How often do I think I’m in danger when I’m actually safe?The key to recognizing safety more often and seeing danger less, begins with my state.
I love Curious George. I cuddled a plush Curious George to sleep for years and have spent many waking hours reading his stories.
Given that he is my oldest love, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me this morning to realize that Curious George’s values sit at the centre of my coaching style. This doesn’t mean guiding my clients to make really cool newspaper boats (and hats). It means inspiring people to find joy and courage through curiosity, laughter and kindness. Curious George did that everywhere he went, inspiring me as a child and as an adult.
I love paying it forward.
Parenting can be really hard. Parents are doing A LOT. We’re taking care of ourselves, our children, our jobs, our communities, our families, our houses… It’s a long list and every item is charged with responsibility and importance. No wonder parents feel stressed and overwhelmed so much of the time. All of these items – our children, our mortgage, job stresses, health challenges – seem fixed out of control, it can be easy to feel that we just need to wait until they’re over to feel more joy and less stress.
Yet, as Gilda Radner said, “It’s always something.”
When my husband and I started paying daycare fees for our oldest child we said, “Wow – that’s like a mortgage payment.” Nine years and two more children later, the end was in sight. We happily started planning what we might do with all these new-found dollars. Except, we hadn’t anticipated the kids’ sport-related costs…and school related costs…and clothing related costs (don’t get me started on shoes and boots) and the list goes on.
Parenting is a challenging time. Happily, Curious George holds a lot of the answers. Through Curious George, we learn the value of:
and most of all
Bringing more of these qualities into our lives is like sunshine and rain to flowers. We don’t have to wait until the hard parts are behind us. Practicing Curious George’s values increases their presence in our lives. The inspiring part for me is that we get more of these qualities simply by increasing our practice of them.
The key is designing the practices the work best for each person. This is the space that I’m excitedly building for myself. At the centre of my coaching business is helping people design the practices that will lead to the greatest positive impact for them.
I recently piloted a Kindness Challenge to see if a 5-minute daily Kindness activity would increase people’s well-being – as indicated by physical health, relationship satisfaction, negative stress and engagement. Early reports are showing a strong trend towards positive growth in every area. Anecdotally, people are reporting feeling kinder and experiencing more kindness – even a month after the Kindness Challenge ended. Given that it’s hard to feel kindness and stress at the same time, I believe if people are feeling more kindness than they are feeling less overwhelmed.
This framework – focusing on elements that don’t coexist well together can be an effective way of making changes. It means focusing on positive practices versus eliminating negative practices.
Here’s what we get if we practice Curious George’s values:
More Kindness = less Stress
More Laughter = less Stress
More Courage = less Fear
More Curiosity = less Fear
Curious George isn’t perfect – he gets into a fair amount of trouble and makes numerous mistakes (although really, didn’t the room full of suds look like so much fun?). When people forgive Curious George, it isn’t because of his pledges to reduce his mischievous antics. It’s because people value the positive aspects of what Curious George offers. He makes Jenny laugh, he bravely saves the ostrich and he’s so creative and fun.
I believe many parents and their children will benefit from more kindness, laughter, courage and curiosity and less stress and fear. It brings me joy to help parents design practices to increase these experiences. Curious George would be proud. Maybe he would even share his medal.
I confess: I want to have it all. I really do. I want all that there is to offer: satisfying relationships, love, purpose, meaning and adventure. Each appeals to me and I don’t want to trade one for another. I used to think that I needed to conquer my weaknesses to have what I want, but I was wrong. It’s the opposite – I needed to focus on my strengths.
I don’t know how I missed it before. It seems so counterintuitive to success to focus almost exclusively on weaknesses in order to reach goals. When doesn’t strength benefit us, if it’s applied strategically?
That’s where the roadblocks come in. Roadblocks are thoughts that detract me from using my strengths strategically. Then I just sit, paralyzed and aggravated, ‘in traffic’.
Here’s how my thoughts can get in the way with having what I want:
I want rest
“I promised the kids I would spend time with them.”
“Someone is waiting on me for this.”
“I don’t have time to rest.”
To live with meaning and purpose
“I don’t know how to do anything else.”
“I can’t go back to school.”
“I don’t know what I want to do.”
“I can’t afford to change what I’m doing.”
These kinds of thoughts act like roadblocks to having what we want by shutting down the very systems that fuel and support problem solving. How can we meet our challenges without the capacity to problem solve?
The paradox is that we think we ARE problem solving. Part of our roadblock thought process involves believing that we have appraised the challenge and made a reasonable choice.
How do you know?
The litmus test is the feeling of fear. When we’re scared, we activate our threat response. A threat response mobilizes speed and physical strength. In the case of immediate threat, it can be essential for fear to act as a roadblock. It is beneficial to reduce power to systems like planning, creativity and compassion. Those systems all benefit from time and there is little available time when facing immediate threat.
Our fear is an alert system. When it functions accurately, our fear will activate the physiological resources required to save our lives and the lives of others.
The problem is the times we feel fear when there is no immediate danger. At these times, fear acts as roadblock, limiting any kind of thinking that isn’t oriented toward survival thinking.
So, how do we transform our roadblocks into building blocks, so we can construct what we want to have instead of being our own obstacles?
We need to build our capacity to recognize that there is no immediate danger and then activate building blocks like Perspective Taking, Kindness, Mindfulness or our individual Strengths like Curiosity or Social Intelligence.
How do we build our capacity?
Regular, targeted training. Our bodies are very responsive to regular practice – we are learning machines.
Positive psychology research – research that focuses on the qualities and activities that lead to thriving – provides a guide for which practices support our capacity to transform roadblocks into building blocks.
I love reading about this research and applying it to my life as well as helping others apply it to theirs. It feels like an efficient and effective route to having what I want and helping others to as well.
That being said, I’m regularly surprised when practicing really works. It reminds me of my astonishment each time I train for a race. The first few weeks of running 5km are hard work, but by the end of the first month, 5km feels like a warm up and 10km feels like I’m hitting my stride. When race time rolls around, I almost always feel nervous, worried that I haven’t trained enough. Yet, once the race starts, my mind and body have a regular interplay, reminding each other that I’ve got this – feeling the strength and remembering past experiences.
Regular practice increased my physiological capacity, including changing how I think about what I can do.
Applying this approach to parenting leads to exponential thriving.
Yesterday afternoon, my teenage son and daughter started Round Gazillion of their debate regarding who has the greater right to the downstairs television and Xbox when the desire to play Fortnite and the desire to watch a Blue Jay game conflict. My daughter came to me, asking me to resolve the issue for them. She said they had tried to resolve it themselves and had been unsuccessful and it wasn’t fair.
Before I could help them, I needed to manage my own roadblocks.
Listening to the two teenagers fight, wanting to focus on spending time with my husband.
“They’re never going to solve this on their own.”
“It’s Sunday afternoon and I just want to relax and not referee First World debates.”
“Why can’t my kids find something to do that doesn’t involve a screen?”
Building block Thought
“How can I help my daughter and son solve this problem?”
“How” is the key to building here. “Should” or “Must” are roadblock red flags. ‘How’ combined with ‘help’ activates perspective taking and considering what I have to offer to the challenge.
Regular journaling and targeted practice of strengths like creativity and social intelligence helped me see my capacity to meet the challenge. When I recognized that capacity, my fear diminished, activating my building- oriented systems.
I decided to give each of them a snapshot of the other’s perspective and then left them to solve it themselves. They started generating ideas for how they could both get what they want and then they worked together to implement their solution.
I was so inspired! Exponential thriving.
Changing thinking roadblocks into building blocks can happen with deliberate practice. I offer workshops and 1:1 coaching to help people develop evidence-based practices that lead to having it all.