Consumption Junction

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Since Elliott’s birth, our friends and family have been deferential about how busy we must be.  On some level, they’re right: at points, there has barely been time to shower, eat, or walk the dog.  But, busy doesn’t feel like the right word to describe these early weeks.  Busy implies that there is a long list of things to accomplish and not quite enough time in which to fit them.  Indeed, if we were just living in a state of ‘busy-ness,’ we could perhaps adjust by increasing our capacity or speeding things up.

After years in the workforce, so much of me thrives on busy-ness:  its sense of buzzy productivity, the little check marks in boxes, and the haze of meaning that comes from simply getting stuff done.  In many ways, I *wish* I could change all the diapers, pump all the milk, and share all my love by just working hard to get them done.  Mothering for today?  Check, check, check.

On the contrary, with Elliott, there is nothing to check off the list; we feed, diaper, rock, and play with her over and over again.  Yes, I have other non-baby items to accomplish, but I long ago realized that days and weeks could go by with nothing getting checked off – and yet, I was constantly occupied.  The to-do list of discrete, successive items has been replaced by endless, iterative tasks.

Further, through it all, I haven’t felt a lack of time or a sense of hurry that being ‘busy’ implies; everything is done when it needs to be done, on Elliott’s clock.  I can’t change ten diapers by noon to hit my quota and declare myself done for the day.  There is plenty to do, but it’s impossible to rush it.  Similarly, it’s impossible to run out of time to do what needs to be done.

In sum, it’s less that I feel busy and more that I feel completely consumed.  The reality of life with baby is that every moment is spent care-giving in the present.  I am challenged to slow down and invest every act with big love.  I am challenged to attend to whatever Elliott needs right now, without anticipation or distraction.  I am challenged to be less busy and more present.

As she draws me more into mamahood, Elliott brings me more into the moment and more into myself.

Realistically, I still find myself trying to accomplish things according to my old habits; instead of nursing with full presence at 2AM, I sometimes multi-task, teaching myself baby sign language or editing my new book (support the crowdpublishing project here!).  But, I’m increasingly finding big meaning in the letting myself be consumed by these everyday acts of childcare.  And, I love it.

Meredith

Courage? What Courage?

This past weekend I was in a coaching workshop focused on creating a greater capacity to process your emotions. There was plenty of sharing and plenty of crying. And in the midst of that, there was also a lovely gentleness. When one person would get vulnerable, another person would thank them for their courage.

Courage. The Oxford English Dictionary defines courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one.”

Definitionally, courage is all about me facing my fears. It is about looking them in the face, moving through them, and emerging out the other side. When I feel myself facing my fears, I demonstrate courage. (See my post on fears here.)

But what happens, like I observed so many times this past weekend, when someone else calls me courageous? When I was called courageous this weekend, it didn’t resonate. I felt mislabeled and, frankly, a little phony. I had simply shared my feelings and shown vulnerability about who I am. For whatever reason, those didn’t seem to be big challenges at the time. And they certainly didn’t seem to deserve the grand label of “courageous.”

So what’s going on here?

I think that when we label someone courageous we’re making not making a statement about them so much as we’re making a statement about ourselves. What we see as courage tells us more about our own fears than it tells us about the character of the person we’re talking about. In short, what we label as courageous often indicates what we fear most.

For example, if I am not afraid of spiders, then shooing a creepy-crawly out of the house feels quite trivial. For someone who hates spiders, however, I’ve done a courageous thing. My courage is really just a reflection of their fear.

What do you see as courageous? And what does that tell you about your own fear landscape?

With fierce love (and periodic courage),
Meredith

95% of Your Behaviors are Unconscious and Automatic

Sometimes I run into a description of intentionality that illustrates the topic far better than I ever could.  This happened recently when I was reading an interesting book called Sink, Float or Swim.  Here’s the quote, illustrated:

95

paraconscious

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I love the vivid examples of living unintentionally (or paraconsciously) as they ring true.  I hate when people use their phones while having a conversation, and yet I find myself slipping and doing it as well.

I’m not fully successful yet, but I’m just trying to keep myself a bit more in the conscious sphere and heading towards that ‘much better way.’  And I’ll recommit by putting my phone down right now.

Onward and upward,
Meredith

These Are a Few of My Favorite Biases

I often think that if we all become more aware of how we’re acting and choiceful about how we want to be, we’ll live more in alignment with ourselves and with each other.  Sure, the future won’t always turn out exactly as we intend, but at least we’ll be consciously trying in a direction we decide upon.

What I often forget, though, is that awareness is not just a consciousness of our intentions and actions, but also a consciousness of our patterns of thinking.  We all have a collection of cognitive biases that run invisibly within our heads – the biases which consistently guide us away from truthful, clear thinking.  They influence us without us ever realizing it; they inform how we see the world and decide to act.  All are proven via extensive social science research.  And that’s the craziest part – we know about them, we’ve proven them, and yet we all keep on getting things wrong in the same ways over and over again.

cognitive biases
I recently came across a fantastic list of cognitive biases in Michael Schermer’s book The Believing Brain and it reminded me of all the ways I am consistently getting things wrong.  I’m always trying to recommit to becoming more aware of not just what I want but how I’m thinking, and this was a good prompt in that direction.  They say the solution isn’t getting rid of the bias (which, in my experience, is near impossible), but instead becoming aware of how it might impact you in everyday situations.

As for me, confirmation bias, halo effect and authority bias are always cropping up in my world.  Which of these do you see in your life?  Which are you actively combating?

julie andrews
With compassion for all our invisible shortcomings!
Meredith

A Short List of Cognitive Biases
Attribution biasTendency to attribute different causes for your own beliefs and actions than that of others.  It comes in at least two forms:

  • Situational/dispositional attribution bias: (“I succeed at work because I’m smart and hard-working, but he succeeds because he’s lucky and has the right sponsors.”  “I screwed up this recipe because the kids were screaming, but he screwed up the recipe because he’s a horrible cook.”)
  • Intellectual/emotional attribution bias:  (“I have a well-reasoned ideology behind my conservatism, but you are just a bleeding heart liberal.”)

Authority bias:  Tendency to value the opinions of an authority, especially in the evaluation of something we know little about (“Arnold told me that purgatory was never a concept in Catholicism; he majored in religion, so he would know.”)

Availability heuristic:  Tendency to assign probabilities to potential outcomes based on examples that are immediately available to us, especially those that are vivid, unusual, or emotionally charged (“If you’re a woman, you’re very likely to get breast cancer.  I know two other women who have been dealing it with this past year.”)

Believability bias:  Tendency to evaluate the strength of an argument based on the believability of its conclusion  (“It seems reasonable that genetically-modified foods cause cancer, so the science is likely right.”)

Confirmation bias:  Tendency to seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret disconfirming evidence (“See, this US Today article says that Obamacare is driving small enterprises out of business!  But I really question the methodology of that NY Times article on why Obamacare is affordable for even mom-and-pop shops.”)

Consistency bias:  Tendency to recall one’s past beliefs, attitudes and behaviors as resembling present beliefs, attitudes and behaviors more than they actually do (“I’ve basically always believed that there’s no way intelligent life could be out there.”)

False-consensus bias:  Tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with their beliefs or that will go along with them in a behavior (“Don’t you think that other people will want to protest owl habitat destruction too?”)

Generalization bias (stereotyping):  Tendency to assume that a member of a group will have certain characteristics believed to represent that group without having actual information about that particular member  (“She’s a banker; you know what that means.”)

Halo effect:  Tendency for people to generalize one positive trait of a person to all the other traits of that person (“She’s beautiful – so she’s probably pretty smart and athletic too.”)

Hindsight bias:  Tendency to reconstruct the past to fit with present knowledge.  I love it’s nickname “creeping determinism.”  (“If you look at the indications before the Challenger launch, anyone could have seen the explosion coming.”)

Inattentional blindness bias:  Tendency to miss something obvious and general while attending to something special and specific (“I don’t know why all those people were on the corner protesting, but did you see that woman’s blue pants?”)  The classic example of the inattentional blindness bias is here.

In-group bias:  Tendency for people to value the beliefs and attitudes of those whom they perceive to be fellow members of their group and to discount the beliefs and attitudes of those whom they perceive to be members of a different group  (“A friend at work told me that it’s dangerous to walk in the Southwest Corridor at night.”)

Just-world bias (victim-blaming):  Tendency for people to search for things that the victim of an unfortunate event might have done to deserve it.  (We’ve seen this in spades with recent news coverage on Ferguson, sexual assault on college campuses, bullying, and domestic abuse in the NFL.)

Negativity bias:  Tendency to pay closer attention and give more weight to negative events, beliefs, and information than to positive (“It just seems like every time you turn on the news, it’s all bad things happening.”)

Not-invented-here bias:  Tendency to discount the value of a belief or source of information that does not come from within (“Sure, but that’s what the consultants said, not what my research turned up.”)

Rosy retrospection bias:  Tendency to remember past events as being more positive than they actually were (“Ahh, the good old days.  So much better than life since everyone got a cell phone!”)

Self-justification bias:  Tendency to rationalize decisions after the fact to convince ourselves that what we did was the best thing we could have done (“It was the middle of the highway during rush hour.  If I pulled over to talk to the woman whose car I rear-ended, we both would have been in danger.  That’s not worth it for a small fender bender.”)

Status quo bias:  Tendency to opt for whatever it is we are used to (“I picked the health plan that I’ve had for years.”)

Sunk-cost bias (escalation of commitment):  Tendency to believe in something because of the cost sunk into that belief (“I’ve supported gun control all my life; there is no way I’m going to change that opinion now.”)

Trait-ascription bias:  Tendency for people to assess their own personality, behavior and beliefs are more variable and less dogmatic than those of others (“I would definitely change my mind given good date; I’m not so sure about my opponents, however.”)

The examples are my own, but the bias descriptions are sourced from The Believing Brain:  From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths by Michael Shermer

And here’s the even crazier part:  If you think that these biases don’t apply to you, then you’re succumbing to the ultimate meta-bias:  the bias blind spotThat is our “tendency to recognize the power of cognitive biases on other people but to be blind to their influence on our own beliefs.”  Annoying, isn’t it?

bias blind spot

 

 

 

What I (Re)Learned From Watching My Dog Sniff Butts

Every time I take Reese to the dog park, he’s terribly excited.  There are dogs and people and more dogs and more people.  And they all smell so interesting and different.  Forget fetch or running around, smelling is hands-down his favorite activity.  Sometimes he even smells so hard that he forgets to breathe and, as a result, starts to drool.  Unfortunately, this little droolly-faced pup reminds other owners of a rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth dog.  So, in short, Reese loves to smell so much that other dogs and people think he’s completely crazy.  I say with pride:  That’s our dog.

The Reese Machine, post-walk

The Reese Machine, post-walk

I have learned to expect this reaction when I take him out.  So when we arrive at the park, I do the same thing every time.  I tell him “sit” and “stay.”  Then I take off his leash and walk a step away.  I remind him once more to “stay,” at which point he looks at me with a face full of agony and restraint.  Then I tell him “okay, go!” which means he can run around, diving into the smorgasbord of smells.

Lately, Reese has not being waiting that patient, disciplined second before I tell him to go.  Remove the leash and he’s headed straight for the nearest dog’s rear.

While frustrating, this morning’s sprint for the smells prompted not only the appropriate discipline, but also a moment of self-reflection.  Whether you’re a dog like Reese or a human like me:

Emotions don’t equal actions.

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Being mad doesn’t mean you yell.
Being sad doesn’t mean you cry.
And being overcome by smells doesn’t mean you run off.

Like Reese, I find myself using emotions as an excuse for my automatic behaviors.  We have a whole host of these which are collectively accepted in our culture as normal behavior:

  • “I’m busy with more important things. . .” (and therefore I’m allowed to be less present and a bit distracted around you)
  • “I’m tired. . .” (and therefore I’m allowed to be crabby)
  • “I’m annoyed your inefficient process. . .” (and therefore I’m allowed to be demanding and impatient.) [I definitely felt this one at the Indian consulate waiting for my visa yesterday.]

These are just excuses for our thoughtless behavior.  We often act as if an external situation creates an internal state which dictates our actions – and that all of that is completely understandable and fair.  For example, while waiting at the Indian consulate I tell myself that it makes sense that I’m annoyed because their process is inefficient.  And before I know it, I’m speaking in an overly sharp tone and with an annoyed attitude to the woman behind the counter.  But with good reason, right?

 

However ‘logical’ my emotions and actions are in a situation, I always have choice in the emotion I show and how I act.  Especially when I have fantastic rationale of why I can justifiably be an a-hole in a situation, it’s even more important that I have to remember that little moment of choice.

 

emotions actions 2

 

I’m reminded of one my roommates in business school.  After a strong night out, most of us would show up to class looking like hell and not very pleasant to be around.  He, on the other hand, would look interview-ready in business formal.  For most of us, there was an obvious, necessary causality between our hangover, our haggard appearance, and our rough-around-the-edges personality.  But he would get up, give himself a close shave, and dress in a proper suit.  We all may have felt the same way, but he chose to do something completely different with the same feeling.  And he didn’t buy into the easy, collective belief that a hangover gives you an excuse.

 

Emotions don’t equal actions.

 

This realization isn’t new.  I’ve practiced non-reactivity in meditation classes.  I’ve read countless books on mindfulness.  I even train concepts ideas related to presence in my day job.  But for every hackneyed insight and inspirational quote I spend a minute reading, there is a multi-month, multi-year, probably life-long process of internalizing, personalizing, and embodying that realization.  The process is neither linear nor unidirectional.  I try and try again, I fail and fail again, I realize and realize again.  My challenge isn’t understanding it intellectually; my challenge is living it.

 

And so this morning’s walk in the dog park brought me a bit closer to remembering that my emotions don’t control me.  Both Reese and I can choose how we act, even when there’s a really good rationale for acting in a certain way (just look at all those dogs!).  But I’m sure we’ll both forget that – and have to learn it all over again – before the next time we return to the dog park.

Meredith

reese labradoodle