|We had traveled 450 miles with our three young kids in the back of the mini-van. When we pulled into the campsite a little after 5:00 pm I was worn out. The rustic cabin we were renting for the next several nights was as advertised. The kids ran around, eagerly exploring every corner of the tiny cabin. My wife tried to figure out how to eat dinner, realizing that we had not brought utensils, nor plates, and they were not furnished in the cabin. “I should have checked on that,” I said, a little frustrated that I’d forgotten about that important detail. I began to get irritated with the noise of the children, and barked out, “Keep it down guys!” The idea of getting back into the van and driving ten miles into town for dinner or a grocery store run was not appealing to anyone. Then I heard a loud thump and I realized the kids had discovered the bunk-bed and were jumping off of it. My irritation rose. I felt myself getting ready to snap. I knew that I was about to yell at the kids and make them miserable. I was miserable, and they might as well be miserable too!
Right then and there, I stopped.
I told my wife I’d be back. In the tiny cabin bathroom, I washed my face at the sink. I realized the kids were tired too; they had been in the car just as long as I had. I came back out, determined to put a different ending on this story.
She and I huddled and decided to take the kids to the playground, less than a five-minute walk in this idyllic campground. We decided to let the kids run and then just eat the travel snacks that were left from the day’s drive. I was astonished that the feelings of exhaustion I had experienced so keenly only minutes ago, seemed to just disappear.
We laugh about it now, and also appreciate how simple it was to make a different choice. On reflection, making this choice led to a serious question for me: where else in my life does that sense of irritation sometimes show up? Several thoughts came to mind. In meetings I may ignore the contributions of others when I feel I have been working hard. I tend to shut down or quit when I believe I am tired. And when I think I am “at my limit,” sometimes I feel that I am entitled to being treated a certain way.
I realize now that my irritation that night had nothing to do with my children, or with the drive or anything else. It had to do with the perspective I was choosing, and a perspective that was changed when I was able to view it for what it was. The O-FLAG (Opportunity For Learning And Growth) was about making a choice to stop a reaction and turn it into a response. But it also provided another opportunity for me – a much deeper learning experience. Our O-FLAG’s teach us about ourselves. They give us the opportunity to look inside and in so doing, we can discover better ways to serve our families, organizations, and our communities.
Fans of the PBS hit, Downton Abbey, were entertained by season four’s first episode this month. It seems that the series writers may have had some connection with the TRP® ideas as there were several references in the first episode of ideas similar to TRP®’s Reversing the Flow.
Those who have attended a TRP® training know page 20 of the workbook introduces Reversing the Flow as a process of channeling negative emotional energy into service for others. The result is transformative and helps change the negative feelings of fear, anger, grief, etc. into a positive expression.
During this first episode we find the characters grieving over the death of Matthew Crawley which occurred shortly after his marriage to Lady Mary, daughter of the Earl of Grantham, the head of the Abbey. In addition, Matthew was half owner of the Abbey. Matthew’s death occurred in the last scene of the last episode of season three.
The two people most impacted by Matthew’s death are his wife, Lady Mary (who also gave birth to their child after Matthew’s death) and Matthew’s mother, Isabel Crawley.
Season four begins with several scenes with both of these ladies seemingly paralyzed by their grief. Mary is angry and Isabel feeling useless.
Through the efforts of Mary’s brother-in-law who is involved in management of the Abbey and the head Butler, Mr. Carson, Lady Mary begins the process of reversing the flow of her attention away from her grief to paying attention to the operation of the Abbey.
An interesting exchange occurs between Mrs. Hughes, the head housekeeper of the Abbey, and Isabel Crawley, Matthew’s mother. Mrs. Crawley is grieving and feeling useless. Mrs. Hughes has discovered a homeless man (an old acquaintance of Mr. Carson) who is in need of assistance. She goes to Mrs. Crawley and asks her to take this man in saying he has potential. The dialogue between the two is instructive:
“To be honest, Mrs. Hughes, I don’t see that, it [the homeless man] is any of my business.”
“That’s something I never thought I’d hear you say, ma’am. A wretched man is in the workhouse and he reaches out to us for rescue.”
“He reached to Carson. I don’t see what you want me to do.”
“Mrs. Crawley, I wondered if I could bring him here.”
“If you and I would vouch for him to the authorities, I’m sure we could get him away from that place.”
“But why here? Why not the Abbey? Isn’t he Carson’s responsibility?”
“I’m sorry to say it but Mr. Carson has turned his back on his old pal.”
“I see. So, you want to risk Mr. Carson’s wrath by rescuing this Mr. Griggs.”
“He’s a pitiful being. But, he’s not beyond work. He’s not beyond a decent life if he could find it.”
“You see, in my present state I don’t believe I’m strong enough…”
“But, you are, ma’am. If you could just set aside your grief, and use that strength for another’s good.”
Shortly thereafter, the homeless man was broght into Mrs. Crawley’s home and was on his way to recovery.
Mrs. Hughes is right on. Let’s collect some more examples in our lives.
(Excerpt from the TRP Participant Workbook, Appendix T)
Reversing the Flow is about consciously choosing to change our perspective from “me” to “we,” from negativity to joy, from taking to giving, from selfishness to selflessness—all expressed in service to others. Most of us would agree that we spend the bulk of our time thinking about ourselves—our personal growth, our salary, our reputation, our looks, our health, our happiness and so on. This self-focus limits our growth and effectiveness. Reversing the Flow greatly benefits our professional, personal, psychological and spiritual lives. Indeed, its benefits have been recognized throughout the ages and expressed in many ways.
HOW TO DO IT
Reversing the Flow requires the use of our minds and will power—
To move from selfishness to selflessness, from focusing on oneself to focusing on service.
- To redirect our thoughts from personal agendas, desires and negative emotions to an out-flowing, service-oriented activity.
- To constantly ask oneself—especially during times of emotional distress and strong desires—“How can I serve?” and then act on the answer.
- To choose to express our inner “best” in service to others, even when we do not feel like it.
- To substitute positive, character-based behavior for negative, self-centered behavior.
- To consistently and persistently do all the above until it becomes a habitual and spontaneous expression of our inner goodness—our “natural” response.
The result of Reversing the Flow is like lifting a weight from our shoulders. When we shift attention from ourselves to others, it “lightens” and transforms us. If we are honest, we realize that most if not all our negative emotions result from too much self-focus; either not getting what we want or getting something we don’t want. It all has to do with us. But by reversing the flow outward, toward others, we discover the beauty of a transformed life. This is true no matter what we may be facing. Recall how Victor Frankl reversed the flow—even in a Nazi concentration camp, and made life more bearable by serving others.
Therefore, when we find ourselves in an emotional funk, or any difficult circumstance, we can simply choose to engage in an act of service; for example: help a neighbor with their lawn work; take food to a co-worker’s family during a time of sorrow; volunteer to clean the animal shelter at the local humane society; mentor a younger co-worker; arrive to work early to help finish a major project; or volunteer with hospice or another service organization.
Each of us has talents, gifts and strengths. When we use these in service to our workplaces, communities and families, we develop a clearer sense of life’s purpose and meaning. Moreover, as we serve without expectation of anything in return, we actually “want” to do a good job rather than “having” to do a good job. Doing a good job becomes a part of who we are rather than what we do. It becomes the outer expression of our inner character.
For example, we may view our work as an IT professional to be “aggravating,” “meaningless” or “trivial.” However, we can begin to see it as an important service to our co-workers, who need their computers to make their jobs easier and more productive. In this way, our enthusiasm and commitment to our work is strengthened.
An oft-cited example is that of the bagger lady at a grocery store who was bored with her job. But as she began to use her substantial people-skills to interact with and bring a little happiness to customers going through the line, she became much happier and more satisfied with her job. In other words, she used one of her strengths as a service to the customers and it transformed her work.
Other examples include the mother, who, after an unsettling discussion with her husband, resolved to cook her family the best Saturday lunch they had ever had. She reported that the moment she made this decision, her whole demeanor changed from irritation to joy.
Malala Yousafzai is 16 years old. If you haven’t seen her on the news yet, you will soon. She’s been nominated for a Nobel prize. After having been critically wounded by the Taliban, she’s gone on to find her voice. She carries a message that the education of women is a critical step in achieving freedom in her home country of Pakistan.
Rick Rescorla worked security at Morgan-Stanley/Dean-Witter, in New York at the World Trade Center. He was fervent about preparation, performing safety drills over and over, which every one else did NOT always love. But on September 11, 2001, his ability to remain calm and deliberately perform his duties saved lives. He safely evacuated over 2,700 people and was last seen on the tenth floor, ascending the stairs to evacuate people from other companies on higher floors.
In another time and place these two people wouldn’t be recognized for having similar purposes. But we can see that they do. One uniquely advocates for education, the other was just doing his job. Both Reversed the Flow and put the needs of others above their own.
– Jeff Bezos
CEO of Amazon.com
It’s arguably much easier to discover our strengths and extend out from our skills. To consider the needs of others – whether it be our customer or family, or our community, can be a stretch. But how rewarding! So, let’s enjoy the process of discovering what others need, and how we can fill those needs. What do you think? How have you applied this in your own life?
For additional reading on this subject, see page 20 in the TRP Participant’s workbook on Reversing the Flow.