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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: October 2003

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Penny Wise, Pound Foolish
  3. Musings
  4. Alan's Stupid Diet

  1. Techniques for balance

    • Avoid at all costs festering resentment or outrage. Take an action which will alleviate or remove the condition, and then move on, win or lose. The real loss is in sacrificing a large chunk of your life over small matters.
    • If you want to be seen as a brilliant conversationalist and an interpersonal genius, ask others provocative questions which keep them talking about their passions and successes.
    • I kid you not, if you watch the History, Biography, and Discovery Channels on cable television once a week, you'll find your conversational ability enhanced and your appreciation of the world around you intensified.
    • After you've complained to someone about something, no matter for how long or in what degree, thank them after the situation is rectified in your favor. Your next request, should you need to make one, will be more swiftly accommodated.
    • Discuss your day on a regular basis with a significant other. This gesture not only brings them into your life, it also garners feedback and helps you to better understand what occurred and what's still required.
    • Sharing an error you've made or a misery you're enduring is helpful if it enables someone to understand you and offer assistance, but not if the revelation causes the other party more pain than you're enduring yourself.
    • There is only one way out of an abusive relationship, emotionally or psychologically, and that's the door. Short of therapeutic intervention, abusers seldom terminate their own aberrant behavior. Remaining with them enables them to continue the abuse.
    • Bad news can wear you down, and the media thrive on bad news. You don't have to listen to the same bad news five times a day, though. If you've read it in the paper you don't need both the six and eleven newscasts to reinforce it. Play some music, read a book, or watch a movie instead.
    • If you're not teaching (coaching, mentoring, advising, etc.) someone in your life, you're probably not learning too much yourself.
    • Athletic stars and entire teams can be bums one week and heroes the next. So can we all. Life offers constant rejuvenation. We're not confined to last week's results.

  2. The Human Condition: Projection

    Have you ever met people who assume you have the same flaws that they do?! They'll gratuitously volunteer that they can recommend a good coach who helped them gain confidence in public speaking (because they needed it); can provide information on how to avoid being cheated by an unscrupulous travel agent (because they were); and can advise on a list of quality reading you'd otherwise never know about (because they didn't).

    This phenomenon is known in the psychological community as "projection," the extension of one's own flaws (never attributes!) to others. It provides solace and protection for one's self-efficacy, since the underlying assumption is that your own weakness is not unique but shared by virtually everyone. Therefore, it's not really a significant weakness at all, just a common failing.

    In more popular terms this is known an being a royal pain in the assumption.

    Projection is one of those insidious habits which tends to bring out the worst in the rest of us. We become defensive ("I don't need that kind of investment, I've developed a better strategy"), or play an ace trying to beat the king ("Oh, I have the best coach in the country for that"), or see the internally while we plaster an Alfred E. Neuman smile on our face and pretend we're receiving invaluable advice for our non-existent malady.

    Maybe it's time we all started projecting the best aspects of ourselves. I've always tried to assume, for example, that I'm dealing with a mature adult unless I'm proved incorrect. I never assume my audiences are damaged or remedial, but rather that they continually seek self-improvement as I do. I assume colleagues want me to succeed, as I want them to and, therefore, never allow a default position that tells me others are seeking to undermine me, unless there is evidence to that end.

    Projecting positives also helps us to make easy decisions in gray areas. Email, for example, is notorious for misinterpretation, and a line such as, "That was nice" can be taken for a snide comment if one isn't given the benefit of the doubt. If your body language is confusing, I'm going to assume you're just trying to get comfortable rather than send subliminal messages that you hate me, since I know when I fold my arms it means nothing more than, well, I felt like folding my arms. Projecting positives immeasurably aids relationships, communications, and interactions in general.

    Of course, the people with the most trouble projecting positives are the ones who are precisely guilty of the very acts they project. If you believe the other person won't return what you lend them, it may be because you've been dilatory yourself. If you're afraid someone won't provide promised value, perhaps you've been lax on an occasion or two. I always find it ironic that someone who parks in a "no parking" zone will be the first to castigate someone smoking in a "no smoking" area. (I heard a person complain about the soiled furniture in a hotel while he simultaneously had his feet on a chair cushion.)

    Shrug off the negative projections of others, and try to reinforce your own positive projection in others. You can review how you're doing with projection at any time. As the sportscasters love to say, "Let's go to the tape."

  3. Musings

    I want to talk to you this month about crabbiness. I don't know how else to put it. We're all crabs at various times, but it really is an infliction that must be minimized.

    Some people start the day crabby, others end it that way, and still others are immersed in it without surcease. Just like the eponymous crustacean, the behavior creates a steady nipping and annoyance, a series of small but painful assaults upon our psyche.

    Crabs are those who are innately cynical and unfriendly. They seem to view life as a long slow crawl through enemy territory, hence, any encounter is bound to be a threatening and unpleasant one. A favor asked becomes a burden; a cordial inquiry simply presages an unwanted incursion; an attempt at collaboration is an outright intrusion.

    Crabs, of course, come in assorted varieties. There are the tiny ones, who nibble at your extremities. These are people in service positions, telephone operators, receptionists, ticket sellers, and so on, who view every single customer and request as a harbinger of the ruination of their lives.

    Then there are the larger land crabs, denizens of our work environments and clients, who can draw blood with substantial claws which impedes our work and diminishes our accomplishments. These are people who can never appreciate success or fail to exacerbate failure. Their motus operandi is "I told you so" when you suffer a setback, and "What luck!" when you gain a triumph. Such crabs can live for quite some time and have few predators feeding upon them, since they're quick to crawl under a rock when threatened.

    Finally, there are the huge pelagic crabs from the depths, massive articulated creatures who often reside in our families. They live for long periods, and possess scissor-like claws which can nearly completely sever self-esteem and self-worth. They unfortunately can appear daily in our normal course of living and, because of their size and weight, are virtually impossible to totally avoid. The only natural enemies of these huge predators are others like them.

    Crabs expect the worst in others and never stop their dysfunctional behavior until they find it, which reinforces their demeanor. Therefore, the best way to deal with crabs is to avoid providing anything they can latch onto. You don't fight crabs if you're smart, but rather walk around them. They can scurry after you, but they are weighted down by their inefficient gaits and by ambulatory equipment built more for fighting and defending than moving and climbing.

    Don't offer a crab an argument, resistance, or threats, which are the very protuberances they seek to grab and crush. Simply smile, move along on your way, and don't acknowledge the attempted nip or clip. You'll find that this takes the energy out of most crabs, and they'll sidle over to easier, slower prey, or begin battling with each other.

    It's likely that we all encounter crabs every day. But that's no reason to dread the future or get bloodied in the process. Stay cheerful, light on your feet, and focused on the real objective of the journey. The crabs will be quickly left along the wayside, eventually picked clean by the seabirds called laughing gulls.

  4. Alan's Stupid Diet

    Few issues upset life balance more than concerns over one's weight. When my regular exercise fails to catch up to my penchant for fine food and drink, I embark on a diet which works well for my metabolism. My wife has dubbed it "Alan's stupid diet," since it won't work for her.

    A lot of people have asked me, so here is ASD:

    • No red meat
    • No fried foods
    • No sweets or ice cream
    • Diet soda or, preferably, flavored water
    • Artificial sweeteners
    • Fish and chicken, vegetables and fruit, all fine
    • A small amount of bread with dinner
    • No pasta, potatoes, or similar starches
    • Wine and vodka allowed, no other alcohol
    • Exercise at least every other day
    • Recommendation: Cereal and fruit for breakfast, fruit and/or vegetables for lunch, hearty dinner in compliance with above rules.

    I've lost 10 pounds in the last two weeks.