Striving for Comfort Causes Discomfort

Most of us have grown up in the Western world of plenty.   Let’s face it. We who live in the modern world are attached to creating a comfortable life—bigger homes, more love in our relationships, better jobs and on an on.   Striving to create constant comfort is the main goal.

Once we believe we should have continuous comfort, we reject anxiety or sadness that may arise when our life is not always comfortable.   We either strive for more pleasant feelings or we numb the anxiety because we tell ourselves something is wrong if we don’t feel comfortable.

We think we’re the only ones who don’t have everything (an example of the Victim mentality that says “why me?”)  Once this takes hold we turn on ourselves, (example of the inner Persecuting conversation that develops) and say: “We’re not enough. Something is wrong with me that I don’t feel constant pleasure.”

This story helped Donna to understand how feeling uncomfortable can be a teaching lesson:

She recently had a flight delay and went to the United Club to take a break from airport noise. Donna chose a quiet corner and soon a man turned up the sound on his computer to watch a movie. She noticed how uncomfortable it became that her desire for quiet was interrupted. Donna got up to ask him to turn down the sound, and noticed this question arise: “Can I be okay with this sound?” Without talking with the man, she returned to her chair and decided to practice being uncomfortable and not needing to immediately fix the source of her distress. (Interesting side note—once she accepted that she could relax in spite of the sound, he shut off his computer and left.) It was an important teaching moment that she could learn to find contentment in the midst of unease.

The comfort-seeking drama cycle can be traced back to our desire to look for happiness in something other than what we currently have. What we tell ourselves is that we will be happier, more comfortable, if we have something else.   How do we get out of this cycle?

  • To reverse this trap, bring your attention back to the present moment and hold the tension of your uncomfortable feelings.
  • When you notice the uncomfortableness, take a moment to breathe, relax and be with the unease. While relaxed, focus on one thing that is comfortable.
  • Shift your beliefs about uncomfortableness. There’s nothing you have to do or say to deny the existence of feeling uncomfortable. It is part of life. You are okay.

As you learn to hold uncomfortable feelings, the Creator in you has a chance to emerge and ask more profound questions such as: “What is meaningful for me in this moment?”  The brief encounter in the airport was, for Donna, an insightful teaching moment about learning to be comfortable with discomfort.


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You Don’t Have to Attend Every Drama You Are Invited to

Last week, David had the opportunity to spend a morning with students of a private middle school in the Cleveland, Ohio area. He was invited by Chris Nagel who volunteers at the school and teaches principles from The Power of TED* to the junior high students.   In his professional work, Chris is Director of Serving Leader Strategy at Cleveland Clinic and includes TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) ™ in their “Serving Leader” series. With the students and his work at the Clinic, we marveled at Chris’ mastery of the TED* work.

The interaction with the 6th, 7th and 8th graders was invigorating for David. It was clear the students grasped the ever-present realities of the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™. From the issue of bullying to popular movies (the 8th graders had a homework assignment to watch a movie and describe the DDT roles), they were able to observe and describe the roles they saw.

The students shared that:

  • They especially noticed the drama with friends, neighbors and family;
  • Once they learned about the drama-filled roles, they wanted to limit time with those friends and;
  • They often feel trapped because they don’t know how to “protect” their energies and not get pulled into the dramas.

Chris said, “You don’t have to attend every drama party you are invited to.” David loved that statement and knew it described the all-important skill of setting boundaries. In other words, when others try to pull you into the DDT – consciously or unconsciously – you can choose not to join.

We don’t have to attend every drama party we are invited to! We can consciously choose to limit our time with those who are “drama queens and kings.”

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Be aware of how you are feeling. What happens to you when you are around others who love the drama? If you succumb to the drama, which DDT role are you likely to take on?  Be on the look-out for that role when it emerges.
  2. Be able to say “no,” when invited into the drama. “No” is the essential word when learning to set boundaries.
  3. Make your own self-care a priority. Learn to care about yourself enough that you stay away from drama situations because you know, from past experiences, you do not thrive in them.

Again, you do not have to “attend” every drama you are invited into. As the students shared, drama parties are everywhere and you can choose not to “play.” By modeling boundaries you may also give permission to others not to participate. Who knows, the drama party may fizzle-out due to lack of attendees.


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The Zen of Current Reality

A corporate executive (Jack Welch, former CEO of GE) once wrote: “What determines your destiny is not the hand you’re dealt; it’s how you play the hand. And the best way to play your hand is to face reality – see the world the way it is – and act accordingly.” (Emphasis added.)

This statement came to David’s mind during his recent 10-day silent meditation retreat. Seeing reality for what it is – not as we wish to see it or to “spin it” or to only look at either the bright side or dark side to the exclusion of the other – requires a discipline and resolve to meet reality on its own terms.

It takes a Zen-like discipline. The online Urban Dictionary offers an interesting definition of Zen: “Zen… is a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. Zen is a way of being. It also is a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.”

As we often stress in workshops when working with Dynamic Tension, in order to move toward your envisioned outcome, you must tell the truth about your current reality – both what’s working and supports the outcome, as well as what is not working and is inhibiting your capacity to create it (including the problems you face).

This is especially challenging, for some of us, in reflecting on our own qualities, characteristics and behaviors. It is all too easy to delude ourselves by rationalizing or denying aspects of our current reality that may demand we own behaviors not to our liking.

We may “shade the truth” (i.e. lie to others or ourselves) about what we are doing or not doing to create physical, spiritual and/or mental health. Yet, if we truly hold a vision to live consciously and in a lifestyle of health and wellbeing, we must (as it is said in 12-step recovery systems) “make a thorough and honest inventory” in order to make choices and changes which result in the Baby Steps that move us in the direction of our true and healthy desires.

Another challenge in this discipline is not to judge or condemn current reality, but to be able to say “it is as it is.” To judge or condemn only serves to fuel anxiety and can easily throw us into the Victim Orientation and the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™ and, most likely, become a Persecutor to ourselves or others.

The key, as Welch wrote, is to see reality for what it is and to act accordingly by taking Baby Steps toward the envisioned outcome.What determines your destiny is not the hand you’re dealt; it’s how you play the hand. And the best way to play your hand is to face reality – see the world the way it is – and act accordingly.


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Learning to Stop – A Rollerblading Lesson

Donna has fond memories of roller-skating as a kid, so naturally, she wanted to learn to rollerblade as an adult. To celebrate her 60th birthday a couple of years ago, she bought herself a new pair of rollerblades. Last week she finally decided it was time to try them out.

After practicing in the local school parking lot, she declared herself ready for a larger challenge—to skate the 3 mile loop around Green Lake, one of Seattle’s beautiful urban lakes. About half way around the lake she was feeling smug about how well she was doing. Then she thought to herself: “I wonder if I should have learned to stop?” The next second she fell backwards with the full weight of her body on her left knee, which painfully folded beneath her.

Fortunately her sprained knee is mending. Icing it while lying on the couch has given her ample time to reflect upon the drama she created for herself and the family that had to take care of her.

As it turns out, there are many lessons to be learned from this experience and David has been tactful about not bringing all of them to her attention. One obvious lesson is the importance of learning to stop and observe the situation with as much truth and accuracy as possible (we call this assessing current reality).

The idea of learning to stop is essential in the TED* work (okay..…we don’t always remember to practice our own work!). The language we use is to “call a time out.” Learn to stop and ask yourself: “Where am I? Am I adding to life’s drama or am I empowering myself and others?”

Stopping and reflecting is contrary to our society where one-click buying is now the standard. Don’t stop and think about it–just buy it! We are surrounded with cultural norms that oppose the idea of being deliberate and thoughtful. “Get ‘er done” and move on to the next task is all too common. In other words, don’t stop and reflect. Just do it.

Donna now admits she did not stop and tell herself the truth or she would have realized that learning to stop is an important rollerblading skill. Seduced by her desire to finally try out her new blades, she wanted what she wanted and she wanted it now!

If you are avoiding stopping and taking a time-out before acting, these questions may be helpful:

  • Is there something you are sidestepping?
  • What do you hope no one asks you?
  • Where are you fooling yourself?

The impulse to have what you want can hide the facts of the situation. Donna actually persecuted herself by avoiding essential information about learning to rollerblade. When you do this, you will reduce your chances of success. Learn to stop, observe and tell yourself the whole truth. It will serve you well.
Rollerblade Lesson

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Craving or Passion?

David recently returned from a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Although the silence was maintained between participants, each night there was a discourse, or presentation, by a teacher. One of the themes that recurred throughout was that of the human tendency toward craving.

We have spent some time considering the question: what is the difference between craving for an outcome, as a Creator, and tapping passion for an outcome?

When we crave an outcome our emotional energy is attached to it and, if what we want is not fulfilled, we will experience disappointment, loss – even suffering.  Also, if the outcome we are focused on does not come to fruition in a timely manner, we may give up on it.

Passion, on the other hand, is the emotional energy that naturally arises when we focus on outcomes that have heart and meaning for us. There is a quality of love for the possibility of the outcome and, therefore, we often have a greater capacity to hold the Dynamic Tension.

Passion fuels persistence and we take multiple Baby Steps – sometimes forward and sometimes experiencing setbacks – in the journey toward the outcome.

Many years ago, David heard an interview with Peter Senge, a well-known consultant and advocate for “learning organizations,” in which he told a story that illustrates the distinction between craving and passion.

The story was about an American CEO and a Japanese CEO having a conversation over dinner. At one point the American executive shared that his company had set a goal of winning the Malcom Baldrige Quality Award within three years. (The Baldrige Award is a very prestigious recognition of a company’s commitment to total quality management and continuous improvement).

The Japanese executive expressed surprise at the American’s declaration. He responded that, in his company, they would never think of going after winning the Deming Prize (the Japanese equivalent and forerunner to the Baldrige Award). Instead, he went on to explain, the company was so committed to total quality and continuous improvement, if they were doing the right things (i.e. taking the appropriate Baby Steps) then, maybe someday the Deming Prize would come to them.

The American executive, as the story is told, was craving the recognition that the award would bring his company. If they did not achieve the outcome, given all the hard work, process improvements and changes it would take, there would be deep disappointment and “suffering” in failing to meet the goal.

The Japanese executive, on the other hand, was focused on the on-going outcome of total quality management and continuous improvement from an “inner state” of passion and commitment, regardless of whether or not they achieved the prize.

As a Creator, take a step back and ask yourself the question: “Are the outcomes I want to create coming from an inner state of craving or passion?”

Craving or Passion?

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Why Your Reactive Ego Wants Center Stage

The reactive ego is the driving force in most of our lives. It’s similar to a preschooler who wants the starring role in their school play.   It wants attention!

But why does the reactive ego want to star on center stage?

EGO(2)The journey of the reactive ego starts during the first couple years of life. Think of yourself as a lovely newborn baby. While your capacity to think was limited, your undeveloped mind knew you were dependent on others to take care of you. You cried when hungry or uncomfortable so others would meet your needs

Your young ego figured out it had a good thing going and developed a brilliant strategy to get what it wanted.  As your self-centered ego got more of what it needed to grow, it split away from your true Creator ego that anchors TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)™. Your reactive ego had to split from your Creator ego to get stronger and find new and more complex ways to get its needs met.

By the age of two, the small ego noticed that it was different from other people. In its own mind, the ego established itself as separate and apart from other human beings (think of the terrible twos). The ego, especially if there was trauma or unhealthy early childhood experiences, declares:  “Okay. It’s me against everyone else.”

Once this split occurred, the world divided between “me” and “other”. The positive side to the separateness is that you focused on your own needs, which allowed you to grow and survive. The downside is that your reactive ego got stronger and insisted on being the drama star.

What we love about the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)™ is that it identifies the ego’s primary reactive roles of Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer that originally helped us to survive and grow. The simplicity of the DDT helps us to see them in action. But as mature adults we long to rewrite our script and allow new roles to emerge.

Our ego gets uncomfortable when we change the plot. It’s been center stage for a long time, which explains why it is so difficult to shift out of the DDT into the TED* roles.

The TED* roles are alternative starring roles and the essence of who we really are.   In our mature adult years we want more freedom and ease in work and life than our reactive ego can supply.   The Creator in all of us wants to emerge. We can update our earlier reactive strategies, once we see them on stage, and learn to shift into empowering roles. It takes a lifetime of practice to stop and observe the reactive ego in action—then allow your Creator self to star in your new life story.

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Setting the Tone at the Top

A few weeks ago, we spoke with a TED* Practitioner who is president of an industrial company (read more information about becoming a TED* Practitioner). He has made TED* a cornerstone of the company’s corporate culture and has personally trained everyone – from shop floor to the executive staff—in the TED* framework. He “walks his talk” when it comes to being a Creator, Challenger and Coach and clearly sets a “tone at the top.”

We said to him, “You certainly set the tone at the top by the way you spread TED* throughout the organization.”

In the business world, the phrase “tone at the top” comes from the corporate accounting scandals (such as Enron and WorldCom in the US) and refers to the attitude in the company to prevent fraud and other unethical behavior.

In short, the tone at the top refers to leaders who create high codes of conduct and live by them.

Set the tone at the top.

We can “set the tone at the top” by using TED* in all areas of work and life:

  • Meetings – We can begin meetings by being clear about the intended outcomes. We have noticed that most agendas are problem oriented and focus on what the group doesn’t like or want.   Setting the tone at the top means each meeting begins with the Outcome Orientation. “What is the outcome we want for this meeting? If we had that outcome, how would we know it?” are powerful “tone at the top” questions.
  • At Home – Spouses and parents can set the tone in families by also focusing on outcomes. David has a friend who shared with him a story about a particularly drama-filled period with their teenage son. Rather than falling into the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™ with him, they instead stayed in a Coach role and asked questions to help the son clarify what he wanted and how he could go about meeting his needs in healthy and fruitful ways. (Of course, there were also a few times in which they had to step in and a conscious, constructive Challenger with him as well!) Not just talking about TED* but actually putting the concepts to work sets the tone at the top.
  • Decision-Making Conversations – Any time we are in a conversation related to making a decision (e.g. where to go for vacation; what kind of food we want in dining out; how to rearrange the furniture in a room; etc.), setting outcome criteria at the top can reduce the amount of “debate” that can often accompany day-to-day decision making in our relationships.

And, finally, we can begin each day “at the top” by setting our intentions for the day, staying focused on the outcomes we want to create, and to choosing our response to the situations that arise throughout the day.

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Go Against Yourself

At the center of the TED* work is love and appreciation for others. Creators, Challengers and Coaches are genuinely interested in the views of others while still expressing what is true for them.

Fear, however, is the emotion that drives all three roles of Victim, Rescuer and Persecutor that make up the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)™. The most common strategy Persecutors use to manage their fear is to attempt to control situations and people. If they are in control, they tell themselves, they will feel less fear and anxiety.

For the Persecutor, fear is minimized if their viewpoint wins the day. Being right helps control the situation.

If you don’t think you play the persecuting role, notice when you are highly attached to your point of view and see how other respond to you. You may observe that they receive your strongly held views as persecuting them.

Go Against Yourself(1)If you discover you frequently are arguing that you are right, especially about the little things in life, the Persecutor is taking root in you. Developing your own opinions is part of becoming an individualized and mature adult. But when needing to be right is a habit, you will slow the shift from the DDT to the more resourceful TED* roles.

One tip for the Persecutor to let go of the need to be right is to “go against yourself.” Intentionally take the opposite position when you feel the need to be right. This will be very uncomfortable at first—which is the point of the exercise.

Notice what it feels like to move away from your opinion. Observe yourself as you attempt to sit still and deeply listening—even taking the opposite side.

For well-practiced Persecutors, this can be a highly uncomfortable experience. It is in this discomfort that you will learn how attached you are to your viewpoint—and your need to control fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Be on-guard for your need to control the emotional discomfort you may feel. Continue to “go against yourself” and you will be amazed at what you learn from this simple, yet profound exercise.

By going against yourself, you will begin the journey from Persecutor toward the more resourceful TED* role of Challenger. The Challenger has a gift for stating what they see or feel without blame or judgment. They are the “truth tellers” in the room yet have learned that their truth is not necessarily everyone’s truth. As you cultivate the Challenger, you will discover a new sense of personal freedom and ease, having given up the need to be right—and you might even learn something new!

DDT – The Persecutor Role

TED – The Challenger Role

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What is Your Intention?

After our essay last week, entitled “Exaggerated Sense of Responsibility,” we had a few questions and this week we are delighted to respond to one reader’s inquiry.

Dear David and Donna,
Your newsletter last week was about Exaggerated Sense of Responsibility. You wrote about the persecuting role, but isn’t an exaggerated sense of responsibility more of a rescuing role?

This is an excellent question and shows the complexity behind the simplicity of both the Drama Triangle and the shift to TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) ™. It is important to remember that there are two triangles operating at once. One triangle is our internal relationship with ourselves and the other triangle is about how we relate to our experiences or other people.

The examples we outlined last week could absolutely be the face of the Rescuer, as well as that of the Persecutor. For example, when we don’t like a situation and act with an exaggerated sense of responsibility, we are trying to rescue ourselves (the inner triangle) from our uncomfortableness with the situation. Our outward behavior toward others (the outer triangle) is often seen as persecuting when we inappropriately intervene.

To go deeper with how these roles co-mingle, we have to look at the intention behind the behavior. When Donna looked at her intentions behind her exaggerated sense of responsibility, she often fooled herself that she was “only trying to help” (Rescuer) but what she wanted was to control the situation so that she was right, or looked good, or because she wanted to manage her stress. While her internal strategy may be rescuing, her external behavior was often seen as persecuting to others.

All three roles in the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT)™ want to control what they don’t like or don’t want and the resulting anxiety that arises. By observing ourselves in these roles we can peel back the layers of the deep psychological games that emerge. Trying to correctly diagnosis the actual role we are playing at any one moment is not as important as looking at the underlying strategy that is driving the behavior.

Asking ourselves, “What is my intention here?” gives us a big clue toward what our ego wants to manage. Whether a Victim, Persecutor or Rescuer, when in the DDT we are always about controlling and managing the fear. By observing and naming the roles, we have a better opportunity see the behavior so we can choose to shift into more empowering TED* roles. As we go deeper by observing ourselves in the moment, we must learn to pause and observe our reactive strategies and then choose to shift into the more resourceful roles of Creator, Challenger and Coach that are based upon a higher sense of purpose and intention.
What is my intention(1)

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Exaggerated Sense of Responsibility

Donna shares a story about one morning – years ago as a full-time working mom and wife with 3 children – when she woke up and realized she wasn’t responsible for the sun rising that morning.

While she can laugh about it now, it was a very serious moment in her early adult years. Intellectually, she knew of course that she wasn’t responsible for the sunrise, yet she had emotionally taken on an exaggerated sense of responsibility that felt like the weight of the universe on her shoulders.

In an odd way, Donna was victimized by her strong sense of responsibility. With the sunrise epiphany, she was able to see that it was her thinking that created the extreme sense of responsibility—not the situation. Her self-persecuting internal dialogue resulted in her feeling responsible for everyone’s happiness and kept her locked into her own private Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) ™.

Donna took this picture on July 20 near their home on Bainbridge Island, WA

Because of her realization, she had conversations with her family out of which they volunteered that they could do a lot more to take care of themselves – and, to her surprise, they wanted to. They were happier and Donna discovered more personal freedom as well. It was such a relief to let go and let more ease and freedom flow through the family.

Being overly responsible certainly happens at work as well and can have equally frustrating results.

For example, David reflects on a time when he was managing a major department in a large corporation. Working late at night (because of his own exaggerated sense of responsibility and not wanting to let anyone down), he was copied on an email that went to one of his direct reports. The person to whom the email was directed had left for the evening. Instead of letting the direct report respond in the morning, David went ahead and answered the email – only to find out the next morning that he gave the wrong information, which caused a flurry of additional messages.

To not let go of the burden of exaggerated responsibility puts us on the path of burnout and misery – and feeling persecuted by our own thinking. We can release ourselves form the burden of false responsibilities when we wake up to the fact that we are ultimately only responsible for our own attitudes and behavior. We really are not in charge of the sunrise….and a heck of a lot of other happenings and events in our life.

Donna now realizes that she did not trust life to unfold as it will and admits to a certain amount of unconscious arrogance that was running in the background of her life. She failed to see that her exaggerated sense of responsibility was really about controlling circumstances and situations. Now with each sunrise and sunset she reminds herself to let go, enjoy the beauty and do only what is hers to do.

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