When Did You Stop Hugging?

We are born into a world of hugs and cuddles. Even as toddlers and young children, physical contact is welcomed and expected. In spite of those conditions, many people reach adulthood with reactions to hugs ranging from either slightly uncomfortable with human touch to outright avoidance of any sort of contact. If you fall into that “discomfort” range, can you remember when you stopped hugging? I am aware of three main reasons people change their acceptance of this powerful and nurturing activity.

Trauma – Something occurred in your life where the security of touch was disrespected and you were harmed physically or emotionally because of that. Unfortunately, this is far to prevalent. This is a long, slow challenge to ever feeling comfortable with human contact once that trust is betrayed.

Another person’s opinion – Usually a parent, teacher or best friend indicates that hugging is not appropriate. I hugged and hung onto my best friend, Marx, wherever we went until I was about 14. That’s when my mother called me aside and told me guys our age didn’t do that. We shook hands. I didn’t argue with my mother, I just became very aware of any physical contact, not only with Marx, but with all males from that point forward.

Group opinion – Your peer group doesn’t identify hugging as an appropriate means of communicating. I went to college and was torn in two directions. I was a member of a fraternity where hugging was not the macho thing to do. I was also a member of the theatre department where everyone, students, instructors, department heads, all hugged. Thank goodness I spent most of my time with the theatre group.

Regardless of when and why you stopped hugging, if you have, the more important question is when do you rediscover it? There are ample opportunities today. Of course, http://www.cuddlist.com is an excellent way to be reintroduced to cuddling in a non-sexual, non-threatening, respectful way. There are “Free Hug” initiatives cropping up everywhere. And, of course, identifying friends and family who also want to rediscover hugging as a viable and much needed greeting and enjoy the rebirth of this amazing practice together.

And for those of you who have already rediscovered the joy of hugging or who have never lost it, come find me. I have unlimited hugs to share.

Are We Teaching Genuine Touch?

I have worked for 13 years at 12 different medical schools as a standardized patient. This entails portraying a patient and going through an interview and exam and giving feedback at the end of the encounter. In many encounters, there is an opportunity to offer comfort to the patient – their father dying young, their mother dying last month, a fear they may have cancer, being fearful in a home environment.

It always amazes me, that when these opportunities are presented to a student, they will often reach over and take my hand or pat my knee or put a hand on my shoulder. In many instances, this contact feels forced, artificial and uncomfortable for both of us. In the rare instance where it is a true expression of one human letting another human know they are not alone, the emotions overflow and the result is liberating.

So why is touch so hard for these future doctors? So much of their training in touch is very specific. To feel the heartbeat at a specific location, your fingers must be on the left side of the sternum between these two ribs. Press on the abdomen in four areas divided by an imaginary line drawn horizontally and vertically through the belly button. The specificity of these touches is necessary.

The issue is that many students approach empathetic touch from the same left-brained perspective. When someone looks sad when they say something, put your hand on the top of their knee and pat it three times. In defense, in a world where doctors work under constant, potential risk of malpractice and sexual abuse accusations, “no touch” is often a safer choice – and that may be policies established at some locations.

I’m not advocating that medical clinics and hospitals change their policies. I do firmly believe that some classwork involving breaking down the fear of emotionally based human contact is important. Medical students quickly overcome their fear of touching other people when it comes to any contact necessary to carry out physical exams. Shouldn’t we be addressing the other half of the equation at the same time?

I believe we should. I’m not sure how, but I have some ideas. Designated “hug” times before and after big exams (which, BTW is all the time in medical school). Establishing hugging as a very acceptable way of greeting classmates, and yes, even teachers. Teaching workshops and standardized patient encounters that focus exclusively on emotional touch for an objective.

It’s a challenging world out there. Let’s reexamine the teaching of genuine touch as a tool for facing the world with the emotional support we all need.

The Comfort of a Knee

The latest in my quest to be a significant part of leaving the world a better place than I originally found it (and that seems harder every day) has lead me to the world of the cuddliest – a person who cuddles for a living. It seems like a natural “next step” in my world of communication and contact.

A cuddle session does not have to be a full clinch hug or a spoon. It could be holding hands. It could be eye gazing. It could be sitting back to back and singing songs together. I am blessed that I can offer some coaching and Reiki healing during the session, but all of out cuddlists bring additional skills to the table. I love singing. My idea cuddle would be lying with my head in someone’s lap as they sang to me.

Cuddles can happen outside or inside. On a futon, couch or floor. Beds are generally avoided because that implies something that cuddlism (?) IS NOT. It IS NOT sexual. It is platonic. People are touch deprived. Touch is a basic biological need and a cuddlist provides it. What a great job, huh?

So, back to the knee thing. Last month I was part of the board exams for a dental school. This is a very long and uncomfortable process of having your teeth and gums  prodded twice to make sure your teeth are horrible enough to offer the students a challenge, followed by the deepest cleaning you’ll every experience (it’s for their grade, after all) and ending with three more people prodding away.

During this ordeal, I tried humming to myself (remember, I like music), meditating, going over my to-do list and reciting the four verses I remember of The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner over and over and over to try to mentally get away from the excavation that was going on in my mouth.

None of it worked.

Then I realized that my shoulder was touching the knee of whoever was wielding the instruments of doom. I felt the human comfort coming through that three square inches of contact. It wasn’t even intentional contact, but I knew someone was there. The world went away and when contact was broken, and the world came back, I was surprised to find out the procedure was done.

This comfort continued with each of the three post-procedure inspectors.

This is real and powerful stuff. It’s healing and comforting and renewing.

So, I’m now a cuddlist and that is why. When you see me around, make sure you get your free hug. But, you know, I have been doing that for years. Now I’m certified.

Happy New Year!

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Today is the first day of your New Year. No, I’m not looking at some distorted Mayan calendar. That ended along with the end of the world last year. I am looking at a calendar that I utilize with my clients every year, in preparation for making plans and resolutions for the new year.

Part of the failure of New Year’s resolutions is we tie them to one single day (January 1) beginning at a very specific time (at midnight). There is a tremendous pressure to, literally, change your life overnight. This pressure is why resolutions and new year’s plans are notoriously destined for failure. All success and failure hinges on a specific point in time. What if you don’t feel well on January 1st (many of us don’t)? What if there are unforeseen circumstances that delay the start of your plan? There is no wiggle room in the traditional resolution format.

It has been scientifically proven that it takes a minimum of 21 days to establish a habit (based on the number of days it took for people to get used to amputations and nose jobs), so I guide my clients through a four-week program (I give you seven extra days as a buffer to insure the habit is completely ingrained in your life). By January 1, the plan is solidly in place, debugged, adjusted and fully realized at a time when others are just starting with a list of resolutions.

There is a method I put my clients through.

Week 1 (Always Dec 3 – Dec 10) – Formulation of the plan, resolution or life change. Yes, you have a week. The more complete and detailed the strategy, the better chance of success. I use meditation, vision boards, writing post dated letters to yourself and a lot of creative digging to get the clearest, most creative image of what the change will look like.

Week 2 (Always Dec 10 – Dec 17) – Test run the plan. That means join that gym, go on that diet (before the Christmas parties? – trust me, get through the most tempting season and you will have no problems the rest of the year), start that new business policy (it’s usually an excellent time of year to do this, unless you are in retail) or start that new budget (can avoid overspending during the holiday period).

Week 3 (Always Dec 17 – 24) – Celebrate the week’s successes and make adjustment to elements that didn’t work. This is your chance to polish and fine tune your vision. The typical New Year’s resolution is an “all or nothing” situation. There isn’t a time to Beta test it. There is a subconscious “pass-fail” atmosphere that kills the momentum and motivation if we cheat on the diet or miss a day at the gym. This gives you a week to consider a different type of exercise or a different diet. Maybe exercising 5 days a week is not realistic. It’s all right to implement a plan B (or C or D or E – you have a week to experiment).

Week 4 (Always Dec 25 – Dec 31) – A nice, quiet week to implement the new and improved vision. Even with the modifications, by January 1, your “resolution” is a habit. Rather than missing a day at the gym you have an opportunity to design a less strenuous or less frequent exercise regime involving fewer days each week or different types of exercise. Rather than cheating on your diet, you can decide to put in an “eat what you want” day. You are the designer and the manager of this new event in your life. Make it challenging, but obtainable. The only way to know what works for you is to live it for a week and then give yourself the freedom to tweak it.

Then at midnight on December 31, sing Auld Lang Syne and lift a glass on bubbly to toast your success, standing side by side with a crowd of people who are  dreading their resolutions that start in a few hours.

Happy holiday season!

The Power of Failure

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OMG! Is he serious!

We live in a world of motivation, entrepreneurship, competing and, definitely, winning. Negative thoughts are discouraged. The law of attraction is our daily mantra. Even using words like “losing”, “failure” and  “underperformance” generate negative feelings and emotions, and, many believe, attract those elements into our lives.

FAILURE, FAILURE, FAILURE. There. I’ve said it and I await the wrath of the gods.

So why do I design team building workshops with a strong possibility of failure? Why do I get ecstatic when groups struggle and fall apart during an event? Why are the losers more important to me than the winners?

Simple.

As much as we would like our reality to be that we never lose, fail or underperform at anything, the world just doesn’t work like that. In a team building workshop, it truly is “not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game”.  The greatest lessons in leadership and team cohesiveness occur when things are not going well. Does the team realize the need to change directions? Does the designated leader understand when to admit that there is a need to shift strategies? Is the leader courageous enough to admit mistakes? Will the team work in order to shift direction fluidly and without judgment of feelings of regret?

This is where failure can be empowering. Benefiting from failure is a three step process.

First, spot the error and let it go. Don’t let pride, embarrassment or fear of appearing weak make you hang on to the original plan too long. Admit quickly when a strategy is not working and change it immediately.

Second, start from NOW. No regrets. No recriminations. No Monday morning quarterbacking. You’re not looking backwards, only forwards. There is no way to go back and redo the past, so visiting there is a waste of time. From the moment the error is admitted, it’s a whole new game. Start from NOW.

And finally, be prepared to fail again. Many times when a company or individual goes through the failure-regroup process, they relax into the new strategy and assume it is going to work. Having failed before, they are usually hesitant to go back to that painful place of admitting failure again. If there is a second failure, believe it or not, a group is even less likely to admit it the second time.

So whether in business or personal pursuits, embrace the power of failure. Embrace it briefly, and then make the moves necessary to move away from it. Just as in poker, fold often and fold early. The next shuffle may just give you that royal flush.

 

 

 

End of Month Blues

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It’s very common for people to have a many items left on their “to-do” list at the end of the month – actions that just didn’t get completed as they had planned. Transferring those things to the next month can feel like an admission of failure. The truth of the matter is that these leftover actions are usually part of a project that is expected to go for several months. My catch phrase has always been “change your perspective and change your world”. Here is my solution to the end of month feeling of failure.

First of all, any project that will span several months should not be on a “to-do” list, but on a “project” list. The only items which should be on the “to-do” list are the actions which can be completed in a day or week, depending on how you plan your life. This way at the end of the month, your “to-do” list is completely checked off. Success! Nothing to transfer over at the end of the month. At the beginning of the next month (as you will do every day or week), you just go to your “project” list and fill  in your “to-do” list with the action items you plan to complete for the day or week.

The feeling of emptying a “to-do” list at the end of the day, week or month is one of accomplishment, control and satisfaction. Not a bad way to end the month

Take Partial Control

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God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

Most of us have all heard or read The Serenity Prayer many times in our life. I believe wholeheartedly in the logic and sentiment expressed in these very concise and powerful words. Where I take issue with this prayer is the black and white nature of this request.

People tend to divide aspects of their lives into two categories – things they can control and things others control. When we are in control, the resulting feelings are serenity, happiness, accomplishment and improved self-esteem. When we are out of control, usually synonymous with another person or organization dictating what we must do, the results are that we either give up and take on the role of the victim or lash out and exert a great deal of anger and negative energy. These “controllers” can be family members needing care, society that doesn’t understand or approve of our choices, our inside voice that tells us it’s not all right to take care of our needs or old school management who doesn’t believe in innovative approaches.

What I propose is seeking  out areas where you feel out of control and explore the possibility of sneaking in control. Do you really need to answer that person’s call right now or call them right back? Do you have to do the task another person has asked you to do immediately? Is is all right to explain that you can’t give someone a ride home because you are going the other direction?

I am not advocating revolution or outright aggression, but many times our knee-jerk  reaction to requests and demands is to do them without thinking or analyzing. We phrase our explanations to other people using the words “have to” and “need to”, not “want to”. I am advocating assertiveness, and a little bit  of manipulation. Take a moment to look at any “have to’s” or “need to’s” and see if you are making them a priority because you’ve always made them a priority. Its a bad habit to fall into. On closer inspection, you may discover that you have partial control over when you fulfill these obligations or if you fulfill them at all.

The other,  more insidious, aspect of this process is to continue to  allow someone else to control things in order to build up their confidence in your loyalty to them, all the while making small changes to be implemented later on to regain your control.These small changes can range from seeking out ways to delegate some of the work, to beginning a new job search, to suggesting small procedural adjustments to the “controller”. All this may mean “playing along’ for a while; however, keep your eye on the ultimate goal and it will make the waiting period more acceptable.

When I work with clients to balance home and work life, this is one of the first steps we tackle in our coaching session. In less than an hour, it is possible to redefine the areas of your life so that you have, at least, a bit of control over all of them. Changing your perspective can change your life.

Life Purpose vs. Duty

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I teach a workshop on “Finding Your Life Purpose”. In this workshop, I start by asking people to identify the values that direct their life and rate each value in terms of how important they are in their life. I then ask them to rate the same values in terms of how well they honor them in their life. In every case where a value is ranked high in importance, but low in fulfillment, there is a common reason. Duty. Duty [doo-tee, dy00], noun, plural duties (even more stifling) – something that one is expected or required to do, moral or legal obligation.

I work a lot with caregivers – professional and family. This group has a high level of guilt when they do anything for themselves. My message to them (and to you, if you are structuring your life around someone else’s desires or needs) is that you can only be the best for them when you are the best for you. The first patient (or master) is you.

Synchronistically, as I’m writing this, Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” shuffled onto my Pandora station. I think it is a sign I should end of my workshop from now with this anthem. The lyrics say it all. “It’s my life. It’s now or never. I ain’t gonna live forever. I just want to live while I’m alive.” and it goes on.

This is where you say, “Yeah, easy to say. Hard to do”. True. The process of starting to live life purpose guided by values instead of duties is bigger than my three hour workshop. I assign accountability partners who are requested to stay in touch for at least 6 months of weekly checkins. The secret is to attempt to do something every day that honors your values and find a way, at least once a week to take control of your duties. This means deciding if you are going to take a phone call when the phone rings (duty) or call back at your convenience (control). Will you go to that party that you should go to (duty) or decline to go in order to do something you really want to do (control)?

On this day before Thanksgiving, I urge each of you to be thankful for all you do for YOU. If you are not living your life purpose right now, my wish for you in this holiday season is that you discover your true life purpose and nurture it to it’s fullest potential in the new year.

 

Skip the Rules

My entire business is finding a game angle for resolving life and business issues. Whether it is working with an individual client or a corporate team building program, I have found that people respond to games on a very basic level. There is something about games that touch something in all of us. We like to take that journey back 10, 20,30 or more years, for some of us, to the days when our play was our work. There is a motto that guides me when coaching companies or individuals. Skip the rules.

Chaos is disturbing. Change is disruptive. Novelty is frightening. Why? Because, in these situations, it is impossible to feel anchored. People are often overwhelmed by the massive number of new rules they are going to have to synthesize before they feel at ease. And we have to feel at ease to accept the possibility of growing. Fear of failure is a very powerful demon and this fear is rooted in anxiety over making a misstep. To0 much time focusing on learning the rules both stifles creativity and heightens anxiety.

There was a study done where people were handed  an unfamiliar board game and were asked to play it. Their excitement level was measured – heart rate, respiration, etc. – throughout the process. The highest excitement level documented was when they were first given the box. The lowest excitement level documented was the reading of the rules. There is no way to play the game without understanding the rules. So the challenge is to get the rules out without the drudgery of having to sit and absorb them.

So, here is the way I guide individuals and companies through this boring step. Get on your feet. The new situation, whether it is a new job, a new relationship, a new entrepreneurial  endeavor, a new company policy or an entire company restructuring, can best be accepted, if people are given the opportunity to find their own ways of getting to the desired objectives. And, who knows? They just might find a better way of arriving at the same objective than had been originally imagined.

Role play works well. If anything doesn’t work in their “rule choices”, letting them know in a fun way (clicker, bell, whistle) allows them to make a new choice on the spot. Make “wrong choices” fun, non judgmental and rewarding. I’ve taught entire CPR classes this way. No manuals. No videos. Just a group of people stumbling through an emergency situation with a manikin. And every one of them passed the exam and learned and retained more from “killing” the manikin and themselves several times in the process than if I’d bored them with a video and lecture format.

So, skip the rules. Tap into the highest excitement that exists with a new situation and go straight to “playing the game”. You will see dramatic results in engagement and commitment to their new world.

 

 

 

 

 

You Made Me a Mixtape

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It has been a very rewarding and inspirational week. I was introduced to a documentary called “Alive Inside” (available on Netflix) and today was sent a link to The Jewish Standard. Both of these sources demonstrate the power of music on breaking through the fog of Alzheimer’s and dementia. In both instances, the introduction of music to an previously non communicative individual has dramatic results.

I posted an earlier blog on how rich the memories of holidays can be. During the holiday season, the veil often gets lowered and you may see a spark of past normalcy in your loved one’s behavior and communication skills. And that is great – if only the holidays lasted all year.

This is where music comes in. It can be present all year. Christmas carols can be a part of your loved one’s daily soundscape. Why not? if it gives them the opportunity to return to a happier, more connected time, then it makes life easier for you, and more alive for them.

But, what if Christmas music is not the key? How can you make a mix tape that could open the door? If your loved one is able to communicate, simply ask them if they have any favorite songs. Once you know a few of their favorite songs, you can get a feel for the type of music they enjoy and, from there, a simple web search for the top hits of a genre or of a time period should give you hundreds of possibilities to create a mixtape (or iPod mix or Spotify station or disc drive) for them. That soundscape has the possibility to illicit memories that can result in renewed connections.

What if your loved one cannot communicate their favorite song? Then, start with a mix of all genres and time periods – popular songs from their adolescence, gospel, jazz – traditional or Dixieland, opera, classical, country, blues, show tunes, holiday songs. Introduce the music source to your loved one. Listen to the music together (a cheap splitter can let you share the music over two headphones) and watch for renewed connections. Whenever I mention “renewed connections”, I am talking about the smallest change in what is their normal behavior – a smile, tapping a foot, moving a hand to the beat. These small changes are huge leaps for someone who lives in an isolated world. Their small reactions will reveal the choices on the initial mix tape that connect to them emotionally. Now, with those observations, you can take the selections to which they most strongly responded and expand that genre to fill an entire mixtape.

This is life changing work. So for Christmas this year, give your loved one the gift of music. It truly is the gift that will keep on giving.

Happiest of holidays to you and yours.