"It'll work itself out fine. All we need is just a little patience." ~ Guns-N-Roses
I get asked often how I learned to "read between the lines." People wondered aloud about their child/parent/spouse being a lock. They want to find the correct combination to get another person to talk or open up about what they think and feel, but are at a loss. I am not always successful, but one thing I have learned is that people do communicate clearly what they think and feel. Unfortunately, we get too focused on the details and lose sight of what is happening.
Confession time. Halloween is an important holiday in my family. It's been that way for generations. My grandparents started a trick or treat system to insure that their children could visit safe homes, out in the country, for candy. The idea of one pickup truck with a few children (in the 1950's) morphed into a full on, multigenerational, house to house caravan with over a dozen pick-up trucks. Although we don't organize a caravan for trick or treating, we do put on a show for the neighborhood. We tend to have extended family members (most dressed to the hilt) manning the yard ready to spook the little ones. Our boys have grown up at the epicenter of the event.
 My youngest son, 5 yrs old, decided back in February or March that he wanted to be a Dragon Knight for Halloween. He rattled off the details to me in machine gun fashion many, many times over the course of the last eight months. He wanted wings, “That go like this” (as he spreads his arms to their full extension to the sides). He wanted a helmet, “With horns.” He wanted armor, “That has red on it to scare the other kids. They’ll think it’s blood.” Yes, he knew what he wanted.
Over the years, I have learned that children change their minds... often. So, I left it alone. However, his story stayed consistent. He wanted wings, horns on his helmet, and armor. I saw the looming October 31st deadline stomping closer and closer. I decided to get a start on the costume to see if I could meet his expectations. 
Since the origin of the idea appeared to blossom from his desire to have wings, I chose that as my starting point. If I couldn't get those, then I knew I needed to shift into damage control. He accompanied me to the hardware store and was my shadow as I created the bones from the PVC pipes. He was active and proud of the work and asked questions and made comments. I felt a sense of pride that I manifested the object from my son's mental concept, "Yeah, Dad!"
Next up, the helmet. I knew horns were a must, but the remaining details were fuzzy. I prowled images from anywhere trying to find the balance between doable and the 5 yr old's imagination. After a couple of second-born-son vetoes, I was off to races. I measured his skull and measured the pieces. I asked him to be the model. The first couple of times he complied. I glued and taped the structure and braces. I wanted it to fit his head comfortably. However, he became less and less interested in the project. He even said, "I'll try it on later."
Side note: Making costumes is not my job. In fact, this was a free afternoon. I could have watched football or, I don't know, ANYTHING else. 
I asked him, "Do you want a helmet?" He calmly replied, "No." The air stopped in my throat. I stood up and went to work on another house project. I realized that it was a long weekend and he was likely behind on sleep and (knowing him) hungry. So, rather than flip out, I moved on. Later, I decided (on my own) that he wanted a helmet, but was being argumentative (a common trait for a 5 yr old). So, I worked on it after he went to bed. 
The next evening, as I sat on the floor taping and gluing pieces on to the mask, I saw my shadow. He hovered and talked. He asked questions and told me stories about what he was going to do with the costume. I asked, "Do you want to try it on?" He agreed. After he gave it back and I made some changes to the fit he said, "Last night that wasn't very cool looking. It's getting better."
There it was. He didn't approve of the look. Of course, he didn't understand that what he objected to was the framing, not the finished project. It is similar to someone traveling to New York City and not liking the Empire State Building because of the I-beams and welds used.  
Believe me, the helmet is not the Empire State Building, but I had a true moment of clarity. My son was very clear with his thoughts - through his actions. We could only be so lucky as to have people tell us directly what they think of our work and relationships. He didn't know how to tell his father he didn't like the helmet. In fact, I asked him a direct question of if he wanted a helmet. He told me, "No." I gave him an opening and he took it. That was easier than trying to correct the helmet laced with, what he saw were grave, errors. 
As you work, as you try to accomplish something with your teammates, keep in mind, you have to continually read the situation. It's not just about the single task. People's actions are measurable. They mean something. Give them credit for acting. You may need to come to grips with they are telling you something you really don't want to hear. Maybe taking that extra second to look around will help you navigate a trying time and enlist more feedback before you potentially burn a bridge.
 
 
"Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable."George S. Patton 
Believe it or not, but psychological counseling is often misunderstood. This last week provided me with perspectives of people who are wary of not only the practice of psychological therapy, but also the influence of psychological concepts. First, a very public situation, an interview with former NFL player Kyle Turley on a sports talk show (audio of Highly Questionable at 6:55) when he discussed the need to seek help to handle his depressive symptoms. Second, during a meeting, a coach referred to psychological concepts akin to "holding hands and singing Kumbayah." Finally, a student asked for clarification about how therapy could help someone if counseling is the result of a therapist manipulating a situation. 
Not exactly glowing support for the field of psychology. I thought it fitting to provide a framework for what can happen in a session. Many times, the fear of what occurs in a counseling session can prevent a person from making the call. Some facts to consider: 
  1. Counseling is confidential. Your personal information is not shared with others unless you provide written consent. If you enter a professional's office, what you say in that office is up to you, but anything you do say is not released or talked about without your permission. For example, if a concerned mother of an adult client calls to check up on the sessions' progress, I am not permitted to acknowledge that he/she is a client (let alone discuss specifics of what is said). Now, there are limitations to the confidentiality. If there is abuse, a threat to self or others, or a court subpoena, then information is exchanged with the proper authorities. 
  2. Modern therapy is often directed by the client's goals, not the therapist's desire to learn personal and secretive information. Entering a counseling relationship is typically a result of a person trying to improve a particular aspect of his/her life. Therefore, the client sets the goal of therapy. Depending on the therapist, or clinic, there can be a number of strategies for gathering background information, but it is not intended to be a violation of personal barriers. It is an attempt to understand how you think and feel about things. Ultimately, you are the expert on your own life, the counselor wants to be helpful. Sometimes the best way to support you is to have more of the story (your story) explained. 
  3. Yes, there are many similarities in how people deal with their experiences. However, each person does have a unique view and history. A counselor is not trying to MAKE you do anything. The more awareness you have of your thoughts and actions, the more likely you will feel better about your decisions. 
  4. Evaluating your own thoughts and behaviors is difficult work. Counseling is not easy. Counseling is NOT a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength. An athlete works tirelessly to improve and remove areas of weakness. This is a parallel to how counseling can work. You find a deficiency and actively try to correct the problem. The therapist is an expert in communication and relationships and can help you trace a new pattern for you to meet your goals.
  5. Counselors are human. He/she will make mistakes and misunderstand. However, that person is willing to work to correct them to better help you. The counseling session is the beginning of a therapeutic relationship. You will receive honest feedback and learn that you can also disclose your honest reactions to him/her. Very few things in life are as powerful as honesty.
  6. Therapists use different theories and techniques. If you are curious about something, ask. More than likely, the person sitting across from you will be direct about the reasons behind the suggestion. 
I know that simple statements about the practice of counseling will not remove the strong stigma surrounding the practice of psychology, but it may help. If our culture decides to support preventative treatment, we may see a sharp decline of trauma and the ripples that follow. Life is a tough game. Sometimes we need to call a time out and consult with a person who can help reframe the situation. 
 
 
"We wrote down another vision of us. We were the challengers of the unknown."  ~ A.C. Newman
This is the 5th week of the college semester. This last week or so set the stage for a majority of the students to take their first wave of exams and receive feedback - for better or worse. For those who are in their last year of college, this next stretch ushers in another hopeful period of planning and scheming for future life styles. For example, a large number of students are eyeing further training through graduate school. These students are accomplished at the college level and want to extend their training into new specified areas like medicine, law, or business. 
A person facing a new chapter usually feels a spike in anxiety or concern. The doubts about choosing the right path are understandable. So many pieces appear to be hinged on one act, one choice, one decision. It's enough to make most of us break out in a sweat. In fact, some people feel frozen, immobilized, from action. They experience paralysis from analysis. Their minds fill with all of the options and opportunities that they feel a sense of drowning. That delays their decision and also adds more stress with each day.  
I know goal setting has sat as the focus for the last few weeks, so let's presume that the person in question has properly set goals and decided on the final two or three options. For sake of argument we will also pretend that the options appear to be equal on all fronts - pay, upward mobility, security, etc.. So, what does that do for the person who needs to act? The employer, graduate program, or recruiter wants an answer. Too much delay at this time will spoil the spot and it will be offered to another person. How do you choose between seemingly equal alternatives?
The real question is, what is keeping you from deciding? Most likely, you want to have a warm, fuzzy feeling letting you know it's all going to work out. You used logic to get close to the finish line, but now the options are logically equal. Therefore, the logic served it's purpose, but now it is not a fitting tactic. If the logic would have taken you to the ultimate choice, you would be finished. Since it didn't, you have to change tactics. So, what else is there besides logic? Well, feeling.
Yes, that's right, feeling. I am not talking about sitting in a circle, holding hands, and sharing emotional stories. I am referring to the ability to attend to the internal dialog that you have with yourself. Take a moment and allow yourself to be in the moment of accepting the position. Allow yourself to project your reaction when you tell your friends and family about the choice. Which situation feels the most comfortable, exciting, secure, or whatever you desire from the place? Remember the interactions you had with the people at the organization? What reaction did you have with them? Did they seem to mesh well with you? Are you interested in working with them? The focus on your internal reactions, also called intuition, can guide your wobbly legs into the new venture.  
The combination of logic and intuition will serve as proper navigation tools through life's ever changing currents. In the end, pay attention to those who want you with them. Ultimately, go where you are wanted. You will find that they will appreciate your talents and skills and allow you to be yourself. That leads to increased satisfaction and enjoyment. In turn, you will have more resources to create the resilience required to correct a crisis (because they will emerge). Change is good, embrace the adventure. 
 
 
"Maybe stories are just data with a soul." - Brene Brown
It's funny to me how themes seem to bubble to the top of the different aspects of my experiences. This last 10 day period was filled with exciting, but mentally laborious work. I did a decent job staying on task and fulfilling my obligations and commitments, but more than once I caught myself wondering about the end goal. Why am I working so hard on something I know so well? 
The answer hit me - people are very focused on their personal process of an experience, but overlook the systematic pieces that exist. What I mean is that I can focus so sharply on creating a lecture that I lose sight of the audience's need or level of understanding. For example, this week I guest lectured on the topic of success. The required course reading Outliers provided a number of great questions for the first year college students who filled the auditorium. However, I felt stuck. The internal conflict, for me, was to find a strategy to introduce a new topic and concept to the students, but not go too smarty-pants so they lost sight of the material. 
Like a rototiller, I churned the lecture along, but I kept the other parts of my life moving. I met with clients, sport teams, and completed evaluations and reports. The concept that continued to float to the top was choosing a new path, or action, based on data. Data can be intimidating. People make careers out of understanding numbers, but it's rare that those same people know how to talk to others about what the numbers mean. So, what happens is that those who know the numbers are flustered when their audience can't follow their logic or rationale for action. Another way to look at it is if you use the data to set a goal, all of the outside information is less important. You have your goal, just get there.
A consulting example... A coach asked me about performance consistency for his team. We talked about the team goal. We determined a strategy for the players to continually measure their success on each play. In a sense, we were creating a game within a game for the players and coaches. Rather than only looking at the score, they shifted their attention to other immediately available pieces of information. This provided them with ongoing feedback. We turn to the data for help. 
In soccer, the statistics show that the typical score percentage is 10%. So, if you want to score 2 goals, the team should take 20 shots (10% of 20 is 2). Ultimately, each run on goal, we want to score, but a missed shot still accomplishes something. This shifts a missed shot from a failure category (missed goal) to a success category (proper shot). What is the result for the players? They acknowledge good shots. They feel pride in creating and executing a good shot. Of course a goal is worth celebrating, but more importantly our players are focused on a more immediate outcome and can overlook whatever obstacle may appear (bad calls, injuries, substitutions, etc.). Focusing on the successful repetition will create a stronger surge when compared to hoping to NOT do something. In simple terms - We want the player to say internally, "Take a good shot. Take a good shot." That progresses the player toward the goal. This is a very different process than the internal thought, "Don't miss. Don't miss." Which moves the player away from the goal. 
When you are looking to make an improvement or change, use the data you have. If you lack data, take the time to determine what is central to the endeavor's success. Once you know the bones of what will help the cause, find a way to measure it. Your created data will help you prioritize the pieces that need to be kept, improved, or changed. In the end, successful thoughts lead to more success.
 

Update

09/06/2013

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I will post a new entry as soon as possible. This week had many components working all at once. A few times a year I get to see a whirlwind of activity form many different fronts. This week is one of them. The week included teaching, counseling, lecturing (250+ people), court testimony, administering college exams, completing psychological evaluations, sport consultation, book marketing, and committee meetings. I really do enjoy the different flavors in my life. 
Be back soon. 
 
 
"The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity. ~ Ayn Rand 
Did you know that our culture likes to voice opinions loudly? I know, shocking! Look at the recent boom of information connected to the announcement that Ben Affleck is the new Batman. There is reaction and there is countering, but either way, people are sharing their views. 
This last week included the start of the college semester, the beginning of my boys' school, meeting with sport teams, and other tasks (like working in the attic). I have found that many of the problems that people deal with relates to how well they can handle confrontation, disappointment, and ultimately success. 
Of the three experiences listed, success usually raises eyebrows. How can success be a bad thing? Why wouldn't someone want to have success? One word - Expectations. Successfully performing serves as fertile ground for people to expect you to perform again. If you are unaware that people notice successful acts, you could be overwhelmed at the amount of pressure that can creep into your thoughts. 
An enjoyable job, sport, or performance can quickly morph into a stressful requirement; sucking your time, energy, and enjoyment at every turn. In fact, some people are so bothered by the stress that they make excuses for losing before they start. Thus, barring a meltdown by the opponent, they will not have to worry about winning. They can wrap themselves in the "I tried hard" mantra. They can bask in the warm sympathy of some excuse as to why they didn't perform well. 
Optimizing your mental preparation is central to performing at your best and sidestepping the unruly, unneeded expectations of others. There are a few steps to proper preparation. First, you need to account for what is the core of your performance. Are you a singer who needs to feel the mood? Are you a ball player who needs to touch the ball to be ready to play? Are you a manager who needs to know that your decisions are based on strong logic? What is your go to, or core, skill. If the wheels come off and you are scrambling, knowing your best, and most reliable, skill will help you correct the situation. For example, if you are a tennis player and you need one shot to get you back on track, what is it? This settles the mind. You can remind yourself that you have a skill that can jumpstart other areas of your game.
Second, you need to keep yourself in the moment. You can't change what just happened. You don't know what will be next. However, you can take advantage of the current situation and make it work. Recenter your thoughts to be locked to the situation right now. For example, a person who knows his/her best skill can perform at a high level when given an opportunity, even if unplanned.
Finally, you need to practice seeing yourself perform well. Yes, use your imagination and practice seeing yourself do exactly what you want to do. Work this vision over and over again, until it is perfect. Run it again and again, over the course of days until you can perfectly play it from beginning to end. This mental practice, no more than 10 minutes a day, leads you to be prepared when the opportunity does appear. If you can sustain 10 minutes of intense focus on your core skill, presence of thought, and vision you will see a dramatic jump in your performance. 
Work on the focus. Feel the moment. Grab the opportunity when it is available. In the meantime, don't be too upset with Ben Affleck if he doesn't respond to the heavy expectations of the Batman ideal.
 
 
"Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success." ~ Henry Ford
The Pulver household is abuzz with barely contained energy. I'm pretty sure I could heat my house in the winter months if I could figure out how to harness the kinetic energy bouncing around. My eldest child, a grizzled, veteran entering third grade, leisurely waltzes into his new class and doles out suggestions and advice to his fresh, green-behind-the-ears kindergartener brother. Although they are at different beginnings, they are both very excited. 
All over the nation, students gather supplies, buy new duds, and hold their breath as they cross the threshold into their new experiences. Regardless of whether we are talking about a kindergartener or a senior in college, the starting point only happens once. As parents, educators, and coaches, our responsibility to these people is at the highest point on these start dates. There are other important times, but these starting points are of high value. 
We are there to help structure and process the transition. To help keep the natural energy from falling flat. Imagine this: A first year college student walks into her first classroom on the first morning of the semester. She arrived 10 minutes early, just in case she got herself lost or turned around on campus. She selects the chair that feels right and sits. She arranges her textbook and notepad to allow for easy note taking and page turning. The class fills around her, but the class is full of other first semester students - they smile and nod at each other, but are too shy to speak. Happily, she waits for the professor to walk through the door. Minutes pass - no professor. Just at the turn of the hour, a person walks through the door and all the nervous movement stops. The woman dryly reports that she is the administrative secretary and posts the sign - Class Canceled, Please Check Your Email.
Is this the end of the world? No. Is the professor a bad person? Not likely. However, the excitement of that first class, on that first day only happens once. We must be sensitive to that. 
Our culture operates heavily in the realm of reciprocity - or mirroring exchanges. If you smile and greet another person, he/she will likely respond in kind. Of course, it is not 100%, but our culture does follow the rule pretty well. What you offer to others, they will feel compelled to return to you. 
Most first times are nervous endeavors. Waiting for the initial class, first team meeting, or even the introduction to the new roommate are all, usually, laced with tension. These situations, the new settings, new people, and new experiences are electric. Electricity altered the course of human existence, but it also causes damaging fires every year. You need to act as the transformer and properly channel the electrical current to power the experience, not burn the place to the ground. This may be your 20th year teaching, but it's the first with the group in front of you. Embrace their desire to try something new. Allow their natural curiosity to inspire you to aid in their proper transition into their new chapter. 
In the end, your excitement to create a positive experience for those around you will ignite the energy of those who are looking to you for guidance. However, if you ever have any doubts, ask a 3rd grader. They have all the answers.
 
 
"While we are postponing, life speeds by." ~ Seneca
Returning from my conference and preparing for the upcoming months of teaching, I came face to face with the reality of consequences. Nothing brings the effects of decision making to the surface like the realization that one act can alter the course of your life. 
Let me give you an example. A young professional received an invitation to take a new position. This, on the surface was exciting, but the person felt a high level of anxiety and stress. Anxiety and Stress are a result of internal conflict. What is so stressful about getting a job offer in one's chosen field? What if you leave your pastures and find that the new ones are not greener? Will you hurt the feelings of those you leave behind? What if your offer provides for your transition, but makes it difficult for your family? These are all legitimate reasons to feel some trepidation. So, getting a job offer is too stressful and we shouldn't seek to better our situations? No, but we have to plan for it. Honestly, if you slow down your internal dialog, you will see that you have created a plan. You just need to execute it.
Each decision we make moves us closer to, or farther from, a goal we have set for ourselves (Thinking about that will spike your heart rate). To avoid freaking out that every decision has long lasting ripples, you need to simplify the process. You make decisions every day without thinking about it. Let's pretend that you are eyeing a promotion in your company. You know that performing well on a project will catch the eye of the administration. If you really wanted to earn the promotion, your behaviors should line up with that goal. Remember, the goal is to hit it out of the park on the project.  Who do you share your meals with at lunch? What did you eat for lunch? Did you drink caffeine? These seem like inconsequential things, but they are not. Let's break it down... Eating alone can give you time to unwind and process your morning. That is very different than eating with a disgruntled workmate who spends the time complaining and spreading negative energy. Eating a light, healthy lunch will impact your afternoon's performance compared to eating a large, greasy (although yummy) burger. Drinking caffeine will boost your energy and stimulate your brain's processing. 
Does that mean you need to eat a salad, alone, at Starbucks? Nope. It does mean that if you are finding it hard to get motivated to complete the project (the key to your future in the company), that you are likely not really interested in the promotion. You are acting according to something other than the reward of a promotion. Which could indicate that you need to define (or uncover) your values. For example, if you want to help others and be competitive, that may be a tough find in one position. On the other hand, if you value helping people and feeling like you are part of a community, you could readily find positions that meet both values. 
If you want to determine your values there are a couple of ways to do it. First strategy, take a moment and think of the perfect day. What are the career duties? What do you do with your friends and loved ones? Where are you? How do the days fit together? These are the pieces that you must analyze. If you really look at the aspects, the values will come into focus. 
Second, if you are new to the idea of values (especially with career goals) use this list
  • A) Pick twenty values from the list. 
  • B) Imagine that you have $10,000 to spend.
  • C) Assign dollar amounts to the values according to the their importance to you
This exercise helps bring your priorities into focus. Once you know what values are important to you, the decisions that follow become a bit easier to track. 
In the end, you want to make major life decisions by falling back on the values that are important to you. Pick the path that moves you closer to the ideal outcome; the position that reflects your perfect day. Even if the decision ends up being a misfire, feeling good about your process will help you learn from the experience. On the flip side, knowing what you treasure will keep you primed to grasp the opportunities when they present themselves.
 
 
I am attending a number of workshops this week at the American Psychological Association's National Convention. The specialty trainings I chose include: Psychological Ethics, Concussion Treatment, Gifted and Talented Students, Sport Psychology, and Effective Therapy Strategies. 
I expect a return to the regular routine with blogging and updates on 8/11/13.
In other news, I learned that my novel made Smashwords premium catalog on the first submission. This means that distributors, like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple will have it in their catalogs in the coming weeks. 
Mahalo!
 
 
"I thought I was going nowhere. Now I can see there was a pattern." ~ Kate DiCamillo
I recently attended my wife's high school class reunion. Other than my lovely, social butterfly, wife, I knew exactly two other people attending (and I think I talked to each of those people one time before that night - so, I was flying blind). I spent the evening shaking hands and smiling, but I entertained myself by observing the social behaviors of those around me.  I watched how the classmates greeted, overlooked, conversed, and transitioned from each other.  Many of the people in attendance had little to no face to face contact since graduating many years ago, but they fell into well grooved interaction styles. It was safe to say that some were indeed acting like teenagers again (for better or worse). I decided that many of the people followed what I have since termed as the reunion routine. They didn't know the adult standing in front of them, but did know that person from years ago. They simply interacted with the person by following their old pattern. A simple action and reaction.
<Side note: I know this is EXACTLY what people fear psychologists do at social gatherings. If you want to kill a conversation, innocently let it slip that you are a psychologist. You can usually set your watch to how quickly the person remembers another thing to do and flutters away. But I digress...>  
We follow patterns in our daily lives. We have simple life routines. We step along well positioned stones that lead us easily to our morning coffee, office small talk, grocery shopping, and work tasks. We have a typical fashion. For example, I can prepare my lunch (from scratch) in 120 seconds. I can get out of bed and be to my office within 25 minutes. I know this - It's my routine. 
The routine is efficient. It saves you from wasting energy wondering what you should do. It allows you to act and move forward. So, routine is good. Routine is comfortable. Of course, there is a down side to this comfort and efficiency. It can stifle creativity and growth. Many call this a plateau. It is a term to represent a gain of something, but without a peak. It progresses to a point and then levels. Ultimately leaving us feeling let down, stuck, or lost. 
People write, discuss, and try to break through multiple kinds plateaus: exercise, dieting, skill building, and emotional. We have to recognize when our routines fall short of successful returns. Continually using a faulty routine is a recipe for continued frustration. Sometimes you have to tear the routine apart. The fear of not knowing the pattern forces you to try something new. Revitalizing your senses will reawaken your problem solving abilities. 
This sounds easy, but change can be painful. I will use a physical example to represent what I mean; my work outs. I hit a stuck point in my strength. My routine was effective for getting me a number of improvements, but I stopped seeing the desired results (I stopped increasing weight, repetitions, or sets). I decided to change everything for a full 14 days. All different exercises, durations, and distances have led to my body giving me very real, and painful, feedback. I feel sore. I'm sore walking, sitting, standing, and even sleeping. When I finish this shake up in another week, I will be able to build more on top of the new foundation I set. My gains should begin anew. 
It's the same way with our performance, relationships, and even our own attitudes. Sometimes the key to improving is embedded in changing the pattern. When you change the pattern, you will have direct feedback. Often the immediate feedback is unpleasant and potentially painful. I recommend three things: First, recognize that you are not starting from nothing. The plateau is a flat spot after an elevation. That means you are better off than where you were. Second, you feel stuck because you want more. Tap into that intuition and really flush out what your end goal is. A willy-nilly shake-up is frustrating to you and those around you. Finally, be clear about how you are measuring the improvements. Be objective and clear with yourself about what constitutes progress. That framework will provide you with consistent feedback for continued motivation.
Enjoy your patterns - they are useful - but don't be afraid to try something new to experience new heights of success.