October 2009 | www.SusanSilvers.com

Successful living requires a balance of courage and compassion, just as it demands we balance the time we devote to achievement with the time we invest in our relationships. Courage & Compassion is a free monthly newsletter about success in life and business.

Lexi and Jeannette

I am in North Carolina this week caring for my ninety five year old grandmother (Jeannette) while my seventy year old mother recovers from radiation treatment for tongue cancer. It has been a humbling experience. I would like to share a bit of what I have learned hoping that it will be of benefit to you. Warning - This article is significantly longer than what I will typically be sending to you.

Lesson One...

Lexi, an eight year old yellow lab my mother rescued from starvation seven years ago, has become the center of my grandmother’s universe. This gracious animal is the reason my grandmother gets out of bed in the morning. Lexi is an angel in a golden fur coat.

For Lexi’s health, and my physical and mental well-being while here in North Carolina, we have taken an hour-long walk each day since I have arrived. Lexi was never trained to walk properly and uses her considerable weight and muscle to drag me in the direction she chooses to go.

My uncle, who was here caring for my mother and grandmother last week, taught Lexi to walk at his left heel with only two feet of leash between his hand and her collar. He apparently forgot to tell her that I am new the alpha dog in his absence.

After three days of trying to force Lexi to walk at my left heel, my back is killing me and my stress level is through the proverbial roof. I have been painfully reminded that much of our stress in life comes from trying to control people and circumstances over which we have no real control. In one week’s time, I cannot teach Lexi to walk obediently at my heel, but by trying, I have succeeded in making walks miserable for both of us.

This morning, I stopped trying to control what I could not and allowed Lexi the full seven feet of leash length. When she strained at the end of the leash, I gave a gentle tug and said, “Eeeeeasy.” I am happy to report that we had a much better time. We both came home energized rather than exasperated. Trying to control sixty pounds of yellow lab had stolen my joy and stressed me to the max; so I changed what I could. I changed me and the expectation I had. What does it matter that Lexi isn’t walking obediently at my left heel? Whose expectation is this anyway? (Please forgive me, Uncle Arthur.)

Why do we persist in trying to control those things that we cannot? All any of us can control is ourselves, the way we think (our beliefs and expectations), speak and behave. These are the choices we have.

Lesson Two...

My grandmother Jeanette has been practicing “selective hearing.” I have come to believe that this is her way of trying to control me. When she is so inclined, she seems to hear me just fine and responds with ease. When she’s not in the mood, she cocks her fluffy white crowned head and gives me a blank stare. This, too, has been impacting my stress level.

I stop and ask myself, “What can I really control in this situation?” I can control me, my own behavior and the way I choose to think about what is occurring. I think about how difficult it must be to be ninety five years old and feel that you have very little control over things that in year’s past you controlled with ease. I also remind myself that it is not the behavior that is upsetting me, but rather the assessment I am making about the behavior – my interpretation, the meaning I am adding to it. My assessment, as I’ve said, is that my grandmother is trying to control me, which like most people, gets my back up. As the author of the assessments I make, I have the ability to change them. My new assessment is that my grandmother is trying to retain control wherever she can; which I know from reading about the elderly, is one of two critical developmental tasks the elderly must perform in their last years. (It has been discovered that developmental tasks apply not only to children, but continue through all stages of life.) Fighting for and retaining as much control as they can, as well as thinking about the legacy they will leave, are the elder person’s primary focus. When the elderly are not permitted to control those things that they still can at their age, they spend so much of their energy fighting for control that they are unable to focus on the second and more important of the developmental tasks – their legacy. Who am I to stand between a grand woman and her legacy? Choosing not to hear me is her right and I will honor it as best I can.

I leave you with these thoughts...

  • Trying to control what you cannot will dramatically increase the stress in your life.
  • If what you are doing isn’t working, try something else (Thanks, Lexi.)
  • Neglecting to control what you can – your speech, behavior and thoughts, will reduce your effectiveness and influence.
  • Be mindful of the assessments you make and the impact they have on your emotions and behavior. Change them when they are not serving you well.
  • Treating others with unconditional honor will prevent regret and just plain make you feel good.

Special praise for those of you who are caregivers,

Susan Silvers

Managing my weight has been a lifelong struggle prompting me to read every “diet” book that has ever come down the pike. Last weekend I read “The Glycemic Load Diet” by Rob Thompson, M.D. It is THE BEST diet/eating lifestyle book I have ever read. I will be writing about it next month, but wanted to get the title out there for those of you who might be interested. I have been eating according to Dr. Thompson’s principles for a week and feel fantastic. I have not yet weighed myself, but my clothing is noticeably roomier. If you choose to pick up the book and follow the principles, please e-mail me through my website (susansilvers.com) and let me know how it’s working for you.

Have the courage to talk “to” people, rather that “about” them behind their backs.

Marriage is not about “making you happy”, but about teaching you how to love. Love is a decision. Love is an action. Love is not a feeling or a “place you fall.”

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