10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #6 Stay Connected To the World

Parkpop 2009 - The girl in the crowd
Image by Haags Uitburo via Flickr

INFJs are typically pretty internal folks.  As Charles R. Martin states in the book Looking at Type: The Fundamentals, “For INFJs the dominant quality in their lives is their attention to the inner world of possibilities, ideas, and symbols.”  And with this internal focus we can sometimes lose touch with what’s going on with the people around us. We might think that our desire for interpersonal harmony would balance this out, but that desire often just makes us more anxious and even more internally focused.

Here are a few ways to turn that focus outward:

Be aware of your impact on others – There is a woman who contributes to an online coaching bulletin board who drives me crazy.  Her posts, which are often are overly long, typically contain words and concepts that the rest of us don’t understand.  She loves to lecture on theory, and can get snippy when she’s crossed (and yes, she’s an INFJ).

I suspect that if you asked her, she’d say that she’s viewed as highly intelligent, skillful as a coach, and maybe a little feisty when someone oversteps. Unfortunately, it’s obvious that many people on the bulletin board see her as an arrogant know-it-all, who’s also a bit nasty.

What’s sad is that she’s probably a very nice person who is unaware of her impact on others. And what gets lost in all her noise is the fact that her posts frequently contain excellent advice for new coaches, and she often is able to ground discussions that have gotten out of hand with clarity and common sense.

Give people the benefit of the doubt – We (everyone, not just INFJs) tend to fill in the blanks.  When we don’t have full information about others we tend to make up facts to complete the story.  Then we act as if our story is true.

The key here is to remember that we don’t know everything about other people, even those closest to us. When accept this and stop assuming we know it all, suddenly the grumpy guy up the street becomes a mystery (why is he so sad?), the annoyingly clinging friend gets our compassion (I wonder what her family life is like?), and we recognize that there’s probably a story behind that angry co-worker.

Take up your space but only your space – the womanfrom the bulletin board that I wrote about earlier is a perfect example of someone taking up too much space (both figuratively and literally).  If she paid attention to how long others’ posts are, and that they typically offered advice rather than extended monologues about theory, she would realize that she was out of step with the majority of the participants. If she adjusted her posts to fit in with the rest of the bulletin board I suspect that she would be seen as a valuable contributor.

The same is true for all conversations, both in-person and virtual.  Think about the Facebook over-posters, we can’t hide them quickly enough! Or the person who dominates a conversation with an endless monologue about themselves, punctuating it with questions that are seemingly about us but are really just about topics they want to shift to.

However, INFJs also need to be aware of the flip side – we also want to make sure not to take up too little space in our dealings with others. Don’t stay quiet when it’s your time to speak, don’t hide your light in deference to others.

Exercise:  Explore Your Impact

Over the next week use the tactics below to assess your impact on others.  At the end of each day jot down what you’ve learned and what changes you’d like to make in your behavior.

  • Ask questions – the easiest way to find out how you’re perceived is to ask someone you trust about how they see you.  Keep the subject bite-sized by asking about a specific event rather than a general question (i.e. Ask “Did I seem oversensitive with that woman back there?” rather than “Do you think I’m too sensitive?”)
  • Pay attention – When you’re in a conversation, look, listen and receive rather than just sending.  Notice if the other person looks interested or bored, listen to their responses to check in on how the exchange is going, use your intuition to get a feel for the vibe of the conversation.  And if your antenna picks up something negative, ask about it with a simple question like “Am I going into too much detail?”
  • Put yourself in their shoes – INFJs like to share and can often do it too much.   Sometimes when I’m ready to launch into a story about my day, or a review of my opinion about something, I’ll ask myself “Will this be interesting to the person I’m talking to? Would I want to hear about this from someone else?”  The answer is often “No, it’s actually pretty boring!”

This is the sixth installment in a series of 10 weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ.  For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #5 Protect Your Heart

 Heart

I’ve said it before – one of the best things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are. And one of the hardest things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are! 

Like most F’s I seek harmony. And when one of my friends or loved ones is in a bad mood it’s really difficult not take it personally. My natural tendency is to make it about myself – “What did I do?” or “Why is he being so mean to me?” But this is a form of self-absorption: we’re focused on our reaction, on how we feel, rather than what’s happening with the other person. We need to shift the question from “Why is he picking on me?” to “What’s going on with him that’s upset him so much?”

Some Tips for Dealing with Others’ Upsets

Don’t take it personally – When someone else is upset, it’s about them, not you. Even if they lash out at you or blame you – remember that everyone loses perspective when they’re distraught. Keep your cool and give them the gift of your compassion.

Don’t try to fix or soothe them – you can’t – Telling someone the “look at the bright side” or to “feel better” doesn’t do anything except negate what they’re feeling. You can provide a safe and nurturing space for someone who’s upset by just listening and encouraging them to talk about how they feel.

Watch out for perennial victims – I used to work with a woman who always focused on the worst aspect of any situation. When she started a new job she’d immediately identify who “hated” her. Every setback was a disaster, every problem was the worst thing she’d ever dealt with. For years I rode these ups and downs with her, worrying about her latest insolvable problem or dysfunctional relationship. I finally recognized that her life was spent moving from trauma to trauma. I learned to provide a sympathetic ear and bits of feedback when I thought she could handle it, but I stopped getting sucked in to the drama of it all.

Avoid taking on their pain – Your compassion helps, your hurting along with the other person doesn’t. This also goes for all the painful input out there – TV news coverage of disasters or violence, commercials showing abused animals, even graphic movies or TV shows. Staying whole will enable you to use your compassion and caring to fuel contributions to solutions, taking on others’ pain will only weaken and distract you.

I know, all this is easier said than done. But it benefits everyone when you can provide a supportive, calm and grounded environment when someone close to you is upset – I like to think of it as giving the gift of being strong when they’re at their weakest.

Exercise: Who Owns This Problem?

Like the 6 Questions in Manage Those Pesky Emotions, you can use a few of questions to explore the emotions around interpersonal upsets. When you find yourself dealing with an upsetting situation, ask yourself:

  1. Who owns this problem? The person who is impacted by the problem is the owner, not you. In the example above, my friend’s problems belongs solely to her, in no way should they become my problems. The only exception to this is when the other person is a child or a defenseless creature – then ownership is shared by everyone.
  2. Have I contributed to the problem?
    If the answer is “yes” the question then becomes: What can I do to make it right? (and it’s often as simple as apologizing)
    If the answer is “no” the question then becomes: Do I want to help and is it appropriate for me to do so?
  3. What do I want my involvement to be? Make sure that if and how you help is your decision. You should always have final say on how much you want to help, and what contribution you are willing to make.

This is the fifth installment in a series of 10 weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ.  For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #4 Learn to Say “No” and Mean It

Stop SignBoundaries are a loaded topic for me.  Like many INFJs it’s hard for me to say “No” to someone I care about, and I have the tendency to want to look to others to for happiness.  It takes work for me to get clear about how far I’m willing to go in some situations and to communicate that to others.

I didn’t learn much about healthy boundaries when I was growing up, so I’ve turned to the experts.  What follows is the information I found on how to figure out what’s right for me.

Rights of the Assertive Person

One of our basic rights is the right to say “no” when we don’t want to do something.  David Richo in his “Rights of the Assertive Person” from his book How to Be an Adult elaborates further:

Richo’s list of rights:

  1. To ask for 100% of what you want from 100% of the people in your life, 100% of the time.
  2. To enjoy emotional and physical safety.  No one has the right to hurt you, even if she loves you.
  3. To change your mind or make mistakes.
  4. To decide when and whether or not you are responsible for (a) finding solutions to others’ problems or (b) taking care of their needs.
  5. To say No or Maybe without pressure to decide in accord with someone else’s timing.
  6. To be illogical in making decisions.
  7. To have secrets, to decide how much of yourself or your life you choose to reveal.
  8. To be free to explain your choices or not (includes not having to make excuses or give reasons when you say No).
  9. To be non-assertive when you see that as appropriate.
  10. To maintain the same principles, skills and rights of assertiveness with your partner, parents, children or friends.

Visible and Invisible Boundaries

This is a list I’ve extracted from Anne Katherine’s terrific book Boundaries: Where You and I Begin. She describes how she sets boundaries:

  • I set my physical boundary by choosing who can touch me and how and where I am touched.  I decide how close I’ll let people come to me.
  • I set my emotional boundary by choosing how I’ll let people treat me.  One way I do this is by setting limits on what people can say to me.
  • Healthy, safe expressions of anger by people I’m close to are acceptable. In appropriate anger from an inappropriate person [e.g. strangers] is not.
  • Setting emotional boundaries includes deciding what relationships I’ll foster and continue and what people I’ll back away from because I can’t trust them.

What’s Appropriate?

Katherine also provides a list of what’s appropriate based on orientation:

  • If you’re looking up to a person for guidance, supervision or parenting, you are not his peer.  If he’s your dad, minister, therapist, or boss, you are not required to parent or counsel him.
  • If you’re looking down to a person because she’s a child, a client, or a subordinate, she is not your peer.  She should not be counseling you.  And you should not give her inappropriate personal information.
  • If you’re looking across to a person, she’s your peer.  You support each other.  You confide in each other.  Giving goes both ways.
  • If you’re doing peer things with someone you look up or down to, something’s wrong.  A boundary is being crossed.
  • If you’re looking down or up at someone who’s a peer, something’s wrong.  A wife is not a subordinate.  A husband is not a boss.

 

Exercise: Define Your Boundaries

As you read the lists above you might notice that adhering to them requires lots of decisions. How much do you want to reveal?  Is that person a peer or subordinate?  It’s helpful to explore your answers ahead of time so that as situations occur you’ve already figured out where your boundary is.

Create a Will/Won’t List  – This exercise is designed to identify your boundaries with the people in your life. I use Will/Won’t Lists anytime I find myself struggling with not wanting to hurt someone or feeling like I’m being asked for more than I want to give.

  1. On a piece of paper or Word document create three columns.  At the top of the first column put “Who” and the other two columns are “What I Will Do” and “What I Won’t Do” (see sample below)
  2. In the “Who” column list the significant people in your life or someone who you’re having difficulty setting boundaries with.
  3. In the next two columns list what’s ok and what’s not. In the sample below I’ve listed my boundaries for my family and in general.
Who

What I Will Do

What I Won’t Do

  My Family
  • Understand and accept that they are different from me
  • Be as kind as possible
  • Be respectful
  • Recognize Xmas and birthdays
  • Be kindly honest
  • Respond when they reach out to me
  • Be submissive
  • Feel guilty
  • Engage in games
  • Respond to disrespectful communications
  • Attend family gatherings when I don’t want to
  • Tell them what they want to hear just to keep the peace
  Others in General
  • Be as honest and straightforward as possible
  • Be vulnerable
  • Be proud of my coaching career
  • Extend myself for others when appropriate and to an appropriate degree
  • Be submissive
  • Do things I don’t want to do just to be nice
  • Judge
  • Give unsolicited advice
  • Agree just to be nice
  • Be ashamed of things I like (like watching TV)

Exercise: Practice “No” Sandwiches

As INFJs we can have trouble saying “No.”  We don’t want to hurt feelings or create disharmony.  But in order to observe our boundaries we need to get good at saying no.  The No Sandwich is a great way to do it.

The components of a No Sandwich:

[Statement of regret or acknowledgement]  [Straightforward No]  [Positive follow up]

Statement of regret or acknowledgement – This is an honest, but positive, statement either expressing real regret or an acknowledgement of the other person’s position.  A statement of regret can be simply “I’d love to go but …”, “I’d really like to help but…”  The key here is, again, honesty.  If you say you’d love to go you will be invited again, so don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

If you really don’t feel regret, the first part of your statement can be just an acknowledgement of the other person.  Examples are “I appreciate you including me but…” or “I know that this is important to you but…”

Straightforward No – Keep your “no” simple.  You don’t need to give a reason (which can imply that negotiation is possible) you just need to say no thanks.

Positive follow up – This is just a respectful and kind statement to cement your “no” and take the sting out of it.  They are statements such as ” thanks so much “, “maybe next time” (but only if you mean it), “good luck” or “have fun.”

Here are some examples of a No Sandwhich:

“I love that you want to include me, but I can’t make it.  Have a great time, the weather should be beautiful!”

“I can see that you’ve put a lot of thought into this, but I’m going to do it the way I originally planned.  I appreciate your effort, though.”

“That looks delicious, but no thanks.  How about giving some to Grandpa? He loves cookies.”

“I know that this is important to the school district, but I won’t be able to run the book drive.  Why don’t you sign me up to help collect books?”

If you want to include a reason, by all means do, but don’t argue about it if the other person pushes back.  Consider a statement of “That looks delicious but I’m watching my weight” as an absolute, and if the other person says “Oh, just one won’t hurt,” smile and move away.  You’ve said no.

The truth is, though, that no matter how gentle we are, sometimes people still won’t like our answer, which can be painful for an INFJ.  Our desire for harmony and our concern about hurting others can feel overwhelming when we say “no”.  However, it’s part of life and being an adult to set limits and accept the fact that others won’t always agree with our decisions.

This is the fourth installment in a series of 10 weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ.  For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #3 It’s Your Life – Own It

Going to work had become torture by the time I left the corporate world.  I’d get up in the morning (too early) and drag myself to work only to end up enduring endless meetings and political struggles. With the tender feelings of an INFJ I felt assaulted by the environment, I was overstimulated and underappreciated. I felt at the mercy of the corporate tempest, and my natural tendency to absorb the emotions and environment around me made it worse. I finally realized that the best way to deal with those feelings was to  take control of  my environment rather than letting it take control of me.

Creating a Strong and Powerful Environment

Don’t be an empty vessel – There are two ways to enter a situation.  The first is to come in empty and look for what’s available to fill you up.  We do this when we walk into a party and think “Who do I know here that I can talk to?  Did I bring the right gift?Will I fit in?”  This is an example of coming in as an empty vessel, waiting for others to give you what you need.  You want to make sure you conform, that you’ll be able to align with the party.

On the other hand, if you enter the party “full,” these might be the thoughts that run through your mind as you enter, “Oh, I like that group in the corner, they’ll be fun to talk to.  The food looks great, can’t wait to try that dip.”  Or your thoughts might be “Wow, this is a really loud group, I’m not sure I’m going to stay very long.”

Notice how your thoughts when you enter the party “full” are about how the party measures up to your needs rather than the other way around?  You’ve entered with your personality intact – you know what you like and what you don’t like and that’s how you’ll assess the party.  As an empty vessel you let the party assess you.

A work example of being “full” is asking for the assignments you want rather than waiting to be selected for them, taking lunchtime as an opportunity to get away and do something you enjoy, or not participating in the office gossip mill.     

Dial Up Your Personality – First of all this doesn’t mean to be loud or to impose your personality on the people around you.  What I’m talking about is staying firmly connected with who you are, your preferences and beliefs, in any situation.

Some examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Alerting your hostess ahead of time that you don’t eat meat
  • Accepting invitations only for activities that you like rather than being so grateful to be invited that you’ll go anywhere
  • Speaking up when someone tells a joke that is distasteful to you
  • Choosing to leave a gathering that you’re not enjoying
  • Creating an environment that nourishes you in your office or cubicle
  • Wearing clothes that you’re comfortable in

What do these have in common?  They are all decisions based on what you like rather than attempts to please others.

Make Every Decision That You Can – there are some decisions that are yours to make and some that aren’t. You can have a tremendous impact on your environment just by making the decisions that fall into your realm.

Rather than always deferring to others (“I don’t care where we eat, where you want to go?”) make a suggestion.  If your boss asks you what projects interest you, be specific and clear.  If your mother asks you for the best times to call you, tell her.

Avoid the “trying to please others by guessing what they really want” dance and take other’s answers at face value.  If you feel that they’re handing over their decisions to you, send them a link to this post! Exercise: Love Your Likes Similar to the “Interview With an INFJ” exercise from week 1, this exercise it designed to help you identify and own your preferences. Find a small notebook that you can keep with you at all times, and over the next week keep an “I Like” journal by jotting down everything you encounter that you like.  For example, right now my list be: I like the warm sun pouring in the window and hitting my shoulders, the comfy pajama bottoms that I’m wearing, the fact that my office is clean and neat, how quiet my house is, that I’m going to Arizona tomorrow to visit my daughter, the fact that my house is clean and will be welcoming for my house sitters, the turkey sandwich I just ate for lunch, the TV show “Chopped” that I watched while I ate. So often INFJs get the message either directly or indirectly, that what they like is trivial.  All that ESTP energy, so dominant in our society, can make us feel that we are wrong for liking what we like.  Your like journal is a chance to:

  • Identify your preferences
  • Notice and enjoy how elegant and subtle they are
  • Start to own what you like so you can generate more in your life

A caution: Your “I Like” Journal is not a list of demands – it isn’t designed so that you can impose your likes on other people.  Your journal contains a list of things to seek out, to treat yourself with, to make sure exist in your life.  And, when appropriate, to ask for from others. This is the third installment in a series of 10 weekly articles about making the most of being an INFJ.  For previous articles visit 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #2 Manage Those Pesky Emotions

You know it, that flare of anger, that feeling of “I HAVE to say something, NOW!”  I know it well, it’s been the precursor to many of my most inappropriate outbreaks of temper.

Our “F” energy puts us squarely in the middle of the emotion of any situation. INFJs are easily hurt, and in reaction we can end up hurting others. But we don’t have to be at the mercy of our feelings, we can learn to recognize them and control ourselves until we can rationally consider the situation.

Here’s how I do it:

The First Step – Stop!

Unless you are faced with a truly dangerous situation, feeling the simmer of anger or hurt should always be a signal to stop and take stock.  When you feel yourself getting emotional, the first things to remember is, if at all possible, do not react! When we’re in this state our perception is off and our judgment is impaired – these are the times that we say and do things we regret later.  What makes it more difficult is when our emotions are engaged we often feel that we urgently must say something, now!  The combination of emotionality and a feeling of urgency is a clear tip-off that you need to step back and assess the situation.

The 6 Questions

Once I’ve refrained from reacting, I use what I call the “6 Questions” to sort fact from fiction:

  1. What are the bare facts of the situation? (Don’t include emotional information or impact)
  2. What am I telling myself about it?
  3. What’s the fear (or hurt)?
  4. Is there something I can ask someone to find out if my perception of the situation is correct?
  5. Using information from the questions above, what is a realistic assessment of the situation?
  6. What is important here?

An Example

To help you understand how the process works, here’s an example from my life:

My friend Michael was coming into town for a class on a Friday and was planning to stay at my house.  I’d assumed that he was flying in on Thursday afternoon and was prepared to pick him up at that time.  On Wednesday evening he called me and told me that he’d decided to take a flight that got in at 8:30 Thursday morning and asked if I would be available to pick him up.  My reaction was “What??  Oh no!!  I have plans for the morning through lunch – I can’t do this!” At that point I became upset, and felt that he didn’t care at all that he was imposing on me.

If I’d taken this situation through the 6 Questions it would have gone something like this:

1.   What are the bare facts of the situation?

Michael was arriving at 8:30am on Friday and was asking if I could pick him up.

2.   What am I telling myself about it?

He expected me to pick him up and entertain him all day.  He made plans at the last minute without considering how they would affect me.  If I don’t pick him up he’ll be abandoned in San Francisco. 

3.  What’s the fear (or hurt)?

My fear is that he’d be mad at me if I couldn’t, or wouldn’t pick him up

4.   Is there something I can ask someone to find out if my perception of the situation is correct?

I could ask Michael something like “It sounds like you’re relying on me to pick you up.  Is that true?”  I realized after the fact that he would have answered something like, “No, I’m fine, I have other friends in the city that I can hang out with, I just thought it would be fun to spend more time with you.”

5.   Using information from the questions above, what is a realistic assessment of the situation?

Michael is fine, he doesn’t need me to pick him up. 

6.  What is important here?

That I don’t make myself responsible for Michael – he can take care of himself.  

Exercises: Practice Managing Your Emotions

Create a “Trigger List” – List as many as you can think of for each: negative beliefs you have about yourself, negative beliefs you have about others, and negative beliefs about how the world works.  These tend to be your triggers for emotional outbreaks, and being aware of them will help you be prepared.

Learn to Use the 6 Questions – Think of a couple of situations that you were in where your emotions were triggered.  Try running them through the 6 Questions and notice how your assessment of the situation changes.

Practice Breaking – Practice putting the breaks on your reactions when you feel emotional.  Next time you feel yourself getting upset just stop – don’t do or say anything.  Retreat from the situation until you’re completely calm and then reassess your reactions.  Notice any assumptions you might have made and any misconceptions that might have fed into your emotions.

This is the second in 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life: #1 View Yourself as Whole

When is the last time you heard an extrovert talk about how they wished they could be more introverted?  How they would like to start taking more time to think before they talk, or be able to just sit quietly at a party and enjoy watching the activity?

Probably never. You’re more likely to hear the reverse: introverts want to be more extroverted, more outgoing, more comfortable in social situations.  When this happens, when introverts focus on what they don’t have they end up ignoring the qualities they do have.

We Create Our Own Experience

Introverts often equate sitting alone at a party with being unpopular, but that’s only one way of looking at it. If you slouch in a corner looking like a loser, sure, your demeanor will telegraph exactly that.  Your anxious face will shout your innermost thoughts to the crowd: “I have no friends!” As a result – you guessed it – no one will want to talk to you.

SerenityNow imagine yourself at that same party, sitting in that same corner, but this time you’re calm and interested in what’s going on around you.  You don’t feel like a loser because you aren’t – you have friends, they just aren’t with you at the moment.  You realize that you can talk to people if you want to but you don’t have to, you know that you can leave any time you want.

Feels different, doesn’t it?  Now you’re sitting by yourself because you choose to.

You Are Not a Non-Extrovert

INFJ’s can get in the trap of defining who we are by comparing ourselves to our opposites.  We view our introversion as a lack of extroversion, we see our preference for dealing with our inner world as being inattentive.  We can believe that our emotionality makes us seem less intelligent, and that our preference for organization is an imposition on those who are more spontaneous and fun.

We need to turn that around.  We need to take the view that our quietness gives us a lovely depth of thought and creates calm in our environment.  And our ability to read between the lines is a perfect complement to analytical thought.  We need to value the fact that our orderly lives enable us to help our less organized family and friends.

And, the one I like best, our tender hearts are devoted to bringing peace and love into the world – what could be more important than that?

Exercise:  Interview With an INFJ

INFJs, in their desire to for harmony, can ignore or not even recognize their preferences.  In addition they can end up discounting their strengths and skills and focus on what others can do that they can’t.  The following exercise is designed to help you explore and embrace your unique likes and dislikes and better understand your strengths.

Directions: This exercise is designed to identify your preferences and strengths, so leave negativity and self-pity (yep, I said it – self-pity!) at the door.  Your answers should be positive declarations (e.g. “I love candy” as opposed to “I eat too many sweets.”)

  1. What is your favorite time of the day?
  2. What time do you like to go to bed at night and get up in the morning?
  3. What are your top three skills?
  4. What kind of humor do you like?  Quirky? Slapstick? Dirty?
  5. What is your favorite way to relax?
  6. What are you smartest about?
  7. Who is your favorite person to go to when you need help?
  8. Who comes to you for help?
  9. What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done?  What skills did it take to do it?  How did you feel afterwards?
  10. What kind of books do you like?
  11. How would you dress if you had an unlimited budget?
  12. What is your favorite type of movie?
  13. What are your favorite foods?
  14. What pastimes do you enjoy? (e.g. cooking, writing, dancing)
  15. What are the three most important things you’ve learned in the past year?
  16. What would your friends say that they love about you?
  17. What do you love about yourself?
  18. What are you most proud of in your life?
  19. When are you most yourself?
  20. What challenge are you facing in your life right now?
  21. What else?  Add your ideas in the comments section!

***

What can you add?  What have you learned about viewing yourself as whole?  Are there any books or articles on the subject that you can recommend?

This is the first installment in 10 Steps to an Amazing INFJ Life.

How to Impress Others

Photo by beastmanphotos via Flickr

We all want to be smart, beautiful, magnetic. We want to impress others with our charm and intelligence. What’s the best way to dazzle those around us? It’s not what you might think.

First, a simple exercise. Make a list of five things you want others to think about you. Each item on the list should start with “I’d like others to think I’m…” Your list might include things like “loveable”, “intelligent” or “a leader”. Create your list now and don’t read any farther until you have at least five items on it.

Done? Now take a look at the items on your list – it’s likely that these are where you put a lot of your energy and focus. They are probably the areas you tend to stress about, that trigger your insecurities. My guess is that this is where you want to look good but feel that you don’t.

The problem is that wanting “others to think” you’re anything (fill in the blank – smart, cute, charismatic…) puts the focus on merely looking good. And when our efforts go into looking good we can end up convincing ourselves that looking good is equal to actually being good – believing that talking like an intellectual is the same as being intelligent (and who hasn’t found themselves with someone who loves to hear themselves talk as they try to impress others?)

But don’t throw away your list! It’s a valuable inventory of areas that are important to you, areas that you really do want to improve in your life. You can use that information to figure out where to put your efforts and energy to learn and grow.

Using the list you created, identify an action step for each item that will move you towards being good in the areas you care about.

For example using the list in the second paragraph one might work to:

  • Become more loveable by building sincere connections with others
  • Increase your knowledge by reading about an era in history you’re interested in, joining a book club or taking a class
  • Learn leadership skills by asking someone seen as a leader to be your mentor

When we put our focus on merely looking good we often achieve the opposite effect. Plus, our efforts are usually surprisingly transparent to others, and we may waste valuable time and resources in trying to create what is, ultimately, an illusion. By focusing on improving our knowledge or skills in the areas that are important to us, we end up not only achieving more but we also end up looking good naturally and effortlessly.

Find the Sunshine in Your Life

Osteospernum: Two little stars emerge in the s...
Image by Mukumbura via Flickr

As I sit down to write this post, I find myself wanting to give you sunshine. Looking though my notebook of writing ideas the topics feel heavy to me – advice on how to survive, how to make do, how to become comfortable in uncomfortable times. But maybe what we need is simpler than that. Maybe we just need to reconnect to the little pleasures in our lives, those special people, things and events that already surround us.

As children it was easy to become absorbed in small pleasures. I remember spending entire afternoons in the hills near my home, exploring, playing, and finding new things. Fun was any place I could pretend was a house – I’d flatten tall grass, find a crook in our grapefruit tree, or sit in a hollow bush – anything to provide walls for my little tea parties.

It’s easy to get disconnected from the small delights in our lives, especially when we hear what sounds like dire news every day. Finding and enjoying these pleasures can provide warmth and texture to these precarious times.

Below is my “Sunshine List” for today – just a sample of what brings sunshine into my life:

  1. My breakfast, every day.
  2. A sunny walk at lunchtime with my daughter.
  3. Watching reality shows with my best friend.
  4. Taking a hot bath on a cold day.
  5. A coaching session where my client has an “ah ha!” moment.
  6. Elastic waistbands.
  7. Goofing around with my business partner when we’re supposed to be working.
  8. My house, especially when it’s clean.
  9. Finishing an article that I believe really captures what I want to communicate.
  10. Seeing my cat roll around in ecstasy just because I walked in my front door.

 

What puts the sunshine into your life?

Take a moment, put your feet up, and grab a pencil and paper and create your own Sunshine List.   Once you’ve created your list, what can you do with it?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Post it where you’ll see it every day and make sure you do at least one thing on your list daily
  • Each day add a new item to your list
  • Create a whole new list of 10 items every day for a week
  • If your list includes loved ones like mine does, share your list with them and suggest they write one of their own
  • Even if you don’t do another thing with your list, be aware of the things that add pleasure to your day and add them to your mental Sunshine List

It’s important not to get lost in the tension of everyday life. Staying connected with the small things that make us happy builds a storehouse of pleasure that can provide balance when troubles or worries strike. Take a look at your list – how many things on it are available to you every day? How many items on your list not only give you pleasure, but also give joy to someone else?  Our lists are filled with rich pleasures that increase the quality of our lives and of those around us.

Who Knows What’s Good and What’s Bad?

The Chinese character depicting Tao, the centr...
Image via Wikipedia

This week I’m going to share a traditional Taoist story that’s a favorite of mine:

When an old farmer’s stallion wins a prize at a country show his neighbor calls to congratulate him.  The old farmer replies, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”  The next day some thieves steal his valuable animal.  His neighbor calls to commiserate with him but the old man replies, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”  A few days later the stallion escapes from the thieves and joins a herd of wild mares, leading them back to the farm.  The neighbor calls to share the farmer’s joy, but the farmer replies, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”  The following day, while trying to break in one of the wild mares, the farmer’s son breaks his leg.  The neighbor calls to share the farmer’s sorrow, but the old man replies, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”  The following week the army passes by, forcibly conscripting soldiers into their army but they don’t take the farmer’s son because he cannot walk.

The neighbor thinks to himself “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

Before & After: Navigating Transitions

You're Fired!October 26, 2006 is a “Before & After” day for me.  That was the day I was told I was to be laid off from a company where I’d worked for 18 years.  That day marked a major turning point in my life – I will never be the same person I was the day before.

Externally everything pretty much stayed the same for some time.  My employment didn’t actually end for another three months so I still went to work every day, parked in the same lot, walked the same steps into the building, interacted with the same people.

Internally, however, everything was different.  My world had changed, what was true the day before was now an open question.  The part of my life that had contained work to be done and assumptions about the texture and patterns of my days was now open space.  I found that while this space was scary, it was also exhilarating.

In this space I could create what I want.  It was full of choice, I could choose another job in a new place, choose to do something completely different, choose to take some time to rest, decompress (ahh…) , choose new work to be done, new textures and patterns for my days.

This open space that hits in the “After” period is rich with information and inspiration.  It’s a time where there are only questions, and no answers yet, and it can provide you with valuable information.  Even if new plans and life structures are readily available, at this point we have an opportunity to pause and ask ourselves, “How do I want my life to be different?”

Some Tips for Making the Most of Your Before & After:

#1  Don’t assume that the Before & After day is the day of “the big event” –  By the time I physically left the company, I was well in to the “After”.  The Before & After day isn’t when the external change hits – the wedding day, the day she moves out, the first day of college or that new job.  It’s when the internal change occurs – the day he proposed, the day she told you it was over, the day you were accepted to college or received the offer for your new job.  This is where change starts, when we first hit the bumpy pavement of uncertainty.

#2   Even if you have solid plans for your After, see what information is available during the transition –   Even those folks at my company who were moving into new positions seemed to also connect to deeper, bigger dreams for their lives during this period.  One friend immediately got a new job, but during her transition also reconnected with her dream to be a baker.  Practical for now?  Maybe not.  Yet come retirement time, how great would it be to have already tested those recipes and developed a business plan?

#3  Experience the transition – don’t hide from it –  I have a good friend who recently went through a breakup, and I was impressed by how completely and intentionally she experienced all the emotions that came up for her.  She didn’t try to feel better or escape her feelings of loss, she explored them for meaning and information.  She understood that while these feelings were painful, they also held knowledge that would help her succeed in her next relationship.

How have your Before & Afters impacted your life?  A few questions to think about when you consider your Before & Afters:

  • What did you learn during your transition about yourself and others?
  • What commitments did you make as a result of that learning?  Are you still keeping them? Are they still relevant in the “After”?
  • What are you proud of?
  • What do you wish you’d done differently?

I know that exploring your Before & Afters for information is easier said than done.   Major life transitions are emotional, they provide a breeding grounds for insecurity and self-doubt.   But the ability to pause and pay attention in the midst of chaos not only helps you discover new information, it is a powerful skill to have.