One of our many challenges upon arriving home: tackling the mountain of laundry!
Hi Anne: We’ve missed your updates now for a couple of months…. “Sup?
I was actually thrilled to receive several recent inquiries about what is going on with my blog. It is nice to know that people miss you when you don’t post!
Fortunately, there is nothing catastrophic behind my lack of posts. It was a full summer with entertaining and cross-country travel. By the time we returned to Virginia, we were all a little wiped out but had to dive right in to the new homeschool year. Blogging was unfortunately moved to the bottom of the priority list.
I have felt completely behind this entire September. All of the activities that most families accomplish before the school year, like shopping for fall clothes and school supplies, visiting doctors for school physicals and eye exams, we had to push to September. In addition, we had a backlog of things to reset to normal from our trip, like doing laundry, writing a pile of thank you notes and washing and repairing the car. We are also in the middle of planning a large home improvement project and researching investments for our personal finances. So, gradually, we are catching up but it is taking us some time. We are going through the motions of our new homeschool and extracurricular routines but it all still feels a bit foreign and unnatural.
While I hope that all of you are having an awesome September and that your school or work routines are running just like clockwork, I am finding numerous examples of people who are closer to my experience where September is kind of a whirlwind of change and we are just trying to survive the storm. A few people in my life experienced major medical concerns during September and there is nothing that throws your life off balance like a medical crisis. Another friend wrote recently that she just feels a bit overwhelmed by her new fall scheduling and is waiting for things to settle into a routine.
In the blogging world, I was shocked to discover that very successful bloggers John and Sheri Petersik are taking a break from posting to reassess their life priorities in light of the birth of their second child this year. (Good for them! A second child is a huge adjustment for most people.)
If you are in the whirlwind with me, I found it helpful to take some advice from Bob Harper, the famous fitness trainer from The Biggest Loser. This season’s show is all about former athletes. The stories are so human and humbling. These are people who have demonstrated great dedication and commitment and hard work during their careers yet still have fallen victim to their own personal demons. It takes a brave person to admit that on national television and it is inspiring to see these contestants have that courage and have the audacity to make a very difficult change.
On the first episode of the show, Bob is counseling a woman who is suffering from injuries. He tells her:
*I have no affiliation with The Biggest Loser or any other company mentioned in this post.
Partial view of de Kooning's "Clamdigger" at the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Photo by Jeff Kubina. From the Flickr Creative Commons.
I was reading a wonderful book this week (The Artful Garden by James Van Sweden and Tom Christopher) and found it a surprising source of inspiration not only about gardening but about life and particularly the subject of goals.
In the book, the authors profile artist Robert Dash. Dash was a good friend of the artist Willem DeKooning who gave this bit of insightful reflection.
“I have to change to remain the same.”
–Willem De Kooning
I read this and just stopped. Most of the time, we think of change as shifting away from our “true selves” to something else that is less authentic, perhaps more in conformity with what others want us to be. This quote turns that concept around and forces you to ask yourself if you aren’t moving away from your true self by refusing to change. Perhaps the person you are “supposed to be” is a person who lives very differently from the way you do now. By sticking with the tried and true, while it may seem that you are maintaining yourself, perhaps you are slowly losing your vision, draining your energy and dulling your mental acuity. The “real” you might have taken the risk, put in the effort, or even made the mistake.
As you make your goals this month, consider how your change is not really to make you different but to keep you true to yourself.
As I wrote about previously in our month on change, this weekend is the debut of Helen Whitney’s enlightening 2-part series on PBS, Forgiveness. It promises to be a powerful and moving experience. For where and when to watch, check the PBS website here. For another sneak peek at the film, see the trailer below.
Chip and Dan Heath taught us from their book Switchthat implementing successful change requires some consideration of analytical/logical factors and lots of consideration of emotional/motivation/external factors. The easier we can make the change appear to our overtaxed brains, the more likely we will expend the extra energy to make that change. My favorite tip from this post was looking for bright spots, i.e. find someone who is in a similar life situation to you, who faces the same challenges you do in terms of time and resources, who has achieved your goal, and find out what that person did to achieve the goal. Chances are that a life-specific tip is going to work much better for you than generalized advice from someone who does not face your same challenges.
John C. Maxwell’s Thinking for a Change reminded us that we need to make time for self-reflection whenever we are attempting to make change or achieve a difficult goal. Writing up a brief diary/status report on your weekly progress and personal reflections can really help focus your attention. I have been trying it out for the past few weeks and while it takes some time to do it is very helpful.
M.J. Ryan’s book AdaptAbilityhelped us process the emotions of change. She reminded us that we live in a constantly changing environment and that while we can’t control the external changes happening around us, we can take some comfort in knowing that we do control our response to these situations and that with the right mindset we can use difficult experiences to become better versions of who we really are.
Amanda Ripley’s book, The Unthinkable, walked us through the process of change under extreme duress, in emergency/survival situations. Her book reminded us that when faced with an immense, stressful change, the best thing we can do is be prepared in advance and follow our training because our thinking under these conditions is poor and often wrong. We also need to have the confidence to be our own leaders rather than waiting for insight from others. While her advice was specific to disaster/emergency situations, and we applied it to the case of airplane evacuation, Ripley’s advice could be translated to a variety of situations.
We also looked at the new culture of change in business, where the pace of change is accelerating rapidly. Robert H. Schaffer and Ronald N. Ashkenas’s Rapid Results! made their case for constant 100-day mini-change projects, rather than limiting change to massive once-in-a-while projects. The authors reminded us that mobilizing an organization for change is the most important quality in a business leader today.
Finally, we got a wonderful sneak peak at producer Helen Whitney’s book and upcoming documentary film, Forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful life changes. Whitney’s work shows the resiliency of the human spirit when faced with overwhelming hurts and inspires us to examine our own lives and see whether we can work to free ourselves from thoughts and experiences that limit our potential.
To end the month with a lighter twist on change, I wanted to relate what we have learned in theory about change to the change process I have been watching on The Biggest Loser. Weight loss has to be one of the most difficult changes to process. We know the simple formula, eat less and exercise more, but we all know that in practice, weight loss is anything but simple.
First, when we meet The Biggest Loser contestants, they are whisked away to a special camp where they are required to eat healthy food and exercise strenuously with some of the best physical trainers in the country. They are taken away from all the stresses of everyday life and they don’t seem to need to work to earn money. Their full-time focus is weight loss. While some of the contestants are there with a paired family member or friend, most are separated from their families and not allowed to contact them during the show. This appears to be both stressful due to the lack of support but also beneficial in terms of the lack of peer pressure with regard to bad habits.
Change strategies involved: make the path easier
Each week the contestants weigh in (shirtless for the males and in sports bras for the females) and vote to eliminate one of the contestants who lost the lowest percentage of body weight. Contestants who remain are competing for a grand prize of $250,000.
Change strategies involved: motivation (through earning money, team pride, fear of failure/loss of privileges by going home, seeing the physical transformation)
Contestants meet with a doctor who counsels them on the dangers of obesity and even provides some contestants with an estimated death date if they don’t lose weight. Contestants occasionally meet with a professional chef who advises them on cooking low calorie, healthy meals.
Change strategies involved: analytical/logical knowledge of the problem
Contestants have psychological coaching sessions with the physical trainers to discuss the emotional barriers they face when confronting their weight loss.
Contestants express remorse for becoming overweight and the impact being overweight has had on their own lives and those of others around them.
Change strategies involved: forgiveness
As the weight loss program proceeds, the contestants go from losing lots of pounds each week to fewer and fewer pounds. Losses are sometimes not correlated with the amount of effort a participant puts in. Sometimes contestants cheat on their diets or don’t put in maximum effort on their exercise.
Change strategies involved: expecting failure, dividends of learning, willingness to experiment
You can see that aside from being entertaining television, there is a lot of thought that went into helping these contestants transform their lives. It has been very inspiring for me to watch these contestants confront their weight issues so publicly and to see the results of their honesty and hard work.
The only disappointing aspect has been that the “make the path easier” attributes of the training camp is such a big part of their success. It would be very hard to duplicate their results for average people. We see on the show that weight loss slows down dramatically when contestants go home even for short periods and this Anchorage Daily News article shows the harsh reality contestants face after the show ends and the weight they often regain.
Change is not easy but it is possible. We have to learn to accept change as a continuing process rather than a quick fix and know that difficult changes will require ongoing effort, setbacks and a continued investment of time and resources to achieve our desired result. I hope that this month’s discussion has given you some insight into your own change process.
Next week, we start a new month and another Ruly theme. Please check back then.
I was honored to be contacted recently by a publicist for producer Helen Whitney asking if I would be willing to review her latest book, Forgiveness: A Time to Love & A Time to Hate, and get the word out about her PBS documentary of the same name airing in April. The subject was a perfect fit for this month’s Ruly theme of change. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful and the most difficult changes. Forgiveness, or its counterpart, the unwillingness to forgive, can dramatically alter the course of our lives.
I am an enormous fan of PBS as well as Helen Whitney’s prior work—most recently her highly acclaimed documentary “The Mormons.” Whitney has spent much of her filmmaking career producing documentaries on various religious subjects, including “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero,” Pope John Paul II, and life in a Trappist monastery. Despite her enthusiasm for the subject of the “spiritual landscape,” she approached her latest project with some reluctance.
“Given my intense engagement with spiritual themes, the subject was a perfect fit but it was also perfectly wrong. It was everything I had vowed not to do at this point in my life. . . . Forgiveness was vast, shapeless, emotionally and psychologically scarier than any of my earlier films. The intellectual and geographical boundaries seemed infinite.”
After two years of research and over eight hundred interviews around the world, Whitney created the film and book that ask us to begin a complex conversation on a subject that has no defined answers. While your initial expectation may be that this is going to be a sugary sweet film about how we should all forgive each other, you are in for a surprise. Whitney takes the conversation in several directions. There are, of course, incredible stories of forgiveness by grievously wronged victims. But there are also challenges to the whole notion of forgiveness. Are there some things that are unforgivable? Are there times that it is more appropriate to hold on to anger than to forgive?
As I thought through these questions myself in the context of the many personal stories in Whitney’s book, one of the most piercing insights I received was that until a person has gone through an event so traumatic that it requires an incredible, nearly impossible, act of forgiveness to overcome, one doesn’t really know one’s capacity for forgiveness (or one’s limitations). It is one thing to solve some minor grievance with a glib “forgive and forget” but entirely different to go about the process of recovery from adultery, crime, death or torture. It was also insightful for me to learn that although forgiveness is a central tenet of every major religion, there are significant differences among religions about how forgiveness is granted and who grants it.
The book is divided into two parts: the private realm and the public realm. The private realm section addresses personal stories of forgiveness, covering varied topics including infidelity, termination of employment, and criminal acts. In the public realm section, the focus shifts to public apologies and the healing process required to rebuild nations, using examples such as South Africa’s healing from apartheid and Rwanda’s healing from genocide. Given the transformations occurring in many countries, particularly in the Middle East, the topic could not be more timely.
The book has a very interesting writing style that I have never encountered before. It reads like a documentary film. Most of the text is comprised of long quotations from her worldly and eloquent interview subjects with just a few bits of narration and commentary in between. The quotes are all seamlessly woven together so that you have to stop and check every once in a while to confirm who is speaking. The effect is a highly personal conversational flow.
To whet your appetite for reading the book and watching the series, I wanted to highlight some of the most thought provoking quotes from the book:
“[F]orgiveness is the memory of lost possibilities, the enormous presence of absence, an ache for what could have been but is no more.”
“In my years working as a psychotherapist and a psychoanalyst, I’ve learned that you can’t simply say, ‘I forgive you’ and the heavens open up. It’s a slow and often painful process. To get to forgiveness, you have to first go through unforgiveness. It involves understanding the unconscious roots of a problem and that reasons you hold on to a grievance or to resentments, bitterness and hatred.”
“[T]here is never complete forgiveness, there is always an awareness of what happened.”
–Dr. Janet Reibstein, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness.
“[W]e had to discover that it wasn’t about fixing what was broken [about going back to how things were before], rather it was about changing it into something else, something new, and then finding new ways of relating.”
“Forgiveness had rendered me inactive for many years, because this tremendously detrimental cheap grace I had granted . . . left me powerless, with an inability to acknowledge my anger and allowing injustice to continue. . . . If I’d remained that place of easy forgiveness the truth would never have emerged.”
“For someone who feels dogged by emotional pain or humiliation, anger makes them feel alive . . . If they feel unable to influence the course of their own destiny, anger can often create the illusion of control.”
–Lesley Karsten DiNicola, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
“Unless we can find something else the affirms the value of our life, the past events will always haunt us. . . . [T]he loss of a sense of value is like death.”
“Pain doesn’t just go away, anger doesn’t just disappear. It comes up in different ways, at different times. Maybe there’s a temporary forgiveness or temporary understanding that we come to, and then it flitters away and we have to chase after it again. But it’s a pretty good place to get to when you can say, ‘I do understand. I have compassion for what you did . . .’ “
“[T]he past did happen. . . . I am aware of that. It’s just that I was no longer defined by it. I think this what we mean when we say that someone has paid their debt. It means that we are no longer defining them by one moment in their life and its consequences.”
“Forgiveness is an awkward term for me. It gives too much power to the forgiver, and it requires too much humility on the part of the person being forgiven. I like to think of humanizing a relationship, of discovering humanity in another on the basis of a shared sense of what’s right and wrong, a sense of connection that enables us both to move forward in a liberated way.”
“Sometimes we can genuinely forgive. Certainly, as time passes, most of us have less need to think about the harm, to obsess about it, or to feel the hurt; we can move on, time does do that. But it doesn’t necessarily take it all away. One of the hopes is that forgiveness will short-circuit the process and make it possible to do it in less time. Maybe sometimes it does. But maybe we’re only fooling ourselves.”
“Getting rid of your anger is like giving away a part of yourself. When your anger lives in you, slowly it melts into your blood and your emotions, it shapes how you think about people, about life, and so relinquishing it is like losing a part of your body, your character, a part of who you are. You have come to feel that it’s your right to hate. Giving it up means you lose your cutting edge, you become vulnerable, and feel like a victim again.”
–Antoine Rutayisire, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
Helen Whitney’s work is fascinating on many levels. Clearly, if you need to forgive or are seeking forgiveness, its insight will embolden you. It will challenge your own views on the subject and require you to examine your fundamental concept of human nature. The work is a wonderful starting point for a book club discussion or religious class. Even if you aren’t looking at the grand spiritual plain and you just enjoy a compelling story and the human response to extreme situations, Forgiveness will not disappoint.
Below is the trailer for the film airing in two parts on PBS Sunday, April 17 and Sunday April 24 at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Likely, it will also be available for viewing online at pbs.org for a limited time as well.
As I was preparing for this post, coincidentally, I glanced at the wall calendar we use for scheduling family appointments and found that the featured quotation this month was from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the subject of forgiveness.
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
While Martin Luther King Jr. was not mentioned in Helen Whitney’s book, clearly forgiveness has played a crucial role in all of our lives and its themes are woven in our histories and our future.
How has forgiveness impacted your life? Will you be tuning in to watch Forgiveness? Please share in the comments.