Pick your own experience

Which side will you look on?

Something pretty important has become increasingly apparent to me, in the past week or so – namely, that I can choose my own experience in life. No matter what is happening, I can choose to think and feel any way that I want to think and feel about just about anything.

I don’t have to fixate on one side of things, and I don’t need to get stuck in only one outlook.

Everything has more than one side to it. Everything. From the most terrible events to the most fortunate experiences, if you look hard enough, you can find whatever you need there, to feel however you want about it.

Life is literally like a cut stone – it has many different facets that catch the light in different ways, and depending on which side you look at, it can be awful or it can be wonderful… or any combination in between. Usually it’s that.

The challenge is to not get caught up in what’s obvious on the surface — that something is GOOD or BAD, but just that something… IS. The other challenge is to not completely disregard the different qualities of a certain experience, because you’re invested in feeling a certain way about them.

Things like injury and hurt and harm aren’t the kinds of things you’d want to feel great about. That’s kind of like encouraging them and making them okay, which they’re not.

On the other hand, there can be good that comes out of those things, and if we overlook the learning that comes from them and dismiss the good things that came in their aftermath, then we lose out on half our lives — if not more.

That’s the stuff I’ve been wrangling with, this week. Coming back from my vacation and going back into the fray has been extremely difficult, and I’ve had some meltdowns along the way. It hasn’t been pretty, and I’ve been working my ass off, trying to catch up. I’ve been pretty down on myself, realizing that I still have a ways to go, before I can say for certain what I want to do for my next job, but I just have to keep moving, keep going, keep proceeding. And I can’t just run away from what’s in front of me, because it’s valuable experience that can help me. I still want to leave my employer — but the work I do? Maybe I don’t need to ditch that, as well.

When it all boils down, basically I’m realizing that whatever situation comes up in my life is an opportunity for me to learn and grow and get my act together. And that’s the truth. I’ve been having some tough times at home, behaviorally speaking. And at work I’ve been really on the hot seat. But these are chances for me to (re)learn how to handle myself under intense pressure, because this is certainly not the last time I’m ever going to be under this kind of pressure. Compare to what’s to come, it’s probably child’s play.

I believe it’s the Navy SEALs who say, “The only easy day is yesterday.” Googling it, I see that a lot of people say it, but it’s the unofficial motto of the SEALs. Hm. Those folks again… Is there a theme here?

It’s possible. Looking around at my world, I seem to be surrounded by folks who don’t have principles, who don’t live by any kind of a code, who are just drifting and following whatever moves them. They don’t seem to have any higher purpose than to follow what comes to mind. And suggesting that they find a higher purpose is usually met with resistance – some of it violent.

Don’t get me wrong – my relationship with the Almighty and the morals and ethics of my youth has really been tested over the years. And I can’t say I’m a perfect adherent to what I should or should not do in the eyes of others. But at some point, I have to choose where I’m going and understand why I’m going in that direction. And that often means putting aside my own selfish wishes and just getting on with what needs to be done — AND not paying any attention to others when they aren’t on the same wavelength as I.

How they choose to live their lives is their own business. It’s no concern of mine.

And that being said, as I’m taking responsibility for my actions, I also need to take responsibility for my experience. I am the only person who can hold me down and make me feel badly. Nobody else can do that to me, unless I don’t take responsibility for my own emotions and thoughts. These aren’t just things that show up out of the blue. These are things I can direct and choose to disregard or pay attention to.

And the kinds of thoughts and emotions I choose to pay attention to are going to shape my experience. So in making conscious choices, I create my own experience. I create the world I live in.

Two people can be living under identical conditions — one is in heaven, the other is in hell.

Where do I want to live right here, right now?

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Getting ready for the day

Getting ready…

I just came across an interesting blog — Short stories from life.

Here’s a good story from it — “A life wasted”. It’s about what can happen when you make certain choices in life.

And it gets me thinking about the choices we all make in the course of each day. The long weekend is ahead of us, here in the States, and that means I have time to rest and catch up with myself after what has been a pretty grueling week.

It’s Friday, and it feels like “fried”-Day. That came to me this morning at 5 a.m. when I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. I got up and sat and breathed for a little bit, but my head was just going and going, so I had to just get up and get on with it. I was a little tweaked that I had tried to get to bed at a decent hour, but hadn’t actually gone to sleep till around 11:30. And then I wake up at 5:00 and can’t get back to sleep. What a pain. I considered skipping my morning exercise routine, because I felt tired and out of sorts. I even considered skipping my formal “sit” where I breathe and balance out my fight-flight inclinations. But then I got downstairs and checked my notes and realized I hadn’t really done anything substantial, exercise-wise for the past two days, and I was due.

I decided it wouldn’t hurt to do a little bit of exercise. And it wouldn’t hurt to just sit and breathe. So, I sat for a bit and got myself into a frame of mind (and body) that was a whole lot more relaxed than it had been 30 minutes before. And I got on the bike and rode. Then I did my leg lifts… and picked up my weights again.

And lo and behold, by the time I was into my second set of easy reps, I felt like doing more. So, I focused on a handful of key exercises and pushed myself more than I have in some time. Not with heavier weights, just with more reps. And by the time I was done, I felt pretty good. Better than I have in some time, after lifting, in fact. It didn’t take much — just a little more effort and focus. But the payoff was substantially more than what I actually put into it.

Then again, I don’t want to sell myself short. I could have just taken it easy, done the bare minimum, and skated through. The office is closing early, so I could put in a bare-minimum performance today and not be noticeably different from others around me.

But that’s not my goal in life, actually. To be “not noticeably different” has never been my main aspiration. There are plenty of people whose main ambition seems to be to turn themselves into a cookie-cutter cliche, with the “right” clothes and car and house and activities and number of kids playing the “right” sports, but I’m not one of those people. I never have been. And folks whose main ambition is to be liked by others and to fit in, make me a little nervous, to be honest. They can be very nice people and enjoyable to be around, but I never quite feel like I “synch” with them.

Then again, my reluctance to not engage fully with people who need to be liked, is probably closer akin to my reluctance to exercise in the morning and do my breathing when I need to. I actually do believe that the vast majority of people do have some spark in them that really makes them stand out — and it’s our job to find that spark in people and fan that flame, so they can live up to their full potential. This isn’t just something that I think only motivational speakers and inspirational writers should do – it’s something I think we all should do. Because you can’t have constant access to self-improvement gurus, 24-7, and you can’t always be sure that those gurus are even going to have precisely the answers you need at any given time.

We need to be our own self-improvement gurus/coaches/motivational speakers — and we need to do that for others. Not because others are pitiful and pathetic and would slack off if we didn’t keep on them, but because life is hard, and it takes it out of you, and everyone who knows that should also know that we all get beaten down and depleted, so we need others to help lift us up. It’s not charity, it’s basic neuroscience. It’s not pity or coddling. It’s self-preservation for all of us. Because when others around us are dragging, that means that our “team” isn’t operating at full capacity. When the others we depend on are struggling and having a tough time, what’s the likelihood of them being able to be really responsible in their actions and choices, and live up to their promise — which ultimately helps us?

Now, I’m not talking about doing the handouts thing. I’m not talking about making excuses for people and cutting them a break when they’re milking it. But there are ways that we can step up and lend a helping hand with just a kind word of encouragement that help others pick themselves up and get their asses in gear. In some cases, tough love is the way to go — I had a very heated discussion with someone the other day who was totally slacking and being a little bit dense about a sticky work situation. I didn’t sugar-coat what I was saying, but I didn’t attack them either. I just called it like I saw it — they were being irresponsible and their actions were having a bad effect on their co-workers. After they hemmed and hawed and groused about it a bit, they saw that it was true, and they took steps with their co-workers to get their act back together, which was really gratifying to see. I didn’t do it for them. I didn’t make excuses for them. I didn’t pretend it didn’t matter, so they wouldn’t feel badly about themselves. I was just honest — and also generous with my belief in them that they could figure it out.

And they did.

See, this is what I’m talking about — I know that the economy is tough, the job market is awful, people have money problems left and right. And everyone seems to be on edge (the 2012 end-of-the-world hype isn’t helping, imho). There’s only so much you can do for people — especially people who don’t seem to be willing to help themselves. But you/we can extend a kind word and tell the truth. And we can communicate clearly to others “Yes, you can do this – I believe in you, and I am sure you can accomplish what you set out to do.” Which is probably the biggest and most important gift you can give to anyone.

And it costs nothing — other than the effort of getting out of your head and forgetting about your own problems for a few minutes, and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. But sometimes that’s the ultimate price that people just won’t pay.

Anyway, I’ve got to get on with my day. I woke up this morning “too early” then I got my act together. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the opportunities life puts in our way, along with the crap that I (and everyone) must deal with along the way. I’ve been reading various blogs that have proven pretty inspirational – and have given me a much-needed kick in the a** with their honesty and clarity and refusal to compromise. Checking in with them, however briefly, is the kind of boost I need on “Fried”-Day. Not a handout, but a reminder of how much is possible, with the right attitude and a willingness to work.

Speaking of boosts, it’s time to get moving.

More to come. Always.

whats the difference between a concussion and actual brain damage?

Why you should wear a helmet!
Why you should wear a helmet!

This question was asked recently in a search engine, and the person who asked it ended up here on this blog. A lot of people have been searching for concussion information, some worried about brain damage…. and worried about becoming stupid as a result of their concussion.

Concussion, while technically a brain injury, can vary in its severity, as well as the outcome. You just can’t say, from one person to the next, whether or not a person sustains lasting and significant brain damage as a result of a concussion. Some people heal relatively quickly and show no signs of injury after the fact. Others heal more slowly and experience some changes, but get back to their lives without huge impact. Still others struggle for a long time after their injury and have considerable difficulties well into their future.

It’s very individual, and it’s also very unpredictable. That’s what makes concussion and brain injury so frustrating — and interesting at the same time.

The thing is, you have to factor in neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to shift and change and “remap” itself. Contrary to what we’ve been told for many, many years, the brain actually does change, and damage can be overcome. There are numerous stories about people who overcome serious neurological problems to live incredible lives. The book The Brain that Changes Itself (click here to buy it) is a great example of how the fact of neuroplasticity can trump the impact of neurological problems — some of them acquired.

See, here’s the thing for me — even in the face of concussion, even in the face of brain damage, the fact of the matter is that you can overcome a huge amount of difficulty by proper management of outcomes. Over at The Concussion Blog, they talk about that a lot — the problem isn’t concussion (it happens), the problem is managing it when it happens. It’s the same with any brain injury, I think. Brain injuries happen. TBI happens. Sh*t happens. We often have no control whatever over that.

What we DO have control over, is how we respond to it. And when we respond with educating ourselves and coming up with smart and common-sense responses to the issues, rather than running in circles, or running in fear, we improve our chances of a positive outcome dramatically.

Think about it, folks — concussions and traumatic brain injuries have been happening since the beginning of time. And yes, we’re still here. We’re still pluggin’ right along. We don’t have to curl up in a ball and give up. We don’t have to say, “Oh, I’m brain damaged – that’s it, then. I’ll just have to give up on ever having a normal life.” … or “Oh, you’ve had a TBI, and that’s it – you’re f’ed up and you’ll never change.”  Both of these statements are based on fear and ignorance, and a real lack of knowledge about what the human spirit is capable of doing.

The human spirit is capable of so much, and so long as we have that — and an earnest desire to improve and work towards something positive — we still have hope.

Ultimately, the difference between concussion and brain damage might not matter so terribly much. Of course, severity plays a role. But attitude has a lot to do with it, too. Both of them (regardless of severity) can be sidelining, if you decide that they mean you’ve got problems that will never go away, and the challenges are more than you can take. If you decide that all hope is lost, and it’s pointless to pursue any sort of recovery, that you need to just accept your “new self” as you are and not reach for something bigger and better, and you refuse to adopt different ways of reaching the goals that matter so much to you, then ultimately there probably isn’t that much difference between concussion and brain damage. The effects can be similar, if not the same. A lot of it depends on how you approach it.

Now, I’m not saying that concussion and brain injury are laughing matters, or you can just shine them on and pretend they never happened. Brain injury introduces permanent structural changes to your brain… and concussion can, too. The thing is, the brain is an awfully big place with a whole lot of potential for change. And if we just give up, we never give ourselves (and our loved ones) the opportunity to learn and grow and adapt and have all the life that is possible for us and them.

Brain injury changes a lot. Concussion can change a lot, too (see The Biography of a Teenage Concussion for more discussion of that – it’s a new blog I just discovered recently). But if we stay flexible and focused, we can do a tremendous amount to overcome whatever new challenges stand in our way.

whats the difference between a concussion and actual brain damage? Sometimes, it’s all about the attitude.

War and peace

Working away...

Been thinking about war, lately. With Memorial Day just past and all the world events (like the legislation that looks like it’s going to pass, giving the President the right to wage wars anywhere in the world without Congressional approval), I’ve been thinking about what place that concepts associated with war have in my daily life.

Apparently, they have had a pretty prominent place in my life. Everything from the corporate environments I work in, which have conference rooms designated as “war rooms” and meetings called “triage” and where onetime National Guard members and former servicemen and -women interact with each other in a hierarchical way, using terminology that has a distinctly military feel to it… to the imagery I use in my everyday life… war is always there.

My neuropsych has taken issue with my referring to interactions as “push-backs” and my daily life as “barrage”, as being decidedly conflict-oriented. But the whole push-back thing is common vernacular in my job, and frankly, with the amount of work that gets thrown my way is pretty much of a barrage. And that’s my experience of it. Having people show up at my desk in an aggressive stance, pushing and threatening… it does tend to be a bit of a barrage. And there’s a lot of it.

My neuropsych is trying to train me to think about these conflicts and interactions in ways that are not battle-oriented. They’re trying to get me to think about my LIFE in ways that are not battle-oriented.  I’m not sure how well it’s working out. Sure, I get that it can be more constructive to conceptualize solutions that are mutually beneficial. And that’s generally how I try to orient myself.

But sometimes, things get to be a battle. And there’s no way around it.

Interestingly, I’m finding a lot of comfort in reading military memoirs. Stories of Patton and Montgomery. Accounts of fighter pilots doing the impossible, and military campaigns that went well… or didn’t.

I’m not sure what the attraction is. I’ve never been a very militaristic person, and I do believe that conflict is often an unnecessary distraction from what really needs to get accomplished. I guess it just helps to read about people who have had to overcome serious odds in life-and-death situations, when I feel like I’m surrounded by spoiled, coddled co-workers and family members who can’t manage to do the most basic of things, like do a full day’s work and get out of bed at a reasonable hour.

It just feels like so many people around me are weak and unwilling to work. I tell myself that that’s on them — I get a great deal of satisfaction out of earning what I have and putting in a full day’s (and more) work. It works for me, and I feel a little sorry for people who can’t be bothered with experiencing a little discomfort for long-term gain.

But I rely on people to get my job done and live my life. So being surrounded by people who can’t handle any sort of stress or strain, and who buckle at the first sign of trouble… well, that is troubling.

It’s not like I’m a hard-ass. It’s just been my experience that life will throw a lot of crap at you, and you just have to soldier through and keep going. It’s worked for me over 25 years of being steadily employed, and I have yet to see any other strategy that actually works in the long-term. Sure, focusing on the positive and envisioning the world you want to create is all very well and good. But there’s an awful lot of boring old work involved, too.

And trying to avoid the discomfort of work with mental gymnastics and rationalizations that paint a boring, drab, uncomfortable experience in a positive light, ultimately will fail to produce the kinds of results that actual work will. Because any sort of prolonged success will necessarily demand a level of tolerance for discomfort and boredom and drudgery that sees you through all those hours of effort.

Peace is fine. Peace is nice. But being able to handle yourself in wartime conditions can also come in handy.

A grateful heart does not drink…

Said a grateful recovering alcoholic to me the other night. We were hanging out, and the topic of what gets us in trouble — and what gets us out — came up. All the head games we play on ourselves, all the screw-ups, all the mis-steps and mis-fires, all the unfortunate misunderstandings that we can so quickly turn into a catastrophe of some sort. Whether brain-injured or alcoholic, some people can really do a number on themselves.

But then there are second chances. Second chances and defensive measures. Ways to beat the crazy wiring in our heads. Ways to outsmart even the smartest of our neuroses. Checking in with others. Reflecting on our day. Gratitude.

Tonight I am grateful I am not located anywhere near the Gulf of Mexico. I am grateful that there are individuals willing to take on the task of cleaning up. I am grateful that people are waking up to this nightmare, no matter how horrific it is at this point in time. And I am grateful that none of us can know for certain that things will in fact turn out as terribly as we think they do.

I had a good talk with my recovering alcoholic friend the other night. We compared a few war stories and then both agreed that when it comes to running the world, it’s best if we leave the job up to someone else.

Don’t drink. Don’t despair.

Do something else. Be grateful. For something.