Posts Tagged ‘Relationships’

It’s that time of year again, the time when we take a moment to reflect on the past year and look forward to self-improvement in the next year. The usual suspects are trotted out: nutrition, exercise, spirituality, finances and family with ambitious goals articulated for each. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the success rate for this bold list is less than ideal. But the alternative, an unexamined stroll into the next year is just as unpalatable. So, perhaps a shift in approach is needed . . .

What if we pick ONE substantial target? Sounds reasonable. But how do we make that choice when there are many things we would like to change? I’d like to share a process I went through recently and propose that it may provide a model for you to frame that choice.

My family and I had an extraordinary experience during a family visit this Christmas. One of my favorite cousins visited us for Christmas with her husband and three children and the usual pleasant visit became much more. Toward the end of the visit, we gathered together and asked the kids to share school tips with each other (my two boys, aged 7 and 13 and her 3 kids, two boys aged 12,15, and a 19 year old woman). So the college student (my niece) shared her insights with the  high schooler who then shared his tips with the middle schooler (my older son) who then shared with the elementary children (my nephew and other son). These tips provoked some questions from us, the adults, which led to much more personal revelations about their individual challenges with school. I was blown away by how much more complicated their school lives are because of social media, cyberbullying, fitting in, skewed perceptions of female beauty and more. I learned more about my nieces and nephews in that one session than in all previous visits combined. No therapy could have yielded the rich insights and sharing facilitated by having cousins who looked and sounded like each other share their struggles and victories. It was the kind of moment that was both frustrating and beautiful. Frustrating because these moments are so hard to consciously reproduce but beautiful because you KNOW they are transformative when they happen. I saw the power of relationships firsthand and knew what my focus would be in 2016: building richer relationships.

A few days later, I watched a TED talk focusing on the most comprehensive study on happiness in history. Several men were followed for as long as 75 years and the data revealed that the single strongest predictor of health and longevity was satisfaction with personal relationships. And so building stronger relationships has become the entirety of my “list.” Perhaps, resolutions should not be a list of “ought to’s” but a single “have to”. There should be both an urgency and timeliness to what we pick . . . I think that leads both to a greater chance of success and meaningfulness to the accomplishment. And so, as we all enter 2016, I will leave you with that question, what is your “thing”? May you reach it.

Happy New Year!



Graphic credit:

This may come as a shock, but not every moment of parenting is filled with heroic deeds, warm hugs or high fives. There are tasks we parents do that won’t be making it to the big screen any time soon. One of those tasks is the parent-teacher meeting. It’s probably a good thing that this event won’t be a summer blockbuster. Not sure how many people would go and see the movie “Parent-Teacher Meeting: Goals Defined!”

And so it was that I drove over to my son’s school and sat down in his Math class, looking forward to meeting his teacher, but expecting a fairly generic description of the goals for the term ahead. But Mr. M surprised us all and instead whipped out a Math word problem for us to solve. But instead of jumping straight to a calculation, he got us to ask two questions “What do I notice?” and “What do I wonder?” This is the approach he takes with the students because of a growing revelation in education that many students do not know how to effectively approach verbal problems. They leap to calculation before really  understanding the problem. Asking what you notice and what you wonder first relieves you of the pressure to instantly be right and simply allows you to take in the information and process the problem in a non-linear way.

If there is one feeling you have in medicine, it’s the pressure to be instantly right. Even now, while I’m on research leave, I felt I needed to be correct when asked what I thought of the results I had just assembled for one of my research projects. But interestingly, my research group leader  used almost identical phrasing to Mr. M, the math teacher. She simply asked, when we were looking at the data tables, “What do you notice?” We are evaluating the literature to determine the effectiveness of a certain modality for treating nerve injury. I noticed that one muscle group seemed to improve much more than the others with this treatment. Why? (What do you wonder?) Could it really be that you can approach an 8th grade Math problem and a Neurosurgical research article with the same two questions?

And if so, where else could those questions be used effectively to solve problems?

What if spouses took the time to notice and wonder about each other? On second thought, there is probably a lot of noticing and wondering that goes on already “I notice you’ve walked onto the carpet with dirty shoes” “I’m wondering which couch you’d like to sleep on” but what if these questions were asked from a place of renewed curiosity and possibility?

With parents and children.

With employees and employers.

With ourselves.

We can get to the point where everything is about bottom lines and definitive answers. We stop noticing and worse, stop wondering. At that point, innovation is stymied, relationships stagnate and personal growth is stunted.

I first broached this question on Twitter earlier this week. As it happened, I have a mischievous friend who responded with a few notice/wonder questions of his own. I will leave you with one of his cheeky creations . . .

What do I notice? I can’t feel my foot

What do I wonder? If this crocodile will let go soon . . .