Resolutions and Running

I confess to being contrary at times and while I enjoy doing things such as meditating as part of a group I do not like doing things just because other people do them. New Year’s resolutions for instance irritate me as they seem like fads; everyone jumps on for a while and then drops off the planet a short time later. The thing was that this year the desire to make some major changes in my life coincided with the turning of the year – what to do? Well I thought I might as well try something different.  Some years ago I read some research by Sonja Lyubomirsky (the paper) suggesting that success is born from success, i.e. if we do something well we create the confidence to also do something completely different well. Success can then be attributed to a way of thinking based on experiences of personal victories. This also ties in nicely with Carol Dweck‘s “mindset” theory.

So January was spent doing something daily that I knew I was able to do and maintain and every day this year I have meditated. After a month was up I decided to add another layer to my discipline challenge and now I run before breakfast. I know that if I had started running at the beginning of the year I would have been one of those people that quickly loose sight of their resolutions. Another thing Dr Lyubomirsky suggests in her book  The How of Happiness is that we have a happiness set point that is derived from genetics which makes up 50% of our happiness potential, 10% is defined by life circumstances and 40% we can control through our daily disciplines.

Now it is over a month ago “Happy New Year“, what are you going to do to make your’s amazing?


Meet Charlie: Tools for climbing out of bad situations

This thought began due to a chance encounter with Charlie. I had not seen him for a while and I woke up to find him in bed with me. Should I explain yet?

Cai has been sick a lot this winter and we are currently living through the second bout of pneumonia. This has meant a lot of time in the house, sitting and not doing a lot; a recipe for disaster for an adult who missed being diagnosed with ADHD because it was not an available condition when he was growing up. We are also working hard to keep Cai entertained so my acquaintance with Charlie seemed like a good opportunity for a Facebook inclusion for his benefit.

Meet Charlie: every dad of young boys needs one – a farting, wise cracking, constantly laughing alter-ego.

Where is Charlie Dad? Can Charlie come to play? If only escaping grouchiness was so easy in other areas of life.


So where am I going with this?

Well Charlie has been the saving grace of my relationship with Cai on a few occasions. We are both mules and like things our own way and of course I pull the adult card and claim rank. When things have been tough between us it is nice to have a get out of jail free card. Charlie is that card, he does things that dad cannot or will not do. He is also very funny, when dad is just dad.

Kimberly bought Charlie so that Cai had a friend and proxy parent when I had to head to the UK alone one Christmas. What started as a Wil replacement became something quite different. Charlie; the green alligator, becomes the person I want to be. You can imagine some of the situations. There are times when I come home frustrated after work; Charlie is my excuse to find a light heart, laughter and the focus and presence of a child. At other times Cai & I are in a Mexican standoff, both of us believing we are right and that the other needs to flex, Charlie is my way to stand down, bring laughter back into the situation and between the two us we are able to find a compromise. Basically, any time where there is a difference of opinion and an impasse Charlie is able to breathe fresh and vibrant air onto the situation. Through laughter the charge of a situation is removed, different solutions are offered up and good choices made.

Charlie laughs, it is his personality, his essence and when Charlie laughs Cai laughs. Charlie also farts a lot and Cai laughs even louder. When Cai laughs mom & dad end up laughing too. Charlie also presents a situation from the perspective of an amused observer, he is often pretty insightful and certainly speeds up dad’s processing of a situation. The thing is that Charlie is one of the few panaceas I have come across. He really is snake oil. As I think back I cannot remember a situation that he has failed to smooth over. The only thing is that I have to remember to locate and bring him out. This is why I was so happy to wake up with him the other morning.

Innuendo aside, how often do you open your eyes to see someone who makes you smile warmly. More to the point, how do I create other Charlies to help me with the rest of my life?

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Finding Your Brave

Cai and I went climbing last Friday. What interests me is that he did not really want to go; I had to work hard to encourage him. This sometimes happens, the thing is that once we find ourselves outside he loves it. Watching him move over the rock on a beautiful, sunny fall day in one of my favorite places in Colorado was pure bliss. The smile that covered his face was one of a person fully engaged in the moment and loving it. Watching my boy enjoying doing things that are special to me in places that are special to me ranks as one of the best feelings I know. Learning the tools to make them happen is therefore important.

The first thing I have to come to terms with as I learn my ways of motivating Cai is that he is often a mirror of my actions. I am known to sabotage my enjoyment because I think something else is more important. How can I expect my son to be any different from the example that he sees? So yet again it seems that teaching starts with empathy and compassion and then requires a healthy dose of making the changes I want to see in my students in myself first. I also fall foul of not allowing myself to see the pleasure that is available in the situation at hand, I almost imprison myself in a preconceived mindset. That day as I watched Cai embrace the rock and sunshine, as he allowed himself to ignore the emotions he predicted he was going to experience I realized it was he who was doing the teaching.

So I now have a big note to self. I am going to make sure that we get outside more often. The more we allow ourselves to find the fun and beauty in a moment, the more we are going to find that same fun and beauty in every situation and this is a lesson I want both of us to live.

That evening following an afternoon of climbing and watching trout swim in the shadows of the creek I had a familiar feeling; one I do not allow myself to feel enough these days. It is a warmth and satisfaction that comes from having an optimal experience; the same concept as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow. It comes from being brave enough to surrender completely to the moment. It is most easily found when doing something one is passionate about and yet it can be found in the most mundane occasions if we allow ourselves to be truly present. The topping on Cai’s and my cake was that we both slept the sleep of warriors, content and spent. Finding our brave may be one of the most beneficial things we can do. How do you find yours?


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Job Hunting and Skiing the Trees

When I started teaching white water kayaking I was usually given 10 students and an assistant and off we would go on our merry way to find some mellow moving water. As the students gained confidence and skills we progressed to minor rapids. On reaching the top of a rapid we would park our boats and walk down the bank looking at what was to come. My spiel went something like, “ok guys, you are doing really well and this is suitably challenging for you – you are going to have a blast. Now, what I want you to think about is avoiding the obstacles. See that tree over there, stay away from it. That hydraulic is evil and what ever you do keep your boat away from the pour over, it could kill you.” Then we would get back into our boats, I would demonstrate the line and wait in a position of maximum usefulness at the bottom.  They were sent down one by one and inevitably there was carnage.

It took me a long time to figure out why I was massacring my students. They appeared ready, they had plenty of confidence and enough skills and there they were swimming while I was picking up the pieces. I cannot remember what the catalyst to change was; I think I need to thank an old canoe instructor called Ray Goodwin, the remedy was simple though. Just by reconfiguring the talk along the bank to, “ok guys, you are ready and this is going to be a blast. What I want you to do is to look for your line. First of all, do you see that brown tongue of water there, well put your boat on it. Then head for that flume in the middle and finally follow that v down between the rocks. It will be great.”

What a different result. Smiling kids, dry, upright and full of pride. Perhaps you have a similar story, skiing the trees is my favorite. I start by recognizing I am in a forest, then I look for white and link it together. I have enough evidence to recognize what happens when I look at the trees. Being in the forest is a buzz, now that I know I can safely navigate my way through them I love it. Life is so much more fun and exhilarating. Then there is the added bonus that the snow is often better.

I am going to finish with the words of one of my heros, Yvon Chouinard, climber, blacksmith and founder of Patagonia. “I love recessions for business reasons. Number 1, a recession kills the competition. Number 2, your customers stop being silly and stop buying fashion stuff. They buy things they need and things that will last a long time. They don’t mind paying more as long as it is high-quality. What they do is what we should all be doing, which is consuming less and consuming better.”

It is pretty obvious with the current economy we are in a job hunting forest. What do the patches of snow look like for you, how are you going to link them and what is the high quality you are selling to potential employers?

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Making Lemonade From Lemons

A few years ago my wife Kimberly taught me a good lesson. I was lopping some trees in our yard to make a swing for Cai. Kimberly advised me against cutting a particular limb the way I was and following perfectly felling the previous one I ignored her. Inevitably she was right and the weight of the tree took out the railing of our deck. I was distraught; firstly because I was seeing dollars fleeing the confines of my wallet and secondly my pride had suffered a blow far more substantial than any I had delivered to the tree.

Kimberly calmly suggested we make lemonade out of lemons and consequently with a little ingenuity Cai not only gained a swing he was also soon master of a frigate with rigging up to the ship’s wheel and a slide to leave the deck.

This year has been an interesting one. Following leaving my job and Alaska (where we were somewhat sheltered from the economy) in the summer I have been surprised to find that gaining a new job is not as simple as I initially thought. Over the holiday season we did not have the expendable income we once had and the potential for the festive season to not be quite so merry has been a very real threat. The solution (for me) has been to acquire the keys to the woodwork shop at Cai’s school and some wood from Habitat for Humanity. Cai is now the proud owner of a castle and Kim, well she was awarded a wooden spoon. The thing is that both these presents are probably some of the best I have given, the love and energy that went into them far exceeded the last minute gift I might have bought if I was working 60 or more hours a week. Also, I was able to take Cai into the shop and he helped carve Kim’s spoon. Watching a piece of old dirty wood turn into something beautiful as he uncovered the layers was a wonderful metaphor that was not lost on him.

So some of the things I have gained form not working is spending a lot of quality time with Cai; we walk, bike and go to the museum together. We have become more frugal and thoughtful with our resources. We have come to appreciate the little things a lot more and we plan things out as a family more consistently.

These may be tough times and there may be lots of lemons but the real question is what is your lemonade?

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Counting Blessings – 1… 2… 3…

Do you want to know a technique that has been proven to make you happier and more productive? Then read on as this post is about a tool that is free, only takes a few minutes a day and studies suggest has a significant impact in creating a “can do” feeling. This “learned optimism” allows you to try harder even in the face of major adversity.

First, a little introduction. When elected president of The American Psychology Association in 1996 Martin Seligman brought with him an audacious theme. He chose to turn psychology on its head and to move on from the traditional pathology approach devoted to suffering, mental illness and trauma and instead focus on flourishing, optimism and happiness. In so doing he took a phrase that had been coined some years earlier by Abraham Maslow and created a field of study – Positive Psychology. One of the fastest growing academic fields Seligman made sure that positive psychology had two guiding principles; it must be practical and it must be based on substantial research.

The tool works by increasing gratitude which is one of the character strengths most strongly correlated with well being. Gratitude is the feeling we have when we perceive that we have received an intentional gift from someone else and it leads to a motivation to reciprocate. Happy people feel more grateful when they receive kindness and are therefore more likely to be kind, recognize kindness in others and engage in kind acts. The flip side of this is that if we cultivate gratitude we can increase happiness and its many spin offs.

In the words of Martin Seligman, “There are exercises that reliably show people how they can have more positive emotion, more engagement and more meaning. And there’s good evidence within the corporate literature that people who have more engagement and more meaning on the job do better.”

So what is the exercise?

At the end of each day write down three things from the day that you are happiest about and why they happened. The act of writing is important for a couple of reasons, one it makes you truly consider what you are grateful for and replace your usual thoughts with ones of gratitude. Most people are more likely to contemplate things that have gone wrong than ones that have gone right and while there may be a perfectly good reason for this it does not breed optimism. Secondly, you have a record that you can look at over time. This brings me to another important point, it requires several weeks for this practice to become a habit and it needs to be maintained to retain the benefits.

The following link takes you to a video of Martin Seligman explaining the “three blessings”.

The three blessings also helps if you have a tendency to feeling blue. Again, in the words of Martin Seligman, “ We looked at the effect on severe depression of doing the three blessings. In this uncontrolled study, 94% of severely depressed people became less depressed and 92% became happier, with an average symptom relief of a whopping 50% over only 15 days. This compares very favorably with anti-depressant medication and with psychotherapy.”

Sonja Lyubomirsky shares some of her positive psychology research in “the How of Happiness”. What is most interesting is that while 50% of your happiness is set by genetics and 10% from your life circumstances, 40% of your happiness is generated by the little things that you can do each day.

I hope you give counting your blessings a try and that the benefits are as significant as the research indicates.

Here’s to making your own luck – Wil

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