Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Stuck in an Elevator

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the one’s who never yawn or say a common place things, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

–Jack Kerouac

We were running for the elevator at the MGM in Las Vegas. The door closed before we could get on so we waited for the next ride. In only seconds the elevator opened, with the same people who had entered the elevator before us still standing there. Evidently they were in a deep trance because it hadn’t occurred to them that they had not moved.

We looked at each other and, just for fun, silently agreed to stand there and see what these people did. The door closed again and in seconds reopened. They still didn’t notice that they had not moved. They also hadn’t noticed that they needed a special key to use this particular elevator, as it went to the Penthouse.

Just before the doors closed a third time, I caught the door with my foot and stood there, staring at these five people: my friend asked, “Hey, do you realize you have yet to leave the first floor…that the elevator hasn’t moved?” They looked bewildered and asked us if we knew why this was. “You didn’t notice that this elevator was only for people going to the Penthouse?” They turned red with embarrassment and ran out of the elevator.

Not only had they not moved they didn’t know they hadn’t moved. And they certainly didn’t know that they were on an elevator that was not going to take them where they wished to go.

As I went up the elevator I thought about these people and how they acted like so many others I have seen driving in traffic or walking through malls. They are numb to their surroundings, dead to the fact that they aren’t really going anywhere and, although their eyes are open, they are blind to what is happening all around them.

Many of us can identify with such people for we too once walked through life unknowingly. For more years than we care to remember, we stood in an elevator and watched the doors opening and closing and didn’t even know we weren’t going anywhere. We relived the same day over, and over, and over again. Then something happened that woke us and we realized that there had to be more to life than watching doors opening and closing.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Happened v What Now II

Disaster strikes.

You tell your self, “I need to find out where I went wrong. How is it I didn’t see the signs leading up to this fiasco?” Or, “How did I become such an idiot as to do this to myself?” Your brain has now been issued its marching orders: Find Out What Went Wrong, Where It Wrong, How It Went Wrong, and Why.

Brain: “I hear and obey. Hey, there’s a problem ... Look, there’s another! O my, my my: that problem is reaaaaly a whopper.”

Houston, we have a problem. The problem is that your brain is going to do one of two things, depending on your personality, mindset and present psychological state. You will either see “wrong” everywhere, even where it isn’t, or you will see where everyone else did you wrong. Ok. There IS a third possibility: you see both-and.

Your brain is flipping through events, circumstances, situations, conversations and experiences at lightening speed, doing what it has been ordered. But you err in thinking that your brain is somehow detached from your soul or your heart or your mind.

Your brain is not the Vulcan, Science Officer Mr. Spock! This is especially the case when you are in the middle of an emotional tsunami, when you are especially prone to seeing what is not there. Thus my advice to maintain your primary focus on, “What now?” rather than “What happened?”

By beginning here—What Now—we begin creating a mindset that is more useful in finding our way out of the present debacle. If we begin with What Happened, we fortify a mindset that keeps us stuck in the moment or in the past. This is why so many people constantly repeat the same errors in judgment over and over again. They are re-living the past, because that is where their attention is focused.

Does this mean I never own past errors, that I never make amends for past offences, or that I don’t deal with past debacles? Not at all. Notice I said to ask What Now, FIRST: to make this question your primary focus. I didn’t say there wasn’t a SECOND step or a secondary focus. Again, I am suggesting that we do our best to create a mindset that is more conducive to moving us forward and only then to look at the past.

By the way …

Quite often, people prefer the comfort of living according to past beliefs and ideals to the uncertainty of the unknown future. The old and familiar is comfortable, dontchyaknow.

“If I change, I could lose my friends. If I change, I will no longer ‘fit’ in my world.”

“If my future is in that direction and everyone in my present world are going in the opposite direction … Sorry, I choose to live within the familiar. That future is too scary. I'll make the past my present, and stay there, thankyouverymuch”

Here we are in a crisis that is offering an opportunity for authentic reinvention, but, instead, we choose to only “do” enough to alleviate our present pain. “Comfort,” in this situation, is the enemy of new and improved future.

One of the things we can do here, of course, is to find other “minds”: trained and experienced counselors and coaches who can guide us out of the morass of our present situation. However, h-o-w-e-v-e-r, even here we can go in the wrong direction. How so? Because our tendency will be to choose counselors who are simpatico with our default mindset, when, in fact, it very well might be that it is this mindset that needs to be challenged!

How many times have you seen people who go from counselor to counselor, friend to friend, seeking for agreement on what they have already decided to do? And believe me, most of them are utterly unaware of what they are doing here. If I hate myself, I want counselors who will beat me up. If I am a narcissist, I am looking for cheerleaders.

If I must “pay for my sins,” I am looking for Torquemada.
If I want to deny or deflect, “I need mommy.”

But, I will never ever see that this is what I am doing, will I. In my head, I am acting normally, logically, truthfully.

Finding my way out of a debacle is a daunting task. It is not, however, an impossible task. It requires ever increasing self-awareness, and a huge dose of humility. I am not objective and never will be … neither is the other guy, even if he or she does have a Ph.D. after their name, or has a Reverend before their name: thus Solomon’s advice to seek out a multitude of counselors.

When Dealing With Your Past

Be open to admitting where you were wrong, if the facts support it.

Be open to counsel that seems contrary to your past decision-making process. After all, look where your past mindset and ensuing decisions have brought you. This is why I highly recommend seeking out some coaches or counselors that will challenge the very core of your decision-making process.

Be open to taking off in a direction that, up until now, you had always thought insane.

Whatever problems you are addressing, maintain a future orientation by asking yourself,

“What wisdom can I gain here for my future?”
“Are there beliefs or ideals that need to be broadened or, possibly, discarded, if I am to create a healthier future for myself?”

Ask questions that are rooted in What Now.

In the Tom Hanks movie, Cast Away, Chuck (Hanks) is talking with his friend about the “disaster” of his experience on an isolated island, and the disaster of losing the love of his life, after his rescue.

“We both had done the math. Kelly added it all up and... knew she had to let me go. I added it up, and knew that I had... lost her. 'cos I was never gonna get off that island. I was gonna die there, totally alone. I was gonna get sick, or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when, and how, and where it was going to happen. So... I made a rope and I went up to the summit, to hang myself. I had to test it, you know? Of course. You know me. And the weight of the log, snapped the limb of the tree, so I-I - , I couldn't even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over *nothing*. And that's when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope. And all my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that's what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing. And one day my logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail. And now, here I am. I'm back. In Memphis, talking to you. I have ice in my glass... And I've lost her all over again. I'm so sad that I don't have Kelly. But I'm so grateful that she was with me on that island. And I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”

Whatever your present disaster, at the very least, keep breathing. There is a “tomorrow,” there is a future. The sun will rise. And who knows what the tide could bring?

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What Happened v What Now

I am in a place where I don’t know where I am!
Homer Simpson

By the time someone decides that they need talk to me as a coach or mentor, things are pretty much a disaster. “See this pile of garbage? Here (dropping garbage in my lap): help me turn this into something meaningful.”

I have been fired
Career is going great: wife left me
Career is going great: children hate me
Family is going great: boss hates me
My business partners, who are also my best friends, just threw me under the bus
I sacrificed everything for him … and he left
My child is in jail on drug charges
I just filed for bankruptcy and see no way forward
I am addicted to ______ (fill in the blank)

What did each of these people have in common? One commonality was that each of them usual ended their story with, “Where did I go wrong?”

Totally understandable. You feel shot in the back and want to know what you could have done differently. Why didn’t you see this coming? Or, “How could I have done this to myself?” The problem with this approach, however, is that it is oriented to the past.

Focusing on the past, all we can see is “what’s wrong.” This leads us into a very debilitating state of mind that is not conducive for rebuilding or reinventing our lives.

“I feel suicidal … I know, I’ll plan my future! First, I will eat this can of worms. Then, I will take a swim in the deep waters of self-pity. And then … maybe I’ll go to bed and pull the covers over my head.”

Anyway, how can we ever know with certainty that we have discovered THE problem(s)? After all, in many cases, THE source of the problem no longer exists, while the habits we created to cope with that problem remain intact.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we cannot gain wisdom from reflecting upon past errors in judgment. What I am suggesting is that this should not be our primary focus. Our focus needs to be on What Now?

Who do I want to become, how do I intend to behave, what do I want to accomplish?

What am I presently experiencing/doing that I want to change? A behavior problem? A state of mind?

What can I do to –what concrete actions can I take--to solve my problem? (As we cannot force others to Do What I Want, these “solutions” must be things that are in my power to accomplish.)

After doing the above, ask: What am I presently doing that is taking me in the desired direction? What am I presently doing that is reinforcing unwanted behaviors? – And what do I want to do about it?

Focus on what you want, not on what you do not want.

Quick: Don’t think of the color blue. Gottchya. You thought of the color blue, didn’t you? You cannot NOT think of something without FIRST thinking of it. This is why men who say, I will NEVER be like dad, turn out just like dad! THAT is where they focused all their energy! “Don’t be like dad, don’t be like dad, don’t be like dad…Dad, dad, dad! Hey, what’s dad doing in my mirror?”

Diving into the abyss of the past for answers is not the First Step to a new and better life. Start with What Now and you will find that, when past errors in judgment do come to light, you have a positive framework within which to address the past.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2010