Need

How A Snow Storm Shows You Who You Really Are, Part 2: BACK TO YOUR ROOTS

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It has been a week but there are still giant snowbanks on the side of the road that test how skinny I can make my SUV on a two lane road. Last week I wrote about how the imminent snow storm was like the zombie apocalypse for which everyone in Massachusetts had to prepare by buying groceries on groceries all day the day before and how tension was high enough to inspire some to fight over certain items on the shelves.

Ugh, fighting over certain items on the shelves. As though Whole Foods does not have other options for food somewhere else in the store that we could stomach for a single day of precipitation. Last week's post was about reflecting on the idea of Need. This week we reflect on where that comes from. 

I was born and raised in Vermont, which means that my childhood was sponsored by The North Face and I was acquainted with sub zero temperatures before I was a single year old. My siblings and I grew up ski racing and, following my retirement at age 13, my party favor was circulation issues in my feet and hands because of the blisteringly cold days on the mountain that froze my toes and fingers. I am not that bitter about it because I realized over time how much more tolerant of the winter I became from such early and frequent exposure. Fast forward to college when I walked around campus in January in a plain old sweatshirt and laughed at the freezing wind like a boss.

I bring this up because I will always be thankful for my frostbitten upbringing. Strangers, coworkers, friends, and family talked to me about the storm last week and all I could do about it was shrug. It was simply another snow storm in my lifetime of snow storms. It is a form of adversity that I tolerate much more confidently than, say, walking in the Sahara desert (I am lightheaded just thinking about it) while someone who lives in a desert climate would not be able to handle a snowflake. The pressure of a snow storm on our immediate environment produces a stress to which people react very differently. I agreed that food would be good to have in my fridge for the snow day, but I was not so emphatic that I needed to fight someone for it in the grocery store. 

I am also not holier than thou. I am just one individual with his own unique journey. The fact that I accept snow storms as they are does not make me special; instead it is how I learned to survive during the winter. Those who fought for food in Whole Foods may not be as accepting of the cold and wet so they project their angst into their food supply. That is fine. That is their journey. But think about last week's post: Where does the need come from? Better yet, where does the angst about a snow storm come from?

If you have lived in Boston for a long time but still get anxious about the snow, what taught you that it would be a stress-provoking situation? Do coworkers talk about snow storms so much that you absorb their anxiety? What were the environmental conditions of your childhood? Maybe you developed a scarcity mentality at some point (do not fret, a lot of people do) and register the first sign of stress as the potential loss of resources. As we count days further from 2017 and closer to when we give up on our New Years resolutions, I challenge you to consider this question:

HOW DOES YOUR PAST AFFECT YOUR CURRENT SENSE OF NEED?

The need that Whole Foods shoppers felt last week does not remain isolated to the grocery store. Our brains are large and powerful but still small and contained in the space of our skulls, so the same brain circuits and power are used in multiple situations to streamline the way we respond to perceived stress or need. Using the same systems enables us to see choices that will benefit our evolution. So think about what your needs are and where they come from. In fact, map it out or make a chart. Here is how:

  1. Use the basic headers of HEALTH, WORK, and RELATIONSHIPS as a starting point and write them however you want on a sheet of paper.
  2. Reflect on the needs you feel in each category (i.e. food to eat, money to have, interpersonal support) and write them down.
  3. Now go deeper - i.e. what kind of foods, why do you need money, what specific kind of interpersonal support?
  4. Write them down
  5. Reflect on where those needs come from - i.e. did someone tell you it was a necessity at some point? If not, how did you internalize the need for, say, a certain amount of money, or a certain type of connection with others in the past?
  6. And now you have a flowchart of your personal needs and nowhere to hide.
  7. Bedazzle it as you see fit.
  8. Frame it on the wall.
  9. Post it to Instagram. 

Like a while back when I wrote about how to "reverse-engineer your stress", this simple activity helps you rewind your stories and figure out why you react to stress the way you do in different situations. It is a fun exploration if you open yourself to the process and maybe, just maybe, it will help you breathe a little easier when someone takes that last veggie sampler at the store that you wanted for your snow day. 

How A Snow Storm Shows You Who You Really Are, part 1: NEED

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Today, the eastern united states is witness to a large snow and ice storm. We up here call it a nor'easter and know that all it really means is to lace up our L.L.Bean duck boots a little tighter and make sure to keep the hood of our North Face parka in place over our heads when we inevitably leave the house. It is supposed to accumulate up to a foot of fresh snow. 

Even though there are a lot Boston-area residents who have lived here for a long time and are no stranger to winter conditions, this funny thing happens when the forecast calls for a dumping like today: people think that it is the end of the world. It is as though meteorologists reported that the zombie apocalypse will, in fact, begin at the stroke of midnight on Thursday morning and that we all better be indoors and out of sight forever. I drove past Whole Foods and Trader Joe's yesterday at 2:00pm(!) and both parking lots resembled a Los Angeles interstate. Random horns were honking somewhere, pedestrians looked both ways twenty times in the ten foot walk to their cars, and a hundred other cars piled into the through spaces to get a spot that can no longer be vacated because too many cars are piled into the through space. Smack my head.

Admittedly, I recognize the value of stocking up for a snow day and I wanted to get provisions myself, so I waited until 8:30 to go. Traffic had died down and there were parking spaces, but checkout lines still extended down the hallway to the bakery at Whole Foods. Judging how slow the line was moving as I meandered through the threadbare aisles, I was prepared to take a loaf of bread and ration it out to people in line to fortify them on their journey. 

Produce baskets were just baskets at that point, the pasta section was destroyed, and all of the pre-made food shelves were completely empty. Does anyone else remember the Millennium Bug scare and how we all prepared for a new Dark Age? That was right around New Year's Eve, too... What a coincidence. Anyhow, I miraculously found everything I wanted (cheese pizza, macro bars, and a deformed yellow bell pepper that was not damaged, just misunderstood) and asked the cashier how he was holding up. He told me he would be off today and could not believe the day they had had. That is reasonable. He went on, though, to tell me that he saw people earlier in the day fighting over food on the shelves. I did not ask him to elaborate on what he meant by the word fighting (but I absolutely pictured Catness Everdeen and all three of the Hunger Games movies), but let us stop for a second and consider the typical shopper of a place like Whole Foods: GROWN UPS. ADULTS. FIGHTING for non-perishable food that they want for a single day of bad weather. Even millennials and hipsters I know who shop at Whole Foods would not actually argue or lunge for that last box of almonds and cashews. It was like a scene from every virus outbreak movie ever after a pharmacy or food shop had been looted. 

So what the heck happened? Did a looming snow cloud make us resort to baser instincts? Maybe. But does a snow storm make us need to fight over food? No. What it boils down to is our perceived sense of need. Sure, hunger is one of Maslow's Foundational Needs we have to satisfy to survive, but what food does Maslow say is necessary and how much should be bought when there is a snow storm? 

I choose to write about this after last week's post about New Year's Resolutions and making realistic personal change because a lot of people's "commitment" to make change starts with a perceived need, and I think that is wrong. 

"I need to lose weight"

"I need to make more money"

"I need to get my life in order"

Are these not desires? See, stating a need assumes some external pressure. A reasonable need is to complete a certain work assignment by noon so that your boss can use the information for a board meeting. The need comes from a pressure outside of you that bears down on you in order to instigate action. An external pressure that invites action like that is also known as a stressor. In that sense, acting to satisfy that need requires acting through a level of anxiety. Exhibit A: yesterday at Whole Foods. There was a whole lot of anxiety-fueled need swirling around based on the external pressure of a snow storm. 

Now think about your Resolutions that you may or may not have set last weekend. How many were born from some external pressure (i.e. a fitness freak coworker who has passive-aggressively made comments for the past six months about how little cardio you do) and how many were out of a genuine desire born within you?  

Turning Needs into Wants eliminates the external pressure and the subsequent anxiety. There is more comfort in pursuing a change that you genuinely want and it is typically much more interesting and healthy. Not to brag or anything, but I went to Whole Foods last night with the desire for some food to have available today instead of the pressing need for a certain kind or amount of food to ensure my survival. That way, if there was no Annie's White Cheddar Mac & Cheese left on the shelf, it would have been okay with me and I would have found something else. After all, I chose to wait until just a few hours before the snow was supposed to begin, so you were not going to see me pointing to the far wall and stealing a ton of stuff from people's carts as they dumbly look toward the far wall. The fact that I was not in any state of anxiety allowed me to laugh about the sad state of the shelves with other shoppers and have a calmly supportive conversation with the cashier about the Civil War he had just endured. 

Make realistic goals, people! You need food for the snow day? How much do you actually want to have available for your family? You need to lose weight? What do you actually want to do to start (Hint: start by reading last week's post)?

We do not need to be savages in an upscale grocery store. We simply want to survive. Google Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. What is the minimum amount of quinoa necessary for you to survive a snow storm? 

Why The Holiday Is The Perfect Time To Hire Me, Part Two: New Year's Resolutions

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Allright, folks. You are back to work in a wobbly haze, still wondering how you were able to fit that Toll House pie around the stuffing and dinner rolls in your stomach. On your commute home right now, you realize that tomorrow is Friday, which means that it is almost the weekend and this weekend is when we say goodbye to 2017. "Another party? I suppose I could get dressed up and be festive one more time. Maybe just a few drinks this year." But another year done and gone? Yikes. All done. Bye bye. 

2017 was supposed to be our savior. It was expected to be the beam of sunlight bursting through the clouds of 2016 and warming us with the grace of hope and optimism. Instead, another cloud rolled in and it started raining. Even if people do not make a big deal about New Year's Eve, I do not know of anyone who does not stop for a mental millisecond to consider the fact that another whole year has past and you need a new calendar to hang up. I personally never put much emphasis on going out and watching fireworks with thousands of other people in the freezing cold, but I without fail always feel very sentimental about the turning of the year. It is a strong mental marker for the memories and experiences that occurred in the time span of twelve months, the nostalgia of which immediately transforms into the "Holy s***" moment of "what the heck is gonna happen next?"

We cannot control the future but we can control the choices we make as the future comes our way. As such, humans make these funny things called "resolutions", which are steadfast promises - mostly about physical health and lifestyle - that people get stoked about and talk about for a whopping couple of weeks before the reality sinks in of having to maintain that promise FORRR-EHHH-VER. A sudden amnesia breaks out and not a soul says a word about resolutions for another 11.5 months. 

My question about resolutions that I never hear anyone ask is "Why should making intentional personal change be deflected to one time per year, only to be dismissed after mere weeks?" I know what you are thinking. You are sitting there reading this with your freshly typed list of potential resolutions in a word document just behind this window, and I seem to be conveying to you that they are meaningless. As they are written right now, yes, most of them are meaningless. But read on.

The root word of resolution is resolve, and the google searched definitions of resolve start with the verb to mean "to settle or find a solution to a problem." If this were the only definition listed on the interwebs anywhere, it would affirm the classically American "fix it" mentality (just think about health care for a second). Luckily, two more definitions are offered: 

1) to decide firmly on a course of action

2) a firm determination to do something

These are better. I like how both include the adjective firm as though we would not believe the focused nature of the word determination when left on its own. A resolution is rooted in the framework of someone wanting to do something and then FIRMLY choosing a course of action. It sounds so empowering like that, like the determination in Aragorn when he turns and runs by himself toward the whole Orc army in the final battle of Lord of the Rings. We can get jazzed up about resolutions because it is exciting for us to think of something that we desire to change and then come up with a plan to pursue that change. Feel that new strength!

So why does that excitement crash and burn before January has even finished? The majority of resolutions are meaningless not because they are invalid or poor choices or you are an idiot for even thinking about those in particular, but instead because they are simply unrealistic. 

I will let that sit there for a second. 

Your resolutions are not wrong, they are just unrealistic. A lot of people commonly set resolutions about losing weight. Say you want to lose fifty pounds. Okay, awesome. More power to you. But how are you going to do that? And by when? And then what? What is the actual plan around losing fifty pounds? What list of changes and commitments must you fulfill in order to reach that one goal? People would like to lose fifty pounds but they do not consider that within their lofty resolution is a ton of hidden resolutions such as but not limited to: seeing a nutiritionist, taking their advice, changing what food you buy, how you cook it, how much to eat, what gym to go to, to get a personal trainer or not, what kind exercise to choose, how to improve, how to recover, how to maintain. 

That is eleven individual resolutions that people could choose as an alternative to the lofty hope of losing fifty pounds and are so much more connected to reality. They are quantifiable. So what is wrong with stating the resolution to see a nutritionist and let that be it? That would be so easy to achieve in January. Just one consultation. Then make one single food item change based on their advice. Two steps in to our list. You are killin' it. Am I the only one who feels like these goals are so much easier than the one we started with?

Think about it for yourself. Are your goals for the new year realistic for you and your lifestyle? Here is where I come in and why you should hire me in January. For years now, I have practiced the aforementioned goal setting technique and taken it a step further to strategize the actual action steps for each one. That way, starting several years ago, I no longer set one or two distinct resolutions to pursue above all else at the turn of the clock but rather I concretely and chronologically organize my to-do list in a logical order that is realistic for me to work on. An example is completing a self-paced online course for a new certification that really should be done before I do anything else on my list so now it is the first priority in January. Instead of resolving to make a million dollars this year, I resolve to work on something much more tangible about my business that may (hopefully) eventually lead to making a million dollars. 

This form of strategic goal setting is something I have used to help clients in their entrepreneurship, for instance once they have defined a brand narrative and their products are all packaged up, but I am using it more and more now with clients in their personal relationships. More specifically, how to communicate with others close to them. We humans get into habits at a young age with regard to interpersonal communication, so many then do not have any clue how to adjust / improve their communication in a time of need. As such, the desire to improve communication is unrealistic because the individual does not know how to even begin. I help clients break down their lofty goals in order to create realistic, step-by-step action plans. They say "I would like to improve the communication in my relationship" and we break that down together. They say "I want to get clients for my business" and we make a plan together.

Do not think that you have to set a lofty resolution to be like everyone else. How many people do you know have actually accomplished a legitimate resolution? You still have four night to choose your promise so take your time. Here is a four day plan:

  1. Tonight (Thursday): think of a lofty goal for yourself.
  2. Tomorrow (Friday): make a list of what would need to happen in order to achieve that. Really break it down into its parts.
  3. Saturday: look at that list of simpler goals and choose one that feels realistic for you to achieve in January. Write it down.
  4. Sunday: while you dress up for your party, take a look at it again. If you still think you can realistically achieve it in January, then you have your resolution. Go forth and prosper (Do not throw away the other list, though. You still have to achieve the other items, too, just in their own time). 

Cheers to you, to your realistic resolutions, and to your success in 2018.