Thursday, July 28, 2011

It's Not About You (Part II – Them)

Having previously explained (in my last post) the powerful influence of me and how that came about, along with some of the undesirable effects it has on our lives, I now point you to one of the places where we are most vulnerable to its righteous screeching: our personal relationships.

Every effort you make to see another point of view (other than me’s), will not only set you on a path were Reason and Wisdom will overrule your me impulses, but will bring great rewards in your relationships with friends and family. It will make it easier to take a deep breath before responding to a relative who has pushed your me button so successfully in the past. You will become a more attentive listener, because Reason requires that you know what is really going on (while me more or less doesn’t care).

When my husband and I were first married, I fell under me's spell almost right from the start.  An example: one evening over dinner, I noticed that my husband had been very quiet for some time, and that his answers to me were very short and unsatisfactory. I became very uncomfortable. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Nothing, it's not about us,” he answered back.

Me didn't believe it.  Me never believes that it is not at the center of things.  "Then why are you letting it out on me if it’s not about me?” Me was becoming annoyed!

"I'm not! Could we just skip it? Why do you always have to know everything?" His me was now equally annoyed. Suffice it to say that the me's had the floor for the remainder of the evening, and it wasn’t pleasant.

I have since then learned some things about my husband, and myself. I have learned that he has many habits, likes, and dislikes that differ from mine. When he is focused on challenges from work or his writing, the world around him becomes a great thick fog that will let nothing penetrate it to interfere with creativity. That's what works for him. I have come to respect that, even though it is not how I function. Now, when he’s quiet or thoughtful, I leave him alone. I wait until I'm told, "We have a problem," without interpreting his behavior beforehand as being somehow about me.  I have grown comfortable with all his idiosyncrasies, and my me hasn't grumbled “You're really a jerk" for a long time. Really.

The lesson here is, don't ask why someone has a problem with you unless they specifically say that they do. You just may become the convenient lightening rod for someone who is ready to vent about something that has nothing to do with you at all!

Remember why me's influence is so strong and that its voice is most often heard first.  Learn to laugh at yourself when you discover you have succumbed once again to me’s irrationality. It will help you to avoid the same mistake next time. Don't defend it, and don't beat yourself up! (Remember, this is something we all do.) Stay on the path to strengthen the voice of Reason by reminding yourself, when in doubt, that it’s probably not about me.

Good luck with your goal!

Monday, July 25, 2011

It's Not About You (Part 1: The Road)

Judging everything you see in terms of how it affects you - as either good or bad, safe or unsafe, and desirable or to-be-avoided, is a primal response, as old as Man. It occurs quickly, automatically, and mostly under the radar of our conscious awareness. Much of the time, we go about our daily business without ever realizing that we’ve passed judgment on everything and everyone who crossed our path.

At some point later in our evolutionary process we developed reason, and it has obviously served us well.  However, reason being a later acquisition, if you like, its influence is often not as strongly felt as our more primal "me" impulses. (Am I safe? Where is my next meal coming from? Is he my enemy? etc.) Without the healthy dose of objectivity that reasoning provides, the me thinking becomes dominant. Me believes that it is the center or focus of everything that happens around it, and that everything is therefore done to it or for it.

All of us to varying degrees have experienced some me moments. (For some people it seems to be a way of life. We call them paranoid, or narcissistic.) You may have had a me moment when you suspected that you were drawing special attention from others at a restaurant, or when you felt sure that you were the butt of the joke when laughter broke out near you at a party. Hearing people whisper, me assumes it is the subject. A complement given to someone else is interpreted as a slap in me’s face.

It is both painful and stressful to live our lives under such assumptions, being guided by the me, when in fact most people have little or no interest in us  - because they, just as we are, are preoccupied with the state of their own lives. Whatever they do, it's really almost never about me.

One place the me has apparently achieved free reign is the highway, particularly at rush hour.  Obviously everyone else has gotten into their car that day just to p-ss me off! People are speeding (and so, usually, is me, but me doesn’t think about that part), they are cutting in front of me, passing me on the shoulder, and weaving in and out of lanes. Me takes it very personally. Me curses at them, honks the horn and raises your blood pressure several dangerous degrees. Reason has left the building!

If it could be heard over me’s raging, Reason would say, "Calm down, slow down, and you will get there safer and happier. Remember that some drivers may have urgent reasons to get somewhere in a hurry:  an emergency at home, a car that wouldn't start and made them late for a job interview, or maybe they simply really have to go, so to speak. No one is trying to make you angry.  It’s not about you, me. "

So, to reduce your stress and eliminate the bad mood you will inevitably be in when you finally arrive at work or at home, stop listening to me and make reason and objectivity your new driving partner. Remember not to take it personally when someone else drives like a jerk, because he or she may have a good excuse. Give them a break and take a deep breath instead of laying on your horn. It will be good for both of you, and a great way to start retraining your brain to start tuning out your irrational and trouble-causing me.

Good luck with your goal!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Routines Don’t Stifle Creativity – They Make Room For It

I work from home.  My chosen profession, like many, requires long hours of peace and quiet for concentration and inspiration. But as every parent of small children knows, chaos can erupt at any time and without warning send rule and order out the window. Powerless against the inevitable, I am nevertheless determined to have a mostly harmonious, well-run household.

I didn’t always feel that way.  Having been raised in a home were spontaneity was highly suspect, and the motto was fools rush in, I longed for a more free-spirited life in college and grad school. The young men I dated and the friends I made were mostly spur-of-the-moment types.  “Routine” was a four-letter word to them. Clean living conditions, proper meals and a good night’s sleep? How boring and lame!

Joe and Jane (not their real names) were friends and neighbors during my grad school years. They were the "do anything for you" kind.  Only, as it turned out, half of the apartment building was "doing" for them most of the time, because they had no routines of any kind for keeping their lives in order.

I supplied Jane with something to wear to work, conservatively, once a week. Her own clothes were always waiting to be laundered, or simply could not be found. Then there were the many cups of sugar, ground coffee, eggs, toilet paper and so on.  She usually made the rounds for this stuff so no one got hit up more than a few times each week. Joe's stopping by always ended with either one of my tools or a couple of cans of beer leaving with him. These guys were charming and fun to be with, so we put up with it.

Eventually, they wore me down. Joe, Jane, another friend and I had made plans to see a play Off Broadway. I wisely (or so I thought) bought the tickets in advance. We waited for Joe and Jane in front of the theater, but they were a no-show. It turned out they had spontaneously decided to go someplace else instead. The check they later gave me to pay for their unused tickets came with a request to "not deposit it till I tell you."  I'm still waiting to be told.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to truly appreciate the benefits of having routines.  I discovered that they serve me well, and that my family benefits from them in countless ways. Spontaneity certainly has its place in a happy life, but as a lifestyle I found it stressful and unfulfilling.

Don’t believe people who say that routines “stifle” creativity, because I’ve found the opposite to be true - by developing routines for the chores that must be done, I now have more real free time to be creative, and even play now and then, too.

There is a rhythm to work done repeatedly and in the same order. You become more and more efficient, and sometimes your thinking transcends the actual activity you’re engaged in (like vacuuming) and you can focus your mind elsewhere (like on an upcoming vacation).  It’s not unlike driving a car - once you know how, the mechanics of it become automatic.

Organization often happens as a kind of byproduct of routine. The household items you start using routinely (sorry), like the vacuum cleaner that’s now stored with tangled cords and hidden under backpacks and sneakers, will probably find a more accessible place to live. As will all your cleaning products. Once we adopt a routine, we naturally rearrange things for the better to accommodate it.

Routines can even save you money!  Make paying bills a once weekly event and store or file them by the date they are due. Not only will you get done faster, but you will forego paying the late charges from the gasman and the electric company.

During stressful times, or when you have the blues, there is a great deal of comfort in doing what is easy and familiar. Your routines will anchor you, and give you a sense of accomplishment when everything else seems to be going wrong.

Study after study shows that children (and pets) benefit greatly from healthy, stable routines. And sticking to a routine, as my regular blog readers will know, is a great way to strengthen your willpower muscle and gain more self-control!  Who doesn’t want more of that, right?

Good luck with your goal!

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Simple Solution for a Frequent Headache

This is not a tip on fashion or what style would be best for you to wear – I am no expert in that arena. But if you are a member of the I Hate To Shop For Clothes Club (to which I belong), follow me in your mind to one of the bigger department stores, and visualize a giant floor with racks and racks of clothing. I have made so many mistakes here in the past, because trying to see everything and somehow make good choices just simply wore me down.

It was some comfort to discover that I was far from alone in this experience. In fact, studies show that when faced with too many choices, people reliably enjoy whatever they end up choosing less than they do when making a choice among just a few options. (Remember this was also a reason your closet shouldn’t be overstuffed.)

I needed some guidance, because I knew shopping was a chore I could never completely avoid. Rifling through my own memories, and considering friends and even TV personalities for ideas, I found several sources of inspiration for a method that makes shopping fairly quick and easy now.

The first inspiration was the interior designer Candice Olson from HGTV. Whenever I watch her show, she is wearing a pair of classic-fit pants and a colorful, patterned top. This is her uniform, so to speak.  The clothing designer Michael Kors, another inspiration, has the perfect solution for men who don't like to shop or think about what to wear each day:  he wears black or navy suits with matching-colored tees, and that’s it.  Nothing else.  (A professor at Columbia University I once knew had the same idea – he wore a different suit and t-shirt for each season. Four outfits a year. How simple and great is that?  Unfortunately, unlike Michael Kors, I’m pretty sure he wore literally the same suit for months at a time.)

One of my friends in New York is a young woman who stands out everywhere she goes, in a good way. She only wears black. Not in the Vampira style, but simple and classic. She uses her clothes as a backdrop for showcasing her colorful jewelry and scarves from around the world. Now that kind of shopping I could get used to myself!

The key, I realized, was simplicity – singling out just a few things I would wear, and ignoring everything else.  So, inspired by simplicity-loving role models, I have come to own several pairs of identical pants and skirts in solid colors, chosen because they fit well. I stick to black shoes, because they go with everything I own. For tops I shop in a small boutique  (they have sales too!) and when I like a particular one, I buy several of the same, in different colors.

For dresses and special occasions, I prefer one small store in particular (again, few choices = less stress). And even when Mom isn't with me to give me a second opinion, I still let the advice she gave me years ago guide my final decision: "Ask yourself, what would Jackie wear?” (Jackie Kennedy Onassis was the standard for style and simplicity in my mom’s eyes.)  As in, “Would Jackie wear a dress with feathers on it?  Or sequins?  Or a slit up to her behind?”  No.  So back on the dress rack it goes.  This way, choices are made very quickly.

If there is someone whose "look" you admire, it's not a bad idea to let their style be your guide.  Whatever rule of thumb you choose for simplifying your wardrobe, it will greatly reduce your choices and you will be far more likely to end up loving what you buy.

Good luck with your goal!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy July 4th!! GTFRG is on Vacation!!

Hi Readers!    Great Tips is taking a much-needed summer vacation.  It will return on July 18th with more insights into how you can successfully tackle the hurdles of everyday life.  Have a wonderful July 4th!

- Heidi