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Timeless Wisdom

This week on “Life Shifting with Dr J” I had the opportunity to meet that rare, special kind of leader, one who truly “walks the talk.” In a world where scandal, duplicity, and political maneuvering seem to define the leadership landscape, it is encouraging–and inspiring–to know that there are leaders out there who have integrity, humanity, humility, and most importantly, wisdom. Dr David Surrenda, CEO of the Kripalu Institute for Yoga and Healing, is one of those leaders. He is a clinical psychologist and a thirty year veteran of the corporate, academic and organizational consulting worlds, and author of multiple books on leadership and self-development, most recently: “Retooling on the Run: Real Change for Leaders with no Time.”

I was honored to have him join me on my show. Click here to listen or download to Itunes/Mp3. Wowed by his clear, concise and simple message about leadership, I am in complete sync with his core principle: it is all about self-mastery. As I write in my book, “Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear,” it is impossible for us to be role models as leaders until we gain a measure of self-awareness — and humbly take up the gauntlet to LEAD OURSELVES.

As David pointed out in our conversation, self-mastery is not about becoming a “super hero,” but rather about becoming adept at stalking ourselves, becoming aware of our faults, our habits, and our fears–not with an ear for self-criticism, but with an eye for seeing how we can put in place practices to become more fully realized as humans.

Key to this journey of self-realization is shortening the “recovery time” from when go off track–get triggered, practice a bad habit, break a commitment, fall victim to fear, etc.

Mastery=Quick Recovery not Perfection

We will never be perfect, nor are we ever “finished” manifesting our full potential. BUT, with a commitment to continuously growing, learning and tracking ourselves, we can surely become more of WHO WE ARE MEANT TO BE.

I dearly hope you will take time to download the interview and hear from David directly. You will love his quick and concise six-step methodology for self-mastery. Here’s a preview synopsis:

KEY STEPS TOWARDS SELF-MASTERY

1. Gain Perspective– take the long view
2. Be a Student–of your self
3. Clarify Your Intent–know where you are headed
4. Map Your Patterns-look for gaps in consistency
5. Course Correct–don’t criticize, simply correct and re-balance
6. Evaluate Progress–shorten the “recovery time”

In a time when the world is crying out for wise leaders, I am heartened to know that people like David Surrenda are out there doing their thing, leading organizations that shape our world. Kripalu is one of the largest holistic health centers in the entire world…and I’m happy to be able to say, it is in good hands.

Thanks David…and to all, Namaste,

Dr J

Demons, Dragons and the Daimon (part one)


“There are times when we may fool ourselves. There are times when we can fool others. But we can never fool our body. It is the most sensitive barometer of our inner world.
” –Sherrill Sellman

The demons are back!

For the past few months, I have been waking up in the morning with what can only be described as “a jaw ache.” I get out of bed, slipper-slide my way to the coffee maker, and notice that my mouth feels like it has been nailed shut. Fortunately, the sense of “lock-down” persists for only a few minutes. When I sit breathing deeply in meditation, or take a few swigs of java–my jaw loosens and the pain subsides.

I didn’t think much of it until I heard on an NPR talk show that dentists recently reported a 50 percent jump in cracked and broken teeth in the past six months. Of course, as trained scientists, they just note the data and try to avoid speculating on why this might be happening…but I’ll venture a guess: anxiety, worry, stress…maybe FEAR?! (not that we are living through a fearful time…)

Does once every twenty years make a pattern? Not sure, but I can tell you that in 1989 when I first moved to New York City, I remember going to the dentist for the first time (on the 90th floor of the Empire State Building, whoa!) and he asked me if I “grind my teeth?” I had no idea what he was talking about, except to note that ever since arriving in NYC, I had been waking up in the morning with a jaw ache…rather like the one I currently have. He told me that I needed to be careful about this–that if it persisted I could crack/split a tooth during the night, or wear down the enamel, and the subsequent treatment could be quite extensive, expensive, and painful. Yikes.

Of course, the great irony was that he had a thoroughly unscientific, but rather profound explanation for my teeth-grinding: anxiety. He noted that many new patients, who come to NYC from other places, often have a great deal of anxiety in their transitional months. He was right, of course. I was excited, but also was anxious about moving to New York: I was worried about my finances living in such an expensive city; I was worried about being lonely in a city of 8 million; I was worried about starting my new job; I was overwhelmed by all the amazing things to do in the city…that cost money. You get the idea.

The good news, is that within a few months–by the time of my next visit–the pain had subsided and I guess I had became a relaxed, just normally stressed out New Yorker…with a loose jaw. Teeth intact.

Twenty years on..it appears that the teeth-grinding night demons are back. And it seems, according to NPR and the national dentists association, that I’m not the only one whose dream state is being attacked by little guys taking jack-hammers to my teeth while I snooze.

So what is going on here? Well, to my mind, what I’m going to call the “anxiety demons” represent bad news…and good news.

Unpleasant little devils!

Unpleasant little devils!

The bad news is that we are living in a particularly stressful time — and the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and worry are ubiquitous. The good news is that the demons are prescient, potent and insightful: we just need to listen to their message, and almost always, they signal CHANGE is afoot. Our job, if we have the awareness to hear the message, is to not RESIST…but, as best as possible, to go with the flow. Change, even disruptive upheaval…usually happens for our own good (that’s where the daimon comes in, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Back to the den of demons. Have you or anyone else you know experienced an unusual number of physical ailments lately? I’ve notice that a large number of my friends–and clients–have recently been taken down by a plethora of them: back pain, hepatitis, insomnia, stomach flu, sinusitis, skin rashes, Lyme disease.

One friend, who is considering a major career move that will take him across the country and potentially away from his spouse, took to bed with what he thought was the flu. Five weeks and many shed pounds later, he realized that the tenacious bug was a big wake-up call: he needed to rest, reflect, and really think through his decision. He was deeply anxious and wrought with guilt over the desired change.

A client who I’ve recently taken on is “thinking big” for the first time in years, pondering life shifts that may take him and his wife into a new business venture, away from their home state, and perhaps out of his twenty year career in the hotel industry. In the midst of this “life-shift,” he has committed to tackle the one major demon that has held him back for years: his weight. Yet, in the first few weeks of our work together, as he gears up to face the possibility of major change–and a new regimen of diet and exercise–he has actually gained five pounds. Oops, wrong direction.

What’s going on here? Why do the demons attack just when we’re most vulnerable?

Well, my take is this: the demons are actually trying to protect us, to keep us from risking too much, upsetting the apple cart of our lives…and disturbing the peace. They are what I call the “front line” defense soldiers, attacking from the flanks–in the stomach, the mouth, the head, and the back (oh, could I tell you stories about clients with back pain!).

They are actually fairly benign in most cases–representing a temporary onslaught–but their goal is simple: to warn you about the dragon, that big time protector of what we might call, in Kafka-esque terms: the Keeper of the Castle “Status Quo.”

Demons, simply put, are symptoms. Symptoms, as Freud pointed out over a hundred years ago, are often the street lamps on the road to repressed fears, forbidden desire, and unhealed trauma. They can be a wake-up call that it is time to face down the dragon of fear…and move forward towards a new landscape. The mistake we often make, however–and that our sound-bite culture reinforces–is to ignore the deeper roar of the dragon, and tend the symptom alone. “Pop the pill,” “sleep it off,” “cut it out” (metaphorically AND quite often, literally), and “get back to work.” These are our mantras. And what of change, growth, re-birth, transformation? Ah, no thanks, please pass the NyQuil.

So, in most situations, we stay focused on the demons, try to alleviate the symptoms, and avoid coming face-to-face with the dragon we most want to avoid: the dragon of fear.

the real culprit...

the real culprit...

Why? Well, partly because the meaning behind the demon of illness can be elusive: sometimes a cold is just a cold. BUT, more often, I think, especially when we sense (if we take the time to reflect) that our symptoms may well be related to stress/anxiety, is this: fear is a formidable foe.

Slaying the dragon is no easy task. It is often easier to just pick off the demons, one by one, rather than face the truth of our deeper pain, or hear in to the music of our deepest desire. Yet, when we are finally anxious enough, fed up enough, sick enough, or just downright MAD (witness the recent election) enough, we may just rise to the occasion…and stand up to our fears, shouting, to the world, to ourselves, “yes we can~!”

The key to this shift—and you can bet we are in the midst of a major one right now—is awareness; becoming aware that the underlying issue is FEAR; that the headaches, body aches, diet dramas, and other afflictions, are not [always] random, accidental or genetic (as pharma execs and some psychiatrists would have us believe) but very simply the body’s own language, signaling us of FEAR…and CHANGE.

Here’s the rub: You can’t slay a dragon if you refuse to acknowledge that it exists (look what it took for us to finally see the insanity of the Wall Street fueled housing debacle). Only by becoming aware that we are AFRAID…or that we are UNHAPPY, literally “sick and tired” of the status quo, only then may we step beyond the demons…and enter the dragon’s lair.

At this point, you may rightfully be asking, “Ok, I’ve had a demon here or there, but if I can “take two aspirin and feel better in the morning,” why would I want to face down my deepest fears?” Good question. Yet, it is exactly that kind of thinking that gets us into these extreme messes — witness the mortgage crisis–in the first place.

By side-stepping the guardian of the castle, and avoiding our irrational terror of change, we are prevented from accessing the one thing that brings joy, passion and the energy of possibility into our lives: the daimon of our deepest desire. We all know what the dragons of folk tales really guard in those foreboding medieval castles: buried treasure!

buried in each and every one of us...

buried in each and every one of us...

Think about it. What are we really most afraid of? That we might have to shift our life focus from “money” to “meaning?” That there really could be joy in having less “stuff” and more time? That the breakdown in the “house of cards” called free market capitalism might cause us to re-evaluate what really matters?

It does seem that just as we get comfy in our strata-loungers, something equally demonic, but in a good way–shows up to shake us up, forcing us to change and grow. It is a mystery par excellence: this daimon of passion and longing, the creative impulse to build new castles and try out new economic systems, the drive towards a better world–the instinct to elect better leaders. Where does this come from?

Carl Jung considered the daimon the key to individuation: a daemonic pull towards growth and transformation that ultimately pushes aside our complacent, self-absorbed ego-self to reveal the soul, or Self with a capital “S”. Thomas Moore, in his new book “A Life at Work,” likens the daimon to our “soul’s desire”–a calling from deep within the unconscious to create meaning, connection, and depth in our lives, and in the world. In short, our life’s work:

A daimon is an unnamed urge that pushes you in a certain direction. it is the force behind the passion and tenacity of your yearning. The Romans believed that a child is born with his daimon, or in their language, his genius. It is a fertile idea; that the deep passion and drivenness that stays with us all our lives is there from the beginning. The daimon is a primal, creative urge. The daimonic voice is deep-seated and connected to your personality and destiny. [The challenge] (sic) is to learn to trust it, without being naive or giving up your basic skepticism.

To my mind, the daimon represents the final frontier—below the demon, beyond the dragon. It is that deep inner voice that calls forth our deepest aspirations as humans: to live out our dreams, to make the world a better place for our children, to satisfy our hunger for peace, brotherhood, and community. We all know those feelings, even the most cynical among us were deeply moved by the recent inauguration of President Obama. SO, where does that voice—the one that calls forth the immeasurable creative potential of humanity—reside?

It’s in there, deep in our souls, but it can be hard to hear behind the din of demons and dragons who would hold us hostage to anxiety, stress, worry, guilt..and loudest of all: our fear. In my next blog, I’m going to explore further how we might “slay the dragon.” But for now (funny, I can feel my jaw tighten in anticipation…it’s almost as if my own demons are just lying in wait, whispering, “leave us be…don’t rock the boat…just take that Xanax the Doctor prescribed…no need to get feisty on us!”), I’ll leave you with this question:

What demons have been showing up in your life lately? Are you ignoring them? Fighting them? Perhaps…listening in for the message they carry?

Behind the fortress of fear...is there a doorway to possibility?

Behind the fortress of fear...is there a doorway to possibility?

What dragon of fear or harbinger of change might they be pointing to? Are you listening? Please let me know. We’re all on this battlefield together…

Of course, the recipe for success, even in this trying time, is simple (but not easy!):

1. De-code your demons

2. Slay the dragon…and

3. Follow your daimon.

Onward, HO!

Dr J

Job Loss, Life Gain. Part 3

Today’s post picks up where I left off in part 2, with you dancing in your living room.

Get ready, get set...let's go!

Get ready, get set...let's go!

Hopefully, you will allow this “dance” time to be more than a Minute Waltz–perhaps you’ll give yourself a few days, a few weeks–even a month–to re-claim your soul, and re-kindle your vision. But soon enough, it will be time to get out in the world and get to work, literally. So let’s go.

If you’ve been following my thread in these posts, then you likely have picked up on a theme — a “life-shifting” mantra — that is near and dear to my heart. Turning any job loss into a life-gain is about shedding an outworn identity, re-claiming your vision, your passion, and values–who you KNOW yourself to be– and aligning these with the world of work. It is about finding that oh so sweet, sweet spot: The place where the world pays you to do what you love.

Of course, in a Mcdonalds, Gap, Starbucks world, this is easier said than done. BUT, it’s worth the effort to go for it. Otherwise, how else will we change the world? How else do you ever make the shift–from a consumer cog caught in the machine of commerce, to a human being manifesting your true potential? This is the real job, for all of us: the job of having a meaningful life.

So if you’re finally feeling fearless (ok, maybe a bit of trepidation, but ready!) and charged up, here’s what I consider to be the next steps:

5. Don’t network. Here’s the skinny on networking: it doesn’t work. What we really need, in order to find our next home in the world of work, is not a stack of business cards, a long email list or 600 friends on Facebook. We need instead, maybe one, two or three REAL connections–real people who will help us, listen to us, point us in a new direction, and likely connect us to one more REAL person that brings us closer to our “sweet spot.” The problem with networking is that it is far too often a “transactional” form of human intercourse — where quantity and speed are valued over depth and connection.

It's the connection that counts

It's the connection that counts

Recently, I was invited to attend a “networking” breakfast. It was one of those regular Tuesday morning affairs, held at the ungodly hour of 7am by a “business networking association” (that shall remain unnamed so I won’t get hate mail!). I’m glad that I had the opportunity to see how these things work. For me, in a word, they don’t.

When I arrived, there were about twenty people sitting around a table, all looking like they needed much more caffeine than was provided by the now empty urn on the side table. Each person got two minutes to stand up and give their “elevator pitch.” It was fast-paced, anxiety-provoking, and mildly entertaining (of course it was 7am so I have to be fair: not sure that ANYTHING would have been very entertaining to me at that hour). There were accountants and lawyers and real estate agents and recruiters. Other than the few who had polished their speech with a good metaphor or self-deprecating joke, I can’t for the life of me remember ANY of them.

The only person that I would consider a “connection” was the wonderful woman who invited me in the first place, a person, by the way, that I had only recently met at another association function, and who I had the pleasure of really talking with, listening to and SEEING. She was/is a really great person, and one whose friendship and support I hope to nurture for years to come. The other twenty people at the “networking” social, are still sitting on my desk, known only through their innocuous — if graphically stylish– business cards. For my taste, the whole early morning-breakfast-spiel-business-card-swap thing–is a colossal waste of time.

What you really want to accomplish when you “hit the pavement” and enter the fray to “build a network” is this: real connection. Talk with a few–maybe just ONE–real person and do more listening then speaking. Connect with their dream…and ask them to connect to yours. Make a date to get to know them. Creative solutions to life’s dilemmas are not born from a three-minute spiel, they are born aloft on the wings of deep dialogue.

6. Don’t look for a job. Ok, let me get this out on the table (it’s probably been too long in coming): I think the whole idea of a “job” is outdated. A job–that is, a “slot” in which to fit a person–is rapidly going the way of the typewriter, the hand-held calculator, and newspapers.

We love to forget that the idea of a “9-5 job” is probably less than one hundred years old, and like “retirement,” is an anachronistic invention of the post-industrial revolution. What has always existed, and what we humans are driven to seek, is WORK. And, work that is meaningful, value-added, and flexible enough to accommodate today’s fast-paced global economy, more and more often doesn’t “fit” neatly into a box called “job.”

I tell my clients this: don’t look for a “job,” look for a problem to solve. Get out and meet people, reconnect to old friends (this is where Facebook can be GREAT), sit down with them and listen in for their “problem.” Ask yourself: what problem do I LOVE to solve? The key to finding real, meaningful work in today’s tough climate is to BE THE SOLUTION to someone else’s problem. Whether or not there is a job, there is usually a problem. Your “job” as a seeker of work, is to find the intersection–the sweet spot–between the world’s problem and what you love to do (the solution).

More and more companies these days are hiring temp workers, part-tim’ers, consultants, and project managers. In fifty years, I doubt that very many people—beyond government employees and unionized plant workers (which will surely be ALL overseas)—will have traditional jobs. We will all live a “portfolio” life, doing a bit of this, a bit of that, a project here, a consulting gig there.

It can be unnerving—and challenging to juggle in the checkbook—but it is better to get with the program: a portfolio of work, not a job, is the future. And, for many, the future is now (Freelancers Union, a non-profit organization for people who live a portfolio life — a “gig life” as many of them call it — was formed only eight years ago, now boasts millions of members, and is doubling in size every year!).

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go on Monster.com and look for a “job” as listed there or elsewhere. You should. But don’t put all your eggs in the traditional baskets (if you ever wonder that the world of work is changing rapidly, just consider that job hunting sites like Monster are now considered “traditional” when they didn’t exist ten years ago…).

What really “works” in the new world of work, is this: get really clear on your vision of what you want to do in the world; get out and meet a few people and offer to help them with their “problem” (whatever that may be); be flexible and fluid and prove your value; do your homework and find out what your “value” is worth on the open market; once proven, demand same. Done. That is, for now.

Until next time the bottom falls out…and it will. The biggest lesson that we all need to learn from this turbulent time is that there is no such thing as “long term” any more. Everything is changing, faster and faster, and we must adapt.

But this can be great news for those who learn to master the process of “life-shifting.” Becoming adept at changing stripes, shedding jobs, identities and attachments (think Zen Master in a suit/tie), you pass through a doorway and enter a kaleidoscope landscape of possibility, meaning and progress, bestowed by life with the greatest gift of all: the gift of re-invention.

My river of change...

My river of change...

As I sit here on a sun-drenched, freezing Sunday morning, gazing out at leafless trees, a river of ice flows, and a dozen, dipping, undaunted ducks, I can’t help but pause and remember: the seasons “re-invent” themselves four times a year. We could learn from that.

Cheerio,

Dr J

Victim, Victor and Valence

Do you ever have stuff happen–life events, people problems, bad luck–that prompt you to want to cry out, “why me?” Or just as likely, “What did I do to deserve this?” We’ve all been there. I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t felt like a “victim” at times. Especially these days, with the economic and political situation seeming to daily drop another bomb

Didn't see THAT coming

Didn't see THAT coming

on us from places and circumstances that seem (and are!) far from our control.

So my question of the day is this: When life throws you off kilter, how do you get back on track? How do we make the shift from “victim” to “victor”? This can be a difficult question, especially if we have experienced a tragedy–loss of a job, loss of a loved one. Yet, even if it takes days, weeks, or years, I believe the answer is the same: valence.

Ok, so you’re probably thinking, what the hell is he talking about? Valence? Isn’t that an arcane term from high school chemistry? Well, yes. AND…it is also one of those handy words, that once understood in context, beautifully sums up the trip from victim-hood to victory.

Let’s start with a definition: “Valence” is the capacity of a person to react with or affect another in some special way, as by attraction or the facilitation of an activity (Random House Unabridged 2006).

Perhaps that doesn’t help much. Here’s how I think about it: valence is the energy of movement–and attraction–between two forces, in this case, two “stances”: victim and victor. To my mind, the key to shifting from victim to victor stance is to shorten the distance–in time and space–between the two poles of energy: negative (victim) and positive (victor).

Valence can be thought about like an oscillation. When bad stuff happens, our emotional energy is immediately pulled towards the “woe is me” story. We are likely to hang out there–for a long time perhaps–until the energy of attraction to something else (e.g. the energy of empowerment, self-responsibility, positivity, “victory”) becomes stronger. Then, and only then, do we make the shift.

Let’s look at an example. Yesterday, I had a classic “victim” moment. Ok, more than a moment…a few hours. I was all set to spend the afternoon catching up with friends by phone, working through the email overflow, and reading the NY Times online Sunday version “cover-to-cover” (is that possible anymore?), when suddenly, literally in the middle of typing a sentence, everything went dead. No email, no internet, and in my case, since my telephone is connected through the internet: no phone.

Yeah, right?

Yeah, right?


My first reaction was to be pretty irritated with my cable company. With no land line that worked, and no access to email, I was forced to go stand in the middle of my driveway (that’s the only place where my cell phone gets a good signal) in the 20 degree upstate New York December CHILL, and dial, re-dial, and dial again the 800 number, trying to reach the cable techies. I kept getting a busy signal. Oy, it is cold out here in my bathrobe, and it is Sunday, why don’t they answer the phone? ARGH!

Standing in the cold, unable to connect to the world at large (at least that’s how it felt), I was very angry at first. Miffed, big time. Returning to the computer, only to find that NOTHING had changed and that I was probably in for an extended “outage,” I turned to the TV — just to calm myself (I don’t recommend this choice as a “calming influence” btw!). Bad idea. TV: dead. TV: tied to same cable company. DR J: very upset. VICTIM of total technological withdrawal.

At this point, the valence factor in my emotional system read as follows: 100 percent attracted to victim stance. Time 12:35pm (I checked). With no TV to assuage my anger, I turned to my next favorite “pacifier” and brewed myself another cup of Starbucks. Strong (again, probably not the best choice…but I’m human…we’ve all been there). Strangely enough, truth be told, the steaming hot java did have a calming effect. In fact, it was so tasty and toasty, that I decided to bundle up in winter gear and head outdoors again, this time to sit on my deck in the blazing, frigid sunshine.

Sipping my coffee and noticing the frost gleaming on my deck furniture (which should be stored away by now, I remember thinking), I caught a glimpse of a deer down by the river, sipping the icy brew. I was mesmerized by its beauty. Majestic. Calm. Seemingly oblivious to the cold. I felt the valence shift: I had completely forgotten about the computer, the TV, the phone. I may have been disconnected from “the world” (really?) but I was connected to this deer, the river, the sunshine…and even began to notice the wispy, molten fog of my own breath.

Valence is movement. The deer, the air, the sunshine–all worked on me as energetic triggers that prompted a re-framing of my sob story. The turning point came when I awoke (that is what it felt like when it hit me) to the question that I often use with my clients when they are in “victim” mode:

How might this technological white-out be happening “FOR” me instead of “TO” me? Voila! Victory! Time, 2:05 pm. I had spent 90 minutes in deep victim mode.

All at once “victim” was vanquished and “victor” arrived: I strolled back up the stairs and found the computer screen still blank, yet rather than re-igniting my fury, I took a deep breath and sank into reverie. The valance–the movement of attraction–had fully shifted to this new interpretation of events:

When the internet had gone dead I had been writing to a friend about how overwhelmed I was feeling–with work, family stuff, economic stress, etc. I was contemplating a much-needed vacation…but didn’t think I could afford it..financially or time-wise…

Suddenly silence. All of a sudden, I had NOTHING to do — no emails to write, no phone calls to make, no TV to watch. I could do ANYTHING I wanted (except those things, of course). I had TIME to kill–time to rest, time to relax, time to kick-back (we’ll deal with feeling guilty about all this in another blog).

AND, now that I had made the shift, and no longer felt like a victim, the rest of the afternoon was glorious: I read a bunch of chapters of a great novel that had been sitting waiting for me–for months. I wrote in my journal (long hand!). I went for a long walk. I practiced yoga (without a DVD: fun!). I even, God forbid, took a nap.

Four hours later, I awoke…to the blinking lights of a phone, internet, and TV connection restored. I was almost sad…and, of course, relieved.

The moral of this story is simple: we all fall “victim” to victim thinking at times. It is in our nature to be pretty upset when things happen that are beyond our control. What is in our control, however, is HOW LONG we hang out in victim mode. The key to making the shift is waking up and shifting the valence of energy from “bad news happens to good people” to “how is this seemingly bad thing a gift?”

As a therapist and executive coach, I don’t try to convince my clients not to be “victims” of the dire circumstances that many of them are experiencing right now. Polly-Anna I’m not. What I do try to do is help them make the time spent in victim mode shorter and shorter each time it happens. Growth, happiness and learning is all about valence:
Moving the energy of attraction from the dark to the light.

I’m pretty happy with having made the shift in 90 minutes yesterday. Depending upon tomorrow’s tragedy, the journey from victim to victor may take longer…or shorter (I’m going to shoot for 60 min!).

V is for...

V is for...

So here is your key question: What if this (tragedy, bad luck, etc.) is happening FOR me and not TO me?

To shorten the gap — try posting this question somewhere where you’ll see it, loud and clear (maybe on the computer!):

And so, dare I say? Vanquish thy victim, vouchsafe thine victory!

happy V-day!

Dr J

NY Times Redux

Time marches on. It has been a couple of weeks since I had my “moment in the spotlight” in the NY Times. Needless to say, everyone else has moved on to bigger and better (or bigger and worse: Mumbai) things by now. But not me. I keep ruminating (ok, obsessing) about how two hours on the phone with a journalist, discussing six important ways that business leaders/owners can relieve their anxiety during these troubled times, wound up becoming six, watered down sound bites. I’m not really complaining, because as I’ve said before, it was a privilege to be able to share my thoughts in that most august of Augustine publications, yet, I can’t help but wish that my “six steps” had been re-told with a bit more substance.

Fear is not something to be taken lightly. Fear, especially for those whose jobs are in jeopardy or

Throw me a lifeline!

Throw me a lifeline!

whose businesses are really feeling a pinch, is not something that can be brushed away like crumbs from the dinner table. Fear saps your energy and makes even basic activities a chore.

So in the cause of support, health and well-being for all of us in this challenging time, I want to revisit my list….and share my six steps again, hopefully with a bit more depth and nuance. So here they are “straight from the horse’s mouth,” as they say.

SIX STEPS TO WORKING THROUGH FEAR in Turbulent Times

Step One: Confess to Stress

Do you sometimes feel anxious? Worried? Stressed? I know I do. We like to think these are all independent “symptoms”–and sometimes they are–but more often than not they are multiple buckets in which we attempt to toss away our fear. In almost every case, fear is the real culprit. When we get caught up in anxiety, stress and worry–or feel irritable and cranky–we have a tendency to get fixated on the symptom, and ignore, or deny, the underlying issue. Like my client who says things like, “I’m very anxious about the fact that I worry all the time.” Sound familiar?

The crucial first step to releasing fear is actually a two-fer: acknowledging and sharing. Fear needs to brought out from under its cloak of stress or worry or whatever you use to cover up the deeper truth: you’re scared. Real problems arise, not so much from the fear itself, but from our tendency to avoid/deny facing it. Especially if you are a business owner or leader with responsibility for the welfare of others, you may want to “put on a face of hope” and “be the rock” for your people–your employees, your family, your customers.

Yet, if you have no place to share your own vulnerability, to acknowledge that you too, are frightened and unsure, at some point the facade may crack. In my practice, supporting senior executives and type-A entrepreneurs, the most dangerous “symptom” of all appears all too often: isolation. Feeling fear is one thing, feeling fearful…and alone...well, now you’ve entered the danger zone.

My suggestion: find a buddy. You may not be able to share your fears (at least not completely) with your organization or employees, and you may be concerned about upsetting your family–or adding to their fear. So seek out at least one close friend and confidante–a coach, a therapist, or at least a pal–and express your deepest fears. Ask for help. It may just be the most courageous and “leaderful” step you’ll ever take.

Lean on Me

Lean on Me


Step Two: Reflect, Don’t React

Once you have taken the first step, and acknowledged that fear is the driving force behind your anxiety, stress, worry and all-around bad mood (for many of us!), there is a new decision to make: how to respond. The issue here is learning how to practice being responsive rather than reactive. This may sound simple, and it should be, but in our action-oriented, results-driven culture, we are often pressured to “shoot before we aim” and many of our so-called “role models” in politics and corporate America (think Trump!) appear to be focused, driven, and decisive…anything but reflective.

Act first, think later — is a recipe for disaster, and not, in fact, the way even the most action-oriented leaders, if they are successful in business and in life, really work. Reality TV and journalistic sound bite newsreels portray leaders as always ready to make a move…but very likely, (I suppose during the commercials), those same action heroes sat quietly for long moments, and hopefully, have thought long and hard about what to do.

I call it “Minding the Gap”: create space between your reaction to something that comes at you and the action you take in response. The “gap” is crucial. Without space to breathe and reflect, you are likely to make missteps. Ask yourself these questions: how much space-time-breathing room do you give yourself before you make a big (or even small) decision? Do you wait 24 hours before hitting “send” on that angry email you’re dying to write? Do you walk around the block a couple of times before heading into the house — and careening into dinner — after a stressful day at work? Do you take time to release the toxins of fear and anxiety from your body through yoga or exercise?

The size of the gap is not what matters here. It could be two minutes, two days, or two months–if you have the luxury. What is crucial is to CREATE SPACE for reflection. As Eckhart Tolle might put it: to find your way back to NOW.

Step Three: Stay in Focus

It is a common refrain to hear that you need to “stay focused” during difficult times. This is a no-brainer. What you hear less about is WHAT to stay focused on –or how to determine if you really are staying focused. For many of my clients, staying in action “feels” like staying focused. But is it? Or perhaps even more common: focusing on fear! (I guess that’s what I’m doing right now. Ummmm). The point is this: just telling yourself, or others, to “stay focused” is not particularly helpful. We are all, always, focused on something.

I break “focus” down to a more granular level. What you really need to attend to are two fundamental dimensions of focus: internal/external and time-based (past, present, future).

In the first case, you have to become aware of whether you are overly “externally” focused –taking care of everything that is right in front of you but ignoring your own needs–or vice-versa: withdrawing into your own emotional world, becoming distracted and dis-engaged from what is going on around you. The key is balance–moving back and forth between inner/outer focus as needed (see my blog post June 2007, titled, Zoom, Zoom, Zoom for more information on this particular form of focus).

In the second case, the issue is knowing whether you are too focused on the future (living in your fantasy or vision) and ignoring the present needs of the business. Likewise, you don’t want to get caught up in ruminating about the past– bemoaning lost opportunities or lamenting the “good old days” — and again, miss the issues right before your eyes. You need to have awareness about where you are putting your attention: be in the present, but thinking of “possible futures”…be focused on others, but caring for self, etc. The key again is balance: crafting a vision for the future, but living moment-by-moment in the NOW.

For more information on the subject of focus, I highly recommend The Power of Focusing, by Ann Weiser Cornell.

Step Four: Don’t Blame, Re-frame

The issue here is that we all have a tendency to “play the victim” at times. When there are so many things that impact our businesses that appear to be out-of-our-control, it is natural to get discouraged and want to point fingers…or blame the messenger. The key to staying positive and on-track in the midst of the mine field of economic bombs being dropped on you from all directions is to remember one key principle: there is only one thing you can truly control and that is how you SEE THE EVENTS.

We are always creating a “story” — a narrative– with which we explain what happens in our business…and in our life. The key to “staying afloat” during rough seas, is to not get caught up in the negative frame, but rather to “re-frame” the story — to look below the surface of what might appear to be bad news– and find the gold. You can always re-interpret the story as one in which opportunity abounds, no matter how bleak the picture looks in the moment. As Jim Kramer says on his TV show: “there is ALWAYS a bull market somewhere…it is your job to find it.”

Step Five: Stay in Balance

This subject of this step, like focus, is something that we hear in mantra form all the time: “Get a life.” Of course, as nice as that sounds, we all would likely admit that true balance is the first thing that gets thrown out the window as soon as we find ourselves in “fear-mode”. Anxiety breeds over-activity (and less sleep), and stress breeds exhaustion and irritability. The idea that we need to maintain balance (e.g. work/life balance) is certainly not new. What is missing, however, from most of the “self-help” literature on the subject is the answer to a key question: what, exactly, do I need to keep in balance?

Huh?

Huh?


It is not enough to maintain a balance between work and life (in fact, the colloquialism “work/life balance” is an oxymoron: since when is work NOT life?). For most business leaders working “under the gun” of stress and fear, work becomes life, and vice versa. It is not enough to find a temporary median point on the see-saw of “life” and “work”. In order to release fear and stay energized, optimized and optimistic, there is a balance more fundamental than that between work and life: the balance between head, heart, and body.

What really matters, at the end of the day, is that you balance your “thinking” side with your “feeling” side…and that you align both with your physical well-being. If you spend all your time thinking about the business and forget to sleep or eat, well, I can predict the outcome: disaster. If you spend all your time in “emotional meltdown”–crying jags, screaming fits and the like–well, here too, I can predict the outcome: disaster, but worse, you’ll be alone. Everyone who might support you, will flee! The key to “staying in balance” is not to focus on work vs. life (not possible anyway) but to focus on keeping aligned: mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Suggestion: reflect back on a typical week (especially one when you were in “stress/fear” mode). How much time did you spend attending to your feelings? How much time did you spend doing mental gymnastics–thinking, thinking and more thinking? How much time did you spend tending to the vehicle that seemingly effortlessly carries around all those heavy thoughts and feelings–your body? What is the balance between the three?

Step Six: Watch for Blind Spots

The issue here is that when business leaders (or all of us for that matter) are in “fear-mode” they have a tendency to deny/avoid confronting the truth. As in step #1 above, it is crucial that a leader be open and honest about his/her experience of anxiety and stress. We have to remember that even as the CEO, you are a human-being…vulnerable to the same fears and stressors as the lowest person on the totem pole.

Step six, however, is not just about “confessing” and naming your fear…it is about being willing to get clear, objective and tough-love feedback from people who will tell you the truth about what you may be doing that is unproductive and hurtful, or what you may be missing (e.g. the big picture?). As the leader of an organization, of three or three thousand or more, you are not immune to the darker aspects of human nature.

Often, denied fear–or avoided stress if you prefer–shows up in the outer world as something rather unpleasant. Do you recognize any of these behaviors from a place you may have worked: raging employees,

We've all been there

We've all been there

angry bosses, nasty co-workers, arrogant customer-service agents, condescending superiors, dismissive department heads?

Ok you get the idea. We all have our “shadow” side. As Carl Jung pointed out so profoundly many years ago: “The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate.” The fear and hurt in our hearts that we would deny and push away, shows up in the world anyway, as projection. We unconsciously toss on to others what we refuse to own in ourselves.

This step may be my last (for the moment) but it is key: when in fearful mode in business, and in life, we all need to find someone–or maybe a whole community of someone’s–who will give us the hard, cold skinny on how we are behaving. Only then, with a little reflection and humility, can we bet back on track…and show up as the leader/role model that we know our best self to be.

Question to reflect upon: How often do you get real, useful feedback in your life? Do you take the risk and ask for it? Do you have someone who will tell you the truth, no holds barred?

———————————————————————————————

So…there you have it. My recipe for riding out the storm of anxiety, stress, and worry–FEAR–that is likely gripping you, and me, and everyone else, at least now and again, as the economic tide of woe flows by. We all know that economic tides, just like the ones pulled by the moon, will turn and ebb and and change. We are not on the Titanic, and I, for one, don’t believe there is an iceberg ahead.

We're all in the same boat

We're all in the same boat

Times will get better. But for now, we all have to do whatever we can to keep our backs up straight, our hearts open, and our heads above water. We are all in this boat together–so please send along your additions to my list…there is plenty of room in this life raft!

Dr J

Thanks Deepak!

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the chilly Northeast. I seriously doubt if many of you are going to be spending time reading blogs…and in fact, I would hope not! Most of us, me included in a few hours, will be focusing our attention on something far more important: friends and loved ones.

Today is a day for reaching out, reaching back, and reaching in–to our hearts–and remembering, with deep gratitude, the blessings and support of all the wonderful people who have brought us comfort, love and hugs over the years. It is a time for doing what I’ve been writing about a lot recently: taking a breath; creating a space for reflection, being (instead of doing!), and rest. So, with this in mind, I hereby give myself permission to take a break from writing anything “adventurous” in the lineage of “Life-Shifting”.

Instead, I want to take a moment to thank someone who I don’t even know. Someone whose work and words have touched my heart and guided my thinking for many years…but who has, unfortunately, chosen to set up his home base and retreat center in sunny Southern California (now why would anyone do that?) instead of near the glamorous hills north of New York City (where I currently sit in 23 degree cloud cover).

The man I refer to is Deepak Chopra, and like Barack Obama, the dream that he speaks into the world is one that resonates with me deeply: there is no East or West, country or state–all of these so-called “boundaries” are artificial. At the end of the day, we are one people on one planet living one very mysterious and glorious and amazing experience. Amen, Deepak.

Lat night, a group of terrorists attacked Mumbai, India (known by many of us as Bombay). It was a clearly well-organized and intentional act of malice on the part of the perpetrators. A cowardly bunch, these terrorists, who would kill innocent people and create mayhem towards aims that most of us will never understand.

In the midst of last night’s moment-by-moment TV coverage, CNN had the foresight to shift gears–at least for a few moments–and bring into the situation a voice of reason, wisdom and insight that is sorely lacking on most play-by-play newsreels: The voice of Deepak Chopra.

In those few minutes of airtime, Deepak shared three key ideas that he has consistently repeated whenever given the chance. Perhaps now, in the wake of more unnecessary devestation and heart ache, the world might listen. I want to paraphrase his points here, mostly to add my tiny voice to the groundswell of change that is coming in the new administration, but also to give my own personal thanks (!), that in this crazy, depressive moment in world history, we DO have amazing leaders and spiritual guides among us.

It all fits in the palm of your hand

It all fits in the palm of your hand

Here are the three key points that Deepak made (in my words, not his) in response to being asked how we should respond to this kind of abject terror:

1. We need to stop using the slogan: “War on Terror“! It is an oxymoron of the highest order, which in essence says we are conducting a war on war. What is that? When the terrorists attack a hotel in Mumbai, it is terrorizing. True. BUT, when the U.S. drops bombs on small towns in Afghanistan (even with the best of intentions) and innocent people are killed, this is pretty terrifying as well. Especially for those on the ground under those planes.

Terror is terror. We need to step back and look in the mirror folks: war is terror; terror is war. Waging “war on terror” won’t get us the peace we seek. It simply reinforces what divides us, deepens the hurt on both sides, and makes bridge-building well-nigh impossible. (I know many will call me naive here–that we are dealing with pathology on a grand scale. This may be true, but have you looked inside THIS country’s fundamentalist churches lately?)

2. We need to stop reinforcing the division called “East” and “West”. Depending upon which side of the planet you stand on and what time of day it is–east is west and west is east. The difference is a moving target, artificial at best and divisively post-colonial condescension at worst. Why is it, Deepak asks, that we are always more concerned about casualties and violence perpetrated against “Westerners”?

Doesn’t the same red stuff run in the veins of people born in India, Iraq, and Britain? Yes, there are cultural differences among people, and tribal and geographical ties run deep. BUT, life is life…and death is death. Terrorist acts hurt human beings on all sides and we here in the so-called
“West” need to wake up and smell the coffee: it is not just OUR people that matter. Everyone does.

3. We need to remember that borders–of countries, nation-states, continents–are mostly artificial, and always porous. We here in the U.S. in particular, seem constitutionally unable to remember anything geographical that goes back more than about ten years. The reality is that forty years ago there were only about 80 countries named on the planet. Today there are over 200. Nation states are man-made entities. Borders, as seen from space, do not exist. Countries like Pakistan and India and Iraq were artificially created by colonizing forces from far, far away (much closer to here as a matter of fact).

All this to say, that we would do well to keep in mind that people connect together, first and foremost, through heart and mind, soul and spirit. Borders, boundaries, walls, and names, will never be the things that define how people connect to one another. We need to think of ourselves as one community, one world, one humanity.

As Barbra Streisand says so beautifully on her “Higher Ground” album: “when a mother holds and soothes a crying baby, her love is the same love, no matter under which flag she stands”. Thanks Babs! On this wondrous dirt ball called, “earth”, there is only one community and we are all in it. We all feel the pain of loss of a loved one. We all feel the joy and comfort in a simple hug.

So today, as I hit the road to be with my closest loved ones in the wilds of Massachusetts, I bow deeply to Deepak (and hope to meet him one day!) and his wise counsel at this unique moment of heartache…and hope.

May you all have a joyous and peaceful holiday…hold your loved ones close…and remember: we are all one.

bound but not boundaried

bound but not boundaried


Peace,

Dr J