I had a health scare a couple weeks ago, and this Provision tells the story. I debated about keeping it to myself, protecting my ego and image. In the end, however, the discipline of writing Provisions won out. I decided that honesty was not only the best policy, it was the only policy if I wanted to maintain integrity with those of you who read Provisions from week to week. That’s the way honesty works: it creates a bond of trust and commitment that leads to benevolence. You’ll see what I mean after you read the story.
Many people marvel at how I come up with these Provisions every week. Frankly, I’m not sure myself. It’s not like I have them all planned out ahead of time; it’s also not like I have a set time, say an hour every morning, where I gather my ideas and begin to write out my thoughts. I certainly don’t keep a clipping file or even a folder of ideas that I can dip into when the well runs dries. All I know is that at some point toward the end of the week, I finally bring myself to sit down at the keyboard and type. That’s when things begin to flow.
Flow is, in fact, a good description of what usually happens when I write Provisions. Flow, as defined by the famed psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the experience of being both fully immersed in and unusually successful with an activity. To reach that state of full engagement, the activity needs to be intrinsically interesting and just within reach of one’s abilities. If the activity is too challenging, then it’s overwhelming and stressful. If the activity is not challenging enough, then it’s boring and tedious. When you hit the sweet spot, where the level of challenge perfectly matches your skills, training, and strengths, then you’re in what athletes call “the zone.”
That’s when things begin to flow. I have experienced flow many times in many domains. I will never forget, for example, my experience of running the Las Vegas Marathon in February, 2000. Even though I ran the race of my life, finishing in 3:18, I felt like I was hardly working at all. Everything came together for the moment. The challenge of the race was perfectly matched with my skills, training, and strengths. I was at once focused and free.
I have had many other such moments while running, and they don’t always involve running fast. I remember running, for example, many years ago on the Tow Path Trail, all by myself, in northeast Ohio. I was running in the same direction as the river, and for a period of time I became the river. Once again, the running was effortless and I have no idea what the pace was. All I know was that I was being carried along by the current and my running became a very Zen-like state. Once again, I was in flow.
Well, that’s how writing Provisions usually is for me. I sit down at the keyboard and I write what comes to mind. I usually start out with some piece of my own life experience, and things flow from there. It never ceases to amaze me how this very public private journal connects with so many people. What I think of as the most personal of experiences ends up being the most universal of experiences. Through honest sharing we end up with a bond that enriches both my life and yours.
So it’s time to share the latest and most surprising chapter in my life. Two weeks ago I was in Dallas, Texas to present, with my wife, on the power of strengths-based approaches to revitalize schools. Instead of looking at problems and deficits, this approach looks at possibilities and assets. The effect can be transformational, and you can read more about it on our school-related website CelebrateSchools.com.
Our presentation was well received, with lots of engagement from the participants. They not only heard about strengths-based approaches to revitalize schools, they experienced them through the magic of hands-on learning. I am hopeful that many of the participants will take those practices back to their schools, organizations, or Districts in order to stimulate a different quality of connection, contribution, and conversation.
Two days before the Conference, however, we were visiting friends in Waco, Texas when • while singing songs at their church gathering on Sunday morning • I started to feel weak and short of breath. I sat down, only to have things get worse. It wasn’t long before I was in a hospital Emergency Room, breathing oxygen, hooked up to an EKG machine, and ruling out a possible heart attack.
Fortunately, everything checked out fine. Their diagnosis: a panic attack caused, perhaps, by acid-reflux. Now I have never had anything even resembling a panic attack in my 53-years of existence on planet earth. In fact, I have always thought of myself as rather indestructible. But pride, as they say, goeth before the fall.
So now I am taking medication for both anxiety and acid reflux; the former, my doctor tells me, will last 2-4 months in order to prevent another panic attack from coming on. The latter will last indefinitely (with more than 1 billion people on the planet taking these “proton pump inhibitors,” I’m in good company).
Given that many people read LifeTrek Provisions in order to get tips and learn techniques for Optimal Wellness, I feel a bit odd sharing my experience with panic attacks and acid-reflux. It’s always been wonderful to answer the question, “What medications are you on?” with a single word: “None!” For the foreseeable future, that word has to change.
I even debated about not sharing this part of my journey at all. Why bother? It’s personal, it’s private, and who really cares. Well, for one, I care. And, for another, you care if you can learn anything from my experience that may be helpful to you in pursuit of your own Optimal Wellness. None of us, after all, are truly indestructible. And it helps to be honest if we hope to hold each other up in the spiritual sense of the word.
That’s especially true as we come down the home stretch in our series on benevolence. Remember: we have been focused for more than a year on the three ingredients that make for Optimal Wellness: eating right, exercising well, and managing stress. The latter involves such things as sleep and recreation, but it also involves the kind of caring that goes on under the rubric of benevolence. The more good we do for ourselves and others, the more wonderful life can be. And that, my friends, is what Optimal Wellness is all about.
We’ve already talked about how empathy and reciprocity figure into the equation. I experienced empathy first hand through my panic attack in Waco. First with my family and friends, who got me to the hospital, then with the hospital staff themselves. After all the more serious physical causes, like a heart problem, were ruled out, I half expected them to dismiss my symptoms and to send me on my way, as though it was all in my head.
They did nothing of the sort. Instead, they asked about and reflected my feelings and needs. They recognized that regardless of their origin, my symptoms were real and worthy of respect. I appreciated their empathy. It immediately made me feel better.
I also appreciated the caring, concern, and assistance of my family and friends. You can bet I would do the same for them, or anyone else who was close by, in a heartbeat. That’s reciprocity.
But honesty is also part of the equation when it comes to Optimal Wellness. To pretend is only to make matters worse, whether it comes to our health and wellness or to any other aspect of life and work. We are charged to be honest with each other in the spirit of true love.
I like the notion of “true love” so much better than “tough love.” Tough love is usually an excuse for blasting someone with your opinion about the things they are doing wrong or the things they need to change. Unfortunately, such love is sometimes equated with coaching, as though the role of the coach is to beat up on people until they get going or get their act together.
Multiple studies reveal that that approach is never lastingly effective. It may work for a while (usually about two weeks), but then its impact begins to fade as the lack of true love takes its toll.
True love works because it is not afraid to share what is there, but always in the spirit of up-building and uplifting. In fact, it is more about vulnerability than toughness. There is a certain transparency in true love that is lacking in tough love. By sharing what is there, with the artful use of listening, inquiry, and reflections, we generate more hope and movement than is possible in any other way.
So my hope in sharing honestly with you the story of my surprising trip to the ER is to give you permission to be honest about your own feelings and needs and to seek the assistance that is right for you. Sooner or later, we all need assistance. Some of us need assistance all the time. Others need assistance only on occasion. Still others prefer alternative practices than traditional medicine (I, for one, take a complimentary approach).
Whatever may be your situation, recognize that assistance is part of the human condition. No one makes it through life alone. No animal has a longer infancy, and no animal has more complicated social relations, than the human animal. We are unique in the extent to which we need each other.
That’s why I see benevolence as so important to Optimal Wellness. Apart from benevolence, there’s no way to create and to sustain a wonderful life. Whether we do that for our family and friends, or whether we do that for total strangers, it takes a village to make life wonderful.
So move to the village called benevolence! Connect with people who desire to do good and to make life more wonderful. Keep your eyes open and attentive for opportunities to express true love. Don’t be afraid to ask for or to lend a helping hand. The more honest we are with each other, the better life will be.
Coaching Inquiries: Be honest • how are you feeling right now? Who could lift your spirits or otherwise render assistance? What would it take for you to find the courage to ask? How could benevolence become a more frequent companion on the trek of life?
To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Thanks again for this wonderful Provision, How To Be Happy. I have read it now all three times, each time with different circumstances in my life therefore with a different perspective. As you said at the beginning, it is an ongoing pursuit.
I would like to ask your permission to include your superb How To Be Happy insights in my coaching newsletter with full attribution to you of course. It is a wonderful range of insights to share. (Ed. Note: Permission granted! Just be sure to reference LifeTrekCoaching.com. Thanks.)
Good article; reminds me of the fruits of the spirit in Gal 5:22
Your last Provision on How To Be Happy was a wonderful article that has touched and put my mind in the right direction to be able to bulldoze through life. Thanks for this wonderful piece.
Regarding the hint you gave, as to your age on your last birthday. I say you’re 35, and here’s how it works. Your daughter is a gifted prodigy • she graduated HS at 10, completed 4 years of college in 2.5 and medical school in 2! Most people on your LifeTrek list did not know that about your daughter! Happy belated. I don’t even try to remember birthdays anymore. The belated cards are funnier! Have a great week!
Keep up the great works in Provisions. Thanks for your support and influence in the coaching world.
I very much enjoy reading Provisions. This poem you sent by Oriah Mountain Dreamer had many inspirational segments. I actually used it to bolster the courage of myself and a friend in an adventure we stepped into this week. However there was a verse I can’t follow. The words were, “I want to know if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.” What do you suppose that means? (Ed. Note: I suppose it means that sometimes we have to be faithless to others in order to be true to ourselves. What do you think?)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
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Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
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