, in airports (at least until the COVID-19 outbreak). I was in an airport somewhere in the Midwest when I saw a fellow traveler wearing a t-shirt with words that I found positively brilliant: “I’m not arguing. I’m just explaining that I’m right.”

Oh, the home truth in that one! How many times have you found yourself in an argument, heated discussion, whatever you want to call it, where you were fiercely determined to get across your point of view, because you knew that you were RIGHT! Beyond a shadow of a doubt, no hesitation whatsoever, you were indisputably, totally, awesomely, RIGHT. Except that the significant other, friend, person, to whom you were simply trying to impart your rightness, saw your “explaining” for what it truly was: arguing for your position. Whereupon you blurted out, “I’m not arguing. I’m just explaining that I’m right.”

OK, so maybe not your exact words, but think about it. Haven’t you often found yourself persisting in a discussion because of your profound conviction of your rightness? Especially as we emerge from our time of social-isolation, each of us seems to have a different opinion of what’s the “right” way to go about it. The hiccup is, of course, that whoever you’re engaged in “discussion” with also thinks they are right. And rather than actually listening to the other person, you just plowed onward with explaining your “rightness.” As did they. Sigh.

The Art of Listening. So what to do? You’re probably not willing to cave, and say “Ok, you win, I was wrong.” Although you might, and it sometimes is the wisest course. Setting that option aside, how about hitting “pause” on that over active brain of yours, and simply listen to what the other person is saying? Listening as in paying attention to their words, the tone of their voice, the emotion with which they are speaking, even their body language. Listening without formulating your oh-so-clever comeback.

Specifically, listening for common ground. Listening for some aspect of what they are driving at that corresponds, even in a small way, with something you can agree with. For example, an argument over the family budget usually will have as common ground to the “You spend too much” “You’re a miser” positions, a desire to have a family budget that’s workable for all concerned. Notice I said workable, not perfect.

The Common Ground Approach. If you can find that piece of common ground, rather than continue to hammer away at “You spend too much/you’re a miser” positions, you can say something along the lines of “As I listen to you, I realize that what we both want here is a budget that actually makes sense to both of us.” Hard for your partner to disagree with that one. Maybe from there, you can back off the argument, and start to work towards a solution.

It's not easy. Yet, you’re a lot more likely to come to a feasible resolution if you quit defending your position under the guise of “explaining" and start heading in the direction of problem-solving.

Which yes, means listening with both heart and mind, to that person in front of you. It gets easier with practice, and eventually leads to a lot less grief.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

What I Learned From the Inventor of Zoom

If there’s one thing I noticed about our sheltering-in-place time, it’s that complaining did absolutely nothing about it. Zip. Nada. Complaining about the lack of work didn’t magically produce more work, ditto lack of income. Complaining about the ordeal – pardon me, challenge – of home-schooling (especially if more than one child was involved) didn’t make it less onerous. Complaining about the lack of TP didn’t make it grow on trees. In fact, all complaining did was annoy whoever else was around to hear it, and didn’t make you much happier either.

Most importantly, complaining about the possibility of catching the virus didn’t make it less probable, and if you did contract it, complaining about it didn’t make it go away faster either.

Problem-solving is the obvious answer to all of our complaints. Looking for answers, resources, for help with any given situation is – always – the way.

One of the more fascinating solutions many of us found to our self-isolation, was Zoom. A phenomenal invention that most people had never heard of pre-coronavirus. After all, we had FaceTime and Skype, weren’t those enough? Yet Zoom became the go-to for not-in-person meetings, rendezvous, and just plain chats.

Which got me wondering, how did Zoom come about in the first place? Love. Yup, you read that correctly. Love. No, I’m not talking about loving the planet and all those who inhabit it, I’m actually talking about the more common boy-meets-girl variety (or boy-meets-boy/girl-meets-girl, take your pick), the one-on-one type. Well, Eric S. Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom, as a freshman in college in China had to take a ten-hour train ride in order to visit his girlfriend, now his wife, and although he road that train regularly (love will do that to you), he really detested the travel and tried to imagine other ways he could meet up with his girlfriend, travel-free. Some 15 or so years later, he was able to finally develop the virtual platform he’d dreamed of for so long. Zoom. Which is what has allowed us to connect with those we love, these many years later, in ways unimaginable during the previous pandemic of 1918.

If Eric Yuan could do it, why not us? Why can’t each of us take that thing we complain about the most and turn our complaining energy to better use, namely, problem-solving? Bitching about my inability to attend the ballroom dance lessons so dear to my competitive-ballroom-dancer-heart wasn’t/isn’t getting the COVID restrictions lifted any faster, and heaven knows ballroom-dancing is one of those up-close-and-personal sports likely to be last on the list of allowed activities. Sigh. Once I stopped whining, I decided to train myself to dance some new patterns, and to improve my basic technique one painstakingly slow day at a time. It’s working. No, it’s not what I’d like for the long term, but at least I feel that I’m being proactive and productive practicing in my kitchen, moving towards my ballroom goals. And when I flag, I remember Eric Yuan and how he developed Zoom.

What’s that one thing you love to do, that you can’t given our present circumstances? Or can’t do as much of as you’d like? Or in the way you’d like to be doing it? Put your excellent creative mind to use (yes, you have one), and figure out some way to work on whatever it is within the confines of our present experience. It’s far better for your heart, mind and soul than inflicting your groans and moans on everyone, yourself included.