We sure do get this money stuff tangled up, don’t we? This is the place where I untangle pieces of it. Most of it’s about money while some of it’s about something else that strikes my interest. All of it is about noticing how things get knotted up and how to untangle the knots. Oh, and if you have a topic you’d like me to explore, just let me know. I’ll be happy to give it a good shake and see what untangles.
These are tough times we are all going through, and during tough times, I often find solace in poetry. I was recently drawn back to an old favorite of mine by Mary Oliver. I hope you find it as relevant as I do. Take a gander…
‘You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.’
Shell Tain, the Untangler
There are lots of big scary things happening in the world right now. Frankly, that’s not new. What is new is that the same frightening things are happening to people all over the world at the same time. As much as the idea that we are “all in this pandemic together” may be comforting, it’s true that at the same time we are all in this alone.
We have things in common and on the other hand, we have things that specifically challenge each of us. Each day, we must find our way through not only the circumstances but the emotions they bring up.
For me personally, it seems to be the little things that both push me “over my edge” and bring me joy. That’s probably not a new occurrence. Now that the day to day hustle has slowed down to a crawl I’m much more observant of myself and my reactions.
I have been working a bunch on pivoting in the face of the adverse things! I did a blog just a couple of weeks ago about pivoting when something doesn’t work (Lot’s of Pivoting) It’s a way I have learned to move past the obstacle or problem. Things that break, don’t work, aren’t what’s expected…you know, everyday stuff we’ve come to depend on that seems more complex than it used to be! Little things!
Just when I’m exhausted from coping and pivoting and I don’t think I can take it anymore, some wonderful little thing happens! For example, I got an email from a client I haven’t worked with in years, telling me that our work around money has really helped her, and has given her the strength to cope with the money issues of this uncertain time. Or when I find a joke on Facebook that really tickles me, or a friend calls to share something funny.
It’s the little things that add up and really matter.
Sometimes the positives just come by themselves. Sometimes they are like a response to the negative — For example, when finding fresh rhubarb at the store cheers the part of me that is hunting like mad for toilet paper.
The best example I have of the ‘duel-aspect’ thing is my recent internet adventure. My internet was literally making me crazy! It would be on for about a minute, off for a minute, on for 3 minutes…on and on it went. I kept thinking/hoping it was some temporary glitch. I finally gave up and called my internet provider. About half an hour later on the phone with a representative, it was sorta fixed and a guy was scheduled to come sort it out the next day. (This in itself was a miracle…I have often had to wait for days for someone to come out…and for me that means no internet and no phone! Yipes) Meanwhile, several weeks before the internet decided to get petulant, the Pandora Music app stopped working on my theoretically ‘smart‘ TV. It worked on my tablet and my computer, but not the TV! It just froze. This was a big deal because crazy dancing to music from my youth has become the only viable form of exercise available to me while Covid-19 is with us. Another cause for pivoting…and not in a good way. The tech was nice, friendly and not only fixed the internet, but I asked if he had any suggestions about the Pandora thing and he fiddles with the TV and gets that working too! Hot Damn!!! It’s a little thing, but it sure made my heart sing to be able to rock out and dance myself silly once he left!
There are really several things to ponder in this blog:
- We are all doing the best we can
- Perhaps it’s the little things that make a difference for you too?
- Who knows a broken internet may end up with a fixed Pandora!
Please take some time to find out what brings you back to joy, and what helps you through angst. It may even turn out to be the little things.
Shell Tain, the Untangler
My last blog was about pivoting. This week’s edition is about how we make decisions, including ones about where and when to pivot. Today, we will take a deeper dive, if you will, into how our brain makes choices and a plan you can use for making all types of decisions more effectively.
Here’s a fact that you may find startling — every single decision you make is determined by emotion! The way your brain actually chooses which one of the choices you have explored you will act on is emotionally based!
Ready for some science? The bottom line is that the part of your brain that flips the switch and makes the choice is located in your prefrontal cortex, the emotional center of your brain.
Sure, you ponder, do research, fret, look things up online, ask friends, find experts, read about and write down your options — and ultimately it’s your emotional center that makes the choice. People who have had brain injuries to their prefrontal cortex can analyze all day long, they just can’t reach a decision, so they spin and spin.
The other piece of science that is crucial here is that humans can only hold about 7 or 8 things ‘front of brain‘ at a time. This limit creates the circling and spinning game we do of looking at the same data over and over. Your brain has stored all the data you put in it, you just can’t pull it all up at once. Trust that your deeper brain has gotten the information and will use it.
The real trick to making effective selections and judgments has a couple of simple steps:
- Gather good ‘neutral’ data without trying to choose as you go. We tend to kick something off our list too soon, just to narrow the possibilities. It’s a problem we have all experienced. Resist the temptation to take options off the table during the gathering process unless, of course, there is a giant deal breaker.
- Narrow to at least three choices. Somehow two choices are just too black/white, on/off to really give you choices. Now is the time to get pickier. The success of this method is based on having gathered accurate information. Remember the adage “garbage in, garbage out”…we don’t want that! Name the alternatives with just a couple of words for each of your choices.
- Grab as many sticky notes as you have choices and write those short names on them. Now place the notes in a row on your desk, night table, wherever. They can be in the same room or not.
- Go to sleep. Try not to think about your choices. Leave the analysis behind. Nod off.
- When you get up stumble groggily to the row of choices. Which one calls you? Just the gut reaction as you scan them will do. That is your true choice!
Your brilliant brain has done all the work for you — you just need to trust it to do what it does best!
If you are noticing that your brain and computers have a bunch in common, you are right. After-all, humans created computers!
I hope this process will help you make choices that really work for you. Recognizing that the choice is based on the data and emotion is the important part – even if you don’t try the sleeping on it thing.
I’m guessing that we all will have some tough decisions to make in the months ahead. I hope this helps make that process easier.
Shell Tain, the Untangler
Seems like I have been doing lots of pivoting lately. I am reacting to the difference between what I expect to happen and what actually shows up. Yesterday morning was a good example. I got up early, which is not my best time of the day, and zoomed over to Costco with the idea of being able to breeze right in as a Senior. Ummm, not happening. I have never seen a longer line, not at an airport, not even at Disneyland. I began to try and find the end of the snaking line of humans and then chose to pivot! I got in my car, went to Freddy’s (a local chain supermarket) and actually found toilet paper, gluten-free bread, and chicken thighs. The majority of my list was handled and I was actually in a good mood for the victory of having saved myself from an unpleasant wait.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into this pivot idea. We, as humans, are mostly creatures of habit and these days it feels like even the most basic of activities are disrupted. We can’t gather together. We can’t get a massage. We can’t give or get hugs. We can’t do a myriad of things we are used to doing in our day and to top it off, the information we receive to stay safe changes constantly. Mostly we can’t really wrap our heads around the idea that there is a global pandemic happening right now! It feels like we have all entered an alternate Universe. Personally I’ve been feeling that way since November of 2016, and yet the last couple of years have only been a warm-up for managing change and expectations beyond my wildest dreams.
Recently, I found myself falling into despair over the human race having failed the experiment of figuring out how to get along and be kind to one another. Then, it struck me. We are all in a cauldron of grief and loss! Which means that DABDA is running wild. No, my spell check hasn’t failed me, DABDA is the acronym created by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to help understand and unravel grief:
- Depression, Anger, Bargaining, Denial, Acceptance — Not necessarily in that order, and often bouncing around all over the place.
I bring this up because once you figure out you are in one, or more of those places, you can then choose to pivot… and do something else.
Can you see how these stages are playing out? The Denial one is pretty evident with people who aren’t keeping social distance. It seems to me the idea that younger people wouldn’t be effected was a good way to grab onto some Bargaining. I myself have been pretty Angry that I can’t exercise the way I did a few weeks ago— Just so you know I found a great pivot for that one. For me, it’s, dancing and singing wildly to songs of my teenage days, thanks to Pandora Radio. I think the mindset of Acceptance is subtle yet consistent, we need to stay home, keep our distance and find new ways to connect.
The big daddy of all of them all is, Depression, and with it comes another acronym, HALT. This one is where all the components line up together to create Depression:
- Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired — When those symptoms pile up, we fall over the edge. It’s one of the reasons I ‘ate’ my own feelings for at least the first week of this!
Checking in with you all to see if perhaps you too have some DABDA or HALT stuff going on? Observing these symptoms can give you the information and tools you need to pivot, then shift and move on to something different. The recognition of these feelings can really pave the road for a good transition out of the tangle of emotions. It will help fortify you for the opportunities to pivot in the weeks still to come.
Take care, stay safe, and be kind to yourself!
Shell Tain, the Untangler
We are all facing the restrictions and social distancing around the Covid -19 challenge. As a reminder for myself, I decided to grab onto the “Keep Calm and Carry On” British slogan. After feeling like this was the mantra for me, I discovered some fascinating information about “Keep Calm and Carry On” as I researched the history of the famous phrase.
As we are diligently trying to Keep Calm and Carry On let’s take a trip in the ‘Way Back Machine’ ala Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman (from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon hit) to England just as WWII is looming in the summer of 1939. The Ministry of Information has been given the task of raising morale and inspiring public support for the war. There were three posters designed:
- Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory
- Freedom Is in Peril / Defend It With All Your Might
- Keep Calm and Carry On
Between August 23rd and September 3rd of 1939 2.45 million of the Keep Calm and Carry On posters were printed. Only a handful was ever used. The bulk of the posters were destroyed at the end of the war in 1945.
Today, we only know of 16 of the original posters still “Carryin’ On.” One was found 60 years later by Stuart and Mary Manley, co-owners of Barter Books, Ltd. in Northumberland. The other 15 showed up on the BBC version of Antiques Roadshow in February of 2012.
So what happened? Why weren’t they used? These two links have all the details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep_Calm_and_Carry_On
Suffice it to say that there were too many opinions presented at once. There were complaints about the costs. There were arguments about the content. Too many politicians in the mix — We can all relate to that, can’t we?
Winston Churchill managed to send out 14 million leaflets in June of 1941. He used the phrases Stand Firm and Carry On but not together or even in the same sentence. This leaflet started with the phrase: “If invasion comes…” and included 14 questions and answers around ‘practical matters’ of the invasion. By then he had enough pull to avoid the flurry of opinions from a committee.
As we know, Britain made it through the war. There was an immense amount of cooperation, collaboration, and courage expressed by their citizens — everything from the Black Outs to rationing, to sending your children to live with strangers for their safety, and too many other challenges to mention.
I agree with France’s current President Macron: “We are at war — in a health war” and we have a choice as to how we react to the hardships and restrictions. Let’s all do our best to Keep Calm and Carry On
Shell Tain, the Untangler
We all struggle to communicate with others from time to time, don’t we? In general, our ‘go-to’ process is pretty much the assumption that folks around us think and will process information the same way we do. We, in turn, want to be understood and appreciated. So what do we do?
These days there are all sorts of online assessments available for understanding who the person you are talking to “is” — and many of these tests require that they have completed some version of an in-depth questionnaire related to personality. But what about the day to day stuff? You can’t actually ask your new friend what their type is before you start talking, can you?
My solution is to go a bit old school with this. At least back to the last century! I frankly don’t know where I got it, or who gave it to me — but I have this magenta mimeographed piece of paper with a four-part Matrix of personality types on it.
I have used it for years to understand co-workers, bosses, friends, lovers…you name it! And it still works today. It’s not super science. It’s pretty simple. There are four basic styles listed: Promoter, Controller, Supporter, and Analyzer.
It doesn’t mean we can’t hang around in the other spots, it’s really about the one that is our natural go-to place. Back in the day, I even used this Matrix as the basis for a workshop with a youth group. I changed the categories to birds to help the kids with connecting to the model and to just make it more fun:
- Promoter =Peacock
- Controller = Eagle
- Supporter = Lovebird
- Analyzer = Owl
The kids all sorted into their groups minus one young woman who everyone said was a Peacock. She didn’t like that idea. She strutted up to me and my co-leader — stuck her hand on her hip and announced is a very loud voice: “I am NOT a Peacock!” and we in unison said: “Oh, yes you are!”
The groups then had to create a skit about their “bird” and find a song to sing about it. Pretty fun stuff! I bring up the youth group event because in that process they also noticed that even though they were all the same type, they needed all four energies to get anything done. If memory serves it was the Owls who sure figgered that part out first — just showing their Analyzer talent.
So when you need to be really effective in your conversation with someone see if you can’t sort out their basic “type”. Here are some clues to look for:
- Promoters: are charming, creative, enthusiastic. The Promoter’s most common question is: Who? On the downside, they can be pushy, insincere and lack follow-through. If cornered they tend to throw a tantrum. Often found working in sales. The secret with Promoters is that they really don’t know why they are successful! They are just busy spreading their beautiful Peacock tails and strutting!
- Controllers: are efficient, driven and results-oriented. The Controller’s most common question is: What? On the downside, they can be brassy, insensitive and overbearing. If corned they tend to become tyrannical. CEO’s often fit into this category. A Controller’s secret is that they want to get things done, quickly and efficiently. The Eagle has landed with speed and agility.
- Supporters: are cooperative, friendly and accepting. The Supporter’s most common question is: Why? On the downside, they can be passive/aggressive, indecisive and smothering. If cornered they comply. Often they perform well in an assistant role. The Supporter’s secret isn’t really a secret, they want everyone to get along. These Lovebirds are cooing in the corner, just waiting for you to join them.
- Analyzers: are thorough, exacting and persistent. The Analyzer’s most common question is: How? On the downside, they can be apathetic, picky and stubborn. If cornered they avoid and clam up. Often the Engineer or Bookkeeper. An Analyzer’s secret is that they absolutely do not want to ever make a mistake, so they keep analyzing. Behind the Owl’s serious demeanor is a desire to not be embarrassed.
What type are you? How about your best friend? Can you see that just understanding how the other person relates can make your communication more effective?
Give this matrix a chance, and if you’d like more detail I can send you a copy of the original mimeographed page that started this whole thing!
Shell Tain, the Untangler
Curious and strange behaviors often happen around money. Somehow our ethics and demeanor can change when money enters the equation. Recently a friend who is a Massage Therapist shared a fascinating story with me. As part of the process of renewing his certification, he is required to attend an Ethics Class every four years. Two of the topics the instructor covered were ‘Hugging’ and ‘Tipping’. The way they were approached during this class was very intriguing to me. Let’s start with ‘Hugging’.
According to the curriculum, the ethical standard is to discourage a client from hugging their masseur. This logic seems bizarre to me personally, however, my friend explained they spent a great deal of time on the avoidance of hugging. Including coming up with solutions, like telling the client “I just don’t feel like a hug today” as a way to dissuade hugging after the massage. My friend has the perspective that if a client wants to hug him as a warm friendly thank you for a job well done, he’s all for it.
The ethics class then made a rather odd turn to the discussion of how to encourage tipping. Clever things like a tip jar, and even saying “I appreciate it when you tip me.” My friend was pretty shocked by this. He considers what he does as a massage therapist to be a healing art. We don’t tip doctors, dentists, chiropractors or acupuncturists – so why should we tip our massage person? My sense is that we tip the people who are not getting fully compensated for their work, like ones who live on tips. My friend chalks it up to greed on the side of his colleagues.
Either way, it seems pretty odd that hugging is bad yet, tipping is good, doesn’t it? But then tipping is about money, and things tend to get pretty wonky there, don’t they?
Personally, I get a kick out of watching a few of the ‘Judge’ TV shows. Every single case brought forward is about money and how wacky people get with it! Common threads include ideas like “I shouldn’t have to pay back the loan, because I got fired, I don’t make enough, I want to buy a house…” on and on it goes. One of the most frequent causes of these suits that end up on television is that people’s emotions overrun their original reason for getting money into the mix via a gift or loan.
We all know what can happen in families when money is involved, right? The same sibling or parent who would probably jump in front of a bus to save your life is likely the same person who will never pay you back for that no-interest loan you gave them. Similarly, if you don’t spend the money a family member gave you in a way they approve of, they might possibly sue you in court to get it back.
If it’s a stranger that someone hired to do something for them somehow people feel entitled to not pay them if the vendor calls you, or shows up at your door and asks for money. They consider it harassment to be asked to pay for the services.
I think the reason these practices are such a mess, from the tipping to the lending, to the gifting is that people are still so confused about money. To my thinking, Money is a tool to tell us what we are up to. Money says in clear terms that we made this much and spent that much. Money doesn’t have an opinion about whether that decision to spend or save was smart, good, or even ethical. That’s not its job. But we use money as if it was its job. We have judgments about money all the time, or more precisely what those around us did or didn’t do with it!
So for my part, I hug my massage person, not my doctor, and tip the food server. Oh, and I try not to let money get in the middle of my relationships, be they routed in the personal or professional. How about you? What’s your take on this tale of money and ethics?
Shell Tain, the Untangler
At the beginning of this century, I lived for a couple of years in Columbia, South Carolina. It was quite a culture shock for me, having lived in the West all my life. I thought I could live anywhere – I was wrong, so wrong! One of the more frustrating cultural phenomena in Columbia was what I called ‘Everybody Knows’. At that time ‘Everybody Knows’ was not just a Southern thing, it was also an East Coast thing.
More often than not, the people that live in South Carolina and even the East Coast in general, come from a long line of generations living in the same place. They were entrenched in their surroundings and way of life. Once, while having my hair done at the ‘Cut and Curl‘ near me, my stylist and I were talking about food. I mentioned an ingredient that was rare in that part of the city. I can’t quite remember what it was, perhaps Tarragon Mustard? She seemed quite interested in the mustard, and I told her she could get it at a shop in Five Points, a shopping area about 6 miles away in downtown Colombia. Her comment was “Oh! I never go that far!”
Things in the South and even small towns across this country continue as they have always been. Thus there is no need to give people information… because ‘Everybody Knows’! The local newspaper declared ‘Fireworks at the Fort on the 4th’ and yet there was no further information listed. Important information, like when? Which entrance? Is there a cost? Where do you park? Pets allowed? All sorts of things that I, being a newcomer, wanted to know! Specifics were not printed anywhere in the paper because ‘Everybody Knows’. There was an array of things that everybody there knows today, and has known forever.
My concern which you may see as a ‘rant’ is that this mindset is spreading!
Certainly, in this age of the internet, the world feels smaller. I’ve had clients as far away as Bulgaria! It feels like technology is taking over our lives. It has taken over so much so that I have a new rule for myself: Only one technological challenge a day!
Much has changed since I first started using computers in the early 90’s. In our rush to get the newest, fastest, wizziest tool possible the ‘Everybody Knows‘ syndrome has taken over. Back when computers were just becoming mainstream there were actually printed instruction manuals. I know, because I wrote some of them! There wasn’t this standing assumption that ‘Everybody Knows’.
These days I can and have spent hours trying to figure out how to use software that I’m supposed to just magically understand. Software that has no Help Function which covers my question. Icons and sequences that don’t make sense to me.
Some examples that I’ve run into include:
- The Triangle, Circle, and Square on my Fire Tablet – I at least grok* 2 out of 3 of these now. (* For those of you who aren’t Heinlein fans, grok is Martian for understanding profoundly and intuitively.)
- How to answer my cell phone. Who knew you had to put your finger on the flashing button and drag across to the receiver icon to answer that puppy? Certainly not me. I kept having to call people back.
- Don’t even get me started on the lack of explanation for how to use mandatory websites for filing payroll taxes.
To my thinking, it all falls into the ‘Everybody Knows’ category. See what keeps happening is that we make assumptions that everyone knows what we know…right? As we do that, we exclude people who don’t know what we know. That is a very dangerous thing to do.
And it’s not just the software that is at fault, it’s how we use it. I keep having this thing happen where I send an email to someone with two or three questions in it. Somehow I only get a response back for the first question. It may not be the exact ‘Everybody Knows‘ relationship, but it’s a close cousin! I’m guessing it has to do with the amount of technology overload we often experience. We don’t take the time to really read the email in its entirety. We read the first part of it and we just zoom it back. I’ve noticed that when I do that I often miss something.
We all need to slow down. If you can’t actually focus on the response now, why not wait until you feel less rushed? Unless it’s a dire emergency people will accept waiting a bit. I notice some people set expectations for when they will respond with tags on their emails like: “You can expect a response from within one business day.” Or you could send a response that says: “I’ve got your email, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Up to my tuckus in alligators at the moment.” Sometimes, especially if I’m tired, I will read a ‘tone’ into an email that isn’t there when I re-read it later. Based on that revelation I have taken to purposely waiting awhile before I come back and answer it. Preferably even overnight.
One thing I think everybody knows is that this lack of patience, courtesy, and respect in our communication hurts everyone. It isolates all of us. It takes away our humanity.
Let’s see if one by one we can’t try and help each other out, understanding this ‘intuitive’ technology, and communicating with each other. Maybe we can finally get to the idea that it’s never simply about us and them — It’s really just Everybody!
Shell Tain, the Untangler
What’s your take on this? Give me a call at 503-258-1630 or leave a comment.
Do you find yourself brooding about money? Perhaps you spend hours analyzing how much you have, trying to find the magic key to the numbers? Or maybe you check your accounts multiple times a day? If you do, I’m guessing there might be a surprisingly different impetus hidden in all that fretting that isn’t tied to money.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I really want you to have a great interactive relationship with money. After all, money has so much to tell you. Money lets you know when you are achieving your goals, or when you need to reevaluate and focus more. It tells you if your mood is up or down. Lots of good internal data is available by looking at money.
Like many things, there is a place where it stops being informative or engaging and becomes obsessive and compulsive — kind of like tequila, chocolate or ice cream.
Frequently my clients share with me that they are so tied up in brooding over money that they can’t sleep. They spend hours in the dark fretting and worrying. Their minds are sent zooming over all sorts of bad scenarios. Thoughts tossing and turning around extreme situations like going broke. Losing everything. Starving. YIPES! Very scary stuff.
This worrying is NOT effective. It’s just spinning and brooding. It’s not planning. It’s not motivational. It is a pain in the ass!
What’s behind it? I think it’s your Inner Critic. Now, I know you may hear that from me a lot. That ‘should, must, have to’ voice is your Critic. Your Inner Critic is very vigilant at keeping you right where you are!
There are plenty of blogs here on my website that talk about this ‘piss ant’, omnipresent, irritating voice in our heads, so I will just give you a bit of the top notes here.
Your Inner Critic is there to keep you safe. The problem is that its perspective of safe is very narrow. Your Inner Critic thinks that as long as you are not in imminent danger of losing your life in the next 30 seconds you are fine, and should stay right where you are. It believes that doing something new will lead to death and disaster. So it’s ultimate job is to keep you right where you are! It does not care that ‘where you are‘ may be struggling, or unhappy, or even broke. You are alive, so don’t rock the boat.
So what does all this Inner Critic stuff have to do with brooding about money? The Inner Critic’s most effective tactic for keeping you where you are is to distract you! When you are fretting, obsessing and panicked you aren’t really present. You miss things. You don’t hear anything else. You don’t notice what is going on. You stay stuck.
Money is the perfect topic for the Critic. Money is still very much a taboo topic, so we are likely to not talk to anyone else about our money worries and concerns. Most people don’t feel at ease or comfortable around money, so it’s easy to stir up angst about it. Oh, and money is tied to our feeling of self-worth and value. A perfect place for the Critic to stir up distraction!
The next time you find yourself brooding and nattering about money, press the pause button. Spend a moment or two seeing just how distracted you are. Are you actually coming up with solutions? Or are you spinning weird scenarios?
And if you determine that it’s your Inner Critic creating chaos in your brain…TELL IT TO SHUT UP! Stop giving it ‘air time.’ Change the channel in your head. Do not engage with it!
You’ll sleep better, and be much more present in your life without the constant distractions.
PS: Critics do not go away — instead you can choose not to pay any attention to them!
Shell Tain, the Untangler
Really shutting up your critic can be a challenge. I’m happy to help. Give me a call at 503-258-1630 or leave a comment.
When I first learned about Dr. John Gottman’s work around the ‘Four Horsemen’ I was so impressed. By doing extensive research he had discovered four behaviors that are crucial for us all to both understand and to learn from. He based it on the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ and his message was clear — We need to mind these horses!
Dr. Gottman, after spending countless hours with couples, applies his work surrounding the story of the “Four Horsemen” to the marriage relationship. My take on the matter is that these principles can be applied to ALL of our relationships, including the one with money — Yes, you do actually have a relationship with money! And the horses can give you insight on how that relationship is going.
As long as there have been horses, people have been tasked to mind their horse, meaning to pay attention to what it’s doing. I think understanding and minding these particular horses is essential to all our relationships and interactions. Dr. Gottman has given us four of them to be attentive to:
- Blaming or Criticism: We know this one, right? It’s all about judgment and more snarky than a complaint. We may complain about something, but when we add a bit of character assassination, it turns into blaming.
- Defending: This one really got my attention when I read what Dr. Gottman said about it. You see, defending is really veiled blaming. “The dog ate my homework” shifts the responsibility away from you and to the dog. It just tends to add more blaming, instead of calming things down.
- Contempt: This one is more about tone and intent than the actual words. It includes things like sarcasm, mockery, eye-rolling, and name-calling. The best example is Dan Aykroyd’s classic opening Point/Counter-Point line on Saturday Night Live with Jane Curtin: “Jane, you ignorant slut…” Literally anything can be said in a contemptuous manner.
- Stonewalling: This one is all about distancing and disengaging. It’s the ultimate cold-shoulder. It increases the frustration of the person who is talking to you if you don’t respond or even look at the person. The word really says it. Originally it was a noun, meaning “an act of obstruction.”
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that these ‘horses’ tend to travel in pairs. Blaming and Defending trot along together, as do Contempt and Stonewalling. And they both stir up a bunch of dust. I liken this to the Wild Horse Race at the Rodeo. If there an issue worth paying attention to in the center of the arena — Like an important topic to be discussed — it will be invisible and ignored, shrouded in all the dust and fury of the horses galloping around.
Okay, so there they are — four horses. And what do we do about them? It’s really a three-step process:
- First, when you find yourself facing a ‘horse’ you repeat this mantra as many times as needed: ‘It’s not about me, it’s not about me, it’s NOT about me….’
- Second, you avoid getting on a ‘horse’. Stop, don’t ride at all. Dismount.
- Third, in order to help the other person dismount their ‘horse’ try this:
- Instead of joining them on a ‘horse’, try acknowledging the ‘feeling’ underneath the uneasiness by saying something like: “Wow, I get when that happens it really bothers you.” Notice that you aren’t agreeing, or surrendering, or apologizing — you are acknowledging and affirming that they are in a tough spot. It just might slow the ‘horse’.
I know, I know, easier said than done. We all experience ‘riding horses’ in our lives. They are in our heads and in our relationships. Dr. Gottamn’s work can show us something deeper about your relationships. Try this small experiment if you will. Think of a horrible relationship from your past…we all have at least one of those to ponder. Got one in mind? Okay, now which specific ‘horses’ were present in your interactions with each other? Which ‘horses’ did you ride and which ones did the other person gallop into the arena? Now let’s ponder a different relationship. One where you and the other person got along really well. A ‘good’ one. Any ‘horses’ there? How does that positive interaction compare with the first one? Finally, just for grins think about how you are with money — any ‘horses’ trotting around there?
Intriguing, isn’t it? You can see why the concept of the ‘horses’ is something I cover early on with my clients!
What’s really going on with these ‘horses’? What’s underneath all this? And why do I say it’s “not actually about you” when the other person is on a ‘horse’? The answer is the most important thing for you to know about ‘horses’!
We get on a horse to quite literally, get a leg up. We trot out a horse when we feel diminished — when our sense of self-worth is low or is challenged, especially when we feel powerless. ‘Horses’ are a distracting way to pull ourselves up by laying the responsibility elsewhere. We see it constantly. A prime example today is road rage. Even children can be seen getting on ‘horses’ to navigate their emotions— but they usually do it more cleanly. It’s not hard to see when children are on a ‘horse’ because they have hurt feelings. It’s harder as an adult to be vulnerable and admit that we feel diminished or put down — so instead we mount up and charge in!
Understanding and taming ‘horses’ matters now more than ever. They are no longer just running around in our personal lives but are stampeding all over! It’s time to learn to mind our own ‘horses’ with care and diligence.
Shell Tain, the Untangler
Want some help getting off a ‘horse’, or avoiding each other’s horses’? Give me a call at 503-258-1630 or leave a comment.