The pandemic has changed many things about our lives. For us, one of those things is whether or not to travel. While we stayed close to home in the spring, we began to venture out in early June. As we have done so, we have been careful about wearing masks, social distancing, and minimizing our exposure to others. But we have begun to travel again, although on a more limited basis than is our norm.
Many people are dealing with a level of stress that is at epidemic proportions. The pandemic has accelerated what was already problematic for many in our society. While we may not be able to relieve the stress for others, we should at least not add to it. What we say and how we say it can hinder or help.
It is so easy for some to judge, and to sound judgmental when talking with others. If we could just listen more and better and hold our comments until the other person asks for our opinion, we would have less conflict. Instead of doing this, too often some become directive, telling the other person what they should do. Instead of acting upon the knowledge of “Walk a Mile in my Shoes,” and showing more empathy to others, some become arrogant, giving others unsolicited advice. This is not helpful, and in fact, can be hurtful.
Dr. Laurie Santos, the Yale Professor whose “Happiness” course is the university’s most popular course, lists the following tips for living a life of well-being:
Practice Deep Breathing
Do Acts of Kindness
Focus on What You Control
Exercise, Eat Healthy, Sleep Well
Actively Practice Gratitude
These tips for living a life of well-being can help us manage stress and conflict when dealing with difficult people and situations.
#1, “Practice Deep Breathing” is always good advice. When one hears something from someone else that could precipitate a reaction, breathing deeply can turn that reaction into a state of calm.
#2, “Do Acts of Kindness” is one way to get outside oneself and help others. Nothing helps us to overcome the stress of life more than reaching out and helping someone else.
#3, “Focus on What You Control” has direct applicability to managing stress and conflict. While we may want to, we cannot control the behavior of others. When others are difficult, we do not have to get caught up in it. What we can control is how we respond, and what power we allow the behavior of others to have over us.
#4, “Exercise, Eat Healthy, and Sleep Well” are important in keeping us physically healthy. When we are physically healthy it is much easier to be emotionally healthy.
#5, “Actively Practice Gratitude” helps us to focus on our lives, being grateful for what we have, all of it; even our problems. We only have to think of someone who is no longer alive, and who would love to be, to know that life itself is the greatest gift. Being grateful for life is our duty. We owe this to those no longer with us.
With cooler mornings and the days beginning to shorten, we will soon ease into fall. It won’t be long before the leaves turn into vibrant oranges and gold. This particular season shows us more than any other how wonderful change can be. Many of us start to prepare for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We are engaged in moments that create memories. An advertisement recommends “Spend More Moments in the Moment.” What a wonderful message. Too often we are so busy going, doing, and acquiring that we fail to be present in the moment. But all moments are not the same, even when they create memories. And all memories are not good memories.
1. When time is up, there is no more. This is obvious, you might say, but not necessarily obvious in our behavior. We too often go through our days assuming we will have more time. Until we don’t. No more time to clean out that storage shed that we put things in years ago, and planned to go through, and didn’t. Now, someone else will have to do that, and make decisions about that stuff. It may not be stuff in a storage shed. It may be things in an attic or basement. The point is the same. If we haven’t needed or wanted the stuff stuck in a shed, attic, or basement out of sight for years, do we really think someone else will? No, we don’t really think that. We just don’t take action to do it. We will get to it later, then later is too late.
2. If we do not record the combination or give the keys to our locked cabinets to someone, they are left having to figure out how to get into those. If we have valuables in those locked cabinets and haven’t made our wishes known about them, others will make those decisions. Our valuables may be in drawers or boxes instead of cabinets; the point is the same.
3. Our most precious possessions are our loved ones. Not our valuables, our money, or our other tangible resources, but our loved ones. It is those closest to us that we cling to in our last days, not our stuff. Then why do we spend so much time and energy accumulating stuff and less time with those we love, until it is too late? You tell me.
4. The importance of making time to share our stories, recipes, and memories. I remember our nieces and other family members gathering around my husband Mike’s Dad a few years ago during Thanksgiving and recording their “interview” of him. While having the information he provided about his life as a young man, his military years, and other details about his life, hearing his voice as he talked about those is even more of a treasure, especially now, since Dad is gone. The recipes I have in the handwriting of my special aunt Bebo, special friend/second “mother” Shirshee, and first mother-in-law MawMaw Pennington, are more valuable than my “valuables.” Memories shared together of our recently departed friend Jim made our time of mourning also a time of joy. Are you making time to share stories, recipes, and memories while you still can, or will these die with you?
5. The need to spend our time on things that really matter to us. I found myself wondering if what I was spending my time doing today was really worthwhile. Even if the city I was in, where I spend a lot of time, was where I wanted to be. There are no easy answers to these questions for me. But I hope that when the answers are clear, that I will be able to follow their lead.
6. The need to get my affairs in order. This includes my financial affairs, including an updated will; the Living Will; Burial or Cremation, and where I want my ashes or body to go. Details for my funeral or memorial service, if those details matter to me. Some reading this may think making plans for some of this is premature. It may be. But is it, really? Only if I do not care what happens to my financial resources, my service “sending me off,” and my body after death. I realize this is not what we want to think about and make plans for. But if we are financially responsible, and if we do care about what happens when we die, we will make these plans, so our family knows our wishes, and is able to grieve without the worry of these details.
7. The importance of making every moment count. The need to spend our days focused on joy, beauty, and health. Joy, not pleasure, for pleasure is transitory, and joy is life sustaining. Beauty, even when there is so much around us that is focused on division, not beauty. Health, so we are able to enjoy our life and our loved ones, able to play, able to dance, able to walk on the beach.
“To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.” (William Blake).
Our family lost a good friend to cancer last week at the young age of 48; Jim Townsend. Jim lived and most of his family live in or near the Alabama town in which I have deep roots. Although I left the area almost forty years ago, I have maintained close ties with friends there who are more family than friends. I have traveled back to visit at least once a year, and at other times for important events. I just returned from Jim’s service, and spent several days with his mother, Judy, my dearest and longest friend. We talked, cried, and laughed, and ate wonderful food prepared and delivered by many friends. I was awe struck by the volume and quality of the food. I think people in the deep south show their love and support through food like no others do. Perhaps there are lessons in this for others of us.
We all experience problems and blessings, pleasure and pain, and joy and sorrow. We never know when any of this will come, and the best we can do is be prepared when it does. I have had some of all of this lately.
As for problems, in the past month we have had several problems at our home in Raleigh. First, our microwave exploded and started a fire. Thankfully, we caught the fire and were able to extinguish it before it did any more damage than to the microwave itself. Just a few days later, we noticed our second level HVAC system was not working. That was a fairly minor repair. Then we noticed water coming through the ceiling in our master bedroom. Upon exploration, we realized a tree had fallen and cut a hole in our roof; a small hole, but one that did enough damage to be disruptive, nonetheless. That same night, our sewer alarm went off, and the sewer intake line was clogged and had to be cleaned out. Again, not major, but disruptive. Remember, all of this happened in one month! A close friend and our daughter asked how many signs we need to know it is time to sell this house?!
But as disruptive and annoying as these problems are, they are just annoyances. They come with home ownership, although not often all at the same time. I do think they could be a sign, and I am just not paying enough attention. Still, they cannot be compared to the pain and sorrow of losing a loved one, which we have also experienced, just today. I hesitate to discuss these in the same article, for they are so very different. But my heart is heavy, and the annoyances we have had in our home this month just took a significant back seat in importance. It is important to recognize how quickly our perspective of what are real problems changes.
My friend who has been with me through all of my life’s major experiences since I was 16 years old (52 years), lost her son to Cancer this morning at the young age of 48. We are all heartbroken, but I cannot even begin to imagine my friend Judy’s grief, losing her first-born child. There can be no greater grief than burying a child. Some reading this have prayed the same prayer that I have prayed through the years. The prayer does not need to be verbalized; you know.
I do not understand how some people who are so good, such as Jim Townsend was, have the problems and illnesses they have, and suffer so much, while others, who don’t seem to be good people, seem to soar through life problem free. I know I am judging and asking questions to which we have no answers. I ask forgiveness for that. This loss is so raw.
Jim Townsend, your death puts a deep hole in my heart. I wish I still had the coffee table your dingo boots put a major scratch in many years ago! That is one of our favorite stories, told again just last night. There are many stories, and many memories. But I do not need that physical reminder of you. But I will keep the text that you sent me in July that said, “I can’t imagine my life without you in it. Love you so much.” Imagine that from a 48-year-old guy. Jim Townsend, I can’t imagine life without you. You will live forever in my heart.
Many people know that innovation is the key to success in the current and future business world, even if they do not know how to be innovative. Given the pandemic gripping the world, innovation is more important now than ever before. Unfortunately, at the very time that innovation is so needed, it may be harder for innovation to be stimulated. While innovation is required for many businesses to even survive, too many people are simply doing the same things in a slightly different way, expecting dramatic positive results. Innovation is different than that. Innovation is not “Thinking Outside of the Box.” Just think about that. How long have you heard that phrase, “Thinking Outside of the Box?” Likely, for many years. Now, how innovative is that?! Not very. Is “Thinking Outside the Triangle” more innovative than “Thinking Outside of the Box”? Probably. That is just a very simple example of the fact that we are not really focused on innovation, even when we think we are.
What is required for innovation to occur? First of all, we must think differently before we can do differently. If we can’t think differently, we will not be able to do differently. How do we think differently? We have to be open to new ideas. One way to train ourselves to think and do differently is to change the order of things we do regularly, such as when we brush our teeth, and in what order we floss and brush our teeth. There is no right or wrong way to do most of the things we do regularly, but we get locked into patterns without even thinking about their order. When we change this, we have an uncomfortable feeling. Try it, and you will experience the discomfort. By changing the order of some things that we do automatically, we are training ourselves to think and do differently. This practice prepares us for bigger and more important changes and can improve our ability to be innovative.
Another behavior that can help us to think and do differently is to think more analytically and challenge our own assumptions. While all of us have biases, some are better able than others to challenge their own assumptions. This includes turning our thinking inside out. A simple exercise illustrates this. I might think, “Women are more nurturing than men.” To turn that thinking inside out I can change that to, “Men are more nurturing than women.” Some reading this would not agree with the second statement. Even so, does that mean they must agree with the first statement? No. The two statements are not mutually exclusive. How can this be? By altering the statement, we may find something that most people will agree with regarding the nurturing abilities of women and men. For example, “Many women are more nurturing than many men.” True? Possibly, or maybe even probably. We can also even say that, “Some men are more nurturing than many women,” and that is likely true. If we were to say, however, “Many men are more nurturing than most women,” we would find many women and men who could disagree with us. So, have we thought more analytically and challenged our assumptions? Most likely.
Becoming more innovative also requires that we become more flexible. If we are always doing the same things in the same way, we will only have what we have always had. If I only spend time with the people I know best and am most comfortable with, how will I ever expand my experience with and benefit from the strengths of those who are different?
Back to the pandemic for a moment. Many businesses have suffered immensely, some not surviving. At the same time with the same set of circumstances, the pandemic has resulted in new businesses and new revenue streams for other businesses. Think of the businesses now making masks. Also, some restaurants that were previously only dine-in now have a thriving take-out business. The failure of some businesses to change themselves as our world has changed has resulted in the demise of too many businesses. The ability of some businesses to adapt and become innovative has created dynamic new services and revenue streams.
One does not decide to become more innovative and it immediately happens. It does not happen by just thinking differently, or even by doing differently. Becoming different requires vision, commitment, practice, and even patience. There are often missteps along the way. If the vision is clear however, and if the commitment is solid, then innovation can and will occur.
Do not allow yourself, your company, or your organization to be boxed in. THINK OUTSIDE THE TRIANGLE!
Life is so unpredictable. First the Coronavirus, resulting in devastating health outcomes for so many people around the world. The negative impact on the U.S. economy and many businesses has been beyond belief. We do not know when we can expect significant relief from Covid-19; most likely not until we have a vaccine for the virus. We are many months away from that, and until then, the best that we can hope for is a gradual reduction in the number of people affected with the virus, and hopefully a decline in the death rate. Now that schools are scheduled to begin reopening in varying degrees across the country, some people are worried that we will have a surge in Covid cases. Life cannot begin to return to any semblance of normal anytime soon. Even so, although it is hurricane season, we probably did not expect that we would have a hurricane to contend with. But we did.
These are difficult times, to say the least. I do not need to reiterate the obvious, since we have all been living with the Pandemic for several months. And soon things are about to get worse, some think. School is starting in various degrees in different parts of the country, and parents are worried. I think we all need to be aware of the need to do our very best during these times to stay calm, insulate our hot buttons, and be the stability our children need and deserve.
There is often so much noise in our heads and around us that we miss important moments. Not so for a Wilmington, NC woman on her walk with her dog. She was not on her phone, or she would have missed it. She was not even lost in her own thoughts, unaware of what was going on around her. She was present. Because of that, she heard the crying of a baby in a trash can and saved his life. The identity of the woman who put the baby in a plastic bag and left him in a trash can has been discovered, but we do not know the motive. We do know that being present and the quick action of the woman who discovered the baby saved his life. The baby boy is now safe, and the woman who found him is so grateful that she was present to hear his cries.
We have many moments in which we miss important things just by not being present. We may be distracted, not aware of what is going on around us. We may be lost in our thoughts, failing to see or hear the pain of those closest to us. Or, we may see and hear, only to miss the important messages we would understand if we only slowed down enough to be fully present.
When life is in full swing it is easy to miss what is important that is going on around us. Maybe we can even understand that. But our most recent and current times have afforded us a unique opportunity to slow down and see and hear in a way not often found. Our Coronavirus experience has given us this gift, while also giving us much more that we may fail to see as a gift, but which in reality, may be.
I wrote last week about being present in the moment, not focusing on the past or the future. To be fully aware requires us to be in the present moment, avoiding the temptation of living in the past or future. While we really only have the present, it is easy to lose sight of that, and obsess over what was and what we think or fear will be. When we do so, we can miss the magic of what is.
How can we be more aware? How can we quiet the noise in our heads? What can we do to be more fully present?
First, we should turn off the external noise, at least some of the day. That includes the TV and all of our devices. We should be still and allow our thoughts to give us insight that the noise of our distractions too often covers. We can get active, paying attention to what our body can tell us. My favorite activity is walking, and I usually have my wireless ear buds in, listening to educational and inspiring podcasts. While I enjoy these, even they can mask what I can learn from just going within, without anyone’s words in my ears but my own.
Another idea is one Julie Cameron writes about in her 1995 seminal book, The Artist’s Way. Cameron calls this creative approach Morning Pages. First thing each morning after awakening, before doing anything else, one should write freehand on three 8.5” pages, whatever comes from one’s mind, not trying to organize the thoughts. Just write. Then put the pages in an envelope and seal them. Once a week, open the envelopes and read the pages. Insights from one’s subconscious will be found on the pages. I have done this at different times through the years. I recently found some morning pages from 2000 and reread them. I found a theme in those pages from twenty years ago about my thoughts that I needed to not drink so much alcohol. Nineteen years later, May 7, 2019, I stopped drinking. I may have stopped earlier had I continued with the morning pages. But then again, my subconscious thoughts written on those pages may have surfaced from that very work nineteen years later.
Being Aware can take many forms. What is most important is to find what works for you. Life is too precious to miss what we need to hear, understand, and know to be able to live it fully.