Peace in the Puzzle
December 20, 2015 Blog - Post Traumatic Growth: My Brain
In my book, Peace in the Puzzle: Becoming Your Intended Self, I crafted fourteen personal talking points, things that I knew with certainty, were true for me. This blog is a reflection these personal talking points to see if they hold up my new reality following my brain injury.
Ironically, the first talking point begins with, “The only things I truly own and control are contained in my brain”. This idea is a result of hearing my father’s stories about being part of the team that liberated Matthausen concentration camp following WWII, which always reinforced that things can be taken away; what you know, cannot. Can this talking point still be true if my brain has changed?
Like most people, I never thought I would have a brain injury, so I knew very little about it. I have had extraordinary medical care during the last year, but I learned that even the experts know very little about brain injury. It turns out, questions like how long will it take to recover and will I return to 100%, are unanswerable. If you have seen one brain injury, you have seen only one brain injury.
We are always changing, but most change happens gradually, so we can acclimate to the change gradually. The unfairness of a head injury is that change happens so suddenly and at a time when the brain isn’t functioning at its best. Change and recovery for me meant that to begin with, I was so foggy that I didn’t realize I was foggy. Key word: foggy. As I got less foggy, I realized I was foggy. Keyword: Depressing. Rehab activities showed me the changes that had occurred, but also, over time, they showed me that with work and determination, I could improve. Keywords: depressing alternating with hopeful. Now, I continually learn where my cognitive challenges are and which strengths endure. Keywords: doesn’t everyone?
Knowing all of this, do I still “own and control” what’s in my brain? I own and control the network of people who surround me, how hard I work on my recovery, my sense of humor, whether I ask for help from trustworthy people and keeping my chin up. These things, I absolutely did and still continue to own and control. And, I am now convinced that those are the amazing capabilities my brain has always had but also the ones that allowed me to recover.
December Blog 2015 - Post Traumatic Growth: Be the Coffee
On December 5, 2014, my life changed. While on a business trip in Phoenix, a fall following a seizure caused a TBI and brain bleed. The anniversary of my accident felt like the right time to begin my blog again and reflect on what I have learned in the last year.
Steadfast friends and family, who have supported me during my recovery, consistently asked me when I would be writing my next book. The idea of writing again seemed remote during the first months of my recovery, but they were consciously planting a seed that helped me look forward. The more I came out of the fog, the more I was able to think about making sense of what had happened to me. The more I came out of the fog, the more I was able to see that writing would be the vehicle.
So, one year after my accident, I begin my blog again with a story from my first book, Peace in the Puzzle: Becoming Your Intended Self.
An unhappy young woman complained to her grandmother about the state of her life. Everything was awful. The grandmother listened carefully and then asked her granddaughter to place three pots of water on the stove and bring them to a boil. Once they were boiling, she asked the girl to place a carrot in one pot, an egg in another and ground coffee beans in the third. Then they waited.
The grandmother asked her how the carrots had changed. The carrot was now soft, answered the girl. And, the egg? It was still fragile on the outside but became hard on the inside. The grandmother poured her a cup of coffee, and it was just the way she liked it.
Each had faced the same adversity – the boiling water – but each reacted differently to it, explained the grandmother. The carrot went in hard and unrelenting and became soft. The egg had been fragile and when it encountered the boiling water, it became hard. The ground coffee beans were different. When they encountered the boiling water, they transformed the water.
Over the last year as I faced my adversity, I have been both the carrot and the egg. When I refused to believe my life had changed, the reality that it had changed left me soft and depressed like the carrot. When I felt fragile because I feared another fall, I became anxious and hard like the egg. I am now trying every day to be like the coffee and change the water to something beautiful. I am striving for post traumatic growth.
The last year has helped me learn not only how precious life is but also what is important in life. Through this blog, I invite you to join me on the journey to post traumatic growth.
June Blog 2014 - Happy or Meaningful: Which life do you want?
Readers of Peace in the Puzzle: Becoming Your Intended Self frequently ask me if they will be happier when they find their piece of the puzzle or what they were born to do. I usually ask them which life they want – a happy one or a meaningful one. As with most of us, they want both. Is there a difference between happy and meaningful? Can we have both?
A paper published in the Journal of Positive Psychology last year gives some insight into whether a happy life is the same as a meaningful one. The results of the study led by Roy Baumeister, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, suggest that there are important differences between happiness and meaningfulness. Two interesting high level distinctions came out of the study for those who seek both happiness and meaningfulness:
1. Short Term and Long Term
Happiness seemed to come from present time
satisfaction of wants and needs and was seen as fleeting. Meaningfulness seemed to last longer. Happiness occurs in the present. Meaningfulness involves thinking about
and connecting what happened in the past, what is occurring in the present and what
that may mean for the future.
Looking at “your tracks in the snow” to determine where the universe is
leading you and then acting on those nudges can lead to a meaningful life.
2. Less stress and More Stress
Happiness seemed higher when stress was lower. Meaningfulness was rated higher when such challenges as worry, stress and anxiety were present. The journey toward long term goals in a larger context was seen as more stressful. Looking beyond yourself to find the purpose in what you are doing, creates challenges, but again, was seen as leading to more meaningful and longer lasting satisfaction. Meaningfulness was higher when concerns over personal identity were present. Happiness was not linked to self-expression.
Some suggest that this is really a question of semantics, but as I’ve discussed before in this blog the words we use and what we understand them to mean, do make a difference.
The results of the study suggest that happiness is easy to find but short lived and that finding and enjoying experiences in the present moment will make you happy no matter what your stress level. Happiness is always available in the present moment, and by stringing together these moments over time, you will have a happy life.
Meaningfulness, however, takes more work to find and is frequently stressful but provides longer lasting results.
So, if you want a happy and meaningful life, enjoy the present moment thoroughly and frequently while you seek your purpose – your unique piece of the puzzle, to find lasting satisfaction. Happiness is always available even during your search for your unique place.
In this case, Yes, we can have it all.
May 2014 Blog - Are you encumbered by old nonsense?
As mentioned in my last post, a review of my tracks in the snow have led me to rediscover a strong connection with the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. His quotation percolating in my mind now is, "Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."
Why has such a good idea been so hard to implement?
Putting our blunders and absurdities behind us each day allows us to serenity to start anew the next day, and as Emerson said, makes us able to "Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year."
The words we choose to use matter, and using the words blunders and absurdities allows me to forget the nonsense of the day and find the serenity I need to be my intended self the following day.
Are you encumbered by old nonsense? Maybe you need to dust off your mental thesaurus, how we choose to say things can be just as impactful as what we choose to say, even to ourselves.
April 2014 Blog - My Tracks in the Snow Led to Emerson
When I talk to people about my book, Peace in the Puzzle: Becoming Your Intended Self, they often ask where to start as they begin their own transformation. I believe that throughout our lives, the universe helps us on our way to become our intended selves; however, many of us miss the cues. I know I did. So, I suggest looking at your tracks in the snow, asking questions like, what did I like to do when I was younger, which job did I enjoy the most, what were my favorite classes.
Recently, I took my own advice, and looked at my college classes trying to remember if there were ideas that caught my imagination back then. As a double major in English and German literature, I began to think of authors and rediscovered Ralph Waldo Emerson, who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. Emerson believed in people's ability to realize almost anything, and the relationship between the soul and a higher philosophical force he called nature.
I had not read Emerson for 30 years, and yet, his ideas resonate throughout my book, as well as how I live my life. I had to smile when I found this Emerson quotation, "I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me."
And, so without my conscious knowledge, Emerson's ideas percolated in me, eventually ending up allowing me to transform into my intended self, the person the universe wants me to be. And, so Emerson's words made me.
In the hopes that it will also help lead you to your intended self, I give you three powerful Emerson quotations:
- "The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well."
- "The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be."
- "Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen."
When you look at your tracks in the snow, what books, ideas, authors, teachers have made you?
November 2013 Blog 2 - Why
you ask? The words we use are powerful.
The words we use are important to the way they are perceived, and the word why can be a deadly.
When I was teaching parenting classes, we did an exercise to help parents see how deadly a word why can be. At the beginning of the class, I asked several questions of specific individuals in the class. Why didn't you give me the materials I asked you to bring last week? Why do you always sit at the back of the room? Why do you daydream during class? Why is it only your wife who talks during this class?
While the answers varied somewhat from class to class, they all were said with embarrassment and had the same spirit, "Well, I'm not sure." If I'd ask them why again, they usually were silent in their embarrassment.
Why can be a deadly word when used with others because it asks people to explain themselves and their behavior. It puts people on the defensive. Try to imagine a positive answer when a teacher asks a student, why he did badly on a quiz. No matter what the words, the answer will indicate that the student thinks he is too dumb to do well on the quiz. By asking why we are requiring an answer to a question before they can change the behavior.
We tell ourselves that we ask the question why to try to understand the choices others make. This is, however, futile. When people make choices we would never make, we think that if we could figure out why they made them we would somehow understand, and that this understanding would make them do things in a way more to our liking. They would see the light or better said, they would see OUR light.
One of the changes I made when I transformed to my intended self was giving up expectations of others. The word why is loaded with expectation. Why didn't you do better on a quiz, means I expect you to do well on a quiz after I taught you the material. Why do you daydream during class, means I expect you to find my class interesting. If you want better answers, try asking clearer questions by using other question words: What can I do to help you do better on the next quiz? How can I make the class more engaging for you?
Why is on the other hand, the perfect word for you to use with yourself as you begin your self-transformation. Why tells you were the goal line is. Why focuses you on purpose. It calls for reflection.
Why did I quit drinking? I couldn't write in the evenings when I had too much wine, and I wanted to finish the book. Why did I get my finances in order? I needed to understand if I had enough resources to put towards publicizing my book. Why did I stop having expectations of others? My attempted micromanaging of others took up the time and energy I needed to focus on the writing of my book. When I became discouraged I focused on the why of what I was doing.
As you begin your journey to become your intended self, use the word why sparingly with others and use it with yourself to find the purpose behind your self-transformation.
Why you ask? The answer to that powerful question is up to you.
November 2013 Blog - Weary
of Washington's mind set? Join me in this affirmation.
Once upon a time a man whose ax was missing suspected his neighbor's son. The boy walked like a thief, looked like a thief, and spoke like a thief. Later the man found his ax while digging in the valley, and the next time he saw his neighbor's son, the boy walked, looked and spoke like any other child.
I have had trouble writing my monthly blog because the wearier I got of hearing about recent events in Washington DC, the harder it was for me to see what lesson the universe was providing me.
Finally, I was reminded of this story attributed to ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, and the quotation by American author, Anais Nin, said, "We do not see things as they are . . . We see things as we are."
Each person has a perspective. Every person's perspective influences the way they view the world. The child was viewed as a thief until the missing ax was found, and then he was viewed as any other child.
In the same way that it is only when I clean my glasses that I realize how dirty they were, unless I understand and acknowledge my perspective as being uniquely mine, ego tells me that my perspective is right. I need to remind myself that while we all live under the same sky, we don't all see the same horizon.
The Buddha said, "All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become."
Knowing this and that each of us can strongly impact how we view the world and thereby the world itself, I commit to saying the following affirmation: I examine my perceptions of the world and allow other's their perceptions as we work together to build a better world for everyone.
Will you join me and encourage others to do the same?
September 2013 Blog - Seeking what’s next? Thinking like a child may help.
My book, Peace in the Puzzle: Becoming Your Intended Self, contains advice that people would like to have given to their younger selves, and there is a lot to be learned from these voices of wisdom. But spending time with my grandchildren made me realize that we could all get good advice from younger people, too, as we strive to be our intended selves.
My grandchildren frequently ask to play hide and seek when I am with them, and they squeal with delight during the seeking stage and again when I find their hiding place. The younger they are, the more likely it is that they will tell me where they are going to hide and then hide in the same place over and over again. Knowing that they are going to found does not decrease the anticipation and the joy once found.
In contrast, when I am in a transition and seeking what is next in my life, I often find the experience frustrating. No squeals of delight from me! I question when I will find what I am seeking, and if I will ever find what I am seeking. These nagging questions can make me anxious.
Just as my grandchildren know that I will find them, I know that the cooperative universe supports me as I seek to find my way to my intended self. When I forget this and get impatient and even anxious, I will think of my grandchildren patiently waiting until they are assuredly found. I will enjoy the seeking and squeal with delight as I continually get closer to my goal.
A common question that I get from readers is, “What if I never find my peace of the puzzle?” Knowing that the search will always be supported and rewarded by the cooperative universe, I think again of my grandchildren. At our annual summer vacation, my grandchildren love to fish. One day, even though they were vigilant and patient, they got “skunked” and caught no fish. The next day, they got a few nibbles and caught one each. One the third day, they pulled in a sunfish almost every time they cast out. Squeals of delight never abated. Once again, while they enjoyed the “catching”, they also enjoyed the anticipation of the “catching.” I vow to be more like them and enjoy the journey to my intended self.
Voices of wisdom can come from any age group. Vow to enjoy “the seek” and much as the find on your journey to your intended self.
Want more time and money? Program your brain by giving both away.
A part of my journey of self-transformation included getting my financial house in order. I used two tools to accomplish this: the magic of an Excel spreadsheet and affirmations. Research supports why this worked for me.
At the end of each month, I track my investments and my debts. Shining a monthly light on each of these has made the former grow and the later shrink. I feel much more in control of my finances, and I feel much better about my financial future.
But, one important part of the spreadsheet is a donations section. And, recent research from Michael Norton, an associate professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, reinforces the importance of this part of my monthly financial routine when it comes to my good feelings about my finances.
Study after study has indicated that more money doesn't necessarily make you happy, but Norton’s research indicates that giving away money is likely to make you feel wealthier. Giving money away increases what Norton calls feelings of "subjective wealth” or how well-off you feel.
"We suggest that acts of generosity can also signal wealth to the givers themselves, making them feel subjectively wealthier even as money leaves their pockets," he and his colleagues wrote. Since our brains know that wealthy people give away money, when we give money away, it makes our brains perceive that we are wealthy. The Norton study posits that giving away $500 has the same effect on feelings of “subjective wealth” as earning an extra $10,000 in income.
The second tool in my financial journey was use of the affirmation, “I have more than enough money to do all the things I want and need to do.” This study seems to support the idea that the mere act of giving money away, indicates that you have more than enough of money. Givers seem to feel more control over their money.
In related research, Norton found that people, who volunteer their time for charitable pursuits, perceive that they have more time than those who don't volunteer. As with money, your brain may think that if you have time to give away, you must have plenty of it. As a young, working mother, the affirmation, “I have more than enough time to do the things I want and need to do,” programmed my brain to KNOW I had “more than enough time.”
So, if you want more time and money, begin now to program your brain by giving both away.
Are you finding exactly what you are looking for?
A policeman came upon an inebriated man one night, who was on his hands and knees looking for something on the corner of the street.
“Lose something?” asked the policeman.
“My keys,” said the man.
“Did you lose them on this corner,” asked the policeman.
“No, I lost them in the alley,” said the man.
“So, why are you looking here?” asked the policeman.
“This is where the light is,” replied the man.
Where you look makes a difference. And, where we look depends how we define the issue and the questions that we ask about the issue. The answers we are looking for, we find. We find exactly what we are looking for. So be sure you are looking in the right place.
If the issue is unhappiness in your work, you might define the issue as “unhappiness” or “your work.” If you define the issue as your unhappiness, you will need to ask questions first about what is making you unhappy. The solution may have nothing to do with your job but everything to do with a bad relationship.
How we define the problem will determine how we solve it.
But, let’s say your unhappiness does come from your job. Each of us questions the career path we have taken, and at different times in our lives, each of us longs for something different. Where we look to find that something different depends completely on the questions that we ask. For the questions that we ask, determine the answers that we get.
For example, if your job is the root of your unhappiness, here are three of the questions you might ask yourself:
- How can I change my boss’s behavior, so I am happier at work?
- Have I been happy in other jobs?
- Is this the right field of work for me?
Unless you have a magic wand, the only person who will be
able to change your boss is your boss. So,
if your question is how do I change my
boss, your answers might include getting others to dislike your boss, too,
pouting on the job of sighing a lot. All
of these answers do nothing to address your unhappiness on the job. You are asking the wrong question if
happiness is what you seek. If you have been unhappy in other jobs, your next question
might be “Am I happy anywhere?” or it may be “What makes me happy?” The answers to each of the questions will
yield different answers and different solutions. If being in the wrong line of work is what is making you
unhappy, questions might range from “Do I need to be happy in my work to be
happy in my life,” to “What other jobs interest me?” How you frame the issue and define the problem determine how
we solve it. Which questions you ask determine
what answers you get. Are you finding exactly what you are looking for?
Unless you have a magic wand, the only person who will be able to change your boss is your boss. So, if your question is how do I change my boss, your answers might include getting others to dislike your boss, too, pouting on the job of sighing a lot. All of these answers do nothing to address your unhappiness on the job. You are asking the wrong question if happiness is what you seek.
If you have been unhappy in other jobs, your next question might be “Am I happy anywhere?” or it may be “What makes me happy?” The answers to each of the questions will yield different answers and different solutions.
If being in the wrong line of work is what is making you unhappy, questions might range from “Do I need to be happy in my work to be happy in my life,” to “What other jobs interest me?”
How you frame the issue and define the problem determine how we solve it. Which questions you ask determine what answers you get.
Are you finding exactly what you are looking for?