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Showing posts with label emotional courage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label emotional courage. Show all posts

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Running Plan B

Three weeks ago I was packing my bag and planning to head to New York City to run the ING NYC 2012 marathon. That is until Hurricane Sandy came to town and wreaked havoc on too many lives to count. I was one of 47,000 runners from around the world registered to run 26.2 miles through what is now considered one of the worst environmental disasters to hit the East Coast.

Unlike many residents along the marathon route and beyond, I didn’t lose power, access to clean drinking water, my home, family members, or my livelihood. When my friends starting texting and calling me a few hours before my departure, to notify me of the race cancellation, they were all sympathetic and guessed I would be disappointed. All I could think was that Mayor Bloomberg had made a difficult, but necessary, decision to channel much-needed supplies and human resources designated for the race to those who truly needed them.

One of my former coworkers has a beloved coffee mug that reads: “Life is all about how you handle Plan B.”  Before starting this blog about how to nurture courage in our children and ourselves as parents, I had honestly never thought about how important it is to frame some of life’s unexpected and challenging circumstances as “Plan B” to help boost our capacity for the six types of courage.  It now strikes me that much of human courage, and a truer measure of our success in life, has to do with how we handle adapting, often in a singular moment, to the unexpected and challenging circumstances of our individual lives.  In terms of parenting, since my kids were young I have had lots of conversations with them about differentiating life's “big stuff” (i.e. life-threatening illness) from the “small stuff” (i.e. not getting to push the elevator button).  When my son was about five years old, after one such conversation when he was upset about a playdate cancellation, he proclaimed: “You know Mommy, if you reeeeaaaalllly think about it the big stuff can just be smashed apart to make smaller stuff.  It's all just small stuff!!” (You can read about Jennifer’s perspective on  “Plan B” by clicking here. You can also read more about cognitive reframing in one of my former posts A Hurricane is Coming.)


Well, it didn’t take long for me to decide that I would lace up my sneakers and still run the marathon as scheduled--it would just have to be around my hometown instead. I figured I had done all my training and had collected some $3,000 in charitable donations for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of my mother and uncle. I had all my gear ready. I was good to go!

Next, I cancelled my hotel reservation and diverted the refund to the Red Cross Relief fund for Hurricane Sandy. I wrote an email to all my sponsors who had so generously donated funds notifying them that I keep good on my promises. Not one of them asked for a refund! Instead, I received a flurry of supportive emails that strengthened my resolve to run. My husband and I then planned and drove a few possible 26.2 miler routes starting from our house. Some more hilly than others, through battlefields my ancestors had once fought on. I’m a little superstitious and also a big believer that everything happens for a reason; I figured running close to home on the same day, starting at the same time, from my own front porch instead of from the Hudson River’s edge on Staten Island, was what was meant to be. It always feels right and good when I’m living in the flow.

When I called my uncle to inform him that I was still going ahead with my run on my own, to honor his courage in facing down Alzheimer’s, his response: “Well, how like you. This means you'll win the race, of course!”

Starting out!
I started out at 10:30 a.m., with a hug from my daughter and a dear colleague. Halfway down the block I was surprised to find another dear friend outfitted to join me on my first six miles. My husband and son planned to be my loyal pit crew at various stops along the way.

I carried all the names of the family members my sponsors had honored through their donations. I read it out to myself and sent prayers for each of them at 13.1 miles and again towards the end of my run--when I really needed their strength and inspiration. I thought of the families struggling to recover and repair their lives after Hurricane Sandy, especially the mom from Staten Island whose two young children were torn from her arms by a giant wave and both of whom tragically died. A loss which I can only imagine must take the most courage any of us as parents can muster.

I reflected on how truly grateful I am to be healthy enough to run on behalf of such important causes. I also thought, “Girl, if you can give birth twice, you can do this!”

Around mile 16, I felt the presence of other runners coming up behind me. Being Canadian, I promptly apologized for hogging the narrow slip of road we were needing to share along my route, only to turn around and find two twin guardian angels—my son’s ex-girlfriend and her twin. They told me not to talk, good advice, and to just keep running. Not long after my mind went to an altered state and I just kept saying to myself “Just keep running, just keep running.” No deep insights. But maybe that's enough: just to keep moving, putting one foot in front of the other, staying VERY present, especially when you have to dig deep during tough times.

I had always minimized the legendary “Wall” that every marathoner talks about, around miles 20-24. That is until “The Wall” found me at mile 22. It became too much to take a drink, stomach any energy “goo,” and it became very evident that I was going to have to draw on something much stronger than myself to finish this particular race. Most marathoners would agree that at this stage of a 26.2 miler, the balance tips in favor or mind over matter. I kept counting down the blocks and kept with my plan to run and not stop—no matter what! At that point, if I had stopped I figured I would lose all momentum and fall face-first onto the pavement. I was really concerned about honoring my commitment to my sponsors. Everything became very simple.  Just breath, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and push just that little bit further than I think I can: the essence of physical courage.  The type of courage that Jennifer's friend Jane, a former professional ballerina, talks about in this post: Dancing Through Pain.


Almost across the finish line
A few blocks from home, I could hear a chorus of girls singing “She'll be coming around the block, when she comes…” Total relief! One final hill and I'd be home. I did my best, hunched over at this point, to challenge that hill, and was met at the top by my daughter and a group of her good friends. One of whom I overheard saying, “Your mom seriously looks like she's going to die.” Then followed a series of inspirational chalk sayings along our block, with my husband and son holding a make-shift finish line, fashioned from some spare rope from our garage, for me to cross some 4 hrs. and 25 mins. later—first, of course, as predicted! My twin angels clearly gracious enough to let me win this one!

My learning? In a nutshell:

• Disappointment gets in the way of decoding Plan B.

• Grace is accepting what happens as meant to be.

• Never underestimate good running shoes, hydrating, and regular re-fueling.

• Don't believe every thought that pops into your head—especially those at mile 22 that start "I can't..."

• Everyone needs a loyal pit crew. Treat them well! Give thanks!

• Stretching and being flexible can’t be underestimated, especially after 40.
• What we think is the big stuff can actually be broken into smaller, more manageable, stuff—especially when we focus on what’s truly important in life. Which, in my opinion, is to love and be loved.  It takes all six types of courage to live this value!

Across the finish line with my twin guardian angels!
Care to share one of your "Plan B" stories?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Year of Living Fearlessly!

When we know who we are, we can overcome our fears and insecurities. We surpass our smaller selves who suffer the slings and arrows of our conditioned reality, and we move to the unconditional truth of our larger selves. The answers to the questions of what to do, what to say, whom to let in, and whom to keep out become a clear and simple matter of listening to our hearts. That inner voice helps us align with our purpose, because each of us has a purpose, even if we judge it to be insignificant the voice is there. We just need to listen to it. When we do that, we live in fearlessness.” – Arianna Huffington, excerpted from On Becoming Fearless in Love, Work, and Life


Since my last blog post, I’ve been busy crossing things of my list of “Fears to Conquer and Dreams to Live,” as part of my intention to live fearlessly in 2012!

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about my decision not to make a list of New Year’s resolutions in my post What Would You Do if You Weren't Afraid? Instead, I decided to embrace the idea that by striving to live fearlessly, an even more authentic and courageous self may emerge. The thing about fear is that it limits full self-expression while keeping us fearfully, anxiously captive. Perfectionism, the underlying culprit behind many New Year’s resolutions, is fear’s evil twin (I’ve written about it in Making Failure Okay). Therefore, I also made a commitment to embrace the belief  “I’m already enough.”

We seek to help our kids to conquer their fears every day, and the best place to start is with ourselves!

The first thing I did after writing my New Year’s post was to make a list of my fears. I was pleasantly surprised to find that none of the classic phobias were on the list. I’m not afraid of spiders, snakes, heights, public speaking, or flying. Of course, when I see a snake on the side of the road on one of my long distance runs, I still jump. That type of fear is biologically-based, instinctual, and the kind of self-protective response we need for survival. Pure fear, instead of anxious “fright,” can be a powerful protector and teacher. In 2012, however, I wanted to coax the monsters from out under my bed, rid old skeletons in my closet. Simply riding more roller coasters wasn’t going to do the trick.

So, here’s where things got interesting. Once I was willing to commit to living fearlessly, I found that every single fear I may have avoided, stuffed, or otherwise denied, when given permission to be expressed, written down on paper, or otherwise invited to show its ugly face, did just that! Around about January 15th, it looked like Halloween in my own head!  Therefore, as I became willing to face my fears, it became very important to identify specific goals and steps to take to conquer those fears. The fastest anxiety-busting technique I know is to take ACTION! As the old adage reminds us: “The only way out is through.” No matter how small the steps you take through fear, it just matters that you keep taking those steps. For every fear on my list, I came up with a fear-busting goal.

Here's a sample of some of the fears from my January 1st, 2012 list:

"I'm afraid of becoming blind." So, I promptly booked an appointment with an optometrist who reassured me I had neither a fatal brain tumor nor impending blindness. Instead, she prescribed a cheap pair of readers and told me “You have excellent vision, but you're in your forties.  The good news is that your forties aren't fatal! Your eye strain isn’t a tumor, you just need readers.” Phew!  One fear down, nine to go!

"I'm afraid of not having friends and family for support during tough times." So, I started reaching out to old and new friends and hosting more social gatherings, whether my house is clean or not, and repaired my heart and upped my happiness a little more in the process.  I booked flights for myself and my family home to Canada for a much-needed family and friends fill-up after a two year absence. I’ve reconnected with old friends and estranged family members. I’ve learned to sit in the discomfort of misunderstandings and past hurts without needing to be right, but instead seeking to forgive and cultivate peace.

A few of the fears on my list involved overcoming previous experiences that had evoked survival responses of fear, like my fear of snorkeling after getting caught off a coral reef a few years ago in the Caribbean (read about that by clicking here). But most of my fears were more existential in nature. Fears that, upon reflection, I realized were holding me back in my relationships and career. Those fears were the ones rooted deep in childhood experiences that required some careful uprooting. Previous hurts in relationships still haunted me in the form of a fear of making mistakes, being unlovable, or being judged. The imposter syndrome was on the list. And like many others, the bag lady fear also made my list—minus the house full of cats.

Looking at my list of fears, it struck me that I had inherited most of my fears from my parents and that, almost by osmosis, I had absorbed many from our culture primarily through fear-based media messaging. Fears like: losing everything and becoming homeless, being a bad parent, and getting sick and old.

Many of my underlying fears I know I share with others. As a therapist I have the unique opportunity and privilege to listen as children, adolescents, and adults in my office peel back the layers to reveal the underlying fears that keep them unhappy and afraid in life. Our materialist society capitalizes on these very fears to sell stuff. “If you buy this cream, you’ll look young and stay lovable.” “If you buy this insurance, you won’t get sick, grow old, and die alone.” But life is unpredictable. Until we learn to live more fully in the present and take action, instead of worrying needlessly about future “what if’s,” we leave ourselves vulnerable to fear’s tight grip. It’s not as if anti-aging face creams, insurance policies, and saving for a rainy day are bad ideas. But I’ve found that when fear motivates my decisions, my goals are less aligned with being authentic and courageous and more about avoiding some kind of possible pain.

After writing down my fears, my next step was to use the surest, quickest way I’ve found to release oneself from fear: author Byron Katie’s Four Questions method. Her method helps folks to reveal how irrational most fears are and to discover what it might be like to live life without fearful thought.

Here are her Four Questions:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
Source: www.thework.com

The four questions have helped me to discover that most all fears are irrational. I also found that once I identified key fears to conquer, more than enough opportunities presented themselves to help me overcome them! Don't say I didn't warn you! My responses to question 4 also helped me generate my list of dreams to live this year.

For example, if I wasn’t afraid of being lost in New York City (which resulted in a mild panic attack a few years ago on Ellis Island), then I would sign up for the 2012 ING NYC marathon and run through all the city’s boroughs. So, I promptly signed myself up.  On November 4th I will be completing my first marathon in fifteen years. It turns out that at age 45 I do have to stretch more, and my first few long runs were painful.  But otherwise the optometrist is right, our forties aren't fatal!

"I’m afraid of asking others for help" was also on my list of fears to conquer.  Plenty of opportunities there when I put my ego aside and open myself up to others' help and what they have to teach me!  I'm now fundraising and asking friends and family for money for the Alzheimer’s Association on behalf of my mother and uncle who have been recently been diagnosed with this devastating disease. Instead of running from my genetic heritage, I’m running towards a cure before anyone else in my family is afflicted! Here’s my fundraising page, in case any of you are interested and/or would like more information on behalf of your own family.

Thus far in 2012, I’ve flown in an open helicopter with my daughter (who was afraid of flying, as some of you may remember from reading Fear of Flying: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Feeling). I got back into the ocean and snorkeled in Cuba. I’ve completed five months of marathon training and two half-marathons in preparation for November 4th. I’ve made sure to focus more on all the good in others, instead of looking for something to judge—thus, effectively curtailing my own fear of others judging me!

I catch myself when I’m worrying and remind myself what I’ve taught my own children since they were little: “A change in your thoughts, leads directly to a change in your feelings.” So, I pick a different thought. A kinder thought that evokes faith and peace, instead of worry.

I completed Kathy Freston’s Quantum Wellness 21-day cleanse as a way to kick start healthier habits, get in better shape for the marathon, and genuinely feel more at ease in the present moment.

I listen more—especially to my kids who’ve felt free to give me feedback on what it is like to have a therapist for a mom who looks too often for problems to solve and advice to give! Once they hit adolescence, I started asking if they wanted to hear my thoughts. Surprisingly, more often than not, they do still want to hear what I have to say especially now that they have a choice.

I’ve made sure to do at least one thing that makes me happy every day. Subsequently, I've cultivated a much more grateful heart.

And after completing all my mental health therapist licensure requirements after moving five years ago from Canada to the U.S., I'm finally listening to that wise inner voice Arianna Huffington's quote refers to and gave notice at my job a few weeks ago.  I will be devoting much more time in 2013 to pursuing a higher purpose and integrity in my professional life, which includes making Lion’s Whiskers into a book.

As I conquer the last few fears on my list, I notice that I’m trusting myself, others, and the Universe a lot more. I’m back to laughing a lot more, stressing less, and generally being a much more relaxed parent.  Fear is no longer a foe, but more a scaredy-cat I'm making friends with—cause let's face it, everyone could use a little more friendship in their lives!

My daughter crossing the finish line with me at my recent half-marathon!

The truth of the matter is that these past ten months I've been most inspired by my own children and those I work with therapeutically to learn what it is to live life fearlessly. I wholeheartedly believe kids have a lot to teach us about courage. It's in everything they do!

I also know that as parents we could be much more aware of how we project our fears onto our children. By trusting our children—instead of letting worry get in our own way and theirs—we intentionally uproot fear's tenacious roots before they grow too deep, thus encouraging our children to develop trust in themselves. But more on that topic in upcoming posts!

Feel free to enjoy the follow-up chapter to this particular story by clicking here: Running Plan B

Care to share a fear of yours and what action you might take to conquer it!?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Raising a Leader - Conclusion

Readers who have been with us since the early days on this blog may recall I wrote about my decision to take an emotional courage challenge in the form of raising a guide dog puppy with my daughter, the Lovely K.  Here is my report on raising a leader.

Our adorable pup, "F," came to us in April of 2011 from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.  She was a little black bundle of Labrador Retriever love, and we fell in love at first sight.  Our family dog, Cider, was delighted to have a little sis to chase around the house, and the games began right away - although while she was small, F sometimes took refuge under a chair.  However, it wasn't long before she matched our dog in size, and then surpassed her.  We had an independent spirit on our hands, and when we took little F to puppy play with the other pups on the regional GEB team, she was content to follow her nose through the grass while the other puppies tumbled and played.  Her home playmate seemed to be enough for her.

The courage challenge for me, in the early months with this dog, was a real test of my patience and my composure.  Raising a family dog is one thing; raising a guide dog is quite another.  The protocols and training procedures are not complicated or even much different from basic obedience - but they are inexorable.  There can be no exceptions to the rules, no 'just once can't she sleep on my bed?' no, 'I don't mind if she jumps up on me at the door.'  The grass in my yard was steadily worn away by two energetic dogs playing chase, and my enthusiasm wore thin on occasions, too.

For my daughter - and her visiting friends - having a pup meant lots of adorable photos and hugs and kisses.  As F grew bigger (and stronger) it became clear that walking her was going to fall mainly to me.  Although the ideal we were working toward was a gentle dog that would not pull, the ideal wasn't necessarily what we had in F at 8 months or 9 months!  And yet she did steadily make progress, and when we put on the vest that identified her as a service dog in training and took her to the mall, the grocery store, the movie theater, the public library, she seemed to know her role.  Twice-monthly training classes with the team exposed her to fire trucks and strange noises and people in funny hats and stairs and elevators and working with new handlers.

By the time she was 14 months old, we had a smart, confident young dog who clearly enjoyed using her considerable brain to solve puzzles and examine new things, but also loved lying at my feet at night in the t.v. room.  And although we knew all along that she was not ours to keep, when we were informed of her "in for training" date - the date when she would return to Guiding Eyes for the Blind to begin her serious training in harness - it was a blow to our hearts.  Two months away.  Then one month.  Then two weeks.  Then it was tomorrow.

K. and I both sniffed back our tears and wiped our eyes when we dropped her off.  Our ride home was silent, and we were brusque with each other for a while, arguing about something entirely different and both feeling an empty F-shaped hole in our hearts.  "I miss her," K. said that evening.  "Me, too," I agreed.  She looked at me.  "Were you crying?" she asked, as if not quite sure I was upset about the dog.  

"It's okay to cry if you're sad," I told her.  "There's no reason to hide it." 

I asked K. several days later how she felt about the experience.   "Would you recommend other kids your age do a project like this?"

"Maybe" she said pensively.  "Fifty-fifty."

"How about when you think of how she's going to change someone's life?"

K. thought for a moment.  "If it's important to you, like if you care about helping people with disabilities."  She paused.  "I tried not to get too attached.  But a dog is a dog."

A dog is a dog, and better writers than I have spoken eloquently about how much a dog can teach about love,  attachment, and acceptance.   And loss.  And moving on.  Emotional courage can help us with all of those and more.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Making Failure Okay

A couple of years ago, Jennifer, my husband and I took our kids to a ropes course called Adirondack Extreme. It is described as an “Aerial Tree Top Adventure” which includes a complex ropes course suspended between trees at 10 to 60 feet off the ground. It promised to be a fun physical courage challenge. Little did I know that it would be more of an emotional and social courage challenge for me. The labyrinth of ropes wouldn’t prove to be my biggest adversary, but untangling myself from my own perfectionism would be.


Jennifer did not climb due to an old injury, but she supervised our daughters on the kids’ course. My husband, our son, and I challenged the adult course. We attended a brief instruction on how to put on our harness, how to securely hook and unhook ourselves along the course, and how to ask for help—if push came to shove and we decided we were done at some point along the increasingly challenging course. I paid pretty close attention to the introductory talk, but only half-listened to the “asking for help” part. As I’ve written about previously in my post “Quitters, Campers, and Climbers,” I’m not much of a quitter. I’m a climber who, I'm embarrassed to admit, even sometimes secretly feels superior to quitters.


By the time I reached mid-course, my then 12-year old son was lapping me. He seemed recklessly, blissfully unaware of all the risks that I was quickly becoming aware of as I looked down from the tree tops to the ground twenty, then fifty, feet below. He just kept saying “Mom, this is SO much fun. It’s easy!”


I can assure you this course was NOT easy! And I was so over the idea of this being fun. The more joyless and humorless I became, the more rigid my body became.  My joyful son, on the other hand, had the agility of a monkey; while I swung precariously, holding on for dear life with increasingly sweaty palms, between the various rope mazes. He was fearless, while I was quickly becoming fearful.


One of the big differences between kids and adults in terms of risk assessment is the cognitive tricks that our minds begin to play with us as we develop. According to child psychologist Dr. Tamar Chansky (2004), in her book Freeing Your Child from Anxiety: Powerful, Practical solutions to Overcome Your Child’s Fears, Worries, and Phobias, we feel anxious when we begin to confuse the possibility of occurrence with the probability of it actually occurring. Dr. Chansky writes that the “Anxious Response= Overestimation of Threat + Underestimation of Ability to Cope.” So, while I was focusing on whether or not the ropes were strong enough to hold me, the possibility of falling, how painful it would be to hang upside down for an extended period of time waiting for help, whether or not my children (who I no longer had in sight) were okay or not, and how embarrassing it would be to quit; my son was enjoying each new obstacle on the course while feeling totally secure in his crotch harness and physical ability.




At the second to last level, all alone now on the course, I was officially scared. But quit? OMG, no way! Quitting = Failure, to the perfectionist mind.  Which is, as Jennifer wrote in her last post Failure is Always an Option, “tantamount to total annihilation.” At the very least, annihilation of the ego. Success for me, at times, can be deeply intertwined with trying to prove that I’m lovable and valuable. In short, I wasn’t a kid who learned that her success in life is based on who she is, not on how she looks or what or how well she does. A perfectionist places more value on how she appears to the world than on who she is on the inside.  This misplacement of her inherent value creates a fragile ego swinging precariously from one success to the next, desperately trying to avoid the identity-crisis pitfalls that mistakes, and especially failure, threaten.  It's also what makes perfectionists highly competitive and probably not all that relaxing to be around sometimes. Needless to say, this aspect of my personality is not particularly healthy--nor is feeling secretly superior to quitters, for that matter! These are not personality characteristics I wish to pass along to my children. Instead, I parent my kids in ways that focus on their inherent value.  I focus less on how they look and what grades they get, but more on the core qualities they are developing as kind, loving human beings.  I encourage them to listen to their limits and feelings, to focus on their successes, to identify goals that are truly important to them (not society at large), to do their best because there is no such thing as perfect, and to be gentle with themselves when they make mistakes.  I’ve coached them to develop an internal locus of control (you can read my parenting tips here: Are You an Inny or an Outy?) And I'm known for saying "I love who you are, and who you are becoming."  Let’s be honest, embracing this kind of unconditional acceptance of both ourselves and our children is kind of radical—especially today in our culture of overachievement! Dr. Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection is a great resource for anyone interested in understanding and letting go perfectionism!


One of the many gifts of being a parent, in my opinion, is that we get the chance to teach (and learn from) our kids what we, too, need to learn in life.  In essence, parenting has given me the opportunity to release myself from perfectionism's uncomfortable grip and develop the kind of self-acceptance and love that my kids seem to instinctively possess.  And now I was about to model that it's sometimes okay to quit!


When I reached the next tree post, I found myself hugging and not wanting to let go of that tree with the kind of intense love usually reserved for extreme environmentalists. I was done! It was suddenly much more important to me to listen to my body’s limits and find my kids on the course than to prove to myself and others that I could finish. Suddenly, quitting was not only an option, but it was okay. I couldn’t remember the code word the guide had told me to yell if I needed to be rescued, but in any situation screaming “HELP!” usually works.  I started with a timid “Helloooooo. Guide?!” which quickly progressed to screaming above the treetops “HELP! I need to get down now.” 

In a matter of minutes, a very kind and capable young man arrived on the scene to lower me from the towering heights of my new BFF. I told him I was okay and felt surprisingly calm.  I wanted to reassure him that I wasn’t going to cling to him like a crazy lady when he finally reached me.  He, in turn, reassured me that this kind of thing happens every day.  That made me feel a lot better!  I found myself laughing, recalling my high-pitched screams for help above the tree tops, and relaxing as he lowered us to the ground. I was amazed not to be embarrassed. The earth did not open up to swallow me whole when my feet reached terra firma. Throngs of people weren’t waiting on the ground to laugh, jeer, and otherwise poke fun at my failure. These are the kinds of thoughts that keep perfectionism well-fed, by the way, and keep us from trying things that might mean risking failure in some way, shape, or form. In fact, I felt kind of proud of myself. I had actually asked for help and received it! Trust me when I say, it took more emotional courage for me to quit, ask for help and trust that it would arrive, and social courage to risk embarrassment amongst my peers and family, than the physical courage to force myself to finish the course.


I could have focused on my failure and spiraled down into an abyss of low self-esteem, but I made my failure okay by focusing instead on what I was able to accomplish. I made it okay to quit by untangling who I am as a person from my perfectionist expectations.  I discovered that the belief that you are already “good enough,” no matter what you are able to accomplish, is perfectionism's personal kryptonite. Adopting a new respect for quitting has also freed me up to be willing to climb again! 


By honoring the type of courage I actually needed to develop, I was able to reframe my perceived physical courage “failure” as an emotional courage accomplishment. We can do this for our kids, too, by helping them to recognize the gains they make everyday, by breaking apart difficult tasks into smaller more manageable and achievable ones, and by celebrating their successes. We can help them identify which of the six types of courage they are developing, and are capable of, in everything they do!


As I was writing this post, I asked my daughter to define failure.  Her answer: “There is no such thing as failure Mom. Whatever you are able to do is okay.”  When I also asked if she'd like to try the adult course with me again this summer, now that she's almost 12, she said: “Probably not.  I'm not a big fan of heights.”


You can read more about coaching kids to face challenges in my previous post: Discourage/Encourage: What’s a Parent to Do?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Scared of Flying No More!

Fear of flying is no joke--especially for kids!  Here’s some advice to help children overcome aerophobia--most of which I put into practice with my own daughter to help her overcome her fear of flying, which I wrote about in my previous post “Fear of Flying: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Feeling!”:   
  • Talk about your child's fear.  Let's face it, it is kinda' strange to fly so high above the ground!Empathize with them by normalizing fear as part of life and that we become stronger and more courageous by facing our fears--which gets easier the more we do it!  Don't unnecessarily minimize how big their fear may feel.  Help them to break it into smaller, more manageable, pieces.   For example, if your child is afraid of flying figure out if it is being in a small, enclosed space; or is it the loud sounds of the engines; or leaving their doggies behind at home; or possible turbulence during flight? Next, take steps to overcoming each fear.  Brainstorm ways to have courage facing a particular fear and perhaps even simulate facing those bite-sized fears like leaving the dog for a day, using ear plugs around a loud lawnmower, or likening riding in a plan to the roller coaster you may have ridden last summer. 

  • It is helpful to demystify flying and address some of your child’s questions about how safe it is as a method of travel.  Reading books about air travel, describing and visualizing a flight from beginning to a safe and happy landing, and educating your child about how safe flying is and how many millions of people arrive safely to their various destinations every day can be helpful in reducing anxiety.  Even going through a car wash together, or simulating a flight by watching a YouTube clip like this one, or setting up the pillows and a cardboard plane control panel in the living room—complete with self-made sounds and effects—may help to acclimate your child to the feelings, sounds, and sensations similar to those of being in an actual plane.  Normalize turbulence as part of the natural waves of wind the plane will ride up and down during the flight—especially when riding over mountains. 

  • Provide some valuable facts about flight safety.  Frame those facts in ways that kids can understand.  For example, explaining how safe flying is in comparison to driving doesn’t help really--it just made my daughter begin to question even getting into the car.  Fear is contagious that way!  Ask them to visualize the 4.5 million people everyday who fly safely in planes!  Remind them that many of those millions are kids off to visit their beloved grandparents or to see Disneyland for the first time.  Help them visualize such a large number like 4.5 million:  it is way more people that all the people living in Alaska and Hawaii combined, and about as many as live in the entire State of South Carolina. 

  • It is helpful to challenge some of those fear-inducing thoughts by brainstorming solutions to every worry and/or testing if the fearful thought is actually accurate, true, or simply irrational.  Take a piece of paper, divide it in two, and make one side for thoughts that are “True” and one for those that are “Not True.”  For example, “Everybody dies when they fly”— phobic thinking actually sounds like this.  This particular thought would go on the “Not True” list.

  • I’ve also taught my children that if they change their thinking, they can change their feeling.  I encouraged them to notice that when they pick a different thought, their feelings follow suit.  As I've written about previously, in Mental Pathways of Courage, it can take only approximately 90 seconds for feelings to catch up with our thoughts.

  • It is important to focus on the positive benefits associated with flying.  For example, the fun stuff you can do on board, the nutritional/favorite snacks and drinks you will pack, his/her favorite stuffy along for the ride, the movie you will bring to watch or book to read, special friends/family you are travelling to visit, the sights you might see along the way, and any other things your child might be looking forward to about the trip. 

  • Move around during the flight, should aerophobia’s close cousin, claustrophobia, also be contributing to your child’s fear of flying. 
  • One parenting site recommended wrapping little gifts to unwrap each hour on the flight to add something to look forward to and to countdown the hour(s) until you arrive at your destination.  

  • It is also useful to inform the airline staff that you have a hesitant flyer on your hands and any and all treats or accommodations they can make to ensure a relaxing flight would be most appreciated. 

  • Arriving to the airport relaxed helps (not that my family has ever been able to manage this one—which may well have also contributed to our daughter’s anxiety! We even slept through two alarms for our most recent early morning flight.  We were the last to check in and board, but we made it!) 

  • Teaching some simple body relaxation techniques to your child can help them learn the difference between tense and relaxed muscles.  Kids don’t automatically notice the difference.  So, start with your toes, showing them how to squeeze/tense and let go/relax each muscle group, ending with your faces.  Liken a tensed body to uncooked spaghetti (straight, rigid), relaxed bodies are like cooked spaghetti (loose, wiggly and jiggly).  Use visual imagery to help them tense and relax, this audio script may help. When stressed or worried during the flight, remind each other to use progressive relaxation to help your body tell your mind that all is well.  To learn more about Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), consult this book: The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (Davis, Eschelman, & McKay, 1988).

  • Airline attendants are full of helpful advice. Those vomit bags may also come in handy for some much needed anti-panic deep breathing relief.


  •  If your child’s fear is debilitating, or close to being so, it is also a wise investment to consult a local child-oriented mental health therapist to prepare for any upcoming trips—especially if as a parent you, too, suffer from aerophobia.


  • Lastly, clap those hands loud and proud to thank the pilot for your safe arrival on the tarmac.  Be sure to celebrate each of your child’s successes along the journey to conquering their fear—no matter how small the steps or how short the flight—just keep gently moving forward through the fear instead of letting it limit your lives! 

Any advice you'd like to share about how you've helped your child overcome a fear?  We'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fear of Flying: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Feeling!

My husband and I travel a lot with our kids.  They’ve ridden in planes, trains, automobiles, bike trailers, RVs, and a hot air balloon; on bicycles, ferries, kayaks, canoes, sailing boats, power boats, and inner tubes; by air, sea, river, lake, and land.  So it came as a bit of a shock when our daughter announced at age 8 that she would no longer fly in an airplane.  She would drive across country to visit our family that particular summer, but refused to fly.  Houston, we have a problem! 

Our daughter had officially joined the approximately one in six Americans who are afraid to fly.  Fear had her in its tight grip and wasn’t letting go anytime soon.  Problem was we were a few months away from flying home to visit our relatives in Canada.  We were not prepared to drive the over 3,000 miles again in our RV.  Two summers of such travel had worn us, and our somewhat anxious and diarrhea-prone dog, out!

Aerophobia, it turns out, is one of the top fears of most people.  The website www.fearofstuff.com/phobia-stats indicates that approximately 1 in 23 people suffer from phobias, with nearly 11.5 million sufferers in the U.S. alone.  A quick Amazon.com search yields some 4,000+ titles devoted to the topic of overcoming fear of flying. 

What I’ve learned about children who fear flying is that they can learn that fear through the anxiety of a parent.  Aerophobia can also be triggered by watching some disturbing news or movies, reading a book featuring air tragedies, experiencing turbulence on a flight, or due to the death of a family member or friend (either in a plane crash or not), or by overhearing people talking about plane crashes or other anxiety-provoking stories.  We could all be more mindful that our kids are ALWAYS listening, whether they seem to be or not.  They hear and absorb the news we listen to on the way to school and work, or the TV news we leave on while we cook, or the conversations we have with friends on the phone.  Though it is always useful to discuss with children the origin of their fear; it can be often be difficult for them to recall or pinpoint the exact triggering event. 

My daughter’s fear of flying might not have been such a big deal except for the fact that we live across country from all our family!  The particular summer after she became a card-carrying aerophobic, we weren’t prepared to drive across country to accommodate her fear.  Given my training as a child/family and mental health therapist I also know full well that avoiding what we fear has a nasty way of not only perpetuating fear but also contributes to what is commonly termed (by mental health professionals anyway) “generalized anxiety.”  I wrote more about this topic in my last post, Making Friends with Fear. 

Here’s my interview with my daughter about her fear of flying.  I thought it would be helpful to get a kid’s perspective on how to combat fear--because in my experience, kids have a lot of clarity about life, and are most definitely some of the most inspirational people I know: 

Me: When did you first become afraid of flying?
My daughter:When I first heard the story of 9/11. I was about 8 and we had just moved to New York. A friend’s mom told me about it and I thought I would never want to be on a flight like that.  I couldn’t understand how someone could do something so terrible as fly a plane into a building.”
(My personal preference here is to always have these kinds of difficult discussions between a parent and child—but we may not always be our child’s loving bearer of bad news.  Debriefing news they may hear at school or on playdates or from older friends is important.  Share your perspective on tragic events like September 11th, your values and life-affirming beliefs, with the goal of reassuring your child of his/her safety).   

Me: What about the next flight you flew after becoming afraid? Can you remember the next flight was with me and your older brother going to visit family in Vancouver?
My daughter:I was just after my 9th birthday.  I had to work up the courage to fly.  I just thought about how beautiful it would be when we got to our destination. I just kept thinking of all the people I would get to see again.  We even flew a couple of those littler commuter planes for shorter times, which were kind of cool.”

Me: Do you remember that you wanted me to hold your hand and to give you some Rescue Remedy® gummies?  Do you think that helped?
My daughter:I don’t know.  Not really.  The Rescue Remedy® gummies were tasty and helped with chewing so my ears didn’t pop.  It helped more to think of positive things that I was looking forward to.

Me: Most recently, you flew with the most confidence I’ve seen in the past few years during our last winter vacation.  What do you think shifted?
My daughter:I just thought that my fear was just in my mind.”

Me: How did knowing that your fear was just in your mind help?
My daughter:Because then I knew it wasn’t real.  Which meant I could get over it in my mind. It was up to me to fix it.”

Me: You still wanted to hold my hand on the way to our destination, but do you remember saying to me on the way back “I don’t want to hold your hand this time ‘cause I’m going to fly with my big bro next summer on our own and I need pretend now that I’m okay, so I’ll be okay when it comes time to fly on my own”?
My daughter:Nope.” (Typical!)

Me: What made you decide to get over your fear?
My daughter:I wanted to be able to go on all sorts of family vacations.  I’d also like to someday fly without you guys, just with my big brother to visit family in Canada on our own.”

Me: If you were to offer some advice to another kid who was feeling afraid of flying, what would you tell them?
My daughter: Just think about what it will be like when you get to your destination.  Just focus on all the beauty around you, as you look around you on the plane.  Like the clouds and ocean you can see below you. I took a lot of really cool photos on our last trip.

Me: What do parents need to know about helping a child with a fear of flying?
My daughter:You can help them, but ultimately it is in their minds so there isn’t a lot you can do.  You just need to listen to them.  It helps to talk about it.  But not too much.  Just enough to let them know it is okay to be afraid sometimes.  Let them figure it out on their own, because if you try to fix it—which you can’t anyway—it won’t help them solve the problem on their own for the long-term.”

Me: Do you feel afraid anymore of flying?
My daughter:Nope.” (She's 11 now.  It took some practice, with a few flights between ages 8 and 11 and visualizing herself someday being able to fly confidently, but I'm happy to report that she is a confident flyer today!)


For some tips on helping your child overcome his/her fear of flying read my follow-up post, "Scared of Flying No More!"

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Plan B

I have two anecdotes to share today, and then something to say about them.

Last year, my friend B. shared a wonderful "Plan B" story about a day she spent with her daughter, who was then a young teen. I don't remember all the details, but I think the original plan was to take the train to New York City to see a Broadway show, and then shopping or some other treat. The timing was tricky though, because of other things on their schedule,  and B. decided they should have a Plan B - what they would do if the train was late, or the show was sold out, or any other monkey wrench in the machine. Long story short and indeed, the original plan fell through entirely, but they immediately switched to Plan B - which if I'm remembering correctly involved taking another train to Philadelphia and seeing an exhibit at a museum, and there was a second Plan B for the first Plan B which had to be implemented, because it was all on the fly - well, you get the picture. They had a fabulous time, and remember it fondly to this day as an adventure that unfolded one surprise after another like a series of gifts.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Courage to Survive

This video of concentration camp survivor, Alie Herz-Sommer, is a marvelous example of human courage!   She is interviewed by Anthony Robbins on the eve of her 108th birthday. 


We particularly noted:
1. the role that parent-child attachment played in her ability to withstand this ordeal,
2. her attitude of gratitude ("everything is a present"),
3. her life-saving optimism.

All things we can teach and model for our children, or that they teach us, that help develop our courage and resilience in life! Enjoy!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.  To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable."
~Helen Keller


It’s New Year’s Day and I’m taking a different approach to planning my 2012 New Year’s Resolutions.  I’ve tried and failed many times in some of my previous vain attempts at perfectionism disguised as self-improvement.  In fact, when reading Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller, The Happiness Project, the only commandment for happiness (submitted by one of her readers) that resonated with me long after finishing the book was: “I am already enough.”  These days I prefer books that open my mind to possibility, rather than filling it with worry about all the ways I am not YET enough.  I'm trying to adopt a more relaxed, hands-in-the-air-less-white-knuckle-approach to riding this roller coaster called life.  I like books that are more bucket list than to-do list.  Though goal-setting is important and empowering, mining our dreams often requires getting fear out of the way first.  Diane Conway’s book What Would You Do if You Had No Fear?:  Living Your Dreams While Quakin’ in Your Boots, for example, is filled with stories of folks who mustered the courage to conquer their fears and follow their dreams. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Talking Stories with Eleanor, Part 1



Last week I had coffee with my friend, Eleanor Stanton, the associate pastor at the Presbyterian- New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs.  She talked about stories, working with teens, about being a minister, about having cancer, and about being a minister with cancer.  Throughout our conversation were implicit and explicit observations about courage.   This is the first of two installments of that interview.



Jennifer: So, I have some questions for you about courage and about story. Let’s start with this. If somebody came to church on Sunday, somebody new in town, and there you are, you’re wearing your collar, your robe, and you have no hair. So they may quickly make certain assumptions about both your story, and your courage –

Eleanor:  I thought you were going to say, my orientation!

Jennifer:   Ha! No!  So whether their assumptions are correct or not, odds are that they are going to be making them. What’s your response to just the fact that that happens? That whereas somebody else may not present a whole lot of clues, for example –

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Up and Over the Black Belt Wall!

Lisa's son performing his personal Black Belt form
I recently wrote about Jennifer's daughter and my two children's Tae Kwon Do Black Belt journey in a post entitled The Black Belt Wall.  All three children faced their own individual courage challenges over the four years of study required to attain their Black Belts.  Over the course of the final two days of testing, a couple of weeks ago, each Black Belt candidate was required to perform approximately ten different belt forms (a set series of jumps, kicks, chops, and other martial arts moves), a lengthy work-out, 100+ sit-ups, 100+ push-ups, 500-1,000 jump ropes, a 15-minute run, several sparring matches, their own personal form performed for all attendees, and finally to read a personal essay about their individual journey to becoming a Black Belt.  I'm happy to report that each of them successfully completed their test and were subsequently awarded crisp new Black Belts embroidered with their names!  It was truly inspiring to be witness to such a motivated, talented group of young people, ages 9-16, each achieving a long-cherished and hard-won goal. 

As parents, we provided the gas, transportation, monthly school fees, and the "You can do it!" motivation (when needed).  It was our kids, however, working under their martial arts instructors' mentorship, who had to show up for each class, dig deep in moments of fear or boredom, and have the emotional, intellectual, social, and physical courage to stick with a sport that is learned one move at a time.  Like in the classic movie Karate Kid (1984) when young Daniel is asked to help Karate Master Mr. Miyagi, one paint brush stroke at a time (instead of getting his much-desired and expected martial arts instruction), our kids not only had to develop trust in their instructors and themselves, they had to develop the kind of patience with the process that is in short supply in our instant gratification culture.  The courage development associated with this kind of time-honored teacher-student relationship and the courage challenges involved:  priceless!  Jennifer wrote a great post about this recently, too, in Wait for it...Wait for it!  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Black Belt Wall

Lisa's son competing in board breaking in November, 2011 as a "Recommended Black Belt"
Jennifer and my children are testing for their Black Belts in Tae Kwon Do (TKD) this weekend.  It’s kind of a big deal.  This test, six and a half hours in total, is the culmination of four years of study.  They have each hit their own personal Black Belt walls and wanted to quit.  As I wrote about in Quitters, Campers, and Quitters:  Which One Are You?, what matters is that they didn’t quit and, as their parents, we didn’t quit on them. 


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Quitters, Campers, and Climbers—Which One Are You?


I would have thought that one of the side effects of writing a blog about courage would be an increase in my own courage quotient. In fact, over these past months researching, discussing with Jennifer, and writing about how to nurture courage in kids, I’ve noticed more moments when I’ve wanted to quit than climb.  Granted I’ve recently taken on several new projects and a new job, my kids started new schools, and my husband started a new business in one of the toughest economic climates since the 1930's.  My learning curve is steep and the challenges real.  But as someone who’s prided herself on being what Dr. Paul Stoltz (1997) defines as a “climber” in life, noticing that my inner “quitter” is alive and well is, well, humbling. 

In his book The Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities, Dr. Stoltz outlines three types of approaches that people take in life, using mountain climbing as a metaphor.  Listed below are his definitions, excerpted from the introduction of his book (1997) :

"Quitters simply give up on the ascent—the pursuit of an enriching life—and as a result are often embittered.  Quitters tend to blame others, become overwhelmed, and allow adversity to endure longer than necessary (5-20% of folks, according to a poll that Dr. Stoltz and his team of experts took of 150,000 leaders across all industries worldwide).

Campers generally work hard, apply themselves, pay their dues, and do what it takes to reach a certain level.  Then they plant their tent stakes and settle down at their current elevation. Campers tend to let adversity wear them down, resort to blame when tense or tired, and/or lose hope and faith when adversity is high (65-90% of folks).

Climbers are the rare breed to who continue to learn, grow, strive, and improve until their final breath, who look back at life and say, “I gave it my all.” Climbers tend to be resilient and tenacious.  They focus on solutions versus blame, and they are trusting and agile (the rare few)."

The adversity continuum ranges from: "avoiding, surviving, coping, managing, to harnessing adversity." (This brief summary is taken from The Adversity Advantage: Turning Everyday Struggles Into Everyday Greatness by Erik Weihenmayer, Paul Stoltz, and Stephen R. Covey, 2006).

Here’s an example of how I was humbled recently by my inner quitter.  We had relatives visiting from the West Coast who wanted to see the place where our ancestors had fought as United Empire British Loyalists during the Battle of Saratoga.  We lost that battle, which provides some nice foreshadowing to what happened next.