The Power of Restraint

I have been immersed in the strife occurring across the Middle East in recent months. This has given me pause to consider what the possible solutions are to these age-old conflicts. In order to find solutions, a logical starting point is to look at cause. Is what we are seeing competing interests over oil, the clash of religions, the clash of Western civilization and a culture that plays by different rules, or some combination of these factors?

As I was considering this recently, I recalled a story told to me many years ago by a close friend and Vietnam War veteran. He was an expert marksman and was trained as a sniper, which explains why one day he was walking down a jungle trail on his own. Ahead of him he saw a tan-colored log across his path and as my friend approached it, the log transformed into a king cobra. Before he knew what had happened, he was just a few feet away from the creature and, even though my friend is six feet tall, he was looking at the snake eye to eye. Later he would learn that king cobras can grow up to 18 feet long and that a third of their length can stand upright.

My friend had the reflexes of a seasoned combat veteran and could have aimed his sniper rifle and easily hit his mark. At the same time, the cobra could have launched and struck first, killing my friend. Instead, they each held their ground and neither attacked. Before long, my friend broke eye contact and, still facing the cobra, retreated back down the path the way he came. The cobra did not pursue him nor did he pursue the cobra. Each had presented a real threat and danger to the other (the venom from a single king cobra bite is sufficient to kill an elephant or 20 people) but neither of them attacked.

If, in modern times, one of our soldiers met a terrorist face to face on a remote path, would the same kind of outcome occur? I doubt it. And if our soldier backed down, based on what I have observed, the terrorist would see the soldier as weak and would become ever more brazen in his future attacks. On a larger scale, if an entire nation attempts to back away from conflict while the cobra of terrorism strikes again and again, I believe that nation has no choice but to draw its weapons.

I don’t know if the cobra saw my friend as weak. What I do know is that my friend told me the story with great reverence and respect for the cobra. And while I still don’t have answers to the present conflicts being played out on the world stage, I’m convinced my friend and that king cobra knew something we’d be very wise to remember today: our collective salvation very often lies in the astounding power of restraint.

Four Essential Elements for Business and Relationships

As I work with my clients, patterns emerge that I often distill into models to allow me to be more precise in my work. After coaching many entrepreneurs over the years, I have developed the following building blocks for success in business. I have found these variables also are useful in building healthy relationships, a process which I outline toward the end of this article.

1. Be good at who you are. Beyond your product or service, people are interested in interacting with you. Showing up as your authentic self with a positive attitude attracts more flow in terms of both people and income.

2. Be good at what you do. You can have all the personality in the world, but if your product or service falls short in the category of customer satisfaction, you will struggle to meet your goals.

3. Be where people can find you. You may have stellar people skills and a wonderful product, but an essential part of any business is marketing and sales. I once coached a man who had his master’s degree in marketing, but he fell short in the first item on this list. He was an extreme introvert, and although he invested significant money and time in learning the elements of marketing, he was unable to effectively promote his own marketing business and wound up switching careers to electronics.

4. Be able to handle the business you generate. Whatever the tools of your trade may be, you need to have the infrastructure and capacity in place to deliver what you promise. Otherwise, you invariably will lose market share. Elements of infrastructure can be as simple as a business card, a website, a telephone, an accounting and record keeping system, or whatever else the nature of your business dictates.

As I have perfected this model, I have discovered that the same elements hold true in relationships.

1. You need to be good at who you are. Beyond showing up, the foundation of any healthy relationship is trust and respect. Being authentic and living with integrity allows your partner to open his or her heart and come forward as well.

2. You need to be good at what you do. As a corollary to business savvy, this model in the relationship arena includes elements of partnerships skills such as being able to share your heart and be compassionate, having good listening skills, practicing stress management in partnership, and employing effective communications skills.

3. You need to be where people can find you. Just as in business, it is not enough to sit there and wait for the phone to ring when it comes to dating; one needs to create opportunities. Cultivating good skills in the first and second categories builds confidence, as you have to believe in yourself sufficiently to be vulnerable enough to risk your heart. People find potential partners through friends, work, an online presence, or special interest groups like spiritual affiliations, ski clubs, etc. However, I also think it is important to leave space for the magic of life to cross your path with another special person’s — just be sure to show up and partner with life to be in the right place at the right time. This same kind of synchronicity that can happen in the business arena can manifest in our personal endeavors when we take time to stay centered enough to be proactive instead of reactive.

4. You have to create time and space for the relationship you generate. There are a lot of factors in this category, which will be expanded in the book on relationships that I am currently writing. In the 21st century, the challenge that many couples have is managing the demands on each of their time and energy. Going back to the metaphor of business, I was sharing with a coaching client last week that the variables in business distill down to time, money and resources (people, tools etc.). For instance, if you want to shorten the time for a project, it often requires spending money to hire more people and more tools to do the job. In applying this to relationships, a couple may want to spend more time together and thus have to pay for a babysitter. Beyond this dynamic, however, there are many “time and space” variables that need to be negotiated for a couple to build a life together, such as where they live, how they manage children, how they incorporate religion or spirituality, how they wish to work their finances, etc.

It is fun for me to see that there is a relationship side to business and a business side to relationship. Successful people bring themselves fully to both arenas, and it is my hope that this model can provide you with a foundation for more meaning and fulfillment in both.

Silverback Gorilas

I have had to admit to myself as a baby boomer that I have reached the stage of my life and the phase of my career where I am a silverback. In their natural habitat, silverback gorillas are the alpha group leaders. They each typically lead a band of five to 30 other gorillas and play a variety of roles in the day-to-day life of the troop. They are the decision makers, they mediate conflicts, they determine the movement of the group, and they serve as the protectors of the members of their troop.

Lately, I have been reflecting on my work ethic. At 64, I don’t seem to have the drive that I did when I was younger. As I look back on things I have done in my career, such as helping to found and eventually becoming the executive director of a residential school for troubled teens that kept me up until 2:00 a.m. most mornings, I know that I could never jump into that meat grinder again.

At this stage of my career, I don’t have the drive to work frenetically as I once did. I find myself being more contemplative and needing more quiet space to discern direction rather than making snap judgments. Thankfully, I still feel as mentally sharp as I always was, but my pace has changed. I am no longer addicted to adrenaline and, in fact, I am more measured in my approach to things.

Am I over the hill? No. Should I hang it up? No. The value that I bring to those around me as a psychotherapist, mediator and life coach is the quiet wisdom that comes from personally having gone through the school of hard knocks and from guiding many individuals and groups through life’s challenges as well. Where I once was a “mover and a shaker,” I now am a “motivator and an inspirer.”

The role of the silverback gorilla is to lead, to mediate conflicts, and to protect. Whether we are male or female, those characteristics seem pertinent to our species at this stage of life as well. I acknowledge my value even though my work style has changed. And perhaps there’s poetry in the fact that what hair I have left is silver indeed.

Facing Empty Nest

I was recently working with a client whose only son is going out of state to college soon. What I shared with her may be of value to others so I am posting this as a guidepost when facing empty nest.

1) Acknowledge that you have a done a great job “launching” your child into adulthood.
2) Assure yourself and your child that you still are family and that you are there as back-up as they move forward in life. In other words, they are on their own but not alone. The same is true for the parents. They are alone but not alone.
3) As parents, your job is to let them go and let the child know that their job is to stay in touch.

In all of this please take solace in the fulfillment of your role as a parent. Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet put it so very eloquently:

On Children
by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

The Impact of “Invisible” Illness

When he was writing his book, Starting Points for a Healthy Habitat, Carl Grimes interviewed me for one of his chapters. Although Mr. Grimes was addressing the emotional and psychological impacts of someone with an environmental illness, what I said to him easily could be describing someone with a head injury or any other invisible condition such as chronic fatigue syndrome. The following is a quote from his book.

“Carl Grimes: What happens to someone when they have an ailment that is not obvious to others, such as one they believe to be caused by an exposure to an environmental contaminant?

David Pasikov: The ailment is not obvious because its symptoms and attributes are not familiar to others. A common example is a person with a broken leg who requires a cast and crutches. The cast and crutches are not only readily visible but also provide an obvious and generally acceptable excuse for that person’s behavior deviating from the accepted standards of their family, friends and peers. Also, because the healing requirements of a broken leg are fairly well known, that person’s behavior – although now much different than their peers – is fairly predictable and acceptable. No real surprises.

However if the ailment is not visible or not immediately accepted as a legitimate excuse for not meeting common standards of performance, then that person is expected – even demanded – to stop misbehaving. If they don’t, then they are assumed to be malingering – meaning that their own behavior is controllable by themselves, but they aren’t willing to do so.

Carl Grimes: What effect does this have on the person with the ailment?

David Pasikov: Their self-esteem suffers and their stress level increases. The experience usually retards their recovery process because they are now focused on, among other things, meeting the expectations of others at the expense of doing what is necessary for themself.

Carl Grimes: What happens socially?

David Pasikov: If their illness continues, they will gradually lose their friends. They won’t be much fun anymore. Furthermore, as you retreat to “lick your wounds” so to speak, you are also removing yourself from society. Your world becomes smaller and you increase your chances of becoming depressed.”

How a Lesson Learned in Childhood Can Help Us Manage Stress and Trauma

I just finished a psychotherapy session with one of my clients who is recovering (well I might add) from an injury. Along with the physical symptoms, she has been plagued by worry and that is what she wanted to address today.

As we dove into the issue, her belief system surfaced and she began defending her worrying. It went something like this, “If I don’t worry, how am I going to be able to protect and care for my loved ones?” and “Sometimes when I lay here and worry about my health issues, I get an insight as to how to get the help I need.”

Coming from a Jewish background, all the emphasis on worrying seemed so very familiar and I know she isn’t Jewish so I said, “Sounds so much like the Jewish mother worry I grew up with but I know you aren’t Jewish.” She quipped back one word which made us both laugh, “Catholic.”

As we went back to the issue of her belief system, it occurred to me that:

A) Intense worry is an expression of hypervigilance, which is a trauma response akin to “flight.” It is based in fear and our thoughts race out of control to try and find safety. It sells itself as “I am taking care of myself and my loved ones.” The reality is that we are full of adrenaline and if we are sending energy to protect others, and ourselves it is frenetic and only adds static and confusion into the picture. To make matters worse, the static blocks our being in a place of peace where we might be more prone to tap into our insight to help creatively address the issue about which we are worried.

That led me to apply the same logic to “fight” and “freeze” and how they may appear for her in her situation as well and, as it turns out we uncovered them in the mix too.

B) There are times when she has intense anger and frustration, which is an expression of “fight.” I have always made a distinction between being “mad” and being “angry.” If I am mad, the intense feelings are controlling me and if I am angry, I can effectively use the feelings as an advocate. In her situation, she has temporarily lost the ability to drive as well as a lot of other normal activities and feels vulnerable, so as a protection, anger and frustration surface regularly.

C) “Freeze” comes up for her in two forms – she literally can get frozen into overwhelm and inaction through analysis paralysis and alternately she goes into denial.

As we explored this further, there is a healthy way to address these core drives, which we summarized as follows:

A) Replacing intense worry with healthy concern. Rather than spamming herself and others with adrenaline laced worry, to recognize that her intention is to broadcast love and protection. Loving concern emanating from her balance point can help her tap into her insight which can assist her in forging a direction to meet the concerns.B) Replacing intense anger and frustration with advocacy. One definition of an advocate is, “One that supports or promotes the interests of another.” When done from your balance point, it shifts one from being vulnerable as a victim to being empowered as a support and protector of oneself and others.

C) Replacing denial with a healthy assessment of the situation and to incrementally improve it. In her case, she temporarily is unable to drive. Denial helps her manage the despair but it blocks her from taking action. Another approach is to accept the temporary condition and continue to heal incrementally so she can eventually regain that ability and other abilities as well. If over time, some of those abilities do not come back online, then we will need to work on acceptance. At this moment in time, the jury is not out yet as to how she will eventually recover.

As she asked me to summarize the session for her I said, “It is like we learned as kids, ‘Stop, Look and Listen before you Cross the street.” What this means to me is when she notices for instance that she is in intense and ineffective worry that is akin to “Look” and “Listen.” She can then “Stop” and take action to change her behavior which in the old childhood adage is “Cross the street.” It’s fun to see how we can apply that principle at any age.

Return on the Investment

My wife and I spent a wonderful New Year’s at a party thrown by dear friends. It was supposed to be a wedding that I was to officiate, but about a week before the wedding, the bride and groom decided to call it off. I laud them for that as some of the saddest words that have been spoken in my psychotherapy office are from those who have said, “I knew I was making a mistake when I walked down the aisle.”

Here’s the twist, the groom’s family had booked flights to be here from Europe, and the bride’s family had bookings to be in town from all over the country. The father of the bride converted the wedding into a New Year’s party and both families followed through with their plans. Everyone was in attendance, including the couple that was to have married and their immediate families. And it was a lovely time. When people can forgive and understand and be sensible, magic can happen and it did tonight.

I woke up at 2:00 and it is now 6:30 on January 1st. I awoke to thoughts of the wedding and the amazing job that both families did to convert what could have been a scar into a healing. Somehow that led me to thoughts of my own family and the amazing job that they did to allow me to have the life that I enjoy.

Like many Americans, I am part of the second generation of an immigrant family. Knowing the family history as I do, if my grandparents on both sides hadn’t had the courage and made the sacrifices to leave eastern Europe before the war, my branch of the family tree would have burned in the Holocaust with other branches that weren’t as fortunate. I am able to write this because of who they were and what they did.

My resolve for the New Year is that my life and the way I live it be deemed to be a worthy return on the investment that my parents and grandparents, and those before them provided so that I may have the privileged life that I enjoy. Along with that resolve, my wish for the New Year is that people can forgive and understand and be sensible so that magic can happen in the world as it did in microcosm at a New Year’s party that was initially planned as a wedding.

Choosing Happiness is Good for your Brain

The other day I was at Denver International Airport (DIA) on my way to fly to Jerusalem to visit my sister. I was sitting at a table outside of a coffee shop at the airport enjoying a sandwich before boarding for the first leg of my journey because nowadays you can starve on an airplane.

The upside of being a therapist is that you learn to read people’s body language and demeanor. That also is the downside as I couldn’t help but notice that the man a few tables away had an interesting facial expression. The corners of his mouth were turned down in a permanent scowl. A few moments later, his wife arrived with their lunch and as I glanced from time to time to look around, not once did I see him smile as they interacted. His wife did not look any happier than he did.

Fast forward to yesterday when I was on a bus with my sister going from her home to downtown Jerusalem. Being on a bus in Jerusalem is not as scary or brave as it sounds. You keep living or the terrorists win. The arrangement of the seats in buses here isn’t theater style; half the seats are faced to the front and half are faced to the rear.

Across the bus from me was a woman who was the opposite of the man at DIA. She had a wonderful look of happiness on her face and you could tell from the lines in her face that a slight smile was her natural expression instead of the scowl that the man had.

Before I left for this trip I was in L.A. doing a corporate training where we were teaching an advanced communications course to managers at a major software company. During part of the course we play a segment from the movie, “What the Bleep Do We Know”. The movie excerpt illustrates that neural pathways are established when we repeatedly do certain things or express particular emotions. There are chemicals for every emotion and as we express those emotions, neurons move and link, forming new neural pathways.

This process facilitates learning. For example, when we were learning to drive, it took a lot of concentration to steer, brake, park etc. and now we do all that while talking on cellphones, checking our gpses, changing channels and daydreaming. We have established the neural pathways necessary to drive.

Now, back to the man at DIA and the woman on the bus. If I read them correctly, he has well established neural pathways around being miserable (and broadcasting negativity to those around him) and it shows on his face. She has well established pathways of kindness and love and she not only radiated that but her facial expression reflected it.

So it appers to me that choosing happiness not only is good for your brain chemistry, it seems it could also save money on plastic surgery.

Knowing the Difference between “Particular” and “Peculiar”: A Key to Reducing Stress at Home and at Work

 

My wife has a part time weekend job and while she was at work yesterday, I cleaned the kitchen. Part of the job involved unloading the dishwasher and rinsing the dishes to get ready for the next load. I didn’t load the rinsed dishes into the dishwasher. My wife likes doing it her way. I used to see this as “peculiar” and it bugged me but when I shifted to seeing this as her being “particular” my life got a whole lot easier.

My wife is an artist and stacking the dishes efficiently is an art form to her while for me it is a chore that I want to get done as quickly as possible. She clearly does a better job than I do fitting everything in and, by stacking the dishes towards the sprayers as opposed to me jamming them in, the dishes get cleaner. I understand it now and I see her desire to load the dishwasher her way as endearing. We all are particular about almost everything in our lives. I am, for instance, particular about my coffee. I like a certain blend with just the right amount of cream and no sugar. That isn’t peculiar.

How does this play out in our work lives? Among other things, I manage an office building for a wonderful landlord. He wants the tenant rent checks deposited by the 5th of the month. I could see this as peculiar but when he explained that his mortgage payment is due on the 9th and he wants the checks cleared by then, I understood and knew why he was being particular about it. This teaches me that as a manager if I take the time to explain why things are done in a particular way, my co-workers can get on board and judgment and stress goes down. I call this going slowly to go quickly.

How does this play out in parenting? When my son was a teenager, he enjoyed playing his music loudly at times and I had a home office under his bedroom. When he was younger, it worked for a while to tell him to change his behavior “because I said so.” If I continued that stance when he was older, I would have come across as dictatorial and he would have had a peculiar “old man.” He understood if I was working that he could put on headphones or lower the volume and got it that I was being particular for a reason and that I wasn’t being peculiar.

Back along the way I worked for someone who was over the top particular. Everything had to be done a certain way and there wasn’t any rhyme or reason to it. To make matters worse, he was very caustic if I didn’t do it correctly and doing it correctly constantly changed without notice. I quickly came to see that he wasn’t particular, he was peculiar and I quit.

So knowing the difference between “particular” and “peculiar” can help reduce tension. Please note, knowing the difference between the two can also help your relationship with yourself. When I ask myself the question, “Am I being particular in this situation or am I being peculiar?” it can help me modify my behavior and get out of a rut. And finally, a modicum of “peculiar” can be endearing. Those differences are probably part of the foundation for the initial attraction in your primary relationship so try and remember to cut them some slack.

 

 

Inner Peace Through Quieting the Inner Critic

As I look back over my 20 years of practice, in the past I would see maybe one or two people a year who were dealing with acute anxiety and panic attacks. Currently I have three clients suffering with this. More than ever there is a need for inner peace as we navigate through challenges such as: uncertain economic times, aging parents, ourselves aging, relationship issues, etc. It is difficult if not impossible to have inner peace as long as our inner critic is screaming at us.

I have found that the ABC’s of Inffective Communication are: Accusation, Blame and Criticism. In a corresponding way, I feel that the ABC’s of Inffective Self Communication are: Self Accusation, Self Blame and Self Criticism. These are the tools of the inner critic at its worst.

Unless we are in a mode of self destruct, most of us want to remain in our integrity and play our parts effectively in life. At the same time, as we go through life we can adopt limiting beliefs and even self sabotaging programs. These can come through life experiences but they can also set in through messages received from parents, teachers, etc. Here are some examples. “You won’t amount to anything.” “Money is the root of all evil.” “There isn’t enough time in a day.” “True love is hard to find.” You get the picture. These external messages over time can get internalized and eventually they become the voice of the inner critic. For example, “You’re so stupid” can become, “I’m so stupid.” After all no one else on the planet has witnessed everything we have or haven’t done through life like we have. All of this data, left unchecked can be ammunition in the hands of our inner critic. If we are to move forward effectively, this is a leak that needs to be plugged.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need our inner critic. We all need to self reflect on our behaviors, our attitudes and our decisions. What I have grown to see however is that there is a healthy or green zone for the inner critic and there also is a toxic or red zone.

I recently was giving a presentation on the Inner Critic and one of the participants asked for clarification. He said. “In my business, if I find that my numbers are down, I tell myself that I need to focus on marketing.” I responded that this would be the inner critic in the healthy or green zone. I went on to illustrate what the inner critic would sound like in the toxic or red zone. In that mode the inner critic would be saying things like, “Your numbers are down; you are going to lose your business. You are lazy and are going to be on the street unless you gear up and do some marketing. I knew you would fail.” In the toxic or red zone, the inner critic is using fear and manipulation to motivate us. Not only is that ineffective but over time we can buy into those messages and do significant harm to our self confidence and our relationship with ourselves. Many of us are parents. We would never talk as harshly to our children as we talk to ourselves when we are in the red zone. We don’t want our children to feel badly about themselves. We can offer ourselves the same non toxic discipline that we offer to them.

Let’s consider the word “sin.” One of the roots of the word comes from archery and it simply means “missing the mark.” If I attempt to do something and I miss the mark, and my inner critic pounds me with toxic messages in the red zone, I wind up like Biff from the movie “Back to the Future” all covered in manure. In that state, it is difficult, if not impossible to hit the target on the next attempt. By staying in the green zone, we are setting ourselves up for success.

Early in my career, I was the Executive Director of a residential school for troubled teens. We had an expression there that has stuck with me, “You don’t beat a willing horse.” Chances are you want to play your part and do an excellent job. That being the case, you will respond much better to treating yourself with: unconditional self love, self respect, and positive reinforcement rather than self accusation, self blame and self criticism.

When you notice your inner critic pummeling you, know that this is an ineffective way of getting you to perform. Do what you can to shift the messages to the healthy or green zone. This helps change the inner critic into the inner co-worker.

Copyright © David Pasikov 2010