Category Emotional Intelligence

Paying Attention

“If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” – Lao Tzu

End Game Analysis: Relationship Principles

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In the article entitled “Mind the Gap,” I wrote about the importance of having both self and situational awareness when it comes to managing relationships. Since it is difficult to provide explicit guidance across all personalities and situations, a better alternative is to rely upon a set of relationship principles.

The absence of principles is akin to traveling without a map. This approach may be suitable for local exploration, but arguably irresponsible when traveling in unfamiliar territory (at least if you wish to reach a specific destination). Principles allow one to navigate successfully independently of the situation.

Let’s build an initial set by posing the following questions:

Do I feel comfortable with this person?

Is the relationship balanced?

Is the relationship moving forward?

These translate into the following three criterion: comfort, balance, and strength, and are neutral enough where they can be easily applied in both professional and personal contexts. They also follow a natural order (i.e., relationships which make one uncomfortable should probably not move forward by default).

Lastly, since change is ever present, these questions need to be continuously asked. Each assessment should inform whether the relationship is on track or requires recalibration, containment, or termination.

End Game Analysis: “Mind the Gap”

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In my last post, I spoke about two positions within a “relationship spectrum,” one based on complete openness, and the other, extreme isolation. Understanding and managing what lies between can enable one to make better decisions when interacting with different people, all of whom have unique perspectives and ways of operating.

You may be asking: “But what does this have to do with the original end game? Isn’t the end game about critical thinking and advancement?”

I’ve learned that very close and fulfilling relationships can act as a source of fuel towards greater intellectual and creative achievement; their benefits are multifold. In contrast, challenging relationships can interfere with one’s ability to concentrate and ultimately advance.

At their worst, the ending of close relationships can result in severe depression and anxiety, the combination of which can cease all effort for an extended timeframe. Without an appropriate course correction, this decreased activity can begin to permeate into other areas.

This can be a major problem.

I used to believe that the fluid nature of relationships made it naturally resistant to any form of management. I no longer believe this. Relationships involving some type of mental disorder require considerable patience, understanding, and need to be carefully managed. Relationships that do not harbor such disorders also require a certain degree of management, although to a lesser degree.

While self-awareness is invaluable, situational awareness is what really matters here. Thus, the ability to remain mobile is largely dependent upon the relationships one finds him or herself in, and how each relationship should be managed, or ultimately contained (more about this later).

Given the various relationship types, personalities, and situations that blend the two, it is difficult to share specific examples. Books like “How to Deal with Difficult People” provide this type of guidance fairly well in both a lighthearted yet grounded way.

In my next post I’ll talk about an initial set of relationship principles that can enable one to effortlessly “mind the gap” without letting emotions run the show.

 

End Game Analysis: Relationship Spectrum

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In my Connectedness post, I highlighted the importance of staying reasonably connected with others when one’s primary energy is focused on challenging work. Maintaining a balance between the two contexts can improve the quality of both.

Unfortunately, not every connection will result in a positive experience or outcome. Hence, it is very important to consider the use of “early warning systems” and boundaries to enable one to continue to stay reasonably connected regardless of the participant “mix.”

Thus, it’s worth exploring another spectrum, one that I have traveled along and gained experience from. Let’s call this the “relationship spectrum.”

At one end of this spectrum is naive openness, where one’s relationship with others places no restriction on the types of people or the relationships themselves. All advice and opinions are weighted equally regardless of source, and there is little-to-no “post-processing” done before acting upon such advice. All behaviors are tolerated.

At the far end of this spectrum is complete isolation and containment. Here, all relationships are discouraged, and the concept of “post-processing” has little to no meaning given that advice is neither sought nor recognized. All behavior is absent.

These are extreme positions.

Without an appropriate understanding or management of this spectrum, one can find themselves needlessly vacillating. This pattern of behavior, if left unchecked, can result in a cascade of poor decisions, the outcome of which can be difficult to unwind.

In my next post, I’ll talk about “minding the gap” via a comprehensive understanding of what lies between these two positions, and a starting point for defining a set of operating principles to maintain perspective and a positive outlook.

End Game Analysis: Connectedness

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In my “end game” narrative, I shared the following topic which is one I find to be omnipresent throughout the spectrum:

“The challenge at this level is balancing one’s ability to produce efficiently and effectively while remaining reasonably connected with others.”

As a refresher, the primary reason for focusing so heavily on “deep work” is a continuous desire to maximize one’s potential. However, there is a second reason which exists at a more subconscious level that requires examination.

While this may not be obvious to some, one’s ability to form and maintain close relationships with others depends heavily on the quality of past relationships. This is true in both professional and personal contexts.

If one’s “success rate” is low, the desire to form new relationships in either context will also be low.

This can pose a problem for two reasons:

Reason #1: Challenging assignments and new ideas typically originate from other people. Not staying connected with others places an artificial restriction on one’s ability to learn about, and engage in new opportunities.

Reason #2: Spending too much time working, and not enough time interacting, goes against the principle of deep work. Hard work requires intense concentration, and thus time spent in this area is somewhat limited by default (~4 hours per day). Maintaining a balance is considered beneficial.

Over the past decade, I have personally experienced numerous challenging relationships which have tested me in countless ways. With each experience comes a period of recalibration, which is a necessary step towards establishing appropriate boundaries and controls.

I will explore this topic in greater detail in my next post.

Illegitimate Suffering

When I consider the personal losses I’ve experienced over the past decade, and in particular, my most recent experience, I am left to wonder why these experiences have entered my life, and why I find myself increasingly isolated after each one.

Given the majority of these experiences involved some form of mental disorder, this provides some assurance that all is not “random.” Yet, these experiences leave deep scars that will never truly heal.

What’s perhaps more unfortunate is the feedback shared by friends and family. In their desire to move past the visible suffering, they are inadvertently negating the experience all-together:

“Bad things happen to good people.”
“Now you’re free to have someone else enter your life.”
“There is a reason why this happened to you.”

(And any derivation thereof)

These comments, in particular, are reduced versions of their originals; the longer versions, ironically, drive an even greater wedge between giver and receiver. In my personal experience, I’m frequently left confused, conflicted, and angry. I don’t feel heard, and worse, my feelings appear illegitimate.

Ultimately, these comments reflect a lack of courage to lament.

Taking the necessary time for deep introspection, counseling, or other forward-moving actions is a necessary, albeit eventual, component of grief. All too often, I have found that people omit these valuable exercises with the intent of “getting on with life.” And, unsurprisingly, they wish others to do the same.

Ironically, persons with ADHD are unfortunately programmed for this type of behavior. By its very nature, they are able to quickly “forgive and forget” which only worsens the pain on the inflicted (partner) and, unfortunately, leaves them in an increasingly vulnerable position over time. Not everyone heals as quickly.

Those who have not experienced mental illness first-hand are unable to comprehend the severity of the disorder. All too often, relationships involving partners with BPD, NPD, or ADHD, exhibit behaviors that are clearly visible within the relationship arena, but are invisible in normal, daily “life” interactions. The result of this disconnect should be obvious.

Through no choice of my own, there is the benefit in transforming what would otherwise be a positive and supportive relationship to an academic exercise.

The “illegitimate” dimension of suffering is initially manifested through the seemingly detached guidance just shared. It’s only when this suffering extends into inaction, and potentially subsequent unhealthy relationships, that it becomes self-inflicted.

And this is what requires my greatest level of attention.

 

Attention IV – Habits and the Objective

In February 2013, I decided to begin working with a personal trainer.

From 2007 up until this time, I had been steading improving and expanding my training regimen having completed my first marathon and my fourth triathlon. I made this decision to push myself to the next level of fitness, and I needed formal guidance to get there.

Over the next three years, I learned an incredible amount about strength training and was able to significantly improve my overall condition through consistent and dedicated effort. In early 2016, I was awarded “Most Improved.”

Then, in early 2017, I learned that my trainer was relocating. Coincidentally, it was around this time where the purpose of our working relationship was beginning to lose its meaning. After all, we had gone through similar routines for an extended timeframe, and I didn’t require any further instruction or guidance in its current form. I was also operating within a fairly consistent routine.

Fortunately, via this foundation, I was able to maintain, and even expand upon, our original routine and continue to do so today.

While I set out to take my fitness to “the next level,” I never really defined what “the next level” really looked like. I just knew instinctively that I was operating well beneath my potential.

I am thankful to have had the financial means and opportunity to work with an experienced athlete for so long, and while his expertise contributed a great deal to my success, I discovered that the sheer habit of meeting with him represented half the effort.

Ironically, when coming up with the idea for this post, I came across an article by Marcia Reynolds entitled “Stop Making New Goals, Create Habits Instead.”

When I stop to consider this experience, and aspects of the book “Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective” by Kenneth Stanley, I’ve learned you don’t need a specific “objective” to get started, but you do need to plan and repeat small shifts in behavior to experience positive, and lasting change, regardless of what the “change” entails.

The Betrayal of ADHD

“When we’re first betrayed by someone we relied on to love and protect us, we may be frightened by our own rage. Years or even decades later, we may be frightened of letting go of that anger. We may resist moving forward because we are not yet ready to detach from our suffering.” – Harriet Lerner

In May of 2017, my relationship of two years began disintegrating. Less than two months later, the additional misunderstanding resulted in a total relationship collapse, leaving me bewildered and incredibly hurt. The confusion, anger, and anxiety that resulted are feelings that I would not wish on anyone.

Since that time, through exhaustive research I’ve learned that relationships where ADHD is present start off incredibly strong with considerable potential (due primarily to a condition known as “hyperfocus”), only to end up, if left unchecked, in a state of confusion and resentment. It’s a unique and terrible contrast.

All relationships incur minor “ruptures,” but if the damage is genuiely addressed, these ruptures eventually heal themselves. However, when ADHD is involved, the damage is consistent, yet the repair mechanisms are few and far between. Words are rarely if ever, followed by necessary action.

This lack of attention, both in the true meaning of the phrase, and as it relates to relationship “repair,” results in the inability for the non-ADHD partner to place trust in his/her partner, and to the relationship as a whole. When disorganization and impulsivity are added to the mix, trust erodes further and eventually becomes impossible to rebuild.

What is ultimately left, at least for me, is a deep feeling of betrayal. Lack of repair and attention to address the problems at hand resulted in an unfortunate tipping point. Ghosting was a surprising, and painful add-on.

I started this post with Harriet Lerner’s quote because I am only starting to recognize why I feel the way I do. Feelings of anger and resentment cannot be harbored forever. It’s exhausting, incredibly unproductive, and emotionally blocking.

“[People] rely on this emotion to preserve the very dignity and integrity of the self. Anger is not a “bad” or “negative” emotion. It can take great courage to acknowledge and express anger. But it requires just as much courage to free oneself from the corrosive effects of living too long with anger and bitterness—a challenge that may include forgiveness but does not require it.” – Harrier Lerner

It has taken me a long time to identify these feelings and begin to come to terms with what happened, both during the relationship and its unfortunate and painful end.

I have no plans to forgive, but I am ready to begin closing this chapter to allow someone better into my life.

Additional Thoughts.

Waiting (for what?): A friend of mine passed away about a month ago.  Her passing gave further support to beliefs and opinions planted months, and perhaps years prior.

In short: you don’t want to leave this earth without doing things that you have always wanted to do.  For my friend, the desire to leave an unfulfilling job and to retire were goals that were never realized.

Having attempted to put myself in her place, I don’t think there is anything worse than to lose the option to make your life better and more fulfilling.

Giving and receiving advice: For many years I gave considerable weighting to others’ opinions and suggestions, only to find myself disappointed when things did not work out.  Now, I solicit feedback and advice from a select few and even then I use that information in the context of a greater whole.

On a similar note, I’ll always have my opinions but I am considerably more reluctant to share any advice unless explicitly asked; in fact, many times I don’t give my opinion at all because ultimately everyone knows inherently what they need to be doing in any given situation.  I believe my opinions or suggestions are supporting an existing path that has already been decided by that individual.

Dealing with undercurrents: I’ve placed less emphasis on the desire to become a “leader” and instead placed greater emphasis on core creativity, research, development and innovation.  I don’t know if my goal has ever been to climb the corporate ladder, but amazingly I found myself attempting to do just that.  It’s like an undercurrent that you aren’t aware of until you realize you are far from shore.

I think where this goal started to fragment (for me) was the fact that increased “responsibility” was moving me farther away from what I was interested in doing.  The sheer nature of forward movement was masking who I was and what I ultimately wanted to be doing.  While I am not 100% on where I’m headed (I may never know), I do know that I was headed in the wrong direction.

Dealing with oneself: I’ve learned to be comfortable and content alone.  Frankfurt and Paris reinforced this through complete isolation from family, friends and even technology.  The freedom and flexibility I had during that period was something that allowed me to think and “experience” without any constraints.  Now I’m living my life assuming this situation has permanence.

Belongings & Money: After spending years eliminating belongings that I no longer use, and experienced the joy that “Escape 2011” brought me, the vast majority of my purchases from here on will be experiential-based (Tokyo continues to be on the immediate radar).

Physical & Mental Challenges: Successes (full or partial) in past physical challenges (flight training, triathlons, mountaineering, and foreign travel) help set the stage for future challenges of increasing size.  What could this look like?

What Next?

Now three weeks into this new journey, I’m starting to reclaim a sense of self on all levels – physical, mental, emotional and intellectual – and I am enjoying learning to be myself once again.

True to form, I’ve gone through and purged belongings that I no longer need and increased “security” around those that I still need / want.  My primary objective at this point is to refine the Immersion foundation defined earlier this year and use that as the basis for decision-making and activities in the months to come.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas that I have been thinking about:

Portfolio Consolidation: I am considering shutting down both Pixeldust and Ink microsites and consolidating the portfolios, which could very well result in the elimination of many older pieces whose quality lags behind more recent work.  While I think the current site design is sound, I also believe there is too much redundancy.  Strategy: Keep things simple, relevant and focus all attention on my best work.

Self-Promotion: I think the efforts that have gone into my core portfolio and the various microsites have resulted in a solid foundation to build from.  I’m pleased with the results, but I’m at a point where I’m less interested in promotion for promotion’s sake (career opportunities, etc.) and more interested in further expanding the portfolio.  Strategy: Get back to basics.

Research: I am at a point now where the types of books that I am reading are leaning away from self-improvement and towards other subjects: design, technical subjects and fiction.  It’s a direction that I’m becoming more comfortable with.  Strategy: Refocus research efforts on creative and technical topics, and focus more energies on fictional works.

Bionic 2.0: As mentioned earlier, one of the plateaus I’ve reached is the physical.  Now three years into a strength-building plan, I think I can move into new territories.  Strategy: Focus greater energy on core physiology and refine exercise plan.