My friend Laura Steward Atchison used to be a computer consultant. After successfully selling her business, Laura started looking at her own success. One of the things she realized is that she had worked hard at asking the right questions.
Her new book – What Would a Wise Woman Do? Questions to Ask Along the Way – focuses entirely on this concept. She begins with a discussion of how we tend to lead our lives on autopilot. This is a very powerful concept. If you get up every day and do what you did yesterday, you will tend to assume you know the right questions to ask, so you’ll put your energy on the answers.
Too many folks focus on the “answers” instead of the “questions” in life.
Laura argues that you should step back and ask yourself whether you started with the right question first. Asking different questions will necessarily lead to different answers.
This book is a great “starter” for quiet time and meditation. One of the great “starter questions” Laura asks is: “What questions am I asking myself that got me to this place?” She encourages us to use this to examine the path we’re on.
After all, if we’re not happy with our choices, we could make different choices. But more importantly, we need to realize that those choices are answers to questions. So examining the question might lead us to a completely different set of choices.
This is really a powerful point. Different answers to the same question can only have so much variation. But answers to different questions could be dramatically different from the options we’ve put in front of ourselves so far.
This excellent book discovers questions about relationships, business, personal crises, money, faith, and a lot more. If you’re interested in beginning a new kind of journey of self-examination, this is a good place to start.
Here is a quick interview I did with Laura right as she was releasing the book. I caught up with her at a technology event in Florida.
Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.
One of the exercises I go through with people during my seminars is to think back five years or ten years. Let’s pick a nice round number, like 2005. That’s seven, almost eight years ago.
Where did you live?
Was it the same house?
Did you drive a different car?
Did you go to work at a different place?
Did you hang out with different friends?
Has your personal (love) relationship changed?
How old were your kids? What grade?
What was your biggest spare-time activity?
What was your favorite TV Show? Song?
What kind of phone did you have?
Did you have pets? The same pets as today?
Did you go to the same religious services?
What was your favorite restaurant?
Where did you go on vacation?
Please take a minute and really think about that. It is completely possible for everything in your life to be different in the next seven years. Everything. You could live in a different place, work at a different office, drive a different car, have different friends, be in a different relationship, etc.
Some things just will change no matter what you do. You’ll be seven years older. Your children will be seven years older. You know you won’t have the same phone or computer! You’ll probably have different pets, a different car, different hobbies, and vacation in a different place.
The lesson is: Lots of change is going to happen in a very short period of time.
And the important thing is, most of that change will take place whether you LET it happen or MAKE it happen. Your intentions have a huge role to play in creating your new future. You can plan almost everything on that list. Your age . . . well that’s just going to be what it’s going to be. But your car, your house, your friends, your hobbies. Those are all within your control.
Here’s an exercise I went through recently in my morning Quiet Time. I had been pondering what my life used to be like. A little nostalgia maybe. And I started wondering about the things that used to be important but simply aren’t important any more. Some of these actually fall into the category of “facts” that used to be true are not true today.
So try this exercise in three parts. To be fair to yourself, you might dedicate three days of Quiet Time to this.
First, make a list of things you believed to be true five years ago. This doesn’t have to be profound. A good way to get started is to think about your day. Look back on your former life. You wake up in your bed and begin your day. Maybe you make coffee, chat with your spouse, get the kids up for school. Whatever it is, write down the things that were true then.
Five years ago my daughter was 15. She didn’t have a drivers license. She was in high school. My house was worth a LOT of money. My monthly income was $_____. My yard was beautiful but a lot of work. I enjoyed my patios almost every day. I had written three books with great difficulty and my speaking business was just starting.
All of those things were true. I believed my house was important. My marriage was important. My daughter’s high school and driving and graduation were things I thought about every day. In my head were many “truths” about who I was, what my life was like, and where the world was going.
I defined myself as a computer consultant. I was also an author and speaker, but those were secondary.
Second, make a list of things you believe today. Maybe the same technique will work. For me, it’s now true that I don’t need to own a house. I don’t need a big stock portfolio. I can write books non-stop (as long as I sit my butt down and write). My daughter is still the center of my life, now 20 and moved out.
My marriage ended quite suddenly. My truth around that today involves accepting that I can be happy without that marriage. That didn’t used to be true. Now it is.
Today I define myself as an author and speaker. I am also a computer consultant, but that is secondary.
Finally, make a list of things you might believe five years from now. Will you believe you’re five years closer to retirement? What will you believe about your self-image, your career, your relationships, and your children?
What will you believe about your money and your success? What will you believe about what you “need” in life to be happy? What will be important to you? What will you care about? What will you believe about friends and family?
Remember, today is simply what “is” at this moment. Truth – reality – will be different in the future. And just like everything else, you can create that future. You can choose what you will believe. You can formulate the reality of your life as it evolves.
Beliefs are not really any different from the other things in your life. A physical thing like a car will age five years and may be replaced in the next five years. And a mental/emotional belief will also age five years, and my be replaced at some point in the next five years.
The primary difference is that physical things can be replaced and be gone. One day you can trade in your old car for a new car. After that moment, the old car is gone and the new car is simply there in your driveway every day.
Emotions and beliefs don’t change that quickly. But they can change just as completely. It might take you a year or more to stop believing in one reality and accept a new reality. Luckily you have experience with this! You used to define yourself as as kid, as a student, as a newbie in the workplace, etc. You have been many people in this lifetime and you will be many more in the future.
Lucky for you, you get to create the new you whenever you want.
Q: What did the first stoplight say to the second stoplight?
A: Don’t look I’m changing!!
After years of ignoring it, I finally face the fact that I was (am) depressed. Not just a little bump in the road, but truly, honestly depressed. I had been in denial for over three years.
Depression doesn’t look like what most people think. Depressed people don’t always lie in a fetal position doing nothing day after day. Most depressed people struggle through the day, doing what needs to be done.
As strange as it sounds, most people who are depressed don’t realize it. At least not at first. Depressed people are happy a lot of the time. I know that sounds strange. But a person can be happy in the moment and depressed overall. As with any other task, depressed people can put on a happy face – and actually be happy – a lot of the time.
Forcing yourself into smiling and putting yourself into “happy” situations can actually be very theraputic.
Depression doesn’t start out with feeling completely unable to cope. It starts out with feeling not quite right. Then you realize that it’s been awhile since you believed that you could conquer a big challenge. At some point you realize that you have more difficulty making decisions. Especially decisions you used to make very easily. You feel isolated. Even if you spend all your time with friends and family, you feel like there’s a barrier between you.
I’ve always been forgetful and distracted. I’ve always had to come to a complete stop in order to think things through. But with depression, I would stop and then not be able to think. It became very difficult to focus. I had to isolate myself to experience a sense of focus.
After spending 50 years being extremely positive, I found myself focusing on my failures. Instead of focusing on what I CAN DO, I focused on what I can’t do. I kept track of failures instead of keeping track of victories.
I never felt suicidal.
But I felt like a failure. I felt like a fraud because I only saw my defeats and not my victories.
Depressed people laugh. They love. They do everything that everyone else does. But all too often it’s a mask they put on so that they don’t have to be the person they really are – overwhelmed and feeling like no one can possibly understand.
My depression started when my wife of 19 years left me. She was and is clinically depressed. She has fought this fight for as long as I’ve known her. Her specific circumstances led her to stop trying to live the life she was living and move to something else.
She will never be truly happy. Not like the rest of the world experiences happiness. There’s an upper limit on her happiness. It’s not her fault. She’s not a horrible person and I can’t blame her for anything she’s done. A piece of me still loves her.
At the same time, she has been a part of my life for 25 years and losing her tore me apart. To be honest, it took me a few years to realize that I had not been happy in that marriage for a long time. But we cling to the familiar.
Having a life coach helped me phenomenally. Jenifer Landers kicks ass!
Today I can honestly say that I accept that you can love someone and know that you will never be together. Some things just don’t work. And then I fell in love with another woman who was also wrong for me. She showed me greater happiness than I had known as an adult. But we were also not meant to be together.
I had moments and hours and day of happiness.
But my depression had a life of its own. No matter how much happiness I felt in spurts, I felt a general sense of darkness and grey. The world was in black and white – with ocassional moments of color. Perhaps everyone thought I was happy because I put on a happy face. But it’s a bigger picture.
I worked hard to keep working. I disciplined myself to move forward. I found numb, mechanical things I could do. I took a full year longer to finish a book than I had any excuse for. I started and stopped projects that cost me thousands of dollars. One huge, massive push in my business lost me $300,000 because I could not focus enough to put my head down and push through to the moment of success.
Financial losses in the middle of a massive recession can be depressing enough.
But I can’t blame the recession for my depression. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through thirty years of thinking about life, it’s that 90% of my state of mind is determined by what *I* bring to the situation. So when I am in a positive mood, things roll off my back. And when I am in a negative mood, everything contributes to the bad mood.
In early 2012 I decided to seek help with my depression. Like most people who experience depression, I probably waited too long. It took one appointment to put me on the right track. But it took me eight months to realize that I was headed in the right direction.
I’m not saying I’m “cured” or that I’ll ever go back to being as amazingly happy as I have been most of my life. But the darkness is lifting. I know I can’t go back, but I also know that I CAN go forward.
I won’t presume to give any advice on this topic except, if you think you might be depressed, seek help. Talk to someone. All those people who “can’t understand what you’re going through” will be extremely supportive. And you’ll be surprised at how many of them understand exactly what you’re going through.
You are not alone.
Did you here about the man who divorced his wife for using four letter words?
Life is funny sometimes. You can go along enjoying the “status quo” for years – even if you’re dissatisfied or unhappy. There is something built into the human psyche that keeps us in one place even when we aren’t happy there. But eventually change happens. Either we decide to make a change, or it is thrust upon us by other people or events.
Once we get into the “change” mode, we seem to be more willing to accept change. This is very common with health issues. Once we decide to exercise more, we are also very likely to eat better and consider other habits that might be bad for us. I guess the idea is, as long as I’m working on Me I might as work on all of me!
I’ve been through some personal turbulence over the last few years. In the middle of it all I started to think in terms of the “New Normal.” For example, when my daughter went off to college. I was not ready to be alone! I hadn’t lived alone in more than twenty years!
Your brain doesn’t just create pathways for habits and memories: It creates trenches! We’re not talking about a little line drawn in the dirt. After ten, fifteen, twenty years your habits are trenches deep enough to stand in. So when you dig yourself out, you may be uncomfortable with your situation. It’s not wrong. It’s just different.
And you can never go back.
That’s why you need to create the new normal.
Recently, my daughter took some time off from college. Yesterday she moved out again . . . back to Southern California.
You know how moves are. There’s lots of activity getting ready. Packing boxes. Sorting things. Even though she’s only been home about six months, she still had to go through the ritual. Then we had to pack the truck – some from her girl friend’s house, some from ours. A long day of lifting followed by a nice sit down dinner at a restaurant.
And in the morning they drove off.
I wandered around a bit. Made some lists of things to clean and things do. Planning a big reorganization of my study (formerly her bedroom).
Thats when I realized that I was consciously – and comfortably – creating a New Normal. I didn’t resist it (like last time). I didn’t deny that it was happening (like last time). I didn’t put it off (like last time). In fact I embraced it. I will certainly miss my daughter, but I’m much more comfortable with the idea of her moving out and me living alone than I was two years ago.
There’s no denying that experience goes a long way. I went through the moving out and being alone transition once. So I know a bit about what to expect. The funny thing is, I had eighteen years to prepare the first time and I wasn’t ready. I had six months to prepare this time and I *am* ready.
Change is always easier if you’re the one creating the change. But even if you didn’t create it, welcoming it and getting used to it helps a lot.
And now I can get back on the track of finding and building my next New Normal.
Little Joey was an only child and enjoyed being the center of attention. So he was quite jealous when a little sister arrived.
Some time later, his parents sat him down and said that now that little sister was getting older, the house was too small and they’d have to move.
“It’s no use,” said Joey. “She’s crawling good now and she’d probably just follow us.”
Yesterday, my daughter wandered in and asked me if I had a good day. Yes. Yes I did!
“Oh,” she said, “What happened?”
Oddly enough, nothing spectacular. It was a not-too-busy day, but still filled with lots of good little things. No big events. No big projects. No surprises. Nothing spectacular.
But . . .
Wii Fit says I’ve lost a pound and a half in the last month!
I’m moving my latest book from 99.9% complete to 99.99% complete. Just waiting on two tiny things I can’t control.
I had a nice chat with someone who has been a sometimes-competitor and is now developing a new project – and wants me involved.
Then I had a nice long chat with another sometimes-competitor who has realized that we could create some amazing stuff together.
I outlined a new book I hadn’t thought about writing before. It’s now third in line on my list of products to create!
One of the organizations I’m speaking for asked me to make a connection that could lead to a much stronger relationship between two of my favorite clients.
I made a new friend that I’m certain will add fun and intellectual stimulation to the remainder of the year.
And I finished the evening with a meeting of people who get together once a month and are genuinely happy to see each other and share our victories and defeats.
So when I say nothing really happened, it was the kind of “nothing” that makes a day perfect.
Now let’s see what today brings.
“Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to
recognize a mistake when you make it again.” – Anon.
I hope it’s not a big surprise that too much work is bad for you. I know I harp on it all the time, but there’s plenty of research to back it up.
I recently came across a great article by Nancy Shute on the effect of long hours on depression. See http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0030719. The key finding is pretty stark: “People who worked 11 hours a day or more, more than doubled their risk of major depression compared with colleagues putting in eight hours a day.”
That’s only three hours a day – and it doubles your chance of depression. The interesting thing about this research is that they found results across all socio-economic classes. So those white-collar executives who get a flat salary and put in super-long hours are NOT immune from the effects of long hours.
Those extra hours – about three a day – have to come from somewhere. Do they come from family time? Sleep? Relaxation? You need all of these.
We can all put up with on super-long day and bounce back. It’s the constant, non-stop long days that can literally kill you. People who work long hours non-stop are obviously more sleep-deprived, have a higher risk of heart disease, and reduced cognitive function. All in all, long hours can kill you.
At a minimum, it can make you miserable and depressed.
Depression is extremely serious and should not be dismissed as temporary sadness. Depression can affect everything in your life – and in the lives of the people you love.
You Can Also Work Too Little
Sometimes people hear the phrase “Relax Focus Succeed” and think I am advocating sitting on the couch all day doing nothing. I am absolutely NOT recommending that. People need work. We need to feel worthwhile, and that we contribute something to society.
We are now well into the fourth year of this recession and unemployment for some people has been dragging on a long time. And with that unemployment is a dramatic increase in depression. See http://www.livescience.com/13710-unemployment-depression-identity-job-search.html and http://www.livescience.com/13496-unemployment-stress-job.html.
Whether it’s you or your spouse, lack of work puts a huge strain on people. And that leads to all kinds of health problems.
I’m not sure what makes human beings different from all other animals. We get to choose what we do every day. You might think we’d choose to sit by a calm lake and fish all day, every day. But that’s not the case.
As social beings, we need to feel that we’re part of society and that we contribute our share. Yes there are exceptions. But let’s discuss things from the rule and not the exception. Overwhelmingly, people like to have a job, go do something at a “place of work,” and have a life outside the house. It’s normal and natural.
It’s a slightly different subject, but many people love their jobs so much that they can’t see how they are hurting themselves and their relationships by working too much. So they work and work and work.
So, whether the boss forces you to work long hours, or your choose to do it yourself, it’s still bad for you!
And working too little is bad for you.
Both lead to depression and imbalance in our lives. Sometimes we can control that imbalance and sometimes we can’t. But in either case, we can take action to improve our perspective on things. We can stop each day and re-focus ourselves. Trust me, I know how hard it is to get out of a depression funk. And I know how it feels to believe you have to work non-stop.
The goal is balance. Somewhere in the middle of all this perspective and balance. But balance never just happens: We need to work on it regularly if we value it and desire it.
Begin today. It’s never too late.