Pages

Follow Me on Twitter

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mental Contrasting and Ganesh for Success

Just a quick note this week. We have had a French exchange student with us since last Wednesday. Things are going well. She’s a very polite and quiet exchange student. The only thing I really don’t get about her is that she has left home without a book. This is a mystery to me. And it presents a bit of a dilemma for the 9th grader, who needs her down time, and would like to spend some of it companionably with our visitor reading. 

Alors. 

I say exchange student, by the way, but there is no exchange involved, unfortunately. This is because our school district no longer allows our students to stay with host families abroad. Our French teachers argued for it to no avail. 

Oy. 

Anyway, to entertain the visiting students, some of us got together for a day trip to Woodstock. Woodstock is not actually very near where Woodstock occured, but it is a very groovy town full of vintage clothiers, flea markets, incense, Tibetan flags, Indian prints, and all manner of yoga-related symbols, as well as expensive comfortable clothing and shoes - and good food. It was a win-win. I got into the spirit of things in one of these shops and decided I needed something Ganesh-related. In case you were wondering why, Ganesh is the Hindu god of success or of removing obstacles, which is apparently the same thing. 

I agree they are related. And Ganesh abounded in this shop. I chose a cool postcard with an image of Ganesh on it and went to buy it, only to be told by the cashier that the side of the shop where I got it was owned by someone else, and since my postcard had no price tag, she couldn’t ring it up on her register. 

Ganesh was an obstacle in this instance. And that, Readers, is ironic. 

However, for reasons of who knows what - maybe kindness, perhaps amusement - the husband liked this story and also thought I needed a Ganesh, so he ordered one for me from Amazon. It arrived today. 

I’m not entirely sure which obstacle I hope Ganesh removes. I hope that’s not a problem. However, it may be problematic, since I’ve learned that setting specific intentions is a potent way to get things rolling in the right direction. A general wish is kind of wishy-washy, if you will. What if Ganesh removes all obstacles? That could be mayhem. Some obstacles should remain in place. For example, red lights and stop signs and some kinds of inhibition. Let’s assume the idea is Ganesh removes obstacles to success. So, what success am I aiming for ?

I think we all know it. 

But while I like my little Ganesh, the more useful method of removing obstacles to success is mental contrasting. Mental contrasting is a method of visualizing yourself achieving a goal, then considering carefully the obstacles to it that you might encounter. Once you identify an obstacle, visualize yourself overcoming it and how you will do it. Then visualize your goal and another obstacle and so on. Thus you merge a positive mindset with the knowledge that you will have to work to achieve it, as well as that you have the ability and grit to do so. Recipe for removing obstacles. 


So my little Ganesh will sit by my computer as I write and will remind me that I have the power to remove obstacles to success. And also, perhaps, my little Ganesh will work some magic over the things I cannot control. 
A bird house in Woodstock, NY

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Find the Hidden Success Tip

I’m dialed up to “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhrrrrhhhhhh” on the stress meter today, Readers. Why? Well. PC Various. PC Various, as I like to say, is library lingo from back in the days when I worked for the Harvard College Library. It’s a holdover from the old cataloging system they used before switching to LC (Library of Congress) cataloging and automating. That was where I came in - applying barcodes to books while they got the automated circulation system, well, circulating. 

It was a stimulating job. I often took a snoozle over the keyboard of an afternoon. But I did get in a lot of reading. All three volumes of Bowlby on Attachment and Loss, for example. Somehow, despite my non-Protestant work ethic, the library did get online, where it remains. PC Various is a vestigial category my library friends and I toss around with one another.

And today, for no good reason at all, I have shared it with you, Readers. 

So one of the various reasons I’m stressed is that we are having a French exchange student come to stay with us for the next twelve days. Only some of us speak decent French and I’m not one of us. Zut alors! What shall we do? Keep Google Translate open on my phone at all times, for one thing.

Another reason is the salty taste I have in my mouth, which according to the interwebs could be due to post nasal drip or IMMINENT DEATH. I’m the worst kind of hypochondriac. I’m the kind that doesn’t actually ever want to go to the doctor, because if the doctor suggests some kind of test, out of an abundance of caution or to actually get to the bottom of something, I am possibly more afraid of that than IMMINENT DEATH. So now I have to get a blood test to check my thyroid. I didn’t even go to the doctor. I just called her. She hasn’t even checked my sinuses. She thinks it’s probably hormonal related to perimenopause. 

So I was right. IMMINENT DEATH.

Anyhoo, on the plus side, I made yogurt. The husband and the 9th grader got into it. We started adding things to those cunning little jars, things like maple syrup, vanilla, honey, and Ovaltine. Then they decided not to eat them. So I have to eat the sweetened ones, even though I’ve cut out a lot of sugar. Why? Why cut out sugar? Well, a couple of reasons. PC Various reasons, if I may. 

One: Goal contagion. Yes, remember Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD? Goals can actually be contagious. That’s why who you hang out with is very important, right? So in January I read in the failing NY Times about quitting sugar for a month. Then a couple of friends of mine tried it. Next thing I knew, I was trying it. And so, if you want to stay motivated to achieve some goal, find other people who are also trying to achieve it. It helps. 

Two: Willpower. I decided to try cutting out sugar for one month (except for birthdays) also because somehow the rise of Rump made me concerned about my ability to withstand, say, a long trek over the mountains to Canada to escape the Gestapo. I felt that under terrible duress, I might just collapse without my daily sugar. This seemed weak and foolish. I needed to prove I am not those things. Perhaps I have just proven that I am. Well. What can I say? 

Anyhoo, today as I opened my cunning little jar and scooped some yogurt onto my healthy mixture of cereals and nuts that I eat every morning to stave off IMMINENT DEATH, I felt a little sadness and stress in my heart over having to eat a sweetened yogurt, as if it would bring me one step closer to weakness and foolishness. 

Also on the plus side, along with that one little tip for success tucked into this strange piece of writing, I offer you another cool thing I love, that isn’t causing me stress: 

My Swedish dish cloth. 



It is biodegradable, dish-washerable, and totally adorbs. Also it works well. 


Now I must frantically try to organize my house for our French guest. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Envy and Healthy Discontent

Note the cunning little jars?
Readers, I was away last week and didn’t have time to write a blog post. I was busy traveling to see the college student perform and then taking her to Washington to see family during her spring break. Aside from that, I was busy being consumed with envy and dealing with it. Yes, I know. Embarrassing stuff, admitting to envy. Here’s the thing. It happens. Maybe not to you, but to me. Envy. This time it came from visiting some old friends I hadn’t seen in years who have amazing careers, amazing awards, and an amazing house in Cambridge. Also they are amazingly nice. Let’s call them He and She. 

What did I envy? Did I envy their jobs? Not exactly. They are so not me. But I envied their career success. Did I envy where they lived? Uh, hells to the yes. In a vibrant neighborhood outside Harvard Square. Just a couple of blocks from a neato retro shop where I bought a Swedish dish cloth, made of cellulose and cotton, dishwasher safe and biodegradable. Did I envy their Mies van der Rohe chairs and their renovated Victorian house? You betcha. Did I envy their homemade yogurt? Yes. Yes, I did. How could She have the great career, the great house, the great kids, and have time to make yogurt? Readers, this yogurt thing preyed on me. She had made it in these cunning little glass jars that she put on the table amongst the croissants and the fruit salad.

And where did all this envy get me? Into a funk, of course. Because I started to compare myself and my life, my town, my house, my professional success, my spouse to theirs. I confided my envy to my friend, let’s call her The Source of All Things, but I think she was perplexed that I would be so envious when I have so much good in my life. I confided my envy to another friend, let’s call her A. And she said, "OH Hope, you go into these downward spirals sometimes." Which is true. I do. And she spent a little time bucking me up. Spiraling me up, I suppose I should say. Talking about the things I know are true: that we all make different choices for different reasons, and one is not more valid than another. It’s not more valid to have an amazing professional career than it is to be a stay-at-home mother who fits in writing when she can. It’s not more valid to have a beautifully renovated Victorian house in Cambridge than a lovely home in the rather cloudy valley that is Albany County.

I also told my therapist, who said this was about whether I am enough. Which, let me tell you, depressed the hell out of me, because of course it is true, envy is about whether I am enough, and because it’s such an old story I thought maybe with all the seeking I've done behind me I might have reached the end of that one by now. And because I know the lesson, the rule, the central idea behind therapy and Buddhism and Judeo-Christian religions, is to accept myself, warts and all, as they say. You have to start where you are, as they say.

Fortuituously, a podcast on this very topic appeared on my phone, just in time. Gil Fronsdal spoke on contentment and discontent and stressed this very idea. Start where you are. Find a little something to feel good about. Maybe just that you have a few minutes to yourself to meditate. Maybe that you’re alive and breathing. Maybe that you have a full range of emotions to access. Accept them all, even the ugly ones. From acceptance springs contentment, or at least the opportunity for it. From this seat of self-acceptance you will then be able to assess the discontent you feel and decide if it is healthy or unhealthy. Are you discontented with your house or your job or your spouse for real reasons? If so, you will be much more able to act to change what doesn’t work if you do so from groundedness.

When I thought about the roots of my envy, I realized it was pointing me towards my work. I needed to focus on it more and move it towards a conclusion. So that was positive. Envy was a kick in the butt, in a way. I knew that if I focused on the work I was meant to do, I would reconnect with a central element of myself that brought contentment.

So when we returned from our visit to our amazing friends, I wrote a thank-you email. In it I asked for the yogurt recipe. My friend wrote back the next day. The yogurt, she said, is so easy. She bought a yogurt maker on Amazon for twenty-five dollars. She included the link, which I immediately clicked on, of course. There was this machine. There were the cunning little glass jars, included. So, Readers, I bought it. I haven’t yet used it, because I’ve been writing. When I get to it, I’ll let you know.