Mar 242020
 

There are lots of two-word combos that pack an almost disproportionate amount of power. As a lover of language, I am intrigued by a number of possibilities.

  • Think big.
  • Stand up.
  • Time flies.
  • Heart health.
  • Forever love.
  • Take action.
  • Make memories.
  • Think different.
  • See success.
  • Finally bedtime.

These are all good examples of strong two-word phrases yet not one can come close to packing as much power as this one. Ready?

“I’m bored.”

(Of course to get the full impact try hearing them pronounced like this:  ‘I’m bo-ooo-r-ud.’ It is a sound that is particularly chilling for parents.)

It is a sound that is particularly chilling for parents. Click To Tweet

It may be unwise of me to raise questions about what it means to be bored: it’s not something I’ve often experienced. One of the reasons? I’m chronically curious. When I decided to revisit old blog posts about kids, parents and boredom, I tripped and fell into a rabbit hole. It’s name? “Reading about boredom.” And guess what? It was interesting. I wasn’t the least little bit bored.

To Study Boredom

Apparently the topic of boredom also appeals to social science researchers. As with many research topics, the initial struggle was with definitions. The articles I read described boredom as an emotional or psychological state that can arise when a person doesn’t have an especially engaging task or activity before them, is stuck in a “tedious time period,” or lacks interest in their surroundings.

I also learned the term “boredom proneness” and that there is a Boredom Proneness Scale. So, while many of us tend to minimize boredom as trivial, researchers have correlated it with depression and other significant life issues.

Additionally, researchers tell us there are three types of boredom:

  • circumstances are preventing us from doing something we want to do
  • we are obligated to do something we don’t want to do
  • there are factors that prevent us from being fully engaged in the task at hand

Ennui Among the Animals or Boredom at the Zoo

As I continued to think about the topic, I realized that animals get bored, too. Our dogs, ranging in age from a baby to a senior citizen, love to go to training. They love the five hour round trip. Nobody (except the human) gets to stay in for the entire class, but each dog gets enough mental stimulation to make for a very quiet, sleepy ride home.

Not to be outdone by engaged pet owners everywhere, the National Zoo now gives donors the opportunity to provide keepers with discretionary funds for added enrichment items ranging from food to toys and special scents for their charges.

I believe a high level of inborn curiosity vaccinated me against becoming boredom prone. To me, when that “meh” vibe starts to creep in, it’s a signal that my creativity needs slightly different time and space. It encourages me to check in with myself and my HALT: hungry, angry, lonely,tired.  It’s a nudge to try stuff.

Boredom is a nudge to try stuff. Click To Tweet

 

I guess that reaction is part of what makes me wonder why so many parents believe that boredom is bad for kids and  it’s their job to ‘fix’ it.  If  we respond like cruise ship activities directors on steroids what are we doing for the kids?  What do they take away from our behavior? What example are we setting?

Am I exaggerating? Just think about the number of times that, upon hearing this particular set of ‘magic words,’ you’ve seen parents leap into action. Like exhausted super heroes, they quickly shuffle through their repertoire of activities, snacks, electronic devices, and other entertainment to find the one special remedy that will most quickly put an end to the dreaded condition called boredom.

Unintended Messages

We all know that actions can undermine and contradict both words and good intentions. Attempts to alleviate another’s discomfort can be interpreted as thoughtful and kind and Boredom-Rescue behavior is no exception. All behavior can send powerful (and sometimes unintended) messages; intervening in our kids’ boredom could be interpreted as:

  • You deserve to be passively entertained
  • Your uncomfortable feelings are very important
  • Uncomfortable feelings should be avoided at all costs
  • Someone or something outside of you is responsible for fixing your feelings

And even if  those aren’t their take-away messages, how much thought have you given to what happens to your kids when you’re not around to entertain them? If we build our schedules and priorities around filling, enriching, and stimulating their every waking moment, how will the young ‘uns manage being in a group or in a classroom setting? Or alone?

Oddly enough, I started working on this post before Covid-19  hit our shores. As people gradually start to understand how such diseases spread, they are taking responsibility for their portion of herd immunity by self-quarantining. And, in the course of staying home, some of them are feeling bored. That might not be a bad thing.

Quiet Minds, Open Minds

I’m a huge fan of new ideas and experiences.  Novelty is great for brain health which, in turn, benefits us physically and emotionally. We live in an amazing time with no shortage of things to learn and do and think about and try.  And, given the opportunity, we will discover our passions and interests. Maybe there will be powerful new interests. But in the course of pursuing those opportunities, we will need to manage more than a few uncomfortable feelings along the way. So will our kids. But to seize those opportunities we will need to make sure our hearts and minds are quiet and open enough to recognize and seize those opportunities.

Mar 062020
 

Time for true confessions: even before I became a goofy grandma, laughing baby videos have been one of my guilty pleasures. That’s true even when I haven’t spent an entire day editing stuff.  (What did we ever do without YouTube?) When I feel like I’ve been chained to my desk all day, they give my attitude AND my energy a much-needed boost.

So, having rendered myself sleep-deprived, indulged in all the bad food choices, and created the ugly messes that are part and parcel of a very long editing session, I came across this. It may have helped keep me from tearing up a manuscript section or three.

This may have helped keep me from tearing up a manuscript section or three. Click To Tweet

 

You probably know that when humans converse and have some sort of rapport, they automatically start to mirror speech patterns and mannerisms. In fact, in training programs for sales people, advocates, and other interviewers who’d like to enhance client connections, participants are invited to notice and subtly mimic the mannerisms of the other person. I know language buffs who, when conversing with someone from another region, unconsciously pick up and start using a “foreign” accent. It’s a subtle form of enhanced connection, n’est-ce pas?

So what about laughter? And puppies? And babies? What’s the deal?

Language buffs may unconsciously pick up and start using a “foreign” accent. It’s a subtle form of enhanced connection, n‘est-ce pas? Click To Tweet

 

Not to ruin a guilty pleasure, but, as neurologists, neuro-psychiatrists, and biologists continue to explore and map various parts of the brain, the concept of contagious emotions becomes more intriguing. (You know I love brain biology, too, right?)

And while the research on mirror neurons has a long way to go, we’re all familiar with the concept of being known by the friends we keep. Overweight people tend to have more overweight friends than thin folks. Same for people who are feeling negative about their world. So are we attracted to those who are like us? Or are thoughts and feelings really contagious?

Look! I've finally achieved nerdvana ~ a laughing baby AND a dog! Click To Tweet

Gotta love those two-fers.

 

Babies pay close attention to voices, especially high-pitched ones. This fact leads many of us to become fluent in baby-talk. It’s a voice and speech pattern that animal trainers sometimes use, too. And, while the sense of hearing starts to function more or less from birth, it takes time for any mammal to make sense and meaning of sounds. In dogs (sorry, new parents) this can result in some adorable head tilts as they check out the source of strange sounds. And in humans? Check out this “silly baby” who is alternately horrified and delighted as he watches his Mom blow her nose.  His expressions are fantastic.

 

So what’s your online guilty pleasure? Pretending to make all the things on Pinterest? Twitter tantrums? Cat videos? Share your favorites in the comments so we can join you!

 

 

Jan 152020
 

Humility shows itself in the people with whom I am connected — both online and in real life. I love the conversations about becoming better  at who we are and what we do. Lately they have been about the balance between a commitment to continuous self-improvement and acceptance: of self, of others, and of life as it is. So how does one balance a desire to improve with gratitude for the way things are? I don’t know about you, but I struggle. And I seek greater humility.

I struggle not to compare myself and my accomplishments to those around me, striving always to applaud and appreciate others’ successes. Recognizing that we may have different strengths, interests, opportunities, privilege, resources, life circumstances, or abilities helps steer away from jealousy. The struggle is sometimes to recognize my own accomplishments — I’m not denigrating them, I just don’t always remember them when I should.

“Humility is truth.” ~ Desiderius Erasmus

Humility is truth. ~ Desiderius Erasmus Click To Tweet

I’m not interested in loud, brassy self-improvement like artificially adding “best-selling” to my author bio; but continuing to improve as a writer? To be recognized by my peers? That feels right — especially when I couple that commitment with the hope that what I produce lands with people who will enjoy it and, perhaps benefit from some of the ideas. It’s not a SMART goal but it’s a way of thinking about life and growth that’s meaningful to me right now.

Humility Makes us Real

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. ~ Thomas Merton Click To Tweet

Until checking the dictionary, I thought I might be trying to approach self-improvement with humility. But once there, it became apparent that I needed to discard most parts of that definition. Rejecting “a feeling of insignificance” and “low in rank” left space for “not arrogant” and “courteously respectful.” So many definitions of humility seem to ask us to present ourselves as “less than” and, to me, that doesn’t square with acceptance. What if humility is an accurate self-appraisal and an understanding that there are those whose skills are better than ours and those who know other things? Perhaps it has more to do with just being or with something our culture has rechristened “authenticity.”

Practice Radical Humility

Practice radical humility. Take no credit for your talents, intellectual abilities, aptitudes... ~ Wayne Dyer Click To Tweet

Searching for others’ thoughts on humility led me to a pair of popular writers whose work embraced a combination of creativity, spirituality, and helpfulness.  Thinking about them together makes me smile as I picture them having a cup of coffee together. I wonder if they’d enjoy the other’s company — and what the conversation would be.

My first Maya Angelou quotation places me (or “us” if you choose to join me) in a continuum. It places us in time, honoring those who came before and those who will follow. “What humility does for one is it reminds us that there are people before me. I have already been paid for. And what I need to do is prepare myself so that I can pay for someone else who has yet to come but who may be here and needs me.”

And, as is true with almost anything I’ve ever read by her, she points us to honesty. “Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘Run like hell and all of fire.’ You don’t want modesty, you want humility.”

I finally arrived at a favorite thought from Wayne Dyer. His advice? “Practice radical humility. Take no credit for your talents, intellectual abilities, aptitudes, or proficiencies. Be in a state of awe and bewilderment.”

So what can I do with this? How can I incorporate humility into my day-to-day life? Here are five simple ideas, a list that could, perhaps, be titled “Five Simple Ways to be a Better Person” or “Don’t Be Such a Jerk.”

    • Turn off your cell phone. I like instant access as much as the next person but liberal use of your smart phone’s Do Not Disturb function allows us to be fully present to the meal we are eating and the people with whom we share it. (Pro tip: I didn’t know how, so I asked the artificial intelligence to do it for me!)
    • Vacuum behind the furniture. I’m far (way too far) from being a neat freak but this one speaks to our place in time and doing our work completely whether or not anyone else will see it.
    • Supermarket behavior. Some venues are better practice than others and for me this is it. When I can let someone go ahead of me in line or return their empty cart, my behavior says their time (and their car doors) matter as much as mine.
    • Passing along a favorite book may say “I thought of you while I read this.” (Or, in the case of self-help? “I got a lot out of this, would you like it next?”)
    • Saying “please” and “thank you” — frequently and in many formats. A text. A hand written note. A small gift. The more I practice this the more ideas come my way.

Please share your thoughts on humility and self-improvement in the comments. Thank you.

Nov 202019
 

 

Inspiration. What does it mean to live an inspired life? It’s a phrase that can bring to mind images of artists, monastics, and martyrs. It also makes me think of sweeping the floor and tending my weeds.

I think the phrase got stuck in my head the other day when one of my friends referred to another as an inspiration. Word nerd that I am, I was intrigued: my friend the inspiration has a serious breathing disorder and one of the definitions of “inspire” is “to breathe in.” In fact, the word dates back to about 1300 when it meant “to breathe upon or into” or simply “to breathe.” Today I am thinking about the relationship between inspiration and breath in our day to day lives.

She’s an Inspiration

What does it mean to live an inspired life? Click To Tweet

purple coffee cup in woman's hands

Spending time with other writers and artists, I hear a lot of talk about “inspiration.” It can sound magical and mystical; it can appear impossible to achieve. Sometimes we sound like we’re sitting around waiting to be hit by the inspiration stick.

Hit by the Inspiration Stick

I don’t think I’m alone when I say my ability to produce quality work ebbs and flows. I’m not always happy enough with what I’m writing to share it with you — even here. I think that has more to do with my personal standards than a lack of inspiration.

I don't want to sit around waiting to be hit by the inspiration stick! Click To Tweet

The other day a colleague told me she considered my first book  What Kids Need to Succeed  “inspirational.”

Apparently I was silent for too long.  She went on to explain that, although she thought the book contains good and useful information, she believes that its greatest value is to provide support and inspiration to parents… especially when they doubt or question themselves.

I was only quiet because I was moved.  Deeply moved.  Frankly, it’s hard to imagine something better than throwing a virtual life preserver to a drowning parent and helping them to shore.  (Except maybe for those parents to not to feel like they’re drowning in the first place.) Speaking as both a formerly single parent and an author, I can’t think of a better compliment.

Speaking as both a formerly single parent and an author, I can’t think of a better compliment. Click To Tweet

Throwing a Virtual Life Preserver

Being a parent can bring us face-to-face with some of the most powerful versions of anything we feel:  love, pride, joy, fear, self doubt.   Many people are fortunate to have had great parents to show them the way.  Others have to work much harder to extract the value from some of their early lessons. Buttons get pushed.  People hurt.

But feelings aren’t facts.  They can be a valuable source of information. Sometimes we need help to translate our feelings to thoughts that can be more useful to us. By the way, a little reminder: one does not have to be a parent to feel overwhelmed in the face of a seemingly impossible task. It can happen to authors and artists, sales people, and those facing physical or medical challenges.

What if “I don’t feel like I can do this” means:

  • I need support
  • I don’t know how to ask for help
  • I’m taking on a big challenge
  • I’ve never done anything that matters more
  • I’m in pain
  • I need to improve my skills
  • I’m going to get more training
  • I’m looking for a mentor
  • I want to make sure I’m looking at (and compensating for) my “blind spots”

Sometimes We All Need Translation

But what if “I don’t think I can do this” means you’ve got the open-mindedness and willingness to be great? What if it means you have something inside of you that wants you to go beyond any of the pictures you currently have? What if you’re in the process of establishing a new normal?

What if “I don’t think I can do this” is a signal that there’s something inside, yearning for more? What if it has to do with being great? Click To Tweet

 

“Breathe in. Soften. Go a little deeper.” I’m new to yoga and fascinated by the various instructors’ descriptions of breath and the ways they coach us to be aware of it. Maybe that’s part of what has me thinking about inspired life.

the words namaste yall against a starry sky

My husband goes on silent meditation retreats. Silent meditation is another place where ‘breath’ takes center stage. I’m told that counting breath is a way to re-center, to come fully into the present, and to stop thinking.

Some of my friends paint. I write. And occasionally try my hand at other forms of art: redacted poetry, multi-media painting, landscape design. It all feels connected.

What’s Your Jam?

I also just finished reading Painting Life by my friend Carol Walsh. It’s a memoir about balancing her life as an artist with her life as a therapist. And about the endless process of reinventing the self. Her book made me wish I had known more about both self-care and reinvention when I was a young therapist and advocate. I burned the candle at both ends, pushing beyond comfortable limits both at work and at home. I rarely said “no.” It took time to see that I short-changed everyone — especially myself. Eventually, I learned to embrace both self-care and personal evolution. Maybe there is no “wrong.” Maybe there’s only “next.”

What if the fact we have breath means we are inspired? Click To Tweet

What if inspiration only meant “breath?” Does the fact that we have breath means we are already inspired? Could inspired living simply mean using our breath? Using our lives in the best way we know how? Is it really all that simple? How do we best use that precious gift?