Archive | December, 2011

Set your 2012 goals with Defensive Pessimism!

30 Dec

Yep, you read that correctly! I’m telling you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and be a pessimist!

If you’re like the millions of people getting geared up for a New Year’s celebration that includes a setting of new, inspiring, and perhaps self-improvement related goals, there are some things you’ll want to know before you get started.

Good intentions do not equate to action. How many times have you said you’d like to do something and not one step is taken in the direction of that endeavor?! Right now you’re likely feeling motivated and ready to dive into 2012 with gusto. A new year. New possibilities. Fresh starts. Yet while it is a new year, you’re still the same person, with the same hang ups, behavioral patterns, thought processes, and obstacles to achievement.

No, MY intention is not to discourage you! Positive thinking opens up the world to possibility, motivates us to explore, and sets us up for exploiting the areas we’ve deemed as interesting and intriguing. Pessimistic thinking, however, puts us on a path of perspective-taking and gives us the reality check we need in order to discern what our competing interests are and what could present barriers to following through with our intentions!

It’s not typically motivation that we’re lacking. I hear it all the time– “I’m so unmotivated! I can’t seem to find the drive to do________(fill in the blank).” If you weren’t motivated though, you wouldn’t even be making that statement! The motivation is there- you’re thinking about that thing you want to accomplish! So what is it that’s holding you back?

The things you want to do are countered by other things you want to do. Or put another way, you are motivated to do something, for example, lose 50 lbs, but you have counter-motivations that trump your weight loss motivations.  Spend more time with family, write a book, get more sleep, start meditating.  All of these endeavors may  be just as important, but they can be barriers to the first one and deserve attention as well. If you’re not taking a look at all of them, they will continue to drive a wedge in the best of intentions.

It’s important to understand the “why’s” of the goal you’re setting. But equally if not more important, is gaining an understanding of the “how’s and what’s.” What will get in the way of my goal? How am I going to manage those barriers? If a barrier to exercising is that I get home late at night from work and I’m just too exhausted, what are the alternatives? Exercise in the morning perhaps? What might in the way of that plan? We’re not planning to fail here, but we are asking what might the roadblocks be that could lead to failure.

One more thing to think about before you start writing down your long list of resolutions: Remorse is powerful.

I often ask my clients to engage in a game of  “playing it forward.” Interested in sleeping in and skipping that workout you had scheduled? Ask yourself how you will feel if you DON’T do it.  This sort of assessment is much more powerful than asking yourself how you will feel if you DO exercise.  Anticipating regret is a good enough impetus for me to forego the chocolate cake, get up at 3am to exercise before a 6am flight out of town, and say “no thanks” to the saucy, fat-laden appetizer that’s in front of me when I’m out with friends.

Here’s to ringing in 2012 as a defensive pessimist!



The Power Position

24 Dec

How often do you make a decision, react or respond a certain way, ask a question, or choose a mode of action based on what you think others are thinking? What about your level of generosity? Ever considered what impacts when and how much you will “give”?

Scientists have uncovered and studied extensively what is called the calorie heuristic. We aren’t talking about actual food here, but it does relate to self-preservation of sorts.

What they have found is that we act in ways that most often serve our best interests and what we deem fair and equitable. The last part of that sentence is important.

Brain scans have  revealed that when we perceive we are being approached with self centeredness, the areas involved in aversion light up. In other words, we find self-serving and unfair behavior to be emotionally unpleasant. Not a surprise really. The same holds true for what we perceive as genuine fairness as well. Neurons are firing away. But importantly, this happens quickly and in brain areas that are automatic.  What does this mean? It means that our impulse toward fairness is so ingrained that it’s not necessarily approached rationally.

An example: researchers told a group of people that they would be given an offer of a portion of a pot of money by another individual. The offer could be accepted or rejected. That was it. The pot might be different, so the offer could be judged as either stingy or fair. Each person rated themselves on how happy or disdainful they were regarding the offer. The offers that were closer to the pot amount generated more happy responses. Not surprising. But many people rejected the offer despite the fact that they would get free money if they thought the offer was stingy! An emotional response to what is perceived as being taken advantage of? Think about how this could impact your relationships!

Can we trump it? Sure. But we have to slow down long enough to recognize what our perceptions are!

Now, for those of you who are competitors and diet very stringently, you’ll want to pay attention. Going back to calories, if you are hungry or have food on your mind, you are likely to be less than generous. Duh, you’re thinking. I’m a monster to my family!

But this goes for anyone who has been primed to think about food even outside of normal physiological hunger!

Eat breakfast before you open the presents tomorrow morning so you’re not snapping at your family members!

The lessons here: Pause. Think before you speak. Pay attention. What is influencing you?

Merry Christmas!

Oh the things I’d know if I were a long distance runner….

17 Dec

I had so many things on my mind at 2am this morning I had to get up. Rather than lying in bed wishing I could go back to sleep, I put on a pot of coffee, had a bite to eat (stomach was rumbling– actually, that may have been the reason I awoke so early), and made a list of all I wanted to accomplish today. If I had a treadmill I’d be on it right now. When I’m exercising it’s like my brain is on overdrive- thoughts pinging this way and that, bouncing from the lobe to lobe. Sometimes I can catch them, other times they are gone in an electrified flash.

I’m on a quest to better my 10K time. A challenge was thrown out recently among a group of friends, and of course, I had to take it. Monday I just set the treadmill for 60 min to see how far I could get in that time. I ran 6.19 miles. I was pretty proud of myself. Barely under a 10K and didn’t really feel like I was trying. It’s not my heart that will fail me. It’s my knees, leg fatigue, and the thoughts in my head….

Yesterday I was ready to give it another try. The group was posting their times, and I knew I had to make it to 10K this time, and my goal was under an hour.  Competitive? Not at all. When a friend of mine had texted me a photo of the treadmill readout following his run at 8pm on Sunday night before my first trial, I went immediately to my room, put on my running shoes and shorts, and then ended up standing there looking at goofy self in the mirror and saying, “Kori, what the heck are you doing? It’s 8pm. You can run in the morning!” I put my pajamas on and quelled my anxiety as best I could, but I know if I had a treadmill here at home, I’d have been on it in an instant!

But yesterday morning I did it. Despite feeling like I was coming down with a cold, I did it. I wanted to fly. Fly I did. (For my purposes!) I managed a 10K in 57 minutes and 34 seconds and met my goal.

This time wasn’t nearly as easy, however. I could blame it on my scratchy throat and heavy eyes. I could say it was because I didn’t have any caffeine. And perhaps those played a role, but more than anything I was really in my head!

I always read when I’m doing my cardio each day. This is something I look forward to every morning. My days are so full, that reading for pure enjoyment outside of work related materials and the research I have to devour for my PhD studies, is hard to come by. So I had my Nook positioned perfectly on the treadmill. At times it would be slightly to the right of the timer. Other times I’d slide it to the left to view the speed. But it was always there, the words drawing me in.

Yesterday I was engaged in book about heuristics. “Fascinating!” you’re thinking.  And it is! This is just a fancy term used to define how we make sense of things, problem-solve, or make decisions or judgements.  Yes, I read this stuff on the treadmill! On this particular day, however, I know I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to get nearly as cerebral if my run had only been a quick 20-30 minutes. With an hour to spend, I really got to rummage around in my brain and watch my thoughts and get a sense for the directions my mind was leading me.

I want to share what I noticed:

“Hmmm, I’ve gone 3.4 miles in 28 minutes. Okay good…”

“I hope my knee doesn’t start hurting.”

“What am I thinking right now?”

“You have to meet the goal you set for yourself.”

“I feel like I’m on an incline….but I’m not.”

“Joe must have fixed the treadmill. It was a bit unstable last time.”

“What if you don’t make it to 10K under an hour?”

“You don’t have a choice but to make it to 10K under an hour.”

“Gosh, I have a ways to go…”

“Can I keep up this pace?”

“How am I applying the visionary heuristic?”

Are you tired yet?! 😉 My thoughts were everywhere. Yours are too, but we rarely take the time to just watch them.  I want to share with you what the visionary heuristic is though because the next time you start doubting your ability to accomplish something, you can take this with you!


Remember this one thing. I did not say “perception IS reality.” The objective (what is fact based, right here, right now, present and in front of us) meets subjective (our cognitive biases, emotion, thoughts, values, feelings, etc. that color our worlds) to create our reality.  Here are some examples:

  • “Micky Mantle, baseball extraordinaire, when asked about his uncanny ability to blast home runs, the Hall-of-Famer famously replied: “I never really could explain it. I just saw the ball as big as a grapefruit.” It’s not surprising really that Mantle couldn’t explain his experience in the batter’s box. What he was describing was one of the fundamental mysteries of human perception. His comment goes to the heart of heuristic thinking, in particular the way the human mind comingles vision and emotions like confidence and fear of failure” (Herbert).
  • In a small informal experiment,  “volunteers were asked to estimate the size of a softball. They were not asked about inches or centimeters, because he didn’t want them to overthink it; he wanted to tap into how the brain actually “sees” the ball. So he had them look at several discs of different sizes, and choose the one that best matched the size of a regulation softball. Then he took these perceptions and compared them with the players’ batting averages from the evening. When he ran all the data through the computer, the findings were clear and interesting: The bigger the softball players perceived the ball to be, the higher their batting average that evening; the smaller, the lower. Like Mickey Mantle, the most talented Charlottesville softball sluggers (or at least the hottest hitters that evening) saw the ball as bigger than it actually is. ” (Herbert)
  • And finally a golf example: “Just as Mickey Mantle saw the baseball as the size of a grapefruit, many professional golfers report highly distorted perceptions of the hole depending on how they’re putting. It can be as big as a bucket or basketball hoop, or as tiny as a dime or an aspirin, according to reports from the sports pages. Golfers who played well on the day of the study consistently saw the hole as bigger than it actually is—and bigger than the less successful golfers saw it. But handicap was unrelated to perception. In other words, both accomplished golfers and hackers saw the hole looming large if they were playing well on that particular day.” (Herbert).

Having the hour on the treadmill, pushing myself in a manner that was at times slightly uncomfortable, gave me opportunity to view my perceptions and their impact on my performance.  You can apply this principle to anything in your life -business, career, education, and any goals you are working toward.  The treadmill of life gives us many opportunities to pay attention to what is working for or against us….if we’re willing to listen.

Use your most important muscle- your brain

13 Dec

Something to think about the next time you justify a decision that isn’t in line with your goals…

A client of mine stated, “I get tired of cooking.”

He explained “the slip” he had that caused a two lb weight gain. The gain wasn’t fat weight. He stored carbs because he ate more than he could use immediately. But calling it a “slip” indicated to me that he wasn’t feeling emotionally right about it. I wanted to understand from his perspective what contributed to this slip, but my response went this route:

I understand. I get it.
I get tired of cleaning the cat box, but do I stop? No. It’s pretty important.

I get tired of going to the bathroom, but do I stop? No, that’s pretty important too. 🙂

Not minimizing his feelings. The fact that he recognizes this is important too!

But we do things all the time  that we don’t necessarily want to b/c we recognize the value of doing so. We get to decide whether the consequences of not doing something outweigh the consequences of doing them.

For our health– and this includes food prep and planning– not doing it can mean more severe negative consequences.

Think before you act. Use your most important muscle- your brain.


Meeting God in Walmart

3 Dec

I made my bi-weekly trip to Walmart last night to stock up on my staples. I was determined to take my time. “Slow down,” I repeated to myself.

In an effort to be more present, to pay attention, and to practice patience, I slowed my pace, I monitored my thoughts, and I tuned in to my body. More than a few times I caught  myself going round and round in some rather harsh commentary about myself and others.
“She really shouldn’t be putting that in her cart.”

“Fantastic. The busiest aisle in the store is the freaking candy aisle.”

“Bypass the pita chips, Kori. Think of the size of your *ss here.”

If you’ve never taken the time to just observe what crosses your mind, it might surprise you. I’m betting that the majority of what runs across the marquee that is your brain is negative and critical. And you know what? We act the way we think. Lovely.

As I allowed those thoughts to surface and noticed them, I practiced letting them go right back out. I breathed. I looked at the other shoppers in the eye and would smile.

An amazing thing happened within moments. The other customers smiled, they moved their carts out of my way, they said “excuse me”, and they appeared softer. All of this in Walmart when we’re 3 weeks away from Christmas! Stress is high and I’m positive I’m not the only one feeling impatient!

I made my way up to the registers and slowly guided my cart up to behind a couple young women with a child in the front of their cart. He looked to be about two or three years old and was adorably dressed in stylish little jeans, a red sweatshirt that seemed abnormally clean, and a teamed baseball cap. As I got closer, he looked at me sheepishly, with an almost embarrassed, pleading urgency. “What’s wrong?” I thought to myself. The two women, one whom I assumed to be his mother, was on the other end of the cart emptying its contents onto the belt. I looked back at the boy. His hands were covering the front of his jeans, and he was squeezing his legs together as inconspicuously as he could muster. I glanced up to meet his gaze, and he furtively averted my eyes. He glanced down, viewing the area around his feet. I knew instantly what the poor boy was doing.  The bottom rungs of the cart were dripping and a small puddle began to form beneath him. The boy looked at me again, guiltily. I said, “you have to go to the bathroom…” He nodded, slowly.

My next move surprised me. I paused. I actually questioned whether to say anything to his mother. Here was this boy who had an accident and I’d just stand there and watch it happen? He was embarrassed, suffering, knew that what had happened wasn’t supposed to but didn’t have the courage to say anything himself.

I moved forward to touch the woman softly on the shoulder. “Ma’am,” I said, pointing to her son, “he just went to the bathroom. I know he feels really bad about it.”  When I said it my next thought was “What did I just say? That was weird.” I was talking about a little boy who I knew instinctively felt terrible about what he had done, but how do I put that in words? And now why the heck am I concerned about how I just said that?

She turned to look at her son, examined the area around the cart, and with compassion, picked him up and pulled him safely to the floor where he stood covering himself as best he could, the dark area of his extra tiny jeans still exposed. “Oh honey, how come you didn’t tell me?” she said to him, not really expecting him to answer. She asked the cashier for something to clean the floor with. A huge  roll of paper towels and disinfectant was promptly delivered to her from over the card scanner.  She sprayed the floor & began unrolling the paper, lying it on the floor to soak up her son’s urine. Mopping it up with her foot, she then asked for a plastic bag to dispose of the soiled towels. “Please let me help,” I said, reaching for the paper towels. “Oh, you don’t need to be doing this…” her voice trailed off. “I’m happy to,” I assured her with a smile. We finished the job together. “This area of the floor has never been cleaner!” I exclaimed. She laughed, letting her guard down just a little, and thanked me.

She finished paying for her groceries and walked away, leaving me to my thoughts.

I could have stood there and watched the whole thing happen. I could have allowed my first thoughts to dictate my actions. I could have given the young boy the message that people are harsh and see what’s happening and don’t do anything about it, that “you have to fend for yourself.” God was with me in Walmart last night though. I know he’s with me every night, but I never pay attention like I chose to this time. My heart opened, my mind observed, and my body responded.

My revelation: While tuning in and intentionally being more aware of my thoughts and feelings presented me with more data, more emotion, more “noise” than I’m used to, it also presented me with more opportunities. If I’d been absorbed in the “doing” that I typically am, perhaps fiddling with an email on my Android while I’m waiting in line, or checking off my to-do list, I’d never have noticed this rich moment unfolding before me.

The tweets of life are missed when we constantly push toward doing.

2 Dec

My revelation for today:

Miracles arrive daily, even by the minute.

But we’re often…okay I’ll speak for myself…I’M often not conscious enough to notice them.

In favor of efficient action, doing, and accomplishing, I pay less attention to my feelings.

These are my signals….the tweets of life….that I miss when I’m constantly working to cross the next thing off of my to-do list.

I’m tuning in and removing the static so I can live with clarity. At least right now!


2 Dec

It’s okay to be discerning and want the best for yourself. We need that personal accountability.

You develop self-efficacy (the belief that you have a measure of control over your circumstances) when you achieve the goals you set for yourself and prove you’re capable.

Operating with black and white labels, however, automatically sets you up for failure and leads you down a path of unrealistic objectives.

Move with flexibility, practice awareness and conscious living (honest assessment of your thoughts, feelings, and actions), and you’ll find that life becomes much more enjoyable. You’ll experience the full catastrophe (the uncomfortable and beautiful).

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