Posted in audience participation, connections, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

Conscientiousness and community

My great-aunt apparently drove later in her life than she should have. I never rode in a car with her but I remember overhearing grownups laughing that she was like Mr. Magoo, where she always turned out fine but there was a trail of chaos behind her.

We’re not always aware of the effect we have on others.

When we hold on to trash until we find a trash can, when we snap at people who we perceive as worthy of our judgement and ire, when we tell someone something we admire about them, when we cut people off in traffic … we affect others. Often, we affect more than just the person we’re targeting.

Do you want your ripples to be positive or negative? Assume there is no neutral. (The option of neutral leads to inaction, and inaction nearly always feeds the negative.)

Take a moment and think of something small that someone (known or unknown) did that affected your mood.

My hikes are much less pleasant when there is trash on the trail. The most common trash on the trails I frequent is bags of dog poop: people bag up their dog’s poop and then leave it on the trail. Pack it out. Leave no trace. Something small that affects countless others.

One day at work, I got three compliments on my dress. Each made my day better.

Small things matter. Offer small things to others. People you know. People you don’t know.

Drive thoughtfully. Give praise. Do favors. Clean up after yourself. Turn the volume down. Send a card. Be patient. Live generously.

Posted in about me, audience participation, ebb & flow, gratitude, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation

The sun is setting on 2020

It’s easy to see the bad parts of 2020. They’re on the news, they’re in articles, they’re in memes, they’re showing up in expected and unexpected places in our lives.

For the overwhelming majority of us, there were good parts to 2020 as well, even if some of them are double-edged.

For example, both of my fifth grade classes were fantastic—the first time that’s happened since I’ve been in this position. The other edge is that our year got cut short. But the third quarter was still part of 2020 (we all seem to be starting 2020 in March…), and teaching those kids was great.

Even though school was a mess, they were great sixth graders this year.

It seems to me that in some homes, there is a lot of complaining, a lot of gossiping, a lot of seeing negative, expecting to be cheated, swindled, taken advantage of, stolen from. Try to raise ourselves by making others lower.

Other homes are more loving, seeing the good in people, reliving the best parts of their days with each other. (This is not to say that they ignore bad things—that’s just as toxic as focusing on them—just that they don’t marinate.)

My house growing up was definitely negative. Good things spoken of others were few and far between, and every compliment had an asterisk. Most commentary was degrading and judgmental.

And so to some extent, this became my outlook. Judge, put down, roll eyes, cluck tongue. Be aware of our superiority to them.

Little pieces of how this is dysfunctional came into my consciousness over time, and today, I am happy to say that much of the time, I see positivity in many things, I can wonder what in people’s story leads them to where they are, I can give benefit of the doubt.

I am certainly not saintly and still have more negative undercurrent than I’d like, but it’s much better, and I’m much happier. I actively work to make my household one that sees the good.

My life is better with this shift.

Experience combined with introspection have also given me the solid knowledge that challenges are opportunities to grow, and that life-upending challenges are both the hardest and have the biggest payout. Sure, occasionally you win $1,000,000 on the nickel slots, but not often enough to make it a financial plan.

Enter pandemic.

I’ve been frustrated for nine months that we, culturally, are smashing our heads against the proverbial wall, trying to make things as close to “normal” as possible, missing so many opportunities to redesign the systems, to redesign our lives for the better instead of for the “have to.” Especially when our cultural “normal” wasn’t all that great to start with.

So tell me: what was good in 2020? Whether a result of pandemic or not. I’ll go first.

The Kid and I got to spend way more time together than is normally available. We did projects together, learned new things together, ran together, and still had time to do our own things off in our own corners.

Friends who don’t live nearby were part of game night, along with the usual crew. We’re really restricted on what we can play online (do you have any suggestions?), but we always had a good time.

I learned so many new technologies! (Definitely double-edged.) I got to figure out ways to try to engage with kids through the computer.

I took the opportunity to teach bucket drumming. It was so much fun (and so much work to figure out) and something I wouldn’t have done if not for necessity.

Through a weekly Zoom call, I got to talk with a small group of friends every week. It was more than I would have gotten to talk with these lovely ladies in regular real life.

I participated in The Creative’s Workshop, which was truly an amazing experience. I met people from all over the world, got to see other’s work, got feedback on my own work, made friends.

Related but deserving of its own paragraph: I wrote a book. Beginning the process of editing now. It’s been in my head for at least a decade, and now it’s out.

We had a pool put in, just in time for the record number of 110-degree days and 100-degree days. The joy of The Kid—both in watching it be built and in using it—was infectious.

Taking the same walk around the neighborhood and up the canal most days in the spring, I got to see the duck families born and grow.

That’s off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s more, but this is a good start.

So tell me—what was good for you in 2020?

And then tell me—what’s good for you today?

Leave a comment, send me an email. Do it today. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day. What’s good? There’s no avoiding what’s bad—but is marinating in the bad really where you want to live?

Posted in audience participation, exercise, food, gratitude, know better do better, mindset, physical health, thoughtfulness

Full enjoyment can include moderation

Tomorrow (and every day, but for now—tomorrow), I invite you to practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a word that has lost meaning because it’s used so much nowadays, but we are not, on the whole, even mediocre at it. Yet.

If you’re enjoying a meal full of your favorite foods tomorrow (or any day), instead of enjoying it by eating more and faster, enjoy it by eating less and slower.

Pay attention to the food while you’re eating it. Most of the time we take a bite, then talk with people at the table and stop noticing the food as it continues to go in.

I’m not saying ignore the people you’re with (which, hopefully, is limited to people in your immediate household this year). Simply: pay attention to the food. Instead of “needing” to gorge because it’s so good!, take time to notice its goodness. Be as aware of the second and third bites as the first.

Consider the possibility of being completely satisfied with the meal without being overfull.

This is completely counter to the culture, where Thanksgiving (and every day, but for now—Thanksgiving) is a celebration of excess. Where we give thanks for what we have and go shopping to have more. Where being overfull and uncomfortable is a badge of honor and being moderate is being a buzzkill.

Maybe the culture has it wrong. Be the change.

P.S. As I’ve preached before: exercise is not punishment for eating. Exercise because it makes you feel good and/or because it’s part of self-care. Eat, in this case, because you enjoy it. (The rest of the time because you want to fuel yourself for maximum energy and health and/or because it’s part of self-care.) They aren’t opposite sides of a scale.

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, vulnerability

Political ads—a long series of teachable moments

Like everyone (I assume) in the US, we’ve been inundated with political ads.

We don’t watch TV, so that helps. But the volume of postcards has been ridiculous.

In particular, we received a postcard most days for several weeks, telling us the evils of one specific (not presidential) candidate.

If I didn’t know the state-level politics, I wouldn’t even know from all this mail who he was running against.

We pulled another one of these pieces of trash out of our mailbox, and The Kid shared what he’s learned about these ads:

“It’s not good to say all bad things about your opponent. It means you have nothing good to say about yourself.”

Good call, little dude.

We expanded that conversation to include other kids being mean and having nothing good to say about you (or others).

“Because they have nothing good to say about themselves?”

Yep. Which doesn’t mean they have nothing good about them, just they don’t see it in themselves.

You know how sometimes, you feel like everything about you is wrong? Everyone feels like that sometimes. But some kids have parents who don’t tell them that those feelings aren’t true, and they start to believe them more and more. Or some kids have parents who tell them that those things are true, which of course is incorrect, but you can’t expect a little kid to know that, and they grow up to believe there’s nothing good about them.

He understood.

Those kids grow up and become adults who have nothing good to say about themselves and instead rely on saying bad things—true or untrue—about others. We don’t need political attack ads to see this daily. We do need to do two things to remedy it.

One: teach children that they’re worthy and lovable, even when they make mistakes, even when they make bad choices, even when you’re impatient—because it’s not about you.

Two: help people who haven’t learned that heal. Whether you think they deserve compassion or not (again, not about you). Because we’ll all be better if more people feel whole.

Posted in education, know better do better, mindset, parenting

Handy Smurf

A combination of misc details from around life recently…

We have Smurf glasses (think 80s McDonalds collectibles) and The Kid was asking about Smurfs.

One of the glasses features Handy Smurf which got me to thinking about how he was my favorite, and how I would pretend to be him when I was a kid, walking around with my invisible tool belt on and building invisible things. (This also gave me a little bit of insight about my kid playing similar solitary imaginative games. I had forgotten about doing this specifically.)

When I was in late elementary school, my parents put an addition onto the house. My grandfather did some of the work (mainly electrical, as I recall, but it was a long time ago), and I wanted to watch and/or help.

No. Girls don’t do that. (Which is weird, honestly, because my mom and her two sisters worked with him when they were kids.)

I did my science project that year on electrical circuits. (And got a mediocre grade on the presentation because I stood with my back to the class too much. The things that stick…)

What if those interests were cultivated?

(I would still love to be able to build things out of wood. And of course I would love to be able to change some of the questionable electrical at the house.)

A friend posted a lovely story about her kid on Facebook and said that the kid came like that (meaning it’s not her parenting that bestowed these good qualities in the kid).

My response was that while the kid might have shown up with those factory settings, as the parent, she has cultivated—or left space and given guidance for the child to cultivate—those qualities.

It seems that everyone has some spark in them that their parents or societal expectations have tried to extinguish, possibly have turned it into a point of shame. I know so many people who are working to own some piece of themselves that was consistently degraded. Something that they now always dismiss or second-guess or have that subtle constant underlying doubt or would love to do but “can’t.”

If you have no examples in our own life, you’re lucky!

Do a favor for the next generation.

Let them try. Let them explore. You never know where it will lead … even if it’s simply to an adult with less baggage.