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?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Change requires focus on what we can control

I'm grateful to my former counselor Tom who showed me that I was trying to control outside myself feelings I could not control inside (I think it happened when my daughter moved out of the house during her senior year to her Dad's house--and wouldn't talk to me for 5 months). Major revelation. It only took me several more years to realize that the uncomfortable feeling inside me was anxiety.

Anxiety is what happens when our nervous system seeks to fight, flight or freeze. The more uncomfortable we are with the anxiety the more we freak out and the more controlling we become. I could hardly construct a sentence I was so distracted by the disappearance of my daughter.

Years ago Stephen Covey introduced us to the circle of control (things over which I rule--what I say and how I act) and circle of influence (though I don't control things in this circle, I might be able to influence their outcomes--convincing my significant other to increase the distance between us and the car ahead, or getting someone from tech support to refund my money on the phone); and somewhere along the line I've picked up a third, the circle of concern (things that concern me, but are outside my control and and influence--the economy, lay-off decisions, my mom's aging experience, who my daughters date).

My circle of control is where I can make the most change--I can diet, carve out time for regular exercise, study, and pursue my dream if I make the time to make it happen. But I cannot make change in anyone else's circle of control. No matter how much time I spend. Are you spending as much time in your own circle of control as you are in others?

Questions to ponder:

What is in your circle of control?
Are you taking control of the things that will get you what you really want?Are you letting go of the things you cannot control, refusing to spend too
much time there, and letting others take control of their own lives?

  • What is outside your circle of control that usurps your time and energy?
  • What can you do about it?
  • Are you a control freak? Use the questions on the link to raise your awareness of your behavior.
  • Do you have a strategy for dealing with the anxiety that triggers your need to control?

Making changes requires me to identify and sit with my anxiety--fear of the unknown, insecurity about my skills and abilities. I have to be "full" if I am able to take on extra anxiety. I have regular body work done. I exercise enough but not too much. I eat a healthy diet. When I am at my best I am more optimistic and I have set enough time aside to play with my change work.

What are the things you CAN control that will fill you up and help move you to where you want to go? Start there. You'll be amazed at what you can accomplish once you've "put on your own mask first," and filled yourself up by taking action in your circle of control.

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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.