The What If Experience

Explore a new "What If..." question about life each week with some thoughts, some answers and some action steps. Share my journey of personal growth and living in possibility.
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Now displaying: July, 2017
Jul 30, 2017

If you missed last week's episode, I'm taking some time off for the next month or so and am going to do some abbreviated episodes without the artwork, worksheets or Coffee Talk emails. Welcome to the summer quote series where I'll share someone else's little bit of wisdom to to encourage you on a path to growth

I chose all the quotes last weekend and sat down to write up a few episodes tonight and it just felt flat. But because writers write even when they feel flat, I decided to narrow my focus and switch quotes. So, I asked a regular listener for a theme and she gave me Vince Lombardi. Gotta love my girlfriends who share my love for football, right?

So, for the next six weeks, we'll see what Coach Lombardi has to offer up. If I was doing this in advance, I'd have read a biography on Lombardi's life, but the point of this exercise is to buy me some time, not give me another project or book to read. After all, I just cleaned an 18" high stack of books off my table this morning that I haven't had a chance to read. So, as much as it pains me, I'm going to ignore context and just deal with the quotes at face value. Here's the first.

“Winning is a habit. Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs. Watch your beliefs, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character.”

To pull out the progression in case you missed it, it went like this:  thoughts lead to beliefs lead to words lead to actions lead to habits lead to character.

thoughts > beliefs > words > actions > habits > character

Your thoughts are incredibly important. They start the whole progression leading to character. If you want good character, you're sabotaging yourself if your thoughts aren't healthy. I'm coming back the morning after I started this and editing before recording. And I'm having a really discouraging day. My thoughts have been more toxic than helpful today. So. That needs to change.

At every step Lombardi says "watch." Watch your thoughts, watch your beliefs, watch your every step along the way, "watch." Too many of us waltz (or trudge) through life without evaluating what we're doing. Without watching any of those things. I'm watching where my thoughts are headed today and it's straight down a path to defeatism and hopelessness. But, noticing that, I can work at fixing it.

Winning is a habit. We think of it as an achievement. But many of the things that we consider achievements are really the end product of right thoughts.

Where are your thoughts leading you? Is that where you want to go?

Jul 23, 2017

I love stories. We all do. We're hardwired to react to them. But, I really get hooked into them. I can't deal with an audio book, TV or anything that could be construed as even a micro story on when I'm trying to think or fall asleep. Even song lyrics will engage and distract me from whatever I'm trying to do.

I'm also very visual. Movies, in their larger than life visual and auditory immersive storytelling, really affect me. I don't think I'm quite normal in this. Maybe it's because I never have time to watch TV anymore, so I'm no longer desensitized. Maybe it's because I've become more available emotionally as I get older (and smarter). Maybe it's because I'm just wired that way, I'm not sure. But, I have to be kind of careful these days about what movies I see and when I go. They can wreck me for days.

I went to see Wonder Woman last Monday night with a friend and her daughter. Someone later asked me if it was a fun evening and I answered, "Well. I guess so." That seems like a weird response to a movie that's a fun, summer comic-based, hero movie. But, it really got to me. It's not a heart-wrencher. It's not a scary, horror show. I'm really glad I went. But, fun seems lighthearted and it wasn't a lighthearted night for me.

I share things that are on my mind each week, the things I'm processing through in my life. I have a lot going on my head right now, I'm struggling with some big questions about my future. And I was going to share about those this week, but instead, I'd rather chat about Wonder Woman.

First, let me say that I've always been a Wonder Woman fan. I have a pair of Havianna Wonder Woman flip flops that a dog bit through the strap and I still wear them duct taped together, because I love them. One of my close friends has a vintage, sequined Wonder Woman t-shirt that I've coveted for something like 20 years. Every so often I go hunting Ebay for something similar and I strike out, which is so frustrating! But, also know I'm a very casual fan. I'm not a rabid comic, DC and Marvel follower. I love them, their history and the new realm of superhero movies, I enjoy that stuff, but I don't do cosplay, I'm not really a fangirl and I'm not here to talk about authenticity of the character, the movie or even the quality of the film making.

I never watch a movie as a critic, Actually, I try to never read a book, eat a meal or listen to a friend as a critic. That's a whole 'nother podcast, perhaps. I think if you're busy looking for things to evaluate and tear down, you miss the experience of it. So, this isn't meant as a typical review, just a few things the movie made me think about.

A Strong Lead Unafraid To Be Herself

First, I'm a strong female character, and unfortunately, I've spent my whole life being hyper aware of how that affects other people. And spending a significant amount of energy pulling back on the reins in order to make my way in the world. Maybe that's why, but I love seeing strong female leads in stories and movies. It somehow seems to authenticate the fact that some females are created to be strong leads in life.

But, here's what I liked most about Gal Gardot's Wonder Woman:  she was unafraid.

Unafraid of who she is.
Unafraid to jump into a new, unfamiliar world.
Unafraid of speaking her mind.
Unafraid to share her opinions and world view.
Undaunted by others' positions and authority.
Unfazed by obstacles.
Undaunted by the staggering amount of what she didn't know.

Maybe naive is a word you would use, and maybe that's true. But, regardless. She stepped forward unafraid and undaunted. Believing in herself and in her purpose. That's inspiring. And strong. And I loved it.

Helping The People In Front Of You

A lot has been written about the No Man's Land scene. In the words of Director Patty Jenkins, when she was arguing for the scene not to be cut, "This is a scene about her becoming Wonder Woman." And it is. It's the best part of the movie. Seeing Diana come into her own and understand her mission is both beautiful and inspiring.

But I loved it for another reason. If you haven't seen the movie, there is a series of scenes in the middle of the film where she and her group are on their quest toward destroying the Germans' new weapons. They get to a point where they're in the trenches in an area that has seen action but no change for a year and there's a French village caught in the middle. Diana, (Wonder Woman) wants to stop and help the people of the village who are starving. Those she's with insist that she can't. She can't do anything to help. It's not their mission. They don't have time. They don't have resources. They can't save everyone. They can't cross No Man's Land. They need to stay on mission and complete the task they're working towards.

But, Diana disagreed. People are her mission. She takes time out of her schedule to help the people right in front of her who need help.

I hope I never need to make my way across a no man's land into a nest of German artillery. But, I hope and pray that every day as I work down my to-do list and I rock my schedule...that every moment, I remember that people are the most important thing. And that when someone comes across my path that I can help, encourage or love on. That I take the time to do that. That I see with a heart that remembers that priority. That acknowledges with words and deeds that the people in my path are more important than my task list and my schedule.

Love Prevails

In the climactic moments of the movie, in her final fight scene with Ares, Diana has a mini speech about the human race. I'm going to seriously paraphrase here: That yes, we humans have darkness in us. Anger, pride, jealously, cruelty, arrogance and a whole host of other awful things. But, there is more, much more than that. We also have great capacity to love and the key to fighting hatred is love. It was a bit cheesy, but this is a superhero movie.

There are moments in a few movies that as I watch them, they just reverberate through my heart as Truth with a capital T. And this is one of those moments. Friends, Love wins. Only love can win. Hate can clash with hate and strength can prevail. But, hatred cannot destroy hatred. Only love can do that.

Unfortunately, special effects, kicking enemy butt all over Europe and superhuman strength, speed and amazing truth-inducing lasso's aren't the kind of love that overcomes hatred in real life. It's too bad, because that glowing lasso could be really fun.

In real life, it's the difficult. Sacrificial. Gritty. When-it-hurts. When-it's-not-popular. Inconvenient kind of love that melts hatred. So, let the truth that love overcomes hate echo in your heart and inspire you. But, remember that the hard work of that truth is what is really meaningful to your neighbors, social circle, critics, enemies and community. Look for the opportunities to love people in your path. Not just the easy people. But the ones that are hard to love. In situations that are hard to love. When there is no reason to, other than, love melts hatred and heals hearts.

Episode Artwork

You can see that I cheated on the artwork this week. It's a quote set on one of my painted papers. At least I used my own painted background, right? First I wanted to do a piece about love conquering hate and then I wanted to do a cool piece of Wonder Woman. But, the time I had set aside for podcast art this week got eaten up by doing some things in love for other people. And I'm ok with that. I made a choice that the people in front of me were more important than getting a particular type of piece done for this episode. So. I'm practicing what I'm preaching today!

Emma Stone's quote, "I can't think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself. " seemed to fit today. I believe there are a few other important components of beauty that Emma didn't mention, but it certainly seemed to fit this episode.

If you haven't seen the movie, go see it while you can still catch it on the big screen.

What's Coming Up

I also want to give you a quick heads up about what's coming down the pike on my show. I'm going to be taking a break for about six weeks. I'll release a short episode, based on a quote, each week. Probably just a few minutes instead of my typical 8 - 10 minute episodes. The artwork will be the quote similar to this week and there will be no daily Coffee Talk. I will be in touch on Monday's with the new episode and a few thoughts if you're used to getting to the episode that way, but it will be one email a week until Labor Day-ish when I'll kick off a new season.

What am I going to do with all that time off? Well, I'm going to get those six episodes together, then take a week or maybe 2 weeks completely off. After that, I'll be working on the upcoming episodes in advance, some episodes for times when I'm sick or have an emergency, a few new writing projects and re-thinking how I approach the podcast and what I need to change or revise. So, if you have any thoughts on that...what you love, what you really don't care about, what you really wish I'd change, feel free to get in touch by email at  or the audio voice recorder on the side of my website. I probably should spend some of that time updating my website too. But, as it is, all the sudden it's sounding like I need way more than a month off!

Episode Downloads

Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone:  Episode 42 Downloads

Jul 16, 2017

There are a few things I've done in my adult life that have totally shifted my perspective.

Having a child is one of those things. Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” And that's very true. Having a child changes your perspective on life in every way possible.

Moving to another part of the country and travel has shifted my perspective. Making your way in a new place, learning a new culture, meeting all types of people changes you.

My divorce shifted my perspective, on my marriage, on the people around me, on my life and on myself.

I was an adult when I became a Christian; when I put my trust in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. That's a serious perspective shift and, like becoming a mother, has changed every area of my life.

But, there are smaller, less momentous shifts that have happened as well. I got about halfway through studying and training to be a pilot. Pilots have a whole different perspective of time and distance. While for me right now, a beach visit only makes sense for a long weekend. It's a trip. But for a pilot, it's a jaunt. It's an easy flight for dinner and a sunset. Most people can't imagine that kind of perspective on time and distance and how it shifts the possible.

I recently experienced another of those perspective shifts when I began to study and practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness has a lot of benefits. Studies have shown it can reduce stress, improve working memory, improve attention and focus, reduce emotional reactivity, foster more cognitive flexibility, reduce rumination and depressive symptoms and foster empathy and compassion. There are a lot of other claims with weaker empirical evidence. But, really, the studies on PTSD symptoms were enough to get me interested in trying it.

One of the most interesting things to me is that the payoff and benefits don't require years of practice, And, I've found that to be true in my own life. Mindfulness meditation is like a workout for your brain. It's training your mind. And I found a difference in myself in 20 minutes a day, several days a week. The perspective shift for me happened when I realized that I have a choice about how I deal with my thoughts and emotions. I can choose my responses to them. They don't have to control my day, my attitude or my responses to others or to my circumstances.

We typically spend our days reacting automatically to the things that happen around us and to us. We allow circumstances to control whether or not we have a good day. Rebecca Norrington has a good description of this, saying, "a below-average golf game, an inconsiderate driver, the weather, your health, a rude cashier, a forgetful spouse, an anorexic bank account. These things, according to you, determine what type of day you’re having. I’ve labeled countless days “bad” or “good” depending on what’s “happened” to me. Sound familiar?"

You've probably lived this way. What determines whether or not you have a good day? A good season? A good year? We don't have to let our circumstances define our lives. What if I told you that your circumstances have nothing to do with whether or not you have a good or bad day?

Your choices do.

Last week, I talked about the difference between reacting and responding. The fundamental difference between reacting and responding is a conscious, intentional choice. And I told you that this week I'd get practical and share some ways to help you learn to respond instead of react. Here's the pattern to remember and to practice. And because I'm a fan of alliteration, the three steps all start with the letter "P."

Pay attention
Pick a response

Let's talk about each step.

Pay attention. Practice noticing when you're reacting versus responding. Practice noticing what invokes quick reactions. Pay attention to how you react in different situations. Pay attention to what gets you emotional. The first step toward making intentional choices is paying attention to when we need to make those choices. Most of us carry on internal conversations all day long without really paying attention to what's being said. Start noticing. Start paying attention.

Pause. Practice using a pause. It can be your best friend. Just because we have an internal thought, feeling, or reaction doesn't mean we need to react immediately. This is a game changer, friends.

I live in an area where ticks are rampant. You know, those disgusting little creatures that latch onto your skin, bite you, take your blood and can leave debilitating diseases in return. And they don't just jump off when they've bitten, they hang out gorging themselves on your life essence until they've transformed into a creature resembling something more like a mini balloon with waving whisker legs than a bug. They're absolutely disgusting. And can cause very serious harm. In the Spring, early in the season, when we find one, we tend to yelp, panic, flail around, brushing at both real and imaginary bugs. By midsummer, even the kids are calmly asking where the tweezers are and just pulling them off and dropping them in the alcohol jar to die.

We can learn not to react. We can learn to pause and let rational thought take control. That pause can be short or long depending on the circumstance. The point is not to be slow in responding, the point is to always be thoughtful. Having an interruption in your reaction cycle is invaluable.

In the article, Responding vs. Reacting, J. Loeks writes:

The act of responding requires one to look at the circumstance, identify the problem or situation, hear what is happening and reflect. That reflection can be for a moment, five seconds, one hour, two days or longer. The time frame doesn’t matter. What matters is that you stopped and put an effort to think and suspended judgment. It is a conscious act and shows that you are willing to listen or observe. This ‘gap’ between the circumstance and your behavior is what contributes to gaining a sense of control in your life. Once a person can identify that in responding they actually have a choice in the matter, he/she will start to realize that they are able to make better decisions. The key is that pause. If the situation requires an immediate action, then just take a deep breath first. This alone can help one gain a semblance of control and make one choose an alternative statement or action that can make a big difference in an outcome of a situation.

Pick a response. Now that you've paused, you've gained time to choose how to respond. You buy time to shape your perspective. How do you want to live your life? What kind of choices and reactions do you want to be known for? Kind ones? Cultivate picking kind responses. Ethical? Compassionate? Wise? Loving? Cultivate picking ethical, compassionate, wise or loving responses.

You always have an array of choices before you. Our initial reactions lead us to believe that there's only one appropriate response to any given event, stimulus or circumstance, the one that happens automatically. But, that's just not true. There are always options. You have the power to pick.

Pay Attention. Pause. Pick a response.

Episode Artwork

When we filter our reactions through a pause, they become clearer, more focused; they become a choice. You may choose to express the exact same emotions in a response that you would in a reaction, but you are able to choose how they're expressed. Yellow, red, white and black are all present in both the background and foreground of this piece, but in the background, they're muddled, messy, uncontrolled. In the foreground, in the version filtered through the pause, I chose their placement, the expression of their color in in shape, pattern. location, size and repetition.

The pause is made up of more than one layer. You may need more than one pause to find your best response and you'll certainly need more than one to practice this. It's not second nature.

This week, I took a photo Monday afternoon at a waterfall and I posted on Facebook. That evening, an acquaintance took my photo and posted it in a Facebook group that we both happen to be a part of. I suspect she didn't know I was in the group and she didn't claim to have taken the photo herself, but if there's one thing sure to get an angry reaction from a professional photographer, take one of their photos and use it without their permission. Now, I'm no longer a professional and this was a snapshot. But, still. Word to the uninformed: If you didn't take a photo and don't have permission to use it...just don't use it. I wasn't really angry, but I was definitely annoyed. She absolutely could have asked my permission and she didn't. So, I got to practice paying attention, pausing and picking a response. I noticed I was annoyed and I waited a few hours to respond. I'm not sure I chose the best response, but it certainly was better than had I responded immediately.

We react automatically to most of our lives. To countless things every day. But, we don't have to. One advantage of being human is that we get to choose.

Practice that ability.

Episode Downloads

Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone:  Episode 41 Downloads

Jul 9, 2017

The weather over this Independence Day in Southern Tennessee was designed to make camping-haters out of anyone who wasn't already in love with camping. I'm already in love with camping. But, my son is on the fence and my nephew is inexperienced.

We got an extra-generous dose of constant swarms of mosquitoes, torrential downpours, flooded campsites and major lightning and thunderstorms. But, it didn't rain the whole time.

Wednesday, it was warm and sunny. Really warm. Really, really warm: 96 with a heat index of 114 warm. And the dew point was about 80. So, breathing was enough to make you sweat profusely. I had them hiking all over the place. I had enough layers of sweat and bug spray on to make me ten pounds heavier.

Did I mention I brought my dog along on his first camping trip, too? I did! My pup who, as a boxer, is susceptible to heat problems and is terrified of thunderstorms.

Yes, this trip had all the ingredients of a miserable time.

Except for one thing.

Everyone chose a good attitude. I'm not saying the kids were perfect, they definitely were over the whole getting in and out of the car and walking around the national park long before I was. And I'm not saying I loved every moment of trying to cook dinner and keep a camp stove going with an umbrella in the pouring rain while a scared boxer tried to climb up my leg.

But, we just dealt with it. We all looked beyond the circumstances and chose our response. What makes me even more proud of them for it, is that I never (not even once) had to tell them to choose a good attitude.

And we had a great time. Air conditioning and a dry change of clothes felt really good by the time we got home, but the trip was a really fun adventure instead of an ordeal. Because we chose to treat it that way. 

Choosing your attitude is something we can do in any circumstance. There are enough memes around to remind us that we're in charge of how we respond to our days. But, I want to take it one step further today. We have the choice in all things to choose to react or respond.

Reacting is automatic. It's driven from emotion, instinct, past experience, and external circumstances. It usually results in drama, and stress. Responding on the other hand means that you choose. You notice the stimulus or the reaction and you choose a (hopefully better) response.

We react out of instinct all day long. We react to drivers who cut us off in traffic. We react to a perceived insult from a coworker. We react to a smell that takes us back to middle school. We react to a phone call that interrupts our train of thought. We react to a social media post of someone with an opposing viewpoint. We react to a bug bite. We react to a food we've tried before and not liked. We spend all day reacting. And a lot of what we react to is automatic. Without thought. Without choice. Because if we took the time to choose our responses, they might differ from our automatic reactions.

Let's say you're driving on the same road I'm wanting to turn on and I cut you off by pulling out in front of you. Not so close that you have to slam on the brakes and it's dangerous, but enough to make you slow down a bit and interrupt your traffic flow. How would you react? What if I told you that my grandmother that raised me just died and I'm headed to the funeral home to talk about arrangements for her burial. What if I told you that I was just leaving the vet after putting my dog down. None of those happen to be true today. But, I don't have the ability to process depth perception like most people. My eyes don't work together to have binocular depth cues. Only monocular ones like things farther away are smaller. I've learned to adapt over the years, and I'm typically extra cautious, but I do make mistakes, especially when I'm tired or distracted. So, it's entirely possible that I might pull out in front of you, causing you to have to slow down slightly when I thought I had plenty of time, but I accidentally misjudged the distance. My point is that there might be reasons for any given stimulus that might change your perspective of the event.

So. how would you react? Swearing? Irritation? Yelling at me? Disgust? Mild or not so mild commentary on my driving skills? So, if you would react in those ways, what do those responses add to your day? Stress? Drama? Angst? What if you choose to assume it was a mistake? Chose to extend the benefit of the doubt? What if you chose to not respond at all? After all, it's not something you can change. How would not responding, simply noticing and choosing to move on change the tenor of your drive?

Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

What if you stop reacting? What if you choose to respond in a compassionate way? In a way that spread kindness instead of anger? In a way that contributed calm instead of drama? In a way that builds up and encourages instead of tears down and discourages? In a way that you choose instead of in a way circumstances, previous experience, fear or assumptions choose for you?

What if you took control over your reactions?

Episode Artwork

This week's piece is about the conflict between reacting and responding. Reacting is the warm colors. The flames of reactions that ignite trouble so easily. The cool blues represent responding and how it has the power to calm situations. For me, it seems, I react about as often as I choose to respond. I want that proportion to change. We'll talk about how to do that next week!

Episode Downloads

Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone:  Episode 40 Downloads

Jul 2, 2017

I hope your Independence Day weekend is filled with the five F's of a great Fourth of July holiday: Family, Friends, Fun, Food and Fireworks. But, More than any of those. I hope it's filled with a soul-deep appreciation of another F.


I hope your appreciation extends deeper than an inspirational Facebook or Instagram post. I hope it's more lasting than a patriotic profile picture. I hope it means more than thankfulness for a shorter work week and a cold beer. I hope it's sweeter than that dessert you shouldn't have another helping of.

Freedom is a multi-layered concept and it doesn't mean what our culture sometimes believes it to mean.

Freedom is not a pound-your-chest, prideful statement. Freedom is a privilege, one that requires character to use wisely.

Freedom is not an excuse for inexcusable behavior. And, It's not the license to do whatever you want. Freedom offers the ability and the responsibility to do the right thing.

Freedom is not the ability to say whatever you choose. Freedom is the ability to choose to speak that which empowers, builds up, creates justice or mercy...whether or not others agree with you.

Freedom is not empowerment. Empowerment can come from from within, from authority or because you hold a position of strength. Freedom is the ability to choose your destiny.

Freedom is not entitlement. It's not the right to have or experience whatever you want. Freedom is the ability to choose to create a life you desire.

Freedom is not a never-ending stream of rights, it's your right to sovereignty over your own life.

Freedom is never free. It's always purchased and paid for, in our case, by someone else. Let that sink in. Another generation paid for your freedom with their sacrifice of family, business, safety, comfort and lives.

Freedom is not a black and white concept, not an absolute. There are degrees of freedom. It's is a relative concept. Our struggle is to find ways to maximize individual freedom while living in a cooperative society under the rule of law.

Freedom is the heartbeat of the refugee and the immigrant.

Freedom is the dream of oppressed peoples everywhere.

You have this dream, so desperately coveted by those who don't have it. They will fight, die, sacrifice their livelihood and their lives to obtain it for themselves and their families.

You live this reality they'd die for. Don't take that lightly.

Obtaining freedom and living in freedom, neither are not for the faint of heart. So, cherish that which you have and treat it as a precious gift, but use it wisely and frequently.

Episode Artwork

In the artwork this week is a figure. You might think that he's embracing freedom, and he is. His arms are outstretched to welcome all that freedom brings. In the United States, we think of freedom so often in terms of the Red, White and Blue. And our nation and therefore our colors do certainly represent it. But if you look more closely, there are lots of other colors in that image. Greens, Yellows, Browns, Purples...we in this country don't have a monopoly on freedom. But what we have is ours to share, both within and outside of our borders.

But, the figure isn't only embracing freedom. He's upholding it. The constitution supports his arms in a firm foundation, but the weight of freedom rests on him. It's his responsibility. Ronald Reagan said, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."

What if you truly understood and appreciated the gift of freedom you've been given? What would you do with it?

Have a very happy Independence Day, my friends!

Episode Downloads

Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone:  Episode 39 Downloads