Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Category: Pay attention to your life.

Judging a Book by the Cover, Part 1

photo of hands holding a book on someone's lap

What a novel idea: checking INSIDE the book.

You’ve heard this plenty of times, starting with your mother, no doubt. It’s an over-used metaphor, of course, for not forming first impressions of others – or anything – simply on looks.

I’m coming clean right up front. I form first impressions based on how a person, a situation, or a thing looks. There. I said it. I rationalize my behavior, as most of us do, by claiming it’s the only information I have available in today’s nano-second world.

Truthfully? Rationalizations aside? I do it because I’m lazy. Usually, when I don’t get beyond looks, it’s because I don’t want to, or I tell myself I don’t have time. Whether I want to admit it or not, whether I like the concept or not, whether I’m justified in doing it or not, I judge a book by looking at the cover. So do you, BTW.

Have you noticed some books with spectacularly designed jackets or covers that you couldn’t wait to read turned out to be poorly written or just plain trashy? And have you noticed that sometimes books you almost passed up because of their shabby, ho-hum book jackets or covers proved so riveting you could scarcely put them down?

I’m talking hold-in-your-hand, hard-copy books here. But the analogy to people comes through loud and clear, doesn’t it? It’s one of life’s most annoying conundrums: people – as well as things and events – are seldom what they appear to be. Or maybe they are. Who knows? Aargh! Drives me crazy.

The Pay-attention Points

The sooner we take a little more time and make a little more effort to get beyond superficial first impressions, the better. But how? How do you think? By paying attention, of course. Pay attention to all the:

  • obvious and the not-so-obvious clues lying around in plain sight, just waiting for you to notice them.
  • details people tell you – even the seemingly unimportant ones – and the details you can sniff out that they don’t tell you.
  • subtle body language that can belie a person’s words – or back them up.
  • ever-so-slight voice inflections that can dramatically change the dictionary definition of words.

Experts
at First Impressions

Do you know someone who’s considered an expert in his field? I do. Dozens. You know what’s really interesting about them? Sometimes they can’t tell you why or how they know what they immediately know about someone or something. They just know.

Now, how does that work? Well, Malcolm Gladwell’s proposal, in Blink, makes sense to me. Here’s my simple paraphrase of the explanation he gives with this story, “The Statue That Didn’t Look Right” in Blink. After absorbing tons of details for a very long time, experts in their field have such a body of knowledge in their heads, they can’t possibly search through it all consciously. Like Data on Star Trek, they search their databanks in nano-seconds (Gladwell calls it “thin-slicing”) and instantly and intuitively know when the “cover” doesn’t reflect what’s in the “book.”

Experts have so much information crammed into their heads, they understandably have a hard time pulling out and naming the exact details that brought them to their conclusion. Though they can’t give you an immediate list of reasons for their brisk assessment, inability to do so doesn’t change the accuracy of their assessment. They just know.

You and I can become experts, too, by paying attention to the list above so that we can make quick, intuitive, accurate judgments. Take a little more time. Make a little more effort. Pay a little more attention to the people, events, and things all around you to see if their innards match their out-ards*. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Next up, Part 2 of this judging-a-book-by-the-cover topic. It’s the part where I have to deal with the unpleasant reality that I get quite miffed when other people judge my book by my cover. How unfair!

*Yes, I made up out-ards. I’m a writer, licensed to do such things. I wouldn’t advise trying this at home.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” – Jesus in John 7:24, NIV Bible

Maybe the book-cover thing is an old problem?

Looking Back

photo of sculpture by Sir William Thorncraft (1877) of Lot's Wife

Lot’s Wife, William Thorncraft

You’ve heard about Lot’s wife. She gets the dubious honor of being the person whose name we call up when we want to remind ourselves of the futility of looking back.

Her story comes from Genesis, the very first book in the Bible. Lot and his whole family had been warned to get out of Dodge (Sodom) – by an angel straight from God, no less – before it was ferociously wiped off the face of the earth. Furthermore, they were told NOT TO LOOK BACK at the very unsavory place where they’d been living. But Lot’s wife just couldn’t resist one, last, longing look at the city she’d called home for a few years.

I have no doubt her thought processes sounded like this: “Where’s the harm in one last look? I raised my kids there. I’ve just left everything I own there.” (Or some equally squishy variant.) I’m pretty sure of this because Lot’s wife and I are kindred spirits. I’ve spent a good deal of my adult life looking back and – what’s even more dimwitted – rigorously justifying my mental looking-back exercises. Though my exercises haven’t been as unproductive as her last look (turning into a pillar of salt*), they’ve been almost as debilitating at times.

Can you relate?

Of course you can. We all do this, some more than others. We all look back and second-guess our behavior and our decisions. It’s human nature. The smart thing is to nip that very human tendency in the bud.

But do I do what’s smart? Do I do what I know to do? Nooooo, because, as I’ve said before, knowing and doing are two separate things. Nope. I just keep asking my well-worn what-if questions.

What if I’d known ____________?

What if I’d been more _____________?

What if I hadn’t ____________?

What if “they” had ____________?

What if “they” hadn’t ______________?

What if there had been _________________?

Asking these what-if questions would be time well spent IF I could get in a time capsule, travel back in time, and be guaranteed a do-over. But we don’t usually get do-overs: we usually get to soldier on from where we are now. Wallowing in what-if scenarios very definitely is time not well spent.

Paying attention
to lessons learned, however,
is time well spent.

You knew I’d get to this eventually, since it’s the whole point of this blog.

  • Pay attention to the lessons we can learn from our life experiences – pleasant or unpleasant – and move on.
  • Pay attention to those around us, learn from their life experiences, and move on.
  • Pay attention to what’s happening in the world at large, and move on.

We have two – and only two (making them easy to remember) – operative principles here:

  • Pay attention.
  • Move on.

As Lot’s wife’s representative in the 21st century, I could use a few pointers. I’m getting better at the pay-attention part – sort of. The moving-on stage? Not so much. Any tips?

©2015, Teresa Bennett

*There are some interesting theories about this salt business, if you’re interested. Whatever it means, we know she was absent from that point on in the story. We also know an absentee wife and mother is pretty much an ineffectual wife and mother.

red box with white text: "...one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on...." Philippians 3:13, NIV Bible

Christian-Persecutor Paul’s plan: move on.

Conformity and Pop Culture

photo of Julie Andrews with the Von Trapp kiddos, belting out

Famous Julie belting out “My Favorite Things”

Like it or not, pop culture oozes into our thinking, almost always changing us – and not necessarily for the better. Most us know this, yet we like to pretend we’re above the fray and are the only independent thinkers for miles. (Self deception knows no bounds.)

Even relatively harmless pop culture songs, myths, etc., can insinuate themselves into our brains with astonishing ease. Even though we know they don’t match up with what we truly believe or are just goofy-silly, we find ourselves so embarrassed at being the outlier that we go along.

Sometimes, our sheepish compliance is a relatively harmless deal. But remember that whole process thing? Sometimes our compliance turns into a very big deal because of where it eventually leads us. Conforming to ideas and beliefs that don’t line up with our moral values and world view is a process. We get better and better at just giving in, convincing ourselves all the while that “no harm’s done,” as we give up who we are and what we believe.

You know where I’m headed with this, don’t you? An embarrassing real-life example.

My Favorite Things
– Or Not

A few weeks ago, we passed the fiftieth anniversary of the sappiest of all musicals, The Sound of Music. I was a high school junior when it debuted. Didn’t know myself very well then. Ate up that sugary music and plot as any giddy teenage girl would, blithely belting out the saccharine lyrics as if I truly believed them. Even convinced myself I liked cats and, get this, foods I’d never tasted.

Now? I know myself better and have spent a lifetime assessing pop culture and deciding if I want to keep certain of its items or not. Mostly, I decide not to participate. I’m not so easily convinced to go along just to make life easier or please those around me who desperately want me to believe as they do.

*Scroll to the bottom of this post for a refresher if you, pagan that you are, have forgotten the immortal words to this favorite of all favorite songs, made favorite by Julie Andrews. You’ll see what I mean about the syrupy silliness. Now, fifty years out, I can finally speak my mind with no worries about conforming. Here are my stand-up-and-be-counted, Ebert-and-Siskel thumbs-up-thumbs-down assessments.

Raindrops On Roses

Are you kidding? Rain on any growing thing is a favorite thing when you live in the arid West, as I do. In our more droughty years, I’ve grown rapturous about rain on dandelions.

But “raindrops on roses”? That’s just icing on the cake. We used to have a house with a yard and garden. We used to try to grow roses. And then we gave up. Out here in the West, apparently, our extremely hot and dry summers and all-over-the-map winters make roses ridiculously easy prey to insects and fungus. Having tried to raise roses and having failed miserably, I know how to appreciate a healthy rose when I see one. And one with delicate dew drops all over it? Let her rip, Julie; you’re on a roll.

Whiskers On Kittens

Or not…. I’m going to say this right out: some of us abhor kittens, and dogs, and horses – basically anything with fur that sheds. Kitten whiskers are just, well, annoying, mainly because they’re attached to something furry.

When we visit you, our favorite things don’t include looking like a pet on our backsides after we leave your home. Back at home, one of our favorite things isn’t attacking our pant legs with a lint brush because the fur in your carpets hitched a ride on static electricity – straight up in the air – and Velcro-ed itself to our pant legs.

Furthermore, we’re not fond of fur in our food. When Fluffy hops up on the counter and you look stunned and say, “Down, Fluffy!” we’re not fooled. Not even when you say, with just the appropriate amount of bewilderment, “I don’t know why she did that; she never gets on the kitchen counters.”

Right.

We all know cats do whatever they please. If yours has the run of the house, we know she walks around on anything she pleases when you’re gone – including your kitchen counters. We know we can expect to spit out cat fur all evening, as we delicately pick our way through food prepared on those same kitchen counters.

I decided to pass on the kitten whiskers – and fur – a long time ago.

Bright Copper Kettles

Yep, there’s something about a shiny copper kettle whistling on a stovetop that sings out “Welcome. Hang out awhile.” It takes me back to simpler times, slathered in good-old-days nostalgia.

But the trick word here is shiny. I’ve owned a fair amount of copper goods, including a copper kettle. They require serious elbow grease with copper polish to look the way you see them in house magazines, home furnishings stores, and open-to-the-public mansions. They’re work, in other words.

Kettles from other materials? Not so much. But “cheap aluminum kettles” just doesn’t have the same lyrical punch, does it? So I’m on the fence with this one. Maybe coppery aesthetics are worth the polishing.

Warm Woolen Mittens

Oh, yes. For someone whose hands are almost always cold, warm mittens are lovely. Wool ones are even better (unless you’re one of those unfortunates who’s allergic to wool). I’m not so I’m in.

Brown Paper Packages
Tied Up With String

Definitely a favorite thing, though not for the same reasons as that famous, having-second-thoughts nun. For me, it means some bright soul reversed a humble brown paper grocery bag, pressed it out, and recycled it into gift wrap. They’ve also found a secondary use for ordinary twine or string from who-knows-where, and pressed it into service as “ribbon.” Chances are, since tan on brown can be a little too understated, they’ve also found some clever tidbit to glue to the top – also recycled. Yep, my favorite things always include social responsibility, personal creativity, and a gift assembled just for me on the inside and outside.

Cream-Colored Ponies

Nope. Reread Whiskers on Kittens. There’s fur involved.

Crisp Apple Strudels

Oh, how I wish. But wild horses couldn’t make this celiac girl take a bite of apple strudel – or any other variant of strudel. There’s wheat involved.

Doorbells and Sleigh Bells

Now, I’m on board again. Doorbells usually mean guests, which usually signal better-than-usual fare on the dining table, except when the doorbell means USPS or UPS. But that’s usually an anticipated package – a favorite thing, too.

I’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing that sleigh-bell sound, but I’d sure like to. Doesn’t it just cry out old-fashioned romance?

Schnitzel With Noodles

Nah. Reread Crisp Apple Strudel. (Wheat – and more wheat.)

Wild Geese That Fly
With The Moon On Their Wings

Um. There are feathers involved, no? Too close to fur. Count me out.

Girls in White Dresses
with Blue Satin Sashes

NOW, we’re talking. I was a pigeon-toed runner all through my early childhood, as walking took SO LONG. I fell down a lot. My ever-so-practical mother never dressed me in white – ever. Smart woman. So you see why prissy little girls in pristine white frocks and dressy satin sashes (no matter the color) just turn my crank. It was the girlhood I never had – and didn’t deserve because I would not slow down.

Snowflakes That Stay
On My Nose And Eyelashes

Depends on how long we’re talking snow, here. Snowflakes are fun – for awhile. A short while. After a longer while, not so much: there’s backbreaking shoveling involved.

Silver-white Winters
That Melt Into Springs

Oh, yes. By the time Spring (all three weeks of it) appears, I’m so over Winter I don’t even think to say goodbye. Spring brings the promise of green, and green is one of my favorite colors.

Ta-da. Drum role, please.
Here’s the pay-attention point,
in case you missed it.

Not going along with pop culture won’t get you killed. As you can see, after skewering one of the most favorite songs from one of the most popular of all American musicals during the last fifty years, I’m still standing. No lightning. No unhappy voice from the heavens. No hate mail – yet.

Yes, I may be shunned by the uber-trendy when I buck the latest PC trend or (more likely) disinvited by my animal-loving friends, BUT NOT KILLED. I’m living proof that it’s okay to decide not to participate. It’s okay to decide you really don’t like ______ even though everyone else raves about it.

And yes, I know I’ve chosen a safe, wimpy example. I could’ve called out the words to some current pop-culture songs that are alarmingly toxic to the soul. Baby steps. Baby steps. It’s easier to start by taking a stand on the little things. Gain some momentum and get comfortable with how it feels to buck pop culture. Keep assessing it in light of your thoughtfully chosen values and carefully examined beliefs. Keep deciding not to conform. The soul-toxic stuff? You’ll be strong enough to smack it down sooner than you think.

Pay attention: not conforming to pop culture won’t get you killed. Au contraire: it just might save your life.

red box with white text from Romans 12:2:

Conforming to our culture is dangerous.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

*My Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens;

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens;

Brown paper packages tied up with strings;

These are a few of my favorite things.

Cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudels;

Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles; 

Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings;

These are a few of my favorite things.

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes;

Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes;

Silver-white winters that melt into springs;

These are a few of my favorite things.

When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad,

I simply remember my favorite things,

And then I don’t feel so bad.

Slackers

photo of 20-something guy with feet on desk playing with a yo-yo

A yo-yo-ing slacker doing what he does best.

Do you make a habit in your personal or business life of giving people a second chance? Good for you. Giving second chances makes the world a better place. And who of us isn’t in desperate need of a second chance now and then? Okay, a whole lot of nows and thens.

But you know too much of a good thing is too much, don’t you? In a spirit of tenacious good will, do you routinely offer second chances? How about 22nd chances? So how’s that working out for you?

I feel your pain: it hasn’t worked out well for me either. Now that I’m well past the last unfortunate episode that first prompted this rant, I’ve tried to edit this post so that it has a modicum of civility. You may disagree when we’re done. If so, post a tactful comment.

Here’s the
pay-attention point
right upfront.

Never knowingly ask people to do things who’ve proved repeatedly to be people who don’t follow through. When we persist in well-meaning 22nd chances, we “make work” for ourselves – and others. More often than not, that work has to be done at the last minute, in seat-of-the-pants style with disappointing outcomes. That’s because slackers typically wait till the last minute to ‘fess up that they haven’t done what you asked. The more slacker-ly among them don’t even tell you before they jump ship: they just go AWOL and leave you high and dry. They turn what could’ve been an easily doable project into a rip-off-the-Band-Aid kind of project. 

How do you recognize slackers
(so that you can spare
yourself and others
unnecessarily stressful and shoddy work)?

Ah, let me count the ways. And I’ll bet you can, too. Why not add a comment with your favorite slacker characteristic to supplement my deceptively short list of telltale slacker traits?

  • a never-ending supply of ridiculously flimsy excuses
  • the all-about-me misperception that their lives are busier than anyone else’s
  • ample time in which to complete projects AND ample excuses for not completing them – all predicated upon what happened “this morning,” “yesterday” or “this week”

Don’t feel guilty
for bypassing slackers.

Yes, you are depriving them of the work in question, with all its rewards, learning and earning potential, and benefits, but they marginalized themselves first. You’re merely assessing their past history of outstanding slacker performance. Therefore, they are depriving themselves.

No one’s paying you to make foolish decisions. Putting a habitual slacker in charge of anything which involves your own job (your ability to make a living) and work reputation (your ability to keep the job to make a living) is foolish. Putting the slothful in charge of anything important to your organization usually goes beyond foolish; it can be downright dangerous.

If your organization is a volunteer organization, it’s even more critical that you avoid foolish decisions involving slackers. You can ill afford to make work for your good-hearted volunteers: they might jump ship one by one – or worse – mutiny all ‘round. That’s a situation you can easily avoid; leave the slackers to their yo-yos while you and your team of worker-bee volunteers “get ‘er done.”

Disclaimer Time

Lest there be some misunderstanding, LET ME BE CLEAR: this is not a blog post about forgiveness. It’s a post about people who rarely, if ever, do what they promise to do for the good of the order. Continuing to give people tasks who routinely don’t complete those tasks is one thing. Continuing to forgive people who hurt you is something else.

Jesus commands us to practice perpetual, unending forgiveness – an attitude of the heart. You’d be hard-pressed, however, to find anything in the Bible that commands us to act foolishly, oh say, like relying on known slackers over and over and over. In fact, Proverbs is filled with all sorts of admonitions against such foolish behavior: check it out.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “If you support slackers and goof-offs, don't be surprised when your actual WORKERS quit!” – someecards.com

I wish I’d said this. It’s soooo very spot on!

Pass it on: share your skills!

photo of senior woman teaching knitting to a younger woman

Passing on knitting skills

Have you paid attention to the fact that one of the happy byproducts of living is your steady and almost unnoticed accumulation of a rather impressive skill set? (Nope, not your imagination; yep, everything goes back to the Process principle.)

When my father was still alive, I marveled at his ability to fix whatever I asked him to fix around the house – and then show me how to fix it on my own. He knew just which tools, parts, and methods would work. And if they didn’t work as he intended, subconsciously, he already had Plan B and Plan C at the ready.

As I near the age he was when I did all that marveling over his skill set, I notice that I, too, can “fix” lots of things. Maybe not the same things he could repair, but I know how to do a fair amount of “stuff” that my younger self had to stumble through.

Who knows? Maybe the quiet confidence and unruffled attitudes of many seniors come from knowing they possess the knowledge and expertise to take care of most of life’s little emergencies. They’ve done it before, seen it before, succeeded before. (If they suspect they’re in over their heads, they know which professionals to call – and it doesn’t ruffle their feathers to do so.)

With enough history under your belt, you develop an extensive set of mental files that contain enough information, expertise, and methodology to get you through just about any situation. Though you may not have experienced the exact same dilemma before, you know there’s information that can be transferred to this new problem somewhere in that vast body of knowledge on your brain’s “hard drive.” Calm, cool, collected, we are. (Thought I’d throw in a little Yoda-speak. More to come.)

Cool, huh?
It gets cooler.

Social scientists say that each succeeding generation in our present world is being exposed to a significantly wider range of experiences than the preceding generation. Duh. That’s true for my Boomer generation and way more so for generations following it, including yours. We’re each accumulating a database of useful information, capable of being transferred from the original learning situation to another slightly different situation, at a far greater rate than those in the generation before us. Can you even imagine what this means when you become a senior citizen?

While it’s reassuring to have all that knowledge at your fingertips, there’s more pleasure to be had. What’s even more rewarding is enriching someone else’s life by sharing your knowledge and life skills – pay attention – when they’re requested.

Got it?
Someone asked for it?
Then share it!

Pass it on! When you see the light come on in their eyes after you’ve explained/demonstrated how something works, you get more out of the exchange than they do. When you see how your skill set has improved their:

  • spiritual life,
  • home,
  • emotional life,
  • wardrobe,
  • hard drive’s functionality,
  • marriage and family dynamics,
  • car’s gas performance,
  • fiscal stability,
  • yadda yadda yadda,

you decide what you’ve just done for them beats a whole lot of other things you could’ve done with your time. When you see what happens when you simply pass on to others what you’ve learned – the easy way or the hard way – you understand why the seniors you know, including your parents and grandparents, are so willing to help you. It’s a kick.

Pay attention:
I repeat,
passing on life’s lessons
is a kick!

Please forgive my messy exuberance, but I do love, love, love this pass-it-on concept. I hope you do, too. I also hope you feel assured that even though you may be part of a younger generation and feel you possess a smallish skill set, you still have something to pass on. It’s very likely someone younger than you does not know what you know. Don’t sell yourself short. Pay attention, and don’t sell others short either: share your skill set and accumulation of life’s lessons – generously and lavishly.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text:

That Yoda was a clever guy, was he not?

Resource Misconceptions

photo of dump truck at landfill

The I-never-have-enough lifestyle produces this.

Do you ever look around and ask yourself why there’s such a great big ole disconnect between what we know and how we act? Disconcerting, isn’t it, especially when – ick – you realize you’re part of it?

Here’s one example of that disconnect I’d like to harp on, and I’m certain you’ve already thought of it. We act as if we think our world’s natural resources are limitless but we never think we, personally, have enough of them.

Resource Misconception #1
We have PLENTY of natural resources.
They’re limitless.

We act as if we believe this, even though reams of research and talking heads tell us otherwise. We here in the U.S. are particularly myopic and greedy, accounting for a minuscule five percent of the world’s population but using a whopping 24 percent of its resources. We know better, but we’ve assumed the fingers-in-the-ears, hands-over-the-eyes stance. La, la, la, la; not listening, not listening.

Maybe it’s because we live in such a large country that’s bountifully blessed with natural resources. (Those of us out here in the West look around and ask, “What’s the problem? We’ve got plenty more to use up!”)

Maybe it’s our inherited national psyche resulting from the fact that our country is one of the few in the world purposefully settled

  • en masse
  • over a relatively short period of time
  • by people who were on a very serious quest for a better life.

From the beginning of our nation’s history, we’ve looked around with covetous eyes, seen all these delectable resources, and figured they were ours to take and use any way we pleased. Shucks, there were so many we’d never use them up. Bad news: we’re using them up but then, you already knew that.

So, when we’re paying attention and being honest with ourselves, we know the world’s resources are limited. Now we come to our second misconception.

Resource Misconception #2:
“I don’t have plenty of resources.
In fact, I never have enough.”

What a difference, eh? We act as if we believe our world will provide plenty of everything necessary and unnecessary for human life, on the one hand. On the other hand, we’re constantly and consistently grabbing whatever we can because, after all, we don’t believe we personally have plenty. We don’t have enough! We figure we:

  • don’t have a large enough home and need to “move up.”
  • need another _____ with four wheels.
  • really deserve to ditch the five-year-old TV and buy a newer, bigger, techi-er one.
  • have waited long enough to get that slick smartphone that “everyone else already has.”

Now let me say right now, I don’t know anyone in middle-class America who’s willing to say “I don’t have enough” aloud and in public. I’m not sure I know anyone who would say this privately to herself. It’s just so pitiful, and plenty of us would rather have our tongues cut out than sound pitiful – even to ourselves. But though we don’t verbalize it, I know this is a very real resource misconception because most of us ACT this way.

Yikes, this kind of cockeyed thinking makes me crazy!

Especially when, if I just pay attention to my life, I can clearly see mounds and mounds of resources – all mine and already paid for in time, money, and energy. Things like:

  • a kitchen full of utensils, making meal prep a no-brainer
  • a block-size grocery store a mile away, filled with all the raw ingredients for the above, and the money to buy that food
  • a closet full of clothes, all appropriate for what I need to do and, for now, all fitting
  • a closet floor full of shoes, ditto above
  • a garage filled with two cars
  • a workshop area with every tool we could possibly need (and a bunch we don’t need!)
  • a house full of furniture and furnishings

And then there are the less tangible resources most of us also possess:

  • a community of friends and family who provide all kinds of support on an as-needed basis
  • carefully nurtured good health and good healthcare
  • inherent talents, as natural as breathing, to be used on the job or simply to benefit family and friends
  • cultivated abilities, e.g. repairing a bathroom stool; wiping every bit and byte of ID-sensitive files off a hard drive; taking portrait-studio-worthy photos, etc.
  • expertise acquired from six years of very expensive university studies
  • emotional insights acquired from life’s painful events (Yes, they’re resources; they’re the “tools” we use to help others going through similar situations.)
  • good enough health to work and earn money
  • sturdy legs to walk anywhere
  • eyes to see all the beauty around you and let it sink into your soul
  • a quick mind that allows you to catch on to your manager’s latest ideas quicker than anyone else at the table (always an endearing trait to those above us)

Here’s the irony in this sad saga. We’re not paying attention to the fact that we do indeed have plenty of resources of every imaginable kind, and so we tend to use up a disproportionate amount of the world’s diminishing and not-so-plentiful resources. We grab more and more because, pitiful souls that we are, we “don’t have enough.”

Make a list
of your own personal resources.

Pay attention to it. Take it to the next step: revel in it. Post it somewhere prominent where you can’t miss it. Make it a habit to review it daily. Realize you have enough, and give the earth’s not-so-plentiful resources a much-deserved break!

Meanwhile, let’s delve deeper into this topic of resources with this post on functional fixedness. (It’ll be fun, unlike many of my previous posts. 😀)

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” – Gen. 2:15, NIV Bible

Translation: TAKE CARE OF resources.

red box with white text of Luke 12:25: ". . .life does not consist in an abundance of possessions."

The I-never-have-enough lifestyle won’t work.

Decision Making, Part 2

photo of basement office piled high with papers, files, books, etc.

A basement office in need of decision-making

You noticed, of course, that Decision Making, Part 1, ends with a well-meaning encouragement to make decisions – as many as possible – all day long. But I’m betting some readers (including you, maybe?) are thinking, “But I’ll make mistakes.” Of course you will, darlin’. And how do you think you’ll learn if not by making some mistakes? (How do you think I became so incredibly wise, if not from making a fair share of my own, eh?)

No, it isn’t your imagination and, yes, I am contradicting myself – yet again. This entire PayAttention! blog is an attempt to help us all learn from others’ mistakes. But there’s just no getting around the fact that we all have to make some mistakes for ourselves. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Making decisions is like everything else in your life.

  • The more you practice, the better you get.
  • The better you get, the less you have to think about it.
  • The less you have to think about it and the more intuitive it becomes, the more you do it.
  • The more you do it, the better you get.

Do we have another circle thing going on here? You bet. Except this time, it isn’t a vicious circle. When you’ve practiced proactive decision-making so much that it’s just part of who you are, you rarely find yourself with a backlog of decisions to make. You simply make them as you go, and you acquire an unconscious habit of looking ahead and making decisions before they’re screaming, in-your-face emergencies.

FYI: you’re already
making decisions
all day long.

If the photos in this blog post look uncomfortably familiar to you, that’s a clue you’ve settled for the deciding-not-to-decide brand of decision-making. Remember the colossal list of junk at the beginning of Decision Making, Part 1, all evidence of a homeowner’s deciding not to decide? Look around you. What’s in your home?

photo of folded laundry covering dining table and chairs

Laundry HERE???? Postponed decisions.

  • Piles of files covering what used to be office work surfaces?
  • Piles of laundry on the dining table and chairs?
  • Piles of books all over the place?
  • Piles of magazines beside your favorite chair?
  • Piles of opened and unopened mail in the office, on a kitchen counter, on the kitchen desk?
  • Piles of food on the pantry floor?
photo of bookshelf in bedroom with stacks and piles of books all over the bed, floor, and piled in messy piles on the bookshelf

PLENTY of postponed decisions.

If this is what you see, that’s more good news. It means I’m speaking to the right audience.

Rather than decide to:

  • file the magazines for future reference,
  • read them in the evenings till you’ve read everything of interest,
  • pitch them into the recycling bin, or
  • pass them on to someone else for their pleasure reading,

you’ve decided not to decide. So there they all sit, perched in a precarious pile.

Rather than:

  • fold the clean T-shirts and jeans you dumped on the coffee table,
  • get up off the couch, and
  • carry them to your bedroom closet,

you decide not to decide. So there they sit, waiting to embarrass you when your girlfriend drops by – or worse, when Mom shows up unannounced.

Rather than:

  • driving to a furniture store,
  • buying a bookcase,
  • assembling it, and
  • organizing your books on its shelves, or
  • giving them to a charity shop,

you decide not to decide. So there they sit, an obelisk slowly and precariously reaching toward the ceiling.

Rather than

  • file,
  • act on, or
  • recycle

each piece of mail as you opened it, you decided not to decide. So there they sit, an uneasy reminder that an unpaid bill or a friendly letter from the IRS may still be lurking in the pile somewhere.

If I’ve just described your living quarters, it’s time to start practicing decision-making – and not the decide-not-to-decide variety. All this clutter you see around you? Merely postponed decision-making.

Pay attention:
postponed decision-making
is scarier than you think.

When we postpone – decide not to decide – the above relatively easy-to-make decisions, we could well be avoiding other, more important and vital ones, as well. And that’s the scary, surprise ending to this disagreeable saga. Life is full of REALLY important decision-making. If we aren’t very good at making little decisions, we’ll be abysmally ham-handed at making The Big Ones.

Make a list of the messes of your life that bother you the most. Decide to decide what you’ll do about the worst one. Follow through.

Okay, that wasn’t so bad.”

What’s the most next most annoying one on your list? Decide to decide what you’ll do about it. Follow through.

Well! That wasn’t so hard.”

Woohoo! Don’t you love positive momentum? Make another decision. And another. And another.

It’s astonishing how rewarding decision-making can be – when you’re good at it – and we simply DO NOT “get good” at things without practicing. Now, go out there and do yourself a whole lot of favors: practice productive decision-making – all day today, and every day thereafter.

Next up: Decision Making, Part 3. It’s all about those trivial, oh-pleeease, roll-of-the-eyeballs decisions that “everyone” knows aren’t worth bothering with. Or are they?

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: "We need to accept that we won't always make the right decisions, that we'll screw up royally sometimes - understanding that failure is not the opposite of success; it's part of success.” – Arianna Huffington

“Failure” = getting better at decision-making

Decision Making, Part 1

photo of outdoor garage sale

Debris exposing decisions that were NOT made

  • Bags and bags of costume-jewelry beads
  • Worn out workshop tools
  • Boxes and boxes of crochet thread
  • Sacks and sacks of knitting yarn
  • Leather worker’s lacing in every imaginable color
  • Multiple tubes of gaudy glitter
  • Men’s rubber – yes, rubber – rain boots
  • Dress pattern packets in jumbled piles.
  • Instruction booklets for what no one wants to know these days
  • A 1924 algebra textbook
  • Heavily battered pots and pans
  • Mismatched cracked and chipped pottery
  • Women’s undergarments no woman under 40 would recognize
  • Threadbare towels and sheets
  • Piles of faded postcards from travel-smart friends

All this was there – and much more – at an estate sale in an elderly neighbor’s house. It immediately made me unexpectedly and unexplainably sad. I said as much to the young woman helping with the sale and asked about the owner’s circumstances. “Oh, she isn’t dead. She just went into assisted living,” she chirped brightly and reassuringly.

This is your mother’s stand-in talking, now: Never, ever say that. (I’m quite sure I did when I was her age, and equally sure the more mature around me would’ve liked to smack me.) DO NOT make blithe statements about the last stages of life, about which you know nothing. FYI: moving into assisted living is dying-in-slow-motion for most elderly people, as they watch their peers up and down the hall die off and as they await their turn or – worse – the dreaded move to a nursing home.

Whew. That just slipped out. We’ve digressed, haven’t we? Let’s get back to the topic at hand.

Ever been to a sale
like the one I’ve just described?

Then you know the drill. Some flea-market-type person agrees to handle the sale of all the house’s contents (after family members have fought over the good stuff). Enterprising flea-marketers figure this saves the family additional heartache and stress, while providing themselves with legitimate income.

The entrepreneurs set up shop at the front-door or garage-front with the ubiquitous card table, complete with a “sales clerk” like the chirpy young woman above. They’ve culled what’s left of the valuable stuff, priced it at antique-shop prices, and have it displayed safely under their noses on that card table. They’ve pulled the rest of the house’s contents from every drawer, cupboard, closet, and cubby, organized it, and laid it all out – room by room or table by table in the driveway – for prospective buyers to paw over.

In short, the entire detritus of a person’s life, as well as every room of their home, is there for total strangers to sift through. The plan is that visitors will offer a buck for the privilege of carting stuff from the estate-sale house to their house. Furthermore, the family is desperately hoping a yard-saler (or Realtor in disguise) will make an offer on the house, and they can be done with the whole miserable business.

In most of the cases I’ve seen, the homeowner has been on the slow, downhill slide of poor health. In fact, they left for the assisted living center or nursing home much later than they should have. The result is a grungy house (the ”fixer-upper” you’ve seen in Realtor ads), unpainted and unmaintained, filled with items like the ones listed above which should have been given away or disposed of a very long time ago.

They long ago reached a point where the physical activity of running a vacuum and the mental activity of sorting through a lifetime of material accumulations (for the grandkids, favorite charities, younger friends, etc.) were simply too much for them. I’ve often heard stories of elderly people who, having reached this point, would not permit family members to take over these chores. They could no longer perform them, but neither would they let anyone else perform them. They simply sat in their beloved homes, with those homes falling down around their ears, and decided not to decide.

What have these people done?

They’ve abdicated their decision-making responsibilities, with rather unpleasant, awkward results – for all concerned.

Did they suddenly do this at age 82, just weeks before the long-term-care facility move? They did not. The elderly people I know about who ended up in the very situation I’ve just described had spent most of their adult lives avoiding decision-making whenever possible. What most of these people seemed to have in common was a deep-seated aversion to looking ahead, planning for the future, and making the necessary decisions, however disagreeable or uncomfortable they might be.

What happens if you don’t do something very often? You’re not very good at it. If you’re not good at something, what do you tend to do? You avoid it. Do we have a vicious circle going on here? You betcha.

Here’s the pay-attention lesson
for this post.

Make decisions. Now. Lots of ’em. Every day. All day.

  • Don’t live your life by proxy.
  • Don’t abdicate your right to decide.
  • Don’t let others keep doing your deciding for you.
  • And most importantly, don’t dump your decision-making onto others.

Part 2 of Decision Making is ready. Warning: if you thought this Part 1 was harsh, you haven’t seen anything yet. Sticking doggedly to my ever-so-endearing, in-your-face style, I’ll be asking some rather disagreeable questions. (Just thought you’d want to know.)

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.” – Edward de Bono

An English psychologist–creative-thinking fella

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. (Part 2)

photo of guy on cell phone with woman beside him forced to listen – and not very happy about it

Appropriate behavior? NO!

Can, Should, &
Blah, Blah, Blah

After reading Part 1 of this can-and-should series, your mind’s probably racing. All kinds of examples of people NOT asking Should I? are popping into your head, aren’t they? Chief among them must be this one.

Just because we can swipe our finger and talk on our cell – regardless of where we are – doesn’t mean we should. I’m quite sure you’ve heard others rant about this but, apparently, some of us aren’t paying attention. Hence, the need for this post.

  • Maybe other diners don’t really want to hear our chewing-gum-for-the-mind conversation with Colleen.
  • Maybe people passing us on the street really won’t be impressed with our trying-to-sound-important business conversation, sprinkled with annoying corporate buzzwords. (That one’s pretty much guaranteed!)
  • Maybe other commuters just want a little peace and quiet at the end of an exhausting work day.

The should question
of these scenarios
is oh-so-easy:
“Will I annoy others
if I talk here?”

If the answer’s yes, then the appropriate behavior is to take yourself and your cell somewhere private and carry on your conversation there. Trust me, the other diners will not be annoyed that they don’t get to eavesdrop on your conversation. Quite the opposite. Like the other commuters and passersby, they will think more kindly of you.

Doing what you should instead of what you can ensures your fellow diners, fellow commuters, fellow workers, etc., will not send nasty looks, negative vibes, and sarcastic remarks your way. Pay attention: life is harsh enough. Wouldn’t a little less harshness be preferable to creating supplemental harshness? Yes, well, as you can tell, that’s what I think, too.

I’d planned to be done right about here, but Hubby insisted I pass on this unsavory gem from his recent experience. He witnessed an elderly woman who had not silenced her cell phone for A FUNERAL. Yes, a funeral. When her chirping phone went off, she ANSWERED IT FROM HER SEAT WHILE THE PRIEST WAS GIVING THE EULOGY AND KEPT ON TALKING – FROM HER SEAT – THROUGH THE EULOGY. I am not making this up. Neither is my husband. Usually a laid-back, live-and-let-live kind of guy, he was still frothing about it several hours later when he relayed the story to me.

If she had paid attention to where she was and asked herself Should I?, hubby would’ve had a lower BP and no dramatic story to tell. But more importantly, she could’ve spared herself the boatload of nasty vibes sent her way and the priest’s after-the-fact reprimand. As I’ll keep saying, 

doing what’s appropriate
greases the wheels
of ALL our relationships.

Next up is my third and final example of can-versus-should (not that I couldn’t give you HUNDREDS more, you understand). It’s the one that causes an astounding percentage of our population the most painful of problems. It’s also the one which could so easily be avoided by simply asking Should I? I’ve touched on it in an earlier blog post. It’s a prevalent problem that, more than almost any other, most definitely should be run through the filter of Should I? So please pay attention when, for one last time, I harp on just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: "Do nothing without purpose." – Augustine

An ancient Christian’s way of saying Should I?

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. (Part 1)

photo of guy's legs sticking out from under a pickup

How can THIS be relevant?

Sorry. I know you’ve heard the above proverb lots, but hang with me.

Like you, I’ve recited it to myself a bazillion times and STILL, I find myself doing something simply because I can. I zoom right past should-I? and jump recklessly into can-do. Even though I know better, I don’t do better. Sound familiar? Okay, so we know this stuff, but we don’t do it.

What makes us persist
in such muzzy behavior?

Beats me. Maybe because knowing and doing are two entirely different kettles of fish? Or maybe we can chalk it up to our propensity for our smartphone-induced partial attention to life – never fully paying attention to much of anything? (I doubt this is the culprit, since the condition we’re discussing is The Human Condition, predating smartphones by thousands of years. But, hey, it’s a literary transition. It’s here for reasons that will become clear in Part 2 of this topic.)

I could keep on speculating but the wretched truth is this: I don’t know why we persist in this self-sabotage. All I know is that we do and, as a result, tons of things are broken in our society. One of the most broken, due to our knowing and not doing, is the concept of appropriate behavior. Because of that, I think it’s a concept which requires a whole lot of unabashed harping. And just so you know, I HAVE asked myself Should I? and the answer, as you can see, is an emphatic, harpy yes!

Can, Should, &
“Here I am – barely made it.”
Pant. Pant. Pant.

Just because a guy can go straight from tinkering with his car to a friend’s wedding doesn’t mean he should. (See, the photo does have relevance.)

I know what you’re thinking. “Who would do that?” Actually, lots of guys.

I’ve been to hundreds of weddings (really) and truly, I’ve seen guys who looked as if they’d just crawled out from under their pickup, jumped in, fired it up, and roared into the car park for a wedding ceremony they’d apparently almost forgotten. What these turkeys should have done – regardless of what they were doing – is shower and change into appropriate clothes for The Most Important Event of a friend’s life – his wedding day.

A guy can’t get into too much trouble with his friend if he shows up at his friend’s wedding dressed the way he knows his friends and relatives expect him to dress. Guys who claim they don’t know any better are shameless liars.

On the other hand, a guy can alienate his friend’s new bride, embarrass his friend in front of his new in-laws, and do damage to a friendship going back to junior high when he defaults to the jeans-and-T-shirt uniform. Guys who do this clearly think so little of their friends that they don’t stop to ask themselves, Should I?

But it’s our right!

Yes, our society does give us all license to behave as badly and as inappropriately as we like. Besides, who are we to tell someone else what’s appropriate? Why even worry about what’s appropriate and what isn’t? Isn’t that just being hypocritical, hypercritical, and superficial?

No, as it turns out, it is not. Here’s the pay-attention bit to the much-ignored can-versus-should dilemma that I intend to harp on till we’re all sick of if. Caring about how our actions affect others is a good thing because:

doing what’s appropriate
greases the wheels
of ALL our relationships.

(Check out this post if you care about dressing appropriately purely for self-serving reasons.)

Next up is another prime example of people not paying attention and forgetting to ask Should I? It’s one we’re all supremely familiar with – either as blatant perpetrators or as hapless victims. Warning: if you’re a perpetrator, I’ll be asking you to be honest enough to ‘fess up and start asking Should I?

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.” – G K Chesterton

A 1900s English theologian’s can-and-should

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