Three Strategies For Surviving Election Season

Many of us are dealing with various amounts of irritation and anxiety brought on by an increasingly polarized political debate. This year it seems more intense than ever.

We view campaign ads, hear political debates, hear people talk fearfully about what will happen if the President wins another term – or if the other candidate wins the election.

Before we know it, we get caught up in election time negativity. It is a new personality disorder that seems increasingly to affect us around the time of big National elections. I call it only half-joking: What-If-Itis!

You can easily self-diagnose. You have whatifitis if you feel drained or even paralyzed by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Find yourself watching the news channels that confirm your views incessantly
  • Find yourself yelling at the TV
  • You HATE the “other” candidate
  • You develop inner talking points that your candidate should be using
  • You get upset when you see bumper stickers from the other party
  • You find that your energy is drained by fear of what can happen if the other party wins the election
  • You feel unable to affect meaningful change on any level
  • You cannot wait for the election to just be over.

People with whatifitis find themselves unable to engage in respectful debate or take action, because much of their energy gets wrapped up in a constant sense of fear and/or anger. They feel inundated with what they hear and see on TV, or read about in newspapers or on the internet. Things that they feel powerless to do something about.They are in a permanent state of action-frozen lock-down.

Here are a couple of tips that might help you or someone you know snap out of whatifitis.

  1. Stop seeking out news programs that confirm what you already feel or know. To be confirmed in our beliefs tend to just make us angrier at those “idiots” on the other side. It is “so self-explanatory” after all to us that “our” viewpoints hold water and “theirs” don’t. By seeking out truly credible news sources you cut out all the excess fluff, the talking heads and the  hype that is specifically designed to make you angry and upset. This is how 24 hour news channels get ratings. They stay in business because of our tendency to be adrenaline junkies. By getting good and angry we stay hooked on the boob tube, and get our anger fixes.
  2. Do  at least one thing per day that supports what you believe in. Imagine if we all stopped looking to our leaders to make meaningful change in our lives. Gandhi’s quote comes to mind: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It can be simple little things that give us a sense of significance: help someone frail with their groceries or across the street, volunteer at a soup kitchen, animal shelter, etc. , or say hello and smile to your neighbor even though he or she is from the “other” political party. Or get active in the political campaign of your preference and work actively on causes at any level. You feel empowered when you act. And it can start simply by lending a hand or responding with a smile. Before you know it, you might get hooked on action. Remember to congratulate yourself every time you choose to take action over getting stuck in your adrenaline high of whatifitis-induced anger or anxiety.
  3. Remind yourself consciously and constantly that you are more than a Democrat or Republican. American or foreigner. You are a human being with much in common with others that look or think differently.  Every time you find yourself tempted to go for that adrenaline infused anger rant at the TV or at the person in the car in front of you, (or on facebook) instead simply say to yourself: “I wonder what  I have in common with him or her?” Or “What part of me do I recognize in that person?” Who knows what you will find? You might be surprised at the answer.

Parenting Teens – Hello Fear, Shame And Guilt

A few years ago, one of my teenage sons looked at me with contempt and blasted the following remark in my face:

“You just want me to do well, so you can brag about me to your friends. Well, I am not a piece of property you can shine up and show off!”

Ouch…. And I did not have a comeback ready.

Later I reflected on what he had said – and in all honesty, there was a part of me that would enjoy to join the clubs of moms and dads who take turns talking about the amazing achievements of the fruit of their loins. I hear it all the time: the chatter about what grade point average, what unachievable SAT scores and what amazing college scholarships their kids get.

Bragging rights. I guess parents have it.

And yet, my son’s comment went to the core of the make-up of my self-image as a parent. A hidden part of my parenting style that I needed to pull out in the sun and look at. Because on some level he was right – and I did not like to admit it.

Our children are such amazing teachers. Especially when it comes to checking out all the little parts of us that we take for granted. When our kids become teenagers, they look us over with a magnifying glass, we get weighed and measured, prodded and pushed.

My buttons definitely got pushed by the above remark!

And so, yes – there was a part of me that wanted to stand in the groups of parents and bask in the glow of being in the “good parent’s club”. The kind of parent, who thrives in the absolute knowledge that his or her kids are well-adjusted, well-prepared, well-tutored, well-dressed, well-trained, well-behaved and see them off into well-planned career paths.

I think there is a silent expectation in many of us as parents that our children need to grow up and show to the world, what a wonderful parenting job we have done. We live to see them stand on podiums and pick up awards and honors. We put our own needs aside, so we can help them get ahead. Some go as far as to live vicariously through them.

And when our children fall short of our expectations, it is easy to beat up on ourselves as parents. Even some of the parents who have the well-prepped and high-achieving kids dwell on their own imperfections even as they portray a glossy and superior parenting image to the world. Their children might all of a sudden turn anorexic or flip out on risky sexual behaviors, drugs or alcohol. Or they might have stress and high-anxiety. Ulcers that eat their stomach linings at night. What could have been done differently to avoid this?

No matter what route you take as a parent there are plenty of times where the voices of “should-have-could-have” turn up. And feelings of shame and guilt follow.

The truth of the matter is that most of us do everything in our power to be great parents. Whether we let our kids grow their hair long and stand out, or we insist they cut it and conform. Whether we want them to find their own path or we feel we must choose for them.

It is not rocket science. If only it were that simple!

As a life coach, I have learned to look at simply what is. Not to make things into what they are not. Often we parents catch ourselves in the “what are people going to think” trap. Or “she will never get anywhere with those grades/that hair color/that boyfriend…”  We imagine all sorts of the worst possible scenarios – and before we know it, we act upon our fears and not simply what is.

Our brains are wired for fearful responses. In our distant past, we constantly had to be on guard against wild animals, food scarcities, enemy tribes, etc. And it is natural that when it comes to guarding our young, we snap right back into this kind of primordial mental wiring: To protect our kids against danger. It is in our deepest instinctual blueprint for the survival of our kind.

Yet when it comes to being an effective parent to modern-day teenagers, a fearful reaction to their actions and choices might not always be appropriate. Fear of what we imagine might happen can be directly counterproductive.

As we step back from the situation and assess what is going on right now, we might want to delay a speedy comeback. Inserting a rash comment into a contentious moment with a teenager is like pouring gasoline on a fire. I do not think that, short of pulling our kids out of immediate danger, we ever miss something by avoiding a rash reaction over a more measured and later response.

“Ok, I am going to have to think about what you just said and get back to you”

This buys some time and allows us a moment to not lose our composure. It also affords our son or daughter a chance to reflect on what they just said.

Secondly you can take a look at your own involvement. What is pushing your buttons? What is it that this situation is saying about you as a parent? About your own past? About your own fears?  Often we just react, because we are triggered. Our own sense of failure as a parent on any level has been activated.

Thirdly, we can take a look at what might be going on for our son/daughter that might make them feel the way they do. Again with a focus on an unbiased “what is”. Not what it could turn into or what we think they should be feeling!

With this new more complete picture we can now choose to respond.

When I dug a bit deeper after my son fired off his remark to me, I realized that, yes – a part of me would love to brag about my kids’ achievements and therefore indirectly my own implied success as a parent. Yet the deeper issue was that I deeply and desperately wanted my son to connect to his own sense of ambition and directionality. I felt that he had so much inside of him that I valued. Things in him that, I felt, he didn’t show enough to others. I wanted him to find his wings and soar. Not to glorify me or my parenting style – but simply for him to experience lift-off on his own, and fly into the world with an authentic and self-directed  and capable motion. I was impatient for him.

It was my interpretation – and it was well-meant. It was just not usable to him at the time.

Yet, speaking from this level of awareness made a difference for me. And maybe in the long run it might have for him as well. Who knows…

When we communicate with our teenagers from a level of authenticity and honest reflection, with a willingness to also own up to our own issues, we have a chance to connect more deeply. We offer a model that gives them a chance to not feel at fault or misunderstood. They still might think we are full of doo-doo… A teenager’s main job after all is to separate from their parents. Yet, a foundation of authentic communication goes a long way for them to be able to feel emotionally supported as they find their way. And the benefit for us as parents is that we spend less time with those constant companions of modern-day parenting: Fear, Shame and Guilt.

Glass “Half-Empty” Blues

“I am just sick of negative people!”

I overheard a person the other day that was complaining along those lines. And the more she complained the more the other person looked ready to run away. And many times we do this: we are not aware that we are sending into the world the exact thing we profess to dislike ourselves.

Negativity is not inspiring and rarely brings with it anything constructive.

Here is a well-known story from the oral tradition of the Cherokee Nation:

A Grandfather from the Cherokee Nation was talking with his grandson.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight between two wolves.”

The young grandson listened intently.

“One wolf is anger, envy, war, greed, selfishness, sorrow, regret, guilt, resentment, inferiority/superiority, false pride, coarseness, and arrogance. He spreads lies, deceit, fear, hatred, blame, scarcity, poverty, and divisiveness.”

The other wolf is friendly, joyful, loving, worthy, serene, humble, kind, benevolent, just, fair, empathetic, generous, honest, compassionate, grateful, brave, and inspiring resting wholeheartedly in deep vision beyond ordinary wisdom.”

Grandfather continued; “This same fight is going on inside you and inside all human beings as well.”

The grandson paused in deep reflection and recognition of what his grandfather had just said. Then he finally asked;

“Grandfather, which wolf will win this horrific war?”

The elder Cherokee replied, “The wolf that you feed!”

Many of us intend to feed the joyful and loving sides of ourselves. Yet we still “fall into” being negative. Our family, partners, friends and business associates are on the receiving end. And if our intentions and actions don’t line up – it doesn’t matter how well we mean it – it is our actions they respond to.

So how do we change this habit of inadvertently and unconsciously getting side-tracked into fearful and divisive actions, no matter how well-intended we might be?

A new practice takes time to become a new habit. And “feeding our inner wolves” is all about practice.

In coaching we look at what habits we can change. By doing this, we also modify how we perceive the world. We have a choice if we want to see ourselves living out a self-fulfilling travesty or experience forward-moving momentum.

According to the law of attraction, like attracts like! And so feeding our own inner sense of love and worthiness attracts it into our lives. Feeding our own sense of fear and dread likewise attracts that which we do not want.

It can start simply. By starting to listen to the statements we make almost without even noticing:

“I will never figure this out.”

“Why even bother!”

“It is a scary world we live in”

It is not about whether these statements are true or false. It is a matter of sending out statements that affects the way we think, the way we feel and ultimately the way we act. And our world responds accordingly. It mirrors back to us, what we put out.

An example of another way to express the feelings at the root of the above statements could be:

“I love learning new things”

“If I don’t try I will never know.”

“I am thankful for ……. in my world”

Some of my clients install an internal “Eeyore alarm”. And when they feel tempted to make a negative statement, they remind themselves that here is an opportunity for reframing in a new way to get a result they really want. As they start aligning their intentions with their actions, their world starts responding accordingly.

Over time and with practice, it becomes as natural as riding a bike – and as perceptions change, so do lives.

 

 

 

Decision Time

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

“Better safe than sorry!”

“The higher you fly the harder you fall.”

“Bloom where you are planted.”

“Better play it safe!”

These are all quotes from our upbringing and beyond. Well-meaning parents, teachers, friends, partners have at times tried to protect us by helping us take the safe route.

And this is fine.

And then there is this inner doubt that is created from this kind of conditioning. We fear failure.

It happens to each one of us many times in our lives: we are in a situation that forces us to make a choice. A choice between the known and the unknown. The known might have grown too small and constricting, yet the unknown seem like a mountain in front of us with untold possibilities and risks at even measure. We are at a cross road!

When we face new situations and with it our fear of failure is activated, we might look to inspirational stories. We all know the one about Thomas Edison and why he hadn’t failed but knew of 10,000 ways that didn’t work, etc. And there are many others. It is useful and inspirational to read such stories, yet might not really cut to the core of what we might be feeling.

Inside we might be hearing a little voice that sounds something like this:

“You’ll fall on your face if you try that”

“Who do you think you are?”
“They will laugh at you for trying this.”

“What makes you think you can make this work now when you couldn’t before?”

And no matter how many inspirational quotes and empowering stories we read to boost our courage, this little pesky voice always seems to yell the loudest. This voice  might even feel comforting, like a friend who is trying hard to protect us from our own foolishness.

This little voice does want to protect us. And it is important to acknowledge this. It is not an enemy we need to destroy or annihilate!

The problem comes in when that little voice of caution becomes so loud that it blocks our perception of what we might miss if we only listen for the cautionary tale it tells.

Are you going to take the Opportunity Exit – or just keep going?

This kind of work is often part of coaching sessions. We work on our inner voices of caution that hold us back from stepping into our highest potential. Here is a version that you can use yourself:

  1. Express your wish for new possibilities. Write it down.
  2. What will be possible for you when you seize this new opportunity?. Write it down.
  3. Welcome the voice of caution. It is trying to protect you. Do not fight it. Write down what it says.
  4. Ask the voice of caution where it comes from (is this the voice of a well-meaning parent, is it the voice of previous defeat, is it the voice of convention, etc.) Notice which parts of this voice truly feels aligned with your highest purpose and what parts feels constricting and not really your own. Write it down.
  5. Now with both want for new opportunities and fear of failure clearly separated out in front of you, it is time for you to make a more informed decision. You now have a clearer view of which part of these voices of caution are the voices of convention and conditioning versus the voices that align more fully with your highest purpose.

Keeping in mind that we rarely get all or nothing scenarios. Every new opportunity holds within it aspects that might be difficult to deal with as well as exhilarating new possibilities – and every staying within what is known and perceived as a safer (and possibly more comfortable in the short-term) choice likewise has perceived positives and negatives.

Here is to making a more aware choice in every decision in your life!

“I Never Get What I Want”

 – “You are always late !”

– “I am always the last to know!”

– “You never listen to me!”

Do you recognize this way of communicating? You probably know a few “Always and Never” people. You might even occasionally use this kind of black and white language yourself. We all feel the need for strong and powerful statements at times. And this is certainly high octane language.  However, it is often an exaggeration not based in reality. It hurts our credibility if used often. In addition, when we use this kind of communicating in relationships it quickly turns confrontational.

It feels definitive, doesn’t it? Like the conversation is closed. When we encounter these types of statements we sometimes take the bait and get sucked right in. It can turn to quite a mudslinging fest before we know it.

– “You never pay attention to me”

– “Yes I do – I always pay you compliments and say I love you”

– “But you never mean it – you are insincere when you say it, I can just tell.”

– “How can you know what I mean – I always say what I mean, you know that”

– “Not that time you told your mother she looked great with the new haircut – that was as phoney as it gets – that is just how you are.”

And so it continues. This type of conversation is typically not going anywhere but directly into an emotional screaming match, into cold indifference and hurt feelings.

Always and never statements are rarely factual. They are however often an expression about how somebody feels.

In other words when somebody makes and “Always or Never” statement it is often an expression of an intense feeling of powerlessness, fear or shame on some level. Or it can simply be an expression of a limiting belief that is holding someone back from seeing clearly.

Often it is also an attempt to hook the other person in the relationship into a state of either Fear, Obligation or Guilt (FOG).This can be how intimacy is interpreted by some: “I am afraid, confused and hurt, so if you love me you will need to be afraid, confused and hurt too.”

And yes, when you are on the receiving end, it is rather hard to see clearly – you are quite literally in the fog!

  • 1. Fear: There is a level of intimidation involved: “Never do this again or else….”
  • 2. Obligation: There is an attempt to hook the other person into feeling that they really should be doing, feeling, thinking without communicating it directly….. “I have done the dishes three days in a row now – I always end up having to do everything…”
  • 3. Guilt: Ah, the big G-word: There is a direct implied accusation involved intimating that the other person is at fault.  “You always make me feel sad when you go away”.

Step one to not get hooked onto this type of manipulative communication is simply to recognize it is present. Some of my clients have developed an “Always and Never Alarm”. Whenever they hear these types of statements delivered – the alarm goes off in their heads; Awareness is step one!

Then it is helpful to listen beyond the message. Might there be a sense of powerlessness that is being communicated? What might the person be feeling? Discern what is an attempt to “hook” you into the FOG.  Ask questions before you respond. This can be a powerful way of gaining insights in what is really happening on an emotional level. This can open up the dialogue.

And sometimes, the person making the always and never statements is not interested in divulging the underlying emotional baggage. Or they are not able to. Depending on the severity of FOG that this kind of behavior adds to your life, it is draining to be in the FOG. It weighs you down.

I often refer to my mentor coach, Keith Miller, in situations where I encounter all or nothing, always and never statements:

“What others say and do define them 100% What you say and do define you 100%.”

Here is to keeping your own credibility, integrity and dignity no matter where you go, and who you go there with.

Are YOU in a Jackpot Relationship?

Yes, of course it is nice to win the jackpot. Yet, a Jackpot Relationship might be both draining and abusive!

People in such a relationship might hope that the relationship will magically change for the better even as the same patterns are repeated over and over. It is very much like the gambler who keeps putting money in the slot machine. Every time he or she is ready to quit – there is a small pay out that is just enough that the gambler keeps investing time, energy and cash.

We all have various degrees of rose-colored glasses attached to our faces when we fall in love. We see the person as we would like him or her to be. We see what we interpret as the potential (or as a former disillusioned client of mine called it: “the P-word”) in our new partner, and we see them as we think they are – or as we hope they could be. In addition we project our own expectations on them.

We then continue in the next phase of the relationship. We realize that our beloved is seeing things in us that are not really who we are. However, we play along. We know that by continuing the masquerade, we continue the feel-good hormones that flood our bloodstream when our new love looks at us admiringly.

Later, we take off the rose-colored glasses and stop playing along. The “Honeymoon is over” phase of the relationship. Here the naked truth is revealed. You no longer play along, flaws become mutually obvious.

 

Some relationships have what it takes to navigate the waters and transform into lasting and mutually beneficial unions. The partners learn to accept each other for who they are, give each other space to grow and mature. When they help each other it is not through self-sacrifice – but instead with a genuine and sincere desire to allow the other person the space to grow, develop and mature as they in turn take responsibility for their own growth, development and maturity. Supported not smothered. With mutual respect and love.

This is not a jackpot relationship. It is however a great recipe for a successful and lasting relationship.

So what is a Jackpot Relationship?

It is the kind where the masquerade from the initial rose-colored glasses phase keep going intermittently. Psychologists call it “Intermittent Reinforcement”. It is a type of relationship where one person has hurts, disappointments, loss or abandonment issues that have not been properly addressed and incorporated. As a result this person constantly plays out the hurts from the past in the changing cast of characters in his or her current life. Even though the original cast, where the real problems happened, are long gone. It is an instant replay of old hurts that recycles again and again.

As this kind of relationship develops the person, who finds him or herself being included in this kind of psycho drama, gets to the point where he or she realizes that they have had enough. They have invested their time, energy and love into this person and received anger bursts, cold shoulders, indifference and possibly worse back with increasing frequency. They want out. They are constantly paying the emotional bills of those who are seen by their partner as having caused their disappointments and hurts.

Now the person with Intermittent Reinforcement behavior has a sixth sense that their partner is about to pull back. And they then do a complete switch. They beg forgiveness, they cry, they plead, they serve food, sex, money, gifts or other commodities of the relationship. They promise they will change. Just like the slot machine pays out a small reward, when the gambler is about to quit. They bring back the hope that the rose-colored glasses can stay on forever!

And there might be a few good days following. The feel-good chemicals of the relationship are back in high doses. Both believe that from now on everything will be fine.

And then gradually or suddenly the old behaviors of the unresolved issues rear their ugly heads again – and the psychodrama starts its cycle anew.

Just like the gambler keeps hoping for a jackpot, so do the people caught in the cycles of Intermittent Reinforcement. The pay out of happy relationship feel-good hormones is just enough that they, like the gambler, keep pulling the lever again and again investing money, time, energy and love in the hope that one day the relationship jackpot will happen; there will be no more old psycho dramas to recycle, the issues will finally have resolved themselves. The promises of change and the words of admissions will finally work – and all will be well. And  without inner work, and awareness of the issues, this is just as likely as the big million dollar jackpot at the 5 cent machines in Las Vegas!

If you recognize this kind of behavioral pattern in your relationship, seeking help with a therapist or coach can help to end the seeming endless cycle. There are many ways of changing the behavior and depending on the type of issues at the root of the recurring dramas, ways of gaining awareness and taking control.

Winning the jackpot is a nice idea. However, the real winning relationship comes when we stop the charades and stop hoping it will “just happen”. For us to be in successful and lasting relationships we need to be able to step into our power and allow our partner to do the same. And there might be a few casts of previous characters to deal with before we can successfully do so. The main thing is to know that it is possible – and there is help to be had!

An Over-Looked Key To Success?

Maybe you watched the other night as Nik Wallenda braved the wire stretched across Niagara Falls?

Obviously, it was amazing to watch a man live his dreams, to plan, to focus, to build a team, to risk it all, and succeed!

All of the planning steps he took before he even put a foot on the wire obviously contributed to his victorious walk across the divide.

I think there was yet another aspect to his success:

Nik’s absolute calm before, during and after this momentous and high pressure gig was awe-inspiring.  As I listened in to the dialogue between Nik and his coach dad there was an aspect of Nik that stood out to me: His amazing gratitude and appreciation for the moment!

As he walked, he was pushed and pulled by unforeseeable wind gusts, drenched in mist, having to walk a swinging metal rope over the deafening water masses that were gushing below him. Through it all he simply kept affirming his gratitude, and his thankfulness for the moment!

Neuroscientists has discovered that we actually directly affect the plasticity of our brains with our thoughts. Their research shows that we can re-wire our brains to change our emotional style (Richard Davidson, Ph) and change our propensity for having negative expectations and (Rick Hanson PhD) how this affects our experience. This research is showing real changes in the brain – when people repeat various desired practices over and over. Giving a whole new meaning to “mind over matter”.

Robert Emmons PhD has found through his research that people who write a brief gratitude journal daily (or even incorporate grateful thoughts into their morning and evening routines) generally had better success toward reaching important personal goals both academic, interpersonal and health-based!

There were plenty of other benefits to this simple exercise in practicing gratefulness. I believe we saw one such benefit crossing over Niagara Falls in perfect composure the other night!

To start your own gratefulness practice you can simply make it a habit to start your day with a positive affirmation or prayer. A thankful appreciation for your life. Many of us treat prayer as a wish list. And by doing so we are really adding a sense of “lack of” and a sense of “if only” to our attitude. So gratitude can simply be to state what you are thankful for in your life (your health, your children, your dog, roof over your head, nice weather, etc.) By little by little changing your awareness to include what works in your life, you also start re-wiring your brain to actually experience, appreciate and indirectly attract more of what you want!

At night likewise before you go to bed, just list in your journal or simply in your mind three blessings from your day. On really bad days, it can simply be – the coffee was perfect this morning…. I dare you – there will always be something positive in your day – and by finding it and focusing on it, you will become more appreciative, happy and relaxed. You will be able to experience your own success – and also attract more of it!

When Nik successfully had completed his walk, he was asked by the border agents in Canada what was the purpose of his trip. He answered that he was seeking to “inspire people.”

He certainly inspired me –  and what a great example of living your dream with a thankful attitude – one step at a time!