Resolutions out the window?
February 20, 2017 by Kay Grossman

Hello!

What a year this has been—already! No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, your attention, like mine, has likely been pulled to the state of the nation. No small matter.

Many of us started 2017 with firm ideas on how we were going to make our lives better. Yet, with so much drama and distraction it is difficult to focus on what’s important day-to-day. If you went the resolution route and are finding that you are not on track, here’s another approach. (It will work even as you figure out ways to save humanity!)

Kay

– – –

Resolutions out the window?

Have you already discovered that (just like in previous years?!) your New Year’s resolutions aren’t working? If so, you are in the majority of people who attempt them. Statistics vary, but most reports of success range from the single digits to the low teens.

The most effective way of forming a habit is to pair the new behavior with something you already do on a regular basis.

For example, if you want to start journaling, do it right before or after you take the dog out the last time before bed, or right before or after you brush your teeth at night, or as your coffee is brewing in the morning.

Use environmental cues as reminders. Keep your journal next to the leash or your toothbrush or your coffee pot.

Some new behaviors can effectively be sprinkled throughout your day. If you want to increase your activity level, use going through a doorway as a signal to do jumping jacks. If you want to express more gratitude, use red traffic lights or commercials on TV to signal a time to state one thing you are grateful for.

In sum, to successfully create a new habit:

  • Choose a behavior that will improve your life in some way (duh)
  • Choose one that feels important to you
  • Choose one that is DOable
  • Start small. This is part of DOable. Remember that small changes often produce significant effects, and that massive changes only come with small steps, anyway.
  • Set up environmental cues or reminders
  • Celebrate your success each and every time you do the behavior (self-acknowledgement—”good one!” – is helpful)
  • Increase your odds for success by writing your intention down.
    Click here.

I wish you a 2017 filled with happiness, hope, and healthy habits!

Kay

So Far So Good?
April 25, 2016 by Kay Grossman

Springtime is a great time to take stock of how your year is going. Are you spending your time in satisfying ways? Is there something more or different that you want to do? With more daylight hours and inviting weather, you may be energized to make some adjustments.

Use these questions to help you think about how you’ve been spending your time. I suggest that you write down your thoughts and insights.

  1. What personal growth have you experienced so far this year? Did anything stand in the way of your growth?
  2. What results did you observe when you used your talents and skills?
  3. What positive impact did they have on yourself and others? Are you making a good enough impact for now (according to YOU)?
  4. What did you let go of that you’d been holding on to by force of habit, convenience, people pleasing, or “shoulds” that contributed to your personal growth?
  5. What courageous steps did you take? What others are you contemplating?

Well… so far so good? Acknowledge yourself for actions you found satisfying. If you find that you want to make some changes in the next few months, here’s one way of going about it.

Choose one insight that especially piqued your curiosity. List some possibilities for action that you feel energized by. Choose ONE of those ideas for action and schedule it for sometime this week. Take the targeted action and see what results you get. Use the additional information you receive from that process to determine a next-step.

Repeat! Enjoy your re-energized approach to creating a meaningful 2016.

Bossy Machines
September 16, 2015 by Kay Grossman

Machines these days can be bossy. And they might just know what’s good for us.

Take my new car, for example. The dashboard shows the usual metrics, along with a few added features. On a recent drive on a mostly deserted highway, my husband demonstrated to our passengers the car’s own ability to stay in its lane. He startled us all by removing his hands from the steering wheel as he accelerated down the road. The car veered a bit this way and that, crossing over the lane lines on each side, maintaining an almost sober path. After enough shrieks and questions about his sanity from both the front seat and back, my husband resumed control of the wheel.

The bossy thing is what happened next. A message appeared on the dashboard. It said, “I suggest you take a break. Stop for a rest or for some coffee.”

Of course, our cars are not the only machines to monitor our behavior. Our smartphones track all sorts of data, as do our laptops, desktops, and Fitbits, to name a few. Our office machinery is next, according to a recent article in The Atlantic magazine (September 2015).

From the perspective of this attention coach, some pushiness from our inanimate tools can be useful.

In the article, “Thinking Outside the Cube,” writer Olga Khazan describes equipment that spies on workers. One software program provides a dashboard that “shows employees how much of other people’s time they consume by sending e-mails or holding meetings.” It keeps track of how many e-mails are sent during meetings, which is a gauge of how (or how not) engaging the meetings were. On average, the dashboards freed up about two hours a week for each employee.

Even chairs can spy on us. The Darma seat cushion tracks breathing, heart rate, and posture and tells the sitter via a smartphone app when to stand up or to take a break.

As I often say, our most precious resource is our attention. With increased awareness of how much time and attention you give to various tasks, you have increased ability to choose differently for greater effectiveness—for yourself and those you influence. With a nudge to suggest you’ve been sitting too long for your physical health and focus, you have more opportunities to take productive breaks.

By the way, I’m concerned that my husband’s Fitbit is getting a bit too personal. On occasion it greets him with, “Smooches.” Bossy machines are one thing…

Solutions: SlapPal v. CuddlePal
August 6, 2015 by Kay Grossman

If you frequently experience difficulty getting important things done, maybe it’s time to get creative. Consider hiring a professional slapper. (Nope, I didn’t make this up!)

Productivity blogger and author, Maneesh Sethi, described the advantages of hiring a woman from Craiglist to literally slap him into action. He hired her to force him to stay on task with his writing. His productivity quadrupled and his work quality improved, as well.

Huh…?

Sethi employed a version of a technique known in ADD coaching as “body double.” The idea is to capitalize on our human need for social connection to help activate the brain to do an otherwise tedious task. The mere presence of someone who knows what you want to accomplish can work wonders to help you stay on target. Sethi’s professional slapper sat next to him, doing her own work, while staying alert for his non-task-oriented behavior.

An attorney I coach reported that he gets lots of work done at his office on Saturdays. Several factors contribute to his productivity. One is that he has far fewer interruptions than on weekdays – no phone calls, meetings, or drop-in colleagues with questions. The most significant factor, however, is the presence of one other attorney. When that person is in the office doing his own work, my client stays focused and productive. When that person is not present, his ability to stick with tasks is notably negatively affected.

There are many ways to incorporate the body double technique into your daily life. Here are a few:

  • Pair with a co-worker to share the activating effects of each other’s presence as you work on your respective tasks.
  • Video chat with a friend or colleague. Identify a task you each intend to complete, keep the video running, and congratulate each other on progress.
  • Ask a non-judgmental friend or family member to keep you company while you clean your office or closet.
  • Ask your body double to support you in the ways you need for a specific challenge. What do you want her to say, or not to say? Do you want occasional guidance? Or do you simply want the person’s presence?

Then again, if a person’s presence is not enough support for a given task, you have options. You could hire a professional slapper (an amateur could be risky), or maybe develop a SlapPal app. Or if you tend towards non-violence, you could hire a professional cuddler (nope, didn’t make this up, either) or maybe develop a CuddlePal app. Please include me in any royalties…

Now, do you need a slap to get back to work?

Breaking Bad
April 29, 2015 by Kay Grossman

It was the wrong time to experiment. On my last training ride before flying to Israel for a 150-mile bicycling adventure, I “clicked in” to the pedals for the first time on a non-stationary bike. What I didn’t manage to do was “click out.”

The street came up to meet me in slow motion. Yet in a span of 2 seconds the trip my husband and I (and sister and brother-in-law) had been planning for a year became a no-go. I broke both bones in my lower arm, needed surgery to install a plate and screws, and used the two weeks I’d scheduled for vacation to recover instead. Life happened.

The accident occurred on a Friday morning. The surgery was scheduled for Monday. What was I to do with myself for a whole weekend with a painful, contorted arm splinted in all it’s deformed glory with my hand turned unnaturally inward at an alarming angle? Not a calming visual for the likes of me! Have I mentioned that I’m a medical wimp?

Netflix came to the rescue, providing me with the perfect diversion. I binge-watched the TV series, Breaking Bad. It seemed especially fitting. The show fully captured my attention, damping down my urge and ability to focus on my hurting, misshaped appendage.

I capitalized on an important phenomenon that comes up a lot as an attention coach: Our brains can focus on only one thing at a time. As William James, father of modern psychology, said about attention, “…it implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” By focusing on the drama and characters in the TV show, I could give little attention to my painful, broken arm. It gave me relief, episode after episode after episode. So nice.

What we focus on moment to moment truly determines our experience in life. Life happens, and in all instances we have choice about how to view it and what to focus on. I chose to manage my initial discomfort by diverting my attention to a show. I’ve approached recovery and physical therapy by focusing on the tiny bits of improvement each day rather than on what can seem like a long, difficult slog back to normal. It makes me happier, and I feel more motivated to manage through the discomfort of the therapy.

There is power in choice. And there is extra special power in choosing where to focus attention. Granted, it didn’t take much effort for me to pay attention to the grim, yet gripping tale depicted in Breaking Bad, but it sure made my bad break more toleable!

What do you usually pay attention to? Do you tend to pay attention to what’s not going as well as you’d like, to regrets, to anger toward a co-worker or family member, or to future what-ifs? Or do you give attention to what’s working well, to tiny steps of progress, to your loved ones, and to the many ways in which the world around you supports you? What do you think would happen if you focused 10% more of your attention on what’s going well? I recommend giving it

Precrastination
July 29, 2014 by Kay Grossman

So THAT’s what I’m doing when I clear emails and complete simple, relatively trivial tasks throughout the day rather than tackle substantial, clearly more important tasks. I’m precrastinating!

That’s according to research published in the May journal of Psychological Science and described in journalist Matt Richtel’s recent article, “Sometimes Early Birds Are Too Early,” in the New York Times (July 20, 2014).

Whereas procrastination is putting off until later something that needs to get done now, precrastination is defined as “an irrational choice” to finish something sooner than necessary.

Hmmm…

One of the explanations for precrastination is that by answering emails and paying bills early, people limit the burden on their “working memory,” the RAM memory that allows us to briefly hold and manipulate multiple items in our minds. Rather than load our working memory with what needs to be done later, we take care of it “now,” freeing up working memory capacity for other things.

I propose that our urge to free up working memory space is not the only force fueling precrastination. Another is our brain’s natural attempt to conserve energy.

In its default mode, our brain will take us to whatever is more enjoyable and less effortful than the task at hand. It takes far less glucose to respond to an incoming email than it does to write a proposal or fill out an expense report. Only with an intentional override of our brain’s natural desire to do something less taxing can many of us focus on something that requires more brain power.

The downside of getting things done early, as Richtel’s article mentions, is that completing many small tasks “might collectively consume significant resources.” Those resources could otherwise be used for accomplishing more significant work. That is why many productivity gurus suggest we do the more demanding task of prioritizing our day before answering emails.

Oh well. When all is said and done, I’m fairly certain that my precrastination activities serve as my procrastination techniques. I’ve got a presentation to work on this afternoon. I think I’ll go clear my email.

Stuffed times 8? It must be Thanksgivukkah!
November 27, 2013 by Kay Grossman

Thanksgivukkah?? It’s what happens when the eight days of Hanukkah overlap with Thanksgiving – like this year! I’ve read that it won’t happen again for over 70,000 years. So in spite of the goofiness of the combination word I think it deserves some attention, especially because the two holidays share some underlying themes. It also reminds me of a curious event from my childhood.

Both holidays celebrate religious freedom, renewal, and thankfulness. In a great simplification of both stories, the Jewish Maccabees in the second century B.C. and the early settlers of our country pursued freedom of worship, each facing difficult odds. Both stories focus on renewal, with the Maccabean rededication of the desecrated temple and the Pilgrims’ rededicating themselves to building a new life in America. We know that the Israelites were compelled to offer thanks to God for any bounty, just as the early settlers were reported to offer gratitude as they shared a meal with the native Americans.

The stories also deliver messages of self-determination, transcendence of prejudice, and national pride. When President Lincoln established Thanksgiving in 1861 in the midst of the Civil War, he sent a message that went beyond the political realm to the spiritual. He provided a symbol of gratitude and unity. That brings me to my childhood story.

I was raised as a Jew in a small Nebraska town that boasted only five Jewish families. Other than the time when my youngest sister came home crying from kindergarten because her teacher said there was no such word as “tushy,” my religious upbringing and identity didn’t cause me to feel uncomfortably “other.”

One year as Thanksgiving approached, my mother shared what I thought was a most astounding tale. A woman she knew asked her if Jews celebrate Thanksgiving. I was shocked. Did she think that Jews are not proud of America, or that we aren’t Americans? Did she think Jewish people wouldn’t demonstrate gratitude for our good fortune and each other? Did she not know that Thanksgiving is partly a celebration of religious freedom?

Many years have passed since then. I live in a larger city where it’s not an anomaly to be Jewish. However, there is no escaping that in most years, Hanukkah falls around Christmas and tends to compete with it, even though their two stories have absolutely nothing in common. In the context of our American culture that conjoins the two holidays to create “Chrismukkah,” I feel a measure of satisfaction that this year our two more compatible holidays coincide to create “Thanksgivukkah!”

I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, filled with gratitude for the freedom to worship if and as you want to, for the connections and caring you have with and for others, and for your bounty however large or small.

A Confession …delayed!
July 4, 2013 by Kay Grossman

If it looks like procrastination and walks like procrastination, is it necessarily procrastination? You might note, for example, that I posted my last article for this Web site in December, 2012.

Well, that’s a discussion for another time. Possibly soon. Okay, soonish.

For now, I share with you a poem I wrote due to special circumstances.

Setting: Kay sitting at her desk in her office.

Kay’s intention: To write an outline for a presentation on procrastination. Third, possibly fourth attempt.

Kay’s reality: She had never procrastinated on anything more in her life.

Be assured that the extreme irony is not lost on me!

As many experienced procrastinators know, at the point of procrastination anything other than the task at hand seems much more exciting and doable. Hence, the creation of this poem. Of course, I rationalized my behavior by telling myself that it was on the intended topic.

If you enjoy the poem, or identify with Self One and Self Two, please email me to share your thoughts… if you can get around to it, that is.

The Curious Tale of Self One and Self Two

By Kay Grossman

The day is too short.
There is so much to do!
Self One has to call on
Her old friend, Self Two.

Self Two is so capable,
Eager and smart,
Self Two, she is certain
Will certainly start

The tasks Self One dreads,
Resists, and demurs
While Self One gives attention
To things she prefers.

Self Two is the strong one,
The bold take-charge champ.
You can count on Self Two.
She’s no do-nothing tramp!

Self Two can take action
And get the job done.
So today Self One
Can simply have fun.

Tomorrow will come.
The day will be new.
Self One knows Self Two will
Know just what to do!

But Self Two owns a secret
Sinister and deep,
A closely held confidence
She swore me to keep.

It turns out Self Two
Is not Self Two at all.
She’s a phantom, a specter
Who casts a dark pall

Over innocent people
Who never would guess
Self Two would betray them,
Demean them, oppress.

Self Two holds the promise
Of work done with ease.
“I’ll do it tomorrow,
For I aim to please.”

But she is a traitor,
A time thief, a cad,
A charming deceiver
Who makes you feel bad.

“But there’s more,” Self Two
Whispered into my ear.
“My one special talent
You might truly fear.

It’s my favorite trick,
My far greatest feat…
I gather your memories
And click on ‘Delete.'”

So day after day
Self One calls on Self Two
Never recalling
She never comes through.

“It’s how I hold power.
I’m needed, I’m strong.
Who cares if Self One
Is forever wrong!”

OK, I thought
I know just what to do.
I’ll spread the word!
You won’t win this, Self Two!

But my email is dinging,
The Web’s calling my name.
There’s a sparkly new task,
New ideas, a game…

Those tax forms won’t rot.
My big project will keep…
Tomorrow Self Two
Will do it all in her sleep!

© Kay Grossman 2011

Fidgeting Can Be Good For Your Health!
December 12, 2012 by Kay Grossman

We all do it. We shift positions in our seats, cross, uncross, and re-cross our legs, chomp on gum, tap our fingers, doodle, and shake our feet during boring meetings or lectures. We pace the room, sip beverages, and twist in our swivel-chairs when stumped on a project for work.

It’s our instinctive way to pay attention in boring or un-motivating scenarios. In the absence of productive fidgets, we are likely to lose focus, daydream, check email on smartphones, surf the Web, or even doze.

We know from brain science that our nervous system must be in a state of alertness appropriate to a specific situation in order for us to pay attention and take action. Underarousal in the brain, due to tedium, disinterest, or perhaps a lack of certain neurotransmitters (as in brains with ADHD), sets the stage for the brain to seek stimulation. Underarousal naturally seeks arousal as the neurobiological system attempts to maintain equilibrium. We (and our brains) simply “feel better” when we have an adequate level of arousal.

What would you do differently if you knew that distractibility is your brain’s natural attempt to gain stimulation by focusing on something more interesting? Or that your restlessness is your brain’s way of arousing itself so that you can focus on what is otherwise not very stimulating?

One of the most effective strategies or “fidgets” to boost brain arousal is movement. It is widely known that exercisers often experience a stronger ability to focus after they’ve exerted themselves. We know, however, that big exertion is not necessary. Even standing while working can provide enough brain stimulation to take action on tedious tasks.

But there’s more! Standing is now deemed critical for physical health. Numerous studies published in reputable journals reveal that extended sitting (defined as only an hour or more) is deleterious to our health, increasing risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

A recent article in the New York Times newspaper describes a solution to this problem–standup desks and treadmill desks–which are gaining popularity at a rapid rate. Companies such as Ergo Desktop, TrekDesk, and Steelcase sell versions ranging from $260 to $4000.

I propose that these desks provide a solution for focused attention, as well.

As you stand at a standing desk, walk slowly at a treadmill desk, or even take a stroll down the hall, you arouse your nervous system for enhanced concentration. Balancing on a wobble board while writing works for blogger Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. Standing reportedly worked for Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, Ben Franklin, Vladimir Nabokov, and Philip Roth. It might be a useful way for you to fidget, too!

 

Resources:

Fidget to Focus, by Roland Rotz, Ph.D. and Sarah D. Wright, M.S.
“She’s Got Some Big Ideas” by Bruce Feiler, NYTimes, 12/2/12
“Taking A Stand For Office Ergonomics” by Steve Lohr, NYTimes, 12/2/12

Thanksgiving 2012
November 21, 2012 by Kay Grossman

I have a story I’d like to share with you for Thanksgiving…

 

The speaker began his presentation in the usual way. He thanked the host for the kind introduction and the conference organizers for inviting him. Very nice. Fully expected.

But then he continued to thank people. He thanked the pilot for safely flying him across the country and for being well-trained and well-rested. He thanked the mechanics for their competence and care in preparing the plane for flight. He thanked the engineers and fabricators for constructing an air-worthy vessel. He expressed gratitude for the people responsible for making his hotel room comfortable and for the people who greeted him with smiles as he walked down the hall to the meeting room.

He continued in this fashion for what seemed a very long time.

His long recitation of thankfulness first struck me as slightly odd and a bit humorous but became compelling and beautiful as the list grew. I realized that there are far too many things I take for granted, and that it is my loss.

The speaker went on to explain that to live a life of gratitude is to open our eyes to the countless ways in which we are cared for and supported by the world around us. The strongest take-away message for me was that expressing gratitude shifts our attention to reality and reveals what has been there all along.

The speaker was Gregg Krech, a psychologist who specializes in cultivating the art of gratitude. He is the founder of the To-Do (rhymes with go-go) Institute and author of several books. He includes a reflection of gratitude in his book Naikan: Gratitude, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection.

I’ve paraphrased and added to Gregg’s reflection to make it more my own, and I plan to read it aloud prior to eating our Thanksgiving meal. I invite you, too, to write your own version, or to use mine if it speaks to you.

I wish you and your loved ones an abundance of hope, peace, and gratitude as you celebrate this holiday season.

 

Thanksgiving Blessing
Modified by Kay Grossman
(I thank Gregg Krech for writing the original version of this reflection.)

We give thanks for the food that gives us life and for the plants and animals that help sustain us.

We give thanks for the cars and planes and roads that allow us to be together on this day.

We give thanks for the health of our bodies.

We give thanks for the shelter that keeps us warm and dry.

We give thanks to our parents who brought us into this world.

We give thanks for the care and support we receive from our family, friends, and community.

We give thanks for our beating hearts and sentient brains.

We give thanks for our ability to choose our perspectives.

We give thanks for our ability to feel gratitude, optimism, and love.

We give thanks for both giving and receiving blessings.

We vow to live each day fully, to see reality as it is, and to live our life with purpose.

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