My “To Do” List (and Not)

Wash my hands in warm water always no matter how long it takes. Be a Canuck fan early in the season. Say to Carole “I love you” while holding her for 2 minutes. Ignore the “call” of Groupon emails and craigslist bargains. Get home on time and not bump into a bicyclist. Find 2 minutes every day to mindfully wonder. Respond more — react less. “Meet and greet the human condition” (I borrowed this from a poem by Kathi Wolfe.). Taste my breakfast. Remember what clothes I wore yesterday. Smile surreptisiously. Laugh with my heart-held convictions. Appreciatively wait at red lights. Move impulses from my limbic brain to my cerebral cortex. Wear orange. Retire restfully.

Updated September 2015

Been Thinking About Change (Laura Sportack)

Laura Sportack, a friend as well as the chaplain at GF Strong (Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver), has been thinking about change. Here are her thoughts and you could add your own.

  • — Moving from where one is to where one wants to be.
  • — A decision made out of necessity.
  • — Deciding to do something good with painful memories.
  • — The undoing of a habitual action, response, thought, emotion.
  • — Behaviours that assume a different sequencing or timing.
  • — A choice to act on thinking rather than, or at least more than, feeling.
  • — Using different language to describe an emotion or an action.
  • — An achievable hope.
  • — Listening instead of speaking.
  • — For the better or for the worse, and sometimes it is hard to tell which it is.
  • — Not always noticed by others.
  • — Identifiable.
  • — Simultaneously intrapersonal and interpersonal.
  • — A measured response, not a spontaneous or intuitive reaction.
  • — Specific to a need.
  • — When you are afraid and decide to go ahead with it anyhow.
  • — Forgiving yourself and others before you understand how you failed.
  • — God’s way of saving me.

If Laura sounds like a therapist, she is also that. Thanks Laura for your list. (And you might wish to click on the “change” tag below to read some other thoughts on changing.)

Two Boxes

Some of you know that I am a professor at Carey Theological College at UBC and that I have a private practice in psychology in West Vancouver. In both places I am aware that I work with my head and my heart, sometimes more of one than the other. When I meet people for the first time, I often make quick judgments of them as primarily heart-people or head-people. I guess I put them into boxes.

Box 1 is the empathy-compassion box. These are the pastoral, giving folk I meet. They emote integrity and doing right is most important to them. They might give you their last dollar, as did the New York policeman who gave a street person his warm socks and winter boots (this was reported in the news last week). Heart people are friendly, trustworthy, sociable and want to be helpful. These folk are the “heart” of churches, families, community centres and everywhere people are considered more important that programs. They have high social and emotional intelligence. They think with their hearts.

Box 2 is the competency box – this is the head box and it includes thinking intelligence, the ability to solve problems quickly, express creative ideas and fluent thoughts. These people are often motivated by success. They are typically problem solvers and talkers more than listeners, though they often do both. (At this point, some of you are liable to say something like, “This is exactly like my husband!” but in my meeting of people, women are as often to be thinkers-solvers as men.) The competency people are my go-to friends when I have a computer problem or when I need to consult on a difficulty in my life or in my work. They don’t hold my hand and emit sympathy – they get to the problem and figure out how to fix it.

I have found that Box 1 people (the warm-hearted ones) admire Box 2 people (the competency folk) and that Box 2 people wish they were more Box 1-ish, especially with intimates. Someone said that the difference between thinking with your head and thinking with your heart is only about a foot! However, the distance between head and heart is immense when one is stressed or in conflict. Then we tend to polarize around the value of thinking (“What you are saying is illogical. Can’t you hear yourself?”) and feeling (“You don’t understand what I am saying! Just listen to me.”).

When we first meet people most of us have intuition about whether he or she is more of a heart-person or more of a head-person. And we may warm to one over the other depending on the context. Recently I went to a social gathering that I was not interested in attending and I found myself cornered by a hyper-competent, business guy who wanted to tell me the evils of religion. I told him, “I know something about that” and he carried on without pause. I hoped for a little understanding from him, but his speech was well-practiced and thorough. Actually, I quite enjoyed the discussion once I figured out he was a Box 2 guy and that he was exercising his competency muscles. I flexed some of my Box 2 stuff as well.

It seems to me that intellectual competency and heart ability make for a healthy and soulful dyad in relationships and within ourselves. It also seems to me that this is the best competency in teaching and counselling, the best in conciliating and problem solving (though not the best in argument-winning), the best in movie-watching and in Christmas-present buying. And in novel reading, and friendship-making, and…

Why Do You Do the Things You Do?

That is what I ask myself when I screw up. (“Why the heck did I do that?”) And it is what I ask of you, my client friends, when you ruin your best chance to live an effective and gracious life. (“Tell me why you did that again?”) When I ask why you did something, I am probably thinking about a “trinity” of A’s.

A1 – My first “A” is “attention.” All of us need it, our souls would shrivel without it, and we are designed to give attention to others and absorb it for ourselves. Saying, “She just wants attention” is, of course, true. Take the dismissive tone away and you understand one of the great human motivators.

A2 is “affection”, that someone (hopefully, many “someones”) would want us, worry about our well being, look forward to our coming home for the evening, initiate a really great gladness, that kind of thing. It is why we marry and, when it is missing, the reason that many have their spirits broken and consequently break their relationships.

And A3 is “approval.” This is when someone catches you doing something right and commenting on it. It is the basis of self-esteem in children and surely adults as well. It is related to “thankfulness,” that spirited quality that finds the good in someone and notices it out loud. Shouting approval is good and whispering criticism is a good idea, too.

These 3 A’s are motivators for life and some of the reasons for being. It is why we do the things we do.

Imagine your life where you grew up being noticed and wanted and thanked. If you can imagine this, you can imagine health and wellbeing.

Imagine your life where you feel misplaced, where love has to be earned with good grades or perfection of another sort, and where your triumphs get lost in the busyness of stuff. If you can imagine this, you can imagine fatigue, depression, loneliness and giving up.

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