Some Pictures From My Phone This Week

Wanting to make a blog post, not sure what to write about. Here are some pictures I took over the last week.


Oh, man! Got these yesterday. They are great! Ashley says we’d had them before, but I’m pretty sure I’d remember.

I’m a big fan of Lay’s dill pickle chips as well as most jalapeño chips. These sort of combine what’s good about those flavors.

The first taste was amazing. I savored the next several chips and just kept eating. Noticed after eating about a third of the bag they weren’t tasting as great. There wasn’t anything different about the chips deeper in the bag, I’d just had so many I suppose my tastebuds had acclimated so I wasn’t experiencing that fresh, new flavor. I was also by that point crunching my way through the bag somewhat mindlessly. There is certainly a lesson or two there.

Food again. We had some andouille sausage I didn’t totally use when I made jambalaya last week. Added it to some blackeye peas with diced tomatoes and chilies, and threw in some leftover spinach leaves.

Made me happy for a few reasons. First, I cooked this up in the morning so Ashley would have a dinner option she could just hear up when she got home (I was working that night and wouldn’t be home for dinner). Second, I love using up leftovers and clearing stuff out if the fridge and pantry. Third, it smelled and tasted great!

We got new chairs at work. Might seem like a good thing, but it made a lot of folks mad. Goes to show you what a difference perspective makes. I like the upholstery pattern, though. Also, there is supposedly soy in the cushions because the manufacturer is committed to reducing the use of petroleum based materials.


Whoo-hoo! Maybe the most exciting thing this week — I got a new car stereo! Thank you, Ashley!

I’ve needed one for a couple of years now. Still had the original, 15 year old factory-installed unit, and it had been giving me trouble for a long time. It had got to the point where it wouldn’t play CDs or even eject them.

This new one does have a CD player, but also finally gives me modern options to connect my phone or other devices to play digital files. That’s how I was playing Al B. Sure’s “Off On Your Own (Girl)” as you’ll notice in the picture. Yay, Bluetooth!

This new stereo makes me happy and excited to be in the car. I can’t adequately express the amount of joy it gives me. It’s funny how long I dealt with the messed up CD player I had, especially when it was fairly easy to replace. Another lesson to apply to life.

Oh, and I did install the stereo myself. Not only did that save a bit of cash, it gave me a sense of accomplishment and pride.


You’ll almost always find a new picture of this guy on my phone. I love my buddy. This was after a walk. It’s so hot these days, he actually appreciates coming in and resting on the cool tile. So grateful for our good air conditioning!

What I Don’t Know About Being Present in the Moment

The single most profound adjustment I’ve made in my life in the last few years has been learning to be present in the moment. And I still don’t entirely know what that means.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was influenced by Eastern philosophy at a kind of early age. “Going with the flow” was my lifestyle choice for decades. In a way, I’d been practicing for — albeit not actually practicing — mindful presence most of my life.

Accepting and being pleased with the present wasn’t natural for me, though. Even acting on impulse more often than not, I was nearly always more interested in the future than the current moment. Those impulsive decisions were more about getting somewhere else, creating new stories to tell, than celebrating where I was.

Generally, I lived expecting things, including myself, to be better and better in the time to come. Generally.

I suffered plenty of worry about the future too, though. Tons of regret, guilt, and issues from the past as well.

I’m no expert on being present, but I’ve learned a lot and become pretty good at it. Good enough to be happier than ever before. While I’m still developing stronger habits and skills to improve my mindfulness, here are a few things that I can share:

1. It ain’t easy. But it’s easier than you think.

Being present in the moment is challenging for us modern folks. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to tweet or post or ha ha emoji to. Distractions are distracting. Then there are responsibilities. Stuff’s got to get done.

There’s just not enough time in the day, right?

It’s true that being present takes time. In fact, it’s all about time. But the present is never the present long.

Jerry Seinfeld did a bit about silver medal winners in the Olympics that illustrates how fleeting the present moment actually is.

This cracks Ashley up every time. How long is the present? “Now. Now. N-n-no, now.”

You might want to enjoy more than .03 of a second at a time, but, you know, the present moment IS only a moment. A few seconds pause is all it has to take to acknowledge what’s going on around you and how you’re feeling. In the time it takes to read the subject line of an email, you can re-center yourself and appreciate the moments you’re living in.

ferris-life moves pretty fast

2. Being here, now doesn’t prevent you from being there, later.

In fact, I believe it provides powerful help to get you where you want to be.

This may have been the greatest misconception I’ve had to deal with. I’ve mentioned how I’ve always been sort of future focused. I believe in goals and taking methodical steps to achieve them. Settling for the present, it seemed to me, was at odds with ambition. Even going with the flow at least meant going somewhere.

I just made the point that the present moment can be an exceptionally brief time. Thing is, the present isn’t just that one moment that’s here then gone. The present continues to be the present, stretching on into what had been, a second ago, the future. In my mind, to concentrate on each moment as it comes meant not concentrating on the times yet to be. Like a twist on Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, I mistakenly assumed truly being in the ever changing moment meant never moving.

As with Zeno’s paradoxes, though, common sense and experience proved the theory wrong.

Being present is not being stagnant. Hardly. Being present is, believe it or not, an action. It’s not doing nothing. It’s being fully aware of… being. It means connecting to the truth of a situation, taking in reality as it is. It also means connecting with the truth of yourself.

Having that awareness of who you are, what your strengths and character are, being grounded in reality — that centers you on your best path forward. Outside influences will still require reaction, but a present state of mind can help you maintain focus. And that will keep you moving in a positive direction toward your goals.

3. Living in the present heals.

A couple years ago I struggled with a dangerous bout of depression. I was lucky to get some good help, starting with my loving fiancee and a couple of doctors. It took several different steps to escape that awful situation, but you probably don’t have to guess what I’m going to tell you was one of the most important.

In my case, the state I was in had roots in serious regrets about my past AND anxiety about the future. While there was a lot of good in my life at the time, I was also experiencing a horrendous time at work. I dreaded every day.

My present was terrible. Why would I want to dwell in it longer than necessary?

Because, more than anything else I did, that fixed me.

Focusing on the present helped me finally let go of the past.

Taking a minute to focus on my breathing calmed my anxiety.

Allowing full awareness of what I was experiencing at the time, of what people were actually doing and saying, of what I was feeling and thinking cleared up apprehensive assumptions and misjudged motives.

Reflecting on the present instead of the past opened my eyes to possibilities.

Greatest of all, being truly open to the reality around me helped me realize all the reasons I have to be grateful and happy.

Enjoying the present is great when the present is good. Even when it’s unpleasant, centering yourself in the actual here and now is healthier than getting lost in imagined fears.

What I Don’t Know About Earworms and Subliminal Influence

If you don’t think you can be influenced by things in your environment you don’t pay attention to, let me ask you: have you ever had an earworm — a song stuck replaying in your mind? Sure you have. And have you wondered why that song? Have you ever had one that wouldn’t stop repeating that you don’t even like?

I found myself the victim of that this morning. Caught myself mentally humming a song I hear overhead at work, one I don’t like at all. I’m not even sure what the song is or who performs it. All I know about it is it’s outside my taste range. Bad enough I have to hear it at the workplace; why in the world is my own brain torturing me with the melody today?

Even though I didn’t think the mystery song had made an impression on me, and even though I very much don’t want it to stay with me, evidently I’ve heard it enough that it did.

So what other background noise are we absorbing throughout each day that can sneak up on us later?

Evaluating conversations and input when we’re actively listening takes effort and skill. What about when we aren’t so aware of what we’re hearing?

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Psychologists have been aware of subliminal effects on behavior since the 19th century. There is a wealth of proof that incidental exposure to images, phrases, and sounds have an influence on mood, thinking, and our actions. Concerned? Don’t get too worried yet.

As in most things, awareness is your greatest asset. The more aware you are of your surroundings, the greater you ability to react in a positive, healthy manner. And even though we’re ironically addressing stuff that’s by nature difficult to be aware of, knowing there’s the possibility of picking up signals you might not want in your psyche gives you great advantages. You can be prepared.

There are (at least) two things that should encourage you:

First, although some unrecognized messages can find their way to you, nothing has greater control on you than YOU and your mental strength. As in other aspects of dealing with life, you choose how you behave, react, and perform. Outside stimuli shouldn’t be ignored, but your attitude toward them is your own to develop.

Second, with the knowledge that subtle triggers can affect you, you can arrange for positive subconscious cues to help you remain strong, healthy, and happy. Put the psychology to work for yourself. Reinforce good thoughts, beneficial emotions, inspiring ideas, happy memories, and encouraging targets that motivate the best in you.

For example, where I work I have to use several passwords to access systems and applications numerous times each day. While adhering to good security practices, I make make my passwords some sort of positive message to myself — variations on “PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) all day,” for instance. So every time I nearly mindlessly type in the password, I get a tiny reminder to keep the chin up. Believe it or not, even doing it as long as I have, the little phrases hidden in my passcodes still often spur a good pause and smile. And the smile itself serves as a reinforcement to happiness.

Other folks have recommended setting reminders on your phone or other device to alert you periodically. Set messages to yourself like “you’re awesome” or “remember to be grateful” that you’ll see a few times a day. If you can’t count on anyone else, you can at least be your own cheerful coach.

Obviously, the more you can structure your environment to prevent unpleasant signals and exude beneficial ones, the better. When in situations where that’s limited or not possible, there are still steps you can take to prime your subconscious the way you want.

Remember, you may not always have control of your environment, but you do always have control of yourself.

Two more suggestions:

1. Watch and carefully choose your own language. Keep it positive. Not only will that broadcast good vibes for other people in your area, but it effects you as well. The concentration and attention to selecting verbiage increases your awareness of all the communication occurring at the time, not just what you’re saying. Also, your voice is the one you hear loudest, and if you speak consciously, you effectively “hear” the words twice — once as you prepare to say them and then again as their spoken out loud.

2. Allow yourself moments of reflection throughout the day. Doesn’t have to be full out meditation, although that’s certainly optimal. A simple few seconds to objectively recognize where you are and what you’re doing is all it takes. Awareness is an asset, remember? Take a pause, ask yourself whether your behavior has been what you want it to be? Are you being true to your best self?

You might realize in these moments how things or people you’ve come in contact with during the day have influenced you. Might give you cause to be grateful, which is great! Might reveal an opportunity to correct the path on which your day has turned. That’s also great. And you might find that nothing has interfered with you achieving all the things you want. In that case the self check-in gives you a great opportunity to high-five yourself!

Lastly, remember there are lots of good messages we pick up without realizing it, too. Don’t shut yourself off from all outside stimuli. Be open to new messages. You never know where your next favorite song will come from.

 

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What I Don’t Know About Being Like the Bell

Ashley and I made a late night stop at the Taco Bell drive-through, as one does after going to see Duran Duran and Chic in concert. Or any concert.

Always looking to turn every experience into a learning one, the quick trip to Taco Bell got me thinking:

In your interactions with people, especially when you are in service to them, be like Taco Bell. Give them more sauce than you think they’ll need.

I don’t know if it’s true for every area, but around here, if you say you want sauce Taco Bell gives you a whole bunch of it. We always have more than we need, and that’s with me sometimes using two or even three on an individual taco. We keep what we don’t use right away and pretty much always have some packets in the fridge. It’s not often, but I have used some on other food at home.

When someone comes to you for something, I suggest you give them more than they ask for. More attention. More time. More effort. Surprise them with your willingness to casually provide more help than they might expect. Don’t limit your output to the bare basics of what you believe will satisfy them. Give a little extra.

I see this applying especially to business, but definitely not only.

This is something highly successful people do. Extremely successful businesses as well.

A customer interaction in which the consumer needs a product or service and is provided exactly what they ask for is perfectly satisfactory. But is it memorable? Does it inspire the customer to tell others, to keep the business top of mind, or to even return?

Consistent good service can lead to customer loyalty, certainly. Might exceeding expectations do better at creating fans?

It’s been said before (and was even repeated just yesterday at my workplace) that successful businesses don’t sell products or services, they sell experiences. I submit that an abundant sauce experience is better than a one-packet experience.

Considering Taco Bell’s policy of generous condiment delivery, I can’t help comparing it to the experience at other fast food drive-throughs. Most don’t even ask, as they do at Taco Bell, whether you would like condiments. There’s no offer, so the responsibility lands on the customer to ask, beg, or demand some. Then when they are given, it’s in the most minimal amounts.

Having operated a cafe that was awarded “Most Profitable” in the company (twice!), I certainly understand gross margin, and I get why places might keep tight controls on their goods. I also understand customer experience, though. Small measures of goodwill — and, conversely, the smallest bits of stinginess — can swell to create huge, often unexpected impact. “Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind” can work in positive fashion as well as negative.

The extra you give could be anything. A token, a bonus item; extra effort to go above and beyond; reassurance and affirmation. Being especially generous with your gratitude can be the greatest thing you can give.

Sure, not everyone keeps the extra, leftover sauce packets. Some people will discard the excess. But that’s for them to decide. If you freely give what you have to offer in abundance to everyone, what does it hurt you? You will be rewarded anyway. Trust me.

 

What My Dog Showed Me I Didn’t Know About Relating to People

I never expected to be so fortunate as to spend time with a great teacher every day who not only gives me daily encouragement and excellent lessons but makes the learning incredibly fun. I am talking about my dog, of course.

I love my dog. He really is my best buddy. As much as we relate especially well to each other, I recently noticed how much time we spend trying to figure out what the other is doing and thinking.

I see it from him all the time, watching whatever I’m doing, or what Ashley is doing with curiosity in his expression. He’s a smart guy, and like a lot of other dogs I’ve known is either psychic to some degree or just picks up on instinctual signals, so he knows in advance when we’re going to take a walk. Of course, he knows when we go to the fridge or certain cabinets, we’re likely getting some food. A whole lot of the rest of the time, though, he looks like he’s wondering what we’re up to.

We play a lot. He likes toys, and a lot of our play involves them. Sometimes he’ll come up to me with a toy, but once he gives it to me, he acts uninterested in it. I don’t know why he does that for sure, but I like to think he’s giving me something he knows he has fun with, and he thinks I’ll have fun with it too.

I’ll never really know why he behaves in certain ways. Smart as he is, he’ll never know why I do everything. Our brains are different, our worldviews worlds apart. But even though we will always see the world differently and we will never totally understand each other, that hasn’t kept us from sharing fun and won’t keep us from taking care of each other.

(Even though I can’t tell what’s going on in his mind, don’t think I’m presuming too much by saying he takes care of me. He most certainly does.)

So that’s one lesson my dog taught me. Whether he meant to or not, he’s helped me see how this dynamic holds true in interactions with other people, too.

There was a time when I got worked up wondering why people behaved the way they did. Working with the public, there were numerous occasions each day for people to act curiously. Particularly when another person’s actions affected me negatively, I’d try to figure out why. Worse, sometimes I’d make assumptions, believing I had an understanding of their mindset.

That was a frustrating, less rewarding time.

The truth, as my dog has helped me see, is I don’t and never will truly comprehend all the experiences, emotions, thoughts, and motivations that lie behind other people’s actions. What he’s also helped me realize is it doesn’t matter at all whether I do.

Oh, I absolutely do advocate for understanding. The more we know about each other, the better we all are. I love learning about other people, and strongly believe the more I know about someone, the better we can relate and help each other. Communication is a wonderful and necessary thing.

I also believe, however, that I don’t HAVE to know why someone does something in order to react positively, with consideration, respect, and a desire for mutual benefit.

I’ve mostly stopped trying to figure out why my best bud does things that seem weird. Likewise, I try not to spend energy analyzing why people act the way they do. That energy, seems to me, is better used ensuring we share good times together.

 

What I Don’t Know About the Fleeting Importance of Important Events

I had a fantastic Valentine’s Day this year. That makes about 10 years of great Valentine’s Days, thanks to my luck finding and being with an incredible, loving woman. This year we both had the whole day off, so we enjoyed a peaceful morning, shared gifts, went to a movie, and had a delicious meal at a favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Ben Thanh.

While the rest of the movie-going country was checking out Deadpool, we celebrated the holiday and the 80s by going to a 30th anniversary showing of Pretty in Pink. It was a fun experience, and I really enjoyed seeing the movie in the theater. Pretty in Pink has never been my favorite John Hughes teen movie. It is a good movie, and I like it just fine, but if I were to rank his teen films from the 80s on my personal enjoyment scale, I think it comes in last.*

Thinking about the movie this morning, I felt it odd that the prom (should it be The Prom?) was represented as such an important event. Granted, I’m not a high school student, and as a movie directed at that market, The Prom might seem to be an obvious touchpoint for the filmmakers to hold up for their audience, but the presentation of the dance as a critical life event is bewildering. Especially in this story, with these characters.

I mean, Molly Ringwald‘s character, Andie, an otherwise demonstrably independent and strong non-conformist, appears to regard attending the prom as an idyllic objective. Even though nothing goes well on her date with Blane as she stands her ground as an independent thinker all night, all Blane has to do is (somewhat desperately) ask her to prom and she immediately, gleefully throws herself at him.

Iona, Andie’s boss at the record store and an even more obvious non-conformist, also romanticizes The Prom. Not only does she become wistful recalling her high school experience, but she tells a cautionary tale about a classmate who didn’t attend prom and ever since has recurring periods of dread that something is missing in her life.

The thing is, that’s not the way I recall the senior prom. Not now, and I sincerely don’t recollect holding it in such high regard even when I was in high school. Did you?

Maybe it is different for some folks. Certainly others were more invested in prom and similar social gatherings than I, just as I’m sure there were concerts and other experiences I expected to be totally life-changing that many other people easily overlooked. I can’t think of any, though. And that’s the thing. It’s not about The Prom, per se. It’s that most of the events in our lives we anticipate as being monumental and ultra-important turn out… not.

I came to this realization way back when I was a young adult. Perhaps you did too. It’s still a truth worth revisiting every now and then as anxiety about impending activities can still pop up for many of us time and again.

In five years, is that Big Deal still going to be such a big deal?

Without doubt, there are experiences that stick with us. Some crucial events really do make us who we are. There are moments we each revisit recognizing their immense importance. What I’ve found, though, in my life, is it less often the major ceremonies and more often the unplanned, serendipitous encounters that wind up mattering the most.

Even if we expect the grandest possible outcome, setting high expectations on singular events might not be completely realistic . Or healthy.

These points are effectively illustrated in, interestingly enough, another John Hughes movie — a whole franchise of them, actually. In National Lampoon’s Vacation, a father’s overwhelming drive to achieve a perfect family vacation (The Vacation) results in a series of mishaps and tragedies. After the calamities escalate, the dad eventually realizes his absurd determination to create an ideal experience and the stress associated with it has caused the opposite of his intention.

So what is one to do? Live in the present. Make the most of each moment, and maybe expect great things to result from them. I don’t know about prom, but try treating each day as if it’s a big deal. It might turn out to be.

*Opinions differ, but I believe Hughes and director Howard Deutch did a better job telling the same story a year later with Some Kind of Wonderful.