CG #41 – How Math is the Key to Change


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You probably learned the laws of mathematics in elementary school.  Who knew they were really about transformation?

 Word Count: 517

Reading Time:  Under 2 minutes

It’s embarrassing to admit how deeply soothing I find reducing messy complicated life situations to simple mathematical equations.  Math is so orderly, concrete, and reliable.  It has laws that all the numbers obey.  I find that refreshing.

When I’ve got a sticky situation, I relax my mind with a simple equation.  Here’s one of my favorites:


I do a and b to get c.  It works that way every time.  If I want a different outcome to this equation – a different c – it’s a simple matter of changing a or b or both a and b.  This applies to recipes, processes and mixtures of all kinds.  It applies to collaborations too:

Me + you = a result

If I want a different result, my choices here are simple:  I can change myself or I can change…you?

Well, no.  I can’t change you.  Which can be discouraging if I believe it’s my only choice.

Here’s where math really, really helps:  If I can’t change one of the variables in an equation to get a different result, I can change the other.  If I don’t like our result, I can change my part of the equation.  That is powerSpecifically, it’s the power of agency, the power of being 100% responsible not for the result, but for my contribution to it.

All real change is born of changing the only variable in the equation you can change:  You.

What can you change?

1. You can change your thinking.  Instead of casting myself in the role of victim or of hero, I can choose to cast you in that role and see what options it gives me.  Power is the ability to generate many choices.

2. You can change your behavior.  What if your usual way of working isn’t a fit for this situation?   Are you doing too much?  Too little?  How can you tell?  Stop the analyzing and simple do something different.  Try doing less and see if another doesn’t step up.  Try clearing your calendar for a day and knocking something out.   Try the one thing you haven’t yet tried, because you think it’s not allowed.  No one is going to get injured.  Probably.   Don’t stay in your rut and hope for someone else to do the changing.

3.  Take total responsibility for yourself and your mood.  This means refusing to complain or gossip about the situation or the people in it.  Either confront people directly to get to the bottom of things, or start writing down what you are grateful for.  Do this daily.  Being 100% responsible for yourself makes you 100% free.

Any one of these three things will alter the equation because they will alter you.  Other people are out of your control.  The result is out of your control.  You’ll feel much better if you focus on the one thing that is yours to manage:  Your contribution.

Don’t you just love math?

CG #39 – Authenticity is Like Bleach

Too much can be overpowering; too little makes no difference.  How do you get it just right?

 Word Count: 706

Reading Time: Under 3 minutes

I’m having one of those summers where answering the question “How are you?” is tricky.  There are many authentic truths to tell. I choose the true response that is appropriate for the relationship and the circumstance we’re in together.  I want it to serve the goal we’ve agreed to, whether that’s  with a client or a personal relationship.

It’s a lot like using bleach:  You’ve got to match the strength you’re using to the task at hand, and you can’t always know ahead of time whether you got it right.  That’s why you have to watch carefully and adjust as you go.

Which is where the fun begins.

I watch 3 indicators to match the strength of my authenticity to the moment:

1. Is it useful?  Does it serve the goal of the relationship in this moment?  I find the answer to this question changes moment-to-moment.  My intention makes all the difference:  If my intention is to be helpful (with clients) or deepen my connection (friends, family, clients), then I’m more likely to connect.

2. How are they reacting?  You can see people backpedal when you’ve got it wrong.  Or can you?  You can certainly see a reaction, but it’s almost certain you don’t know what it means.  You can ask what their reaction means, or you can simply be silent and wait for them to proceed.

3. How are you reacting?  What are you thinking and feeling?  Are you feeling exposed, like you’ve said too much?  Are you aching to say more?  Are you more anxious than when you started speaking?  If you don’t factor yourself into the equation, you aren’t being authentic.

Here’s a sample conversation using the 3 indicators:



I’m talking with a client about something he’s doing that is affecting our work together.  I’m clear about what I want from the conversation.  In our initial meeting I asked “What if I discover that something you’re doing is the root of the problem on your team?”  Read on and see how much bleach I had to add as we went along.


“Jerry, remember when I asked you ‘What if the problem is something you’re doing?’”

“I do – and I’m 100% committed to improving.”  (He could also say “Sure – I remember telling you that would be impossible,” and laugh.  It doesn’t matter.  At this point I’m focused on my need to make our relationship fluid and productive.)

“It’s annoying me that you make changes to the agenda we agreed to before you send it out to the team for their feedback.  It takes time and energy to try and understand your thinking.  Even worse is when you can’t make the meeting and I’m put in the awkward position of explaining something I don’t understand and may not agree with.


“You’re annoyed with me?”

“I am.”

“I don’t like that.”

“Neither do I.”

“Do you want me to not make the changes then?  Because that would slow us down.”

“Making changes on your own is slowing us down.  Which you don’t see because you’re not in the meetings where the team and I try to read your mind.”

“Is it that bad?”

“Yes.  The way it reduces otherwise intelligent, talented people to blithering idiots would be funny in a movie.”

“I need to adjust the agenda as I see fit.”

“Absolutely.  And you’ve hired me to help make this day productive, and you want to involve the team.”

<Thoughtful silence>

“I have a proposal.  Do you want to hear it?”


“Your decisions on the agenda are final.  They’ll be better if you consult with me first.  Where we need help, we’ll involve the team.  Is that right so far?”

“More or less.”

“More or less?”

“I don’t like some of your ideas.”

“Neither do I!  I’m not attached to the idea; I’m looking for the best one.”

“Shouldn’t you just know?”

“I like it that you see me as all-knowing, Jerry.  Sadly, I’m human, just like the guy who keeps changing the agenda.

“You’ve got me there.  <pause> I’m the final decision-maker, right?”


“Alright, you’ve got yourself a deal.”

CG #38 – An Easier Way to Say “No”

Because shouting “Have you lost your mind?” isn’t an option.

Word Count: 464

Reading Time: Under 2 minutes

This is for when a client or boss wants something done exactly their way and they want it done NOW and you just cannot see how it can happen their way or in their timeframe.  At that exact moment, you will suppress the most powerful, easy-to-hear response because you believe it is somehow not allowed.

Don’t go for the whole enchilada

Saying “No” is not black and white:  It’s more skillful to say no in shades of gray, that is, to say no to certain aspects of a request or demand.  It’s more skillful to say yes in shades of gray too, but that’s for another post.

Your immediate, unfiltered, authentic response will open up the shades of gray in  black and white thinking of your client or boss.  It will open up the shades of gray in your thinking too.

All you need is a tiny chink in the armor of their urgency. If you are willing to go step-by-step, you can use that opening help them see the impossibility of their initial request.

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 4.45.59 PM

Try saying “no” in 2 steps this week, and let me know how it goes.


CG #33 – Is Your Client Toxic or Merely Difficult?

We all have ‘em:  Clients that bring out the worst in us, clients we have trouble loving, clients for whom the work seems doomed.   What’s a consultant to do?

Word Count:  746

Reading Time: 2.5 minutes

You know what I’m talking about.  It’s the client you can’t do anything right for, the one where everything you do backfires.   It’s the job where you act like an amateur even though you are a seasoned pro.  What can be done about these clients?  First off, let’s ask a better question.

Because it’s never the person, it’s the system.  And you’ve gotten caught in it.

That’s the first sign you may be in a toxic system, rather than a merely difficult one.  With a difficult client, you can recognize the cow pie in time to step over it.  In the toxic client system, you can’t help but step in it.

Here are the four steps I use to navigate a toxic system.

There are certain signs that let me know I’ve left the waters of typical resistance and entered the bizarre world of the difficult client system.

There is a big difference between ordinary resistance and a client system that’s gone toxic.

See if these toxic symptoms sound familiar to you:

  • They keep you in the dark.  There is an inner sanctum, and you are not allowed in.  It does not matter that the information you need to solve their problem is in there. You are on your own, without a map or compass.
  • You can’t do anything right.  Not only is figuring out what to do a moving target, but when you do take aim and fire, you know it’s going to rebound on you.  And you know it’s going to hurt, because the entire system is going to smack you.
  • If the difficult client system responds to a request, it’s a feeble, vague response, like “I don’t know.” or “We don’t have one of those,” or “We’ve never done that before.”  You are passed from feeble person to feeble person like a hot potato.
  • Feeble alternates with over-reactive, as when your client sounds the alarm and copies God and everybody on the email about your most recent failing, then micromanages your every move.
  • Although it’s hard to get people to talk to you, it’s clear they are talking about you.  The toxic client system has a lightening-fast communication plan: Gossip.

The gift of diagnosis is that it demands you perform the first function of consulting:  Separating your “stuff” from your clients “stuff.”

Compassion that holds others accountable is the best indicator that you’ve accomplished this.

Until you do that, you are in no position to help anyone.  You’re too hooked.  That’s what’s keeping you up at night. Not your difficult client, but your own stuff that’s been activated by this client system, this assignment, this situation.   That’s why I’m going to do this part for you:

In the toxic client system, anxiety has gone viral.

That’s why everybody is acting crazy.  That’s why you are acting crazy.


Unlike empathy and sympathy, which can both leave you paralyzed, compassion is rooted in accountability, and accountability takes action.   Compassion connects without merging, and doesn’t let anybody off the hook.   Though we are in this together, compassion knows we are walking separate paths of responsibility.

Accountability is separating out the 3 strands of responsibility – yours, mine,  and God’s.  You can’t be effective in someone else’s business.  When you are minding your own business, you are no longer “hooked.”.  And when you’re no longer “hooked,” compassion arises in you without effort.


Taking too big a step makes it easy to stray into someone else’s business. Straying into someone else’s business is how the client systems got toxic in the first place.  That’s why you need to make every step you take in a toxic client system smaller.  Make your actions so small you don’t appear to have moved at all.  Be respectful, even theatrically respectful about your requests.  You have to look and act harmless.  This is the only way to make progress without causing the system to react against you.

When I am working in a toxic client system, I accept that the system may be too anxious to make even the smallest positive change.  Knowing what they can tolerate is their business, not mine.   In those instances, I focus on the person or relationship I can strengthen and let go of the rest.



CG #32 – Get That Target Off Your Chest

If you’re doing everything right and getting nowhere, maybe you should try this.


Word Count: 614

Reading Time: 1.3 minutes


We all have our nightmare moments, times when someone throws a phrase at us with such intensity that it stops us in our tracks.

“What are you going to do about it?” is one of mine.  It’s most often delivered with a red face, popping veins in the forehead, and an accusatory tone.  My usual remedies, paraphrasing and asking open-ended questions, saying “Tell me more,” or using authenticity skills can backfire in a tense moment like this, so I’ve learned to do something else.

I answer their question, then I give them something to do.


Anxious people need help, and someone yelling at me is someone who is very anxious.  Remembering this stamps out any shame I might feel at letting them down, as well as any anger I might feel at being misunderstood.  I picture an overtired little kid who is resisting sleep:  The harder they thrash, the more obvious it is they need to rest.

Because I live around boats, I get frequent invitations to go sailing.  I used to accept them all, and loved learning how to crew.  Learning to skipper was a much steeper hill to climb.  When I had the wheel in my hands, I could not make sense of the wind direction, the position of the sails and which way to turn the boat.  It didn’t matter that I studied – and understood – the points of sail theoretically:  I always froze when I was at the helm.  And the captain du jour always started yelling at me.  There is nothing quite like being in the San Francisco Bay, in heavy chop, flying toward one of the Bay Bridge pilings and having no idea what to do while someone is shouting “Think – what are you going to do?”

So I took a sailing course for women, which helped, but not in the way I thought it would.  My big learning came when the instructor said:  “Competent captains never yell.”  Then she paused, to let her words sink in.  Turns out everyone in the class had been yelled at by a captain.  Incompetent captains, who had pushed us beyond our comfort zone, then freaked out and started screaming.  “Yelling is a sign that the captain is anxious, and out of his comfort zone.  A competent captain, seeing that a crew member is over-stretched, calmly relieves them.”

I went sailing soon after that.  I took a turn at the helm, again staring down a Bay Bridge piling.  I again got muddled and couldn’t figure out what to do.  The captain started yelling at me, this time saying “You know what to do, do it!!” and I thought:  “A competent captain would relieve me, but this is not a competent captain.   He must be extremely anxious.”

What I said was this:  “You’re right, I do know what to do.  I’m removing myself from the helm and turning it over to you.  I want you to steer us around this piling.”  And I walked away from the wheel, letting go of it just as his hand grabbed hold.

When someone is anxious, they can’t reason well.  But they can do something.

And doing something helps them calm down.  When someone is yelling at you, it’s tempting to think you are the problem, or that the person yelling is the problem.  Anxiety is the problem.

Here are the steps again:

1. Explain what you are doing, step-by-step.

2. Give them something to do.

And let me know how it goes for you.  I love hearing your stories.



CG #30 – The Value of Interrupting

On the East coast “Don’t Interrupt” is never a meeting ground rule.  On the West coast, it often is.  What’s up with that?

Word Count:  552

Reading Time: 1.5 minutes

“We never used to line up, we just formed a clump and walked toward the doors.  It was wonderful to see!”

I’m in New York visiting family and we’ve got tickets to a play.  After a long career as a theatre manager, my Uncle’s partner, George is a treasure trove of theater lore. Today I’m being instructed in the old ways of getting into the theatre.

“But George, it’s rude to cut in line.”

“There is no line.  Just join the clump and keep your feet moving.  It’s much more efficient.  You’ll see.”

I can’t explain how it happens, but my entire clump flows effortlessly into the lobby like a giant organism.   And, it’s fun. Much better than standing in line.  I’m grinning when George looks over at me.

Growing up, I was taught that cutting in line was rude, boorish behavior.  Interrupting was simply the verbal version of cutting in line. It wasn’t done.

For many years I was a true believer in the “One conversation” meeting ground rule.  It ensured that everyone had a voice and that no one dominated.

Then I facilitated a meeting in New York City.

When I asked about a “no interruptions” ground rule, the room went still for a bit.

“Whadda you talkin’ about?

How’re we supposed to talk to each other?

Kenny, you know what she’s talkin’ about?”

Suddenly everyone was talking at once.  Then, just like the clump, it became clear that everyone was listening too.

“We want to interrupt each other.”

Everyone was nodding their agreement.

“Yeah, that’s how we do it.”

I got a master class in interrupting that day.  The conversation was faster, livelier and more inclusive than I believed possible, and the group was cohesive, even when split on an issue.  Here’s what I learned about interrupting:

— When someone isn’t making their point clear, interrupt them to ask what they are trying to say.  Keep interrupting until they can spit it out in a phrase.  “We ain’t got all day here.”

— When someone is hemming and hawing, interrupt to encourage them. “Just say it, already.”

— When someone uses the words “Everybody/No one” “Always” or “Never,” interrupt them to bring them back to stop the hyperbole.  “I don’t know, so it can’t be ‘everybody.’

“– When you have stopped listening, interrupt them to let them know. “You keep saying the same thing.”

— When you feel confused, interrupt them to paraphrase what they just said.


Deciding that interrupting is off-limits, bad or wrong means you lose access to a valuable tool.  Making interruption neither good nor bad frees you to reap the benefits of interrupting:

— shorter, pithier conversations

— faster agreements

— more cohesion, co-creating and fun

Just Do It

There is no right time to interrupt, no formula that will ease the discomfort of a lifetime of politeness training.  That means that every time is a good time to interrupt.

Try This

In your next conversation or meeting, designate a time for allowing interruptions and see how you like it.  Consider the possibility that it might be a joy to interact so freely with teammates.  And let me know how it goes for you.

CG #26 – Why Ignorance Trumps Certainty

“It could be that, or it could be something else”  is my new mantra.  Enlightenment awaits!

Word Count:  486

Reading Time:  About a minute

“Says You” is my favorite guilty pleasure.  I’ve long loved the witty wordplay and the contagious hilarity of this public radio show.  If you aren’t already a fan, you’re not just missing out on a diverting hour, you’re missing out on the best mantra ever for staying curious and open. (NOTE: Richard Sher, creator of “Says You,” is no longer hosting the show. His replacement does things differently, however each week they feature a segment with Richard, so you can get the mantra from him.)

Enlightenment from a game show?

Here’s the how it works:  The host reads a word no one has heard of and 2 of THE 3 team mates make up a definition; the third is given the real definition.  The other team tries to pick the correct definition.  But, just before that, and so casually you might miss it, the spiritual enlightenment begins:

“This week’s word is ‘flug.’  Francine, we’ll start with your definition.”

“Flug, a decorative border on wooden pitchers from the Roman Era.”

“A decorative border.  It could be that, or it could be something else.  Paula, what do you say?””

“A flug is a maneuver a pilot makes when air currents shift suddenly during take-off or landing.”

“A pilot maneuver.  It could be that, or it could be something else.  John?”

“Flug is the lint found deep in the pocket of a coat that is seldom worn or in a body part.”

“’Flug could be lint deep inside something, or it could be the decorative border on a Roman pitcher, or a pilot’s maneuver.”

“It could be that, or it could be something else.”

Those ten little words are the difference between staying open to all you don’t know and the steel clang of your mind choosing certainty.

Follow Your Ignorance to  New Level of Success

In his classic book, Process Consultation, Edgar Schein calls “following your ignorance” a cornerstone of successful consulting.  The ego hates this.   The ego prefers to be considered an expert.  But if you do the math, you reach the unavoidable conclusion:  What we know is a tiny speck of plankton in the vast ocean of our ignorance.

More Effortless, More Enjoyable Creativity

Might the fresh approach you and your client need be in that vast sea of the unknown, rather than in the way you’ve done it before?  Only you can say whether you are in the effortless sweet spot of mastery or about to enter the death spiral of stagnation.  Curiosity, creativity and hilarity love hanging out with ignorance, ecause ignorance knows how to:

— Stay unstuck.

— More effortlessly through life’s predictable cycles – product cycles, business cycles, family cycles.

— Let creativity gradually, the way a river stays fresh.

— Find the fun in uncertainty

“It could be that, or it could be something else” is a great way to access your ignorance  and get you splashing around in all you don’t know.   Why not make  a game of it and see where it takes you?

CG #25 – Only Paraphrasing Can End the War

Don’t you wish you had a guaranteed tool for conflict-resolution?  You do.

Word Count:  606

Reading Time: 2 minutes

You’ve got two employees who can hardly stand to be in the same room with each other.

They won’t look at each other.  The tension is dense between them.  They come to you for “help.”  And then they come for help again. You don’t have time to sort this out.  You wish they would just get along with each other.  They are talented professionals.  You need them both.  And you need something powerful, something that will get them to put this to rest once and for all.  You need the war to end.

You need paraphrasing.

Not the clumsy, off-putting, let-me-broadcast-that-I-am-using-a-very-correct-technique-very-correctly-because-I-just-learned-it-in-a-workshop kind of paraphrasing.  Not the kind that starts with “What I think I hear you saying is…” and maintains a safe distance between people.

You need the kind of paraphrasing that comes with rapid heartbeat, clenched stomach, furrowed brow and the sound of mental gears grinding.

The kind of paraphrasing that risks mistakes and reminds you you’ve got something to lose.  The kind we avoid because it strips away our professional facade in the exact moment we are doing all we can to hide our raw feelings, our palpable anger and our extreme neediness.

Don’t you just hate that?

Face it:  You are going to lose if you paraphrase at the exact moment when you find the very idea insulting.  You’ll lose your superiority, your righteousness, and your isolation.  It’s guaranteed.  You’re going to gain too.  You’ll get a colleague, an expanded world view, peace of mind and the blessed relief of dropping the grievance story that’s eating you up inside.

There is no tool more heat-resistant than paraphrasing.  In fact, paraphrasing is most powerful right at the point of conflict.
What paraphrasing at the point of conflict does:

++ It helps people listen to themselves.  Because when people get upset, they decide on an interpretation of events and then repeat that story over and over. They stop listening to themselves first.
++ It helps people listen to each other.  And not just to the few key words that will set them off again.  When upset people paraphrase, they make mistakes and have to accept correction.  That gets them to start listening to the meaning, to the entire story line, to another point of view that makes perfect when you hear the whole thing.
++ It returns people to the present.  Arguing about what is in the past is always a smokescreen hiding anger and hurt in the present.  You can only make progress in the present.  The past is over.  Paraphrasing helps you get past it.
++ Paraphrasing s-l-o-w-s—p-e-o-p-l-e—d-o-w-n.  This is helpful all by itself.

Paraphrasing makes peace like nothing else I know.  It works like magic if you don’t muck it up with these common mistakes:

— Paraphrasing is not agreeing.  It’s listening to someone else’s story, no matter what you think of it.
— Paraphrasing is not abandoning your point of view or being silenced.  It’s deliberately putting it aside for a few minutes.  You’ll get your turn next.
— Paraphrasing is not slipping in your point of view, your argument, your interpretation or your judgment.  It’s not responding to what someone just said or distorting it to make it sound as stupid as you think it is.  It’s showing that you heard it, not how well you liked it.

When you need to resolve even an entrenched conflict, paraphrasing works like a hot knife through butter.

Know what I mean?  Tell me about it in the comments below.



CG #19 – Are You Making it Harder than it Needs to be?

CG #19 – Are You Making It Harder Than It Needs To Be?

Word Count:  555

Reading Time:  Under 2 minutes

Don’t undervalue the minimum, the simple, or the easy.  Sometimes it’s as easy as trying another way.

On this month’s free call, we covered the three barriers to authenticity.  Authenticity is showing up as you are in this moment.  It’s tempting to over-complicate it.  It’s as simple as saying that thought that is passing through your mind, as easy as being willing to be wrong.  It’s often minimal:  A phrase, small question or comment.

The idea is to connect with another person before working together.   Without the connection, it’s more difficult – and less fun – to do your best work.

So, let’s make connecting smaller, simpler and easier.   Here are three ideas for turning any conversation into a chance to connect:

1.  Do Less – Rather than forming a complete sentence based on a complete thought, settle for making a face,  a noise or saying only one syllable.  Sentence:  “The trend I see in the data doesn’t support your current plan.”

The syllable:  “Errrrmmm.”  The face:  Wrinkle your nose as if something smells.  The sound:  An audible inhale, followed by an audible exhale.

I know it may sound silly, but a tiny word, sound or facial expression can forge a connection more than a long, carefully thought-out sentence.  Try it and let me know how it works for you.

2. Do the opposite – This is especially helpful with you’ve tried everything you can think of.  Let’s say you’ve just apologized to a client about missing a deadline.  You’ve been understanding and taken full responsibility for what went wrong.  You’ve said how you’ll prevent missed deadlines in the future, but it’s not helping.  Your client is still clearly upset, and you ‘re out of ideas.  You might say, “Clearly we’re not going to get past this incident.  Let’s put it aside and move ahead..  Would that be agreeable to you?  Or, you might say: “Let’s face it:  I probably will miss another deadline in the future; how would you like to handle it next time?”  You might say “We’ve spent quite a bit of time on my contribution to this situation.  May we spend a few minutes on yours?”

If what you’re doing isn’t working, try another way.

3. Do a really terrible first draft.   When I was a technical writer, I could not get a programmer to talk to me, which made it impossible for me to do my work.  After trying everything I could think of, I decided I’d write the user manual and leave blanks for the information I needed help with.  That got boring, so I made up characters and had them use the system I was supposed to be documenting.  I gave it to the lead programmer and figured he’d never read it.

It took only minutes for the lead programmer to show up in my cubicle, quite angry about the state of the user manual.  It was easy to get a meeting with him after that.

I’m not advocating doing a bad job.  What I suggesting that you go with what you have in the moment and see where it takes you.  Waiting until it’s perfect takes a long time and shuts down conversation.   Going with what you’ve got invites participation.  Try it and let me know how it goes for you.




CG #18 – If Anger Only Lasts 90 seconds, Why Are You Still Mad?

Your body rids itself of the effects of anger in 90 seconds.  Now let’s take care of your mind.

Word Count: 672

Reading Time: Under 2 minutes

I’m watching a bunch of puppies play with each other. They move from growling and snapping playfully to biting, yelping and withdrawing before running full tilt toward each other again in one big, joyous loop. Even a puppy who gets hurt simply yelps, snaps or bites back or moves away, then throws herself wholeheartedly back into the game.  Not once do I see a puppy take another puppy aside and warn him about “that puppy over there who is a jerk.”  With puppies, it’s all about getting back to the fun.

I want to be just like them.

In her book, A Stroke of Insight, Neuroscientist and stroke survivor, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor talks about how automatic reactions such as anger trigger a physical reaction that lasts only 90 seconds.  After those 90 seconds have passed, we are free to turn our attention elsewhere.  “If I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, it’s because I have chosen to let that (neuro) circuit run.”

I’d bet serious money the puppies don’t let that circuit run.

If the body is free to move on after 90 seconds, how can we move with it?

It has to do with where we direct our attention.  After those first 90 seconds have passed, we can choose to return to the present where we are peaceful, and free to choose our next thought.  Or we can choose to tell ourselves the story of why we got upset, re-igniting anger and the 90-second loop.   But here’s the crazy part:  If we choose the story, it won’t be anything in the present that is triggering the 90-second physical reaction.  It will be the story about what happened.  And what happened is now an event in the past.  It’s no longer happening.

The upshot is this:

It’s always peaceful in the present.  There is no story in the present.  Your ability to be in the present is restored after only 90 seconds.  Whether to move on is your choice.

Is it really that simple?  It really is.  But it’s not quite that easy.  That 90-second chemical wash is powerful and the storytelling that follows happens so fast it can be hard to catch. And let’s face it:  The story can be really compelling.  It takes practice to catch yourself in the act, and persistence to redirect your mind.  So be kind to yourself about it, and practice.

Start Here

0. Notice when your anger (or other “triggered” response) is lasting longer than 90 seconds.  Recognize that you are choosing to keep your response alive in your mind and body.  Taking responsibility for extending your automatic reactions beyond 90 seconds moves you out of being victimized by them.  Choosing to remain angry is very different from feeling like you have no choice.

When you want to let go of your story and move on, here is what Dr. Taylor recommends:

1. After the 90 seconds have passed, tell your brain to stop with the story already and redirect your thoughts.  Then do it again.  And again and as often as it takes to break the habit of listening to the storytelling.   The more compelling the story, the more persistent you’ll have to be.  Over time, it will get easier.

2. When the story starts up in your brain, use your 5 senses to focus on the present.  Look out the window, let in the sounds in the background, inhale a scented candle, get fascinated by the pattern in the carpet, notice how your shirt feels on your skin, feel the warmth of your coffee in your hands.   When you’re in the present, it’s easier to resist the story.

Do you have a different point of view?  Let’s hear it!  I post these newsletter on my blog and you can post your comments by clicking here.