Ask More Loving Questions

His hands were tied behind his back and he was standing on the outside of the bridge railing, preparing to jump. As I moved towards him, he shouted over to me: “One step further and I’ll jump!” He sounded hoarse and it was clear he had been crying. I stopped and stood, waiting.

This occurred six years ago, in the middle of the night, in Portland, Oregon. I had been biking along the river, taking a break from a college all-nighter when I came across this man.

I stopped, as instructed. And as I stood there I had an amazing experience. It was as if I was at the center of a deep, wide pool. His shout and threat were like a pebble hitting the surface and I was so deep down in the pool that they made no impact. Inside I felt quiet and still. “How are you feeling?” I asked him, calmly.

“Thinking is just the process of asking and answering questions.”
-Tony Robbins

Today I make a habit of asking this sort of question. These questions sometimes sound a bit odd but provide the person I’m with to examine themselves in a way not otherwise available to them. I can only ask such questions by intentionally falling into that calm attitude that I found so many years ago on the river in Portland. In that state of mind, anything – and I do mean anything – that someone says is okay. In that mindset I am completely accepting and totally nonjudgmental. This is a mindset that I trained on my own and then later at the Option Institute. In what follows I’m going to detail a number of different reasons we ask questions and discuss what makes loving questions unique.

In my experience there are four different types of questions, each with its own purpose.

Questions that Judge

 “Why did you do that!” (We often leave the “you idiot” left unsaid.)

The question “Why did I eat that pint of ice cream when I know I feel sick after eating ice cream?” is really a statement of self criticism. What I am actually saying is: “I’m dumb for having eaten ice cream. I should have known better!”

Questions to Learn

Imagine a reporter interested in your story. Reporters, and all of us, ask directive, inquiring questions to gain information.

Questions that Teach

Teachers ask their students subtle or even blatant leading questions like “Why do you believe that is the best answer to this math problem?” or “How would you go about solving it?”

Questions to Explore

“Why did you do that?”

That night on the bridge I used what I’ve come to think of as exploring questions. These are the rarest of questions in that they are non-directive and completely accepting. I have studied what is formally called “The Option Process(R) Dialogue” which teaches how to use these questions to help explorers come to their own conclusions. With the man on the bridge these are the sort of questions I asked. Guided by instinct and luck I asked the bridge jumper how he felt and then later why. I don’t know what would have happened if I had told him not to jump, or tried to teach him that he shouldn’t. I can speculate that things might not have gone so well.

For the record, I spent three hours with the man on the bridge. He ended up sitting and crying with me. The next morning he called his sister and I left him in her care.

Why Ask Loving Questions

Everyone has opinions and most people are willing to share them. What people don’t do, though, is set aside their personal biases and become completely present with another. Instead, meaning well, most people judge or try to fix. By providing the person questioned with the option to discover answers for themselves, we provide a safe space to step forward and, if we so choose, come to our own conclusions.

These are the four components of a loving question. These four make up what is termed the “attitude” by the Option Institute. I have called it the Attitude That Works.

Non-directive
This is what distinguishes these questions from all others. To ask these questions the questioner must completely let go of the belief that they know what’s best for another.

Present
To ask non-directive questions the questioner must be completely present with the person being questioned. Otherwise, it is not possible to follow where they lead.

Non-judgmental
Often loving questions are asked in the face of self-judgements. It is essential to not buy in and engage with those judgements.

Loving
Of all four this is the most important. Having compassion for another is fundamental to asking this sort of question.

I don’t always ask loving questions. Not even most of the time. But I have the capacity to sit across from someone considering suicide or crying over heartbreak or jumping for joy, follow exactly what they say, and then ask them what they are thinking, what they feel or why. I’m not unique and anyone can learn to do this. The more I ask such questions the better I get.  And as an added benefit: it feels great to be there for someone in this way.

So here’s my advice: next time you or someone you care for is in a slump, don’t try to fix them or solve the problem. Ask just one loving question. It can make a world of difference.

How to Overcome the Fear of Humiliation – Using Daily Documentation to Learn Porteño Spanish

My taxi driver was gesticulating wildly, swerving in and out of traffic, as he impressed upon me his opinions of Argentine politicians. I was very silent in the back seat.

I have been warned to avoid discussing politics with Argentinians, but I was silent for a completely different reason: I was too scared to talk. Growing up in California I was exposed to a lot of Spanish and have a good ear for the language.  So long as we are speaking slow and in the present tense, I have about the capacity for conversation of a precocious 4-year-old. The reason I was silent in that back of that taxi was that I was more scared of speaking poorly then I had interest in engaging in the conversation.

I’ve just returned from two weeks in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in this post I’ll share my fears of language learning and the newly launched Start-Up 100, which I’ll be using to overcome that fear.

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Breeching The Comfort Zone (And Thoughts On Working Abroad in Buenos Aires)

I’ve talked before about one of the reasons I love working with autism. Kids on the spectrum are constantly violating my assumptions and in order to be effective I have to continue re-evaluating my beliefs and discarding what doesn’t work.

This week I am in Buenos Aires, Argentina working with several families with special needs children. And I’m experiencing a whole new model for breaking down my assumptions. Growing up I was taught that it was useful to travel because it “expands horizons.” I never really questioned that that means. On this trip I’ve come to see why traveling can be extremely useful and how expanding horizons actually works. To make a long story short – it can be hard, but it is very worth doing.

Palermo in Buenos Aires (Photo: Xomiele)
Palermo en Buenos Aires (Photo: Xomiele)

First off, my work can be challenging. I am work with children who may bite or scream or both. (They are incredible, too.) But on this trip I’m also in a new city, speaking a non-native language, and practicing tango. The number of challenging factors has increased by several exponents! So let’s look at how exactly this is a good thing…

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Tools to Learn Anything Well (Hint: It Is Simpler Than You Think)

The more time I study learning the more I realize that the tools which improve performance apply across disciples. Everywhere we look there are struggles and every-day heroes overcoming those struggles: athletes achieving record-breaking feats, regular people losing that last 10 pounds and children with autism self-regulating, tantruuming, and improving.

I make a study of the commonalities (and differences) between seemingly unrelated disciplines. What does the Gymnastics Giant and curing autism have in common? It turns out there is method to the madness and more commonality than difference among disparate paths.

Experiment. Stick out your tongue once in a while. (I suggest not biting it, though.)

Continue reading “Tools to Learn Anything Well (Hint: It Is Simpler Than You Think)”

Studies in Kickstarter

I recently had the opportunity to study with Clay Herbert, creator of Kickstarter Hacks. Clay taught a class on Kickstarter at CreativeLIVE and I’m excited to share what I learned.

I have been interested in Kickstarter for more than year and have actively been building my own campaign over the last few months. I have been at times overwhelmed, determined and delighted. Studying with Clay at CreativeLIVE put everything I’ve done into perspective and showed me that building, managing and successfully running a Kickstarter campaign is manageable and something that anyone can do.

He did this by breaking down every step of running a campaign into it’s component parts. By only trying to accomplish one small step at a time, I realized I was better able to focus on keeping one foot in front of the other and not stumbling along the way.

In what follows I will share some of my take-aways from Clay’s workshop. At least as interesting to me, though, is how these same holdups and breakthroughs transfer into a larger learning process. Increasingly, I recognize patterns in my own learning. As I discussed in my study of the Gymnastics Giant there are predictable periods in any learning process of inactivity or overwhelm. As I’ve encountered these periods in building my own Kickstarter, I have been learning to plan for them and make progress when I am at my most energetic.

Kickstarter_Logo
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Lessons in Spontaneity: Driving for Lyft

I’ve rarely taken taxis in San Francisco, generally preferring to walk, bicycle or drive myself. But with the recent abundance of peer-to-peer ride sharing in San Francisco I couldn’t help but be impacted and eventually get involved. Among my peer group I am a middling adopter of new technologies so it was only after Lyft had been in San Francisco for well over a year that I asked my housemate about the pink mustaches on cars throughout the city. “That’s Lyft!” he told me enthusiastically. My other housemate chimed in: “I meet great people and they drive me home!” I was still further intrigued when I saw advertisements that Lyft with hiring drivers and paid up to $35 an hour. I charge much more for my work with autism, but sometimes have slow months and driving my car around the city for pay seemed like an interesting thing to try. It has turned out to be much more than I would ever have expected.

STACHE_PINK

I’ve driven 20 hours this last week and given rides to 50 different people. In that time I’ve had the opportunity to chat with a venture capitalist from Greylock Partners, a woman who raised $30,000 on Kickstarter to fund her café on Bernal Hill and been invited home by a drunk customer – to show off my backflips and/or have sex with her housemate (I declined on all counts). I have had several fabulous discussions about parenting, learned about Bangalore, India (where I have work schedule in February) and a group of Business School “bros.” offered me beer on the job.

I plan on continuing to drive when my schedule allows it, just for the social aspect of the job. I like meeting new people, asking them questions and gaining some new insights or perspective. Here are a few of the reminders that I’ve taken away from this last week of chatting with strangers:

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Overcome The Impossible – How I Learned To Complete A Gymnastics Giant

In the Fall of 2011 I took up gymnastics. This is the sport that boys start at 6 years old and most adults believe they can’t ever begin because they didn’t start young enough. I began by experimenting with gymnastics apparatus: tumbling, trampoline, parallel bars, pommel house, and high bar. This last – the high bar – has consumed the last six months of my training and in this post I’ll detail how I’ve learned to complete a Giant in six months – a skill that is taught over the course of a decade in most pre-professional gymnastics training programs.

But first, here is my first-ever High Bar Giant:

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Escape, Exercise, or Appreciate? A Few Shortcuts to Happiness

One Habit That Will Change Your Life, which I posted during Thanksgiving in 2012, has been shared more times than anything else I have ever written. In that post I described one habit I’ve cultivated, What Went Wells (or WWWs) as described by Martin Seligman in Flourish. This is just one of many behavioral patterns I’ve begun to cultivate in the last couple of years – shortcuts and simple tricks for getting myself out of a funk and leading a more fulfilled life. I create these and practice them, so I thought it useful to share them here. If you missed the bandwagon, take a look at this post, read Flourish and skim the “Shortcuts to Happiness” chapter in Happiness Is A Choice.

happy-face
Delight (Photo by Photosightfaces)

Leave It Behind, at Least for a Moment

One quick way I have found to shortcut to comfort and  ease is just to leave behind whatever I was doing discomfort about in the first place. (And it sounds so simple!) Often I have found that when I am unhappy I intentionally stay in the environment in which I began my discomfort in an effort to “solve” the situation now. Instead, practice leaving. Growing up I was taught that “running away” was to show weakness. In my family leaving a difficult conversation was considered bad form. Over the years I’ve changed and now see stepping aside to be a useful step towards resolution. Just as we might give a child a time-out if she is tantruming, try taking a time-out from whatever you are struggling with. This isn’t a permanent solution or resolution to the problem. It isn’t meant to be! But when you return to the challenging situation you will find you are often much happier and better equipped to handle the situation.

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Building the Habit – Writing Regularly For 1 Year

I recently picked up “The Magic of Thinking Big.” I opened up David Schwartz’s book to a random page and ready: “Belief in success is the one basic, absolute essential ingredient of successful people. Believe, really believe you can succeed, and you will.”

Believe (Photo credit: Uglyagnes)

I put the book aside and wondered to myself where I self-limit by believing there is something I can’t do.

I’ve been blogging irregularly since 2009, without a clarity of purpose, and without a clear voice in my writing. I am working on a book but am struggling because I don’t know how to communicate some of my important points. In the past few years I’ve developed the belief that I can’t build an audience as a blogger. A few minutes later I was resolute; I was going to change.

I had reached a decision. I was going to blog every week for a year to practice and in an effort to find my voice. Who knows, maybe while I am at it some folks will even be interested in reading what I write! I’m doing this as an experiment in getting over my belief that I can’t.

To begin I’ve compiled a couple of tools I’ll use to help out.

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Fuse Dance Company – On Creating Community

In August 2012 I met with a friend and spent an hour talking about how to improve our dancing and create a community. Out of that conversation we have built a dance company. I wrote about my dance company before and excitedly showed off our first performance. The process of training 2-8 hours every week for a year has me thinking about community.

First, though, our recent performance:

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Why Movement for Special Needs Children – Robin Discusses Why Movement for Autism

Movement has always been at the center of my pursuits and practices. I now have the honor and privilege of taking more than two decades work of experience and applying these skills to children with special needs. Through an understanding of the basic science of human motor learning acquisition – or how people learn to move better – I apply the skills I have acquired to help children learn to move better.

Get Flexible Without Stretching (Limited Spots Available!)

In February 2013, on a whim, I built a program for 10 close friends on how to learn the splits without any stretching. Sounds impossible, right? I promise it is not. Building flexibility without stretching is a part of what I do in my personal training and together I and my group of friends turned my in-person instruction into a digital study-course.

See the original program offer here. (Please note, this offer has expired.)

Stretching

The idea that stretching is outdated isn’t new but has generated more momentum recently in mainstream media. Skim this article in the New York Times on the potential damage caused by static stretching before working out.

The course lasted for 30 days and included more than 45 custom-recorded lessons in which I taught my participants how to train in such a way that they discovered dramatically increased flexibility, without the potential damaging effects of too much stretching!

Now I’m making this program even better…

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Try Something New – Robin Discusses Working with a Tantrum

I recently gave a lesson to a little girl with autism. Part way through our series of lessons together she had a tantrum. She is normally very calm. I hadn’t seen this before and I asked her mother if this behavior is usual or unusual. Her mother said that she didn’t really know what was going on so I suggested we try something new. Right there I applied variation. When something isn’t working, try something new! What we tried was stepping out of the room, leaving the girl to tantrum. There wasn’t any way for her to hurt herself or anybody else in my office. So we just waited. It is fascinating to watch this on camera. I have this footage recorded. At first she continues to kick and scream. And then after maybe a minute when she realizes that no one is paying attention anymore she got really quiet. And then, two minutes later, she opened the door, walked out, and said clearly: “I want to continue my lesson,” closed the door. I walked in and we continued our lesson together.

Interested in learning more? Robin works with children with autism in San Francisco and around the world. Learn more at http://moveautism.com.

The Impact of Applying a Loving, Compassionate Attitude with Autistic Children

I love working with children with autism. I do are not just because I get to witness sometimes subtle and other times profound transformations for the children that I work with. I enjoy what I do because selfishly I benefit in my own life to work with these special needs children!

Through practicing an attitude of loving and accepting the children that I work with I feel happier in my own life and can have an even more profound impact with the children that I work with.

Learn more about the loving attitude that works with autism in my discussion of the Attitude That Works.

Everything There Is To Know About Autism, On 1-Page!? (Plus: A Competition)

I’m a fan of the author Tim Ferriss. He published a recent book called the The 4-Hour Chef, which teaches his theme of skill hacking through the medium of cooking. I’ve never looked for outside help with cooking – in college my quiches received rave reviews and my sister teaches cooking professionally at hip cooks – but I love Tim’s story-telling, flair for the dramatic, and most of all his simple, practical ideas.

One of the tools I’ve implemented since reading The 4-Hour Chef is Tim’s “prescriptive 1-pager.” The prescriptive 1-pager is essentially a next-steps reminder for the things we want to learn or implement within a given area. For example, I’m currently studying tango:

Tango Prescriptive 1-Pager by Robin Peter Zander

I like lists. Not just for the grocery store but also of the tools and skills I need in order to master some large goal. Recently, I do lists differently. The above picture is the Tango prescriptive 1-pager I wrote up for myself upon my return from an autism outreach in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This page doesn’t cover everything there is to know about tango. It isn’t meant to. What it does is serve as a quick reminder for all of my current areas of focus. I  glance at this page before a night of dancing and choose 1-3 areas that I am going to focus on for the evening.

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Learning 12 Martial Arts in 1 Week

I recently went on a binge. I’ve never studied a martial art to speak of – surprising considering how many other sports I’ve tried. The last time I trained in something even remotely aggressive was soccer. And I quit soccer in 5th grade when the guys started using elbows.

Photo: Edward Dalmulder
(Photo: Edward Dalmulder)

Image my surprise last month in discovering sabre practice once each week resulted in my greatest productivity that week. By process of elimination I realized that it was the aggression and competition of sword play that resulted in my increased results. I began to investigate what else I might learn to supplement my physical training…

Enter the crazy. In 1 week I tried:

Clearly, I’m a bit of an odd case. I don’t recommend you learn all of these. But I thought it would be useful to describe a bit about each of my favorites.

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Parking in San Francisco is Easy (Or How to Hack Any Task)

There’s just one secret that anyone parking in San Francisco needs to know. Read the fine print first!

No Parking

I use my car to travel throughout San Francisco, a city that has twice as many cars as parking spaces. I was recently parking in the Inner Sunset – or attempting to. I circled the area six times before stopping in front of the sign that clearly read “No Stopping” with more text too small to see in the dark. It turned out that the sign was only valid until 6 PM and I parked within 30 feet of my destination. Read signs thoroughly before deciding whether to follow the directions.

But let’s also take a moment to extrapolate. So often we make things out to be difficult and then – low and behold – they are.  I was taught that a workday goes from 9 AM until 5 PM (okay, maybe 8 AM until 6 PM). For many years I worked between those hours even if that work was unnecessary. Now, I make a habit of looking for the shortcuts that other people don’t see. This doesn’t mean short shrifting. Actually, I do more than I did in years past. The difference now is that before doing those many hours of arduous work I look for shortcuts that other people might have overlooked. Whether parking in San Francisco, improving my business, or improving the life of a child with autism I find shortcuts that save time and produce better outcomes. Think before you act and find the options that other people have mistakenly assumed are against the rules. What shortcuts have you discovered that other people overlook?

Why Does Movement Matter?

When you hear “human movement” what you think of? Something kinesthetic, related to the human body in motion. This is a great beginning – and limited.

Try this exercise:

Play some music that you don’t ordinarily listen to. Play louder than you usually listen to music. Begin to jump up and down asynchronous to the music. Simultaneously, slap your right thigh with your left hand. Now add to that blinking your eyes open and closed very quickly. And finally add in reciting aloud your 13 times tables. Hard to do, right? Now a juxtaposition: lie on your back on a comfortable floor in a quiet room and see if you can, easily and gently, count your 13 times table. Is it easier to do? To do something that is challenging or to learn something new it is much easier to decrease the demand we place on the brain. This is essential to consider if working with children on the spectrum.

Movement is related to everything. Digestion is the movement of food through our body. Speech is the movement and articulation of air pressure through our vocal cords. The perception of speech is the movement of our neurons for the purposes of interpreting that air pressure. The human body breaks down and reconstructs the entire skeletal system over the course of every seven years? Neat, huh? Movement really is everywhere and everything we do. Movement is an entry into the conversation of learning. Whether we’re talking about learning to ride a bike, drive a car, interact socially, eat food, or behave in a way that society deems normal, improving movement improves learning and improves life.

My brain is constantly processing the floor, the air around me, and whatever it is that I can smell and see and hear. If I’m wearing shoes my brain has to make sense of the shoes on my feet. And standing! Standing is complicated; just think about how long it takes babies to learn! If I am lying on my back on the floor I/my brain can take more time and attention to process the feel of my back on the floor, my bottom, my legs, feet and head. Children with autism often have difficulty with their environment and sensory integration. Our brains are constantly organizing and making sense out of all of these inputs – that is a lot of work! The autistic brain is often not able to make sense of the floor, the wind, and all of the rest of these sensations that you and I take for granted. By helping these children to make sense of their own movement patterns through decreasing demand we inherently help them make sense of rest of the world, too!

Children with Autism Improve – Reports from Parents

“What is the Anat Baniel Method?”

“How does it work?”

“Does it make a difference with children with special needs?”

These are among the most common questions we hear. To begin to answer some of these we’ve compiled stories from the March 2013 Free Children’s Clinic of parents and children discussing their experience.

Option Process® Dialogue – The Practical Philosophy Tool

I spent the month of January 2013 at the Option Institute – an international learning center and home of the Autism Treatment Center of America. I am now one of 125 people in the world ever to be certified as an Option Process Mentor. I’ve brought in a friend from the Institute – someone who spent the month of January on the other side of my training program – to describe what is like to be an Explorer within the Option Process Dialogue and why this process can be life changing.

What is it like to be an Explorer in The Option Process® Dialogue?

Enter Shannon:

Being the Explorer in an Option Process Dialogue is a bit like being in the driver’s seat of a really nice car with a good friend and trusted companion in the passenger’s seat. You’re in complete control of the conversation and where it’s going. The Mentor is merely there to ask where you’d like to go next. They’re along for the ride, ready to follow you anywhere you want to take them. The most amazing part of having a Mentor as your passenger is that you can feel at ease because, with them, you’ll never get lost.

Mentor-Graduation

I’d like to share with you my experience of exploring with Robin, who I had the pleasure and privilege of Dialoguing with when he was in Mentor Training at The Option Institute.

The volunteers who were scheduled to Dialogue with our Mentor trainees would sit in a room, waiting patiently for our Mentors to arrive and whisk us away to our Dialogue room. Robin, always smiling, popped his head into the room, gave me a grin, and cheerfully led me to the room where we’d be spending the next 50 minutes talking about what was going on for me at the time.

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Splits Without Stretching – 10 volunteers to test-drive design

I’m building a program that trains the splits without stretching. The concept has come out of my own rehabilitation and return to peak performance with the Anat Baniel Method, and my practical philosophy training from the Option Institute. The idea is simple, no impact, and I want your help!

But first, some theory…

Read Anat Baniel’s recent article on the myth of stretching in the Huffington Post.

This video was recorded with a group of competitive runners. Try this 2 minute exercise yourself and you’ll be better able to touch your toes at the end.

 And now, the rules:

  • First 10 enthusiastic volunteers will
  • Work with me for 30 days
  • For less than 1 hour each day (average 30 minutes)
  • Including before and after pictures
  • Doing movement – that does not include stretching – with the end goal to have front/back splits
  • As an added bonus, these 10 volunteers get personal coaching with me – in person in San Francisco or by phone – for the duration of the 30 day program.

Want to participate? Email me at robin (at) robinpzander (dot) com.

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Running 100 Miles “Because It’s Fun”

January is the biggest month for personal trainers everywhere. February and March make up the largest number of discarded fitness goals every year! When I am continually successful within any new discipline it because I really want to act and enjoy the process. So I’ve brought in my friend Kiwi to talk about how she runs 100 mile runs “because it’s fun!”

Enter Kiwi:

Robin asked me to write a guest post about my ultramarathon runs.  So I’ll tell you about the best run I ever did, in 2008, on the Western States Trail in California.

Every June some of the most hardcore trail runners in the world complete this 100 mile trail running race starting in Squaw Valley near the Nevada border, reaching a height of 8500 ft on the mountain trails of the Sierra Nevada, traversing a series of deep canyons, usually in sweltering heat, and finishing in Auburn, California just outside Sacramento.  I’m not as tough as many of these ultra-runners, but I reckon I have more fun than most.

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Introducing “Fuse” – San Francisco’s first Fusion Performance Company

In August 2012 I met with my casual acquaintance Todd Elkin with the thought of co-founding a performance company. In September and October we danced together and met with several possible candidates to join us in founding a dance company. Since November four of us have been learning and developing Todd’s choreography. We debuted at Mission: Fusion and Shades of Blues in December 2012 in San Francisco. Enjoy!

 

Lessons Learned and Future Steps – Ushering in 2013

I ushered in the New Year on the social dance floor – until 5am. There is nowhere I would rather have been and no people I would have preferred to be with. 2012 has been the best year of my life, so far. In the last year I’ve formed more close personal relationships that I’ve ever had before, trained myself to a higher level of physical condition (and founded a dance company), been consistently more joyful in my life while doing more. My experience upon waking today was a combination of thrilled and humbled – I am profoundly grateful to be living my life. All this has me thinking about where I’ve been and what’s coming next. To start off, here’s where I was in December 2011 (this from my introductory SF Toastmasters speech)…

Four Things I’ve Learned in 2012:

1. Play to your strengths. Though I’ve had people hinting at and hitting me over the head with this idea for years I’ve just begun to apply this concept in the last few months. The best discussion of these principles I’ve seen is the book Now, Discover Your Strengths. In the simplest form, examine what you are good at and master that. Ignore or delegate the rest.

2. Attitude is Everything and Attitude is a Choice. Earlier this week, as a complete novice I tried 15 types of Ballroom Dance for the first time. You might not believe me but one of biggest fears in 2011 was social dancing! Last month when a little autistic boy adjusted himself and then pressed himself against me, I judged him, quickly got over it, and went on to make amazing progress with him. What I’ve come to see is that I’m in control. I’ve just begun my study of what I call the Attitude That Works. What I’ve learned so far has radically improved my life and I’m thrilled for more. Take aways: Act from love. Be more grateful. Accept yourself and others. Ask questions.

3. Really Good People Matter. I’ve heard it said that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. In the last year I’ve cultivated many remarkable people and I am continually in awe of each of them. I still think I have to solve some problems myself  but more and more I’m relaxing into the recognition that we are in this together. There’s no shame in developing relationships that compliment your own strengths. Be the friend, lover, spouse, family to those you want and they respond.

4. Do the work your love. In the last eight years I’ve built an amazing set of skills to help neuro-challenged kids and improve the performance of high-level athletes. I don’t start work at 9am and finish at 5pm. I never will. I don’t ever stop practicing, and I don’t ever start, because ever moment I live my practice. If you haven’t discovered something you love that will support the lifestyle you want yet, keep looking.

Two Things I’m Going Towards in 2013:

1. Business. I want more. I currently have a lot of projects underway. As my housemate said: “Give 175%. Throw it all against the wall and see what sticks. Prune from there.” I am writing a book, putting on a workshop, running a practice, building an educational product (more on this very soon!), and in my spare time performing dance and studying practical philosophy. This year I want a steady stream of clients in my private practice (an average of 40 lessons each month) and an equal portion of my income from product sales. I want to teach workshops in 2013 and put into practice the public speaking practice I’ve accumulated in 2012.

2. Humility and Gratitude. Over my life I’ve flip-flopped between bouts of depression and thrilled euphoria. Remember that scene in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? with Babyface Nelson?

Yeah…

I have days when I don’t want to get out of bed and other days that I get more done than most people do in a week. This is me. And I am slowly, slowly learning to love myself throughout. At my best I celebrate the highs and apologize when I bump into other people, on and off the dance floor. I am going to continue practicing gratitude, even for my low moments, and humility, even during my highest of highs.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me and here’s to an even better 2013!

How to Know Where You Are Going (Steve Jobs Looks Back to Connect the Dots)

This is from one of my favorite commencement addresses – by Steve Jobs at Stanford University. His dissections of his life lend a lot towards all of those – from any generation – struggling to find their next steps.

I mention this now because I’m in a conundrum. Fresh out of college I began studying with a woman brilliant at teaching a way of working with disabled children. I’ve flourished in the four years I’ve been studying and practicing the techniques I’ve learned – both in my own physical endeavors and with the adults and children with whom I’ve worked. And now I’m done. After 4 years and 75,000 hours.

When I left school I didn’t know how my passions for circus and cognition could possibly fit together. Looking at the eclectic combination of teaching, performing, and movement therapy I practice – they have come together after all. Today I don’t know how my current private practice will fit with my the book I’m writing on autism, with my dance performance company, with my interests in marketing, sales, and teaching. How do these pieces fit together?

Watching Job’s discuss his life – a life so celebrated upon his death last year – I’m reminded that I don’t have to know how I’ll connect the dots to know that they will come together. Though I don’t know where my trajectory is heading and am periodically upset and frustrated by that unknown it is fun to look at a similar problem from one else’s perspective to gain a bit of wisdom and insight as I go forward from here.

One Habit That Will Change Your Life – What Went Well

Gratitude works. What I mean by this is if you want to have a good life – be grateful. Try this short exercise: think of one thing in your life – be it a friend, an object, or an experience – that you are grateful for. Picture that thing clearly. I find it helps to write out a short paragraph. I guarantee that as you describe this thing that you are grateful for you will feel good. It is not possible to feel bad while simultaneously experiencing gratitude.

Gratitude? This holiday is about food! (Photo: Ruthanne Reid)

So here’s your homework. Three things each day that went well for ONE WEEK. That’s it. If you do this for five days you will have an amazing week. If you do this every day for the rest of your life your life will improve beyond recognition.

You might be saying: “That’s a nice idea Robin. But come on…”. In this I have clear scientific evidence to back me up. Remember last week when I was reading Marin Seligman‘s Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being?  Next time I see Marty shopping at Whole Foods I will shake his hand. He has conducted exhaustive research proving that as little as three statements of gratitude written each day substantially improve many different aspects of well-being. (Well-being, in this case, is a technical term.) And I have a couple of extra bonuses, even more exciting. One of my concerns is about building the habit. I might do an exercise for a week but who’s to say I’ll continue? Marty addresses this by discussing how a vast majority of tested subjects from universities, middle schools, and the US Army all maintain the practice of writing down statements of gratitude because doing so is extraordinarily implicitly rewarding. Best of all Marty has done the work for me of coming up with an acronym that I will never forget. WWW stands for What Went Well. Write three things that went well during your day just before you go to sleep at night. You’ll get a profoundly better outlook on life.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Books I’m Reading This November

This month I’ve been reading several amazing books. “Flourish” is the new term a world-famous happiness research is calling a set of criterion which describe a person’s well-being. Mieville continues to describe complex and beautiful worlds unlike our own, yet intriguingly similar. And Richard Branson is himself – extraordinary…

Just a few new books (Photo: Natalia Osiatynska)

On a flight from New York to San Francisco I read a fair portion of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin Seligman. This exceptional psychologist has spent more than 40 years researching behavior and emotion using everything from rats pressing levers to reforming a private British school into a Happiness University. Seligman now researches what he calls “flourishing” which consists of several factors that make up the well-being of a human. In this exceptional book he describes the development of his research and teaching at University of Pennsylvania and provides a wide variety of extraordinary tools that his readers can begin to apply immediately to improve their own lives.

Note: my favorite of these is his gratitude training exercise. Seligman has conducted extensive longitudinal research proving that as little as three statements of gratitude written per day dramatically increase positive outlook on life. What are you grateful for?

I have recently started China Mieville latest work of speculative fiction Embassytown. As always, I am amazed at Mieville’s unique capacity to draw his audience into a world recognizable and alarmingly different from our own. His landscapes are beautiful, rich, and compelling. His characters tell the story of their worlds through the narrative of their lives. Embassytown is a compelling addition to Mieville bibliography – hauntingly beautiful and more relevant to our lives than the made up world initially appears.

Another favorite this month is Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson billionaire, entrepreneur, and passionate Brit.  Branson is the founder of the Virgin group (which includes the airline Virgin America and the Virgin record label, among many others). Losing My Virginity tells the story of Branson’s life from his earliest days founding the magazine Student through the birth of the Virgin records and into the modern day. Richard Branson’s humor and fun loving spirit pervade and make this story of one man’s success fun to read and useful to learn from for all.

Hope you enjoy these!

What Will You Make of Your Life?

In 2004 I set some life goals. Among the highlights were:

  • Become a monk
  • Live (and grow) through heartbreak
  • Professional physical trainer
  • Save a life
  • Write a book

I haven’t become a monk. I haven’t raised a child though I do help others do so, professionally! I did stop that guy from jumping off that bridge. And my first book is going to be published this December. Realizing that I’ve accomplished most of the goals I’ve set for myself I decided to aim higher and get much more specific. I created the following for a Tim Ferriss competition.  I hope you enjoy:

A question that I sometimes ask myself is what would I do if I knew that I could not fail.  I don’t know that I won’t fail this time, or next time. I do know that as long as I enjoy the process each iteration is going to get better. My first book won’t be my last. And my next workshop will be even better than my last. And in the meantime, I’ll keep going!

I would love to hear from you. What are three goals that you would set for yourself if your weren’t afraid to fail? Leave a note in the comments.

Try a Radical New Idea: Celebrate Autism!

I love autism! This sentence begins my first book (an ebook to be sold via Amazon). I know it isn’t a typical idea or a normal philosophy. I’m sharing this idea because it is useful!

“Reach out to children with autism” (Photo: Arturo de Albornoz)

In the beginning, I think the notion of celebrating autism rang true for me because I’d been “poor baby”ed so many times in relation to my own injuries. People pity those affected by autism and then avoid them. The idea – in short – is that having a child with autism is terrible and there ends the conversation… with an awkward silence. I am just side-stepping the issue. It isn’t a matter of the “truth” about autism, whether it is hard or not, but of the outcome of these two different view points. Let’s look at what happens when we view autism as devastating and a disaster. As soon as we say “It is unfortunate that…” we get unhappy!  We want our neuro-typical children to keep up with their peers, excel at music or math, and graduate Harvard with honors. Why? For our satisfaction and happiness. So we can know with joy or pride that our progeny will succeed!

I choose love and joy with autism because it is more fun, more efficient (I am always for efficiency) and there are more options available. Of course, there is a lot of learning and effort necessary to care for of a special child. And as soon as autism is an opportunity we get to ask the question “How is this good?” and a whole world of opportunities open up.

Let’s take a look at how we benefit from viewing autism as an opportunity:

  • I get to learn so much about what works for me whenever I work with a child with autism. When something changes everything changes. In my life when I started new physical activity I change physiologically to match that activity very quickly. If I start swimming today, two weeks from today my body will be measurable changed to accommodate for swimming. I wasn’t always able to recognize these changes but through working with children on the spectrum have learned to watch for and appreciate all of our capacity for dramatic, dynamic change.
  • A child with autism is such an amazing way for us to see ourselves more clearly and to learn about ourselves. Autism is an amazing mirror. If I turned up frustrated, the child – lacking our social standards and relying on attitude – is going to move away from me. If I am going to be effective with a child with autism I have to turn up loving and accepting them because that’s the only way it works. In working with these children I get to practice being loving, present, and non-judgmental.
  • There are so many factors to consider: digestion, social behaviors, physical self regulating behaviors, what we can guess of their mental states. As we look at and work on any one of these factors all of these factors are affected.
  • Every child with autism is different. Additionally, a child on the spectrum can be radically different day to day. Every moment is a new experiment with what works with this new individual and their brain at this moment!
  • I can spend a couple of weeks with one child working on a specific movement pattern. Not only does that pattern become much smooth but other factors, seemingly unrelated, change too. Social behavior improves. Or digestion is impacted. What is going to change is not predictable but that there is going to be change is nearly certain. This is true for all humans but because the characteristics of autism are so pronounced and because we are all so focused on all of these characteristics in our desire to change them, the changes are very noticeable.

So try something new: celebrate autism! Why not try it?

Learn How to Overcome Discomfort (by Jumping into Ice Covered Lakes)

I’ve always gone swimming in really cold water. I’m not sure that I really enjoyed the swimming part but the thrill afterwards kept me going back for more. From an age when I was still learning how to walk I would follow my father into High Sierra snow melt.

There is one lake that I didn’t go in that I still haven’t lived down. It was completely covered in ice at 10,000 feet in June. I was – maybe – nine years old. My father jumped in. My sister went in up to her waist. I vividly remember taking off my shoes and deciding that this lake was just too much for me – while my mother spoke to me consoling from the shore.

Today I am the 0nly member of my family who jumps in naked and screaming to every body of water below 50°. Every year I go camping with my family in the Sierras and those cold water dips are a highlight of each and every day. Friends often goggle as I dip into very cold water on our first night, often well after dark. (By the end of the trip those friends have usually learned to enjoy my ice baths too!)

But all of this serves as back story to my current exploration: I have recently begun taking very cold baths in my home in San Francisco. I grew up taking baths, Japanese-style in scathingly hot water. This was my mother’s ritual every night bed and I’ve adopted it. In the last several months I have begun to add cold water to my regimen. Since I acquired an infrared sauna in February 2012 I have had less desire for long soaks in hot water. Over the summer I regularly took cold showers after exercise and sauna. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I began to elaborate on these showers by making my baths cold, as well, but I am shocked at how much I’ve come to enjoy them!

What is particularly interesting to me is the diminishing of discomfort that I experience in very cold baths. They keep getting more comfortable – almost cozy – and the transition has been remarkably quick. I’m at this moment just out of one and tingling with a warmth that I know well from my time in mountain streams. But tonight – four weeks after having started taking cold baths at least four out of every seven nights – I got out of the bath, realized I wanted more soaking, and got in again for another few minutes. Granted, I’m a bit odd for wanting ice-covered lakes and cold showers to begin with. But wanting more time soaking in middle-of-the-night very cold bath water?

My take away from this is the use and utility of looking at fear and discomfort and facing them head-on. I’m not advocating ice cold lakes or other extremes for all people. I am suggesting to take a second look at those things we fear or avoid. The discomfort lasts a very short time and the benefits of getting over that discomfort last a lifetime.

I’m often afraid of a freezing cold lake in the middle of the night and ice bath were only slightly more appealing. But I know that at the end of a long day of hiking in the mountains a cold dip feels good and that the feel after a cold shower is exquisite.

So what if I want to exercise more this month or write more? How do I change something I don’t want to do into something I look forward to doing daily? I want to know how I can apply what I’ve learned to other areas of my life: getting up early, writing 3000 words a day, running a marathon.  What did I do to learn to enjoy my ice baths?

  • Started small. I began with short showers and I built up from there.
  • No push. I didn’t take a cold shower except when I wanted to. This isn’t a thing anyone I know does or thinks they should do. The magic of the experience for me has been the increased desire to bath in freezing cold water.
  • Variation. I didn’t bath cold unless I wanted to. I still vary it up between hot and cold.

I am going to take these ideas into new areas of my life. I’d like to run a marathon so I am going to start with running a few miles just a few days a week. I’d like to write 3000 words a day. I am not going to write that much tomorrow and that’s okay! I’ll start with editing my book and beginning another blog post. Say, 800 words.

And languor for 20 minutes in a very cold bath – something I would have swore I would never do four months ago – you bet I’ll  do that!