Snow Storm

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?