Mom’s Advice

My Mom would have turned 94 today.  I was recently going through some old files and ran across this “Advice to Andrew Jackson by his Mother”.  I can’t tell you how long ago I got it from my mom.  And I have not read it in a long time.  But something brought it to the fore this month, so I decided to read it and then repeat it here.  It has some good advice.

“Andrew if I should not see you again, I wish you to remember and treasure up some things I have already said to you. In this world you will have to make your own way.  To do that you must have friends.  You can make friends by being honest and you can keep them by being steadfast.   You must keep in mind that friends worth having will in the long run expect as much from you as they give to you.  To forget an obligation or to be ungrateful for a kindness is a base crime – not merely a fault or a sin but an actual crime.  Men guilty of it sooner or later must suffer the penalty.  In personal conduct be always polite but never obsequious (fawning, too eager to help or obey – dw).  None will respect you more than you respect yourself.  Avoid quarrels as long as you can without yielding to imposition.  But sustain your manhood always. Never bring a suit in law for assault and battery or for defamation.  The law affords no remedy for such outrages that can satisfy the feelings of a true man.  Never wound the feelings of others.  Never brook wanton outrage upon your own feelings.  If ever you have to vindicate your feelings or defend your honor, do it calmly.  If angry at first, wait until your wrath cools before you proceed.”

This advice is over 200 years old.  And I know that Andrew Jackson did not follow it to the letter.  He was well known for his temper – and he had a lot of quarrels with his enemies.

But I think there is some really sound advice in here about working with others.  Andrew Jackson’s mom has a different way of saying being a good friend.  She says “friends worth having will in the long run expect as much from you”.  In other words, you should expect to be kind to others – go into relationships planning on giving to the other. Do we all go into a relationship with a giving attitude rather than a receiving attitude?

The fact that she calls “forget an obligation or to be ungrateful” a “crime – not merely a fault or a sin” is interesting.  It seems to me we are so less grateful these days.  Do we thank the store clerk who helped us?  Are we in the habit of sending thank you notes?   Do we follow through on a task we said we would do?  When someone gives us a compliment or praise, do we earnestly listen to them and thank them?  Or do we try to minimize it?

My mom was a great role model in many ways.  I think it is critical that I try to remember her example.  This was a great reminder today.  Happy Birthday, Mom.


The Mindfulness Molecule

This week, I am studying more about mindfulness.  According to one of the leading experts on Mindfulness, John Kabat-Zinn:

Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, with an element of openness to the unfolding experiences moment-by-moment.

When you increase your awareness , you increase your empowerment.  The concept of being present is a central tenet of the coach training I received at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland.  It really does make a difference.  In the Resilience class I am taking, they had an interesting way of thinking about being present.  If you are not in the present moment, you are always living in the past or in the future – or what you think those were or might be.  You never experience what is going on now.  You miss out on now.

When you are not present, you are in a state of “mindlessness”.  This is reacting to situations based on the emotions or what we feel like doing, rather than on rational, logical thinking grounded on what is most effective in the moment.

To help us think more mindfully, my class had us consider the Mindfulness Molecule, developed by Tyler Renshaw.  It is made up of three pieces that fit together.

First is “Purposeful Awareness”.  This is paying attention ON PURPOSE to what is happening internally (your insight) and externally.  The interesting part is this asks you to pay attention to all parts of you – your mind, your mind, your spirit, your soul.  Think of it as “scanning” all parts of you for a reaction, rather than just paying attention to the first one or the loudest one or the most comfortable, used one.

Second is an “Open, Gentle and Kind Attitude”.  This is being friendly to your self and the experiences you encounter internally and externally.  We are all experts at beating ourselves up about some perceived personal shortcoming or failure.  Many of us automatically use “flight or fight” when a situation is presented to us.  This piece asks you to take a moment.  Be kind to yourself.  Be open.  Give you personal strengths a chance to shine.

Third is “Intentionality” (aka, agency).  This is purposefully choosing to do what is most effective for you.  In most cases you get to choose how you react.  Why not take advantage of that gift?

Mindfulness Molecule


This is a really great, simple method for looking at how we want to act.  But it is hard to do when we face life’s stress. The way to make it a part of your life is to practice it, much like any other skill you wish to hone.


As part of my class on Resilience, we were asked to look at our values.  The definition used in class for values is “my chosen life paths in a few key areas”.  What are the kinds of behaviors that matter to me the most in guiding my life?How would I describe them?

In order to explore our values we did the “Bull’s Eye Exercise”, a values-clarification exercise designed by a Swedish therapist, Tobias Lundgren. We were asked to look into four important domains of life: work/education, leisure, relationships, and personal growth/health.

I thought I would share my responses (in bold below) to the first two parts of the exercise.  If you are so inclined, you could do the same for yourself.  I’ve left some of the instructions to help with guidance.

Part 1: Identifying Your Values

As you write your values, consider: What would you value if there were nothing in your way, nothing stopping you? What’s important? What do you care about? And what you would like to work towards? Your value should not be a specific goal, but instead should reflect a way you would like to live your life over time.

  1. Work/Education: refers to your workplace and career, education and knowledge, and skills development. (This may include volunteering and other forms of unpaid work). How do you want to be towards your clients, customers, colleagues, employees, fellow workers? What personal qualities do you want to bring to your work? What skills do you want to develop?

DW – Continue to be a lifelong learner- to challenge myself mentally and to enhance other parts of my life.  In work, be “present” in service to others, helping them gain the right balance between career, relationships and self

  1. Leisure: refers to how you play, relax, stimulate, or enjoy yourself; your hobbies or other activities for rest, recreation, fun and creativity.

DW – Be open to travel that incorporate my interests in history, family and fitness. Ensure that I set aside time for reading, blogging and taking classes that increase my knowledge, engages me intellectually and betters me.

  1. Relationships: refers to intimacy, closeness, friendship and bonding in your life. This domain of your life includes relationships with your partner or spouse, children, parents, relatives, friends, co-workers, and other social contacts. What sort of relationships do you want to build? How do you want to be in these relationships? What personal qualities do you want to develop?

DW – Be a person with a positive attitude, who encourages others and recognize their good.  Be the kind of person that radiates positive energy.

  1. Personal Growth/Health: refers to your ongoing development as a human being. This may include organized religion, personal expressions of spirituality, physical health and well-being, developing life skills, engaging in self-care to promote positive mental health.

DW – Be active and fit so that I can continue to run and be able to enjoy physical activities.  Strive to be healthier and constantly challenge my physical bounds.

Part 2: Locating How Fully You Are Living Your Values
Make an X in each quarter of the dart board, to represent where you stand today (a total of four Xs) in that domain. Closer to the center means I am living the values more closely.

Values Buills Eye Exercise

The idea the class is imparting is that we need our values clearly articulated.  The values form the basis on how we react to events in life.  Increased knowledge about what  are our values guides us.  When stressful events occur – which they inevitably do – we lean on our values for making decisions and guiding our actions.  Having a “strategy” for dealing with stress helps us be more resilient.  Makes a lot of sense to me.

I encourage you to give this exercise a try.  It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it does take a lot of thought.

If you are interested, here are the four parts to the exercise:

  • identifying and writing your values in four domains of your life;
  • locating how fully you are living your values;
  • identify barriers or obstacles that interfere with living consistent with your values; and
  • creating a Values Action Plan

And here is a blank bull’s eye:

blank bulls eye

Performance and Stress

I am taking my 6th MOOC – Massively Open Online Course – from Edx on the topic of “Resiliency”.  Resiliency is the ability to strive and thrive in life.

Taking these on line classes is so much fun for me.  I guess it fulfills one of my core values, the desire to keep gaining knowledge.  With a wide range of subjects, taught by experts, MOOCs provide a stimulating environment for learning.  And you can generally go at your own pace.

For this class on resilience, we have weekly lectures.  I’ve decided to write about one concept that strikes me each week.  This past week was the class’s first week, so the topic was stress.  A simple visual model of stress made a lot of sense to me.  It is called the “Yerkes-Dodson Curve”

This is what it looks like:

The idea behind the curve is that there is a relationship between your performance and you state of arousal (or stress, tension, excitement or alertness).  There are a couple general points as follows:

  1. We need a little bit of “stress” in our lives to make us active.  Without some motivating tension we have no reason to act. In this way, stress can be thought of as a good thing. We are built to be motivated by stress so this often happens.
  2. There is an optimal level of stress – depending on the person and particular circumstance – that optimizes performance.  If we know we have a deadline to complete something, we can often focus on getting it done.  Most of our day-to-day work and life tasks fit here.
  3. However, too much stress results in performance decline, sometimes sharply if cognitive or nervous breakdown is triggered. A downturn can also be caused by excessive attention to a task such that extra factors that are important get missed. Or it could simply be a behavior the person employs seeking any way of reducing their stress (such as avoidance or rash decisions). This can lead to sub-optimal solutions being used.

For an athlete, the performance might be the range from “practice” to “in the zone” to “choking”. An example of this is an athlete who performs better under real game situation than he/she does during practice games. There is more arousal (stress, excitement) during the real games which increases their performance. But, if the pressure becomes too much, their performance can decrease

For many of us, if we have something that needs to be done in a couple weeks (no stress or excitement), we probably don’t do anything about it.  But if we are having guests over for an event, cleaning, preparing the house, and cooking gets a lot of attention.  We get a lot done.  But when life throws us too much to be done – work, family, self – we react sub-optimally.  Maybe we make rash decisions.  Maybe we yell at others.  Maybe we lose confidence in ourselves.  There are all kinds of negative reactions.

Hopefully as this class roles along, I’ll have some strategies to pass along for dealing with stress.  But for now, think about where you fit on the Yerkes-Dodson Curve most often.







The body is trying to tell me something

The other day I had the most disconcerting thing happen to me.  I was running a 5k (3 mile) race and felt like I was going to throw up the entire race.  It was the worst race I have ever run at that distance.  How could that happen?  My training has been good.  I have been taking care of myself.

I went to the doctor and found out it could be a number of things.  We started with acid reflux and put me on a prescription.  It’s now been three weeks and I still do not feel “better’.  I feel “improved”, but still not 100%.  What will it take to get me to 100%?

The consensus from two people I trust is that my problem is probably caused by stress.  STRESS?  How can a semi-retired guy in good health who gets to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it be under stress?  Okay, I am trying to start up a new coaching business that I want to run part time.  I am deciding on the name and creating the web site on my own because I want to have the experience.  Financially I am in no hurry to get it started.  That is the only extraordinary thing going on in my life, but that does not sound stressful.  That is true. . .on one plane.

One of the most important learning from the training I just took to get my coaching certification was about the body. Our body knows way more than we give it credit for.   The body recognizes things on its own.  We need to tap into our body and acknowledge what it is telling us if we want to be honest with ourselves.

As Rose pointed out, what is one of the easiest ways to get my attention?  Not let me run like I want to.  That gets my attention immediately.

Guess what?  I am unable to run like I want to.  Hmmmm

So is there something going on inside me, on another plane beyond pure logic, that needs to be addressed?  There is only one way to really find out.  That is to draw my awareness to what is going on.  I need to acknowledge that something is bothering me.  And I need to pay attention to “IT”.  I am not sure what IT is.  I know IT is not purely rational or logical because I have been trying to use those powers to figure IT out.  This is really hard.  I am not sure where to even go look for IT.

This is some crazy stuff.  For many people, this may sound like I am off my rocker.  Or, the act of a desperate man trying to justify something.  My logical, planning side of me says this cannot be.  And from its perspective, it can’t be.

But I’ve learned enough to know there is more to it than what I am telling myself (in fact, that was what my last blog post was about).  So, I am going to turn up my awareness, suspend judgement on whether what I am experiencing is logical or not, and try to get better.

Anything like this happen to you?

What didn’t they say?

Sometimes I find it as interesting to think about what someone does NOT say as much as what they do say. For example, the other day I was at Kettering Medical Center.  Their mission is in part “to improve the quality of life of the people in the communities we serve through health care and education.”  They want “every person, every time” to have an excellent experience.  Sounds reasonable, perhaps even inspiring.  No one can really argue with wanting their hospital experience to yield a healthy outcome.

What is NOT said are two words: “cost effectively”.  I think those are extremely important words.  Those are especially interesting given that a recent Harvard University study found “medical bankruptcies represent 62% of all personal bankruptcies.” Lest you think that is because the people did not have health insurance, “78% of filers had some form of health insurance”, thus bucking the myth that medical bills affect only the uninsured. Kettering Health Network might make you feel better physically, but if the bills overwhelm you in the long run, was it really a good outcome?  And since you never know the costs of the various hospital procedures before hand, you are always making an uniformed decision.

Let’s take this a little further.  What does it say if you are running a business where part of the outcome is good but another part is really bad?  What is the real story?  How is that business different from McDonald’s, which wants people at their restaurants who are “loving it”, even if the “loving” might lead to obesity and/or heart disease in the long run?  It is like a college saying they want every student to “graduate on time, with the required education to get a good job”.  Again, a great outcome.  But what if you did not know what college was going to cost you until months after you were done?  If you got a good education and a good job, but ended up with a college bill that overwhelmed you for years, was it really the right thing?

You can think about that for a while.

Sometimes it is the same thing with people.  For example, politicians are masters at saying something, but leaving out a lot more.  But let’s be honest, I guarantee we all do it some of the time.  We don’t want to let someone know how we really feel about something. One of my favorite joke lines is to say “I can’t tell you how much I like that”.  Think about it!  Do I mean I like it so much it is indescribable?  Or I can’t “tell you” because I do I not like it at all?  I don’t know.  To take it further, what do we not say to ourselves?

I think this “unspoken word” is another reason why I am into coaching.  Sometimes we need someone else to  point out what we are not saying.  Sometimes we need another person to say out loud those things we don’t – but should – say to ourselves. Taking some time to ponder what really needs to be said is enough to build awareness.  Then we can decide if we want a different outcome or not.