Monday, May 25, 2009

Values in Action, or, Can we Give Michael Phelps a Break?

Michael Phelps entertained us with his ability to perform the equivalent of leaping off tall buildings in a single bound. He brought home the bacon (okay, it was actually gold) giving us a renewed sense of our country’s greatness. He loved mom and, well, grits and pancakes, among other typically American foods. But with one fell swoop, or one small puff, he’s persona non grata, a pariah,a bad influence on our children.

I’d like to suggest, not to be Pollyanna-ish, that we cut him some slack, give him a break, chill out, while we consider the Signature strengths (or values in action) that can be brought to bear on this situation. We all have many of these strengths as part of our personalities. We use them in various situations. I think they’re valuable in analyzing the Michael Phelps fiasco.

Forgiveness, of course, jumps out. Don’t we owe a little forgiveness to the poor guy?

Humility. Is it not too pretentious to put Michael down for one little slip, or even a couple?

How about honesty? And speaking of hypocrites, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Open-mindedness also seems pertinent. I’m sure Michael had his reasons for what he did, or if not, he is just a young man after all. Think about all the pressures of being such a young superstar.

Wisdom is another closely related strength. Using a broad perspective to examine his behavior, can’t we see possibilities for understanding this?

Then there’s kindness and generosity. Wouldn’t it be good and show great understanding to give the guy a break?

Maybe even a little loyalty for someone who has represented our country in the best possible way?

How about a little fairness and gratitude?

There are 24 signature strengths identified by Peterson and Seligman in the Values in Action questionnaire. If we just applied a few to situations like this, in our everyday lives, I think we might get along better in our little worlds. The lesson to our children is that everyone makes mistakes. And sometimes you pay dearly. So think before you act, and if you mess up, hope others will treat you with the same kindness and understanding you can give to one of our national heroes.

Where is the love? Black-eyed peas.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Stress: The Inner Game

"The cause of most stress can be summed up by the word attachment. [The ego] gets so dependent upon things, situations, people and concepts within its experience that when change occurs or seems about to occur, it feels threatened. Freedom from stress does not necessarily involve giving up anything, but rather being able to let go of anything, when necessary, and know that one will still be all right. It comes from being more independent—not necessarily more solitary, but more reliant on one’s own inner resources for stability."

The words of a Zen master? Actually, W. Timothy Gallwey in The Inner Game of Tennis, a very interesting read even if you don’t play. Consider applying the notion of attachment to one’s performance in a game like tennis, or any game. In giving up the need to win, the implications of losing and so forth, we are freed up to perform without stress.

Can you apply it to your life? If you can give up the idea of things being as you expected them to be, wanted them to be, thought you needed them to be, does it free you up to relax without stress?

Disengaging doesn’t mean we’re not interested, motivated or working hard. It simply means that we’re not getting caught up in emotional entanglements and self-criticism that move us away from our true goals. Whether at work, at play or in relationships, there are many applications of these ideas.

I hate to be pedestrian, but having just seen (and enjoyed) Yes Man, I am reminded of Terence Stamp’s life coach from hell. He does make the good point that you have to start somewhere in your life and start saying yes to opportunities. I’d argue it’s a way of disengaging and letting go of some of your long held and dearly beloved beliefs about the way things should be.

So try saying yes to opportunity and no to stress.