Monday, February 25, 2013

Why I love Non-Violent Communication (and just what the heck is it?)

Something you should know about me that will also help you understand this blog better, is that I’m a total fanatic for Non-Violent Communication (NVC). It’s sometimes called Compassionate Communication, a title which resonates with me more.

Knowing a few of the key characteristics of NVC will shed some light on to how I reason with and view the world; knowing more about the method itself will, no doubt, transform your life. I highly recommend it if you have the desire to be more understanding and compassionate with yourself and others, and more effective in your communication.

Marshall Rosenburg wrote the seminal text. Here’s what he has to say:
“NVC guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to observe carefully, and to be able to specify behaviors and conditions that are affecting us. We learn to identify and clearly articulate what we are concretely wanting in any given situation. The form is simple, yet powerfully transformative.”

There are two really powerful things I’ve learned from NVC.

1: We all have the same basic needs and experience the same spectrum of feelings related to when those needs are met and unmet

Check out these feelings inventory and needs inventory.

This is the starting point for compassion and for interacting more empathically. 

2: Everything we do as humans, every action we take, every word we speak, is in an attempt to meet our needs.

When I first encountered this I thought: How can that possible be when some people’s actions are so obviously not going to get them what they need? I was thinking of my own passive aggressive behaviors, and of witnessing angry yelling, tantrums, and even withdrawing. Sure, I could see how asking politely might work to get your needs met, but a lot of the behaviors we exhibit, especially when we’re riled up, not so much.

What typically happens in a communication breakdown is that the strategy used by an individual to get their needs met, stimulates disengagement or an ego war with the other person. A lose, lose.

When we look past the behavior (the strategy itself) for the underlying need, it’s easier to muster up compassion and empathy because we see that we, too, have had an experience with those same needs and feelings.

I'm feeling excited to share this with all of you and to bring some of these concepts to life in upcoming posts. Stay tuned! 

Photo credit: P Shanks

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Conditioning Yourself to Discomfort: Eye Gazing Edition

The folks over at SPACIOUS recently posted about eye gazing parties and it reminded me of a time when I spent a week practicing eye gazing with total strangers.

Here’s what I wrote:

I love this “eye gazing” exercise suggested by Timothy Ferris in The Four Hour Work Week:
“For the next two days, test gazing into the eyes of others—whether people you pass on the street or conversational partners—until they break contact.
1. Focus on one of their eyes, not both, and be sure to blink occasionally so you don’t look like a psychopath or get your ass kicked. It’s not sustained eye contact, it’s too infrequent blinking, that makes people feel uncomfortable.
2. In conversation, focus on maintaining eye contact when you are speaking. It’s easy to do while listening.
3. Practice with people bigger or more confident than yourself. If a passer-by asks you what the hell you’re staring at, just smile and respond: ‘Sorry about that. I thought you were an old friend of mine.’”

This exercise is part of Tim’s idea that you can, “…condition yourself to discomfort and overcome it.”  I love it for its contribution to helping me condition myself to discomfort. (This is a larger project I’ve been working on for years, only recently becoming aware of it. More on this soon!)

I also love it for the unexpected effects I experienced from practicing it.

For one thing, I noticed that it helped me to “focus” my interactions. When I spoke with someone, I looked at them and was less likely to be distracted by other things in my environment. Sometimes I left an interaction with a cashier, at my favorite local cafĂ© for example, feeling really connected. As if I just had a chat with a good friend when all I did was order a drink. Seeing as how connectedness is a basic human need, it felt awesome to have that need met with minimal effort in an unlikely place.

I also often had the sense that I positively contributed to their experience as well. Maybe this is because people who are in customer service positions are often dealing with folks who are technologically distracted.

“I’ll have a latte. Oh my god, I can’t believe he said that. What? Yeah, tall. No was talking to the cashier guy. What a jerk. No your boyfriend, not the cashier. Oh, to go.”

Even though it seems like a simple thing, ordering coffee or a similar activity, it means a lot more than we think to really be present in doing so. Plus it opens up all kinds of possibilities.

Which was the other thing I found when I incorporated “eye gazing” into my routine human interactions. People, totally strangers, talked to me more and smiled at me more frequently. One woman, for example, just felt comfortable enough to ask me if I thought she’s poured herself about a cup of quinoa from the bulk bin, after I made eye contact with her and excused myself for being in her personal space as I scooped out some nutritional yeast. And there’s that satisfying human connection happening again.

I know it’s just quinoa, but it feels good to talk to people as if you share a friend level of comfort with them. And to feel as if you aren’t just an atomized, insular being zipping through your day, trying not to bump into anyone.

The final effect was that I projected a sense of confidence that may not have been truly on par with how confident I felt. You know the old saying, “fake it ‘til you make it.” Through practicing “eye gazing” self-confidence started to rise up in me as if from the ether. 

Will you take Tim's challenge? Eye dare you.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


“Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.” 

-William James

This is why we can "feel fear and do it anyway." This is why it's powerful to move yourself in a new direction (any direction!) when you're feeling stuck. All too often feeling stuck is accompanied and held firmly in place by other feelings like despair, depression, agitation, irritation, confusion, hopelessness.

I wish I was hypothesizing here, but since I've become a scientist of my own life, I've noticed this again and again.

Lots of the self-help lit begins with feelings. Freud popularized investigating our feelings and understanding their origin and folks have been building on this idea ever since.

Lay down on this couch and let's talk about your childhood...

Though sometimes it certainly is helpful to launch an investigation on  the origin our feelings (especially those that loop & especially when we have help), we should also remain vigilant in our awareness about the usefulness of this and the outcome.

Experiment with giving primacy to action even when you don't (but desire to) understand where your stuck-ness and the feelings accompanying it come from.

Remember your super-hero mind powers? They come into play here yet again. 

Just as we can use the powers of our minds to dig deeper and deeper ruts when we get stuck in our feelings and our inability to change them at will and allow this (often unconsciously) to lead to habitual action which feels and looks a lot like inaction.  

We can also harness the power of our minds (with a bit of conscious effort) to move into actionable spaces, acknowledging our feelings and even our stuck-ness, without giving them the power to keep us in place.

 Nudge, nudge, nudge. Insist. De-gum. Close your eyes tight and just start walking. Sure, you might bump into something or fall down. But I find often even that feels better than unrest, boredom, agitation, irritation, depression and confusion.

Bonus: Very often an unintended consequence of many of my just-move-me-forward actions is a better understanding of my feelings. Otherwise known as perspective.

Photo credit: ARMLE

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The best system is your own.

If you took a tour of my steno notebook (my beloved journal) you might think I’m disorganized. 

In one steno I house everything from goal setting charts, hand-drawn calendars, ideas, quotes that inspire me, personal journal entries, doodles, phone numbers & addresses, and the list goes on.

A mash-up.

This could lead to me not being able to find those ideas I wrote down or the items on the to do list to cross off after completion, but I’m learning how to work my “weaknesses”* and turn them into strengths.

Starting with my inclination towards mash-up messiness, I then created a system involving revisiting my entries as a means to jog my memory and re-inspire me (I call this structured inspiration). The second time around I denote that the idea has been revisited, edited, typed into a permanent home in my computer or ditched. There’s something utterly satisfying about this whole process.

Sure I could just type up all these various steno-fied things to begin with and house them immediately in my, admittedly, hyper-organized computer files. Or I could write them down and never revisit them, letting them sleep soundly forever in the pages of the steno (which was my previous, unproductive, system).

Instead, I’ve found the happy place where my “natural” inclinations to be somewhat messy, mash-up ideas with personal entries and off-the-cuff writings have merged with my desire to be inspired, organized, and productive in creating my life’s work.

The best system is our own. Learn how to maximize your own ways of working by finding the intersection between your natural or habitual tendencies and your ultimate desires (what you want to be, do, and have).
*I don’t think of this as a weakness at all, but occasionally there’s a societal whisper in my ear that says, “what a mess.”

Photo Credit: Hometown Beauty

Monday, February 4, 2013

Love your weird. 
Stanley Baking Company keepin' it weird.

It’s a compliment. “I love your weird.” A lot.  And you should, too.
It’s a command. Do it. Love your weird.

So many folks follow statements about preferences, behaviors and the like with, “…yeah but I’m weird.”

And it’s true. We’re all weird.

But we’re not all weird in the same ways. And paying attention to your weird can be useful in figuring out those unique traits that only you can bring to the world. [Hint: This is huge if you’re wondering what your purpose is and how to tool that into a living, paid or otherwise.]

What’s my weird?
I’ve got a whole lot of weird on offer. One thing that’s “weird” about me is that I enjoy putting myself in uncomfortable situations. You know how it was really popular to call, “awkwaaard,” in uncomfortable situations? I like to walk into those situations.

Let me repeat. I like to put myself into these situations. I don’t focus on the “being” part. But I’ve noticed that if you just focus on putting yourself there, the being part takes care of itself.

And this is why I used to love Tuesdays.

Tuesdays aren’t inherently uncomfortable or awkward. 

Well, they weren’t before I instituted tutu Tuesdays*.  But last spring I donned a tutu every Tuesday. I put it on when I got dressed in the morning, and I didn’t take it off until I went to bed at night. I walked my dog in it around the neighborhood. I ran errands in it and went to the library book sale.

And I was surprised and pleased with the reactions I got. I confused people. And made them smile. And one guy even asked me if he could have his picture with me. I felt like a celebrity!

But what I really loved about tutu Tuesday, and all other uncomfortable situations I willingly enter into, is that it broke my routine. 

It invited adventure and spontaneity and invoked self-confidence. (It’s hard to pout in a tutu and it’s hard to walk with your head down, too!)

It’s important to note that these characteristics aren’t necessarily things I’d list as my strengths, but by changing my routine in this relatively simple way, I strengthened them. It was easier to act as if I’m the most spontaneous,adventurous, self-confident gal in the universe

And people seemed to think I was that way. The tutu speaks for itself. 

Bonus: Each time I took the tutu off, I found myself thinking I was more of all of those things, too.

Another uncomfortable situation I routinely subject myself to is travel. Anyone who’s traveled outside the U.S. (or even within!) knows that you’re uncomfortable pretty much all the time. The language, culture, food, customs, weather; it’s all different!

My “weird” has revealed to me that I’m flexible, curious, and value self-expression. It’s also been an integral part of the discovery-focused part of my path. I’m committed to finding out my ultimate purpose(s) and uncomfortable situations provide a lot of information to this end. They tell me what I’m good at, where my weaknesses are, and open opportunities that might not have been there if I played it safe.

What’s your weird?

*I wish I could credit the blogger who gave me this idea years ago, but I’ve forgotten her name and can’t find her even with the mad power of google.