Drama, Catastrophizing, and the Freak-Out Gene

15 07 2014

Freak out geneTrue Confession: Any sense of drama in response to the stresses of life exhibited in the lives of my daughters they got from me, not their mother.

There, I said it. It feels good to admit the truth.

Psychologists call this tendency towards the dramatic, towards planning for the absolute worst, towards injecting a perfectly good molehill with steroids—to make it a mountain, duh—catastrophizing.

Guilty. And embarrassed.

A friend of mine got sick a few winters ago.  In his 50’s, career Army retired.  1st Sergeant.  Ranger Battalion for 6 years.  A remarkable guy and dear to our family.  I work with one of his sons, who is a chip off the old block and a close friend as well. And doesn’t freak out.

When my friend got sick, I was concerned.  It was serious enough that it put a retired Army Ranger in the hospital for a few days.  I asked the son about the father and he said that, though worried, his dad didn’t show it.  The son, one of our managers, is pretty good under pressure.  Just like his dad.  When asked by one of our colleagues if he was a mess because of his dad being in the hospital, the son said, “I guess [like dad] I didn’t inherit the freak-out gene.”

Man, I’ve had to chew on that one. And have been eating that business for a few years now. Why? Because I’ve not been great under pressure.  Candidly, I’ve been lousy in the clutch.  But the example of my even-keeled Irish buddies has been inspiring and convicting.

As I’ve thought about this, I realized that when stresses mount, one does not have to freak out.  Cave.  Bolt.  Come apart.  But I’m learning that a good deal of my responses to the tensions of life have to do with what I think about and tell myself.  Right thinking and talk are one of the secrets to poise, grace under pressure.

It’s that simple and that powerful.

To be sure, we all face things much larger than we are.  That overwhelm.  That can sink the boat of the ablest mariner.  But there is in our society entirely too much drama and meltdown.  For guys, it’s really an effeminate thing that insults the high call and dignity of manhood.  Great military leaders in combat are as scared as those under them but they mask it and charge ahead. They just don’t let their troops know they’ve filled their shorts.

What to do when stress comes?  Some hints:

  • Hit the gym rather than the bottle—or any other medicine, like shopping, sex, drugs, and other sundry ephemeral escapisms—for relief.
  • Remind yourself that you are equal to the task and think positively.       It certainly hasn’t worked for you to work yourself up to face the worst, has it?
  • Take a walk or a run and reflect.  Often stresses overwhelm simply because we don’t take enough time to think through challenges and find creative solutions to meet them.
  • Pray.  And act.  Do both, not one or the other.
  • Ask yourself, “Will this matter in five days, five months or five years?” Perspective gives proper weight to problems.
  • Lead.  God help you, but whatever you do, stand up like a man and walk on.  You will astound people, because leaders are rare.

I’m learning.  Slowly.  Very slowly.  I hope you are too.

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Passion: A Stallion’s Default Setting

13 07 2014

Passion StallionDo you know what gelding is?  It is a stallion that has been neutered.  Testicles removed.  Castrated.  No stones.

Those who raise horses geld stallions for lots of reasons.  One of them is to make the horse more sedate.  Well-behaved.  Easier to manage.

There is one considerable drawback.  Geldings cannot stud.  They are sterile.  Unable to reproduce.  But they’re nicer, I suppose.

In his book The Journey of Desire, John Eldredge recounts an unsuccessful counseling experience he had with a guy named Gary.  Gary was nice.  Well-behaved.  Easy to manage.  His wife was worried because he had no passion for anything.  He was a “nice Christian boy.”  Did all the right things.  But not out of any deep sense of conviction.

A gelding.

Eldredge was unable to help a man who’d lost all drive for anything in life.  A good deal of this hemorrhage of basic testosterone was no doubt rooted in a distorted idea of what the ideal Christian male is.  “Gentle Jesus–meek and mild.”  You get the picture.  Not the type of person who drives thieves from the sanctuary with a whip and uses strong, impolite language with religious bullies.

Passivity, especially in males, is the bane of our age.  It sours marriages.  It produces mediocre job performance.  Is often sedentary and unambitious.  It leaves those who count on us without a leader.

Geldings don’t change the world.  Sorry, but it’s true.

When I read about heroes in history, I find they were possessed with passion for whatever their mission was in life.  Teddy Roosevelt.  King David.  Richard Branson.  Judas Maccabeus.  Steve Jobs.  And Jesus Christ.  True, they made mistakes (Jesus excepted).  And when they screwed up, it was a disaster.  But when they triumphed, it made history.

Your wife wants you to be passionate.  So do your kids.  Your friends and colleagues too.

In fact, the whole world wants it.

This is your time to be all there.  Find something—anything—worth doing and do it with all your might.

Suggestions:

  • Get out of your chair at night and get moving.  Exercise, do extra work, take on a new project demanding effort and adrenaline.  You don’t want to end up like so many poor souls whom you see at the discount stores, grossly overweight, listless and unhappy.  Too many cheap carbs and time in front of a television or computer screen.  It doesn’t have to be you.
  • Start a blog.  I did and so have countless others.  This one is sticking and having the net effect of making me get off my duff and practice what I preach to my readers.
  • Repeat after me: “I matter.  I can do this.  I am not a nobody.  And the world is counting on me being fully there in whatever I am doing.”  Again, if it isn’t worth doing with all your might, it probably isn’t worth doing.  You be the judge.

You’re called to be a stallion.  Don’t sell yourself short.  Go and produce life!

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Personality, Uniqueness and Boundaries

12 07 2014

boundaries“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (William Shakespeare)

Some time ago, I found myself thinking about what motivates the decisions we make in life.  There are numerous perceived and imperceptible influences that guide us in our decisions.  Some are healthy.  Others are not.

For example, you may have made decisions about where to make your home and your living out of a desire to please others, even those close to you.  You may have taken on burdens simply because you were afraid that if you declined—a boundary mechanism—you would lose favor with somebody.  And then you live with regret and varied degrees of toxic self-disdain and recrimination.

Seven years ago, a pastoral colleague of mine shared something with me over lunch.  He told me that the most important book he’d ever read, outside of the Bible, was Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  In fact, he refused to marry any couple who came to him for premarital counseling and would not read the book, a requirement for him to solemnize the nuptials.  Yes, it’s that important.

Long and short of the message of Boundaries is this: The most important boundary marker you have at your disposal is the word no.  You simply have to use it.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and a little ornery; maybe because I’ve hit the half century mark, complete with health concerns; but I now realize that the person I have to live with until I die—every waking and unconscious moment—is me.  Christian Fahey.  And when, to paraphrase Shakespeare, I’m not true to myself…I don’t walk in integrity…I’m not true to my calling, my wiring, my passions for life and vocation, I have to live with me.  My conscience.  My memories.  My misgivings.

All of a sudden, pleasing other people at the expense of doing what I know is right and valid seems hollow indeed.  Life’s too short to be somebody else.

So here’s to moving forward, living in such a way that minimizes regrets and self-doubt.  Here’s to being true to the God-given vision for yours and my life.  Here’s to being true to oneself.

And it will surely follow that we’ll all be more true to others.

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Rocky, Telling It Like It Is

19 02 2014

rocky-balboa-trailerMy wife and I are huge fans of the “Rocky” movies.  In this moving scene from “Rocky Balboa,” Rocky gives his grown son powerful advice about taking personal responsibility for one’s life, career, dreams and choices.

Enjoy!

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Be Safe in the Sub-Zeroes

2 01 2014

5281607650_7d1644d451_zOkay, this post is entirely practical.  We’re in the middle of a blizzard here in Northern New York.  I live about 12 miles north of Watertown, NY, near the St. Lawrence River and the Canadian border.

The base temperature has not risen above -7 degrees Fahrenheit.  The wind chill is about -33 degrees F.

It’s lethal outside.  No hyperbole or overblown statement.  You need to take precautions (the following courtesy of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette):

•Dress in several layers of lightweight clothing, which will keep you warmer than a single heavy coat.

•Mittens provide more warmth to your hands than gloves.

•Wear a hat, preferably one that covers your ears.

•Utilize a scarf or knit mask to cover your face and mouth.

•Wear waterproof, insulated boots to keep your feet warm and dry and to maintain your footing in ice and snow.

•If working outside, take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.

•Limit your time outdoors and stay dry.

•Shivering is the first sign the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.

Protect Yourself at Home:

•Be careful with candles – do not use candles for lighting if the power goes out. Use flashlights only.

•Use generators correctly – never operate a generator inside your home, including the basement garage or porch.

•Run the generator as far away from the house as possible and point the exhaust away from open doors and windows to avoid potential carbon monoxide poisoning.

•Install and/or check carbon monoxide detectors.

•Check smoke alarms once a month by pressing the test button and replace batteries as necessary.

•Prevent frozen pipes – when the weather is very cold outside, open cabinet doors to let warm air circulate around water pipes.

•Let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.

•Never attempt to thaw pipes using a blow torch or any open flame device. Use warm water or a UL-listed device such as a hand-held hair dryer.

•Keep a glass or metal fire screen around the fireplace and never leave a fireplace fire unattended.

•Do not burn paper in a fireplace or use an accelerant to start/grow the fire.

•Keep the home’s thermostat set to a consistent temperature.

•If you plan on using an alternate heating source, never use a stove or oven to heat your home.

•If using a space heater, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to safely use the heater. Place it on a level, hard, nonflammable surface away from combustible materials including curtains.

•Always turn the space heater off when you leave the room or go to sleep.

•Keep children and pets away from your space heater and do not use it to dry wet clothing.

•Don’t forget your pets. If you can’t bring them inside, provide adequate shelter to keep them warm and make sure they can get to unfrozen water.

Be safe out there.  Stay in if at all possible.  And remember…Spring is 78 days away!

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Why “New” Is Important For You

1 01 2014

The Importance of NewHave you ever longed for those kinds of experiences that, essentially, seem to make time stand still?  We remember events from our childhood with savor that had the quality of lasting forever…suspending the tick of the clock.  We wish we could stay there.  Forever.

Novelty is important in our lives.  Routine, predictable outcomes, familiar actions all give us a feeling of safety, of stability.  For a good deal of our daily living, this is a good thing.

But there are caveats….

Boredom, the ubiquitous condition that afflicts so much of us in the modern, affluent West is born of a good deal of such routine.  Predictable and “safe” behavior choices.  Following and reproducing the known and reliable.  There is a cost.

Neophobia is the fear of new things.  To try new things, new foods, new relationships, new projects, immediately places us outside our comfort zones.  This presents us with choices.

Do I want more of the same thing that I’ve experienced year in and out?  Am I excited about the prospect of twenty-five or fifty more years of “the same ‘ole same ‘ole?”

Here’s the challenge:  Spice things up.  Throw a monkey wrench into your daily routine.  Step outside into the chill of the unknown (you’ll find you’ll adapt to the temp and it ain’t so bad after all).

Wanting to embody the stuff to which I enjoin my readers, here’s a couple of my own:

  • I’m a musician.  There are a lot of well-known artists whose music I’m unaware of.  My loved ones (daughters, wife, son-in-law) have fantastic tastes.  Soooo….I have set up a listening program to daily expose myself to new and classic artists in popular music and jazz to widen my palette.  Fleet Foxes, Thelonious Monk, Ellis Marsalis, Gungor, and The Pogues are all on my radar this month. Even put the program in a spreadsheet to track my progress.  (Yep, I’m an IT nerd, but it works for me.)
  • Try new and healthy food and drink choices.  My wife and I have planned in detail, more than ever, to eat closer to the earth (fruits, vegetables, oil, nuts, fish, lean meats, red wines, etc.) to give our palettes new treats as well as health benefits.
  • Enter new communal circles to increase your relationships.  Theatre societies.  Book clubs (maybe I should form one?).  Local and regional political bodies.  Exercise accountabilities.  All are fraught with enormous possibilities for enriching your lives.

So, what are your plans to shake things up and make time stand still with the sheer pleasure and endorphin release of new experiences?

Currently spinning: The Birth of the Cool (Miles Davis)

Currently reading: Poke the Box (Seth Godin)

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The High Cost of Poor Eating

25 09 2013

Cheap FoodAh…junk!  Cheap carbs and sweets.  Such a treat for the palate.  They go down the gullet with ease and feel so good.  You can’t stop with just one (and you thought it was only certain potato chips).  And the best part?  They’re so inexpensive, compared to other foods.

Really?

You need to rethink this and do the math.

Highly processed foods, cheap carbs, sweets, are all placed at eye level, center aisles, and checkout counters at discount stores for a reason.  Companies make a lot of money on sheer sales volume of such “foods.”  And for good reason.  They’re inexpensive, so we buy more and feel great about it, having saved so much money on such tasty items.  What a bargain.

Here’s some hidden costs to cheap food you may not know about:

  • A diet high in cheap carbohydrates increases your appetite.  Therefore, you buy and eat more.
  • A diet high in cheap carbs also leaves you feeling stuffed and your thinking foggy.
  • You will pack on the pounds quickly because cheap carbs are treated like sugar which inhibits your body from burning fat.
  • Sodium and sugar = water retention = added weight.
  • A lot of ingredients in these “foods” are unnatural—hybrids created in the lab which the body has a hard time processing.  High fructose corn syrup, for example, is everywhere and not particularly good for you.
  • The added weight brings a host of physical and psychological problems with them—increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension as well as “I feel so fat and can’t fit into my clothes.  This too costs money over the long haul.  More visits to the doctor and psychotherapist often result.

Disclaimer:  I am neither a physician nor a nutritionist.  These are reflections from my own journey.

I’ve lost nearly thirty pounds over the last six months or so and kept them off by changing some things around.  Instead of cheap food, I’m eating stuff “closer to the ground” and touched by as few processes as possible—fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, fish, etc.

I’m no different than you.  I’m undisciplined in all sorts of areas and I love junk.  Ice cream, candy bars, pizza, pasta, chips, cheese puffs (ate with a fork so I don’t get cheese on my paws), etc.  I love it all.  But it comes at a price.

Here’s where I’ve benefited:

  • I’m lighter and fit into my clothes.  Thus I feel better physically and sharper mentally.
  • Gone are the blood sugar spikes and drops that make me feel cranky mid-morning.  Type 2 Diabetes, I’m told, can in some cases be reversed by a change in diet and lifestyle.
  • I eat less because I’m not as hungry.

There’s no such thing as cheap food, really.  You end up paying one way or another, one day or another.  Have you ever noticed that the discount stores place the cheap and unhealthy items front and center, while the good stuff is on the periphery.  It’s basic marketing.  It’s calculated.  And it works.

You deserve better.  Make the change and see if you’re not pleased with the results.

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