Feb 17

“Tell Me More”: K. Corrigan’s 12 Hardest Things to Say

One of the most popular nonfiction books a couple years ago was Kelly Corrigan‘s Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say. “It’s a crazy idea: trying to name the phrases that make love and connection possible. But that’s just what Kelly Corrigan has set out to do here,” states her publisher.

I’ve compiled a list of Corrigan’s 12 things, which are also the titles of her chapters. Featured as well are snippets of what they’re about.

It’s Like This.

About having a full life as well as about the grief process:

…It’s like this. Minds don’t rest; they reel and wander and fixate and roll back and reconsider because it’s like this, having a mind. Hearts don’t idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it’s like this, having a heart. Lives don’t last; they thrill and confound and circle and overflow and disappear because it’s like this, having a life.

Tell Me More.

How to listen better, how not to cut in with self-serving talk and opinions. Helps people feel heard and valued. “Makes you wonder what else people might tell you if you just keep asking questions.”

I Don’t Know.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in our lives. It’s okay to make peace with this.

I try to be one of the exceptional people who can live with the complexity of things, who are at peace with the unknown and the unknowable, who leave all the cages open. I tell myself: There’s so much that you don’t know, you can’t know, you aren’t ever going to know.

I Know.

Connecting through showing understanding.

No.

Setting boundaries doesn’t always make you well-liked, but it does make you better at self-care.

One friend told me her one big takeaway from three years and $11,000 of therapy was Learn to say no. And when you do, don’t complain and don’t explain. Every excuse you make is like an invitation to ask you again in a different way.

Yes.

Things the author will always say yes to.

I was wrong.

Kirkus Reviews: “…(T)he funniest entry in the collection…highlight(s) the power and near-impossible difficulty of admitting personal fault.” And apologizing meaningfully:

According to my mother, the cornerstone of a proper apology is taking responsibility, and the capstone is naming the transgression. Contrition must be felt and conveyed. Finally, apologies are better served plain, hold the rationalizations. In other words, I’m sorry should be followed by a pause or period, not by but and never by you.

Good Enough.

Realizing you can’t be perfect. No one is.

I love you.

I love you.
The first time the words pass between two people: electrifying.
Ten thousand times later: cause for marvel.
The last time: the dream you revisit over and over and over again.

No words at all.

“Despair defies description…the reach of language can be laughable.”

Onward.

The following is from the closing of a letter Corrigan writes to Liz, her very close friend who’s died:

He and the kids are moving onward, not away from you but with you…You are everywhere they are. I love you through them.

This is it.

Appreciate what life is, as in having a family.

The abstract performance art called Family Life is our one run at the ultimate improv. Our chance to be great for someone, to give another person enough of what they need to be happy. Ours to overlook or lost track of our bemoan, ours to recommit to, to apologize for, to try again for. Ours to watch disappear into their next self–toddler, to tyke, tween to teen–ours to drop off somewhere and miss forever.

Jun 01

“Surprise” Book (Unexpected Is Actually a Good Thing)

How’s this for a witty and concise book review—about Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, Seth Godin states, “This book isn’t about what you think it is.”

No doubt authors Tania Luna and LeeAnn Renninger are pleased Godin feels this way. As “surprisologists” they believe the following (Surprise Industries website):

  • Surprise intensifies our emotions by about 400% (making special occasions even specialer)
  • Our happiest memories contain an element of surprise
  • Surprise deepens and brightens our relationships
  • We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not

They admit that too little or too much surprise can be a problem, however. Too much can lead to anxiety, too little to understimulation and boredom.

And for some, it doesn’t matter the quantity. As we all know, there are those among us who just don’t like surprises. In a Psychology Today post, Luna explains that the main factors making for less tolerance for this type of uncertainty are fear, stress, and insecure attachment in our relationships.

In another post she lists three variables that affect our responses to surprise: culture, sensitivity, and tolerance for ambiguity. (Click on the links to both articles for details.)

What about the fact that many surprises aren’t likely to be readily welcomed by anyone? Reviewing the book, Jill Suttie of Greater Good:

Of course, negative surprises are much more challenging than positive ones—receiving a devastating diagnosis, having a car accident, or losing your job will not be a welcome change of pace. But, as Luna and Renninger argue, that doesn’t mean we can avoid them—they are a natural part of life. It is better to find ways to cope with negative surprises than to resist them. Being open to uncertainty, learning how to reframe negative experiences in more positive ways, and nurturing stable relationships are all tools we can use to recover from negative surprises more easily.

In sum, Suttie lists six things suggested by the Surprise authors that can increase our overall acceptance of this emotion:

  1. Reframe vulnerability as openness and take deliberate steps to be more vulnerable…
  2. Practice engaging in activities where you don’t know how things will turn out, such as inviting a colleague out for a drink or asking for a raise…
  3. Make a “struggle sandwich.” In other words, try taking bigger risks sandwiched between taking smaller risks that are more likely to go well, so that you learn to associate risk-taking with positive outcomes.
  4. Become more curious about your surroundings…
  5. Mix things up in your routines…
  6. Delight other people by giving them small, unexpected gifts, “under-promising and over-delivering” (e.g. promising to do the dishes and then cleaning out the fridge, too), or just doing something nice without explaining why, to create mystery and increase happiness…
Nov 20

“Curious” By Todd Kashdan: Importance of Developing This Trait

Todd Kashdan is the Director of the Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena at George Mason University, Virginia. In his 2009 Curious, the author places his focus less on the usual self-help orientation of striving for happiness and more on the importance of:

…meaning and purpose in life, wisdom, satisfying relationships, the ability to tolerate distress, spirituality, creativity, compassion, feeling a sense of competence and mastery, and so on. Sometimes trying to be happy actually gets in the way of making inroads toward these other elements. Effectively handling the pain and stress that life brings is an essential part of creating a rich, meaningful existence.

What is essential to creating a fulfilling life? In his words:

  • Being curious.
  • Being open to new experiences.
  • Being able to effectively manage ambiguity and uncertainty.
  • Being able to adapt to the demands required of different situations.
  • Discovering our strengths, deepest values, and what it is we are passionate about.
  • Strengthening connections to these values and commit to a life aligned with them.

The Guardian‘s Oliver Burkeman, for one, welcomes the wisdom of Kashdan’s views:

We all pay lip service to the value of curiosity, but it is usually only lip service, especially in the world of self-help. Because if curiosity means being open to the unfamiliar, and to whatever emotions may result, then arguably any strategy for achieving happiness – for guaranteeing happy feelings, rather than sad ones – is intrinsically incurious. And such strategies don’t work, Kashdan says, because we’re socially and genetically hard-wired to adapt to experiences, whether good or bad. Create a life that thrills you, and the thrill will fade as it becomes familiar. Work on developing curiosity, by contrast, and you’ll stand a better chance of resisting adaptation – because to become curious is, precisely, to train yourself to seek what’s unfamiliar.

I don’t know about you, but I had to read that paragraph more than once. The work, however—and my curiosity before that—did pay off.

Kashdan offers Jennifer S. Holland, AARP, an interesting and “curious” bit of research info about whether people benefited from knowing who donated a kidney to them. Most people, it’s been ascertained, say they would want to know.

But if the recipients never know who the donor is, they can’t habituate to the kindness of the act. And how do you get a handle on this newly benevolent, compassionate world where someone donated part of his or her body—and could care less about being appreciated for it? You never get over the positivity that comes from that; your thought process about humanity changes. And that’s a good thing.

In other words, not finding out your donor’s identity makes for a better experience. For real, says the research on this, “anonymous donors have a more positive, bigger, longer-lasting impact on recipients.”

Another aspect of Kashdan’s research has involved the link between curiosity and anxiety. He not only explains the link but offers strategies to decrease anxiety.

According to Kari Henley, The Huffington Post, Kashdan provides the following suggestions to help us with the desired goal of becoming “Curious Explorers”:

1. Try to notice little details of your daily routine that you never noticed before.
2. When talking to people, try to remain open to whatever transpires without judging or reacting.
3. Let novelty unfold and resist the temptation to control the flow.
4. Gently allow your attention to be guided by little sights, sounds or smells that come your way.

Are you convinced yet that curiosity is super-important? After all, Curiosity killed the cat, say some. Then again, satisfaction brought it back, say others.

May 16

“Stumbling On Happiness”: Dealing With Uncertainty

Daniel Gilbert is a social psychologist whose book Stumbling On Happiness was published to great acclaim in 2006. He points out that “…when people try to imagine what the future will hold, they make some basic and consistent mistakes. Just as memory plays tricks on us when we try to look backward in time, so does imagination play tricks when we try to look forward.”

Because he’s done significant research on what he calls “affective forecasting,” perhaps no one knows better than Gilbert that it’s really hard to accurately predict not only what our feelings will be about specific future experiences but also how long those feelings will last.

But that doesn’t stop most of us from trying.

Some of the reviews for Stumbling On Happiness:

Booklist: “[S]ly, irresistible….It is not only wildly entertaining but also hilarious (if David Sedaris were a psychologist, he very well might write like this) and yet full of startling insight, imaginative conclusions, and even bits of wisdom.”

The New York Times Book Review: “In an important sense, Stumbling on Happiness is a paean to delusion. ‘How do we manage to think of ourselves as great drivers, talented lovers and brilliant chefs when the facts of our lives include a pathetic parade of dented cars, disappointed partners and deflated soufflés?’ Gilbert asks. ‘The answer is simple: We cook the facts.'”

Washington Post: “Among other things, Gilbert explains why we learn so little from our mistakes — why so many divorced people wake up realizing that their second spouses are exactly like the ones they left. He reviews some common tricks of memory, such as our tendency to ‘remember the best of times and the worst of times instead of the most likely of times,’ and some kinks in our decision-making processes, like our tendency to rationalize.”

If you have the time (over 20 minutes worth), below is Gilbert’s TED talk on this topic:

A phenomenon related to how we “stumble on happiness” is the issue of how we deal with uncertainty. In 2009 Gilbert posted an article on his website called “What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous.” What you don’t know makes you project your feelings into the future—feelings that may never happen. A quote from this article:

…(H)uman beings find uncertainty more painful than the things they’re uncertain about…

Why would we prefer to know the worst than to suspect it? Because when we get bad news we weep for a while, and then get busy making the best of it. We change our behavior, we change our attitudes. We raise our consciousness and lower our standards. We find our bootstraps and tug. But we can’t come to terms with circumstances whose terms we don’t yet know. An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait.

Tomorrow, more on uncertainty…or, to paraphrase Don Pardo at the end of sports-blooper-filled “Spanning the World” segments…if there is a tomorrow…