Twelve Years On

Can’t believe it’s been twelve and a half years.

My enthusiasm waxes and wanes. Truth be told, PressingPause has never really gained the traction I had hoped. Probably because I haven’t invested sufficient time and energy into growing the readership. Widely read blogs are authored by people who approach them like full-time work. In contrast, I’m a hobbyist. Just as in life, there are no shortcuts; you get out, what you put in.

And there are other impediments. Most critically, an admitted lack of focus. Bloggers with large readerships fill particular niches. People grow to trust them to be insightful about a specific topic or two, not twenty two.

My longevity is the result of two things. First, a lot of people I care about are readers. Their sporadic referencing of something I’ve written is always encouraging. Also, as a globally-minded citizen, the proportion of international readers is very gratifying.

Reader feedback doesn’t even have to be positive to be motivating, which leads me to a good friend who I greatly appreciate for prodding me lately to write in ways that unite more than divide. By legitimizing more politically conservative points of view.

He contends my writing is too often “divisive” and that I’m a part of the larger problem of a divided nation. That feedback isn’t easy to process, especially since the whole sine qua non of the blog is to help create thriving families, schools, and communities. But I truly appreciate him for actively engaging with my ideas. It’s much better to have readers sometimes say my ideas are divisive or even “batshit crazy” than to never say anything at all.

I tried attending to my friend’s constructive criticism in a recent post titled “Trump’s Triumphs”, to which he might fairly counter, “You’re making my exact point, one measly post.”

Here’s what I struggle with, with respect to my friend’s feedback. As a reader, the writing that resonants the most for me tends to be personal, and authentic to the point of distinctive, by which I mean it’s true to their life experience. I don’t find writers who strive for objectivity by alternating between sides of arguments nearly as compelling as I do writers who are clear, concise, and have the courage of their more conservative or liberal convictions. And yet, as I explained here, I find overly dogmatic, hyper-ideological thinking and writing terribly uninteresting because of its mind numbing predictability.

And maybe that’s exactly what my friend finds most frustrating about me, that I’ve become too predictable. I need to think about that more because I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

When I read my own writing, I conclude that the more moved I am about a topic, the more fired up, or even angry, the better. But what if that’s not the case for my friend. What if he finds my “fire” too one-sided to the point of being off-putting?

This touches on a philosophical conundrum which all artists, not just writers, must resolve. Is art, or writing more specifically, like business where “the customer is always right”? Meaning is the reader always right? Or should the writer follow his or her heart and let the reader response be whatever it is or isn’t going to be?

 

 

Your Success at Work Depends Upon This

Likability.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The ability to come across as likable is shaping how people are sized up and treated by bosses and co-workers.

Likable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have mistakes forgiven.

More employers track employees’ likability on in-house social networks and chat services. They recruit those who are trusted and well-liked to spread information or push through changes. Some companies take these employees’ social clout into account when handing out raises and promotions.

Is this news? It’s always been the case, but maybe we’re not as cognizant of it as we could or should be. The middle and high school teachers-to-be that I work with sometimes talk about what makes them most anxious when they think about finally having their own classrooms. Most often it’s not knowing enough. When they toss and turn at night it’s because they’re worried about super intelligent students posing difficult, anxiety inducing questions. Inevitably, they find out that “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

When teaching, it’s far better to know one’s subject matter inside and out than not, but classroom success most often hinges on one’s ability to create a rapport with students. More simply, to be likable, which you should never confuse with being a pushover.

Here’s how to be more likable according to the WSJ’s workplace experts:

• Be authentic—To be more likable, behave in a way that feels natural and comfortable, rather than stiff or self-absorbed.

• Be curious—Show interest in others, make eye contact and ask questions about others’ opinions and activities.

• Be expressive—Vary tones of voice and smile, and show enthusiasm about what you’re saying.

• Listen—Focus on what others are saying and show that you are listening carefully, rather than getting distracted.

• Mimic others—Mirror the expressions or posture of the person you are talking to, in order to create a sense of familiarity.

• Find similarities—Actively try to find topics of interest you share with a listener, rather than talking only about what interests you.

The experts contend that likability is learned, but I can’t help but wonder, when a work coach of sorts advises an employee to act more naturally, wouldn’t being conscious of that notion make it even more difficult? I’d be skeptical of any stiff or self-absorbed person were to suddenly say, “Okay, watch this, now I’m going to act more naturally.” I want to believe teachers in training and others can learn these skills, I’m just not sure how best to teach them.

What say you?

Mindfulness

Have you noticed? The term is cropping up everywhere. Alina Tugend, in an informative blog post that I borrow heavily from, explains:

Elementary school students practice it. Doctors practice it — and their patients. Prisoners practice it. There’s mindful eating that promises a healthier way of eating. And scans show mindfulness may change the way our brains function and help us improve attention, reduce stress hormones and even bounce back faster from negative information.

I dig Janice Marturano’s definition, mindfulness is “intentionally paying attention to the present nonjudgmentally”. If I could learn to intentionally pay attention to the present nonjudgmentally, my personal relationships would markedly improve.

According to Marturano, mindfulness isn’t only about reducing stress. Or about emptying our minds of all thoughts. Or about religion.

A few years ago I team taught a course with a friend who was taking classes in a mindfulness credential program. She’d occasionally fly from Seattle to Oakland for weekend courses. She suggested we integrate mindfulness training into our graduate course for teacher credential candidates. I liked her teaching instincts and philosophy so I agreed to give it a try even though apart of me worried that it might be New Age hocus pocus. In the end, it went beautifully and I became an advocate for mindfulness.

Martuarno explains the basics:

Find a quiet place to focus your attention — on your breath or perhaps on an object. It’s not deep breathing, but rather experiencing when the breath enters and leaves. Feel the stretch in the rib cage, without me doing anything. Can I notice when the mind takes a hike and redirect it? That redirection is the exercise.

Tugend adds:

There’s also what Marturano calls ‘purposeful pauses.’ Deciding that instead of thinking of a coming meeting while brushing your teeth you really focus on the taste of the toothpaste and the bristles and the water.

My attention is so scattered sometimes I think there’s only two times when I’m truly “in the present”. The first is when I’m exerting myself when cycling at high speeds in a group and the second I don’t dare describe since this is a family friendly blog.

Marturano again, “Take yourself out of autopilot and eventually expand that ‘being in the moment’ to other parts of your life.” 

Tugend says, “the idea is that over time you’ll feel more focused and more connected to yourself and others.”

Ever been at a large, raucous social gathering with someone whose unusually focused eye contact and attention made you feel heard and understood above the din? That’s mindfulness in practice.

Tugend again:

It sounds simple, but it’s not, because it so goes against the grain of how most of us think and operate. We want to get things done, to identify and fix problems. And that’s the opposite of what mindfulness is all about.

Christy Matta, author of the book “The Stress Response”, notes:

The way it’s presented in the media, people begin to believe it’s a magic pill. I’ll clear my mind and I’ll be peaceful and stress-free. If that’s what people think, they’ll be disappointed.

She adds:

If you go into it with the idea of reducing stress, you’re working against the very thing you’re trying to attain, because you’re aiming toward a goal. Mindfulness is about being present. You have to do it just to do it. You can’t strive for things.

Matta also cautions:

While being aware of your feelings may be nice when drinking a lovely cup of tea or relaxing in a garden, part of mindfulness is also uncomfortable feelings — not trying to change or judge them, but being aware of them. And that may not feel so pleasant.

Dr. Baime notes another common misconception about mindfulness, that it’s about learning to be happy. It’s not. Nor is it about eliminating stress.

Stress doesn’t go away, ever. That’s why we call it stress management rather than stress elimination. Rather, mindfulness can create a world where you experience depth, meaning and connectedness. You see joy and sadness more fully and settle more deeply into an authentic way of being.

That all important insight reminds me of a related book I previously recommended, “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking“.

Marturano says mindfulness is supposed to:

Help us spend less time worrying about the future or fretting about the past. We’ll gain perspective, listen better and step back to consider more choices and make decisions more clearly and intentionally, rather than reactively.

But Tugend cautions people not to assume that mindfulness is some sort of miracle cure. For example:

While It has been used to good effect in classrooms, it shouldn’t be used in isolation. . . . Mindfulness can increase attention and focus, and help children respond to stress in a calmer manner, but it also needs to be part of learning concrete emotional and social skills.

Tugend also contends it’s difficult to learn to be mindful on one’s own. She says:

There are some good books that offer guidance like “Full Catastrophe Living,” (Delacorte Press, 1990) by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Professor Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is considered one of the foremost experts on the subject.

“Everyone I spoke to,” she explains, “said that you need to take a course and perhaps go on a retreat to fully experience and gain value from mindfulness.”

Like Tugend, I can see why other people are drawn to it, given, as she says, “that we’re living in a such a fractured, information-overloaded world. We’re looking so far ahead to the next thing, we miss what’s going on in the present.” 

Guilty as charged.