Tag Archives: personal change



Last week I asked the wrong question in my blog: What is your definition of success? I wondered about happiness and about accomplishment and how the twain shall meet. But my real question was how do we have a basically fulfilling life. And I think the answer is that “meaning” is what leads to a sense of fulfillment and happiness. This is not exactly a news flash, so why do we spend so much of our time in the land of accomplishment, comparing ourselves with the competition, working toward a raise or promotion, and simply trying to just get shit done?

I started reading Martin Seligman’s new book Flourish. So far it answers the question of what leads to “well-being.” Interestingly, happiness is relegated to just one piece of the pie and this he calls Positive Emotion. Ya know: smiling a lot. The others pieces are Flow or Engagement, Relationship Building, Love, Meaning (which is something bigger than the self), Gratitude, and finally Success or Mastery for it’s own sake, which he calls Accomplishment. This is a much clearer picture of what it takes. It’s a nice check list. You can look at it and say, oh that’s why this month sucks: no relationship building. Or, what am I missing? No mastery. Got it.

Last week I was in a bit of a funk and for no apparent reason, it seemed. I was getting all kinds of accolades and juicy bits of success, which were meaningful because I love my work, and I was having terrific lunches with friends (relationship building), and my health was good and I appreciated it (gratitude). What was missing? Ah! No flow! Flow is a big part of my life when I’m writing – it’s about being so caught up in what you’re doing you don’t notice the time fly by. When mid-week I started writing 2 new comedy songs, things turned around.

One of the things Seligman talks about is how much energy many of us put into accomplishment, but it’s often pursued even when it brings no positive emotion, no meaning, and no positive relationships. There is a piece of this that is important and that’s mastery. This looks like winning for the sake of winning. This is a part of well-being, but in our culture of winner-takes-all it can become our main focus, swallowing up all our time without our stopping to notice that it’s not doing much for us in a big-picture-am-I-happy sort of way.

But how do we stop? The addictive nature of achievement is supported by the culture. Yeah, there’s meditation, there’s vacation, there’s really good and surprisingly cheap Chardonnay, and of course sex. And sometimes all together. But the next morning, many of us just pick up where we left off, go to work and spend the day grasping for more “success.”

A check list like this might help. Separating the bits of one’s day, week, year, life with a look at the pieces of the pie is helping me step back and see if I’m giving enough time to each part of the Well-Being cocktail. Like a Long Island iced tea, mixed properly, you won’t wake up each day hung-over, wondering why you’re depressed.

But one other thing I noticed in this plan is that almost all of it involves other people. Gratitude is often about others: Better Relationships and Love are (duh), “Meaning” which is caring about something bigger than yourself can be about saving the planet which is in part about caring for people and our future, and Accomplishment has something to do with what others think of you, or at least offers an opportunity to gloat/share/wonder with others. So I’m taking a look at what each of these on this checklist has to offer my life in connection to other people and to give that some weight and attention.

It’s the people, stupid.

Right now I’m on a plane with my cute kid (Gratitude), on the way to a Memorial Day vacation (Positive Emotion), to see family (Relationship Building, Love), writing this piece and finishing a song (Flow), and tackling my new music software (Mastery), while trying to figure out the formula for well-being and writing this song that satirically criticizes the upcoming federal budget cuts (Meaning).

Check, check check, check, check, check, check. With a flourish.

Deep Labor

When my friend Sarah was in deep, deep labor, she told me, she suddenly became utterly polite, apologetic and thanked everyone around her continually. She was being the “good girl” she was conditioned to be.  I myself swore like a sailor and decided the grass was definitely greener somewhere else right at that moment. Another friend got angry at her husband and started telling him this was all his fault, and yet another woman I know let everyone else make all her decisions for her and regretted it later.

When we are stripped down to our most primitive level, you’d think we’d become wonderfully clear, instinctive, a perfectly functioning animal. But clearly this isn’t what happened to many of us in labor, and in the creativity workshops I lead that doesn’t happen there either.

What comes up is our conditioning.

Everyone is conditioned a little differently. When doing something new and slightly scary, pushing ourselves to places where we can’t rely on our functioning adult tricks, we tend to fall back into the gimmicks we picked up in our childhood and young adulthood. For some it’s people pleasing, for others it’s being as unassertive as possible for fear of offending or getting unwanted attention. There are a million mildly neurotic ways to be conditioned.

“The way you do anything is the way you do everything” is a line one of my favorite teachers, Cheri Huber, uses all the time.  What I love about teaching the workshops and giving speeches is that when we do the exercises, those little conditioned responses pop out within, oh, say 10 seconds. So it’s an incredible way to see what we normally do when pushed, to identify it, and then to try something else in a safe setting.

TRY THIS: Go ask a loved one (preferably a spouse or partner or family member) for their opinion of you in some area. It can be, “How do I look?” or even, “What do you think of ____________?” Fill in the black with: my career, my choice in partner, my lifestyle, etc. This may sounds like an absolutely ghastly thing to do. So, first of all, write down your reaction to this exercise now: (Invite criticism from my family?!?! Are you kidding?), etc.  Then ask: Is this also a normal reaction from you about doing something that might push you out of your comfort zone? If you’d rather, you can go do something new like take a tap class, volunteer at something you know nothing about, give money away – whatever is not par for the course for you.  Again, watch your reactions with mindful awareness as you decide to do this. Write them down. Be honest about it. Next, when you actually try the activity, also go at it with awareness. When pushed, who are you? Are you kind? Defensive? Compensating? Easy about it all? Okay, that last one was a trap cuz if you’re easy about it, then you aren’t finding the thing that is pushing you, so try again – find something else. The point is to see where your “deep labor” sends you. And then finally, once you’ve had the delightful experience of learning about yourself (gee thanks, Katie), you get to play. You get to try to do it in a different way. You might want to listen to feedback from your family knowing that it is their projection and has very little to do with you. You might want to take the class and not have to be the best. You might give away money without expectation rather than believe you know what it should be used for. So play with this. You can try to do things in a way that your conditioning wouldn’t let you before. Let this be an expansive exercise that will give you more options and more freedom. And please feel free to share any experiences here on this blog. And don’t forget: push only when it’s time, and breathe.