Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hail Janus!

The tradition of New Year's Resolutions began with a mythical king of early Rome, Janus, the god of beginnings and the guardian of doors and entrances lived around 153 B.C. He was depicted with two faces, one on the front of his head and one on the back, allowing him to look backward (past) and forward (future) at the same time. Janus became the ancient symbol for resolutions and because of him many Romans looked for forgiveness from their enemies and exchanged gifts before the beginning of each year.

I have made resolutions, even written them down (and occasionally accomplished them), but it hadn’t occurred to me to prepare by recapping the previous year. What Janus figured out is that humans are bound to keep making the same mistakes if we don’t spend some time thinking about how to avoid them. It’s not enough to look to the future, it’s important to learn from the past. The past can give us clues about how to be more successful, in the future.

Succeeding at resolutions:

1. “Begin with the end in mind” (Steven Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People)—that is, “What do you want the future to look like (large and small)?” Here's how:

Make a Keep, Start, Stop list:

  • Ask yourself “What did I do last year that I want to “Keep” in my life because it worked really well?” Next ask, “What changes did I accomplish last year and what specific things did I do or were in place for me to make that sought-after change?”

  • Next ask “What do I want to "Start" doing in my life that I’m currently not doing?” These should be things that mean something to you, not things others “shoulded” you into.

  • Next ask “What do I want to "Stop" in my life?” These are derived from the look backward at the waning year, and should be things you are ready to change.

Analyze the steps you took in previous successes (on the Keep list) to see what supported your ability to make the change you desired. Add them as keeps or starts, e.g., if you started your regular exercise because this time you enlisted the help of a buddy, how can you use another support system to help you make the next change?

Prioritize the list in order of importance to you (1-10). Which are the heavy hitters (if accomplished would mean significant change)? Which are the deal breakers (really important to your health and well-being)? You can only make SO much change at once before you implode, so paring your list down increases your likelihood of success.

Increase success by setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Using your pared-down list write some goals. Goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. The clearer you are with creating a picture of future success, the more likely you are to achieve the goal. Writing goals down increases your chance of achieving them. If you’ve never achieved one goal, don’t start with thirty-two. Start with one. Getting success to spur on more success is a strategic move. Some goals will be able to be SMARTer than others, "Complete a lighting class by March 1, 2010" is clearer and more measureable (thus easier to accomplish) than "Continue to work on forgiveness." That doesn't mean to leave out hard-to-nail goals, it just means you will have to monitor your progress more diligently.


2. Keep goals posted. Again, the chances of being successful are increased by keeping your vision in front of you. As with all things, they are forgotten if they are not competing for our time and attention, plus we love handling the urgent things and are likely to put important things on the back burner.

3. Be mindful of the cycle of change. My favorite change guru, Prochaska (Change for Good) has spent a life-time study people trying to change. He found that there are distinct stages of change humans experience. including a stage where we see no need for change. Most important is that going through the change cycle is predictable and spiral. We succeed, we fail. Sometimes we get discouraged and give up. We can’t give up. We have to go back to the plan and keep working it. Most everything we have to learn in this life is about how to manage ourselves.

4. Revisit, revamp, re-vitalize goals. I tack my list of goals to the bulletin board just above my computer screen in my office. I want them next to me so I can consult them in daily decisions. They are a silent partner, helping me spend my time as I intend, not as the rest of the world dictates. I recommend keeping your plan in front of you in a way that matches your lifestyle, with regular viewing and revamping required (e.g., monthly when paying bills). I look at my goals almost daily. I revamp unrealistic or unmanageable ones. I re-vitalize the process by replacing actuated goals with new ones. I am reaching more goals every year.

New Year's Resolutions, in practice, are a first quarter revamping of goals that carry over from the year before. For you proactives, hail Janus! Hail faces looking past and future. Hail an even better 2010.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Forgiveness bridges a path to change

"Forgiveness," says Mark Twain, "is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it."

If I slow down and pay attention to the angst in my life every indicator points to my need to learn to forgive. I have an elderly parent who demands too much, a stepdaughter who deplores me too much and a daughter with a boyfriend who's wronged me too much. I cannot control any of these situations or people, but my tendency (based in part on years as an understudy for Depression Era elders who grew up living in scarcity) is to be unforgiving. I want to be angry, be right, spend my waking moments (even those meant for sleep) dwelling on it--even though I understand harboring resentment is like taking poison and expecting others to die.

So let's measure this on the "doh" meter. Instead of valuable time I could spend on my own development (change) I am wasting precious moments pointing fingers at and obsessing over the transgressions of others. Transgressions that are outside my control. In most instances in the past; and each time I release the resentment toxins in my body I am endangering my own health. Doh!

So what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is letting go of the mistakes of others and our impressions of the mistakes of others (there are at least two sides to every sad story of wrong-doing) as we might hope others would let go of our mistakes. Yes, we too have done things that are unforgivable to others. Easy to say, hard to do.

How do I change my mind about something I feel so strongly about? I had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, renowned brain scientist and author of the best-selling My Stroke of Insight, as a keynote speaker. She explained complicated brain concepts in language that helped me change my thinking. She depicted our left brains as the side that "wants to be right" and the right side as the side that "wants to have fun." Great image from which I can picture myself as a nasty bitch in fatigues barking orders and demanding respect on one hand, and a loving angel with a halo riding a horse tossing rose petals on the other. Awareness is the first step-- negative feelings are harmful and futile--and I have a choice about where I focus my thoughts--left or right. I have the ability to notice bitterness every time it rears its ugly head and remind it and myself that I am no longer interested in cavorting.

If imagining the Jekyll and Hyde nature of my brain doesn't work, I can always try karma. What goes around comes around--I create my own destiny by what I think and how I act. Hmm, anger, bitterness, resentment launched from my front door in a flurry, attracting like-energy from around the world and returning nuclear on my front porch. Scary thought.

My ability to forgive can be honed using my own practice of, believe it or not, breathing. I love Yin yoga for teaching me to sit in positions that stretch muscles, fatigue fascia and release the cricks. I've learned to send breath to the pain on the inhale and let go of the tension on the exhale. This technique also works with anger and resentment, which often appears as tightness in my chest, sometimes as hyperventilating. If I use my imagination I can even inhale forgiveness to the distressed spot and exhale the bad juju. The added benefit is that resentment actually constricts breathing and lack of breath inhibits a fully functioning brain. Breathing makes me smarter and the better person I really want to be.

And it's a process. Negative thought, choice to entertain or not, breathe, release. Negative thought, choice to entertain or not, breathe, release. Repeat until cleansed.

I wonder what I can do with all that time I've spent fretting about my bitterness. I can clean out my garage or closet, write, go take photos, look up book submission guidelines, teach a kid to read, pull some ivy off the trees in the nearby forest, ride a horse. There's more room to expand and fill my life with things that make me happy, things that can change the world.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver



One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.