Learning how to become spontaneous

Sometimes, I feel like a robot.

Bender

My story is a lot like yours, only more interesting ‘cause it involves robots.”– Bender, Fuurama

Hardwired to plan and to adhere to that plan no matter what.

Even when Aaron and I embark on a day/night of fun, we likely have already thought about what we’re going to do days in advance. Sometimes weeks. Needless to say, spontaneity is not part of either of our DNAs.

Note: I’m not a scientist, and I acknowledge that I don’t think spontaneous behavior is actually part of our DNA. 

How do you train yourself to allow events to unfold the day of? That sounds terrifying! What? I have to leave my calendar open to possibilities?

But, here’s where those with the “Judging” preference on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) learn how to game the system.

That’s right: when it comes to dealing with the outside world, Aaron and I both have strong preferences for a structured and decided lifestyle (aka “Judging”). Do you think this has something to do with our desire for control?

It is important not to conflate the “Judging” preferences of the MBTI test with the act of “judgement.” It’s not about people; we’re talking process here and how we want to shape our lives.

Here’s a sample of statements that a person with a “Judging” preference connects with:

  • I like to have things decided.
  • I appear to be task oriented.
  • I like to make lists of things to do. (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • I like to get my work done before playing.
  • I plan work to avoid rushing just before a deadline.
  • Sometimes I focus so much on the goal that I miss new information.

If you’ve read other posts in my blog, or just know me, you’re likely saying: “Yep, that’s Katie.” I do enjoy a good rushing around before a deadline every now and again to make me feel young. Ultimately, if I can knock things out weeks in advance, I’m as happy as a clam.

“So, like, clenched up tight, full of grit, and if you get pried open you’ll die?” — Tina Fay as Andrea of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

As two solutions-oriented, goal-setting people, Aaron and I drew on the inspiration of others and created a BOO:

BOWL

OF

OPTIONS

Consider it a baby-step in our path to freeing ourselves from the confines of our decision-oriented default modes. The BOO contains scraps of paper with places, activities, and ideas to break us from routines and challenge us to explore our city, state, and selves.

Last Saturday, we took BOO for its first spin, and out came a place: the Atomic Fern in downtown Durham (a social club, aka bar with games). Alright, we were going to go. But what would we do beforehand?

Fortunately, we didn’t have to put ourselves in the position to plan that either. My friend Molly bravely took the stage with other amazing women for:

26171784_807156032742376_3356564206567391902_o

That’s right: the incredibly amazing Molly took the stage to perform comedy for the first time. And, she killed it.

20180113_182407_hdr.jpg

Molly may move quickly, but the blur is all on me. And the lighting. It has to be the lighting.

Her invitation broadened the possibilities for our night of spontaneity. We knew we would go to the Pinhook. We knew that we would visit the Atomic Fern. But in what order? And would there be other stops? ENDLESS OPTIONS!

At one point before we headed downtown, Aaron started to inquire about where we would eat. I shut it down (nicely, of course). “Let’s see where the night takes us!” (Hopefully not to a place where we wake up among plastic pink flamingos. That never seems to be a good sign if movies/TV are telling the truth).

20180113_204435_HDR

Photo evidence above: here we are, at The Atomic Fern, playing the addictive “I Spy” rip-off game “Spot It.” WE DID IT!

It was one of the most fun evenings we’ve ever had together. What’s the lesson learned? Spontaneity rules.

Now, when can we schedule our next date to be spontaneous? We’re booked next weekend…and the following…maybe mid-March?

#justkidding

#sortof

How to help? Stop the advice and create space

In the last week, I’ve had two interactions where — with all of my being — I wanted to be able to help but felt hampered by not having a clear action to take. One situation centered around my mother experiencing a deeply personal loss of a friend, and the other involved one of my close friends who had a fairly tumultuous 2017.

As both leaders and people who generally care about others, our first reaction in these situations is often to offer advice, provide comforting words, or relate a personal experience. But, this desire to fix or help may only benefit our own selfish desire and not the other person.

23843502_1985528351660726_3694981339158245129_n

Oh, you want to get healthy? Here is a gym you can join! (But seriously, if you live in the Triangle, you should join the 360 Approach family).

What can we do instead? Create a nonjudgmental space for sharing, reflection, and even silence. For me, this is hard. And uncomfortable! Sitting in silence with another person is not how I would describe a good time. I start to fidget; my brain begins racing; sweat beads at my wrists and temples.

Why does this happen? Our culture doesn’t embrace silence as a value. In fact, we want the opposite of stillness: movement! sounds! notifications! Fill the void with chatter, innovation, progress.

These actions can make us feel like we’re moving forward. In reality, these actions can limit our ability to fully connect with our own emotions and with the emotions of others. While we can now check off a box, the jumble left behind inside of us remains just that: jumbled. This mess often finds its way out of us through less desirable means: anger or sadness; overindulgence; self-harm; fighting with others; sickness.

Let’s make a pledge together in 2018 to try and create spaces for others when they need it. We’ll keep our mouths closed and our advice to ourselves. We will be present, and we will listen. Actively listen. We can ask open-ended questions that give the person we love more opportunities to unearth what they want (and likely need) to say as they process. We need to grow more comfortable with silence and with allowing things to be left unsaid.

During the conversation with my mom, I fought myself to not interject with some trite commentary on grief and loss, on friendship. I wanted to so badly, but I could also hear in my mom’s voice that she needed to just talk. For many of those that we love, they often carry the burden of being the sounding board for their family members and friends. When faced with their own hardships, they don’t necessarily have anyone offering their ears and time.

20643533_10210642902252476_6240223276845611631_o

A #throwback photo: sometimes creating space involves booze.

After reading this post, what resonates with you? Has someone created space for you recently? How did that make you feel?

Applying a ‘beginner’s mind’ to leadership

Do you consider yourself a goal-setter? Do you derive pleasure from crossing off items from your to-do list?

Gray brick wall with black painted soccer goal with "gol" written above

No matter the language, goals matter

Have you ever put an activity on your to-do list that you already did but wanted to release those oh-so-coveted endorphins as you drew a line through it?

Yeah, me too.

Here’s the good news for any of you who identify (even at times) as a Type-A person: we can still be mindful leaders. But, it’s not something that we can knock out of the park in one swing. It’s a process — at times, a painful one. It requires us to challenge our modus operandi and the behaviors deeply ingrained in our brains.

Fortunately, leaders like Robyn Ferhman are here to help. I had the opportunity to attend Robyn’s workshop last Saturday at Carolina Yoga Company entitled: “Attention to Intention: A Mindful Start to 2018.” You can see what was covered in this two-hour block of wonder and exploration here. Needless to say, I wasn’t ready to leave when time was up.

One of the key learnings that I took away from the workshop involved the concept of “beginner’s mind,” which is one of the core attitudes that make up a mindfulness practice. It is exactly like it sounds: approaching situations as if it were your first time ever experiencing it.

Imagine: how routine is brushing your teeth? How many of us spend that time up in our heads, running through memories or thinking about the events awaiting us tomorrow? What would happen if we approached brushing our teeth each morning and night like it was the first time? We would focus on making sure we addressed our gumlines; used circular motions to eliminate the plaque from those problem areas our dentist reminds us about every six months. How many fewer cavities would we have collectively? How much more in-tune would we feel with our bodies?

What does a “beginner’s mind” approach in leadership look like? Meetings are often a place where leaders are called upon to provide direction, make decisions, and build consensus. What if we approached the next meeting on our calendar as if it were our first ever meeting to run? What questions would we ask or anticipate others asking? How would we want to feel in the meeting? What baggage would we be able to leave outside of the door so we could fully participate, without judgment, in the space? How would a fresh perspective add value and contribute to your ideal workplace culture?

How about bringing a “beginner’s mind” to building relationships with others? Whether with our co-workers, fellow board members, or even our friends, we have a shared history, whether shallow or deep. This often results in us pre-judging outcomes or perhaps not investing our full attention into our time together. While our co-worker is sharing a new project idea, our mind drifts to: “How is this going to impact me and my time?”

A real hamster between two stuffed hampsters on a shelf

With a beginner’s mind, the impossible may appear a bit more real.

In my search for ways to incorporate a “beginner’s mind” into life, I stumbled upon this post from Amira Posner, a Mind-Body Fertility practitioner at Healing Infertility, featuring a well-known eating meditation credited to Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Take a raisin and put it in your hand. Pretend you have dropped off from another planet, and you have never seen a raisin. With an inquisitive, open, non-judgmental perspective, examine the raisin. Explore it. Smell it, feel it, taste it. Engage your senses, in the moment, in a non-judgmental way. With all your attention, be one with the raisin.

Note: if you’re not a fan of raisins (or happen to be participating in a Whole 30 program), another food item can be easily substituted.

Upon first reading, it can sound and feel a bit silly. But, I would pose the question: hasn’t the way we’ve been operating — passively, automatically, re-actively — silly? We have kept ourselves from being fully present and engaged in our world; a world in which we only have so much time to be present.

How could a “beginner’s mind” alter your relationships with other people, with your career, and with yourself?

How I will re-think shopping this year

Do you have the Amazon app on your phone?

How often have you opened the app while waiting in line/hanging out with friends/out at an event/sitting on the toilet and ordered something?

These questions are asked without judgment as — confession time — I have been/am a habitual, knee-jerk reaction shopper became it is so convenient.

Oh, we’re out of cat food?

Click.

Gosh, I really want to read that book I just heard about on NPR.

Click.

Even better: options like Subscribe & Save take the effort of remembering to purchase a new bottle of shampoo or more coconut oil every other month!

My friend Cassie shared on Facebook Ann Patchett’s New York Times opinion piece “My Year of No Shopping“, and I read it with eyes wide open. I used to be a serial shopper. Hello, I was raised in the 90s! The mall was the place to see and be seen. At least, in my case, the only things I was looking for were the latest Babysitter’s Club paperbacks at Waldenbooks, a sassy shirt from the Rave, CDs from Sam Goody’s, and giggle-inducing adult toys at Spencer’s Gifts (those lava lamps were like a Siren’s Song).

Shopping — even just window — was a coveted weekend activity during my formative teenage years. So, it seems reasonable that I would continue such habits into adulthood. While I can attest to shedding much of my previous shopping identity (or even the desire to wander through the mall for hours….where malls still exist), online shopping quietly took the throne as the activity that doesn’t quite feel like shopping but absolutely is:

Image of woman sitting behind computer with text: "Why yes, I will spend $50 more to get free shipping to avoid paying $3 for shipping"

How quickly those seemingly one-off purchases add up! Not only financially but they take up physical space; they add weight to our consumer-driven lives. They may shape our identity, or our perception of reality. They project values and priorities. Do they project the values and priorities we want to reflect? That’s up to you.

After reading Ann’s narrative on her year of not shopping (inspired by her friend Elissa’s commitment to negate purchasing clothes, shoes, jewelry, and purchases), I took a little self-inventory on my own shopping predilections and where I could make change. One of my goals in 2018 is to save more money — and I realized that I spend money on things that I don’t really need anymore.

As Ann works on following her self-determined shopping rules and begins to run out of certain items, she writes that she makes “gleeful discoveries” of lip balms, lotions, soaps, and other tucked away products that have consumed space under the sink for years.

Y’all: I have four boxes of shampoo + conditioner in the bathroom closet now. How did that happen?

For me, shopping — the act of acquiring new items based on a sense of need or want — had become a non-mindful activity. Even at the grocery store, which is one of my favorite places to spend money, I move through each aisle with my list in my hand…but always with a swift justification ready in case I want to pick up a few additional items not written on the aforementioned list. (Oh, my favorite Kombucha is only $3.25, not $3.50 — I can totally put it in the cart now!)

I want to make it clear: there is zero judgment regarding feelings of joy connected to shopping. In fact, shouldn’t shopping be joyful in some ways? If we’re able to shop, that means we have economic resources to make choices. Many people in this world do not. What a privilege for me to wander around the Kroger, the Whole Foods — wherever — and have essentially limitless options.

This is what I want to work on moving forward this year:  I want to be mindful of the act of purchasing products. I want to think about the impact it has on my own budget; on my life with Aaron; on my ability to make other financial choices down the road. I want to be mindful about the impact my shopping choices have on my community; on the people who produced the product; on the people who will benefit from the purchase of this product. I want to think about the impact my purchases have on the environment; on labor; on the health and well-being of people that I may or may not know. I want to be present during the act of shopping — whether it is online, offline, local, or international. I want to shop less and give more. I want to find more opportunities to shop in places that bring positive change to the lives of others.

The one item — the onnnnnnnnnnnnnne item — that is going to be the hardest for me to let go of purchasing at whim:

Me reading a book on a train

No, not ridiculously large plastic waterbottles (but no, I won’t be buying those in 2018 or ever again). It’s books. I love books. I love them so much. I like the way they feel, the way they make me feel. I like the way they draw me in, sometimes slowly, sometimes from the start. They rarely let me down; they comfort me when I’m sick or stuck on an airplane.

But, I have so many books. SO MANY BOOKS. And so many unread books.

This is it, my dear readers. If it’s on the Internet, it must be true right.

Sigh.

I will not purchase a book in 2018.

My intention for this year is to become more mindful throughout all aspects of my life. More to come on mindfulness in my next post after having the pleasure of attending a workshop this weekend with mindfulness/yoga/Type-A/leadership guru Robyn Fehrman.

Do you practice mindful shopping? After reading Ann Patchett’s piece, are you inspired to re-evaluate how you shop and what you buy? How can you free up space in your mind in 2018?

Shifting from “resolutions” to “feelings” for 2018

Four days into the new year: how are you holding up? How are you making progress to the goals and commitments you set for yourself as you seek to be healthier/happier/more sane in the days, weeks, and months ahead?

Perhaps you didn’t set a single resolution. In fact, you’re scoffing at this post: oh, another piece on goal-setting in the new year. How cliche, Katie.

First: I kind-of like cliches, so there.

Second: Fine! Whether you are have established intentions for who you want to be and what you want to experience in this new year is moot. Because, I’m going to throw out a question that I bet you haven’t asked yourself yet:

How do you want to feel in 2018?

During an annual girls’ weekend last November, our friend Michelle posed this question to our group as we tromped through the woods in Uwharrie National Forest, our feet crunching the remnants of fall foliage into dust while the nearby shooting range provided a constant and eerie soundtrack.

How do you want to feel next year?

Michelle had been asked this question as part of a recent yoga teacher training and found it to be incredibly illuminating. Feelings don’t typically factor into goal-setting. Our resolutions are most commonly born from desired behavioral shifts (“I want to spend less money on Amazon” or “I want to spend more time with my friends”) and measurable accomplishments (“I want to lose X pounds” or “I want to work out X number of times each week”).  But, it’s not often that we associate particularly feelings with these goals.

Sure, we can assume that we will likely experience greater happiness due to successful integration and completion of our resolutions. But, is happiness the only feeling we want in our lives? And, are our goals really means to an end goal called happiness? If so, we may need to re-evaluate how we craft our resolutions moving forward.

Post of Pushkin, the cat, showing the difference between New Year's Resolutions expectations and reality. The expectation is to workout, so Pushkin the cat is wearing a headband and has weights. The reality is Pushkin sleeping in a chair next to a remote control.

Oh cats. Always living the dream, right?

How do I want to feel this year? Here’s what I offered to the group and now to you:

  • Challenged: As I outlined in a previous blog post, I felt like I hit a professional wall in terms of my ability to stretch and grow in 2017. Part of that was due to misalignment between what I was doing and what fulfilled me. Part of it was also due to a hunger to take on new responsibilities and tasks that were out of my comfort zone. Lo and behold, this is where I am now: a new job with a great deal of expectations for me and by me. I want to build up my resilience and grit again — and diving into the deep end as a full time development director will put me in the position to be challenged each and every day.
  • Free: I’m not referring to the freedom encapsulated (whether real or symbolic) in the Bills of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. For me, I wanted to feel free to dictate my schedule and calendar once again. By the end of last year, I was fried. I forgot what true relaxation meant (and I also continued to insist upon a life of productivity — look at all that I’m doing every moment! Never waste an opportunity to do something!). Bologna. With freedom comes choice on how to spend my time and remove the shackles of social pressures of what I should spend my time doing. No one should feel shame for taking time to read a book for pleasure. Could you be washing your kitchen floor? Learning a foreign language? Sending out one more work email? Of course. But, what will be lost, forever, if you make one of those other choices is your ability to feel free and empowered to refill your cup in a way that satisfies you. We spend a lot of our time working to satisfy others. Feel the freedom to put your needs and care first when you can.

How do you want to feel in 2018? Acceptance? Joyful? Curious? If you’ve set resolutions, what feelings can you attribute to each of your goals?

Meme of T-rex with a claw under his chin. Text around T-Rex reads: "What if your new years resolution was to not follow your new years resolution?"

Meta.