Monthly Archives: August 2009

Believing the Impossible

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you? the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

That’s from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

Coaches are often asking our clients to believe “impossible” things? Their biggest dreams may not seem possible when they come to us, and – presto chango – they’re accomplished. Or it feels that way. Really, it’s a process of reframing and providing support. We create a climate where the so-called impossible becomes possible, then likely, then probable, then real.

First the dream, then the reality. First the vision, then the action plan. I think that, beyond support, we bring clarity, perspective, and alternate framings. We help clients become very clear about their dreams by fleshing out, then honing in on their dreams. We bring perspective by helping clients plan steps to reach their dream. We look with them through their lens, then invite them to look through other lenses.

And underneath all this work is hope and belief. Stanton Friedman, Nuclear Physicist, said it beautifully: Absence of evidence is not evidence for absence.

Top Chef, Project Runway, What Not To Wear and Real Life

Guilty as charged! I watch reality shows. It’s a guilty pleasure for many people, and I think that, really, there’s noting to feel guilty about, unless you’re using these shows to avoid a real life of your own.

So, what’s the up side of these shows? Top Chef , even through all the editing and drama, shows creativity and resilience and sometimes even some interesting food. All of the contestants were certainly accomplished chefs or they wouldn’t have made the cut. The show itself doesn’t necessarily test cooking skills. Instead, it tests creativity, flexibility, sometimes teamwork, and the ability to perform under pressure. I can’t say that Project Runway has made me want to buy anything from these designers, but, again, it’s fascinating to see what can be done in a tight time frame – and with some pretty unlikely materials, on occasion.

Will a new wardrobe change your life? Despite the impression that What Not to Wear gives sometimes, the answer remains no.  It’s the off-camera conversations that we sometimes see a glimpse of that are interesting about this show. It’s not really about wardrobe, although there are plenty of good ideas about what is and is not flattering for the less-than-perfectly-shaped, it’s about self-care and self-esteem.

Mindless escapism? Yes, certainly. And a few good life lessons as well.

A Few Thoughts on Happiness

I recently attended the first World Congress on Positive Psychology, so, of course, happiness is on my mind. I check the dictionary. The first definition, “the quality or state of being happy”, seems pretty lame to me. The second is a bit better. “Good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy,” gives me something to think about.

Are we only happy when fortune smiles on us? Studies show that lottery winners actually are slightly happy than the general population, but not by a great degree. Happiness turns out to be much more complex. It’s not a single thing and it has to do with our adaptation to what’s going on in our lives. As you might expect, happiness is also not meant to be a permanent state. Euphoria can get you locked up. As in all things, moderation is a wise choice.

Ed Diener, in a presentation at the Congress, defined happiness as subjective well-being. This explains miserable rich people and others finding great contentment in reduced circumstances. Diener broke happiness into two major areas: life satisfaction and positive engagement.

This made such good sense to me! Life satisfaction – income, basic needs being met, conveniences – is important, true, but not everything. Absence of these things is probably more important than their presence. This is why more money can give us greater life satisfaction, but doesn’t actually create positive feelings.

Positive feelings, it turns out, come from positive engagement. Public trust, learning, flow, and social support – all factors in positive engagement – activate a whole different part of our brain.

Diener suggested another major distinction. He differentiated wanting and liking. Wanting is centered in the thinking part of our brain while liking is centered in feeling – in the pleasure centers. So, for a materialist, happiness might be having what we want, while for a positive psychologist, it’s liking what you have.

How can you be happier? Learn to WANT what you will LIKE. When you want something, make a list of what it will bring into your life. Make an informed decision by comparing that list (choice components) to a list of what you like (enjoyment list) and look for overlap. If there’s little or none, maybe you don’t really want this.

Why might you want to be happy? Happy people live about five years longer, earn more, are more creative, and have more family and friends. If there’s a tiger in your path, it’s no time to be happy. Otherwise, as the song says, “Don’t worry – be happy!”

Life-Work Cafe is Back!

Need a great place to stop by and chat about your career?  Bring your own fresh-brewed and pull up a chair in the Life-Work Cafe every Monday night at 7:00 PM Eastern. This is a virtual Cafe for real-life discussions about work and about life. If you want some advice on finding your next job, moving up, changing careers – this is the place to be. If you’re thinking about moving out of the workforce or into an entrepreneurship – pull up a chair. If there’s something in your workplace or in your work life that you’d like to change – we’re here.

Join Dr. Susan R Meyer and occasional guest hosts for an hour of lively conversation and some clear next steps. Send me a note at dr.susan@life-workcoach for call-in details.