Monthly Archives: February 2013

Day 59: WORLD RECORD (pacemaker)

I’m typing this post while waiting for an appointment this morning at The Pacemaker Clinic.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I’ve had a pacemaker since I was 10 years old.   I Am The Longest Surviving Person in the World with a Pacemaker.*  I used bragging initial caps in that previous sentence because of something new I’ve been doing lately. I’m being open, even proud, about this.

A couple of summers ago, at a group therapy conference I attend every year, I was participating in a day-long therapy group. During the afternoon, I revealed to the group my Big Secret for People Who Don’t Know Me: the heart stuff and how that affected my childhood. I also described my fears about how revealing this might screw up my connection to the other people in the group. I was afraid that they would withdraw, or see me in a very different way:  as The Person With The Pacemaker.

There was this really cool woman in the group, who was wearing these great shoes.

kelsi dagger

(They’re Neeves, by Kelsi Dagger, which I’ve since found for myself online.)

This woman in my group said to me, “Why not be proud about that?  I’m hoping that next year, when you return to this conference, you’ll be wearing a t-shirt that says something like “World’s Longest Surviving Person With a Pacemaker!”

What she said made a big impression on me. All year, I considered getting a t-shirt.   And a week before last summer’s conference, I ordered this t-shirt on-line.


During the day of the conference, I had a jacket over the t-shirt (I was too self-conscious to have it out there completely),  but I did show it to the people from my group the year before.  And they thought it was quite cool.

Okay. Time for my appointment. The people at the Pacemaker Clinic are definitely on My Team, and I’ll write more about them in a post here, very soon.

Thanks for reading today!

* Note: In late January 2014, almost a year after I published this post, I heard from somebody who has had a pacemaker longer than I have.  See the comments below, for more about that. I actually am no longer wearing the t-shirt. I’d like to send the t-shirt to the real champ … we’ll see how that goes!


Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 59 Comments

Day 58: Accelerated Learning

There has been a lot going on, in this Year of Living Non-Judgmentally.

By taking a lot of new risks and by letting go of self-judgment, I feel like I have been learning A LOT.  Sometimes I feel like that learning is proceeding at a really accelerated rate — probably because new learning begats new learning, which begats more learning, and so on and so forth.

From that biblical reference of begatting,  I’m going to skip some millennia for another reference re: Accelerated Learning, jumping to “Star Trek” (The Original Series), one of my favorite shows when I was growing up.

One of the first episodes of Star Trek was “Where No Man Has Gone Before” with Gary Lockwood and Sally Kellerman, wherein Gary Lockwood’s character gets struck by something radioactive or something else futuristic  (it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, folks), and he acquires new knowledge (and powers) at an increasingly rapid pace, until his eyeballs get all glow-y and he eventually thinks he’s God.  Of course, this episode did not turn out well for Gary (or Sally, for that matter).

I looked for the clip from that episode that shows how quickly Gary is learning, but I can’t find it on YouTube.  But here’s the trailer, which gives you an idea of what I’m talkin’ ’bout:

Anyway, imagine watching that episode, where that guy with the glow-y eyes is learning new things by viewing them on an electronic reader (essentially, the 1960’s vision of The Kindle). Imagine, dear reader, being horrified as the pages whip increasingly quickly, until they are just a blur!

I’m not saying I’m learning quite that rapidly, but I have been thinking about that Star Trek episode lately.  And while there is little danger that my eyes will go all glow-y or that I’ll end up in a fight-to-the-death with another glow-y eyed person on an abandoned planet, I’m not sure what to do with all this new knowledge.

Therefore, I have decided, for today’s post, to present a Semi-Random list of New Things I’ve Been Learning (or re-learning, in new ways).

New Things I’ve Been Learning (or Re-Learning in New Ways)

by Ann

  1. Hellos and goodbyes are both important.
  2. Telling people what you can and cannot do in a situation is a helpful way to set limits and manage expectations.
  3. You can ask somebody else if they love you, as risky as this may seem. (This is especially handy if you are dealing with somebody who does not tend to verbalize such things).
  4. You do not have to understand technology perfectly in order to use it.
  5. If you make mistakes while using new technology, this does not prove that you are incompetent, stupid, or too old to learn new things. It just means that new technology is complicated and takes practice.
  6. The less shame and self-judgment you are experiencing, the more present you can be in the moment and the more effective you can be with other people.
  7. The more you avoid doing something, the more likely you will be confronted with having to deal with that very thing.
  8. The more time you spend focusing on a mistake you’ve made, the longer it will delay your solving the current situation and moving on.
  9. If you forget something, it doesn’t necessarily prove that you are (a) too self-absorbed, (b) incapable of taking care of yourself in the world or (c) in a catastrophic, age-related memory-loss spiral. It just might mean that there are too many things to remember.
  10. The more you act out of defensiveness, the more you will put other people on the defensive.
  11. People (in the US, anyway) have too much to do, every day, and this can have a profound effect on how they interact with you and other people.
  12. Negative actions or thoughts are not more powerful than positive ones, they just get more attention.
  13. If you are self-conscious about doing something  — for fear of appearing foolish or whatever — you might as well try it. Because (to quote a good friend), YOU’LL LIVE.

Okay, that’s all I’m going to include in this post, dear reader. I don’t want your eyes to go all glow-y, or anything.

Thanks, everybody!

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Day 57: My Team (Position, Mechanic)

One of my favorite concepts from  Narrative Therapy is The Personal Team.  I love asking people questions about their team, like “Who is on your team?” “Is this person really on your team?”  “Who might you add to your team?”

The more conventional term for Personal Team is “support system,” defined by  Merriam-Webster as “a network of people who provide an individual with practical or emotional support.”

I am happy to report that I’ve got a great Mechanic on my team these days.  For a long time, I’ve believed that Mechanic is one of THE critical team positions (if you have a car).  (Another critical team position —  for me — is Hair Stylist, but that’s another topic.)

Here’s my Mechanic:


This is Mark Jamieson. I first drove into his establishment — P & M Service Center, in Belmont —  about a year ago, looking for a new mechanic. When I first talked to Mark, my Trust Indicators all came up green.  And all my dealings with Mark and his service station have been consistently positive since.

Yesterday, after he did my yearly automobile inspection, I asked Mark if I could put him in this blog. He then told me some great stories, some of which I’ll include here.

When Mark was 12, he decided he wanted to start a business fixing lawn mowers, because he enjoyed doing mechanical things like that.  He asked his father (whom Mark describes as  “not mechanical at all”) to lend him $2 so he could advertise his lawn-mower repair abilities in the local paper.   And he got responses, really quickly.

Mark’s first customer — whom he remembers vividly —  asked Mark how much he would charge to fix his lawn mower. Mark, who hadn’t thought about money at all, took a wild guess and said, “50 cents?”  The customer replied, “No!  You have to charge more! You have to charge what your services are worth!” That customer suggested that Mark  charge $2, so he was able to pay his father back the loan immediately.

Very soon, lots of lawn mowers — and snow blowers, too — showed up on Mark’s front lawn. Mark fixed lots of lawn mowers and snow blowers  for a whole year (until his mother had had it with the mowers and blowers parked on the lawn).

When Mark was 19, on 12/1/1978, he bought the service establishment which is now P & M — where I happily bring my car.

As Mark told me stories about his work history, what kept coming through were lots of qualities I admire, including his continuing interest and pride in his work,  as well as an adherence to personal and professional values.

For example, Mark told me that he can tell, very quickly, when he meets a new customer, whether this is going to be a good match.  In Mark’s words, “everybody has to be comfortable.”  And if there isn’t that mutual comfort and satisfaction with the business relationship,  Mark says, “I don’t need everybody’s business.”  If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. (I told Mark I could relate to what he was saying.)

Before I left, Mark wanted to tell me this last story:

When Mark was  19 — his first year owning the service station — a new customer brought in a 1974 Ford Maverick. The Maverick owner told Mark that the car wouldn’t start and that it obviously needed a new starter. When Mark started to explain to this customer his usual plan — to check out the car and diagnose what was wrong with it — the guy got irate and said, “Hey!  I know what it needs!  The starter is broken!  Just do what I’m telling you and put in a new one!”   So Mark and his team put in a new starter, just as this guy had insisted. When this guy returned to pick up his car and tried to start the car, nothing happened.  The guy was very angry.  Mark told him, “Yes. It won’t start. That’s because you wouldn’t let us find out what was wrong with it  and fix it.”

I loved the way Mark told this story; I only hope I captured a flavor of how much fun he had telling me this.

Mark also told me yesterday, “I’m not a big Internet user”, but he knew that there was a website online where people shared opinions about service stations. He said, “We’ve won best service station for this area,”  which he hears about through new customers. And after I first met Mark, last year, I checked out my intuition about him and his service station on the internet and — indeed — the reviews were excellent.

Mark also has people working for him who are all helpful  and a pleasure to deal with. Here’s one of them:


This is Tom. He helped me find my cell phone last week, with a lot of good humor.  (I had actually dropped it outside the service station, on a day when I was pretty sleep-deprived.)

Tom is more of an internet user than Mark, and he told me he’d be able to find this blog, easy.  Mark asked me to e-mail him the link so he could check it out. Actually, I’m going to drop by tomorrow, on my way to work, and show this post to Mark, to make sure I got the stories right. (I really value people’s stories and want to make sure I tell them correctly.)

Thanks for reading these stories today. And, dear reader,  I hope you have a good mechanic — and other good players — on your team.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Day 56: Why I’m loving listening to Kurt Elling these days

Because he’s fearless.

I realized that the other day, when I was walking to work with my beloved earmuffs/headphones on, and this song came up on Spotify:

Kurt Elling sings like no other person I have ever heard. I noticed THAT the first time I heard him sing.

But what I realized, when I was listening to him sing this John Coltrane tune, was that Kurt Elling sings straight-out, holding back nothing at all.


At least that’s the way it sounds to these ears, ensconced in furry, goofy, beloved  earmuff/headphones.

And I want to sing like that, speak like that, be like that.    As much as I possibly can.   In this Year of Living Non-Judgmentally, and beyond.

No matter what that might sound like or look like.

Thanks, dear reader, for witnessing and listening today.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Day 55: There is NOTHING I have to do today (AND antidotes)

The title of this post is a thought I had, right after I woke up today.

There is NOTHING I have to do today.

And that’s a rare thought for me, these days, for lots of reasons.

For one thing, this year I have committed  to writing a blog post, every day. That commitment is something I chose, for myself, but it’s also a commitment I’ve made to you, dear reader.

But yesterday — for the first time in This Blogging Adventure — I wrote a complete post ahead of time, which I intended to post today.

While I’ve created several drafts of Possible Future Posts before, yesterday was the first time I packaged up a complete post, spell-checked it, tagged it, and had it ready and raring to go. And I liked the post when I wrote it, and I still like it. I’m intending to post it sometime soon (even though I’ve decided, at this point, not to post it today).

However, having that post written and all ready to go affected me this morning. I felt different when I woke up. Instead of being uneasy when I first woke up, I could have this unusual thought:

There is NOTHING I  have to do today.

Now, one might argue that premise  —  that there is NOTHING I have to do today — was faulty, even though I had a post all ready to go. That is, when I woke up,  I DID have something I needed to do today regarding my blog post — I needed to Click and Publish that pre-written post.

But the obligation of clicking and posting the blog post didn’t count as Something I Had To Do — it was too quick and easy.

So I was still able to stay with that thought after I woke up.  There is NOTHING I have to do today.

And, ladies and gentlemen, I will now  present yet another possible challenge to this Amazing Premise, that There is NOTHING I have to do today.

There are things I have to do today, to survive — like breathing.

But I’m choosing not to count those, either.

Okay, now  — because this will help me — I’m going to Go Mathematical On Your Ass.  That is, I am going to formulate an equation of Something I Have to do,  in order to further convince myself that there is NOTHING I have to do today.

(For those of you who don’t like — or assume you’re incompetent in — math, don’t worry.  I’ve already pretty much stated these points, although not in mathematical form. The Mathematical Portion of this Blog Post will  be over soon, and you can always skim through or skip this portion of the post)

(And for those of you who DO like math and/or know more about math than my 60-year-old brain is able to remember right now, don’t worry. The Mathematical Section of this Blog Post will be over soon, and you can always skim through or skip this portion of the post.)

The Mathematical Portion of this Blog Post

Something I Have To Do =  Something I’ve Committed To Do OR Something That is Due by the End of Today AND NOT Something That Takes Less Than 5 Seconds AND NOT Something I Do Automatically or Need to Do to Survive.


Phew!  Now that THAT’s over with, I can present the evidence that There is NOTHING I have to do today, as follows:

It’s a weekend, so I don’t have to go into work.

My blog post for the day is written.

There is nothing else due by the end of today.

I’m not counting things that would take more than five seconds.

I’m not counting things, like breathing or eating, that I would do automatically or for survival.

Therefore, I have proven, to my satisfaction:

There is NOTHING I have to do today.


Here’s a 4-minute “peaceful interlude” I just found onYouTube to represent that “Ahhhhhhhhh” I just typed above:


That piece, from “Peer Gynt,” was the exact music I was hearing in my head, as I was imagining a peaceful interlude. And it only took me about 3 seconds  to find that video on YouTube.

Now, dear reader, at this point in this post (that I didn’t have to write, because There is NOTHING I have to do today), I have a question for you.

Did you watch the whole video?

Because I didn’t.

I could have. And that would have been great, I know.  I could have used it as a Mindfulness Exercise.

For those of you who might be interested in reading more about what I mean by “a Mindfulness Exercise,”  check out this italicized explanation:

When I say that I could have used the YouTube video as a Mindfulness Exercise, I mean that I could have focused on taking in — through my senses of sight and hearing — the experience of being present with that video, as much as possible. I could have used that video as a way to practice being in the moment, noticing that my mind might be wandering, letting go of judgment about that, and then gently redirecting my wandering thoughts back to focusing on  the video, again and again. (Here are some things I often tell people to prepare them right before we do a mindfulness exercise: (1) There is no right or wrong way to do this, (2) Your mind is going to wander, because that’s what our minds do, (3) This is not about focusing perfectly on something, (4) When other thoughts come in, notice them, let go of them without judgment, and gently refocus your attention, and (5) Mindfulness is not so much about the focusing, it’s about returning to the focusing, again and again.

I do a lot of mindfulness exercises, at work, with people. And I think practicing mindfulness is really helpful.

However, I didn’t want to do a mindfulness exercise for myself, while I was writing this post, using that YouTube video. And I didn’t have to (because There is NOTHING I have to do today).

Now I’d like to make another point about Things I Have to do, which is this.  Sometimes there are things that I have to do that I am glad to do.

For example, yesterday there were some things  I had to do, because it was my son’s birthday. For example, I had to pick up his cake.  Those tasks didn’t feel like obligations, at all, and I really enjoyed doing them — because they were about joy and celebration.

But there is nothing I HAVE to do today, even if it’s something I would enjoy doing.


(Same piece, from Peer Gynt, different YouTube video.)

Hmmmm, but there ARE some SHOULDs that I COULD think of, for today.  (See here and here for more about SHOULDs.)

For example,  I SHOULD be doing tax stuff!  It’s already February 24th!!

(You know what?   I have to say I’m enjoying this evolution of my skills — my mastery —  in blogging. On Day 45,  I invited people to imagine that scary Bernard Herrmann music. Today,  I can just put it in the post!)

So, yes,  SHOULD Statements (particularly those regarding taxes) can be an automatic anxiety-trigger for me.

But I’m letting go of that anxiety, while I am writing this blog post.

And how am I doing that, dear reader?  Well, several ways, including the following:

(1) I clicked on one of the tranquil videos above, and I watched it and listened to it for a little while, and

(2) I gave myself credit for something I’ve learned and mastered at this point in my blogging (i.e., incorporating sounds into posts).

And both those things helped.

And — as often happens to me, while I’m writing a post — this post (which I did not HAVE to write today), has gone somewhere I didn’t expect.

It’s gone to the topic of Antidotes.

Antidotes are one of my names for Things That Help — tools for challenging Cognitive Distortions.

If you have read other posts in this blog, you may know that there are 13 Cognitive Distortions (as identified by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and which I have listed here).

During this Year of Living Non-Judgmentally, I have been working really hard to identify and share as many tools as I can that will help challenge the 13 Cognitive Distortions. I’ve been collecting antidotes, skills, ANYTHING  that will help in my quest to battle these Dread Distortions, which seem to plague me (and, as far as I can tell,  most members of the human race).

And, in today’s blog post, I have referred to and demonstrated some of these tools, including:

(1) Examining The Evidence,

(2) Mindfulness,

(3) Giving Yourself Credit (e.g., for developing mastery and for working hard),  and

(4) Repetitiveness (a.k.a as  The Broken Record Technique).

(Regarding #4, here’s a quiz question for you, if you’re playing along at home. How many times did the phrase “There Is NOTHING I have to do today” occur in this post?)

Okay, one more digression for this post before I put this puppy to bed.  (It’s self-reflexive digression, because it’s about digressions!)

( I wrote — and then cut out — a digression in this post about how digressive and long my posts are on weekends. This digression included a discussion of the skill of Pros and Cons, but  I cut it because of one of the Cons of a long, digressive post: By including so much information in one post, I run the risk of confusing and losing people.  So I cut it.)

Where was I before that digression?  Oh, yes.  I was trying to let you know about antidotes and other tools I HAVE written about in this blog, so far, including these in previous posts:

(1) Focusing on what you are doing, rather than on what you’re not doing,

(2) Losing the investment in the outcome, and

(3) Using personal medicine.

I’ve been working on compiling lists of tools, including a hand-out, called “Antidotes to Distortions,” which I’ve been using in individual and group therapy.

And, just as I eventually figured out how to post The 13 Cognitive Distortions  here, I will also post this List of Antidotes, so you, dear reader, can access them and read them at your convenience and pleasure.

But not today!

Because there’s NOTHING I have To Do Today.

Thanks for being here with me today, in a place where none of us HAD to be.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Day 54: My son’s birthday

It’s February 23, and my son is turning 15 today.

I’m so grateful he came into my life 15 years ago.

One of my many vivid memories of that day, right after he was born, was re-seeing, re-experiencing and understanding the word “birthday,” in a whole new way.

To celebrate my son’s birthday, I would like to post here, for your entertainment,  a YouTube video he made, several years ago.

I think my son is very creative and funny. And I love showing this video to people because it makes me laugh, every time I watch it, and I think it captures how creative and funny he is — and has been, since he was really young.

I checked with him to see if it was okay if I posted this today and he said it was. (And I showed him this whole post before I published it, too.)

Here’s the YouTube video, called “The Misheard Lyrics of ‘Louie Louie.'”

As I am posting this, it has over 54,000 views on YouTube!

It makes a mother proud.

But not as proud as I am about my son, and the person he is.  And not just on his birthday — every day.

Happy Birthday, Aaron!


Your mother

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Day 53: Thoughts have no intention

Thoughts may have no intention, but my intention today is to write a short post. (Mind reading break: I am now imagining you, dear reader, thinking “Yay!” or “It’s about friggin’ time! These long posts have been brutal!” or “I’ve stopped reading your blog because of those annoyingly long posts!”) (That latter burst of mind reading is based on a logical impossibility, but that’s not going to stop me.)

So far, in this post, I have almost immediately put up obstacles  for my writing a short post — by writing down several of my thoughts. And if I keep doing that, this post may be nominated for The Longest Post In All Creation Award. (By the way, in my meanderings on this blogging site, I’ve noticed that people do get nominated for awards but I don’t know anything else about them.) (I wonder if that sounded like a hint, that I’m asking to be nominated?) (Hmmm, maybe I am?)

So, believe it or not, this post already illustrates my point, which is today’s title: “Thoughts have no intention.”

I have to thank Michael, my boyfriend (whom I have not mentioned in this blog before) for the title of today’s post.

I haven’t mentioned Michael before today for at least two reasons: (1) I am figuring out, day by day, how much to self-disclose in this blog and (2) I don’t like the word “boyfriend.”

By the way, I originally wrote, in that previous sentence, “I hate the word “boyfriend,” but I could just imagine my son saying to me something like “You are supposed to be soooo Non-Judgmental, but you are sooooo Judgmental.” (That’s not an accurate quote, at all, but I’m trying to capture my son’s verbal mixture of sarcasm, age-appropriate challenging, and good humor.) (If my son reads this, I’m assuming he is NOT going to like what I just wrote.)

So, I don’t have to point out or apologize for digressions in today’s post — Yay! Because, dear reader, that’s the friggin’ point of today’s post. (By the way, my son keeps telling me to lose the “dear reader” motif.)

Our minds wander, everywhere. They just do. Thoughts come and go. Flit in, flit out.

Our thoughts are in the moment, but rarely, unless we practice, practice, practice, bringing ourselves back to that present moment, over and over again. Our thoughts go to the past. They go to the future. Our thoughts relate to where we are, geographically, and they go on trips, all around the world. They’re in the room, then outside the room.

Maybe that’s one reason it’s so difficult to write! Of course, I can only speak to my own experience, and I’ll own that experience, for sure — I find it difficult to corral my thoughts, to stick to a topic, and to communicate effectively. In communication (writing and speaking),   I find that it  takes soooo much work to maintain effective communication with others — to keep the connection —  because I’m constantly trying to figure out which of my thoughts are relevant, and which thoughts are so random and unique to my experience that spouting them off will confuse the other person, and break that connection.

Actually,  I find Michael’s quote “Thoughts have no intention” really reassuring. Does that seem random and surprising, for me to write that, right now? Whether it does or it doesn’t, I do find that quote reassuring.

Here’s why: If  I’m engaging in the cognitive distortion of Mind Reading, Michael’s point is  one of my “antidotes.” That is, it’s one way I challenge my negative mind reading  (that is, my projection of my own Inner Critic or Fears about Other People’s Thoughts).

Let me try to explain and illustrate that.

Let’s say I’m doing all sorts of Mind Reading — having moments when I’m caring what other people think and  assuming the worst   —  that people are having negative and judgmental thoughts about me.  (Am I the only one in the blog-space who does that?  I think not.)  As an example of that, let’s take those negative Mind Reading thoughts I was having in the first paragraph in this post, above, where I imagined readers disliking my long posts and some getting annoyed enough that they have rolled their blogging-readin’ eyes and thought, “Forget this!  I’m out this dopey, Non-Judgmental-Living blog NOW and FOREVER!!”

I could challenge that bout of negative mind reading, as follows:

So what if some people have had negative thoughts about this blog?  What if people have had moments of annoyance about the length of some of these posts?  If they have, those thoughts would be just some of many other thoughts they might have, that come and go, flit in and flit out, about this blog. Also, those thoughts are just a small sub-set of thoughts they are having about a kashmillion other things. There is a constant train of one thought after another, a complete mix, each thought being replaced by the next.  People don’t intend to think something, they just do. And the thoughts that I’m fearing — the negative thoughts, about me and what I do, are NOT more powerful than the other thoughts they are having.  And some of the thoughts they are having, in addition to any negative ones about this blog or me, might actually be positive ones, too!  That is — as a reader is reading through one of my posts — any of these thoughts may come up, as each moment goes by: “this part doesn’t make sense to me,”  “now this REALLY makes sense, ” “I agree with this, “I don’t agree with this,” “this part is well-written, ” “this part isn’t,” “this helps me,” “I don’t like what she’s saying here, ” “this makes me uncomfortable,” “I’m skimming over this,” “I’ll try to remember this for later,” and so on.  And those reader-thoughts are just my guesses at the blog-related thoughts, which will be sharing mind space with outside-the-blog thoughts, such as, “I have to get all these friggin’ things done today,” “I hate my hair,” “I’m hungry,” and “I wonder whether Alec Baldwin is in the news today?”  Plus, different readers are going to have their own sets of  different, passing thoughts. One reader might think, “I don’t like the term ‘dear reader’, another might think, “I like that term!”  Or, different readers might think “Alec Baldwin pisses me off!” “I love Alec Baldwin!”  “Is there anything that guy does that the media DOESN’T report on?” or “Whoa! Where did HE come  from?”

So that helps me, right now, dear reader — to recognize and name this: Your (and my) thoughts, are so numerous, so varied, and pass by soooo quickly.

That helps me reduce the power of the Thoughts I Fear — any critical ones you might have.

Okay, here’s a thought of mine, right now, which DOES have an intention: I’ve got to stop writing and get to work!

Thanks for reading (and for ALL of your thoughts).

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Day 52: Preparation and Spontaneity

While I’ve thought of several different topics (and titles) for today’s blog post, here’s my ultimately goal for this post:

I am giving a 30-minute presentation, later today, at the hospital where I work, to somewhere between 8 and 15 doctors and residents. The presentation is about the work I’m doing at the hospital, which includes group therapy. So what I want to get out of today’s blog post is the following: (1) reducing my anxiety about doing this talk  and (2) helping myself prepare what I’m going to say.

Here’s the deal about #1 above: I’m actually not anxious AT ALL right now ,which surprises the heck out of me, for many reasons.

Here’s the deal about #2 above: I’ve been thinking a lot about preparation lately, and how challenging it can be to balance preparation and spontaneity, which seems so important when you are preparing for  …… um …… anything (including a presentation, a party, a meeting, a therapy group,  writing something, or anything else one might feel the need to prepare for).

I want to write a little bit, right now, about public speaking, because — let’s be blunt — that’s what I’ll be doing today.  And Fear of Public Speaking is one of the most common phobias — it’s often what people fear more than anything.   Jerry Seinfeld has a funny  line about that. I just googled that line and here it is:

“According to most studies,  people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number 2 is death. Does that sound right?  This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Man, I love Jerry Seinfeld. I’ve loved him since I first saw him — decades ago, when he first started performing  stand-up on late-night talk shows.  I could spend this entire blog post analyzing that above line and why it’s so effective — especially in terms of beautiful communication with the audience.  But I won’t. (Maybe that could be the topic of a future blog post?  That would be fun!  And I do have all year, don’t I?)

So why is public speaking sooooooo scary?

Well, here is my “expertise” about this (based on my own experience):

When I’m anxious about public speaking, I’m afraid I’m going to screw up.

That’s about it, folks.

Well, let’s take a little bit of a closer look of what “screwing up” means to me.  And I can really freak myself out about this — with lots of frightening details, dire results,  and scary images, too.

If I were to get anxious about the presentation today (and I’m assuming that’s going to happen AT SOME POINT today), here are some of the thoughts I might have:

I haven’t prepared enough about this.  What’s the matter with me?

I won’t have enough to say.

I’ll freeze.

They’ll all be staring at me, thinking things like …. She’s an idiot! She has no idea what she’s doing! Who hired her?  I would NEVER refer any patient to her, for group or individual work!  

The residents — my audience — will  be bored.

I will pick up negative signals from them (that they’re bored, impatient, confused, judgmental) and even if I was doing okay before that, I’ll immediately stop doing okay.

I’ve prepared too much for this.  

I have too much to say, and I’ll run out of time.

Because I didn’t prepare enough (or prepared too much), what I have to say is confusing.  

I’m sure I could keep going, with this Festival of Anxiety, but I think you get the picture.  (And I assume that some of you can relate to these kinds of thoughts.)

Okay, time out!  As your Blogging Host, in This Year of Living Non-Judgmentally, I would just to point out  there are several cognitive distortions in my Scared Thoughts, above.  These include — at least! — Fortune Telling, Mind Reading, Labeling, and Catastrophizing. If you want to check out the 13 Cognitive Distortions (and maybe figure out how many distortions made an appearance above) see here.

So I guess I’ve already helped myself, this morning, by identifying cognitive distortions that are often involved in Fears about Public Speaking.  I’m hoping that naming those — here, with you —  will help “inoculate” me for later today, when those fears, inevitably, want to creep in. (That is,  as the 1:15 Time of My Talk approaches).

Eeeek!  (I definitely got a little Anxiety Bump, right then, when I wrote the starting time.)

Okay, reality check here, as I’m writing this post.

I had some things I really, really wanted to write in this post, because I thought that would help me prepare for the talk.

And, as usual, I’ve gone different places in this post (places I value, though). But how important is it —  that I write what I first intended to?

And how important is it that I prepare for the talk, by writing this post?  Wouldn’t it be okay (and make it more fun!) if I didn’t worry about preparation, had faith in my ability and knowledge about the topic,  and trust that I could say useful and engaging things in the moment?

I guess I was just defining spontaneity right there.

So, how should I balance preparation and spontaneity?

And I AM back to my topic.

Well, here is something that I KNOW helps me, when I’m preparing for anything.  It helps me o have some structure in place, that allows me enough room for play.

Structure = preparation.

Play = spontaneity.

And I’m realizing something: The reason I wasn’t anxious as I started writing this post was that I had reached some balance — in my mind –about structure and play for this talk.  I had identified some specifics about creating structure — and how I could play within that. And that had helped, enormously. Hence, no anxiety.

So I’m going to try to put into words, right now, what is giving this talk structure for me.


Well, I know how long the talk is (30 minutes).  And I know how many people are going to be there. And I know where I’m giving the talk. So all that helps.

Okay, what I’m going to write here — I’m realizing right now —  is probably THE KEY to why I’m not nervous . The doctor who asked me to give this talk — to the medical residents she helps train — gave me the following information, when I asked her some questions ahead of time about giving this talk.

These residents  have heard all sorts of different kinds of talks — formal, informal, whatever.

They have no particular expectations.

Because they can get nervous about what do when they are seeing patients who are reporting depression, stress, anxiety, or other kinds of emotional pain, THEY WILL LOVE TO HEAR WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO TELL THEM.

Now, the doctor who spoke to me didn’t yell those last words (and I am totally paraphrasing what she communicated to me, in my own language).  But I’m pretty sure those were the messages she gave me about How To Prepare.

So that creates a really stress-free structure, doesn’t it?  And it pretty much rules out mind reading and fortune telling, doesn’t it?  Because NO MATTER WHAT I SAY, THEY ARE GOING TO LIKE IT.

And that’s probably not entirely true, but it sure sounds good as a pre-presentation pep talk for myself — and  a great way to challenge any mind reading and fortune telling that comes up for me.

Again, hence, that lowers my anxiety.

Now I did want to say more, in this post,  about ways I am creating structure for this presentation, because I think that will be helpful, too.  It also fits in with how I tend to create structure (and safety) for the groups I do.

Ways I Will Be Creating Structure, in my Presentation Today

I will start out my presentation by somehow asking the residents — my audience — what they would like to get out of the talk.   I may — if I have THE GUTS! — use my new magic wand, and ask somebody to make a wish about what they’d like to hear from me during the 30 minutes.

Then, the wishes from the residents — about what  they want to hear  — will dictate what I talk about.  I will be prepared for likely things they might ask for, by having hand-outs on information. This will include information  about how they can refer patients for individual and group therapy and what kinds of therapy are available for their patients.

And, if they ask for things I haven’t prepared for, I will probably make a joke about that, and hand out what I have, anyway.

I will have — on hand — elements of the groups I do, so I can demonstrate these  (if time allows).  These components of the groups I do include Mindfulness Exercises (a way to be more in the moment, by focusing on one thing), Check-ins (where people introduce themselves and have room to say what they want to say), Exercises about Developing Coping Strategies, and Wrap-up (where we get closure on the group meeting, and people can say what they got out of it.


Okay, a light bulb just went off. (Hence, the “Duh!”)   And this is a very well-used light bulb, which seems to switch on, a lot. (I’m surprised this light bulb hasn’t burned out by now, but I guess that is the advantage to this kind of light bulb — a mental idea.)

This talk I’m giving today?  It’s a group.

Man, so many things I do are — in one way or another — a group. How would I define a group? A Group has two things: People and Communication.

(By the way, blogging?  That’s creating a kind of group, actually.)

And I know a lot about groups and how to do them and how to make them effective enough.

And the components of the group therapy groups I’ve been developing and running at work — those groups I want to tell the residents about today?  I  can use those same group components to give my talk today. 

And in ways, I was already preparing to that: by starting with a “check-in” (where the residents will say what they want)

Okay, I’ve gotten what I need out of this blog post.  Gotta go to work and do some groups!

And I hope you’ve gotten something out of this, too – this thrown-together amalgam of Preparation and Spontaneity, which is this blog post.

At least you got a great Jerry Seinfeld quote, dear reader.

Thanks for reading — and doing this group with me!

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Day 51: Honesty, Judgment, plus Sleep (again!)

Honesty is really important to me.

And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

But, I wonder if my focus on honesty is unrealistic.

I wonder if my childhood experiences have made ma kind of an Honesty Fanatic. I wonder if my childhood experiences have made me Too Judgmental about other people’s honesty — not allowing for human imperfection.

Not knowing how I compare to other people — who haven’t had my childhood experiences — regarding honesty and trust, reminds me of something I wrote in Day 21 of this blog.  That post — in which I wrote about how getting ill  (even with a cold) could affect me — included this section (which I’ve italicized here):

Even when I’m a little bit ill, being sick affects how I feel about myself.

I’m not sure whether that’s common for people. I haven’t really checked that out in any real way with other people. In other words, I haven’t used the helpful skill — an “antidote” to the Cognitive Distortion of Mind-Reading — of Reality Testing.  To put it more simply, I haven’t asked other people, “When you are even slightly ill, does it affect your sense of self worth?”  I mean, I know that serious and chronic illness can definitely affect people’s sense of self-worth, but A COLD?

The reason I haven’t really checked that out  before is this:  I assume that I’m different from other people in how illness affects me, because I dealt with so much illness when I was a child.  So I just assume that I’m “weird” when it comes to that.

So tonight I’m thinking that maybe I’m “weird” —  also —  about other people’s honesty.

Because this is how I am in relationships: if I think somebody been dishonest or deliberately misleading, it has a major effect on how I relate to them.

Now, I have seen other people be very All or Nothing about Trust issues.  I’ve heard people say about themselves, “Once somebody breaks my trust, that’s it.  I can’t forgive them.”  I’ve also witnessed other people be much more “forgiving” about trust issues — including resuming a relationship when their partner has cheated on them.

I don’t know how to gauge What’s Normal or What’s Appropriate when it comes to Trust and Honesty.

I think I’m pretty rigid about the issue of honesty.

Actually, the word “rigid” is  self-judgmental.  It’s a form of labeling, one of the 13 cognitive distortions.

So I won’t use the word “rigid”, but I will say this. If somebody is dishonest or misleads me, I get really upset when I find out about that. I withdraw.  It takes me a while to trust them again.

So, how “normal” is that?

And if that’s not a useful question, then how about this question: How can I negotiate the issue of trust in a way that’s helpful for me and the people I love?

By the way, I’m writing this post during a bout of insomnia, which I alluded to in yesterday’s post, and which I am going to do something about.  (I’m not just saying that! I got the names of two sleep specialists, and I plan to start the process of contacting them tomorrow.)

But I’m not sure what to do tonight.  I woke up at 1:30 AM and had trouble getting back to sleep. I remembered reading that some sleep specialists suggest this:  if you have trouble sleeping, don’t lie awake in bed too long —  get up and do something else.

So after I had stayed awake until 2:30, I got up, left the bedroom, and started this post.

But now it’s 3:03.  And I’m not sure whether to continue with this post or to try to go back to sleep.

Because there’s a direction I could take in this post, now.  I could share something that happened to me when I was a kid, that has made Honesty so important to me.

So that’s one decision point, right now:

To share or not to share that memory?  That is the question.

Let’s say I decide to do share that memory in this post, then I have another decision point:

To write that now or later, during this 24-hour span of Day 51?  That is the second question.

Well,  I’m thinking about what would most likely help me sleep right now. (And as I’ve said in previous posts, one of my guildes for writing this blog is to ask myself the question: what would help me most right now?)

So what’s the best strategy for getting back to sleep tonight?. I’ll explore that by answering those two questions I posed above:

Question #1:  Should I share that childhood memory?

Answer: Perhaps.  And maybe soon. I HAVE written down that memory elsewhere, so I could copy a version and paste it, pretty quickly.  But that would still take time and energy, and doing that right now probably wouldn’t help contribute to getting back to sleep.

Question #2:  Should I write that now or later, in this 24-hour period?

Answer: It turned out that was too restrictive a question.  My answer is this: I won’t write about that on Day 51.

At this point in the post, it would be helpful — for me —  to tell myself this:

I have all the time that I need.

This is, I have time to write about this childhood memory, and to write more about the issue of honesty and trust.

That is, I’ll write more in future posts, and finish this post now.

Farewell, for now, and thanks for reading.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Day 50: Sleep — Needs, History, Distortions, and a Wish

I’ve been struggling to get enough sleep lately.  I seem to be a person who can function pretty well without enough sleep.

(Sometimes I think the world is divided into two types of people: (1)  People who can function “well enough” without taking care of their sleeping needs and (2)  People who can function well enough without taking care of their eating needs.)

(Sometimes I think the world is divided into two types of people: (1) People who think that the world is divided into two types of people and (2) People who don’t.)

So even though I am used to functioning without enough sleep (by the way, I CANNOT function without enough food), I still feel pretty lousy when I get less than 6 hours of sleep a night. And getting 6 hours or more has been a problem for me lately.

I know a lot of people who struggle with sleep issues.  It seems to me that this might be an epidemic —  although I’m not an expert about sleep, by any means.

Speaking of being an “expert”,  I plan on writing a future post about Experts — and the punchline for that post will probably be something like this: We Are All Experts, But Only of Our Own Experience.

So while I’m not a Sleep Expert, I am trying to access, right now, my expertise about Sleep and Me.

And expertise starts with looking at data and history.

So that means  that, in order to improve my sleep, I might start by looking at my history of sleep issues.

But I’m resisting doing that right now.

That resistance probably has to do with my preference — or tendency —  to focus on the present moment rather than focusing on the past.

That preference — for the present over the past —  might have to do with several things, including my perception that I don’t have a good memory.

Pardon me while I indulge in a rather long digression about that thought: I Don’t Have A Good Memory.  However, you might find this digression useful — since it will reference several Cognitive Distortions, all listed and defined here.

Digression about the thought that  I Don’t Have a Good Memory.

This thought is probably  an unhelpful piece of self-judgment, which seems to involve several cognitive distortions, including Labelling. Because what does “not having a great memory” mean?  Does that mean I think that my memory is not as good as most other people’s? If so,  that thought involves the cognitive distortions of Comparisons AND Mind Reading.   Also, now that I think about it, I do have some data — from cognitive tests I’ve taken — that indicate that I have a Very Good Memory, although I seem to have trouble holding on to that data. (More proof that I have a bad memory?) (Kidding!) . Also, maybe I’m comparing my memory now to how my memory used to be when I was younger, another form of the distortion of Comparisons.

Shorter digression about the thought (expressed 4 paragraphs before)  that I Tend to Focus on The Present Moment Rather Than On The Past.

It’s not all or nothing. (Wouldn’t you know it? This is related to yet another Cognitive Distortion.) That is, I don’t have to look at the past OR the present. I can  look at both the past AND the present when I’m working  on growth and healing (in myself and others). 

Hmmm. I got pretty caught up in those digressions, where I noticed and challenged some cognitive distortions. Is it possible I can find my way back to The Topic of  Sleep, and finish this post before I leave for work?

I think I can. Here are some things I know, this morning:

Most nights, I am not getting enough sleep.

I have had some resistance to looking at this issue.

I deserve to get enough sleep.

I would like to get enough sleep.

I can access my own experience and expertise about this issue.

I can also seek help — from people who have expertise about sleep — to work on this issue.

Wow.  As often happens when I write a post, the post goes places I don’t expect.

However, where the post is ending up, this morning,  relates to a wish I made as I was writing it.

I wish that I could get more sleep.

I think I’ve taken some steps — and identified others — in this post, which may help me move towards that wish.

Thanks for reading.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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