Benefit of the Doubt

by Diana Mercer

What would happen if you gave everyone (and your former spouse or partner, in particular) the benefit of the doubt?

I know that’s a challenging idea, particularly if you’re in the middle of a separation or a divorce, when your inclination to forgive certain annoyances for the sake of staying in the crumbling relationship may already be out the window.

What would happen if you put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a moment before making a final judgment about his or her actions?

I see this as a way to take things less personally. If the grocery store cashier snaps at me, is it because of my actions, or could he or she simply be having a bad day? If your friend is running late to an appointment, is his plan to inconvenience you, or is it possible that he’s had to stop to search for his child’s escaped hamster?

The biggest tipoff is whether you’re getting what you gave. Consider a newly separated family: If I ask my child’s mother, “What time does the school play start on Thursday?” and her response is “You have got a lot of nerve asking me that! You’re such an irresponsible jerk!” I know that I asked a perfectly reasonable question in a neutral tone, but got back barbs and insults. What I got wasn’t what I gave. That’s my clue that there’s something else going on.

This is an extremely simplified example of one of the Games People Play (Eric Berne, Ballantine Books, 7th Edition 1996) http://www.ericberne.com/Games_People_Play.htm. The key here is when someone plays this game with you by responding in a way that doesn’t match the tone of the request you cannot take the bait. Take a deep breath, realize it’s not about you, and consider a response like, “I’m really sorry you feel that way. I should have written the time down, but I didn’t. I’d really appreciate it if you could tell me the time and next time I’ll put it in my book.”

When you permit this tiny pause, the maybe-it’s-not-me pause, you give yourself a chance to take in more information and give yourself, and the other person, a break.

The benefit of the doubt doesn’t work as well with the always-crabby cashier or the chronically late friend, but really works for situations in which people are acting in a way you hadn’t anticipated. And in a divorce or separation, it can go a long way toward keeping the peace. Because a reasonably contented (I hesitate to say “happy”) co-parent is likely to be an easier person for you to deal with, it’s in your best interests to choose your battles and give the benefit of the doubt when you can.

I once went to a community planning meeting, and the group leader told us a story about a time she was transporting hot baked beans to a potluck dinner for her son’s Scout troop meeting. She put the kettle of hot beans on the floor in the backseat of her car and drove like 2 miles per hour. If she went any faster, she’d surely have a car covered in baked beans. Fellow motorists honked, pointed, and zoomed around her, assuming she was just a dork or an idiot. They didn’t know she had hot baked beans in the backseat.

Next time you’re ready to snap at someone, will you remember that maybe they’ve got hot baked beans they’re trying not to spill? Maybe you know the whole story, and maybe you don’t. When you give someone the benefit of the doubt, you give yourself an opportunity to understand more than your own perspective.

Diana Mercer Bio:

Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Perigee 2010). Join the conversation and community on our video blog and check out Diana’s divorce blog on the Huffington Post

Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, www.peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010) and Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.


The Art of Reinvention

While contemplating a gift for my mother’s seventieth birthday celebration, I realized that she is the one who has given a priceless gift to us, her loved ones, throughout her life.  The gift is one that epitomizes the message of Second Firsts...teaching us how to rebuild and reclaim life.  She has inspired us by doing it several times over in the course of her seven decades.   It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention” and from Mom we have learned that “grief just might be the mother of reinvention”.

When she was in her thirties, my mother had six children. Work was scarce and my dad was an unemployed electrician.    He left home to work on the Alaskan Pipeline to support his family.   My stay-at-home mother did not even have her driver’s license.  Literally and figuratively, she had to take her first steps on the journey to take care of us.  Daily she would put her two babies in a big pram, instruct the middle two children to hold onto the sides, and  watched as the oldest two would skip or run ahead of  her on the walks to the grocery and department stores miles  from where we lived.   These walks were always adventures for us and I’m sure helped her to mentally and physically take care of all of our needs.

My mother fed her loneliness with comfort food during my dad’s absence and despite the miles she logged during this time, she gained some weight.  Eager to lose it, she walked into a diet center and boldly declared “I will lose 25 pounds in 6 weeks on your plan and then I’d like a job as a counselor.”  Her challenge was accepted and she attained her weight loss goal.  Thereafter, she gently guided others on their own weight loss journey.  For several years she maintained a healthy lifestyle and enjoyed a rewarding career in the meantime.

Her successful battle of the bulge was nothing compared to the next weighty issue she faced.  When she reached her forties, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was with her when she received the daunting news. Her only question to the doctor was “Will I see my children graduate high school?”  This was a time when there were no pink ribbons or Walks for the Cure.   Breast cancer was not a household word and I believed it to be her death sentence.  To her, it was a personal challenge. She simply wanted to see her babies get to their milestone high school graduation.

I drove my mother home from her lumpectomy with teary eyes. I will never forget her saying “I will survive this cancer, but if you don’t stop crying, we won’t survive this ride home!”  It provided some much needed comic relief for me and representative of how she got through life, one obstacle at a time, and with a sense of humor to boot. My mother bravely underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy. She never complained. She plowed through the treatment and appears to have never looked back.

After getting the news that she was cancer-free, my mother took on a new test. She studied for and passed the real estate exam. She launched a new career as a real estate agent.   She began to sell her heart out and happily helped others find their dream homes!

Unfortunately, her dreams and her own home were soon shattered.  After 28 years of marriage, my father left their home and my mother was now alone.  She did not know what life would be like without her husband by her side.  After months of an empty house, she decided to do something about the quiet around her each day.  Mom started a Thursday night card game at her home and thereafter she reveled in a different kind of “full house”.   She enjoyed the games enormously with her friends “the queens” and she focused on her growing family while continuing to sell real estate. Her babies graduated high school and college and her children got married and began having their own babies.  Mom daydreamed of and spoke of painting pictures for her grandchildren’s nurseries.

Mom had been given an easel, stretched canvases, paint brushes and some paint as a gift but had put them away in the closet.  They were tucked away, but not too far from her mind. She had shelved the idea of painting while she raised her children and now, like her life ahead, there was a blank canvas that was calling out to her, but also paralyzing her with fear.

On Mother’s Day one year she delighted in a beautiful bouquet of roses.   The roses were so special to her that she even dried them out to make them last longer. Finally, she took out those paint supplies and with one small brush stroke, began an  amazing journey.   She painted the roses and her life slowly began to bloom again.

She noticed and clipped an  ad in the local newspaper about an art association. She was intimidated and feared her paintings would be laughed at. The next year she saw another ad and this time had the courage to begin classes.  And yes, she did hear a lot of laughing.  The laughter wasn’t at her paintings though.  The laughter was joyous and came from her newfound friends.  She won awards and even became the president of that Art Association.   She seemed to have mastered  the “art of reinvention”.

Last year my mother got a long distance call from her youngest daughter, who had been diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. Within hours, my mother dropped everything and moved out of state to care for her “baby” and her two small grandbabies.   My mother’s life was uprooted but she went the distance once again and gently guided her daughter along a familiar path she had already traveled.  She helped her on the road to recovery and assisted in the at-home day care center my sister ran. Mom became a grandmother-in-residence while her daughter underwent a year of  surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  They are now mother-daughter survivors and I dare say, thrivers!

Mom is joyously back at home.   She celebrated her 70th birthday not only with a renewed real estate license, and a new daughter-in-law and granddaughter,  but also with a renewed lease on life.    The gift I decided to give her was a week long cruise. The ocean, like life, is vast and at times seemingly insurmountable.   It just takes a little courage to get on board and set sail.  Bon Voyage to mom and all of you.


Leap of Faith

By Sharmaine L Hobbs, www.whenwomenawaken.com

In 2004, I took a trip to the Homestead Resort. When I got off at the Lexington exit to get some tablets, I saw a woman holding a sign that said, “STRANDED, NEED TO GET BACK TO MICHIGAN.”  I charged a tank of gas on my credit card and gave her the receipt. I knew this woman was the real reason I was led to get off the exit.  She was a stranger, but I recognized her.  She was me.  I wrote about the story in my journal and didn’t think about it anymore until 2008 when I shared it with a friend who shared it on his blog.  I didn’t know how far it would travel or the impact it would have.

********

On January 1, 2011, I stood on the front of my lawn with 10 balloons in one hand and 10 prayers in another.  I looked heavenward as I said the prayers with all of my heart and then I released the balloons.  This ritual marked my leap of faith.  When I went back inside, I immediately turned my attention to the vision I’d created for my life over the past three years when it looked like my life had been turned upside down.  In actuality, it had been turned right side up.

I’d been in the real estate industry for the past 14 years. In 2008, things were churning in the marketplace. Even more so, things were churning on the inside of me.  For a long time, I’ve wanted to pursue my “true north” in life, which is doing women’s ministry, writing and speaking.  And even though I’ve been a fearless woman for most of my life, for some reason this time, I was frozen with fear. There seemed to be too much to lose.  I’d always heard that you must give up something to get something, but life was taking that to a whole new level. Everything seemed to be in jeopardy.  I wanted to pursue my purpose, but I didn’t want to give up the life I’d built, the home that I loved or the six digit income.  But it was falling apart anyway.

There was so much to consider… the bills which were mounting, the mortgage was in arrears, the tax bills were due, my earning potential was plummeting and there was unfinished business in my life.  But there was also this to consider…  I’d reinvented my life from scratch on three other occasions - and even started a business in a broom closet-, picked myself up from having lost everything, was a single Mom at 17 and raised a wonderful son. I  had championed many other things in my life. This time, though, fear gripped me. So instead of moving forward to do what had been a heart’s desire for so long, for the very thing that life had equipped and trained me to do – inspire, nurture and empower women – I was hanging on to the life that I had outgrown.

While life was swirling around about me, I took solace with my pen and pad.  I wrote morning and evening. I’d started writing my first book, When Women Awaken, only to find out that in some areas of my life I was still asleep.  It was as though the book was being written “to me and through me” moreso than the message I started out writing. There was some more growing to do.    I started walking for my sanity and for clarity because it literally felt like the earth was moving under my feet. Life was chiseling on me and though I appeared strong and resolute on the outside, inwardly I felt I was crumbling.  I remember a day when I was walking, I cried out to God, “Please help me; I feel so lost.” And the voice came back, “Wonderful, now you can be found.”

In July 2008, I said a prayer asking God to confirm, by sending me a sign, that I was to move forward.  In August, I received an email from around the world from a young woman who had found me by way of the story I’d written about helping the stranded lady.  She had read my whole website and she felt as though God was speaking directly to her.  She shared her secret with me (after reading the story I wrote called The Secret) and how she felt so utterly low as a result of it and saw no way to mend her life back together.  Her email name was leapoffaith08.   I began mentoring and encouraging her by email and realized that God had answered my prayer through Luvim.  She said He sent me to answer her prayer as well.   I later realized that a book was being written between us as our wonderful story together unfolded.  I found a younger version of myself in Luvim and got the opportunity to help her take many leaps of faith. She was an encouragement and inspiration to me and I realized what an incredible blessing had come my way while my life was “re-righting itself.” It was a good sign.

I’ve experienced identify theft in a good way.  I lost my old “identity” and found my true and authentic self. Though the money is gone, I’ve appreciated in value as a woman and found I am much stronger than I ever knew. I’ve learned things I never could have had it not been for this experience - my dark night of the soul.  The money will come back because I’m being true to myself. It feels incredible to use my gifts of writing and encouragement. I envisioned the impact I could make if fully devoted myself to it and created the vision I have in my heart. I realized that helping the lady in 2004 had built a bridge to Luvim and was building the bridge to my purpose. Many women hold an “invisible sign” in life, asking for help.  That act of kindness has produced so many wonderful ripples.  I could no longer ignore my heart knocking.  I had to take the leap of faith and trust that all will be well, even though I don’t have it all figured out.  It feels like the right thing to do.

Taking a leap of faith is not just about doing the unknown and the unthinkable, the daring or the miraculous.  Sometimes it’s less dramatic yet still as significant.  It could be leaping from despair to hope, from worry to faith, from unworthiness to worthiness, from un-forgiveness to forgiveness, from struggle to thriving.  Or it could mean the choice to leave behind a life that is outgrown and reach for one that is waiting on you with open arms.

A leap of faith is simply finding the courage to follow your heart, to believe that the voice you hear is God directing your pathway and that He has your very best interests at heart.  It’s believing that all will be well before you have the proof.  We all have faith.  In my case, I exercised it by leaping.  I’m unafraid.  Where your heart is, there your treasure will be.  I look forward to the journey ahead and all it will bring and feel proud that I’ve taken a stand to follow my true path to empower and inspire women.

To read the whole story, look for my book, LEAP OF FAITH! coming in April 2011. Look for WHEN WOMEN AWAKEN in summer 2011. Sometimes, the only available mode of transportation in life is a leap of faith!  Life is what you make it; live it like you mean it!


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I have experienced a number of different coaches, but none with Christina’s unique combination of courage, humility and presence; I recommend her extremely highly.”

Peter


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It’s Not What Happens to You; It’s What You Do with It

by Paulette Rao, MCC

I make choices every day as to how I’ll respond to things that happen to me. When things are not going the way I want, my default thinking tends to be either worry or avoidance of looking at ‘what is’. Both choices—yes, they are choices—rob me of an opportunity to grow.

In “My Stroke of Insight”, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor explains that limbic system responses, like fear, for instance, are programmed responses that can be set off automatically. But, within ninety seconds from the initial trigger, our system’s automatic part of the response is over.  Once the chemicals surge through and then, flush out of our blood stream, we can choose if we want that circuit to keep running. Imagine….ninety seconds and then we choose our response!

This isn’t about pouring pink paint over our feelings. It’s simply saying that after ninety seconds we can either feed the negative thinking loop by allowing our left brain to story-tell (stories being the sequences of thoughts we convince ourselves are real) or leverage the most powerful creator of our reality—our brain—to focus on what we want to feel instead.

I’ve learned that there is another choice when I experience fear, worry, and doubt. One I reach for often and have to practice with conscious intention—a choice to simply notice. By paying attention to my automatic response, I feel what emotion is stirring in me and where. I then put it aside and focus on what I want to feel instead. I don’t have to focus on the thoughts that bring me pain. I decide.

I used to hate to ‘feel the feelings’ that came up when things didn’t go my way. I wanted the learning to be over already. I have to consciously choose to stop and notice my feelings and the negative chatter that’s attached at the hip. I let the stories run for awhile. I listen. Then, I start to ask myself questions that facilitate my shift, allowing me to create the bridge to a new way to see, feel and think about what is. What am I feeling? Is that really so? What am I learning and how do I use this learning to catapult my growth?  Then, when I’m ready, I go about the business of moving forward again; armed with the learning and bolstered by my shift to better thinking.

Neuroscience tells us what we focus on grows.  So focusing on worry, doubt, fear, or whatever the suffering is, strengthens that circuitry and deepens our default. Time, attention, and repetition are quite a powerful elixir for embedding negative thinking—or creating new thinking.

My automatic emotional and physiological responses are opportunities for learning, but only if I notice them and feel what comes up. They point at what I need to know. The teachers are right there. Am I seeing them?

I don’t always like this process and it’s definitely not easy. But I do it. And you know what? I’ve shifted, dramatically. I am grateful for the lessons of tragedy and negative feelings. They contribute to who I am today. I use my lessons to propel me forward—after my ninety seconds, that is.

I can allow my emotions to derail me or use them to let me know I need to shift. It’s not about what happens; it’s what I choose to do with it. Epictetus said it best for me. “We are disturbed not by what happens to us, but by our thoughts about what happens.”  Oh, yeah.

Paulette Rao MCC is a mentor coach, marketing expert, and principal of Conscious Coaching Institute which is dedicated to training and development of coaches. Her proprietary OneSource™ program supports coaches pursuing an ICF credential. Her Conscious Marketing™ program enables coaches to create compelling marketing messages that attract their ideal clients.

If you want to submit your story of inspiration  please email: [email protected]


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"Christina is a vibrant, energetic, and engaging coach. Her powerful questions and her ability to communicate using dead-on metaphors immediately get you thinking in new ways. Most importantly, Christina is extremely committed to "seeing her clients through to the other side" and ensuring that they walk away with a renewed sense of self, a positive outlook and a clear action plan. Through her coaching she has helped me see and overcome deeply rooted self-limiting beliefs and begin to develop a new image of who I am and how I am perceived by others. For this I will be forever grateful!"

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