Have you ever had a dream that came true and then, right afterwards, you felt depressed? You got the dream house and then, once you moved in, you looked around and felt... blah.
That's perfectly normal.
There is nothing wrong with you. You're not an ungrateful person. You didn't make the wrong choice.
You just forgot to pre-pave looking forward to something else.
I remember a story about a woman who was excited to see her grandkids for dinner. In a playful mood and wanting to delight them, she dressed up in halves. A different shoe on each foot. A different earring in each ear. She giggled as she got ready, delighting in how many creative ways she could make each side different, imagining her grandchildren's laughing response to the silliness of it.
And then she sat down to dinner and the children didn't care.
How would you respond in this situation? Would you be sad? Would it ruin your evening? In the past it would have deflated mine but now I know, after years of experience and positive thought research: much of the fun of life is in the anticipation.
Think about it.
How long do you look forward to that dream trip? If you leverage it, you can daydream and smile about an upcoming vacation for months before it happens. Even a year. Even longer.
Longer than the actual trip itself.
And then when you come home, how do you feel if you have nothing else to look forward to? Even if it's truly enjoying your daily coffee at the local shop, where the flowers bloom and the place feels so comfortable you can't help but smile inside.
That's why I'm already pre-paving my life after kids. I don't want to turn around one day, the house eerily quiet, to find out I'm lost. Oh I will grieve, I know this, but I don't want to feel rudderless while I do it.
The same goes for my later years.
It's hard sometimes to fight the general picture of old age. A nursing home. Wednesday night Bingo. Not being mobile. But I know I am a creative force. I know my current thoughts about my future life will steer me, little by little, choice by choice, right now, today, towards my future self.
I know that I can, if I put some focus on it, leverage some looking-forward-to-it guidance. I can give myself decades to enjoy the idea of my future self enjoying life at ALL AGES.
And my future self wants to DANCE.
This isn't just about being afraid of heights–I'm just using that as an example. THIS IS ABOUT NIXING ANY TYPE OF FEAR IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE.
I'm not kidding. This tool is one of the most fantastic things I have ever learned and you know I'm a Personal Growth geek prone to excitement. So hold on to your screens, there is some enthusiastic arm-waving coming.
Let me explain:
I’ve been terrified of heights for as long as I can remember. I’m not the only one in my family who is so maybe it’s genetic? Or is it learned? Years of “be careful!” on the playground, perhaps? Over the years I’ve tried to figure it out but turns out the cause is irrelevant to the cure.
What’s relevant is my massive recovery from height issues and the helicopter parenting of my children on anything off the ground. Like that slide. Any slide. Even the short one in the mall play area.
Honestly, if I even see YOU climb a ladder I feel sick to my stomach.
Which leads us to Jump Creek.
It sounded like a lovely outing. And it was with all of the stream-hopping and bird-watching until until my four year old wanted to, you know, be a four year old.
No! Do not climb on that rock!
The rock is 1.5 feet off the ground. Even I was sighing inwardly at my behavior but I couldn't help myself. My eyes started darting around looking for a ground-level escape route back to the minivan.
That's when my hiking buddy told me: "You have these images in your head but they aren’t real. You’re making them up." And then he taught me a NLP technique that CHANGED EVERYTHING.
I WILL TEACH IT TO YOU NOW. WANT TO TRY?
Take that image of that horrible thing you are imagining and see it. Even make the image bigger until you really see it. Then, super-fast, shrink the image until it is tiny, like a small gif in the middle of the screen. Now make that tiny image black-and-white and blink it. On. Off. On. Off. Or as I liked to do: black-on-white then white-on-black. Back and forth. Back and forth until it just seems to... not care anymore.
Now try to look at your original picture in your mind. Does that image bother you anymore?
NO IT DOESN’T.
::runs around in a circle waving hands in the air::
Mind blown, I spent the rest of my time at the creek powering through the embarrassingly high number of images that needed reprogramming in my very imaginative mind.
This potential fall. BOOM. Gone.
That potential wet-in-the-creek issue. BOOM. You’re gone too.
And That one. That one. That one. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
Those images didn’t stand a chance.
I remember standing there outside that day, staring at the water running over the rocks like a deer caught in the headlights. What is this amazing mind-freedom I have found in the space of a pause?
How could things I have struggled with ALL MY LIFE suddenly seem... inconsequential?
Since then I have used this tool on so many images in my mind I didn't want to keep.
This tool works on any image in your mind: images of the past and images of the imagined future. And it works RIGHT NOW.
This tool is so effective if I had know about it years ago I might have a different career. I could have crossed the scaffolding over that stage class in college without sweating and wanting pass out, pale and nauseous. I COULD HAVE BECOME A LIGHTING DESIGNER.
At least I could have in my mind which, come to find out, is where we live most of our lives anyway, good or bad.
I was always late. No matter how hard I tried, I was always running somewhere, apologizing on my way in, breathless and red-faced.
Running for the bus almost every day high school made sense. I DIDN'T WANT TO GO. But I was also late for things I liked. Parties. Movies. You name it, I was late for it. I was even late for things I desperately NEEDED to be on time for. I loved my job at the Michigan State University Library. Adored it. But after four years of the public stamping their feet to stay warm in the cold while I rushed to unlock the doors every time I had the early shift...
...they fired me.
What a hard meeting that was. They were sad. I was sad. They loved me working there. They know I loved it. They gave me SO MANY CHANCES but I just could not do it. I couldn't get there on time. My self-esteem was crushed.
What was wrong with me?
This year I found out.
It was Myers-Briggs that changed my life. This personalty typing system explained something to me about me that I had never realized before.
I learned: If you are late all of the time you might be a "P" in the Myers-Briggs Personalty Typing System. (I am. Total ENFP here.) "Perceivers" are people who like things to be open-ended. They like possibility. They may go on a vacation without an itinerary or pack at the last minute because they don't want to limit their options by deciding things ahead of time. But that's not why they are late.
Perceivers are late because they think they can fit in "one more thing" before they go, and that thing takes more time than they have to spare.
It's not that they don't care about you or the event.
It's not that they aren't trying.
It's an issue of calculating project-time.
It's also an issue of being deadline-inspired.
So it's 15 minutes until I have to go somewhere and, deadline looming, I'm suddenly inspired into taking an action: I know! I'll do the dishes. Or clean out that bookshelf. Or sort the recycling that's piled up. Or write back that friend. But that task ends up taking 25 minutes and now I'm 10 minutes late.
Maybe it's because we live in the land of future, abstract possibilities but Perceivers are notorious for miscalculating time estimates. I should have known this. I was a project manager an an internet company for years. I had a list of names and the percentage of time each person was usually off in their coding estimates. Did you know that people are usually off in the time estimates in a predictable manner? Elle takes 10% more time than she says. Nathan takes 30% more time. Every time.
That is what I was doing with my own teeny tiny life projects leading up to going out the door. Every time.
So what is the solution? DON'T DO ANYTHING.
It's 20 minutes until I have to get in the car? Stop. No more projects. No last-minute things. Not even that small one. Don't even think about moving that mail, sorting that sticky note, or opening that notebook. Either get in the car and be early or sit and wait by the clock without moving. Just don't entertain any of those ideas clamoring for attention.
It worked. Immediate success. I got to a meeting on time and the host and I had a nice chat before the others showed up. This gave me a chance to calm down and identify the foreign feelings of pride, awe, and self-esteem building in my gut. I DID IT. I had actually shown up on time with the easy grace I had envied in others MY WHOLE LIFE.
I had finally arrived.
Months later, I still am. And on time too.
Once again taking an improv principle, having a blast with it in class, and then realizing I can take it out into the world with me and make my life better. BAM!
When you are on stage it is nice to include the audience in what you are doing. Opening the refrigerator? If you put the imaginary fridge on the back wall the audience is now watching your back. Turn around and put the fridge on the invisible front wall and now the audience can see your face when you open up the door and realize someone ate the last piece of cake.
::commence improv scene::
Now what if you have a large audience and the front row stretches out all along the stage? How do you make sure you keep the people on the end involved?
Include them with your feet.
If you angle out your foot to point towards the person waaaay over there, now your body is “cheated open” and they can see what’s going on. Totally great tool. Awesome for improv.
But then it gets even better.
A few days later I just happen to stumble on an article about body language and it takes this same idea out of the theater and into board rooms, parties, and luaus everywhere.
If you want know if someone is engaged in a conversation, look at their feet.
Are their feet pointed towards the person speaking or angled towards the door? That’s right. Are they preparing an escape?
It occurred to me that my feet could change a lot of things in my daily life. I’m a busy mom who homeschools three kids of vastly different ages. I’m often juggling multiple things. But what if, when someone interrupted me with a question or a “look, Mom!”, I took an extra moment to move my feet and not just my eyes?
It’s pretty amazing what happens.
Not only do people feel it when you give them your full attention, but somehow what they are saying or doing gets a whole lot more interesting too.
You see what I did there?
In this fantastic interview, Oscar-nominated screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Shrek, Aladdin, The Pirates of the Caribbean…) share how they work with ideas and it’s brilliant.
Elliott: A lot of the way Terry and I work… is what we call “egoless arguing.” If Terry has an idea, he says, “Here’s the idea,” and from that point on, there’s no ownership of the idea. I’ll make arguments for or against it, Terry will make arguments for or against. The idea has to prove itself as being correct.
Rossio: We put the ideas into an arena and let them battle, and in the end the stronger idea will win out.
I have known for some time that the word “my” can cause an avalanche of problems in the creative process. (Instead of “can you proofread my draft?” try “can you proofread this draft of this idea?” and see if the removal of any self-reference allows you to take constructive feedback more gracefully. It’s amazing how much the ego wants to protect the status quo inside that subconscious maze.)
Now take it one step further.
This wasn’t “my” idea, it’s just an idea that is now here. Where did it come from? Who knows? Can it hold up? Let’s see.
::grabs popcorn to watch::
Ooooh, how this can really up the ante for creative collaboration whether it’s a piece of writing, a business idea, or the most monumental project of all: planning a family vacation.