Appreciative Inquiry

My last post was a downer, I know.  Yes, I have a lot of weaknesses, but I also have a lot of strengths.  Something I started early in the year was a practice in Appreciative Inquiry–namely, noticing what is going right in order to remain energized while moving forward in positive potential.  It’s a wonderful, feel-good exercise.  I highly recommend it.

Here’s the list I’ve been working on, off and on, since January:

What is working #1: “short term parking.”

In a nutshell, it is a system to keep my house tidy without constant nagging. Several years ago I purchased buckets (1 per family member) and placed them in the coat closet. Left out items get placed in the individual’s respective buckets.  I also have a large wicker basket in the study, for items left out upstairs. Once a week family members are encouraged to put away their items and/or place them in the To Be Donated bin in the garage.  Having my house tidy is nourishing to my peace!  Love this system. (1/6/11)

What is working #2: “Appreciative Inquiry”

In a nutshell, it is searching for my strengths in order to enjoy/discover/create more good in my life. I learned about Appreciative Inquiry last summer and have begun the process of identifying what’s working in my life in order to be positively energized and primed for even more positive life change. (I think A.I. would also add vitality to a family “team.”)  Creating this What’s Working list is a practice in appreciative inquiry. Thanks for letting me indulge!  🙂 (1/7/11)

What is working #3: “wedded bliss.”
In a nutshell, it is finding grace and happiness in my marriage. Nearly five years ago I discovered that I was not enjoying the incredible man (my husband) sharing the same house with me. With new eyes to see his pain, I became incredibly interested in his happiness and well-being, re-learning how fun it is to make out, dress beautifully, or talk for hours with my Erik. Erik is my gift, a gift I enjoy everyday now! (1/8/11)

What is working #4: “courageous honesty.”

In a nutshell, it is speaking the truth of things even when it’s scary.  As Erik and I have gotten closer these past five years, I’ve come to realize what a blessing it is to be completely honest, to hide nothing.  Being courageously open and honest bears wonderful fruit: greater emotional intimacy, compassion, and progress (the chance to make things better). Honest discussion, by definition, must be accurate!  (Descriptions of real feelings, situations, and behaviors–NOT exaggeration, labeling, or judgment). (1/10/11)

What is working #5: “mindfulness.”

In a nutshell, it is inviting peacefulness by being fully present to the moment.  Erik’s sister, Heidi, teaches mindfulness professionally in Sweden and introduced me to the practice two years ago. I’ve finally formed the habit of becoming mindful prior to sleep, when first waking, in moments of stress, or whenever it occurs to me.   It is inhaling deeply and listening to one’s breath, paying attention to sensory data (aromas, sounds, flavor, beauty, touch), letting go of tension, connecting with the body and consequently being freed from the clutter of the mind.  Mindfulness helps me sleep better and recover more quickly from disappointment and stress.  Thanks, Heidi! (1/13/11)

What is working #6: “gastronomy.”

In a nutshell, it is enjoying good food and the act of dining–which inspires my inner chef.  I used to have a menu of meals I repeated each month as I cooked for my family.  While it facilitated shopping-list creation and dinner-making decisions, it got boring.  Once I let go of the preconceived menu and started asking myself the question, “What food does my body want?” the gastronomy miracle happened: savory, soul-satisfying food was found regularly on our dinner table, with no resentment on my part for the time it took to cook.  Bon appetit! (1/15/11)

What is working #7: “freedom to question.”

In a nutshell, it is being open to improvement, to a better way of doing things. During my years of schooling, I valued getting straight A’s and consequently became a slave to the authority of my teachers. They told me what to do and I did it, without ever questioning whether a more customized assignment/methodology might be a better fit for me. But by homeschooling our children, and going through a faith transition, I’ve learned to question the what, why, and how’s. May I never forget this life is mine for the choosing. (1/17/11)

What is working #8: “fashion fun.”

In a nutshell, it is coming up with cute clothing ensembles through trial and error. In 2006, I started paying more attention to my appearance (see What is working #3). As I’ve continued to expand and purge my wardrobe since then (thanks to Erik’s generosity and great thrift store finds), I’ve found a lot of pleasure in coming up with beautiful combinations of jewelry and attire. Now, as I watch older family home videos, I contrast my former frumpiness with my more fashionable form of dress. I like my new hobby!–it’s fun to feel cute. (1/18/11)

What is working #9: “flying by the seat of my pants.”

In a nutshell, it is acting in realtime, satisfactorily. While I’m a gal who likes to scheme and dream, I’m not one who typically pulls all the pieces together early. (Need an executive secretary!) But despite my procrastinating and unrealistic estimations of how long it will take to get something ready, I can usually do so, even last-minute. (Such skills! 😉 ) To quote Wiktionary, flying by the seat of one’s pants is: “To use one’s judgement, initiative and realtime perceptions to decide on a course of action as events unfold without a predetermined plan.” Viva la power of now!—fueled by all the experience that has prepared me to act in a given moment! (1/22/11)

What is working #10: “friends pulling for me.”

In a nutshell, it is knowing that people care.  Sunday, I shared in church a few details of a couple of painful interpersonal experiences I’ve had recently to illustrate the changes I’m going through.  Afterward, several individuals came up to talk with me, to reassure me, to encourage me, and to share with me some of their own life wisdom.  It is such a blessing to know people care, support, and love me–imperfect though I be.  It is such a gift when friends’ faces light up when I come into a room; thank you, friends, for that simple kindness! (1/25/11)

What is working #11: “epiphanies.”

In a nutshell, it a gift of wisdom concerning something I’ve not considered before. As much as I enjoy thinking things through as a rational practice, I enjoy even more experiencing the grace moments of revelation and intuition that bring me insight, aha’s, and hilarious lucidity (“Of course!”). Now to apply the wisdom I’ve learned; that is the challenge! (2/2/11)

What is working #12: “a heart to teach.”

In a nutshell, it is being passionate about learning and passionate about sharing what I’ve learned. It is realizing I’ve been “made to mentor,” which is what I think Jack Canfield has discovered about himself. Just today I came across this term: mentos–meaning “intent, purpose, spirit, passion” (OED, Online Etymology Dictionary.) Those attributes resonate with me. I believe I have a heart to teach! (2/7/11)

What is working #13: “dexterity.”

In a nutshell, it is enjoying quick muscular and mental reflexes.  This allows me to catch falling precious things, to maneuver around dangerous obstacles, or to detect when I’m feeling manipulated, with amazing accuracy.  It’s been interesting to note that my lightning-speed brain is able to discern almost instantly when the “something” requires my immediate attention, pumping me up with the needed adrenaline to power my accurate response.  My reaction time on less-urgent “somethings” is noticeably slower, however.  If my memory serves me right, I was not as accurate when I was younger.  The brain’s pathways have been strengthened, I believe, experience upon experience.

What is working #14: “decisive energy.”

In a nutshell, it is experiencing the power inherent in choosing a clear course of action. The term “decide” comes from the latin root cid—meaning “to cut”. Deciding is an act of cutting off other potentials in favor of one potential which we hope to realize. When Erik asked me back in Jan. 1994 if I’d go steady with him, I said, “Sure, we could try that.” When six nice guys called me that very weekend to ask me out, I had to really decide if I was willing to cut off these “other potentials” in order to grow my relationship with Erik. I was. Cutting off the “what if’s” infuses one with energy and peace. It makes one’s immediate (though perhaps not life-long) course clear.

What is working #15: “wonderment.”

In a nutshell, it is remembering to be curious. Wonderment is a wonderful antidote when life feels mournfully monotonous. It is having a child’s perspective and approach to life rather than stagnating in self-restrained structure. I get in the mode of wonderment when I wander around the internet exploring idea after idea. Many times I feel guilty afterward for not being “productive,” but then my beloved Erik reminds me, “It’s not your job in life to be productive. Exploring ideas and thoughts is valuable—you enjoy it; it’s fascinating; it fills in the gaps in your education and helps you clarify what it is you want to do.” It makes me feel alive! (3/3/11)

What is working #16: “universalism.”

In a nutshell, it is believing that no one is condemned. This is a fairly recent belief of mine, growing in inverse proportion to my residual fear of a demanding God. It is believing that where there is omniscience—understanding of all that brings us to our decisions and actions–there can be mercy and compassion. It is believing that in whom there is hurt and harm, there can come healing and help, through the infinite power of Love. It is a motivating belief, inspiring me to seek to understand rather than to judge and condemn. It is something I hope to live and not just define. (3/13/11)

What’s working #17: “morning sunshine!”

In a nutshell, it is enjoying a morning hug of radiance from my Sol friend. 😉 A couple of years ago, I decided to switch the location of our dining and living room furnishings. Having a big, dedicated room for dining inspired regular, lingering evening meals. That was a boon. But, as I soon discovered, I was equally pleased with having a lounge-in-the-morning-sun area made possible by the large, un-curtained bay windows and french doors flanking the east side of our new sitting area. There are benefits, both emotional and vitaminal, to spending some time basking in the sun. (Cats know!) (4/28/11)

What’s working #18: “drop-dead deadlines”

In a nutshell, it is creating a realistic ending point (and a realistic consequence for incompletion) for a project I wish to accomplish.  For example, I hate sweeping and mopping our large kitchen/dining/sitting area and therefore haven’t done so for the past 2+ weeks.  Today I noticed the grime and decided to give myself a drop-dead deadline in order to get motivated to clean.  We had planned a fun family outing of swimming tonight, but I told myself I couldn’t go unless I got the floors done first.  Voila!  I got the floors shiny clean.  The deadline and the consequence gave me the motivation I needed.  (In the past, I’ve also used the website to give myself deadlines.  Very helpful!) (6/5/11)

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Being real

Erik told me months ago about a powerful blog post, “The disease called Perfection,” on SDL (Single Dad Laughing).  In the post, the author (Dan), writes of the pain-inducing illusion of Perfection which permeates our society and causes us to 1) compare ourselves with others (at least the persona of perfection we perceive in them), 2) assess (erroneously) that others are much better than we are, 3) feel ashamed to show the  real, flawed parts of ourselves (since the ideal of Perfection shuns weakness), and ultimately 4) to isolate ourselves emotionally from ourselves and others.  In a heart-wrenching plea, he asks us to start being real by telling others how perfect we aren’t.  He writes:

“This is me, weeping as I write, asking the good people of the world to find somebody to put their arm around and be ‘real’. This is me, wishing that people would realize how beautiful they are, even with all of their imperfections. This is me, sad and desperate for the girls in this world to love themselves. This is me, a very imperfect man, trying to help others feel a little more perfect by asking you to act a little less perfect.

“Will you help me spread ‘Real’? Tell us below just how perfect you aren’t. You never know who might be alive tomorrow because you were real today.”

In an act of great courage, Dan listed 7 examples from his own life of things he hadn’t wanted people to ever know.  He called it his “dose of real.”  (I invite you to read his article.  It’s very touching!)

Well, folks, I’ve decided to take his challenge.  I’ll allow myself to share with you my own “dose of real,” with the hope that it will help even one of you know that you are not alone.  [Note:  Feeling extremely nervous even thinking about this.  Hmmm . . . Why is this so hard?!]

Here goes:

* I’ve been talking with a therapist because I can’t figure out who I really am and why it mattered that I be born. (My spiritual life with God and buddies was a pretty sweet existence before, I bet–assuming as I do that my soul is immortal.)  Why the need for mortal life and its temporal concerns and complexity?  And who am I, ultimately–a set of genes, an immortal personality, the product of my education/early environment . . .?

* For years I domineered my husband, tyrannically making most family decisions and controlling our money (his income!) with an iron fist.  He didn’t even feel free to run over and grab a hamburger, lest I berate him for that “unnecessary expenditure”!  My husband went numb over time, in our marriage.  (Glad he’s back!)

* Some days the seeming incurability of my depression has made the idea of life after death (the immortality of the soul) sound like a perpetual hell: ‘I’d rather cease to exist than suffer like this in the next life!  If I can’t overcome my depression here, what guarantee is there that my mind will be free of it there?!’

* I have not valued nor enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom, even though it was my choice (duty-bound, for sure) to become and remain one.  I’ve been tormented for years with illusions of grandeur, which have robbed me of contentment in domesticity and simple living. (Don’t ever tell your kids ‘They’re smart!” as they’re growing up; it’ll torment them as adults!)

* I had homophobia as a teen and secretly worried at times, ‘What if I’m gay and don’t know it?’  Almost never being invited on dates made me question whether I was desirable/feminine.  (Thankfully I met a gorgeous hunk, Erik Andersen, my first day at college, and he flirted with–and kissed me–a lot that semester.  Thanks, Babe, for being the answer to my insecurity at that time!)

* After our first child was born, I lost my libido for a time.  Being exhausted and depressed, I’d deny Erik, with the excuse: “It’s not my need.”  We’d go weeks between, and my homophobia caused me to again worry, ‘Does my lack of interest in sex suggest I’m gay?”  (Oprah featured the subject “When Women Don’t Want Sex” on one of her shows that year,  which helped me to learn that many other heterosexual women suffer from lack of libido as well.  I wasn’t alone!)

* I’m not a very good friend: I get wrapped up in my little world/mind and make little to no effort to keep in touch with or care for my friends.  Those whom I don’t see regularly (in the current context of my life) I tend to neglect.

* My insecurity has caused me to want others to be like me, but not quite as good as me, so I can feel important.  I’ve judged others harshly who were not like me.  I’ve had a hard time throughout my life admitting my mistakes out loud, or valuing others for the good people they are despite their human weaknesses.

*With unrealistic expectations, I’ve judged nearly everything in life for what it lacks.  I’ve viewed the cup as half empty.

Writing these things makes me want to shrink up in a ball and go away.  But perhaps acknowledging my problems  is a necessary step to begin freeing myself up from emotional bondage.  It’s hard for me to accept the idea that I’m limited as a person and that making mistakes and learning through trial-and-error is not only understandable but ultimately beneficial–because of the practical wisdom and humility such a process (and expectation) produces.  The vast emotional realm of feelings can be scary, and never admitting mistakes or fears feels safe.  But I’m beginning to understand that that safety is just a prison.  Being real is being open to our feelings and being free to explore them and their roots.  I’m excited I’m in therapy and am hopeful it will help!

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Effort versus externals

Lying in bed this morning, the thought came:

Happiness doesn’t depend upon circumstances.

I kid you not when I say that the theme song of Star Wars immediately started ringing through my head, as if to indicate this was a major mystery solved! I smiled–marveling, then wavered–wondering, ‘Is it true?’ Could it be true, when the reality is that sometimes horrible things happen that hurt, hurt, hurt? Could it be true, when worries and fears about [current greatest concern] consume all of one’s emotional reserves, blocking the vital energy called happiness? Could it be true, when depression is real and a huge stumbling block to joy and hope?

‘But wait!’ I caught myself in the thought. ‘My depression happens despite my blessed circumstances: great spouse, financial security, good physical health, plenty of diversion, strong church community, supportive friends, etc. Could it also be that happiness is not contingent upon circumstances?’

The image of a glorious, eternal soul came to me–the Inner I that is not touched or damaged by the challenges and circumstances of life. The I that came from God, passes through mortal life, and continues from everlasting to everlasting. Surely that Soul’s happiness does not depend upon the externals of this life. Yet why is it so difficult for the conscious self, the Mortal Me that is the collective experience called [Shaunalei Boyer Andersen], to experience sustained happiness?

Then it struck me! Happiness (exhilaration) comes in purpose-filled doing (effort), no matter the outward circumstances. Depression (feeling stuck) remains during hope-sucking inactivity (wallowing), no matter the externals, either. In a nutshell,

“The key to happiness is effort.”

I’m excited to test the hypothesis, to see if indeed “working with a purpose” helps create “happiness on demand.” What do you think?

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