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Knowing When It’s Time to Zoom

Knowing When It’s Time to Zoom

Grace under pressure is a gift. Those who can stay poised under adverse circumstances have the ability to step back and see the bigger picture. They widen the lens, get perspective, and fend off the body’s efforts to move into fight-flight-freeze mode. They can be thoughtful and decisive when it matters most. Sometimes, however, the crisis is bigger than even the most mature adult in the room.

When life gets disrupted by a traumatic event, a calm state of mind can disable the ability to act with urgency. Our bodies move into fight-flight-freeze for a reason. Health and safety become paramount. Zooming out lessens the stress that gives us our fuel to perform.

It’s a delicate balance. Not enough stress subtracts from engagement, while too much stress causes anxiety or even a total meltdown. Finding the sweet spot is the key.

Both detached calm and intense focus are valuable in a crisis and there’s an ideal time for both. Knowing when to narrow or widen the lens is the key. Zoom in when all other input must be blocked out in order to attend to the top priority on the triage list. Zoom out when you need to see the bigger picture and develop a strategy.

Families need both skill sets every day. It doesn’t require a trauma for our grace or our focus to get activated. It simply takes a diagnostic appraisal of the challenge, followed by a decision about which self to bring to the moment. Engagement or distance? Zoom in or zoom out?

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

Distraction

Distraction

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, there are distractions. That’s obvious. What isn’t obvious is that they often don’t reveal themselves. In fact, you’re likely to be convinced that the things competing for your attention deserve top priority. Perhaps you’ve been conditioned to think so. Or sometimes it’s simply because of an irresistible environmental appeal to our senses: the brightest, the shiniest, the closest, the loudest, the most noxious. The result is that, in the moment, you don’t realize you’re being distracted. It just happens.

There are two ways distractions succeed in doing their jobs. They either flip on your central nervous system responses through a reward pathway, or they hijack your attention by lighting up the flight-fight-freeze system. In either case, they’ve succeeded in creating tunnel vision.

Some people – kids and adults alike – are naturally good at overriding this. They’re able to step back, take stock and assess what’s actually going on around them and how it’s making them feel. For the rest of us, it takes practice.

And as if it weren’t hard enough, parents and caregivers have to master double-duty with this skill. Whenever a situation is begging for a reset – your toddler isn’t listening, your grade-schooler can’t focus on schoolwork – there are inevitably two parts to the puzzle.

We first need to try to figure out what’s commanding the child’s attention and causing their behavior. That’s the clear one. Then we need to figure out which blinders we ourselves are wearing. Our own competing priorities always color our responses to our children’s needs. Of course, then we have to decide which distraction to manage first.

Is your to-do list weighing on you? Do you have a backlog of texts, emails and phone calls? Are you making unconscious yet frustrated comparisons to your neighbor who never seems to have any problems? Or maybe your own flight-fight-freeze system has been triggered by the noise, the frustration and the stress?

It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s always most effective to address our own distractions first. No one serves from an empty vessel. Those who take good care of themselves are always better equipped to take care of others.

 

 

About the Author

 Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

You Have Issues

You Have Issues

This might be tough to hear, but you have issues. It’s okay, though. We all do.

Our issues arise from our imperfect, very human, histories. Sometimes they come from singular events and traumas. Sometimes they build slowly over decades or they’re based in generational trends. They can be on the edge of our awareness or hidden in our blind spot. In any case, we carry them into every meaningful relationship in our lives.

Here are some things to roll around in your mind next time you find your issues floating to the surface:

  • Can you name them? You probably have at least a vague sense of the emotional trap doors that become activated in you on a regular basis. If you haven’t already, bring that fuzzy sense into sharper focus. Put some definition on your patterns.
  • Are they predictable? Our issues are triggered in the context of the historical events and relationships where they began. Recognizing their origins puts you in a better position to know when they’ll emerge so you can prepare for their impact. 
  • How are they impacting your family? That’s one of the hardest questions any of us face. The answer comes from allowing difficult observations to seep in. Consider how you might be making relationships harder and what you are teaching the next generation in the process.
  • How are you working on them? Chipping away at our issues is a lifelong project. Change has a way of slipping backwards. Continual progress only comes from being vulnerable, staying open-minded and moving knowledge into action – again and again. Learn, plan, execute, assess, repeat.
  • What happens when you work on your issues, but other people in your circle don’t? You can only do what you can do. Here’s the thing about families, though – the people in them tend to influence each other in powerful ways. Resolving to stay on an upward trend will create ripple effects, with you at the steady center.
  • What would it be like if they were resolved? Issues don’t form by accident – they serve functions. Letting go of them would result in the loss of the secondary gains they provide (escape, avoidance, etc.). But through making the unconscious conscious, you can turn them into strong footholds for your growth.

Our issues are what make us human. Striving toward simple understanding of them goes a long way to lessen their magnitude. At our best, our issues lend us genuine compassion and empathy for others – a sense of humble humanity that wouldn’t be possible without them.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist and the Clinical Director at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

Invisible Selves

Invisible Selves

Humans have a tendency to be pretty self-centered. It’s not a criticism, it’s biology. We’re actually wired to diminish the complexity of other people’s experience while staying immersed in our own reality. It’s a great way to ensure we’ll care sufficiently for ourselves. It’s also a stopgap to make our experience of life more manageable and less overwhelming. But, of course, there’s an undesirable side-effect to this when we forget to put it in check.

If recent history has (re)taught us anything, it’s that nobody is immune to struggle. Even if you consider yourself one of the lucky ones – maybe you usually bounce back quickly from unexpected challenges, or you tend to find ways to skirt them – eventually a time comes when you just can’t. Or when a loved one is suddenly knocked off their feet and you find yourself powerless to help. Circumstances have a way of conspiring to take us by surprise when we’re least prepared.

Simplifying our understanding of other people makes us forget that their struggles are as real as ours – even if they’re invisible. It’s usually hardest to keep our biases in check during moments when we’re caught unaware. That self-centered biology kicks in to help us find clarity in a comfortable black-and-white conclusion. However, clarity is not always accuracy.

Whenever we create narratives about the type of person someone is, or what their lives must be like, we’re missing a big opportunity that would help both parties. What would happen if we recognized the “invisible self” – the one with complicated struggles and vulnerabilities – existing inside each of our friends, acquaintances and even the strangers we pass on the street?

This is hard. We have to suspend reality and endure the anxiety of not knowing until we can position ourselves behind the other person’s eyes. But there’s a reward. Trying to see someone’s invisible self is a powerful gift for both the giver and the recipient. It’s the gift of humble connection, of mutual grace, and, if we’re lucky, healing compassion.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s a very difficult gift to give sometimes. It’s easier to work on something in a familiar environment. So I have a suggestion: let’s make an effort to give it more at home to help build the habit. As well as we think we know them, our kids and our partners probably have invisible selves, too.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist and the Clinical Director at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

Why Your Relationships Need Struggle

Why Your Relationships Need Struggle

Useful Pain: Why Your Relationships Need Struggle was written as an enticement for growth. The book is based on a simple concept: interactions between partners are necessary ingredients of growth. Of course, instinct tells us to make pain go away. The reward is relief from tension, fear, anxiety, depletion, or the treat of failure. But what would happen if we allowed the struggle to run its course without being soothed?

When two people embark on a risk together, decisions are driven by either the most fearless or most fearful person. Fearless partners push their apprehensive counterparts forward. Fearful partners pull their more confident partners back.

This dynamic push and pull generates creative tension in the relationship that forces either growth or stagnation. The symptoms most likely to appear when the risk is being negotiated is either eagerness for or resistance to change. When the more fearful partner is pulling, the relationship will react to fear of failure. When the more fearless partner is pushing, the relationship will react to being “out on a limb.” Of course, both fearlessness and fearfulness have value, depending on what’s at stake.

Adventure brings excitement to a relationship. Much like driving a car, you are less likely to take a risk if your have passengers on board than if you are traveling alone. In relationships, risk-taking must account for the consequences on all parties involved. The resulting struggle has purpose – learning how to keep moving forward while honoring the pace of the partnership – useful pain.

About the Author

Steve Ritter is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, the Founder and Managing Director of the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation, the Founder and CEO of the Team Clock Institute, and the author of Useful Pain: Why Your Relationships Need Struggle and Team Clock: A Guide to Breakthrough Teams. You can find Steve on LinkedIn.

How to become invisible

How to become invisible

Whether in a business meeting or an interpersonal exchange, everybody knows what it feels like to be invisible. Your partner might be making eye contact but his or her attention is on other priorities. Your friend is thinking about the next thing he or she is about to say rather than listening to you. Colleagues are checking their smartphones during your presentation. It’s the classic portrayal of “presenteeism” – the body is present but the spirit is not. Consider these ways people become invisible:

1. Allow your knowledge to grow stale. 
In a world that evolves while you sleep, it takes a serious commitment to doing your homework to remain vibrant. In a 2:1 ratio, devote yourself to spending two hours learning about your partners, customers, and audience for every hour you invest in growing your own platform.

2. Take more than you give. 
As Adam Grant discusses in his 2013 masterpiece, Give and Take, “givers” who balance an appropriate blend of self-interest with other-interest create a tremendous amount of good will in their networks resulting in the eventual return on their investment. “Takers,” on the other hand, collect some early wins but, in the long run, end up alone (and invisible).

3. Prematurely declare “game over” following a set-back. 
The richness of success grows remarkably when fueled by the desperation of letdown. Those who give up early don’t live long enough to enjoy such wealth. When someone struggles in an endeavor, teammates instinctively distance themselves from the pain. Those brave few who endure the discomfort are rewarded for their courage and loyalty.

 

Have you become invisible?

 

About the Author

Steve Ritter is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, the Founder and Managing Director of the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation, the Founder and CEO of the Team Clock Institute, and the author of Useful Pain: Why Your Relationships Need Struggle and Team Clock: A Guide to Breakthrough Teams. You can find Steve on LinkedIn.