Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Month: May, 2014

“You deserve it.”

stylized art of gold trophy

You can thank the ad mavens at L’Oreal* and other equally duplicitous conglomerates for this pap, BUT dooooon’t believe it. Just because we think or (as in this case) an ad writer tells us that we deserve something, doesn’t necessarily mean we do.

But let’s say we are thinking correctly, and we truly do deserve something good and – yippee! – we receive it. Sad news: getting what we think we deserve doesn’t always bring us bliss.

But seriously,
playing by the rules
means I deserve to win,
doesn’t it?

No, it doesn’t. But for years – and I refuse to tell you how many – I wasn’t paying attention and sincerely thought this statement was 100 percent true. I fervently believed that playing by the rules (doing good) meant I deserved to win (receive plenty of attaboys and all kinds of good results).

How could
I have been so wrong??

All I had to do was look around and pay attention: just because we play by the rules doesn’t mean we deserve to win the game. Some people, you’ve no doubt noticed, get to not play by the rules, not get caught, and walk away with the trophy: the trophy job, the baseball trophy, the trophy wife.

Scenario 1

But let’s say you played by the rules, practiced diligently, and your company’s team won the city league softball tournament. Did it change your life significantly? Did guys at work look at you with newfound respect the next day? They did not.

Most of them didn’t even know what a studly jock you’d turned out to be. Even the ones who did weren’t all that impressed. Your coworkers’ flattering admiration after winning the deserved trophy was not forthcoming. In reality, it didn’t bring you a whole lot of anything except a momentary high.

Scenario 2

Just because you’ve put up with a real jerk of a manager doesn’t mean you deserve his corner office when he gets the boot.

The powers-that-be, while they no doubt appreciate your long-suffering attitude, may also know someone else is far more qualified for the job than you are – or not. Maybe the person who gets your jerky ex-manager’s job is the CEO’s lazy nephew.

Or maybe you do get the job and learn why your manager was so consistently crabby: it’s a total beast of a job with trifling support from higher up. You deserved it. You got it. But you get little reward or pleasure from it.

Scenario 3

Just because you’ve sweated like a pig and eschewed all desserts for two months doesn’t mean you deserve to lose weight in time for your high school reunion.

You may have started only two months before the reunion with a goal of losing 50 pounds. You’ve been unrealistic, and you really don’t deserve to lose 50 pounds. Fifteen maybe, but not 50.

Maybe your mother and grandmother handed down a nasty set of genes. Regardless of how well you adhere to the diet game’s rules, you may as well apply the food directly to your hips ‘cause that’s where your DNA will make sure it goes.

Let’s say you lost the weight. The only problem is that no one at the reunion knows you packed on 70 pounds after graduation. No one knows you’ve just taken off 50. They’ll only note you’re about 20 pounds heavier since they last saw you and politely bypass the whole weight thing. You lost the weight you intended by the deadline you gave yourself. But none of the people you intended to impress gave you the atta-boys you were expecting.

What’s the common denominator
in these three hypothetical
deserving scenarios?

Traveling through life telling yourself you deserve certain good things because of _________ (fill-in-the-blank time) is traveling through life just asking for disappointment, after disappointment, after disappointment. I well know what I’m talking about here, dear reader. Few have had more of an I-deserve-it attitude for doing good things than I have had and still have, more’s the pity.

That nasty rumor you’ve heard here and there – the one that life isn’t fair? It’s true. We don’t always get the good things we think we deserve, while others often get the good things we think they don’t deserve. It gets worse: some exceedingly disagreeable people get good stuff they don’t deserve at all and escape the negative consequences they deserve in spades.

There’s just
no getting around it.
Life isn’t fair.

The sooner we come to grips with that fact, the better. The sooner we realize we get no guarantee that doing the right thing brings us accolades and our perceived deserved rewards from others, the sooner we can get on with living our lives with less angst. To mangle one of Jesus’ beatitudes, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.”

Yuck. How depressing.

Not necessarily. Paying attention to the fact that life isn’t fair can help us live in a way that circumvents this whole I-deserve-it pothole.

How? You base your life on one simple concept: doing right is the reward. Knowing you’re doing the right thing:

  • at work,
  • in family life,
  • in your community,
  • in your church family,
  • in your weight management efforts,
  • in your exercise routine

can give you a satisfaction that infiltrates your soul much deeper than you would believe possible.

Knowing you’re receiving something because you deserve it can give you a superficial – maybe even smug – satisfaction which can easily and inevitably (and much sooner than you’d like) be ripped from your consciousness.

As you know, all it takes is for one devious co-worker to steal your brilliant idea, and that deserved promotion can bypass your waiting hands and be plopped into his. You are entirely at the mercy of other people’s actions when you go through life waiting to receive the good things you deserve because you’ve been “such a good boy.”

On the other hand, when you do right and, in the doing of it, receive that deeply intrinsic satisfaction that comes only from doing right, who’s going to take that away from you? That deep reward can be taken from you only if you allow an unhappy person to rain on your parade or fall into the comparison trap. If you won’t allow either to happen, no one can steal that feel-good reward from you.

The Pay-Attention Finale

Deserving good things doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get them, so jettison the “I deserve it” mentality. Pay attention to how you can do good for yourself and others. Then pay attention to how good that makes YOU feel. Do good for its own sake and let the doing of good nurture your soul.

*A note to clueless male readers: L’Oreal promoted women’s hair coloring products for years with a campaign that ended with this husky-voiced line from a pencil-thin, lustrously tressed, drop-dead-gorgeous model: “After all, you’re worth it.” Translation: “You deserve it.” (Listen, I know as well as you do it’s smarmy twaddle. I don’t make up this stuff; I just report it.)

© 2014, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “Doing good does YOU good.” – Anonymous

It can’t get much plainer than this, can it?

red box with white text: “...He [God] makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Jesus, Matthew 5:45, NKJ Bible

Even God (!!!) isn’t “fair” – in THIS world.

Intentional Living

photo looking up from the ground at rescuer and rescue-ee dangling from a whirling helicopter

Often appropriate. Other times, not so much.

Have you noticed that “right now” is usually a bogus statement, primarily used by those wanting your time or your money? “Right now” is also the most formidable enemy of intentional living that I’ve ever encountered.

My own definition of intentional living is this: choosing to live our lives according to our morals and values, regardless of what our society thinks is politically correct. It’s a studied, preplanned approach to life that makes decision-making a whole lot more straightforward, once we’ve paid attention and done the heavy lifting upfront.

You know how “right now” looks. It comes packaged as “This amazing offer is available for the next 15 minutes only.” Or this oft-used gem: “If you don’t come right now, I just don’t know how I’ll manage.” And on and on.

When confronted with right-now clamor, I’ve developed what I call my D&D Strategy. And wouldn’t you know, I neglected to copyright it so feel free to pass it on.

Delay.

When my usually robust willpower is trounced by a “special, one-day only, once-a-year, blockbuster sale,” or someone demands my help RIGHT NOW, I delay decision-making in favor of pay-attention question-posing.

  • Do I need this for any of the short- or long-term projects already on my to-do list?
  • Have I already researched prices for it? Is it really a deal?
  • Was it already on my shopping list? If not, why not?
  • Do I already have four? If so, exactly why do I need a fifth?
  • Is this person really helpless without me?
  • If I respond right now, will that solve the problem?

I’ll bet you can think of plenty of other questions that will delay your buying decision till you can pay attention to your moral values and the goals you’ve set for yourself. Thoughtful questions force us to delay our decisions until we’ve ascertained a buying decision fits in with our intentional living – or not.

When someone (usually known for this type of right-now call) phones to demand I come to their aid right now, I use the delay approach again. I start asking questions to learn why I, and I alone, am the person who needs to fix their problem. The more questions I ask, the more it often becomes apparent to me and, more importantly, to them that I am not The Fixer: they are.

Slowing down their panicky mind almost always helps them realize they know the steps they need to take to fix their own problem and are quite capable of taking them. Delaying a right-now response to their frantic cry for a helicopter rescue* has made the rescue unnecessary or, at the very least, dramatically less than what they were demanding at the outset.

Divert.

I’ve found this works best when practiced on self, though it can also be effective – sort of – when practiced on children. I’ve found it not quite so effective on adults, who can drive off and do whatever they choose, regardless of how much good advice they receive.

When mesmerized by the allure of a sparkling new ______ on sale at seventy percent off (!!!) but only “through the weekend,” I haul out the diversionary big guns. I remind myself of what I’d intended to accomplish that day, the responsibilities I’d already agreed to, anything that will take my mind off this tantalizing deal. I pay attention to my intentions for the day and stay rigidly focused on them the entire day.

Try it. Here’s what you’ll find: by the end of the day, you’ve forgotten about The Deal of a Lifetime. Or not. Maybe, after taking care of business, your mind willfully wanders back to THE Deal.

But if you’re like me, you’ll find The Deal of a Lifetime has lost a considerable amount of its luster. After sufficient diversion, you can think clearly; you can find all sorts of flaws in your buying motives that, in the heat of the right-now moment, you’d conveniently stuffed at the back of your brain. Diverting your attention to other, more intentional activities has helped you make a more rational decision.

Back to the example above about another’s demand for helicopter rescue. Divert their attention – help them pay attention – to all they things that are right with their life; all the things they are quite capable of doing to help themselves; how they’ve helped themselves in the past in similar situations. If you’re halfway good at this and they’re a somewhat mature adult, your diversionary tactics will pay off big time. You will have talked them down, encouraged them to be The Fixer in their own life, and saved yourself an unnecessary helicopter mission.

Delay & Divert Misconceptions

But wait, are you saying we shouldn’t help others?” Of course not! I’m not advocating we callously let others sink or swim.

I am saying that we delay and divert action until we’re quite sure the action fits what we’ve already decided for our own intentional living morals and values AND is genuinely needed and helpful to others. That’s all: just a little time to come to the best decision for everyone.

Sometimes, as in the story of The Good Samaritan in the Bible, that delay-and-divert tactic takes seconds or minutes as we ascertain that helping fits right in with our moral values. NOT helping would be denying our intentional living values. So we rev up the helicopter and drop the rescue rope.

But need I say, we rarely find ourselves in a Good-Samaritan scenario? Usually, though it’s hard to remember when someone is screaming RIGHT NOW in your ear, there’s ample time for Delay & Divert.

Already have your own version of Delay & Divert? Why not share it with the rest of us? As you well know, I’ve only scratched the surface.

*I truly wish I’d thought up this helicopter concept, but I didn’t. It stole it from Love & Logic parenting materials produced by Jim Fay and Foster Cline. FYI: most of their ideas, like their helicopter-versus-the-consultant metaphor, work on adults, too. (And they’re quite handy.)

©2014, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”  ― Roy Disney

Concise wisdom from Walt Disney’s nephew

red box with white text: “Until you accept responsibility for your life, someone else runs your life.”  ― Orrin Woodward

Pay-attention wisdom from a leadership guru

Feeling Shortchanged

photo of hand holding a penny and a quarter

Are YOU feeling shortchanged?

I once knew a child who obviously felt shortchanged, though he was so young I doubt he could’ve named his feelings as “shortchanged.” His mother began having an affair when he was still an infant and by the time he was ready for school, had abandoned her boy for her boyfriend. In fact, she’d probably checked out emotionally long before she checked out physically.

She allowed her Lover-boy to steal her husband’s wife, her son’s emotional security, and her family’s financial stability. That little boy, like many of us, had lost what’s important to most of us: a stable and loving family. Did he have good reason for feeling shortchanged? You bet.

How about you?
Are you feeling shortchanged?

Has something happened in your life that makes you feel someone – maybe the whole world – owes you? Maybe they do. Maybe you do, indeed, have ample reasons to feel that someone owes you big time.

On the other hand, maybe your perception isn’t totally accurate. Maybe what happened didn’t happen in quite the way you remember it: our memory plays tricks on us sometimes. At other times, we subconsciously (and sometimes even consciously) tweak memory to suit us. Then we get so accustomed to the “revised” version, we’re absolutely certain it’s what really happened.

Given how we can trick our own memories, maybe it doesn’t matter if your perception, which led you to feeling shortchanged, is correct or not. Psychologists tell us that whether it’s a real or perceived memory, it has the same effect on us. If we believe something happened to us – even if it didn’t – the effect on us is the same as if it really had happened.

But that’s not the point I want to make.

Here’s the real,
pay-attention gem.

Going through life feeling shortchanged usually means we act shortchanged – in all sorts of ways – and that’s where true trouble begins. It’s the pay-attention bit I’ve learned (and am STILL learning) the hard way and desperately want to pass on to you.

For this little boy it meant that when Mom and Lover-boy offered to take him out to dinner, he ordered the entire left side of the menu, ate a few bites, and wasted the rest. Who would scold him? Mom knew she couldn’t. Lover-boy knew he certainly couldn’t. So they gulped, paid for enough food to feed half an orphanage, left it on the table, and took their exit. Son got his revenge. He’d been shortchanged and someone had just paid.

When we’re not paying attention, we can get a secret little thrill when we hear a story like this: Good for him. He evened the score a bit. When we are paying attention, we know that evening the score never works because the other party can now do something else which shortchanges us yet again, and then we’ve got to try to even the score again. As you know, this quickly morphs into a form of Monopoly – a game that can go on forever.

Good news: there’s a better way
for dealing with “shortchanged.”

We can pay attention to our own pitiful, shortchanged behavior and decide to stop it. After all, it really doesn’t make us feel better, not when we practice it on the person we feel has shortchanged us and certainly not when we practice it on unsuspecting, innocent people who have never shortchanged us and don’t plan to.

Back to this little boy. By puberty, he’d fallen into the habit of ordering the left side of the menu when anyone took him to a restaurant. But by this age, he’d also begun to realize it’s rather bad form to waste other people’s money – people who are being kind to us and trying to treat us.

Feeling shortchanged had caused him to develop the self-sabotaging habit of trying to even the score. He insisted on ordering far more food than he could possibly eat – even though the adults with him tried to talk him out of ordering so much – and was then overcome with embarrassment when he realized he couldn’t eat all his food – again – and had wasted a kind, well-meaning person’s money – again.

He couldn’t seem to help himself – and this is the real tragedy of the faulty thinking that leads to bad habits. He knew his habitual behavior of trying to even the score (especially with innocent parties) was not a good thing, yet he just kept slipping into that old, familiar – and very bad – habit. 

It’s the dilemma in which we ALL find ourselves when confronted with our own bad habits. But again, I digress, I want to dwell on this habit of perceived shortchanged-ness until we’re all sick of it and resolve to pay attention and deal with it in our own lives.

What other tatty habits
might we have adopted
because we feel shortchanged?

Some of us are consistently late for work and social appointments. We make other people wait on us because, after all, Mom was ALWAYS late when it was her weekend to keep us at her house. We’ve become adept at punishing others for crimes they didn’t commit.

Some of us absolutely must be first – in line, choosing the movie, into the car to ride shotgun, etc. It’s our way of trying to even the score because, dang it, Dad ALWAYS let Big Sis go first, and now we’re going to be first . . . no matter what! (I’d just like to point out right here that always is a very bigand way-too-often overused – word.)

Some of us had a big brother who loved to tease us – unmercifully. His teasing went well beyond good nature. So now, as an adult, we get even by teasing him unmercifully – and everyone else, as well – until they’re all ready to slap us. They don’t, though. Too well mannered for that. They’re just “busy” the next time we call to go to a movie, or a game, or a concert.

And that’s a big ole warning signal. When we find our friendships consistently die premature deaths, when family members regularly have too many other commitments and don’t ever seem to have time for us, it’s time to pay attention. We may, indeed, be allowing our shortchanged-ness to make others pay – others who had nothing to do with our perceived or real shortchanged-ness.

The pay-attention finale:

Feeling shortchanged – justifiably or not – is quite understandable in the short term and obviously unhealthy in the long term. We all need to find ways to stop habits born of shortchanged-ness – the sooner, the better. Got any suggestions?

© 2014, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.” – Gandhi

Translation: getting even makes us all losers.

red box with white text: “. . .love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. . . .” – Jesus, Luke 6:35a, NIV Bible

Waaay before Gandhi, Jesus knew this truth.

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