Tag Archives: choice


It’s that time of year again – when it’s good, it’s very very good, and when it’s bad, it’s, well, much much worse. We see great acts of kindness and goodwill, and when there’s conflict or sadness, we feel it … Continue reading

When I follow the rules, things should work, right?

I’ve had a few incidents recently where I found myself frustrated with how things work. They had a similar theme – I thought I was following the rules to get things done and it didn’t work! Because this is not infrequent, and I hear the same from others, I’ve been reflecting on what I can do to reduce my own frustration. While what triggered this post is more about business, the same challenges exist and are maybe more important to pay attention to in relationships with people important to us.

To put this in context, I’m a bit of a detail person – not that I love details that much, but I can’t seem to ignore them, especially when it seems to me that if I don’t  take care of them, someone else might be affected or there would be consequences to me. I have come to understand that we don’t all see the same thing. My brain that recognizes detail is my own quirky blessing/annoyance (equal parts of both!). My natural temperament most enjoys ignoring the detail and letting things unfold as they may, but my brain wants to follow the rules. Others have their own particular blend of skills, preferences and capacities.

Here are some basic principles that I’m trying to put into practice:

  1. Remember that all of us are following values that matter to us. Just because I value service to others and put it into play by paying attention to details, doesn’t mean that someone else who misses the detail or communicates it in a way I don’t understand, doesn’t care. Yes I can call them (hopefully with my inside voice!) all kinds of unkind names, but I can also assume that they don’t see things in the same way I do, don’t have the same priorities, don’t have the same information at hand, are having their own bad day, or lack the resources to cover the bases that affect the particular issue I’m facing.
  2. We all have our own internalized “rules” that tell us what is nice, kind, respectful, funny, helpful, etcetera. If I follow my rules and someone else takes it wrong, feels hurt or angry, reacts to what they assume about me, I have a choice. I can make my own assumptions about them, react and escalate the conflict. Or, I can back up a bit and assume a misunderstanding, try to find out what went wrong, ask some genuinely curious questions, and maybe improve the situation.
  3. All of us have the natural limitations of how our brains organize information and rules. This also applies to information that ends up on our computers and other electronic devices. As much as it might be nice, there is no universal standard of how to do things right. My failure to understand how someone organizes their thinking, is my problem and one I’m usually able to solve, even if it takes some time and effort. If I don’t get someone’s logic, chances are they don’t get mine either. Who’s to say which of us is right?
  4. Yes it is entirely possible to come to the conclusion that those who don’t see things the way I do are just wrong (or lazy, or immoral, or flawed in some way).  But, you know, if I conclude that, I’m less happy and peaceful than I’d like to be. Can we assume at the outset that we just have different influences (capacity, experience, temperament, upbringing, culture, and biology – basically both nature and nurture)? I might actually have the opportunity to add positively to those influences if I’m willing to be respectful, or add negatively to those influences if I let myself become disrespectful or abusive.
  5. Curiosity is a wonderful tool to work through differences in communication, processes, and lack of understanding. Genuine curiosity means being able to step back for a moment and ask respectfully for clarification, maybe look for an example, and consider different ways of communicating. Some people communicate better in written form, or visually, or in spoken words. Try to be creative in how you illustrate your concerns. If you are building a piece of furniture and the tool at hand doesn’t fit, it is always easier to find a better tool than it is to fix what you broke by forcing a square peg into a round hole.

My bottom line here is that there always is a choice about how we deal with interactions or processes that seem to go wrong. I choose to believe that if I assume the best of others, we can work towards resolve our differences. While I don’t know for sure that I’ll get what I want in any given situation, I do know for sure that positive assumptions, slowing down the process and not getting caught up in needing to be right, is more rewarding to my soul.


Change is on my mind lately, as spring approaches. While the warmer weather is welcome, as usual there are some challenges even with the best of change. Recently I’ve been preparing for a move, some time into the future but … Continue reading

Living by Intention

While relaxing on the lanai (that’s a patio in Hawaii – just got back to cooler Calgary!) on a warm evening recently, a gentle breeze wafting by, chatting with a friend, we got to talking about why I do what I do. Somehow, the conversation clarified my thinking on intentionality. Having worked in large organizations for much of my professional life and shifting into private practice in the last three years, I’ve felt a shift in my consciousness around work and how it reflects much of how I’ve made choices in life.

A big factor which has dominated my decision-making in the past has been a series of shoulds and assumptions, most around doing the “right” and logical thing according to a pattern most of us follow…………get an education, a good job, pay the bills and take care of possessions and responsibilities, until some mythical time in the future when we believe we will be able to live our dreams. Along the way, try to have whatever enjoyable experiences fit into the spaces in between. In my observation, the higher we rate our responsibilities and possessions, the smaller are the spaces between them for leisure and enjoyment. In our rather driven society, leisure is often seen as a luxury, only to be taken when earned.

Am I advocating a life of leisure? Well, it does seem to have it’s charms, in my post-vacation haze, but no, I don’t really want to live without responsibility for anyone or anything. I do however, notice that since working for myself, my choices seem more intentional, with fewer external forces directing my energy. I don’t believe that I live less responsibly, but it seems that I feel responsible for less. My friend from the lanai above, who has recently moved to the warm and aloha driven climate of Hawaii, described her own evolution to reducing the “have to”s by simplifying her expectations. As with all evolutions, both mine and hers are a work in progress. By the way, in the course of that visit, I learned that “aloha” means far more than hello and goodbye, but includes all manner of usage, such as driving with aloha (making room for others with graciousness) and as an adjective meaning relaxed, easy, gracious, etc. I think we could all do with a little aloha in our lives.

Living with intention for me means that I seek to only do what I choose. Perhaps a recipe for anarchy, although not intended that way. Rather I mean that each action I take can be conscious and intentional, not necessarily all pleasant, but always chosen for a reason. A better reason, that is, than because I have to or I always have done it that way. If that’s the first explanation I give myself or others, then I want to be able to reflect on why that is. I may elect to be responsible for my word, or responsible to another person or community or society, or I may be pursuing a particular outcome now or in the future.

I mentioned above the rating of responsibilities and possessions and want to expand on that. I’m not advocating ridding ourselves of such things. Quite the contrary. Rather, I advocate relishing the responsibilities we take on, taking pride in our participation and engagement with something bigger than the immediate moment, letting the actions we undertake reflect the intention of making the world a better place. As to possessions, enjoy and use them, value them by sharing them with others, acquiring them with intention and reflection upon what we want them to bring into our lives. Again, with both responsibilities and possessions, take them on when you know that they belong in your life, not just because it seems to be the “right” thing to do, or the continuation of a habit. Don’t let the acquisition become a burden which deprives you of other choices.

Living with intention is about living each day with full consciousness of the choices you make and the intent of those choices. It is about being willing to change a direction if it no longer reflects a positive purpose in your life. Finally, it is about living in the moment, while maintaining an awareness of how this moment connects to both your past and your future.

Don’t I get a say?

It’s the evening of municipal elections, which has me thinking about how we get a say in the things that influence our lives. I hope all who are able did vote, but that’s not really the topic of the blog. Really, what I’m pondering is how often we feel disappointed by the choices or actions of people in our lives. The question of the day is “Did I let my feelings be known?”

Most of you know that I do counselling with couples and with individuals who are often concerned about relationships. A frequent complaint is that “He/she didn’t take my feelings into consideration”. Sometimes that’s pretty overt, where one party just says they don’t care. Most of the time, it’s a little less clear: “I didn’t think it mattered to you”; “You didn’t tell me it mattered”; “You can never make up your mind”; “It isn’t about you”; etc. Or, the big one, “You agreed when I brought it up, so why are you mad about it now?”

I believe that these kind of disappointments, about what to have for dinner, what movie to see, where to vacation, what to share with others about private issues,  who to invite to an event or to visit, whether one goes somewhere/does something/initiates or doesn’t, have one thing in common: assumptions.

Assumptions about what another person should or could understand (if they really wanted to!) seem to be at the heart of personal conflict. Some of the assumptions start right at the beginning, when we think we know how the other person thinks based on some characteristics they have, i.e. gender, culture, religion, family background, ethnicity, place of origin, etc. Other assumptions develop over time, like habits, where we draw out memory of how another person used to or once reacted to a situation, and generalize it well beyond the parameters of the original reactions. Think “You didn’t like that concert we went to, so now I don’t even suggest any musical or public event anymore”. The damage of this kind of generalization isn’t so much the decisions it leads to, but the silent resentment that the assumer carries.  Another example would be a memory based assumption that the other person doesn’t want to know or hear about your interests, based upon a time or two when they were distracted, upset or angry about some aspect of the discussion. That can lead to silence, even secrecy.

Assumptions are like saying “It doesn’t matter what I want”. Sometimes, I suppose that’s true, in the sense that what I want doesn’t always carry the day. For example, the election might not end with the results I voted for. That hasn’t ever stopped me from voting though. Assumptions are self-protective in some ways. If I believe that my say doesn’t matter, and act accordingly, I don’t have to risk being turned down. But I do risk living as if I don’t matter, and missing some opportunities to have a better life.

You do have a say in the things that affect your life. You may not always get your way, but you can participate in the process. Take a look at the people around you. Do you have assumptions about how or whether they value your input? Have you checked those assumptions recently? I don’t mean set up a test, I mean ask some questions, share your point of view. What do you have to lose? Face, if your negative assumptions are confirmed? The security of certainty, even if it does limit your life? The status quo, for better or worse? More to the point, what do you have to gain? Better understanding of another person? More opportunity for growth? Letting go of patterns that hold you in silence and resentment?

So go ahead, vote in your own life. Ask questions. Participate actively in your relationships.

I Can’t………Can I?

Some interesting conversations this week about what it means to say "I can’t…….".The one that started me thinking about this was a friend whose recently ex partner has shown a remarkable aptitude for not just cooking, but the planning and preparation of meals, but only since they parted. Some version of this observation has always made me laugh because relationships are one of the typical locales where we separate activities into who can’t do what.
Not really such a bad thing when we partner up to sort out who might be better at or like better some aspects of managing a home, but as a couples counsellor I also see lots of conflict around the division of homemaking tasks. More often than not the conflict arises out of some version of "Can’t you chip in and figure it out when I need some help?". What often seems to be developing is a pattern of overfunctioning/underfunctioning and resentment, with roles switching out depending on the task at hand. Objectively, most adults can do most things with some suppportive encouragement, information and practice.  Sometimes, though, the willingness to try gets squelched, either by fear of recriminations if it’s not done according to the other party’s standards, or by a reluctance to make the effort when the other person is already taking responsibility and it’s easier to coast.
This isn’t the right forum to get into all of the convoluted dynamics of relationships that allow these patterns to flourish and build resentments. Before anyone starts to assume this is a male problem or a female problem, let me be clear that both genders play the "I can’t…….." card. Think about it – "I can’t cook" or "I can’t mow the lawn" or "I don’t know how to vacuum" or "I’m no good at taking care of household repairs". We often see some tasks as belonging to either men or women, but what about singles who just get on with it and manage their lives. Truly, most of the stuff we "can’t" do, can be learned. The question is really do you want to. Honestly, if you don’t want to, maybe it’s better to just say so, and work out an alternative arrangement, whether you have a partner who does want to or you hire someone to do it or you simply go without.
Separate from the relationship dance of who can do what and who can’t, I think we all sometimes use the words "I can’t……" to avoid things that maybe we’re scared of, don’t want to do, have incorrect assumptions about, or worry about looking like a fool while doing. Can’t gives you an out, but perhaps it’s too easy an out. How interesting it would be if all of us tried one thing a week that we think we can’t do. This has been important to me for a while now and I’ve had some fun, learned some things (including that there are some things that I really don’t want to do again!), and gained experiences that changed me, for the better. Having tried some things I previously "couldn’t" do, doesn’t mean I became brilliant at all of them or made them a passion. In fact there are lots of things about which I’m content to say "Been there………..done that……….don’t need to do that again". But there are a few that continue to make me smile.
So, my challenge to you is that when you hear yourself say "I can’t…….", ask "Really? What would happen if I tried?". If it really is a no-go, the consequences are too costly, then be honest with yourself and others that you don’t choose to. But if you choose to try, let me know what happens!


This is a first effort at creating a blog, so bear with me. Internet technology remains something of a mystery to me.
Recently, I attended a high school graduation for a family member and was struck by a few things………….mostly the excitement and anticipation of the graduates. It occurs to me that, for them, the world is wide open. I came to recognize that at 17 or 18, it usually is, but wondered if it feels that way to those of us well into adult life.
In my work, and in life, I see many people who describe themselves as just getting through the day, doing much the same most of the time, not really connected to the reasons for what they do. Priorities end up being rituals or habits, rather than an active, daily statement of what matters to them.
At 17, what mattered to you? Friends, family, love, fun, new experiences, learning, money, work or vocation, health, spirituality, contributing to the world ………..? At insert age here (50, for me), what matters to you? Much the same? Have some things fallen off the list? Others taken over, to the extent that the rest barely register? I think at 17, most people put some energy into most of those priorities. I think down the road, we sometimes stop doing so. Don’t get me wrong – I know there’s always a reason this happens.
My point is that if we drift away from awareness of what matters, we can lose momentum and put most of our energy into just getting by. Take some time to think about something that you haven’t given attention to lately – maybe fun or new experiences – and imagine what would happen if you gave just a little energy and a little time (maybe 15 minutes a day) into creating some of that. This is not a big project, just a little experiment, a nudge. I’m not suggesting a big commitment – we all know what happens to New Year’s resolutions.
If you’re cynical, don’t try to change that, just set it aside for 15 minutes and see what happens. If something arises that interests you, feel free to comment back to me. Maybe I’ll blog about it, for sure I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts. In the meantime, take a deep breath, step outside, enjoy the day. I’ll be back.