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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

DEC 2006, No. I, Sec. I


Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!

Table of Contents

Section I


Media:  KC newspaper interview examines holiday conflict-reducing strategies
Shrink Rap:  When "Less Is More" or The Value of Taming Your "Intimate FOE"

Section II 

Main Essay:  GLIDE-ing into Performance Excellence:  Part II – “Loving to Learn”
Readers:  Insults with Class!!!!!, Quotes, A Few Of My Favorite Things:  The Version for Seniors, Politically Correct Stamps
Testimonial:  2006 Maryland ASTD Conference (Keynote)
Heads Up:  Booz Allen Hamilton, McDonough Bolyard Peck (Engineering Firm)
Offerings:  Phone Consultation/Coaching, Training/Marketing Kit and Books
 


Overview:  Sec. I

1) Media:  Newspaper Interview examines holiday gathering strategies to deal with "Rigid relatives," "Abundant Advice" and "Clash of characters."

2) Shrink Rap:  Two recent public presentations -- as keynote luncheon speaker and wedding toaster -- challenge the Stress Doc to explore the issue of last minute changes to a planned script.  The Doc examines how unanticipated scaled down decisions and adaptations, both deliberate and spontaneous, may yield outcomes even more powerful than a longer, well-choreographed and rehearsed performance.

--------------------------

Overview:  Sec. II

1) Main Essay:  So how do you embark on an expert learning path and sustain your sense of purpose and passion?   How can the practice blood, sweat, tears and joy provide both a physical and psychological challenge and help evolve your whole self?  How do you channel mind-body performance energy through focus and flow?  Consider these "Key Tools, Techniques and Tips for 'Loving to Learn.'"
 

 
Media:

By EDWARD M. EVELD
The Kansas City Star

Mark Gorkin, speaker and author of Practice Safe Stress, recently asked an audience for a show of hands from those who spent Thanksgiving with relatives. Most hands went up.

"And in a few days," he said, "how many of you will make that mistake again."

It got a big laugh. A knowing laugh. People definitely feel the closeness this time of year, cozy and homey at best, maddeningly claustrophobic at worst.

Here are three holiday gathering scenarios that tend to chap people. Gorkin and Larry Ro-Trock, a Kansas City psychologist and family therapist, offered suggestions.

Rigid relatives

They control the holiday. Family traditions are theirs to dictate, from gathering times to menu items. Young couples and families who attempt their own traditions do so at their own risk.

Gorkin: Rigid people get anxious when they aren't in control. One strategy is to have an additional family gathering apart from the primary one. Or do a non-family, friends-only event. If you want to alter a traditional family event, give rigid relatives lots of notice.

Ro-Trock: Seed the idea of change early on, and think evolution not revolution. Get the word out that you respect tradition and rituals but also know that change, handled well, can be invigorating for families.

Abundant Advice

In-laws feel the need to provide child-rearing counsel. An aunt explains the correct way to fix the dish you're preparing. The unsolicited advice seems relentless.

Ro-Trock: Get your thinking involved, not just your emotions. Think of their comments as attempts to be helpful. If they are too rude or invasive, you might offer your thanks and politely but firmly tell them that the matter at hand is one you can handle yourself. Weigh the vigor of such a retort against the impulse, a good one, not to create a scene.

Gorkin: Invite their views and if you disagree, do so in a pleasant way. Start with, "I'd like to hear your concerns" or "Tell me what you don't like about this." Then say, "My experience is that I find it works better this way."

Clash of characters

Try as you might, your spouse's family gets on your nerves. Or it's quite obvious they don't like you. How does this become a happy holiday gathering?

Ro-Trock: Monitor your negative comments leading up to the event and, despite the temptation, don't criticize your in-laws or the family of your significant other. Otherwise, expect immediate conflict. At the gathering, focus on the folks with whom you are more at ease and avoid the ones who trigger negative emotions.

Gorkin: Copy the "Seinfeld" episode in which Jerry, Elaine and George make a party pact to rescue one another from guests driving them nuts. You don't have to use hand signals (theirs was a head pat), but run interference for your spouse. Negotiate a time limit at the gathering. Say to your spouse, "To make this work I need to see a light at the end of the tunnel."

To reach Edward M. Eveld, features writer, call (816) 234-4442 or send e-mail to eeveld@kcstar.com.
 


Shrink Rap:

Two recent public presentations -- as keynote luncheon speaker and wedding toaster -- challenge the Stress Doc to explore the issue of last minute changes to a planned script.  The Doc examines how unanticipated scaled down decisions and adaptations, both deliberate and spontaneous, may yield outcomes even more powerful than a longer, well-choreographed and rehearsed performance.  The essay explores and expands upon a performance concept developed during a "high anxiety" Cable TV experience.  Are you ready to:  "Confront Your Intimate FOE?" Are you ready to discover the opportunity for improvisation, passionate engagement and creative transition by tightening and sharpening your focus and expression?


When "Less Is More" or The Value of Taming Your "Intimate FOE"

Two recent experiences have reminded me that adapting to 11th hour changes is vital for success as a public presenter.  The first experience was as a keynote speaker at the annual luncheon for the Montgomery County, MD Conference & Visitors Bureau (CVB).  There was a cross-section of folks from the hospitality industry -- from hotel sales managers and meeting planners to restaurant owners and floral arrangers.  The second event was presenting the first toast at the wedding of a longtime friend and colleague.  There were about 100 attendees at the luncheon and about 70 wedding guests.

At the luncheon I was compelled to make significant modifications to my planned program; at the wedding I chose to shorten my toast.  This essay will explore in-depth my deliberate and spontaneous attitudinal and operational adjustments and how these last minute scaled down decisions and adaptations may have yielded outcomes even more powerful than a longer, well choreographed and rehearsed performance.  More specifically, I will explore and expand a performance concept developed in the 1980s based on my "high anxiety" Cable TV experience.  The concept:  "Confronting Your Intimate FOE:  Fear of Exposure."  And trust me, the choice of words is pretty literal.  With my raw beginner status and the totally unpredictable nature of our television shoots, half the time I felt I was pulling off my pants in front of the camera.  (For more background information on this on-air adventure email for the essay, "Creative Risk-Taking:  The Art of Designing Disorder.")

The original conception of FOE will be illustrated through my analysis of the luncheon experience.  The expansion of FOE resulted from the sizeable contraction of my pearls of wit and wisdom that were to be the sparkling wedding toast.  Can you sense some disappointment at imposing limits on my exuberant (if not a bit grandiose) stage persona?  I suppose this is a natural segue to the new version of "Confronting Your Intimate FOE:   (Being) Full of Egotism."

So…on with the shows!

Keynote Luncheon - FOE:  Fear of Exposure

At five minutes after one, just before my introduction, the director of the CVB informs me that the luncheon program is behind schedule.  I'll need to finish my presentation by 1:30.  Gulp…I had planned for 45-60 minutes, including three interactive exercises; my time was being cut in half.  Talk about stress!  Actually, the situation paralleled the double-edged conception of the Chinese character for "crisis" -- "danger" and "opportunity."  Let me illustrate how the mix of scripted and spontaneous, "thinking on my feet" decisions (while often holding my breath) was mostly turned into condensed yet colorful "dancing" with the audience opportunities.  Consider these Key "On the Run" Performance Barriers and Bridges:

1.  Overcoming Initial Anxiety. 
When confronted with the new temporal reality, I quickly turned my generalized "how will I do this?" anxiety into starting on solid footing.  That is, I followed my scripted introduction, telling the planned opening joke followed by an overview of my presentational purpose:  to help the audience become FIT, i.e., "To have 'Fun,' to have an 'Interactive' experience and for the program to be 'Thought Provoking.'"  I also told my traditional "burnout battlefront" story that leads into the standard opening "Three 'B' Stress Barometer" small group exercise:  "How does your 'Brain,' 'Body' and 'Behavior' let you know when you are under more STRESS than usual?

2.  Operating a Presentational Paradigm Shift.  While opening on familiar territory, nonetheless, this abbreviated time frame required a different balance between shared information and interactivity.  Not having the time to make many learning points or to go into real conceptual depth, I quickly sensed a necessary broad operational principle:  entertainment would outweigh education when choosing what to include and what to exclude. 

3.  Making Specific Edits and Adjustments.  The first major adaptation on the run was realizing that I could not go through "The Four Stages of Burnout" in usual detail.  Still, as we reviewed some of the burnout smoke signals I had the audience engage in a labored "group sigh" as I know this always generates knowing laughter.  And it also leads to a sure laugh line:  "Imagine this, we have the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of Sighing right here in Montgomery County!"

4.  Discovering New Connections and Responses.  Perhaps my most important learning moment occurred during the recitation of the "Three Stages of Burnout Recovery and Rejuvenation."  I was delineating the first stage, "The Six 'F's of Loss and Change," that is, the social-psychological challenges and tasks that must be emotionally encountered to successfully grapple with painful transition.  I had noted the "Loss of the Familiar," dealing with an "Unpredictable Future," as well as a "Loss of Face" and had just about completed the need to "Regain Focus," especially "Focused Anger."  (Focused anger is when you can temper a sense of rage often generated by feelings of helplessness, wounded pride or abandonment by honestly embracing your emotional vulnerability and by doing grief work.  In my formulation, gradually and courageously blending rage and sadness yields "Focused Anger," a paradoxical state of tender aggression:  "I don't like all that's happened but now, 'sadder yet wiser,' how can I make the best of my new reality?"  Tender aggression helps cut the co-dependency or "b.s." -- "be safe" cord; we can begin to let go and embark on new exploration.)

And fittingly, I spontaneously cut the cord with the tried and true.  Responding to the time pressure and the need to find a new balance for the information-interaction ratio, I suddenly declared to the audience, "I think we need to experience some healthy, focused aggression, right now!"  And I quickly moved the group into my high aggressive energy yet safe and fun power struggle exercise called "You Can't Make Me."  (I have everyone find an "eyeball partner."  Next, participants are instructed to "think about someone in your life who can be a pain in the butt."  Of course the most frequent lament is, "How can I limit it to just one?"  Finally, one person says, "You can't make me," and the opposing party avers, "Oh yes I can!"  After volleying their respective lines a couple of times, they are to "Say what you'd really like to say to your eyeball adversary."  Well the room totally erupted; the decibel level was off the wall as was the vital energy and spontaneous group laughter.

5.  Placing Priorities Over Perfection, Improvisation Over Intention.  I had spontaneously interrupted the countdown of the "Six 'F's," omitting seeking "Objective Feedback" and having Faith.  The last "F" signifying that if you've tackled the preceding five "F"s, "keep the faith":  you will emerge eventually from this loss and change process with newfound and developed emotional muscles and a revitalized sense of confidence and purpose.  And while I made a mental note to complete the list at a later point, the performance process overwhelmed my best intentions.  I never did make a fifth and sixth "F" stop…and guess what.  Nobody seemed to mind.  They were too busy experiencing the interactive exercise moment and the remainder of the program.

In truth, the power struggle exercise usually generates high volume and vitality, though usually I do it after completing the "Three Stages of Burnout Recovery and Rejuvenation."  However, the segue from "Focused Aggression" to the group interaction seemed to capture the audience at just the right moment both regarding the surprise factor as well as a readiness to vent emotionally and to mix it up with a partner.  Maybe some of my anxiety and excitement at trying out the familiar in an unfamiliar manner heightened people's sense of angst and adventure.  I certainly had a performance concept and choice to ponder:  when to flow with the power of improvisation in contrast to purposeful and well-practiced intervention.

6.  Hitting Home Key Points and Punchlines.  As the volume in the room gradually subsided, my immediate question to the audience was, "What enabled the sudden release of such great energy and laughter?"  Without waiting for an answer, I averred that we had created an exercise and an atmosphere where it felt safe to be aggressive, to say what you were really feeling.  Because theatricality mostly trumped reality in the interaction, along with the playfully absurd nature of the exercise, many people could risk being provocative, passionate and playful.

I said, "theatricality mostly trumped reality" because, based on past programs, some people really do feel a competitive tug.  They want to win or they "really enjoy" acting out their defiance. For others, the laughter actually signals that the interaction hit close to home.  Some people laugh not because of the absurdity of the exercise but their laughter is a cover for the anxiety stirred when asked to display some interpersonal aggression.

One purpose of this exercise was to find ways of bringing some of this vital energy -- healthy aggression and passion -- into their everyday lives, and not just for resolving conflict. For example, I spontaneously asked if they could tell that I bring this highly charged energy as a speaker.  There was a sea of nodding heads.  I then quickly ticked off "Seven Functions of Healthy Aggression":  1) Focuses Energy, 2) Sharpens Thinking, 3) Transforms Pain Into Purpose, 4) Heightens Drive and Discipline, 5) Ignites Mind-Body Chemistry, 6) Fires Passion and 7) Strengthens, Courage, Commitment and Creativity.  (Email stressdoc@aol.com for my article, "Vital and Creative Functions of Healthy Aggression.")

I then told the audience that our analysis and discussion of the "Power Struggle" Exercise could go in several directions, especially moving into "Communication and Conflict Resolution" concepts and skills:  a) why we are susceptible to being baited into such a struggle, b) key conflict reducing principles, c) replacing blaming "You" messages with assertive "I" messages, etc.  (I was somewhat frustrated not being able to role-play my "drop the rope" disarming technique with an audience member.)  But again, time was a limiting factor.   Still I decided to enact my role modeling dialogue whereby Person B drops his authoritarian or threatening retort ("Oh yes I can") and attempts to assertively and passionately engage the defiant ("You can't make me") Person A.  With my best high-speed delivery, mixing dialogue and parenthetical commentary, I said:  "I don't know if I can make you or I can't make you.  That's not where I'm coming from. [Resist the provocative bait.  Don't be quick to play the authority trump card; you can be tentative without giving up your power potential.]  If we have a problem -- if I'm bugging you or our situation is problematic -- I'd like to hear about it.  [Can we assume that a serious power struggle is frequently the tip of the iceberg for at least one person's pain or upset?  I think so.  Of course, inviting criticism often takes courage.  In addition, such an invitation at minimum says, 'I don't have all the answers; I'd like to hear your point of view.'  And perhaps most important, genuinely asking for feedback and demonstrating you can handle the same really can help build trust.]  I need your contribution to meet our goals.  I believe I'm in a position to support you.  For us to succeed we have to be pulling together not pulling apart."  (This tends to be an especially good ending when using the "drop the rope" gambit.)

Ironically, having less time to explore a concept in breadth or depth did not seem to detract from the take home learning.  Actually, based on audience involvement and personal post-keynote comments, the two or three points showcased really stood out.

7.  Letting Go of the Ideal and Valuing the Possible.  Once aware of the time constraints I scratched my signature "Team Discussion and Team Drawing" exercise.  I was both disappointed and worried.  This exercise often elevates my programs to an uncommon level of group sharing and laughing, creative problem solving and overall audience exuberance.  Could I come close to generating such an impact, to "killing" with the limited time and especially without my big interactive gun?  At the same time I was also somewhat relieved.  Even with a full hour getting in the team drawing exercise would be dicey if I used the "Three 'B'" and "You Can't Make Me" exercises.

While I could not replicate the drawing exercise experience or energy, it was clear this abbreviated program could generate it's own idiosyncratic style, substance and surge.  In fact, much like a river that runs faster and is more turbulent as its banks narrow, the condensed time frame challenged me to be hyper-energetic as we sped along with content and interactivity.  You might call my intense performance mode a "Three 'D'" state:  I had to be "Dynamic, Discerning and Daring."  Swept along by my power current and their own open and playfully aggressive interplay, the audience was charged by the short yet surprising and exciting whitewater ride.  As the Rolling Stones, normally wise guys of rock (though occasionally wise men), once noted:  "You can't always get what you want…but you just might find that sometime you get what you need!"

8.  Giving In Briefly to Egotism and Creative Defiance.  Finally, in the spirit of a defiant rocker, instead of ending right at 1:30 as promised, I decided to give the audience a live demonstration of passion, aggression and playful exuberance.  After all the cutting and complying, I had to break at least one rule.  So I broke out my Blues Brothers hat, black sunglasses and black tambourine and proceeded to perform one of my pioneering works in the field of psychologically humorous rap music…a "Shrink Rap" ™ called "The Song of Safe Stress" ™.  Though five minutes late, let's just say we couldn't have ended on a more outrageously absurd and enthusiastically received note.

Concluding Summary

In conclusion, this "on the edge" keynote experience had helped broaden my consciousness and confidence.  Despite trepidation I was able to confront, challenge and channel my "Intimate FOE:  Fear of Exposure" angst and energy by negotiating performance barriers and building realistic performance bridges, including:
1. Overcoming Initial Anxiety
2. Operating a Presentational Paradigm Shift
3. Making Specific Edits and Adjustments
4. Discovering New Connections and Responses
5. Placing Priorities Over Perfection, Improvisation Over Intention
6. Hitting Home Key Points and Punchlines
7. Letting Go of the Ideal and Valuing the Possible
8. Giving In Briefly to Egotism and Creative Defiance

More succinctly, by honoring the Stress Doc aphorism -- "Do know your limits and don't limit your 'No's!" -- "where do I go from here?" danger was transformed into "less is more" opportunity.  While learning to set appropriate interpersonal boundaries is a critical part of adult maturation, sometimes evolving as a person and performer requires the ability to "Just Say No" to your own ego.

Wedding Toast - FOE:  (Being) Full of Egotism

As soon as the bride asked me to make a toast at her wedding, I had begun jotting down some immediate associations.  Chere and I went way back:  we met at a mid-80s conference put on by Legal Assistant Today, the trade publication for which we both wrote.  Then in the '80s and '90s I did periodic training and writing for Chere's legal placement company.  And in between, while Chere and I were both single, there was a lot of communication about the challenge of meeting Mr. and Ms. Right.  (Of course, one of my jottings noted that, Allen, her betrothed, was an attorney.  Aha, not only had she been "looking" but Chere actually managed to find "Mr. Good Bar.")  In the last few years, Chere and Allen started a business putting on national conferences for paralegals; I became their conference kickoff speaker.  And I believe, for a period of time, illness had one if not both of Allen's parents living with their son and future daughter-in-law.  Potentially a toast could cover a lot of territory and psychology.

A week before the wedding I began to focus seriously on this presentation.  In fact, as I began organizing and rehearsing the ideas my toast seemed to be morphing into a three-four minute roast.  I even gave Chere a heads up.  She seemed okay with my doing a little speech but, truthfully, she probably had a hundred other things much more important requiring her attention.

Also at the last minute I was asked to escort one of Allen's daughters up to the "chuppa," the wooden and floral latticed structure where the Rabbi would preside over the wedding ceremony.  The most significant aspect of being "on stage" was that I was only a few feet away when Chere and Allen, responding to a prompt from the Rabbi, said what each meant to the other.  Both are in their mid-50s; each had been divorced one time and both had been single for decades.  What emerged in their brief yet beautiful sharing, in voices that were shyly and tenderly quivering with hard earned conviction, was how each quickly knew they had found the one.  Their life history helped them appreciate how sincere was their love and how special was their uncommon connection.  The sustenance and fulfillment each provided the other was there for all to witness.  And the tears in their eyes certainly were mirrored by my own.

With this history and ceremony as backdrop, let me illustrate how I resolved the "roast" or "toast" dilemma, and once again, discovered the pivotal performance principle - "less is more."

1.  Knowing Your Audience.  After the ceremony people went to their assigned tables.  I was sitting next to a lawyer who also presents at the paralegal conferences.  David and I have developed a fairly open and honest relationship.  Upon hearing my plan for a short roast, David immediately said three powerful words:  "Know your audience."  He thought the room too diverse for much of what I wanted to share.  Why was my gut not telling my mouth to immediately push back?  Unlike the imposed time limits at the keynote luncheon, roast or toast would be my call.  Hmm…would I be toast if I did a roast?

2.  Letting Go of One's Pearls.  I had written and rehearsed for several hours during the previous week.  The thought of cutting back was definitely disappointing.  I thrive on the "stand up" challenge, needing both the performance anxiety and the excitement of seeing if I can deliver a provocative and playful message in a concise, passionate and memorable package.  Not only my roast but also my "Psychohumorist" ™ role-persona was on the line.  Alas, this toast was not about me; it was an affirmation of Chere and Allen.  In hindsight, choosing to cut back my remarks, especially a planned ditty (a play on "Tea for Two") was fraught with pitch perfect irony.  The name of the ditty:  "Tenaci-Tea for Two:  The Narcissist's Version":

You for me and me for me
Oh how nurturing you will be
Forget to be or not to be
Just simply think of me, me, me!


You've got to admit it's very cute.

3.  Embracing the Contextual Moment.  But the real roast breaker was the heartfelt and soulful sharing between Chere and Allen under the "chuppa" (summarized above) preceding some blessings and the "I do" vows.  I did not want to detract in any way from their exchange.  Actually, I could not have trivialized the poignancy of their personal sharing.  If anything, clever words would be trivial by comparison.

4.  Recognizing an ADD Situation.  The moment of decision and delivery had arrived.  Once in front of the dining room, my gut said keep it brief.  People were still eating; they were more interested in the next course and the side conversation.  There was a small attention window.  If I was going to deliver food for thought it had better be the "fast food for thought" variety.  And so I did.

5.  Making Each Word and Idea Count.  I immediately shared my uncertainty about doing a roast or a toast.  But after hearing Chere and Allen's truly beautiful and heartfelt words, it was clear that a poignantly to the point toast was the right thing to do.  I then expressed my belief that the relationship between Chere and Allen personified true synergy:  "The quality of their communication and their supportive and nurturing relationship was even richer than their decidedly uncommon individual parts."  And finally, with glass held aloft, I closed my toast:

For the good fight (in all arenas)
For close friends
For much laughing and loving
And for many more great adventures…
For Chere and Allen!


And for a brief moment by honoring the essence of a special couple we became a community in energy and spirit.

Closing

I had grappled with and conquered my "Intimate FOE:  (Being) Full of Egotism"...this time.  I suspect there will be many other FOE challenges ahead, whether of the "Egotism" or "Fear of Exposure" variety.  These two experiences -- the luncheon keynote and the wedding toast -- really opened my eyes and mind.  I had discovered presentational power along with the opportunity for improvisation, passionate engagement and creative transition when letting go of the script as you simultaneously tighten and sharpen your focus and expression.  (Regarding this last point, no less a "word artist" than Shakespeare would agree.  According to the bard, "Brevity is the soul of wit.")

And finally, by trusting inward reflection and objective feedback less expansive choices may yet become the energy source for larger and deeper connection.  The existential question:  Can I more consistently overcome those "Intimate FOEs" by consciously selecting the briefest and the best while foregoing the rest?  Will I continue to explore the paradoxical idea that "less can be more?"  Surely these are questions not only to help me evolve as a speaker but to help us all…Practice Safe Stress!
 


Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, is a psychotherapist and "Motivational Humorist" whose Interactive Keynotes and Kickoffs draw wide and "amazing" acclaim - from Fortune 100s and Federal Agencies to around the world with Celebrity Cruise Lines.   An OD/Team Building Consultant, Mark is the author of Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and of The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict Into Inspiring Attitude and Behavior.  Also, the Doc is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap ™ and Group Chat."  See his award winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- cited as a workplace resource by National Public Radio (NPR).  Finally, Mark is an advisor to The Bright Side ™ -- www.the-bright-side.org -- a multi-award winning mental health resource.  Email for his monthly newsletter showcased on List-a-Day.com.  For more info on the Doc's speaking and training programs, call or email the "Stress Doc":  301-946-0865 or stressdoc@aol.com .  And to view web video highlights of a Stress Doc Keynote, go to http://www.stressdoc.com/media_downloads.htm .

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2006
Shrink Rap Productions