Solvitur Ambulando – It is solved by walking

This morning there was a “Mexican standoff” in our house; three sets of heels dug truly and deeply in the mud. I do not really remember what it was about and yet I am sure we all had reasons for feeling the way we did. In all likelihood those reasons probably had very little to do with the issue we were choosing to focus on in the moment. All I remember was it was a typical family upset revolving around the desire to get Cai to school on time and for all of us to be able to start our day. I also know that I was feeling frustration and anger and I was not being my best self.

Thankfully we live within walking distance of Cai’s school and as he and I left the confines of the house and experienced fresh(er) air I was able to look into myself, smile and make an offering.

“Cai do you want to learn some long words in Latin, the language of the Romans?” He likes soldiers at the moment and knows about the Romans, so he smiled at me and decided it might be a good thing.

I asked him to repeat after me, “sol-vi-tur am-bu-lan-do”.

“What does it mean?”

“It is solved by walking”

Again he smiled and our conversation as we marched steadily became the “wonder full” kind you have with a five year old. We talked about how we felt in the midst of our spat, Cai informing me. “I wanted to be a wizard and change everything.” This allowed us to explore how we all have the ability to be magical, how we can choose to be our “best selves” and work hard to change our thoughts and behaviors in the moment and create an outcome that makes us proud. I told him how I had not been my best self, how I had become frustrated, he told me it was a good idea to walk away and “find my magic“. (I tell you 5 year olds are really savvy when it comes to being good humans.) And so the conversation went on; both of us owning our mistakes, both of us apologizing to the other, both of us enjoying the wind in our faces and each others company.

We got to school smiling. “So what have you learned this morning Cai?”

Cai looked at me firmly in the eyes. “Solvitur ambulando and its best when you get outside.”

How do you solve your problems?


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What’s on your playlist?

The iPod family with, from the left to the rig...

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Today Cai and I were staying at home; he is feeling a little under the weather. He asked,  “Dad, can I put the Beatles on?” Now I enjoy the Beatles a great deal and I am extremely glad that he is excited by melody. I am not quite so overjoyed by the fervor with which he loves a single band and my response was, “while I like them now I do not know if I will like them in a few weeks if we keep on playing Revolver day in and out.”

He smiled and then I do not know exactly what he did, I do not know if he does either, because for the rest of the day we were treated with a random selection from my i-pod. Over the day I heard tunes that I have not listened to for years. It was an eclectic mix and we only skipped three tracks, all of which were talks and meditations. One moment we were treated to a pounding dance track, the next to a child’s show tune, there was classical and reggae, world, rock, pop and everything in between. I know it is my i-pod, yet I was surprised by how much I enjoyed listening to the music on it. 

My 30 GB of i=pod has 1000’s of tunes on it, why do I listen to a couple of dozen albums consistently when there is all this great stuff right there? I tell myself I am in a such and such mood, I do not listen to other things because I compromise with other people’s tastes, I have forgotten about others and I feel I have out grown a substantial amount of it. And you know what I am always craving burning more, newer tunes. The most frightening thing is that it is mainly filled with a soundtrack from a “certain age”.

Where am I going with this? Well I got to thinking that I am very much like my i-pod. I have so many experiences, skills, qualities and characteristics and yet I only really demonstrate a few of them. There are a number of reasons for this which seem pretty similar to my listening habits. Here is the thing, I really enjoyed my random play today, it was invigorating, surprising and extremely satisfying. I saw the breadth of my musical taste and I was proud. I was particularly happy to share it with Cai as it created many new conversations and opened up a lot of new possibilities. There is no right or wrong to what music I listen to, however it is far more fun to play when I celebrate my history, my extended influences and look beyond the immediately comfortable. 

What’s on your playlist and is it worth revisiting?

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Shifting Focus

Taking clients and students on peak ascents is a wonderful experience. First there is the  preparation, pulling equipment together, packing what is truly necessary and paring down what is not.  Then there is the emotional and mental readying for what is to come, perhaps the ascent will be extremely physical or involve dealing with fears and anxieties. Finally, the trailhead is reached and the excitement of what is about to begin; the weight of the pack settles into the shoulders, the smell of the forest fills nostrils and the crisp air provides a sense of freedom and anticipation. The toil begins, onwards, upwards, step by step, height is gained, views increase, nature becomes more stark, there is a proximity to the clouds that induces a closeness to higher power, and so it goes on. If the planets are aligned then a peak is reached, the world opens up under our feet and a sense of euphoria sweeps us up.

This though is often when the real work begins, tired, emotionally spent we have to descend with the accompanying tightness in the knees, the proneness to day dreaming and the exposure of facing out and down. This is often the time when fears are outed and it is usually compounded by having to negotiate steep, loose ground. There have been a number of times when someone in my group has frozen, deciding that they are not up to the task. Their skittering feet and the potential of the fall mapped out clearly below them stops them in their tracks. This is when the plea of, “I can’t do it, I can’t go on” really is not an option. There is no turning back and making it go away. So how does one deal with it?

My usual response is to pull out two flat rocks and place them on the back of the hands of the person struggling. I will model how to walk down hill balancing these friends. Immediately, my knees bend, my butt closer to the ground, legs acting as shock absorbers, back straight, hands in front, poised like an extreme skier. This is the ideal posture for negotiating such terrain, feet stick and if they do not, then the loose screes can be surfed. For the mentally drained, focus turns to the back of the hands, the distant view becoming blurred, like a shifted aperture on a camera. While the location is still obvious they disassociate from it and it no longer occupies the prevalent place in their mind, they are disconnected from their fear, they do not worry about their feet or the fall, they think about balancing the rocks. The result is truly magical, fear is replaced by drive, confidence comes from practice and the descent is safely navigated. Accomplishment is the order of the day

If you are feeling overwhelmed, and you are freezing up, what can you do to refocus? By shifting the emphasis to a small seemingly insignificant detail can you replace anxiety with elation? Good luck.


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What do you stand for?

What is it most of us really want from work? We would like to find the most effective, most productive, most rewarding way of working together. We would like to know that our work process uses all of the appropriate and pertinent resources: human, physical, financial. We would like a work process and relationships that meet our personal needs for belonging, for contributing, for meaningful work, for the opportunity to make a commitment, for the opportunity to grow and be at least reasonably in control of our own destinies. Finally, we’d like someone to say “Thank you!”
Max Depree

Max DePree wrote a book called Leadership is an Art and the warmth and wisdom it contains leaves me nodding my head in agreement every page I turn. It is eloquent and tackles real issues head on, in fact President Bill Clinton calls it “astonishing”. The thing this book makes me do is read, re-read and think.

Here is what I am reminded of – I will only find the job that I truly want when I truly know what I want. Each time I edit my resume I am taken a little closer as I am that much clearer in my own mind of what it is I am looking for. The less often I edit my resume to fit a job and instead send the resume that describes the me I want to be the more likely I am to find the work that will leave me truly satisfied. The most important thing is to find a job and organization that aligns with my vision and beliefs – I had better know what they are.

In the words of a new friend, Stu Cabe, “what do you stand for?”

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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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