Friday, December 5, 2014

Slowing down: taking a mental break at a red stop light

As mentioned recently, I'd been working with a client who was thinking, feeling, eating, breathing, walking, talking, and living way too fast! As a first step toward reducing his anxiety and poor decision making, he needed to slow everything down.

One important method of living slower is being on the lookout for opportunities to slow down. This posting is an example of me discovering such a chance and taking advantage of it.

I was three blocks from my home recently, slowing my car to stop for a red light when I felt this impulse to push the car-radio button. On the one hand, I had a slight urge to hear some music. On the other hand, it was more habit than desire. All in all, I had begun to reach for the button on Automatic Pilot, without really thinking about it.

Then, something odd and helpful happened. I popped out of my semi-trance and wondered what it would be like to enjoy a slower, more peaceful moment, what it would be like to "just be" instead of trying to fill up the moment with something better. It was an instance of snapping out of mindlessness and into mindfulness

So, instead of turning on the music, I sat back in my car seat, took note of how my body felt, took a deep breath, cleared my mind, and just "noticed things" while waiting for the red light. They were simple, every-day observations, such as a few people walking on the sidewalk, the traffic light, my dashboard and car wheel, the blue sky and clouds, and some near-leafless trees. 

Because I was paying closer attention to these every-day scenes, they seemed more vivid, clear, and interesting. I'd slipped into being content in the present moment without desiring anything more; breathing, sitting, and checking out the street scene was good enough for me.

It's noteworthy that, by giving these ordinary things some extraordinary attention, I ended up feeling really, really GOOD, instead of feeling irritated or bored by the red light as is sometimes the case.

I was able to maintain this clear, observational mind for the rest of my drive to work, and I arrived relaxed and in a very good mood. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Life Coaching model applied to Ferguson

A common Life Coaching model first involves helping people to create a clear, detailed vision for a much better future. When assisting with a vision, one of my favorite tactics is to ask The Magic Wand Question: If you could wave a magic wand and make it so, what would a perfect, wonderful situation look like? In this way, the coach helps the client to stay focused on the desired end game without self censoring based on current limitations and without balking out of fear.

If you aim high and come up short, you'll achieve more than if you aim low and hit the mark.

Once the vision is clear, then the coach helps people to create long-term goals and strategies (in general, what needs to happen to create the future you envision?). Finally, given the vision and long-term goals, the coach helps the client to identify a few manageable tasks you could accomplish right now that would move that process along (what would you be willing to do this week? this month?).

If you can do a few small goals every week, all month long, for a few years, then magic happens. You can build the future you imagined.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to apply this process to the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Of course, this is just an intellectual exercise. I'll leave it up to others to determine of this is something they would actually want to DO, mind you. ;-)

Vision: Imagine a city five years from now in which authority respects community members, and citizens respect authority. Citizens feel as if they belong, there's a place for them in the city, and they have equal opportunity to thrive and succeed in Ferguson. Leadership is skilled and reflects the make-up of its citizenry. Cooperation, collaboration, and communication with citizens has been woven into the process of how the city runs. Specifically, imagine a black mayor, and four of six city council members being black. Imagine a black police chief, and 40% black police officers on the force. (If not black, then an incredibly strong and clear ally of the black community.) Imagine racial profiling statistics involving arrests and ticketing having plummeted.

Long-term goals could be: 

  • Work with organizations focused on social justice (for example, the ACLU or the NAACP) to hire a community organizer to lead this effort. Give this person the space and authority to coordinate.
  • Hold monthly community meetings to listen to citizens and provide status about ongoing efforts. Spin off specific task forces as issues crop up during these meetings.
  • Meet with influential community leaders to review plans and gain their support. Sometimes leaders will be obvious, such as the pastor of a church. Sometimes they will not be obvious but will be equally powerful, such as the wise grandmother who lives on the corner of the block, sees everything, talks to everyone, and who indicates approval with a nod, a smile, or frown.
  • Find a few influential white leaders who will publicly back and support this effort. Begin to build a coalition of support.
  • Begin to explore funding sources that you'll need for campaigns and for paying your community organizer. Be sure to get some grant writing expertise, and people who have experience soliciting major funding for political efforts. Blend a mix of long-time Ferguson residents, short-term Ferguson residents, and help from outside the community.
  • Identify the most win-able city council seats, identify candidates, train them, and build campaigns to elect them. Build a strong Get Out The Vote machine, and put it to work for primaries and elections.
  • Provide ongoing education in the community about the vision and the plan. Emphasize the importance of the midterm elections as being the vital election cycle for Ferguson. Enlist people with marketing, graphics, and political advocacy experience to provide this community education.
  • Encourage the "house party" model throughout the city, so that every-day-people can meet and stay connected with neighbors, and so that focus and enthusiasm can be nurtured and maintained over a long period of time. Encourage small, neighborhood based projects, and don't micromanage them.
  • Investigate setting up a small-business mentoring program, which could provide a bridge between disenfranchised citizens and the city; the goal should be to increase the feeling of citizens that there is a place in Ferguson for them. Look into boosting job-training programs.
Short-term goals could be:
  • Form a leadership board that can provide coordination of events until the hiring of a community organizer. 
  • Put together a vision statement of your 5-year plan. Enlist members of the community skilled in marketing for ways to communicate this vision as succinctly, strikingly, and powerfully as possible. Run ideas through field tests and focus groups (attend house parties of interested and active citizens, run the vision ideas past them, observe the effect of the message, solicit feedback, and rework the vision accordingly).
  • Brainstorm ways to take most of the energy off the streets and away from protesting, and put it instead into sustained, organized, political effort toward enacting your vision. Figure out how to get citizens to keep their eyes on the prize.
  • Leverage the energy of recent youth protests by identifying a few youth leaders. Involve them in the planning process.
  • Approach your black city council member to ask about shadowing or internship possibilities. Investigate how you will train your future leaders.
  • Begin conversations with respected community leaders about their willingness to run for office.
  • Attend city council meetings, listen, observe, and soak it all in. Learn the ropes of local city government, and begin to get an understanding of where you are most likely to make inroads with your efforts.
Interesting ideas, eh? Thanks for letting me share them.

"Spotting a liar": Work like a dog or just feel your way through it

Recently, someone pointed me toward this very intriguing webpage that provides tips for spotting a liar. For the most part, I found it to be a fun and interesting read. The best part of the article was the statistics at the top about how often people tend to lie. 

As I was taking in each of the points, I was thinking to myself, Yep...yes...that seems true...yep! At a certain point, I grew weary and thought, OK, this can end any time now! In my experience, people are not willing to read long articles, never mind put in the consistent work it takes to master a long list of skills such as this one.

It reminded me of my upcoming book about avoiding bad habits, which includes a section entitled "Getting out of your own way." There are many times in life when you can put tremendous amounts of time and effort into learning, creating structure, and meticulously building many new habits. Or you can relax, focus, and "do the right thing" on the fly, without making such a big project out of it.

For example, you can learn all of these tips for spotting liars, such as understanding that people often look up and to your left when imagining a scene (constructing a visual lie) and level to your left when imagining something heard (constructing a lie about what was said). You can spot the times when someone is smiling but their eyes aren't (they remain still and emotionless). You can work really hard to notice when there's a gap between a facial expression and a verbal one, or when liars do or do not use contractions to explain a situation.

Or! You can learn how to observe well and notice when something doesn't feel right. If it doesn't feel right, don't trust it.

For example, If you're relaxed and paying attention, you'll notice a creepy feeling when someone's mouth is smiling brightly but their eyes remain emotionless. You'll notice the difference between someone giving you a direct, genuine answer and someone over explaining things or answering questions that weren't asked. Your heart and gut will tell you that something's up!

You may not know exactly WHAT is up, but you don't have to know. Your gut feeling is the only red flag you'll need to withhold your trust until you can sleep on it or do some more investigating.

To increase your ability to notice and "feel it" when people are lying without having to become a masterful Truth Detective, dedicate yourself to mindfulness meditation, which increases your ability to pay attention to what you are feeling as you're living your life. Learn what a lie feels like, and then follow your feelings.