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?

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.

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.

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!

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?

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!

Sweaty and Frustrated – Shortcuts to happiness

As I write this I am covered in sweat having spent the last hour pushing a 600 pound motorcycle up San Francisco “hills.”

This is my angry face! Photo courtesy of college classmate and tanguero William Henner.

Had I stopped–paused for just a moment–and considered why the bike wasn’t starting up I would have realized that I had forgotten to turn the fuel valve back on. No gas, no engine. Instead of taking that moment to reflect I pushed 600 pounds of steel up a steep hill, rode it down and it died at the bottom every time. I was dead set on fixing the problem now (or maybe just getting home and taking a shower) that I didn’t take the moment I would need it to recognize my error.

So what could I have done differently? Things turned out okay: I’m home, safe, sweaty and the bike is fine. And I could have saved myself a lot of effort! But how–in those moments of stress–could I have done it differently?

Call a friend
I could have called a friend. I have a few people in my life who would have gotten really upset that I was having so much trouble. The owner of the bike. My mother. But most people would ask me a few questions starting with “What’s going on?” and “Why are you upset.” A calm voice in the background would’ve been enough for me to reconsider my situation.

Ask a question
I could have asked myself a question. Just like those in the previous paragraph asking “what,” followed by “why” would have led quite quickly to (at least) a distraction from the current situation and (at best) happiness and calm leading to a quick resolution.

Change the channel
I could have stopped. Just that. Stopped, taken off my sweating gear, walked around the block and then come back. What was I pushing the bike uphill for anyway? So that I could get home, take off the gear, and take a shower! Why not do that first and then reconsider the situation?

I didn’t because I was regarding the sweaty motorcycle situation as urgent. If I were on a train track with the train bearing down on me I would not have time to call a friend, ask a question or change the topic. I would need to act! Now! I was treating this motorcycle stall as a life-and-death situation, one that I needed to resolve immediately. But why? This is a motorcycle, stalled on a quiet road with plenty of parking and walking distance from my house. I could leave it for days! I was treating it as a life-and-death situation because that is how I know to handle what I label as “important” situations. Like the old adage “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a jail” one of the tools in my belt is the idea that important situations should be solved now! In my childhood there was often a feel of urgency. Our culture, too, that doesn’t teach that slow and gentle are the best ways to handle the unexpected. It was assumed that I would be nervous when I was taking AP exams. I was taught in college that stress is good for you. More recently I have found many ways in which this is untrue. I learn movement best by going slowly and with great care. As a result I love learning and learn very quickly. And in some places – like with the motorcycle today – I treat the important with urgency and upset.

As a take away for this whole affair, I have a couple of new skills. Next time my bike stalls I’ll recognize my own freak–out, call a friend, ask a question, or take a break. I live, I learn and I keep improving. And you can be damn sure that I won’t leave the fuel valve off again!

I would love to hear from you: what is the situation (the more specific the better) where you freak out and what are some tools you use to calm and learn yourself out of the situation?

Stimulus Belief Response (or How to Be Happy at a Funeral)

We’re upset when someone we love dies. Why?

I wrote the following in preparation for a speech I gave on the usefulness of choosing beliefs. This is philosophical approach I subscribe to because I find it useful and I’ve often been surprised with how violently people respond when I put it into action! I’m not endorsing being happy all the time (though that is an option). I think we get to decide all the time how we want to feel.

While you read this consider: how would your peers respond if you weren’t upset at a funeral?

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

This quote is from Viktor Frankl, a medical doctor and psychiatrist who survived the holocaust by keeping his spirits up. He regularly gave speeches in front of imaginary audiences as a way to validate his own importance!

 

What is a stimulus?  A stimulus is anything, in our environment, internal, external, person, place, thing that we are aware of, react to, interact with.  Our response: how we respond to that stimulus.

 

I find it useful to believe that in between a stimulus and our response there is a space, and in that space is a belief.  We form beliefs and change beliefs all the time.  Raise your hand if you have believed in an imaginary figure?  In Santa Claus, in elves, in fairies, in the Easter Bunny?  How many of you believe in those today?  Everyone here has believed in an imaginary figure and nearly everyone no longer does.  We change our beliefs!  Where do they exist?  If you cut me open you don’t find beliefs floating around inside of me!  Beliefs are make-believe anyway.

 

If I come up to a beautifully dressed woman and say “you are a terrible dresser” she might take offense!  If I come up to a man who appears to have brown hair and say “I can’t stand your bright pink hair,” is he more likely to be confused or angry?  What determines these responses?

 

I think that it is a belief that they hold about themselves.  This woman might be dressing up because she cares about her appearance.  She comes to a speaking club and want to look good?  She is perhaps believing that it is important that she looks good.  So if I say that she has bad taste, and she reacts, she is reacting to her own beliefs about her appearance.  However, he believes with some certainty that he doesn’t have pink hair.  There’s nothing in my statement of pink hair that lands on him.  He doesn’t judge himself as a pink-haired individual.

 

If we lived in a stimulus – response world everyone would react to the same stimulus in exactly the same way.  If I tell everyone in the room that “I love you!” everyone would experience the same feelings and respond in the same way.  My experience is that if I tell two people the same thing I am more than likely going to get two very different responses.

 

We make up beliefs moment, by moment by moment.  The job of the brain is to make sense of our environment, to make sense of the world that we live in.  We do that through the creation – moment by moment – of beliefs.  And these made-up beliefs affect every aspect of what we perceive and what we respond to.  And this is great news!  This means that we are not bound to our responses.  We are not determined – fatalistically – to respond forever in the same way.  We have seen that we have all changed beliefs at some point in our lives.  Given different information, different evidence we change beliefs all the time!

 

Feeling whatever we experience: responding with anger, with sadness, with frustration, with joy.  These are choices based on how we view the world.  Based on specific belief.  “Santa Claus isn’t real?”  “You are very poor dresser.”  “I love you!”  How we respond is based on the beliefs we hold.  By examining our beliefs we can change our responses and change our life!

 

Viktor Frankl celebrated the space between stimulus and response.  I find it useful to identify that space as a belief.  Frankl survived the holocaust by internally validating himself, by making believe that he was talking in front of imaginary audiences of thousands.  He survived to go on to do so!  Frankl survived the holocaust by creating inside himself a feeling of importance. How might we examine our beliefs, change them – if we want to – and thereby fundamentally change our responses, and improve our lives?

Reflections on “Suggestible” (Ditch skepticism, curiousity is more useful)

I had a conversation after Toastmasters this evening which had me thinking about the usefulness of persuasion and the power of positive thinking. As an academic I was taught to be skeptical. Skepticism was regarded the highest courtesy among my scientific peers. Tonight, after giving a speech which I intended to my audience to try out a service I was offering, my companion expressed nervousness over being inaccurately led to overcome pain or limitation. In this post I’m going to try to tackle this concern from two perspectives: from the “being misled” skeptic’s mentality and from a perspective of potential usefulness.

I certainly understand and share hesitation over a hard sell. When someone approaches me with a “purchase, or else” mentality I routinely take the “or else” option, sometimes even though I might have otherwise been interested. In this situation, though, we were talking about the potential for the free 3-4 minute movement lesson I taught to create false freedom from pain or inaccurate perception of increased mobility. I had fun exploring, fleshing out, and verbalizing my opinions on the subject. I hope this is useful to you, too!

The lesson I taught went as follows:

Please close your eyes. And notice how you are sitting in the chain right now. Notice the contact of your pelvis on the right side and on the left side. Notice where your spine is. Are you leaning into the chair, are you forward in your seat. Notice your head. If your eyes were opened would you be looking at the wall in front of you, at the floor below you, or at the ceiling above you. And place your left hand, specifically the top of your left hand, underneath your chin and support – just a little bit – the weight of your head with your left hand. And turn, slowly, using your left shoulder and your left arm, turn your head and your shoulder and twist in your spine a little bit, to look to the right. And then come back to the middle. And do this once more attending now to your pelvis in the chair, attending to your feet on the floor. What can you do, what can you twist, want can you turn, to make this movement so that it is not a turning sharply in your neck but a gentle easy twist through the whole length of your spine. And then come back to the middle. And we’ll do this just once more, this time take your eyes in the opposite direction. So as you twist to the right you’re going to take your eyes slowly and gentle to the left. Maybe think about following something, maybe a gecko, walk on the wall opposite you. So as you twist to the right you are watching this gecko walk slowly to the left, just a little bit! And then the gecko walks slowly back to the middle as you turn your head, and your chest, and your left arm to the middle. And then stop this. And let down your left arm. And rest in sitting, with your eyes closed still. And again notice the ease, the feeling you have in yourself. Do you feel easier in sitting now? Are you more aware of the contact of your spine with the back of the chair? The contact of your feet with the floor. The left side of your pelvis and the right side of your pelvis.

This is a directive movement lesson. I wanted participants to experience greater ease after the lesson is over. I invite them to feel more comfortable, more relaxed. My friend tonight was nervous though that she would experience these changes “inaccurately.”

If I were in a Spanish class and was told that my instructor wanted me to notice the difference between the sound of the word “ser” and the word “estar” that would be perfectly natural. My instructor is giving me two words which both mean “to be” and helping me to puzzle out the difference between these new sounds. However, if I am in an environment anywhere where someone is trying to persuade me of something, the instructor or salesperson wanting for me to create distinctions is what…? At least a reason for caution, often a reason to run for the hills. Why is this?

Back to my example of the evening. I asked participants to notice if they felt more easy, with the assumption that that was one of the possible outcomes. Why? Because when we are quiet, easy, and comfortable in ourselves our brains are primed for learning. We are literally more receptive. What this means is that neural pathways in the brain are more ready to spring into action, often in new and more efficient ways. My friend was skeptical that by my suggestion she might feel more comfortable. In academia I was taught that this might be a bad thing and that was what she believed. So in our conversation I explored this further. Say she feels more relaxed because I suggested it. She learns more because I said it was a possibility. Afterward she either leaves, goes home, and forgets all about it or (much more common among people I have worked with) she continues to experience small shifts, gets curious about them, and they magnify to become profound changes. I then took my extrapolation to athletes. An athlete is in pain, does some gentle movement, imagines that she feels easier, and thus learns to experience greater ease more often until she finally overcomes her injury. Or take a child with Autism. This child is – of course – suggestible. I can invite the child towards what I want: great communication and connect with his family and peers. By my belief and suggestion that such connection is valuable comes his interest in going towards such interactions. In my conversation tonight I then came back to myself. Five years ago I dislocated a vertebra in training for the circus. Medically speaking, I broke my neck. I haven’t been in pain in several years and have gone back to gymnastics in 2012. That said, am I suggestible towards pain? Yes! It would probably take me 10 minutes to put myself in an intense level of pain similar to what I experienced five years ago and I am sure I could do it. If I sat in a room with someone who told me to imagine my vertebra out of place and pain radiating down my spine, and if I did as this instructor suggested, I would end up hurting and probably remain in pain for several days thereafter. I am absolutely suggestible.

I understand my friend’s skepticism from the beginning of our conversation. I was trained to think that way, too. I do believe that profound curiosity is essential to the scientific process and skepticism is often used to reach a similar perspective. And I had delicious fun fleshing out my new beliefs about suggestibility tonight. I am absolutely suggestible. To a Spanish teacher helping me puzzle out the difference between two new words, for a child with Autism or a professional athlete, towards or away from anything that I want in my life I am suggestible and want to remain so! I have freedom from pain, enormous pleasure in my work and in my personal pursuits, and find myself happier ever day than ever before. I find deciding I’m going to live that way and persuading myself along the way to be the best route there is!

How Much Evidence Do You Need

One day some months ago, in the middle of a very intense segment, Anat asked my class: “How much evidence do you need to know that something is so?”  Today, a number of events have conspired to encourage me to consider these words.

This afternoon I posted a New York Times article @robinpzander on the effects of tai chi on fibromyalgia.  The research article discussed in the Times was published in the New England Journal of Medicine – a rather prestigious journal – and the Times enthusiastically discussed the findings.  I have only dabbled in tai chi (specifically tai chi chuan) but have enormous respect for the form(s) and it comes as no surprise to me that medical professionals found positive effects on the little-understood neurological degenerative condition or conditions that we call fibromyalgia.  Tai chi consists of a series of interconnected movements executed slowly with attention.  Sound familiar?  That’s two basic precepts of human motor learning:

  1. Movement with attention
  2. Slow

While there may well be aspects specific to tai chi that improve nervous system functioning, I need no further proof than these underlying precepts to satisfy my personal search for knowledge.

Later today I shared the Times article with my mother.  My mother’s is the voice in my head that asks, when I’m confronting a difficult decision, how does it feel?  (Good?  Go for it!  Bad!  Leave.)  She was a bit dismayed that so much time, energy, and money was put in to creating a scientific article that says something that is (for her) self-evident.  Of course moving gently with attention improves functioning.  What of it?

That said, she has been repeatedly surprised by the impact of her current favorite form of movement: a very specific restorative yoga class.  Her recent report was that she slept very deeply for a full night for the first time in several months.  When I asked what happened in class I heard an increasingly familiar set of words: gentle, slow, attention, movement.

A dear friend recently had a routine check-up with her physician.  One of her major on-going projects has been eating foods that are gentle on her system.  In stressful times she always falls back on broths, soups, and easily digested ingredients.  I have not known many people so dedicated to their slow road to recovery as my friend, but as she says – she must, therefore she does.  In this case, she was discussing her status with her doctor and feeling a little overwhelmed by the current stumbling blocks.  His response (reproduced to the best of my ability) was: “There is no method or organization, person or process that can tell you what to do.  You have to feel what is right for you and do that.”  He elaborated by saying that there is no such thing as trying.  “Don’t ask ‘how can I eat better?’ Ask ‘what am I going to eat today?'”

First, I’m in awe of any Medical Doctor with such comprehensive and holistic knowledge.  I know they exist but I certainly haven’t encountered many in my own experience at Kaiser Permanente.  After I got over that initial response, I heard the underlying message: How does it feel?  This medically trained professional is well-published and (as I understand such things) well-respected within nutritional medicine but he is not asking my friend to follow a specific regime.  Instead, she has been given the power and responsibility to follow her own intuition or thinking or common sense or whatever we want to call it.

I foresee a hosts of arguments again the question of How Much Evidence Do You Need.  I have studied enough Cognitive Psychology to know that humans are often very poor decision makers (Thank You, Dan Reisberg.) On the other hand, I’ve had enough experiences of not stopping to think before acting to see some strong correlations between how something feels during or afterward.  (Those 4 donuts at a friend’s 14th birthday party…? I haven’t eaten a donut since, I felt so ill.  Hiked up the mountain as it was getting dark…?  Covered in poison oak, cold, and lost on the mountain.)

This is my first approximation putting down in words what for me is just a feeling or an idea.  But consider: How do you decide whether to take a shortcut through a dark ally?  How do you feel?  If you feel unsafe, that’s all the evidence you’ll ever need to not go down that ally.  I’m not interested in dismissing hard scientific proof.  I’m just curious what would happen if we were to ask ourselves the question:

How much evidence do you need to know that something is so?

(And how do you feel about it?)