Who are your 5?
I picked my kids up this week after work, only to find that during the course of the day, my daughter had lost her voice. She could whisper but that was about it. As we drove home she told us about her day. Without thinking, her brother responded to her by whispering. She replied to him that he didn’t have to whisper, his voice was just fine. I stepped in to defend him because this has happened to me as well, during a bout of laryngitis my coworkers all whispered to me even though they were perfectly fine. It’s a very interesting response and one that you do without even thinking. When someone whispers something to you, you automatically whisper back. When someone is sharing something exciting with you, it’s hard not to get excited too. It is an automatic social response to reflect the tone and energy of the person you’re interacting with. In fact to respond in any other way takes real thought and effort.
I was reading something this week that said you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with, your language changes and your standards change. What an interesting thought. I’ve certainly witnessed language changing. Thinking back to high school and college, my close friends and I had numerous phrases we would often say. We developed inside jokes and points of reference based on scenarios that we had all experienced together. I’ve seen the same thing happen in a work environment. When working with a client from Australia it was hard not to pick up phrases (how are you going?) or change the pronunciation of a word to fit their accent.
Adapting your language is obvious, but what about adapting your standards? Again it’s something that happens subtly, but happens nonetheless. A friend who is passionate about running, may give you the motivation you need to lace up your shoes and head to the gym. Sharing a healthy recipe might get you to try new foods and explore healthier eating choices. That’s one of the benefits of relationships, sharing of ideas to learn and explore new things we might not have experienced on our own.
The people around us also influence our emotions. Our emotions in turn influence our attitude and our energy. Earlier I mentioned when someone shares something exciting with you it’s hard not to get excited with them. You can replace the word exciting with any other feeling – happy, sad, anxious, confident, worry, love, etc. Feelings are contagious and we can easily take on the emotions that someone else brings to the table. When someone brings you an urgent situation at work, it’s easy to rise to that level of urgency and the anxiety that goes along with it. It’s harder and takes more conscious effort to stay calm and address the situation is a less stressful manner. On the other hand when you attend a family gathering or wedding where you are surrounded by love and affection, you can literally feel the love.
Like whispering to someone who whispers to us, many of these happen as a natural response that we don’t give much thought to. Knowing that you are the average of the five (or so) people that you spend the most time with – are you spending your time with the right people? Are they empowering you to be the best that you can be? And conversely, are you empowering them to be the best that they can be? Or is one of them dragging you down or causing you to feel emotions that you don’t want to feel (anger, frustration, sadness)? Once you realize that you are whispering when you don’t have to, you can speak up for yourself once again.
Last night we did something that we’ve never done before as parents, we went to the movies and saw a kid’s movie without the kids! Sounds crazy right? We’ve sat through so many movies for the simple reason of getting the kids out of the heat, that it might seem a little crazy that we would voluntarily spend a rare night without the kids watching an animated film. But this film was an exception. Inside Out is this summer’s big movie from Pixar. It is hard not to miss seeing a commercial or reading a glowing review by one of the major media outlets. I read the story line about a year ago - a movie from the perspective of an 11 year old’s emotions, I couldn’t wait. And the movie did not disappoint. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear are the five emotions present in Riley’s brain that influence her moods, actions and reactions throughout the movie. Each emotion has a role in specific scenarios, i.e. Disgust takes the lead when it comes to broccoli. When a scenario arises that they’ve never experienced before, they all have to figure out how to get Riley through it. The movie puts a face to emotions and many other concepts of what goes on inside your brain. It will give children a vocabulary and reference point for how to talk about their emotions, which is so powerful. I’ll write a more interactive post about the movie concepts and incorporating them with your kids, but I’ll give everyone a few weeks to see it first.
One concept I will share is that of teamwork. The five emotional characters each have their own point of view and responsibilities. They may disagree on who should take the lead but they are all present in every scenario. Whether they realize it or not, they are all working together with the common goal of doing what’s best for Riley. As parents we do the same thing. We work to build a team of people to surround our children to give them all the support and love that they will need to grow. This weekend we celebrate fathers and the role they play on the team. A role that at one time was traditionally defined using words like head of the household, breadwinner and disciplinarian. Today the definition has morphed into so much more. Studies show that fathers are more involved in their children’s lives today than at any other time in history. They help with homework, practice, have tea parties and may even be persuaded to get their nails painted. The old stereotypes are shattering and in their place, the idea that these are the things that need to get done, it doesn’t matter who does them. That’s the great thing about being on a team, there is always someone there to step up and help out.
Every aspect of life is about being on a team, from your individual emotions to your extended family and beyond. Today take time to appreciate the team you have surrounding you. It’s easy to recognize individual roles or “positions”, but when you put them all together, their strength as a team grows exponentially.
We are a couple weeks into summer break – are your kids driving you crazy yet? Whether it’s the lack of the normal routine, or the rising temps, it’s highly possible they’ve touched on at least one of your nerves. Fortunately for me, my kids are off at “camp”, which is their term for spending 10 days in California with my parents and sister. It’s a win-win for all of us. They get to spend time with family doing fun things they don’t normally get to do and we get to spend time at home doing things that we don’t normally get to do (like shopping for kitchen faucets on a Wednesday night, I know you are jealous). Camp has a calendar of events with activities of what is going to be done each day. I too have a list of things to do, people to meet up with, shops to go to, movies and TV shows to watch! The possibilities are endless, whatever will I do with myself! And then that little voice creeps into my head and says, why do you wait until they are gone to do make time with friends or plan a movie date night? And shouldn’t you be feeling just a little more guilty that they are not here?
What/who is that voice in our heads and who asked it to comment on every aspect of our lives? Have you ever given this question any thought? Who IS that voice in my head? Mindfulness is a concept that has been around for thousands of years, but is now gaining in popularity among mainstream society. One of the fundamental concepts in the practice of mindfulness is to pay attention to the dialogue running through your head and then let it go. Yes, let it go. Stop thinking about it. Move on. How often do you have a thought, which leads to another thought, which then judges both of those thoughts and leaves you feeling confused or frustrated or guilty?
Thoughts have momentum. Stop to think about that. We’ve all experienced it, one thought leads to another and another and another. All of a sudden you may be feeling terrible about a situation, depressed or hopeless. You may ask yourself how did you get to this place, to this thought. Or you may just accept it as fact and continue on with your day, accepting that this view/feeling is your new reality. Mindfulness is a practice because it takes effort each and every day, sometimes every minute. Last week, I checked my work email on my phone before getting ready. I read an email that really irritated me. I held off on sending a reply but as I dried my hair I wrote my response in my head. The more I thought about the response, the more upset I became. I realized I was getting angry and knew that if I didn’t stop I might accidently snap at someone, which was certainly not how I wanted to start the day. I forced myself to stop thinking about it and told myself that I would deal with it when I got to work. Minutes later I started writing the email again in my head. Again I stopped myself, took a deep breath and continued getting ready. It’s so easy to let those thoughts gain momentum and it might take you multiple attempts to stop yourself from going down that spiral. Being aware is the first step in the practice.
In his book, Mindfulness for Beginners, author Jon Kabat-Zinn says:
“….awareness allows us to see and to realize what we are seeing, to think and to know what’s on our minds, and to experience emotion and be in relationship to it in a way that is actually wise and self-compassionate – that doesn’t saddle us with stories of how great we are or how horrible we are or how inadequate we are. Such narratives can act like cement boots that sink us in a morass more or less of our own creation – that is, if we believe them, if we think they are the truth rather than recognize them as merely thoughts coming and going.”
The next time your voice in your head starts to go on a rant, try to practice mindfulness. Don’t let those thoughts become “cement boots”, acknowledge the thought and then move on with your day.
What image comes to your mind when you think of the word balance? A balance beam? Or maybe a stack or differently sized rocks? The feeling I get is that balance is a little shaky. I see myself with my arms out, waving and wobbling about, until balance is achieved. When you look up the definition of the word balance they use words like equilibrium and steadiness. One of the definitions is “the equal distribution of weight, amount, etc.” It is this definition of balance that we think of when we hear the phrase “Work Life Balance”.
The phrase Work Life Balance implies the need to evenly distribute your time between work and life. From the start, we know that is near impossible. If you work eight hours a day you would literally have to balance that out with eight hours of “life”, and in a perfect world eight hours of sleep. Though the math works out, the reality rarely does because “life” is not just one thing to manage. Life breaks out into family, household, friends and personal responsibilities. Now you are trying to find balance, equal time, for all of these things. It’s overwhelming. Thinking about it in that way brings to mind an image of a Jenga game, where the carefully stacked blocks are balanced but teetering waiting for one more piece to be removed before it all falls apart.
So how do you get past that feeling that your daily balance is a tower of blocks that is waiting to collapse? First you need to accept the fact that balance is not something that can be measured daily. Some days everything falls into place – your work gets done, there’s no traffic, making dinner is a breeze and you get to spend quality time with your little ones. Other days, you’re not so lucky - a big work project means working late or a sick kid means not working at all. As if the overall stress of days like those are not enough, we put added stress on ourselves by thinking about how out of balance we are on that day. We need to accept that balance is something that can look very different from day to day, it doesn’t have to be equal as the definition implies.
The powerful fact is that you get to define what balance looks like for you. For me, it’s come down to deciding what is most important to me in that given day. If I have been working late, then I try to find a quick dinner to make so that we can spend time with the kids before bed doing something fun. Or if there is a book report due the next day that is nowhere close to being done, that might mean leaving work early and logging in later on that night to finish up. I know it’s not always that easy. Summertime is a great time to look at what is and what is not working. It gives you a chance to slowly start to incorporate your new vision of balance and see how it works before the school year adds another level of chaos. Work life balance, or even just life balance, is possible when you are living your own definition. It doesn’t have to be perfect equilibrium, as long as it feels steady to you.
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.