Be Brave!

“I don’t want to wake up one day and realize I forgot to live my life.”

I read the Globe and Mail every morning. Just one of my habits that I enjoy – get up, stretch, walk dogs out to get the paper, make coffee, read and find out about the rest of the world. I delight in finding what is written in the paper. Believe it or not, the statement above is from the Globe’s Business Section, in an article about a financial planning advisor who manages his clients’ money very cautiously. Yet the rest of his life is involved in taking both physical and social risks. He is a living, breathing example of the theory that suggests risk takers in one realm may be timid in others.

I think I am like that as well. I love taking risks, flying by the seat of my pants – sure, I can (insert correct word) ski/ride/run/hike that! So what? it’s just a little steep/long/hot/ dangerous, but I’m confident I can do it! Of course, one broken leg from a spill in Jackson Hole, crushed and broken bones in a foot from a bad soccer tackle, knees full of cinders and scars…but I’m still out there playing to my heart’s content!

But it is the social risks that I often find challenging; the bravery involved in doing or saying something important or meaningful, or looking someone in the eye and saying what I really mean, instead of what I think they want to hear.

Obviously there's something I'm not saying!

Obviously there’s something I’m not saying!

Like the man said, I don’t want to wake up one day and realize I forgot to live my life just because I was too anxious to say what I really mean. Perhaps that’s a thought for everyone to consider. How often do we want to say something, but we hold back because we don’t want to hurt feelings or we are concerned about the repercussions? In the end, it is often our own feelings that are most hurt. The words we want to say get buried under our skin, and we let life go on, as if they don’t matter.

But they do matter and they don’t go away. The words we don’t say, just like the ones we do say, remain with us and influence our decisions, our actions and our lives.

I don’t want to be held prisoner by my own fear of words. I want to be more brave when it comes to my words. Really, I just want to say what I mean to say, what I want to say, but often don’t have the courage to do it. So, in thinking about that while I finished the Saturday Globe, I came up with these three steps to help shape the way I speak and allow myself to take some risks without hurting anyone, myself included:

  • Ask myself “what would I say if I didn’t care if I was right, or wasn’t concerned about people’s reactions?”
  • Then, think about how to deliver those words succinctly and with clarity, without blame or pain.
  • Then do it!

Maybe its my stage of life, or perhaps I am just weary of holding on to fears that may never materialize. My history of silence hasn’t done that much for me.  I will do as Sara Bareilles sings in her song “Brave” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUQsqBqxoR4

“Say what you wanna say

And let the words fall out

Honestly, I wanna see you be brave”

23 Words

Mother’s Day. What springs to your mind when I say that? Brunch? Flowers? Perhaps a huge family gathering with Hallmark cards and candies?

Not me. I think of a few words that made everything wonderful. 23 words, to be exact.

Words are so powerful. We have millions of them, different sounds in different languages, and depending on how they are aligned, they send different messages. Candies, cards and brunches are lovely. But a few words, whispered or shared in a particular way, can make everything in your world better.

6:15 am, I rolled over in bed to hear my cell phone making sounds. When Jaime sends me a text using What’s App (http://www.whatsapp.com/) from Austria, I know it’s her. And I’m smiling before I even open my eyes. I struggle to find my glasses and position the phone so I can read those tiny words…”Mom, let’s Skype as soon as you get up”. So up I get, coffee is on, and I settle into the chair to Skype with my wee one. We talk about her work, my work, the dogs, soccer, more soccer, Alex Ferguson and Man U, more soccer, and my summer trip. One hour, then somehow two hours pass. My bum is sore from the hard chair, and I’m hungry and ready to eat. So as I get ready to finish our conversation, she says the first 11 words of the day that make my heart stand still: “Mom, I wish I could spend the day with you today”.

Jaime and the love of her life.

Jaime and the love of her life.

Just 11 little words. Nothing fancy, long or detailed. We’d shared many more over the past 2 hours. But those 11 words had me grinning ear to ear, and all teared up.

Then Rory leaves a message to tell me he’s on his way home. I had thought he was visiting friends north of me, and was on his way down to my house. Then another phone call and he tells me he’s close to the Grange Sideroad. The Grange is south of me. What you need to know is that Rory’s sense of direction is, well, unusual. North, south, east and west don’t really compute for him. When he was younger, I used to send Jaime with him to do errands. Jaime was born with an innate sense of direction, and she could always find her way home. If they were together, I didn’t have to worry. But without his Jaime or GPS, no one can be sure where Rory will end up!

So why was he south of me when he was coming from the north? Apparently he didn’t go to Tottenham, and was coming up from Toronto. Well, why are you doing that, I asked? Then came the rest of the important words: “Because I just want to spend the whole day with you, Mom”.

Rory and his two lady loves!

Rory and his two lady loves!

12 words. Nothing more. No flowers, no chocolates, no brunch reservations. But nothing, absolutely nothing could mean more to me that those words.

Words have been known to incite war, to calm a crying baby, to effect change anywhere and everywhere. Words can wound or heal, they can delight or damage. At home, at work, words, both written or uttered, are the cornerstones of our communication. The way they are organized or the way they are spoken influences their meaning. The words of Gandhi, of the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, and so many others echo in our collective minds with stories of peace, hope and love.

But it is those 23 individual words from my daughter and from my son that light up my life. They could have celebrated Mother’s Day with gifts of flowers and food. Instead, they lit up my life from within, giving me their gift of words. Today, when you are talking, remember how powerful and packed with meaning your words may be. Choose them carefully, so that your intended message is clear and definitive.

If you hear something like my 23 words, consider yourself blessed.

Give “it” enough energy!

The internet was out again. No worries, I just have to head upstairs, unplug and replug the router. I get upstairs, but realize I’m a bit peckish so I turn into the kitchen. A handful of nuts and a cup of tea later, I’m halfway back down the stairs before I realize I can’t remember why I came upstairs in the first place.

Sound familiar? I used to think it was old age, and my brain was slowing down. Perhaps it is because my brain is too full and there isn’t enough room for trivial things. But the truth is simply this: when I realized I needed to go upstairs, I just pushed my chair back and went upstairs, and my energy of thought switched from the internet to simply going up the stairs.

Which makes me laugh because just 2 weeks ago, I did a workshop with about 10 people and I had their names memorized within the first 10 minutes. Why can I remember all those names but not why I went upstairs?

Simple. When I listened to each person introduce themselves, I focused on each of them. I made a conscious choice to listen and I expended energy doing it. I focused energy by listening, wrote each name down in my book and eventually said their name out loud. So all in all, I listened, transcribed and spoke. I had to commit all that energy to learn their names.

When I went upstairs, I stopped thinking about why and my mind wandered to other things. There are a dozen e mails to answer, gotta vacuum the stairs, I should brush those dogs, I wonder how Eleanor’s Mom is doing….my brain was juggling all sorts of ideas and images, and the priority item of fixing the internet didn’t receive enough energy or focus, so I forgot about it.

Continual Partial Attention (CPA), a phrase coined by Linda Stone (http://lindastone.net/qa/continuous-partial-attention) describes how many of us think today. We want to connect with everything and not miss anything. We are constantly shifting thoughts and ideas around in our heads like shells in a shell game. On top of that, we are using our computers and cell phones, constantly checking e mails and text messages, and we are on hyper-alert to possibilities. We are living in an age of interruption. As a result, nothing gets our complete attention – we pay partial attention to a million things.

Sheila and CPA - listening, writing and reading. (But I bet she remembered everything!)

Sheila and CPA – listening, writing and reading. (But I bet she remembered everything!)

Yet I know, when I pay complete attention and give something the energy it requires, I learn more, experience more, and ultimately appreciate it more. When I turn my attention to those individuals in my workshop, I learned not just their names, but their values and priorities, something that will help me to work better with them. When I focus my energy on the task at hand, be it a briefing note, learning names in a workshop, planning a training session, or even learning a new fiddle tune, I am startlingly more successful when I commit sufficient energy and give my complete attention.

It’s not just our work that will benefit from giving something complete attention by committing enough energy to it. Next time you’re talking or listening to a colleague or a loved one, focus your energy on them, and not on the thousand other details zinging around in your head. Really concentrate and commit your energy to the conversation. You will both appreciate the effort and be happier for it.

My lesson from this? I can memorize anything, if put my energy into doing it. I can write a great briefing note/strategy/workshop outline, etc. if I put my energy into doing just that. I can develop and keep wonderful relationships, too, if I use energy to focus on them.

Logan and Susan, our complete attention on the Pooh stick we threw in the Cowichan river.

Susan and Logan, our complete attention on the Pooh stick we threw in the Cowichan river.

Now, if I could just remember why I came upstairs again!!!

Phantom pain and the scent of pine

I’ve been working pretty hard and the to-do list on my desk is a bit overwhelming. Time for a run. I suit up and head out the front door. The first part of any run from home involves a bit of trail running, so I have to focus carefully on where I step. But once I get out on the road, my mind wanders and I think about other things.

I was flying up Escarpment hill, and an unbidden cacophony of scattered  “to-dos” dance around in my head – gotta finish writing up workshop results, do a briefing note – who reads them anyway? – plan for the team training initiative – who will be there? upgrade the latest strategy…OMG!

PAIN! Lightning bolts of agony below my left knee cause me to stumble and sway, like the theatrical soccer player who flings himself on the ground when he stubs his toe, as Merebeth well knows! I’m cursing out loud, angry and helpless.

I am so stupid. Yet again, I let the stress of work take over my life, and my body’s reaction is one of extreme, phantom pain. When I broke my leg years ago, I had all sorts of metal inserted and screwed into my bones. Over time, as my leg healed, most of the titanium has been removed. But I find when I am under stress, I get phantom pain in my leg where the screws used to be. Each time it happens, it is related directly to my own state of mind, and I have learned I can make it stop very quickly, if I can reduce my stress.

LIttle scars below my knee mark the history of titanium screws in my leg.

Little scars below my knee mark the history of titanium screws in my leg.

According to Mika Nagel, Studio Director at Chopra Yoga Centre (and I imagine according to most practitioners who deal with this topic), stress is a choice. Rather than value and savour the moments I was spending running, I had chosen to think about my workload. My body’s reaction was one that forced me to stop experiencing the stress and focus on something else completely…PAIN. Talk about a wake up call.

Naturally, despite the pain, I don’t stop running. I’m a runner. We don’t do that. But the pain forcibly reminded me that I need to allow myself to experience the run. I can and should be mindful of the moment and shift my perspective, bringing awareness to the here and now, and not the “what if”.

Funny, when I do that, two things happen. First, I inhale and my nose is filled with the sweet scent of pine. And second, as I push-off with my leg to run another step, the pain is not noticeable.

I realize that the pine scent comes from branches torn off tree stems during a storm last week; I see two pileated woodpeckers chasing each other into those very trees; the heat from the spring sunshine makes my hair stick to the back of my neck, when the day before, I was wearing mittens…all that I would have missed, if I had still been thinking about…what was I thinking about?

When I am mindful of the moment, I succeed. If I am working, I am productive and I don’t miss out because I am perpetually functioning with focused attention. When I am running (insert whatever you want here), I don’t miss out either because I am mindful of what I am experiencing at the time.

Try it. Let’s hope you don’t wait until your phantom pain brings you to a grinding halt. Choose mindfulness, choose to pay attention to the present.  Life can be profoundly moving and you don’t want to miss it. Enjoy the sweet scent of the pine.