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Annoying Relatives: If You Can’t Beat Them, Make Fun of Them

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m multi-talented: I can talk and piss you off at the same time. ~T-shirt

Holidays are a fun time to spend with family members and friends.  Except when the crazy, boring and/or cranky ones show up . . . the ones that nag you about being too fat, too thin, too single or the passive-aggressive jerks who generously lavish you and everyone else with backhanded compliments. They are not fun.  Yet there they are at all the big family gatherings co-mingled among the peeps you do like. They’re like those big Brazil nuts (that NO ONE likes) in the cocktail nut bowl mixed in with the yummy cashews, almonds and pecans, only you can’t pick them out and leave them on the end table and hope the dog comes by and makes them disappear.

They’re there and you brace yourself for their annoyingness.  I believe you should avoid annoying relatives the vast majority of the time, but there are times when you choose to tolerate them.  On these occasions, it’s helpful to turn family drama into fun with your family.  But how? My teacher, Martha Beck, came up with a brilliant solution, she calls it Dysfunctional Family Bingo.

Heres how you play: first you will need additional players. Conspire with a few of your friends who are also dreading certain Brazil nut type relatives and friends during the holidays.  Each player creates a 5×5 card and fills in the squares with scenarios and situations that make them cringe and that they expect from the relatives in question. For example, you know your sister-in-law will come into the kitchen every half hour to ask what’s taking so long to get the meal ready, and, without offering any help, she will remind you of the starving masses waiting on your self in the other room for you to feed them . . .your cousin will dredge up the summer you were fourteen and got caught, repeatedly, making out with that boy who was always up to no good and get your mom all worked up about it again. . .Your brother’s science fiction obsessed twins will get stuck in the laundry chute and destroy your blow dryer while attempting to access the fourth dimension . . .These anticipated scenarios earn a place on the card.  Every time a family member does the expected thing that makes you want to fashion a noose just for them, check it off on your card.  Keep your phone handy and text your friends when each event occurs or simply wait until you can claim Bingo! Whatever cracks you up the most.

Now instead of dreading these people and events, you kind of look forward to them because you agree with your friends that whoever gets Bingo first (or has the most spots filled in) gets treated to a lunch by the others. Let the games and craziness begin.

No One Has To Change But You

November 16, 2010 3 comments

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. ~Maya Angelou

This weekend I showed my 7 year old daughter, Sara, how to put her hair up into a ponytail. This is a skill I had avoided teaching her because of her extremely low tolerance for making mistakes, her preoccupation over her physical appearance and a low threshold for frustration—favorable conditions to fuel the perfect tantrum. Over the past few weeks, I had become completely fed up with her attitude and drama. Her temper was out of control, she was disrespectful, mean and totally unpleasant to be around. While I was feverishly researching ways to fix my daughter’s behavior, I had flashbacks to several unpleasant exchanges I had with her recently–she wasn’t the only one who was losing it. I was highly reactive to Sara’s volatile emotions and instead of staying calm and neutral, I bought into her emotional experience and spiraled down into an angry and frustrated place with her. Bad choice.  I’m sure if asked to assess my behavior, my daughter would probably say that my temper was out of control, that I was disrespectful, mean and totally unpleasant to be around. I knew there was no way I was going to help my daughter manage her emotions if I couldn’t get a grip on mine. So that’s where I started, where it always has to start: with me.

I used all the information I gathered about behavior modification for Sara and applied it to myself. When my daughter argued that she would never learn how to put her hair up properly, that she can’t do anything right, I didn’t take the bait.  When my daughter blamed me for everything from the texture of her hair to the ponytail elastic falling out of her hand and onto the floor, I met her anger and frustration with emotional neutrality and patience. Admittedly, it took an enormous amount of focus and commitment to stay calm and neutral, but the results were mind-blowing.  After about 20 minutes, with very little drama, my daughter had learned how to put her hair up into a ponytail by herself and she was very pleased about that. More importantly, she learned that her assumptions that she can’t do anything right and that other people are responsible for her successes and failures were completely false.  She would have missed out on those lessons if I hadn’t reigned in my own incorrect assumption that my daughter needed to change her ways without me needing to change my own approach and behavior.

This isn’t a happily ever after ending, it’s an ongoing process.  It requires conscientious and quality effort. I will still be challenged to keep it together when my daughter loses it, I will screw up again, I’m certain of it, but I’m also okay with that because I know I will learn something valuable that I can use to make the next challenging situation better. I can always choose to change course when the path I’m traveling isn’t taking me where I want to go.  It’s hard to teach that concept to others unless I’m practicing it myself.

It’s crazy, but common, to expect other people to change their behavior–something we have little to no control over–to make us happy. The truth is the only behavior we have to change to be happy is our own. Fortunately, it’s also the only behavior we have 100% control over. That doesn’t mean we don’t influence others with our behavior, in fact, when we modify our own behavior for the better, it will often be met with better behavior from others.

How Not to End Up Penniless and Alone

October 11, 2010 Leave a comment

 

One of the problems we humans have is the tendency to think too much. Don’t get me wrong, not all thinking is problematic: planning, preparing and finding solutions are some examples of commendable uses of our high-powered brains.  The kind of thinking that bums me out is worrying.

Here are some examples of things I have heard people worry about out loud (and the end result they inevitably fear):

If I don’t make X amount of cash soon, I’ll end up penniless and alone

If I don’t get into better shape, I’ll end up penniless and alone

If I blow this opportunity, I’ll end up penniless and alone

If I don’t clear up this ginormous zit by this weekend, I’ll end up penniless and alone

We humans mostly fear being penniless and alone.  You’d think we would mostly be afraid of death, but, no, some people actually choose death as a way to not face the possibility of ending up penniless and alone (think of the stories of people who end their own lives because they think their reputations will be ruined or their fortunes will be wiped out . . .). I bet you have a fear that if you follow it all the way to it’s most negative conclusion, you find that you also end up some version of penniless and alone. It’s not a very fun game to play.   The good news is that when you see it written out, it looks a little silly, doesn’t it? It’s all so serious when it’s floating around in your noggin, but put it on paper and it starts to lose its hold on you.

It gets better . . .when you actually challenge these scary thoughts you start to find that they aren’t absolute or even based in reality.  Most of us aren’t where we want to be in some area of our life, I suspect if we were, it would be game over—which is probably why it takes most of us a lifetime of learning, growing, trying and failing to get to where we are going.   Very few of us take the opportunity, however, to just acknowledge where we are. If you happen to be penniless and alone right now, take a look around and notice that you are still here and I presume out of immediate life threatening danger.  That’s good.  Many more of you have shelter, food in your belly and at least one person in your life you call a friend.  That’s even better!  If you can add more to that list of stuff you’ve got going for you, you are doing quite well.  If you still want more that’s fine, too! Only now instead of worrying about what you don’t have use that powerful brain of yours to plan, prepare and find solutions. There’s no reason to end up penniless and alone, just a slight shift in your thinking can help you start getting what you want.

 

It’s All About the Va Va Voom

May 10, 2010 4 comments

Maybe some women aren’t meant to be tamed. Maybe they just need to run free til they find someone just as wild to run with them. ~Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City)

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m unique when it comes to the romantic relationship department.  After many fascinating chats I’ve had with women and men, I’ve come to realize that I don’t seem to do romantic relationships like most people I know, nor do I want the same things they do.  Most notably, the idea of a long-term commitment to anyone or anything makes me nervous (I got a little antsy just signing up for a 2 year contract to get my iPhone).  Yet, I was married for 11 years. Since I was confused and disappointed most of that time, I visited the self-help aisle frequently over the life span of my marriage. I’ve read a lot of books from many different  “experts” and took in their perspectives on relationships, love and sex. None of those books spoke to me–they didn’t get me.  I mean, if you come away from a freakin’ self-help book still feeling grossly misunderstood, where do you go?  Therapy, right? Been there, too: couples and individual, but therapy felt like live, in-person, pricey extensions of the self-help books.  I just ended up feeling more like there was really something fundamentally flawed about me because I didn’t want what I was told the rest of the population seemed to want.

I finally consulted a resource that I never fully trusted in the past, but it was my last resort.  I turned to me. It’s been working out pretty well.  Coaching myself through my own love life has been messy work at times, but, seriously, someone has to do it.  It turns out that when I really listen to myself, I actually like what I have to say on the subject. I don’t try to sell myself on the traditional concepts of romantic involvements, instead, I just ask myself what satisfies me and then I go out and get it. I’m finally able to respect the fact that I just do things differently–not better/worse, more noble or less–just differently from other people.   Maybe it’s all the hours of self-coaching I’ve put in, maybe it’s the wisdom and confidence that comes with age, but I am finally at a place where I can say if it ain’t fun, it ain’t for me. The last thing I want to do with my precious time and resources is work at making a relationship fun.  Working at fun doesn’t even make sense in my universe.  I have friendships that I foster and participate in, but it never feels like a chore. All those times I strolled down the self-help aisles never once did I see (or need) a book on how to make your friendship work or how to keep things fresh with your bff.  There are other examples of things in my life that don’t require babysitting in order for me to enjoy it. Dancing and physical activity, my first and longest lasting loves, never get mad at me if I don’t check in with them or if I refuse to include them in other activities.  We’re cool like that.

I’m not a big fan of absolutes, I don’t believe in forever anything, but whether we’re talking about Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, I do know that I won’t be caught dead in a romantic situation where chemistry takes a backseat to friendship, companionship, security or some other thing I already have in my life. I have friends (and I’m eternally grateful for them). If I couple up with someone, it will be because there is something mind-blowingly exciting about being with that other person and he offers something that I just can’t get with my friends (I’ve ruined a perfectly good friendship by getting romantically involved with and then marrying my best friend, and, fortunately, our friendship was completely salvaged by our break-up—apparently, I don’t do separation and divorce like most people, either).  I can say all of this because I’m totally okay on my own, I don’t NEED a mind-blowingly exciting relationship anymore than I NEED a ginormous closet filled with high-end designer bags, clothes and shoes—would it be nice and would I enjoy them thoroughly and deliriously if I did have these things, hell yes! Would I sacrifice an ounce of my freedom and fun that I already enjoy for it, hell no, not in a million years.  I only trade up. I don’t trade down.

I’m not waiting for anything to happen, but I’m prepared for an adventure anytime, anywhere.  That’s true when it comes to a romantic adventure, that’s true when it comes to a life adventure. I didn’t show up to live life timidly, I came here to burn it up. So far it’s been an interesting trip, but I’m always in the process of pimping my ride, and I suspect it’s going to get a lot more interesting and exciting as I let go of the last remnants of external expectations I’ve been dragging around with me.

There’s nothing holding us back ever, just the make believe limits we place on ourselves.  When we’re ready to let go of those limits, we’re ready to experience real passion in life and, I gather, in love.   It’s a risk I’m willing to take, because in life and in love the ho hum is no substitute for the va va voom, and I’m all about the va va voom.

Take a Vacation

May 4, 2010 2 comments

I had a hell of a week. Lots of excitement for sure and some pretty major disappointments sprinkled in for good measure (including a stomach virus that landed me in urgent care and some news that really just bummed me out). Thankfully, I was scheduled for a vacation this weekend.  How did I know so many months ago that I would totally need one? I knew I was pretty smart, but this was pure genius.  So, off on vacation I went with my fun and supportive girlfriends.  Thank God for girlfriends.

I stayed up late, I slept in and I took a nap. I got in trouble with hotel management by using the pool umbrella as a pole to get my aerial acrobatics on (I have a penchant for snapping souvenir photos of me doing aerial tricks on objects that could pass for a pole . . . ). I took 3 showers in one day. A cute inebriated guy approached me by the pool and kept asking me the same 5 questions over and over again, thinking they were brand new questions (normally, I’d have walked away from this sort of thing, but, seriously . . .what else did I have going on at that moment?  He was amusing, so I let myself be amused.).  I ate sushi. I danced.  I giggled and talked girl-talk with my friends.  The sweetest housekeepers cleaned my room and left me extra bottles of water while I was being served breakfast downstairs. I met a new friend. I lounged by the pool.  I had a blast.

It was the exact combination of events that I needed to take place in order to downshift from the week I had just come off of. Whatever heaviness followed me to the resort had evaporated by the time I left.  Blowing off steam is good. If you’re about to blow your stack, schedule your vacay now, stat.  Some of you may have trips planned for this summer, but that’s not the same as a vacation. A vacation is all about you, just you doing what you want, when you want, how you want and respectfully telling anyone who doesn’t like it to bugger off.  A trip usually involves dependents or some family member you are somehow obligated to bring and it most likely includes some manual labor (for example: if I’m cooking, it’s a trip, if I’m taking care of children, it’s a trip).   Trips are fine and even fun, but they’re no vacation.  Take a vacation.

There Is No Finish Line

April 12, 2010 4 comments

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. ~Winston Churchill

When I lose the extra weight, I’ll feel good about my body.  When my career takes off, I’ll relax. When I’ve accumulated enough money, I’ll feel secure.  The most recent one I heard, when I find a romantic partner, I can get on with my life, made me chuckle.

We tend to see our goals as static objects: once we reach them, we’re done.  The truth is that our goals are living organisms.  This is especially true for our long-term goals. Reaching a goal is just the beginning, then it’s about looking after it, caring for it and doing our best to make sure it thrives.  Achieved goals require maintenance.

So many of us are in love with the happily ever after concept.  It makes for tasty, tidy Hollywood endings. It’s fun entertainment, but it is a crappy model for goal setting.   Then there’s the concept of maintenance.  At best, we tend to think of maintenance as something that is boring and unsexy (like getting your car’s tires rotated), at worst we confuse it with something that is a struggle and painful (like holding on tightly to a challenging relationship or a new dress size).  It sounds really un-fun.  But I think we need to change the way we think about maintenance, because it’s what works after the movie has ended. Maintenance requires effort, no doubt about it, but it should never feel like a struggle.

I’ve lost weight and struggled with maintaining it, and then I’ve lost weight and put in effort to maintain it.  The latter feels much better and far more satisfying.  Why? Because when I approach maintenance from a place of effort (as much or as little as I want to give) I’m in far greater control of my life and my circumstances.  I like that.   When I struggled with my weight, I was working against myself: forcing myself to avoid this or that food, soldiering through extra workouts to work-off any extra calories I may have consumed and punishing myself if I did neither.  Not enjoyable at all.  Putting effort into my weight maintenance is different.  It’s not about how much I move or eat, it’s about checking in with my mindset.  The real work happens inside of my head, not outside of my body. When I catch myself feeling anxious or stressed about ANYTHING, I know there’s a thought that needs my attention and I make the necessary adjustments right then before I end up anywhere near the kitchen in a feeding frenzy. I have learned that there is no upside to avoiding my feelings and thoughts and that there is tremendous value in addressing them and authentically changing them when necessary.  I could just distract myself: sit and watch TV, surf the Net or eat. . .but the few moments of effort I put into my kind of maintenance keeps me from ever struggling with maintenance.

If you have a goal you really want to achieve, first get clear on how badly you want it and why.  Are you clean about it? By this I mean do you feel happy and excited about it (clean)? or do you feel anxious and stressed about what will happen if you don’t achieve it (dirty)? Once you achieve this goal, will you want to give it the love, care and attention—the maintenance–it requires?   Or are you just hoping for a happily ever after ending?  One choice empowers you, the other choice leaves you feeling powerless. I know which one I choose, and it’s a choice I practice making over and over again.  It is effort, it is clean and it is beyond worth it.

Are You Hot For You?

February 8, 2010 2 comments

I always play women I would date. ~Angelina Jolie

I once fell so hard for a guy that it completely rendered me unrecognizable. Whatever this guy saw in me in the first place was replaced by a painful neediness and clinginess in the end. My fierce independence gave way to desperate dependence, my sense of adventure and risk-taking yielded to a hollow craving for security and soul-sucking guarantees. I made one person responsible for my happiness and it wasn’t me.  Consequently, I was eating this guy alive.  It wasn’t long before boyfriend ran for the hills. Good for him.  I’d do the same and so would anyone who had a sense of self-preservation.  That’s the point.  In no way would I put up with someone who needed me so much that I felt trapped by their bottomless hunger for love and approval. I mean, ew.  This wasn’t a romantic relationship issue, this was a relationship with me issue.  The question I should have stopped to ask myself was do I want to date me?

This question forces me to examine my preferences about the company I like to keep and I can tell you that I would not have chosen to keep the company of the woman dating the guy above.  At the time I fell for this guy, I didn’t like myself very much and deep down I was really hoping he’d figure out a way to like me enough for the both of us.  That is a tall order: expecting someone to want to date me when I didn’t want to date myself. Expecting someone to like me when I didn’t even like myself.

Being someone I want to date is a process and requires maintenance.  It starts off with unconditional acceptance and love for myself. To cultivate this I do things that I love and that feel good to me. From there I take responsibility for my own emotional state (see my previous post) and then I show up as my authentic self without apology. I no longer water myself down for anyone.  It turns out that I’m incredibly attracted to independent, risk-taking, bold, adventurous individuals who are crazy about themselves. I’m successful at being a person I want to date about 80% of the time now. I’m also learning how to be easy with myself during the other 20% of the time.  I find that by being a person I want to date, I also end up attracting other people who find my authentic-self appealing and choose to hang around me.  With these people I can connect, share and enjoy their company without needing to take approval and love away from them.  That is such a relief for all of us involved.   I still get disappointed when people don’t act or treat me exactly the way I want them to (my kids are amazing teachers here . . .), but I’m discovering that they are only showing me where I need to step up my game when it comes to satisfying my own needs and expectations.  I’m a work in progress, for sure, and that’s cool.  In fact, I love that about me.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  Perfect. This presents an excellent opportunity to check in with your expectations about relationships, especially with yourself.  If you find your romantic life is disappointing, ask yourself would I date me?   Don’t wait for someone to sweep you off your feet, sweep yourself off your feet and then simply be open to others who want to be around your fabulous, filled-up self.  Now that’s hot.