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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Lately I’ve realized some interesting patterns in my thoughts. Through a lot of self-reflection, I’ve learned that I deeply want to be good and do the right thing.  This is commonly called perfectionism, but actually “being good” is most important for me.  It’s not that I need to be perfect or have others view me as such, but I strive to always do the right thing which then provides a sense of being good. 

The thought pattern I’ve witnessed on several occasions goes something like this:

First, someone communicates a situation to me wherein I perceive they think I did something wrong. And, due to my hyper sense of responsibility, this potential error can be something incredibly small and insignificant!

Next, my mind starts spinning stories in an attempt to regain my sense of “being good”.  My thoughts reframe the situation to retain my sense of rightness. In other words, self-justification kicks into overdrive!

Often, this story involves discrediting the person who communicated the situation or mistake to me.  As in, if they’re wrong then I can be right. There’s a very unhealthy black/white, right/wrong dynamic at play when this is happening. Then, in a vicious cycle, I then start feeling badly about myself for thinking uncharitable thoughts about this person.   

Recognizing this has been very powerful!  I can now step back and observe this thought pattern instead of getting all fused with the stories my mind is telling me. 

As I’ve talked to several friends and family members about this thought pattern, I’ve learned that most people have routine stories they spin.  For some, whenever they perceive a need they deeply feel that they must meet it for other people.  Others routinely confront injustices and feel called to right the wrongs they encounter. 

We all tell ourselves stories in an attempt to make sense of the world around us.  Reframing has become a popular idea and is defined as a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning.  Our reality is partially shaped by these stories that we craft and then believe.   

I successfully reframed a situation last week.  Sienna’s class is going to Williamsburg next March and she desperately wanted me to go as a chaperone.  I’d applied, along with several other parents.  Due to the ratio of girls and boys they ended up selecting two moms from her class to chaperone (along with a few dads).  I worried about the situation quite a bit. I was concerned Sienna wouldn’t want to go on the trip if I wasn’t selected to chaperone.  When I learned that I would not be going on the trip, it took the better part of the day to reframe the situation. 

All along I’d been praying that God would work all things for good, so I started looking for hidden blessings in the situation.  Since the trip occurs during the spring busy season for my company, I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to manage trying to take a vacation during this stressful time of year.  Fortunately, Sienna is now open to going on the trip without me, which will be a great experience of growth for her. 

The stories we tell ourselves are not innately good or bad.  They can be helpful and useful or destructive and painful.  I think the real trick is being able to step back and observe our thoughts for what they are: stories that run through our minds.  When they help us live according to our values, we should certainly embrace the story.  But, when they cause anxiety and frustration while we attempt to control the world around us or justify ourselves, it brings great peace to let go of the story. 

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Ups and Downs in Sports and Life

The fall is my favorite time of year, and has been for as long as I can remember. I love the coziness and anticipation of the holidays.  I love pumpkin everything, wearing sweaters (now that it has finally cooled down in San Diego!) and settling in to a school routine.  Dennis and I have always loved football season, but now we have another sport to look forward to: soccer!  Mateo has played for four years now and I absolutely adore watching him play! 

He has a gracefulness and intensity on the soccer field.  As his mom, I get very emotionally involved in his games.  I cheer, scream, laugh, and sometimes even cry.  It’s the full spectrum of emotions!

A few weeks ago, his game was particularly enthralling.  First, he had an accidental hand ball in the goalie box which resulted in the other team scoring on a penalty kick early on.  I watched him respond with little emotion to this setback.  Then, later in the game, he scored two goals!  The second of which was on a corner kick he took and I miraculously caught on video!  I’m usually enjoying the game too much to take photos or videos, but I’d heard the coach tell Teo he was about to get a rest, so I figured I’d record for the last minute he was on the field. 

On the car ride home we viewed the video clip to relive the moment again.  This time, I noticed that, although it was a strong kick, the goal could largely be attributed to the goalie mishandling the ball. I felt badly for the little goalie and it reminded me of Teo’s hand ball at the beginning of the game.  Adversity in sports is constant.

With these ideas fresh in mind, I ran on the treadmill that afternoon and watched a college football game.  One highlight was a long pass downfield where the wide receiver made an exceptional play!  As he celebrated his catch, the defensive back was sprawled on the field, totally defeated.  It hit me, many moments in sports represent both an achievement and a failure. In some ways, you cannot have a high without a corresponding low.  Think about it: a pitcher striking out a batter represents his success, while the batter has failed.  Whereas, a home run represents the batter’s success and the pitcher’s failure. 

From the outside looking in, it seems clear that the victorious player is the “winner” and the defeated player is the “loser” in these moments.  However, this one moment in time could actually represent an inverse reaction. What if the wide receiver who made the amazing catch decides this play proves what a wonderful player he is and therefore he stops working so hard at practice?  What if the defensive back uses this moment of defeat to motivate himself to practice harder and grow as a player? 

Growth happens throughout our lives in so many ways.  Each moment and experience has the potential to further our growth and development.  This reminds me of the famous quote by Nelson Mandela. He said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”  Isn’t it true?  Most of the learning and growth we experience in life comes from hardships, failures, or setbacks.  When things aren’t working well is when we have to dig down deep and evaluate our behavior and actions to see where we can improve. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my role in my children’s moments of failure and hardship.  It’s important that they build resiliency and the ability to learn from their mistakes and try again.  When I jump in to soften a failure or manage their feelings, I’m actually robbing them of the fuel to learn and grow.  Those moments of adversity are important teachers. Actually, Teo demonstrated this growth mindset during that soccer game. When I asked him, “How’d you feel after the penalty kick?” he replied, “Oh, it was okay. I just figured, we’ll have to go score some goals.”

My Awakening, Uncategorized

Supernatural Common Sense

Through all of these years of personal growth and letting go of control, I continually fall into an illusion that I can somehow perfect life by always doing the right thing. Time and again, I’ve had to realize the trap I’d fallen into and slowly, intentionally return to a place of surrender and rest in God. Part of acceptance is learning not to shame myself for this pattern. Instead, I try to be gentle with myself and return to the mindfulness techniques of prayerfully letting go of my thoughts and allowing my feelings to come and go.

I recently finished Thomas Merton’s No Man Is an Island, which I marked up extensively! Reading it, I a similar feeling that I had when reading Ronald Roleheiser’s Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears. Merton expresses such simple but profound truths about the human condition and our relationship to God. One quote that I highlighted with an “Awesome!” comment in the margin was: “If we are too anxious to find absolute perfection in created things we cease to look for perfection where alone it can be found: in God,” (p. 128). This reminds me of when Rolheiser said “Our world teaches us that we are significant and precious, but then deprives us of the one thing that can make us so, God. This sets off an incurable ache,” (Forgotten Among the Lilies, p. 20)

These simple statements ring with such truth in my experience! The further I stray from God and being mindful of His will and ways, the more I focus on myself and strive to perfect the world around me (as if it was within my power to perfect anything!). Merton also says:

In order to find God in ourselves, we must stop looking at ourselves, stop checking and verifying ourselves in the mirror of our own futility, and be content to be in Him and to do whatever He wills, according to our limitations, judging our acts not in the light of our own illusions, but in the light of His reality which is all around us in the things and people we live with.

No Man is an island, 120.

God is so mighty and righteous that our feeble minds scarcely can conceive of His greatness. There is a deep peace that only comes from recognizing God’s perfection and our relative weakness. Our society generally sends a message of self-actualization that, while attempting to empower us, actually intensifies our anxiety and sense of powerlessness. We cannot do it all, have it all, or be it all in this lifetime. Recognizing our limitations and resting in God’s provision for us brings such peace.

Merton describes this concept of Christian humility as “first of all a matter of supernatural common sense.” He goes on to explain that “it teaches us to take ourselves as we are, instead of pretending (as pride would have us imagine) that we are something better than we are.” I love this! I find such irony in the fact that embracing my limitations, weakness and sinfulness provides the peace and security that the world fails to impart through self-esteem and self-empowerment. Merton concludes, “If we really know ourselves we quietly take our proper place in the order designed by God.” Amen.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we discern God’s will in our lives. He calls us to act and fulfill vocations within His kingdom, so we clearly have to do more than simply rest! Being present and really seeing the people around me is the best way I know to love and serve them. Prayerfully maintaining this supernatural common sense that reminds me of my neediness for God, also allows me to extend grace and love to others.

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The Joy and Angst of Film Viewing

Yesterday afternoon, Dennis and I were trying to decide on a movie to see for our date night that evening. One of our favorite babysitters, Grace, is home from college for the summer; so we scheduled a date night just to have her babysit one more time! Going to the movies requires a bit more planning these days as all our local theaters have assigned seats. It’s a cool change, but you have to plan ahead unless you don’t mind craning your neck from the front row!

We’d heard good things about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but I was a bit dubious. I’m not a Quentin Tarantino fan. My attempt at watching Kill Bill several years ago was quickly abandoned when the violence and disturbing images became too much for me. Visual images REALLY stick with me. I’ve been haunted by many movies over the years. My brother is an independent film producer but there are many of his films I cannot bring myself to see. I’ll force myself to endure something disturbing for my brother, not so much for Mr. Tarantino.

But, in an effort to embrace “feeling my feelings” (this is the same logic that caused me to watch The Shining a few years ago – a decision I’ve regretted ever since!) I said, “Let’s go for it!” and we purchased two tickets online. Then, I decided to Google “How much violence is in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and found several reviews. Turns out that most of the violence is saved for the end of the movie, during the scenes of the Manson murders. As I read a few reviews, I was already repulsed.

“What was I thinking? I can’t watch this movie!” I exclaimed to Dennis.

“Okay, we don’t have to. Can you get a refund?” he replied.

Turns out, you can! I quickly clicked on the Fandango link and chose the “Our plans have changed” option. You forfeit your convenience fee, but the ticket price can be refunded. Whew, what a relief!

We decided to see the romantic comedy Yesterday instead – much more our pace! It was a delightful little film! The premise is a struggling musician in England has a head injury and wakes up in a world without The Beatles. His manager and longtime friend Ellie stands by his side as he recovers and starts performing The Beatles’ songs in local pubs. Jack ends up becoming super famous for these songs and he has to decide whether to continue with this lie or return to a more fulfilling, smaller life back in England.

I’m not a big fan of The Beatles. I know that’s not a popular thing to say! I just didn’t listen to them very much growing up and haven’t listened to a lot of their music since. But, of course everyone knows their songs! Seeing this movie gave me a new appreciation for their music. I also loved the quirky dynamic between the two main characters – Jack and Ellie. And best of all, I had a lovely restful night without being haunted by scary images. To thine own self be true!

Home and Family, My Awakening, Uncategorized

Tender Moments Abound

Yesterday evening, Dennis, Teo and I did a boxing workout in our very hot garage.  The guys had been talking about getting a heavy bag for months and then they went on sale at the local sporting goods store. So, they got their wish and a 100 pound heavy bag now dominates our garage.  When the kids were up in Humboldt earlier this summer, I did my first workout with Dennis and really enjoyed it!

With the Rocky soundtrack in the background, we rotated rounds on the bag and I got such a kick out of watching Mateo punch!  He is pretty coordinated and loves all kinds of physical activity.  It’s really cool to watch the dynamic when Dennis is teaching Teo how to do something or encouraging his efforts. Teo really likes to do what’s expected and do it well.  When I’m teaching him something, I can feel our inner perfectionists colliding and it doesn’t bring out the best in either of us.  Whereas, Dennis is just matter-of-fact and unemotional as he coaches and teaches. I feel such peace when they’re interacting, like I can just step back and rest.

Taking in the moment, I couldn’t help but lament at how big Mateo looks now – especially while wailing away on a 100 pound heavy bag!  At one point Dennis and I locked eyes after he’d just reminded Teo to “Keep your wrist straight!” and we both smiled.  There’s truly nothing like the bond of two parents sharing love and devotion for this particular child.  I quipped, “These are the days of our lives” and Dennis solemnly nodded.  This is our shorthand for reminding ourselves that we’re going to look back on these days with longing when the kids grow up and leave our nest.

Later in the evening, I sat in the reading chair in our bedroom while Sienna was in the shower.  Suddenly, through the noise of falling water, I noticed she was singing “True Colors”.  Oh how I love her sweet singing voice!  I put my book down and just listened, knowing I was fortunate to hear this private moment.  My mom is a singer and she has encouraged Sienna to sing, praising her beautiful voice.  I’ve also encouraged her, but she’s reluctant to perform in front of people.  I reflected on her nervousness about performing as I listened to her sing:

I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful 

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This morning, Sienna has to get up early for math tutoring so I went into her room to wake her up.  As I gently stroked her face, she smiled and asked me to stay a minute.  I cuddled up next to her and kept running my hand over her forehead.  The lyrics to “True Colors” were still running through my head, so I softly sang the chorus to her.

“I sure loved hearing you sing last night,” I told her.

“I love you too, Mommy” she replied.

There are so many sweet, sacred moments of connection available to us each day.  I can often get caught up in the routines of work, household chores, exercise, preparing meals, reading, and all the rest.  When I slow down and pay full attention to the present, to my family and the life unfolding around me, tender moments abound.

Home and Family, My Awakening, Uncategorized

A More Meaningful Morning…

I have a little buddy with me at the office today.  Sienna came along to work for the morning!  It’s time sheet day, so a chunk of my morning was spent reviewing time sheets and getting them submitted to payroll, so it seemed like a good morning for a visit.  She brought along her math book and a couple books to read.  We also recently discovered a math flashcard app, so she’s been practicing her multiplication facts on the phone.

It’s fun having her here!  It makes my regular routine of making coffee, reading my daily devotion, reviewing emails, and moderating the morning call with my Team all take on new meaning.  She asked about the time sheets, so I described what I was reviewing and what it all meant.  When I applied my electronic signature to the document, Sienna exclaimed “Wow, you’re good at that!”.  Oh, the innocence and enthusiasm of youth!

Family

Sometimes I look at life from my kids’ perspective and it gives the moment an entirely new meaning.  This is just another Monday in the office for me, made more fun and engaging by my daughter’s presence.  When Sienna looks back on her childhood, she’ll have fond memories of being in her mom’s office.  She had pieces of candy as part of her breakfast and made a cup of hot chocolate along with my coffee at the Keurig machine.  She’s now drawing a picture of our house and family on my whiteboard so I can look at it fondly when I’m at the office.

These sweet little moments are the good stuff.  I love being present and mindful enough to truly notice them.

Books Worth Reading, Home and Family, My Awakening, Uncategorized

Each of us is unfinished.

When Dennis and I got married, we were already nostalgic about the life that lay ahead of us.  One of our wedding songs was “Remember When” by Alan Jackson.  It’s such a sweet song about a couple looking back on the milestones of their life together, from a vantage point of their senior years.  One line says, “Remember when thirty seemed so old…” which was funny to me, being that I was just shy of 25 years old when we got married!

I’ve often been told that I’m an “old soul” and I relate to that idea.  The feeling of looking back over my life nostalgically feeds something deep within me.  I just finished reading a book that brought all this up: A Year By the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman by Joan Anderson.  It’s a memoir of Joan’s year of separation from her husband as she hunkered down in their Cape Cod cottage to rediscover herself after a lifetime of taking care of her kids, husband, house, etc.

Dennis and Kelsey

Many of the lessons Joan learns during her year by the sea felt so familiar as they echoed my own awakening.  She has a perfectionist streak that she had to release and spent a lot of time “in her head” and disconnected from her body and feelings.  A mantra that I repeat to myself often is “why don’t I wait and see…?” This is a reminder that I don’t know how I will feel later or how a situation will unfold, and I don’t have to try to control it either.  Joan says: “In the words of Picasso, ‘I find, I do not seek.’ No longer desperate to know every outcome, these days I tend to wait and see, a far more satisfying way of being that lacks specificity and instead favors experience over analysis.”  Oh, so good!

In another passage, Joan is reflecting upon her relationship with her adult sons and their wives.  She describes the challenge of knowing where she fits in their lives as her role transitions from guide to supporter.  Joan shares that her sons seem reluctant to share their struggles or failures with their parents: “It occurs to me that I will continue to know my children less if they think I want them to be more.  Seeking perfection is a terrible thing when it robs you of truth.” Although Sienna and Mateo are still many years from leaving the nest, this reminder felt so poignant.  They both want to please Dennis and me very much.  As the years unfold, I hope to communicate openness and acceptance to them, along with encouraging their striving for excellence.

For many years, my striving for control could also be described as trying to “figure everything out”.  I’d often get this unsettled, seeking feeling that I finally recognized was that desire to figure something out.  Now, I realize that no one ever has it all figured out.  Life is constantly changing.  We are constantly growing and embracing the next phase of life.  There are certainly aspects to each of us that are unchanging and constant, but life serves up plenty of new experiences, circumstances, and lessons to learn.

Joan refers to this idea as being unfinished.  I love that word!  It denotes the opposite of being “all figured out” or complete.  As she and her husband reconcile, Joan concludes her year by the sea with this line: “Like me, he is on a new path.  I can only sit by and honor what is unfinished in him – in all of us.”  This line touched my heart, as Dennis and me are embarking on a new chapter of our life together.

At the end of June, Dennis “retired” from the law firm he worked at for almost 30 years!  He’s now going to be a “stay-at-home Dad” to our children.  The timing is great as my job now involves a fair amount of travel throughout Southern California. The past few weeks we’ve spent a lot of time sharing our hopes and dreams for the future and discussing the practicalities of this change in our routine.  The feelings of partnership and commitment have overflowed.

The other night, we were watching Frozen with the kids and I cuddled in next to Dennis on the couch.  Sienna looked at us and said, “You two are so cute!”  For some reason, this little exchange was so fulfilling.  As much as we focus on our children, they will eventually grow up and start their own lives.  When they do, Dennis and me need to have a strong relationship that will help us transition into the “empty nest” stage of life.

Maybe this is the benefit of looking at your life from the “old soul” perspective of experience?  This current stage of life, as wonderful and all-consuming as it is, will eventually pass and we’ll be looking back on it nostalgically.  The relationships we’re building now will, (God willing!) be the foundations of our lives then.  All the little seeds we sow, from daily connection with our spouse, to the acceptance we show our children, we will eventually reap later in life.  Each of us is unfinished.  How exciting to watch it all unfold!

Diabetes, Uncategorized

26 Years

Today is the 26th anniversary of the day I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  Every year I mark this day on the calendar and anticipate it.  It may seem odd to “celebrate” such a tragic day in my life.  But, I see it as a time to reflect on the years I’ve spent managing this disease and give thanks for being healthy and (knock on wood) complication free after all these years.

I recently stopped using an insulin pump and returned to injections.  There wasn’t one big catalyst for this change.  My pump warranty expired several months ago and my insurance company has made a special deal with one particular pump company that I refuse to use.  I researched other pumps, but didn’t feel drawn to any of them.  I’ve been pumping for over five years, after taking a three year break when Teo was born.  I was tired of being tethered to the pump.

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One of the big virtues of pumping insulin is the ability to make small tweaks throughout the day by bolusing (delivering insulin) with the touch of a couple buttons.  The thing is, this makes it really easy to snack all throughout the day or overeat.  For example, tortilla chips at a party.  If I ended up eating more than originally planned, I can just keep delivering insulin to cover them.  I felt ready to be more intentional about my eating and injection insulin would make that a necessity.

Last time I used long acting insulin to cover my basal needs, the best option was Lantus.  I assumed that’s what I’d be using again.  But, my medical team advised that I use a newer insulin called Tresiba.  They explained that it lasts longer than 24 hours so you don’t have to be as precise about dose timing.  Also, it takes a few days to “build up” in your system to work at full capacity.

The first day of injections, my blood sugars ran high ALL day.  I was injecting fast acting insulin constantly.  It was very frustrating, but I remembered the advice about Tresiba and talked myself down.  It was such an opportunity to practice letting go of my need for control and recognizing that change and transition are going to bring emotional upheaval!  By the third day, my blood sugars ran low as the Tresbia was fully functional and I’d quickly become accustomed to bolusing extra insulin for meals.  Eventually it all leveled out and I got the hang of it.

Diabetes has had such a huge impact on my life.  When my blood sugars are high or low, it receives a lot of my mental and emotional energy.  Each time I test my blood sugar or check my continuous glucose monitoring system, the result potentially impacts my emotional state.  A “good” number (typically 80 – 160) is met with satisfaction and contentment.  Whereas a “bad” number (anything outside 80 – 160) can trigger guilt, frustration, and anger.

I sometimes ponder what came first, my desire for order and control (aka perfectionism) or Type 1 Diabetes…?  They have certainly developed simultaneously in my life.  Diabetes provides circumstances that exacerbate my desire for control.  That’s even what they extol as the great virtue of diabetes management: being under control!  However, diabetes also provides many daily opportunities to let go of perfectionism and reject the judgments of personal worth based on the current data point of my blood sugar.

While diabetes can be very demanding, there are many times when it hums along in the background of my consciousness and doesn’t demand much attention.  It can be like time in that regard, while always present, it can also slip by without notice for periods.  Speaking of time, when I was diagnosed doctors said diabetes would be cured in five years.  That was 21 years ago.  While technology has made diabetes much easier to live with and manage, a true cure is not something I anticipate or hope for in my lifetime.  I’m sure they’ll figure out the artificial pancreas or closed-loop system at some point.

I’ve come to realize that managing diabetes will look different throughout my lifetime.    Diabetes management could involve pumping insulin, using injections, manual blood sugar testing or wearing a CGM.  Lots of ways to accomplish the same thing: know what your blood sugar is and decide how much insulin you need.  I’m not going to master one way of managing diabetes and use it forever.  Life isn’t like that, we change, grow and adapt.  This is one of the lessons that diabetes has helped me learn.

My Awakening, Uncategorized

What Feels Like Living

When I went through my “awakening” nearly six years ago and realized that I’d been “in my head” and fused with my thoughts for quite sometime, I sort of believed everyone struggled with this issue, (is it just me or do most people assume other people are like them??)  But, as my personal growth and exploration have continued, I’ve discovered many aspects to my personality that help explain why I’m more prone to being “stuck in my head” than others.

The Enneagram has shed the most light on my personality.  I’m undoubtedly a Type 1: The Perfectionist.  As an aside, I get a kick out of the fact that I’m a Type 1 with Type 1 Diabetes. 🙂  Perfectionists have a deep desire to be “good” and avoid making mistakes. We have a very persistent critical inner voice (Sienna helped me name my Nutzo Butzo) that judges everything we do against the standard of perfection.  Yes, it can be exhausting.

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The thing is, we also evaluate all of our emotions as either good or bad.  Therefore, when emotions such as anger, sadness, or anxiety arise, we tend to consider them unacceptable and therefore repress them.  Turns out that my personality type is great at repressing emotions or using what’s technically called “reaction formation” to flip our emotions to something more acceptable, such as happiness, cheerfulness, etc.  I think this explains why I thought I was “happy all the time” before anxiety took hold in mid-2013.  In my mind, with my thoughts controlled, I kinda was.

All of the Enneagram resources explain that Perfectionists (Type 1) need to embrace acceptance in order to grow and shake themselves out of their personality patterns.  I got such a kick out of that, since it’s the major lesson I stumbled upon in my awakening.  I’ve also discovered, over and over again, how true it is for me.  In order to let go of my thoughts and be present, I have to accept my thoughts, and most importantly, my feelings for what they are, without trying to change or control them.

Actively trying to “feel my feelings” is something I remind myself to do frequently.  It’s like there’s this dichotomy – in any given moment I can either be aware of my thoughts or my feelings, but rarely both.  The best way for me to get in touch with my true emotions is to defuse from my thoughts and judgments (let them come and go).  When I don’t need to control my feelings by “flipping” them to a more acceptable/positive emotion, I am able to be fully present.

When I am present to my feelings, I get chocked up and teary on a daily basis.  When I really take in a moment, looking at my child’s face or a sunset, listening to birds chirp or clouds slowly pass through the sky, there’s a deep peace and connectedness that feels like living.

I don’t want to analyze and evaluate my way through life.  I don’t want to assess and judge all day long, every day.  I want to directly experience my life and be fully awake for each moment.  I want to feel things deeply and I want to connect with my loved ones.

Another way this mind/heart dichotomy plays out for me is in writing.  I admire writers who write from the heart and share their deeply felt emotions.  But, I struggle to do that kind of writing consistently because my default setting is to think about experiences rather than feel them.  When I sit down to write a blog post, it’s like I’m looking for a thesis statement or central argument to share rather than getting in touch with my feelings and writing from that space.  I imagine writing a blog post each morning that’s just a flow of all my thoughts and feelings in that particular moment.  But, it’s been the fear of it not turning out just right that keeps me from doing it.  Not this time.

For the next week, I’m going to write here each morning.  It won’t be well thought out ahead of time.  I’ll be getting back to the original concept of a blog – an online diary.  Thank you for being here. 🙂

Uncategorized

How a Growth Mindset Transforms Feedback

I originally wrote this article for my company’s website. So fun to get to share my interest for this topic while doing my “day job”!   Since I’ve been MIA from this space for over 2 months (How’d that happen?!?) figured I’d share. 🙂  As noted in this article, I’ve been focused on annual evaluations for the past several weeks.  My team is spread out across six locations in Southern California, so I’ve been traveling to meet with everyone. This season is intense and challenges me to maintain a growth mindset as I provide feedback and hope to motivate my team.  There’s a beautiful symmetry: personal growth for me while I try to help others grow!  

For most people, annual evaluation season is about as eagerly anticipated as dental work.  You know deep down that it’s beneficial, but enduring the process is hard.  Writing and delivering evaluations is a challenge too, as you ponder: “How do I deliver feedback that is helpful and doesn’t cause the recipient to get defensive or upset?”   What if I told you that a simple mindset shift can make both giving and receiving evaluations much more enjoyable?

The reason many people dread giving or receiving feedback is because they have a fixed mindset. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. introduced the world to this concept in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  A fixed mindset is when you believe that a person’s qualities are carved in stone or “fixed”.  Therefore, you and everyone else has a certain amount of intelligence and talent.  When you hold this mindset, you focus entirely on proving how smart and capable you are.  Similarly, when evaluating the performance of others, they have no ability to improve or change from their set level of intelligence.  Why would anyone need or appreciate feedback if they are unable to change their fixed traits?

Fortunately, we don’t have to be stuck in a fixed mindset.  Dweck describes the opposite set of beliefs: that basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. This growth mindset means that everyone can change and grow through application and experience.  When you hold this mindset, you focus on effort, learning and growing new skills.  Similarly, when evaluating others, you view their performance as a current level of ability that can be improved through effort and practice. You can see how feedback is so important to cultivating a growth mindset.  When you want to learn and grow a skill, Dweck explains that you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively.       

How does this play out in an evaluation setting?

Fixed Mindset

When the person receiving an evaluation has a fixed mindset, they typically explain away or dismiss “negative” performance feedback.  Since they believe their intelligence and abilities cannot be improved or developed, they have no other choice than to defend themselves and their past performance.  In this mindset, failure is a sign they are not smart or talented.

When the manager or evaluator has a fixed mindset, they are often reluctant to provide feedback. They project their belief that intelligence and ability are fixed onto the person, concluding that “constructive criticism” is ineffective and likely to anger the recipient.

Growth Mindset

When the person receiving an evaluation has a growth mindset, they are open to hearing an accurate assessment of their current performance. They are eager to learn and grow. Feedback allows them to develop new skills and stretch themselves.  In this mindset, failure is a setback that can provide valuable information to improve and develop themselves.

When the manager or evaluator has a growth mindset, they take on the role of coach and trainer. They know this person can grow and develop if they want to learn and apply themselves.   Therefore, feedback is provided to help the person see their current performance and skill level clearly.  The attitude is warm and encouraging, since we are all “works-in-progress”.

You can sure see how a growth mindset removes the potential angst of giving feedback, either informally or in a formal annual evaluation.  When both parties have a growth mindset, the process of discussing performance feedback is helpful and motivating.  I’d dare say it’s even pleasant.  Well, at least more enjoyable than a root canal.