As 2011 gets underway, Russell Bishop, Senior Editor at Large of The Huffington Post and author of "Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work" (McGraw-Hill, Jan. 2011) draws on his own times of adversity as sources of strength, optimism and creativity.
From the persepctive of numerology, 2+0+1+1=4. The number four represents foundation and stability, as in the four corners of the earth, the four elements, or simply four legs of a table. Whatever turbulence might be swirling around in the environment, you may want to think of the number four as the first key to a transformational new year. Use it as a power word, an affirmation and a visual symbol to help you stay grounded and balanced in any situation.
Russell Bishop: The key that I most enjoy working with is gratitude. What's already in my life for which I am grateful? It is so much easier for me to build on what I am grateful for than what I wish was different. Energetically, I think that works a whole lot better.
Dr. Laurie: What about people who say, "I lost my job. My house is in foreclosure. My spouse just left me. What do I have to be grateful for, anyway?"
Russell Bishop: If I go back 40 years in my life, my family went bankrupt twice when I was in high school. As I entered college, my dad got leukemia and died, and we went through a third bankruptcy. I ended up living in my car. So I understand what it means to have lost virtually everything. At the time, I was down to six dollars.
To be sure, that was a difficult time. But what I was able to find were friends who didn't change because of external circumstance. That was the first thing that I found to be grateful for -- those whom I cared for and those who cared for me. That gave me a base internally from which I could begin to build. You can also think of Dr. Viktor Frankl, who was a psychiatrist who wound up imprisoned by the Nazis for six years. He watched his whole family be killed. As he writes about the experience later on, he writes that he discovered freedom while incarcerated by the Nazis.
Dr. Laurie: Sometimes we can be free, as in not incarcerated. Or we can feel that we are imprisoned by our circumstances.
Russell Bishop: Our colleague, Huffington Post blogger Alex Pattakos, writes in his book "Prisoners of Our Thoughts" that's a very compelling premise. It is very easy during today's economic crisis to start entertaining thoughts that can imprison us and block our awareness of choices we could make in improving our circumstances. That's where gratitude can begin to help. No matter how small a seed or how you measure it, is there something I can be grateful for right now?
Dr. Laurie: Where can we find, say, a thoughtful person, a gesture, a book, a color, a piece of music, a pet? Anything that we might normally overlook can free us up to be thankful for those things that we do have, even when we are experiencing major loss.
Russell Bishop: Recently I was in conversation with a couple that had been a single wage-earner family. And the wage-earner had lost his job. They were talking about that but voluntarily, they came up with the idea that there was a silver lining in that cloud. They had found the ability to connect with each other as a couple and with their children on a deeper level than they had before. That was part of their insight. The wisdom from the babes, if you will.
Dr. Laurie: Your adversity can give other people a chance to be generous. Sometimes when you are sharing with people and you are used to being the giver or the caregiver or the person who people come to for strength and support, sometimes letting another person see that you're vulnerable can give people who love you a chance to be generous and find their strengths.
Russell Bishop: Generosity and gratitude tie into that old cliché that what goes around comes around. In a time of loss, it's not usually the time that people think to share. I am currently on the big island of Hawaii, where 35 percent of the population require some kind of food assistance. And I see amazing examples of generosity.
Dr. Laurie: Why is it that now 35 percent of the population requires food assistance?
Russell Bishop: Whenever there is a hiccup on the mainland, there is indigestion here. It also hits the housing market for second homes.
Dr. Laurie: Looking ahead at the new year, we are always balancing in the midst of uncertainty. Sometimes we have structures in our lives that provide illusions of predictability that help us to feel safe, but we really don't know what is going to happen on any given day or even the next day. Because so many people are feeling unsettled and uncertainty now, what are the keys that can help people break free?
Russell Bishop: This is one that came to me during a very big downturn 20 years ago:
Get a pad of paper with two columns. Walk through your home and make a list of all the things that are in the house. More interestingly, take an inventory of everything you've got. Then, in the right column, put down what you paid for all that stuff. Then add it up. Most people will be absolutely stunned to find out that they probably have more money in things than they probably have in other areas of their life. Then put a star next to stuff you just don't use. Add up what you spent on stuff you just don't use and give that away. Find people who are in even greater need for whom this stuff would be a blessing.
This does three things. First, it produces a sense of inner well-being: "I have enough that I can give." Second, "if I let go of what I am holding on to so tightly, it opens up a new space to receive." Third, "it puts me in a state of natural flow within the universe where I am open to receive."
Dr. Laurie: It takes away that feeling that because you've gone through a loss, you have to hold on to everything you have because that will make you safe. In fact, that's not going to make you safe. It makes you more anxious.
I like that idea of taking an inventory. Every New Year's Eve I make the same resolution: throw out half of what I own and spend more time with my friends. I've been doing this for 10 years, and each year I manage to clear out about one third of my stuff -- books and clothes, certainly. Just taking the time to hang out and have fun can seem to get lost when you're working hard. If you have lost your job or you're going through some other type of upheaval, divorce or bankruptcy, you can reinforce your friendships because you're being given a gift of time. Very often, when you're working, you make money, but you don't have time to spend with the people you love. You can use time as a source of wealth.
Russell Bishop: That reminds me of that joke about the person on their deathbed. Very rarely does that person say, "I wish I'd spent more time at work." Here is another key to a transformational new year:
Let's go back to a pad of paper and two columns. In the left-hand column make a list of the physical-level things that you are trying to accumulate more of in your life. Money is the first thing on everyone's list, but then there are house and cars, job. Physical-level things.
Label the right-hand column "Positive Experiences." What are the positive experiences you are hoping will be true when you get enough of what you want in the left-hand column? When I do this with groups, I ask, "How many people want more money?" Everyone's hands go up. When I ask them what that will bring them, most people say, "I'll be secure, I'll be powerful, I'll be successful. I'll be at peace." That kind of thing. Then I'll ask, "Do you know anyone who has a lot of money who doesn't have peace or security?"
Dr. Laurie: Anybody read the tabloids?
Russell Bishop: Really! What's really nice about that is that if you get clear about what's in your right-hand column, it doesn't matter about the level of physical materiality you have. If the real goal is friendship, compassion, caring and being close, how can I do that today? If I do a little bit today and a little bit tomorrow, and I look back at the end of the week, I'll probably notice that there's more of it.
Dr. Laurie: Time can kind of bend when you are not stuck to a strict schedule. You can use that flexibility of time to reach out, take a walk, hang out in the park and read a book for an hour or two, visit a friend on the phone if they live far away, or even visit someone. "Tuesdays with Morrie" was about the psychological and spiritual wealth that came from spending time with someone every Tuesday.
When I was in my 20s, I was between jobs and had to borrow money to take the subway to go to job interviews. I had a friend who had an old sailboat. He worked in the garment district and got home at 2:30 in the afternoon. One Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon in October, he said, "Let's go sailing." We went sailing up to the Statue of Liberty and looked up at all the skyscrapers. He said, "I bet all those people in their offices are looking out their windows and they see us here in our little boat and they must be thinking, 'Those people must be millionaires. They're sailing in the middle of the week and I'm stuck in my office.'" That moment was one of the richest of my life and one of the most freeing. I remember saying to myself, "I hope you remember this, because soon you'll be working in an office, and yes, you'll be earning money but you won't be able to come out and sail on a Tuesday afternoon."
There's always a trade-off. When we talk about giving people the keys to a transformational new year, in order to have change, there's often loss involved. You can use loss to create positive change and well-being.
Russell Bishop: It's just another opportunity to refocus on what's most important and recognize that I'm the one who creates that.
Dr. Laurie: As Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote, you can discover freedom in a concentration camp.
The county is going through a values crisis. I think that one of the things that people voted for in 2008 was a shift in values towards a more humanistic set of values. That is something we can look at within ourselves as we prepare for the new year. Do I want more kindness, more freedom in my life? Do I need to show respect for myself and others in my life? Do I want to spend more time on my spiritual practice? What do those things mean?
Russell Bishop: Yes. This is critical work. I hope everyone is able to focus on the new year with a new thought and a new choice.
Learn more about Russell Bishop at www.russellbishop.com.
Join Dr. Laurie and Russell Bishop on www.healthylife.net for "The Pursuit of Happiness" on Jan. 19, 2011.