Monthly Archives: April 2009

Straphanger

straphangers1You know how, when the subway lurches suddenly, there is always that one person standing who doesn’t lose his balance at all? The one who manages to keep reading his paper, calm and steady on his feet, smiling and making room for you when you almost bash into him? How does he do it?

He plants one foot firmly, maintaining his own immovable center, regardless of whatever lurches and short stops the subway always surprises us with when we least expect. And he lets his center of gravity shift as his other foot moves with the movement of the train: leaning out, pulling back, gliding and adjusting as necessary.

In his fascinating new book, THE AGE OF THE UNTHINKABLE, Joshua Cooper Ramo exhorts leaders and policy makers in today’s complex and interconnected world to regard adaptation to change as a constant if unpredictable given, and to view problems in a larger, interrelated context. Since change in the world financial markets and political systems no longer (if it ever did) occurs in linear fashion, it’s seldom obvious exactly which one particular detail will tip the balance. How best to adapt and thrive? We need to hold our center (he talks about the need to build resilient societies with strong immune systems, like health care and education), while “riding the earthquake” (remaining open to creative approaches to the predictably unpredictable).

But as crucial as it is to adjust and re-adjust, you don’t want to be constantly in motion, changing your perspective so often that you lose sight of what your perspective really is. And as necessary to survival as it is in our interconnected globalized world to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes, you don’t want to get stuck there, walking his mile, do you?

So while you’re busy adapting and adjusting, make certain you also check that the center – your center – holds. Because if it doesn’t, you are going to bash into some guy on the subway. And you can’t be sure the guy you bash into will be one who’ll help you regain your balance.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

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You Can Try Until You Are…

blueintheface Some things aren’t going to change. Ever. And some things most assuredly can. But how can you tell which is which? You probably already know.

First there’s the question of changing someone else. You’ve heard it a million times: people don’t change. But if they didn’t, I’d be spinning my wheels all these years for nothing, and I don’t have that kind of tolerance for frustration. It’s more like the old lightbulb joke: “How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one. But the lightbulb really has to want to change.”

Although you can’t change someone else, you might inspire them to try something they’ve secretly wanted to try, like therapy, say, or taking a risk doing karaoke or skydiving. You could force them to change, but if you do, watch out! It either won’t last, or you’ll wind up paying for it, bigtime.

After a zillion years doing therapy with a zillion different people, I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I can’t: you can’t change character. At least I don’t know how (and if you do, please, please write in asap ’cause I want the secret!) You can change perspective, you can change your mind, you can even change your desires. But you can’t turn a dishonorable person into an honorable one.

Oh, that’s not to say that circumstances don’t sometimes jolt people into change. Near death experiences have a way of bringing out promises of “I’ll be a better person,” just like they did when you prayed that, if you weren’t pregnant, you’d never have unprotected sex again. But the promises made in the face of terror (“if my father doesn’t kill me for this, I swear I’ll never lie again”) must stand up to the test of time and the light of happier days and stronger temptations. And if promises and motivation are not resting firmly on good, solid character, well, count on things crumbling beneath your feet.

Maybe it’s just that you wish you didn’t know what you already know. Maybe you’re just hoping for what you want to happen, instead of rolling up your sleeves and digging in to make it happen. Maybe, like the Mullah Nasrudin in the Sufi story, you’d rather look for the lost key under the lamp post, rather than in the dark bushes where you dropped it.

Take your measure of the distance between what you wish were true and your experience of what is in fact true. The bigger the distance, the less likely you’re going to bridge it. Pay attention to how you feel, what you see, what you’ve tried and the results you’ve gotten. You already know what’s worth the effort, because there is a possibility of sustainable change, and what’s not, because it ain’t gonna be and stay new-and-improved no matter what you do.

You already know when things might be different, and when all the wishing and trying and working and hoping just won’t make it so. Sometimes you’ve just got to feel blue for a while and move on. It’s painful, but not nearly so painful as trying and only succeeding at getting blue in your face.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved

How Not to Solve a Problem: Be Right

delicateflower1You’ve got a delicate situation on your hands, a difficult problem. You need to convince him of the obvious error of his ways so the deal can get done. You know you’re right, but you can’t seem to get her to listen to you. You can’t stand how he doesn’t give you credit for your ideas, even as he steals them. You wish she d would just admit she made a mistake and apologize so you can all move on.

You can be right, or you can solve the problem.
But you can’t do both.

When we get stuck on making the other person see things our way, we can lose sight of the object of the exercise. Do we really want to resolve something in a way that works for each of us – or do we really want an admission of defeat, a hard-won “you’re right! (and I’m wrong)”? All too often we think and say we want the first, but we behave as if we really require the second.

Ever find yourself asking, completely perplexed, “Why does he DO that?” or “How can she believe that?” Next time, check if you’re really asking a question or simply dressing up an accusation in question form. Are you really saying “I cannot believe he doesn’t agree with me!” or “obviously she’s wrong!” or “something is the matter with him!”

If, instead, you not only accept, but actually allow yourself to see things as if you were that person, you change the whole terrain. What if you really try to listen for the answer to the question? What if you really don’t understand his point of view, but are willing to try hard to do so? You move away from selling your point of view and instead focus on fitting together the puzzle to let the other person be right.

You don’t have to lose your perspective, not at all. You just have to give up being right. Let him be right. You’re trying to solve the delicate problem: how to make things work for both of you. If you need to let him save face in order for that to happen, is that really too high a price? Is your own sense of of self so fragile you must get his validation, or can you afford to let this one go?

Give it up; let him be right. Do that, and you’ve got a fighting chance at meeting both your needs – and walking away on the same side.

If you’re willing to be wrong, that is. But solve the problem.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

Flying Solo

772-1233160885yy0lYou’ve just lost your job. Or your relationship just ended. Or maybe your kid has left for college or gotten married or moved to another state.

You’re alone, and you are not liking it at all. Cut off, cut loose, and not cut out for all this time alone. You’re feeling out of touch and out of sorts, and if one more person tells you to be optimistic you are going to scream.

Well, here I come. Scream away. Because there are some terrific things about being alone, even if it’s not your first choice (or your dying wish). So if you are alone, for now, you’ve really got two choices: bemoan your fate, or revel in it. Oh sure, you’ve got to do the whole lamenting, grieving, accepting thing; but that isn’t supposed to take the rest of your life. If things have changed, and you’re now one of one, instead of two or many, well, time to get on with it! Enjoy the ride!

We are born alone (unless we’re a multiple), and we die alone. And in between, it comes in really handy to be able to know oneself, to take care of oneself, and to like oneself. So use this time alone to do just that. Get to know yourself, not defined by your work or your relationships and how other people see you. Get to know how you see yourself. And if you don’t like it, well, change it! And if you can’t change it, accept it and move right along. Because it’s time to know your own mind, follow your own heart, and do your own thing. It’s time to believe in yourself, be good to yourself, and hold yourself to the standards of your own, internal “shoulds” rather than anyone else’s.

Fly solo. Take the measure of your strengths and vulnerabilities, appreciate the solitude, and soar…

You’re not going to be alone forever. When the time comes to be “with”, well it’s nice to know you’ve come to know and enjoy the pleasure of your own company.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

Ah, Monday Morning…

mondaymorning Have a great – stress free – one! Thanks to The Mamas and the Papas and John Phillips

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

On Bubbles – Bursting and Otherwise

bubble_colorful_colors_221291_l1The economic bubble has burst. And we are, so many of us, anxious and overworked (or underworked), racing and multi-tasking, facing realities difficult and painful. As it should be; we need to be out in the world, effecting change, making the good things happen. After childhood, living in a bubble doesn’t protect us from the real world, it isolates us from it.

But sometimes we yearn to be in an emotional bubble: protected from and rising above the cacaphony of life. In the bubble, time stands still. Time out of time, that feeling that this is the only moment. Tenderly creating and sharing our own discrete and peaceful space, here and now. We float gently together, a graceful respite from coping and working and having and doing.

In our shared bubble, we let go – of control, of fear, of separation – no longer knowing or caring who is who, or whose is whose. In our shared bubble, there is no trying, just being. We trust; we lighten up and float freely with no agendas or demands, no reticence or false separations. And in this fragile and delicate shared moment just we two, we each gather the strength to reenter the world…

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

3 Minutes to Conscious Dreaming

cow_jumps_over_the_moon_bwAre your anxious kids having trouble falling asleep? Help them dream away their troubles with Conscious Dreaming.

If you’ve been following the Soothe the Stress posts, you know the first steps to relaxation. Teach them to your kids! No time like the present. The sooner you help them develop the capacity to soothe their own stress, the more practiced and prepared they’ll be for the as-yet-unimagined stresses they’ll encounter in their lives. And along the way, you’ll be helping them develop the emotional intelligence to recognize how they feel when they feel it, as well as what to do when those feelings are getting in the way of the good life.

Start with this: “As you lie in bed, focus your awareness on your breath, and let it fill your belly full full full! Now let your breath slowly slowly slowly out through your nose. Three times, and you’ll notice you’re feeling more and more sleepy. As you drift off to sleep, remind yourself that you will not only remember your dreams tonight, but you’ll dream about…”

Have your four year old who’s afraid of monsters in the dark imagine a magic sword in his hand, which, when pointed at said monster, lights him up and makes him giggle.

Tell your anxious teenager to put his problems on a stage, one at a time, while the audience (all him) and the director (him, too) come up with possible solutions.

Or tickle the arms of your anxious daughter while telling her to imagine she’s skiing down the mountain, fast and free and in complete control.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.