Things I Do To Keep My Cool While Bicycling in Traffic

Things I do to keep my cool when biking in traffic:
1. When a driver honks at me, I smile and wave as if they are someone I know just saying "Hello." I love the puzzled looks I get.
2. When a driver does something well (or something kind) - stays behind me until it is safe to pass, passes me with at least 3 feet between their rearview mirror and my handlebars, slows down to let me in when I signal a lane change, etc. - I let myself really feel the appreciation and wave my "thank you" to them. 
3. When a driver does something that threatens my life or safety, I wait for the adrenaline rush to wear off (and sometimes I say a few choice words out loud to help with that) and then breathe a blessing: "May you get where you are going efficiently and safely." (I do this when I drive, too.)

When possible I ask, directly, for what I want.  While sitting at intersections waiting for the light to change, I've asked the driver next to me, "OK if I move in front of you until I get around that delivery truck parked in the bike lane?" I've never had a driver say no.

And sometimes I just have to laugh. For example, once I was nearly sideswiped while being passed by a woman driving a Smartcar with a vanity license plate that said "GoGreen." I guess I was a bit too green for her at that moment. 

What do you do to keep your cool when working under pressure?

Getting Honest About Emotions

 

You can find loads of books and articles about how to “handle” emotions in the workplace. Most of them are pretty useless, because they are based on the unquestioned premise that to succeed, and to lead, we are required to pretend we don’t have emotions at work.

I have long known this to be a bad way to deal with emotions in the work place. And now I have some science to back me up.

If I ever get back to Finland, I’m going to look up Lauri Nummenmaa just to shake her hand and thank her for doing the work she does. Dr. Nummenmaa is a neuroscientist who does research at Aalto University, and she and her collaborators use brain imaging tools to figure out what happens when we experience emotion. 

Two of her recent papers speak directly to this issue of emotions and the futility of pretending we don’t have them. In case you want to check them out yourself, here are the titles and URLs: 

“Bodily maps of emotions”

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/2/646.full.pdf

“Emotions promote social interaction by synchronizing brain activity across individuals.”

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/05/22/1206095109.full.pdf

Dr. Nummenmaa and her research colleagues figured out a way to measure something that many who work in behavior and psychology have know for a long time: that what we call “emotions” are sets or packages of bodily sensations that we have learned to label anger, fear, sadness, joy, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and so on.

You can‘t make yourself not have emotions, they just show up, like the tide. And, like the tide, the ebb and flow, wax and wane. And although we think we can hide our emotions from those around us, we give ourselves away in myriad ways, from small changes in our facial expression or tone of voice, to changes in the way we smell.

Dr. Nummenmaa also found that when people sharing an emotional state, their brain activity synchronizes in a way that enhances our ability to predict and understand each other’s actions. By attempting to suppress our emotions in the workplace out of some belief that having emotions at work is “inappropriate,” we are cutting ourselves off from one of the ways our brains make it easier for us to get along and work together.

Since you can’t avoid having emotions, ask yourself, what are you doing with them? Are you storing them up? Building a case out of them? Making yourself sick pretending you don‘t have them? Or are you feeling them, letting them move through you, and speaking your mind when necessary, to get over yourself?

I used to brag that I had a strong temper but a long fuse. What was really going on is that I would suppress anger so quickly I wasn’t even aware of it until much later when it emerged rather explosively – or it oozed out indirectly, as gossip, or nagging, or wanting to avoid someone. I eventually learned that the most frequent sensation I feel when I get angry is tightness in my chest and stomach. I’ve learned that when I notice that sensation, I need to check in to find out what I’m making myself angry about, and then deal with it in a way that I get over being angry, rather than just squelching it.

The challenge is that we are all taught, from the time we are small children, to suppress the emotions our cultures regard as “negative” – particularly anger and its derivatives such as frustration, fear, and sadness or its milder cousin, disappointment. We also learn to keep a lid on our joy, in part because the physical sensations that accompany anger (which we learn to suppress and become uncomfortable around) are similar to those that we feel when we are joyful.

Of course as little, immature human beings we do have a lot to learn how to coexist with other little (and big) human beings. We had to learn how to live with our emotions without causing harm to others or ourselves. 

Now, as healthy adults, we are capable of fully experiencing and expressing our emotions without causing damage, physical or otherwise, to ourselves and others. To do that, we have to unlearn what we learned as kids.

We have to be willing to fully experience our emotions, acknowledge and take responsibility for them as self-generated, and express our emotions in ways that lets them move up and out, rather than hanging on to them.

To tell the truth about emotions, to fully express them, we have to start by noticing we have them. We have to be willing to own them as ours, and to express them in the moment, in ways that are congruent with the power of the emotion in the moment.

With practice, you can get so good at this that, most of the time, you’ll be able to notice, express, and get over emotions when they are still small, before they pile up and build up to explosive levels. Not just anger, sadness, and fear but also happiness, joy, and appreciation.

I got a lot of help in learning how to do this from Brad Blanton, author of Radical Honesty and Practicing Radical Honesty and from my amazing life coach and co-author of The Book of How, Raven Dana. Read those books. Do the practices.

Learn how to express your emotions, at work and everywhere else you go. That’s how to manage emotions.

 

You Can't Police Your Own Thoughts

Beware of equating "mindfulness" with "policing your own thoughts." Being mindful is simple and straightforward - as one of my mentors is fond of saying, being mindful is about becoming as dumb as a stick. You just notice. Notice what you think, notice what you feel in your body, notice what is going on around you. Not easy to do when your inner chatterbox is busy tossing judgments, assessments and interpretations around like the expert juggler s/he is. And yet it is possible to just notice that, too.  Notice how quickly you leap to conclusions, make assumptions, issue verdicts, pile up adjectives.

Policing and controlling your own thoughts is an exercise in futility. The best you can hope for is to identify the patterns of thought and behavior that don’t serve you, interrupt those pattern, and choose  to do something else. If you do that often enough, eventually your thoughts will change. It works, it just takes practice.

The key, of course, is you have to notice the patterns before you can interrupt them, which brings you right back to mindfulness – to noticing.

How The Book of How Came to Be

The Book of How is the product of Raven Dana’s 30+ years of experience helping people to create the lives that they desire. I am one of those people.

I first met Raven when she was working with Brad Blanton, and assisting at one of Brad’s Radical Honesty eight-day workshop. When Raven began leading workshops in the DC area in partnership with Clara Griffin of the Griffin Center, I was a regular and enthusiastic participant. When I went through a major life change,  I asked Raven for her help in grasping how I was stopping myself from having what I so deeply desired.  We worked fast – in part because Raven is a skilled coach, and in part because I was primed for change. Within a few months I was able to see clearly how I was getting in my own way, and what I could do to change that. The work we did together was effective, powerful, and truly life-changing.

A few years ago I was between jobs and Raven was tired of hearing people say, “You really ought to write all this down and publish a book.” We began to collaborate on what eventually became The Book of How. Raven wrote, I edited and contributed, together we arranged and rearranged the content, added and deleted material, conspired and collaborated and got mad at each other and got over it and ever so slowly built Raven’s teachings, tools, and techniques into The Book of How. 

Momentary Awareness

 

In any moment, we may be aware of three things. We may notice what is happening around us: what is said, what is done, what is occurring, what actions are taken by others and ourselves. We may notice what is happening in our bodies; what sensations we are feeling. And we may notice what is happening in our minds: our thoughts, assessments, judgements, opinions, decisions.

In any interaction among people, these three domains of awareness come into play. Too often, we mistake the workings of our minds with the truth, when the truth is simply what has happened. If you can photograph it or audio record it, it's true. Everything else is a product of the body-mind, and is an experience unique to the individual. Glitches in communication usually originate in our mistaking our experience for "the truth."