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In the past six months I have been experimenting with eliminating “shoulds” as a basis for decision making. I decided to do this because the concept of “should” is heavily loaded with unexamined feelings and beliefs that can misdirect my thinking and lead to bad decisions.

In place of “shoulds” I try to evaluate options for action on the basis of two criteria, whether I want to do it, and whether I need to do it. In this system, needs trumps wants. By this I mean there are some things that we may not feel like doing, or enjoy, but we understand that they are essential.  Taking out the garbage, going to the dentist, and some employment situations fall into this category. If it really is a necessity, you just have to do it.

I was making a difficult decision recently and despite all this fabulous theory, I was having a lot of trouble deciding what to do. I did a little diagram of all the options, and realised that the most difficult place to be is where both feeling and necessity are mixed or unclear. I call this the Zone of Ambivalence.

 

I find the zone of ambivalence extremely uncomfortable. Although I am fairly good at staying out of it in my personal life, I do sometimes get caught up in ambivalence when it comes to decisions about money or work, where there stakes are quite high.

Usually there is a driver to do something for financial reasons, which make sense logically, but I am not sure if its what I really want to do. This can trigger a “head and heart” battle. “I really should but I don’t want to.”

My solution for handling the Zone of Ambivalence is to just hang out there until something shifts. Either I am going to feel that the action is necessary or advantageous enough to outweigh my reservations, or I am going to decide that its not essential enough to warrant going against my feelings.

Hanging out in the Zone of Ambivalence can be difficult time because it is ripe with uncertainty. However it can also be rich in learning as I try to untangle the forces pulling me in different directions. It’s a time for talking to people, trying out options and thinking about priorities. I try to stay open and avoid jumping to a rash and unsatisfactory decision. When I stay open to the process of working it through, something usually shifts.

If feels almost magical when something changes and a stuck situation resolves into a decision. It might be that the advantage of a situation becomes clearer, and that makes me want to do it, so I let go of my resistance. Or it may be that the basis of my reservations become clearer, and I am able to let go of the perceived advantages and say no. Either way, its great to be released from the holding pattern of an unmade decision with a sense of resolution.

Most sports can be taken as a metaphor for life. Tennis is the game that comes to mind when I am thinking about facing a challenge with a degree of uncertainty.

I picture the guy at the bottom of the court, the receiver, bobbing up and down on the spot, waiting for the serve. He taps his racket on the palm of his hand a few times, then its bounce bounce bounce. “I’m ready for you. I can take anything you can send over here.”

Then BANG – the server has slammed the ball over the net and its heading at the receiver. All that pent up energy springs into action as he organises his body to get to where it needs to be to return that ball.

In the meantime, the roles have flipped. Now the server is scurrying into position to return the ball if it comes back to him. Thats what I like about tennis. I’m ready; Here it is. I’m ready; Here it is.  The back and forth of readiness and response until someone slips up and the point is won and lost.

The server has all the kudos. There’s drama in the prowl to the base line, bouncing the ball to steady the nerves, and ultimate exertion to belt the ball forward. But is the receiver that interests me. All he can do is be ready. He has trained, studied his opponent, and planned his tactics. But at this moment, all he can do is be ready and open to what happens next.

I seem to be playing tennis in slow motion these days. I am teaching myself how to be open and ready for what comes, but my response time is slow. I need time to work through the things that are coming my way. Maybe I will miss a few things as they fly past. I will let that happen, because I am aiming to improve my technique. I hope that in the long run, I’ll be a better player as a result.

Elite athletes know what its like to monitored by precision instruments. A swimmer can lose a race by a hundredth of a second. A runner can be disqualified for jumping the gun by a whisper. They just can’t get away with anything. No margin for error.

I have an inner compass that sometimes feels a bit like that. When its in the Wrong Path mode is very finely callibrated. Don’t go that way. This is the wrong path for you. This doesn’t feel right. It can be difficult to make decisions when there seem to be so many no go zones. Things that seem wise and logical often fail to get past the inner compass. So much so that I sometimes I wish it would give me a break and let me get away with something even if it isn’t my “true north”.

Its seems like someone else was on duty the day the calibrated the True Path mode on my internal compass. Its much more subtle. The sign posts are not large and clear. Nothing is calling me forth with magnetic force. The True Path mode is comprised of fleeting ideas, wishful inklings, quiet yearnings and out of the blue hunches.

Fortunately both modes do have fairly good post decision feedback. If I head up the Wrong Path, I am going be feeling increasingly stressed, sick, depleted and miserable. If I am on the True Path, I feel energised, excited, content, integrated and confirmed.

Attempting to live life on the True Path, guided by intuition, is like being guided through the forest by the twitter of a little blue bird that flits in and out of sight. Don’t be fooled though. The little bird doesn’t just lead me through green meadows scattered with flowers. It wants me to go into some pretty tough places, that I wouldn’t normally consider. I want to yell “Are you kidding me?” But its already going off ahead.

So far my experiment with following this Inner Compass has confirmed that it is a more satisfying way to live. When it comes to my personal life, I have been able to let go of a lot of “shoulds” and find a more natural and rewarding path.

The challenge for me now is in relation to work. Can I trust the whispers of intuition to help me find a way to earn a living that represents the True Path? Or do I have to start getting realistic and push against my reluctance  in order to get something happening? I can see why poor starving artists end up poor and starving! Following the path of intuition, life becomes more like a treasure hunt with a rough map and no guarantee that the treasure even exists.

People said I was brave to quit my job earlier in the year, but I didn’t experience it that way. Now however, six months later, the stakes are getting higher. It feels like courage is needed to stay on the path that I embarked upon. I have travelled a long way out of my comfort zone, and I may never get back to it. I really don’t know where my compass will take me.

 

 

I have to admit it, I am not a very good negotiator when it comes to money. Haggling over a price or negotiating a salary puts me well out of my comfort zone. In Australia, most of the shopping takes place in the fixed price sanctuary of the shopping centre. Bargaining over the price of something didn’t come up as an issue  in my life until I went on holidays in Bali, and people told me it was expected.

One of my difficulties with bargaining goes back to Good Girl Syndrome. I want to be nice and cooperative and not offend or upset anybody in any way. Not the strongest starting point for a negotiation. I think I have had the idea that somehow it was unbecoming to question the asking price.

Thankfully my ideas about negotiating over money have started to shift due to the Masterclass series in negotiating offered by the current flood of TV shows about buying and selling. Whether its about pickers, pawn shops, abandoned storage lockers or antiques, reality TV has a lot of lessons on how stuff is valued and prices are negotiated.

One of my favourites is American Pickers. When the Pickers go freestyling, they scan backyards, farms and businesses for evidence of people who like to accumulate old stuff – cars, bikes, gas pumps, signs, old machinery. They are out to acquire collectables that they can sell for a significant mark-up in their shop. Along the way they come across some intriguing characters with amazing collections.

What I love about the show is that even though there is a certain element that is staged for TV, theres also a certain amount thats real. These guys really do love old stuff, and get a huge thrill when they find it. They have a real nack for establishing a connection with the person that they can build on to by what they are looking for.

Here are a few lessons in negotiation that I have picked up from American Pickers.

1. Make a connection. Introduce yourself warmly and make it known who you are and what you are about. People like to deal with real people who are open about what they want.

2. Display your enthusiasm. Don’t be afraid to show interest in what the person has on offer if it really excites you. This makes the other person feel respected and affirmed.

3. Get the ball rolling with a small purchase. If you want to negotiate to buy a number if items, find something you can easily agree on to establish the negotiations before moving on to the big ticket items.

4. Negotiate in bundles. If there are a few things you are interested in see if you can get a deal that covers the group. This can be used to break up a deadlock over the price on individual items.

5. Don’t be afraid to name your price. Just go ahead and name a price that feels fair and comfortable for you. Leave leeway for negotiation, but not so much that it seems opportunistic.

6. Don’t haggle over a fair price. If someone offers you a fair deal straight off, you don’t have to haggle. Accepting a fair price establishes trust.

7. Offer what its worth. If someone asks you to pay way below what something is worth, don’t be afraid to offer them more than they are asking. This also establishes trust.

8. Know the market. Be aware of the value of the items you are negotiating over, and what you can afford to charge or pay. Have a clear idea of what you want to get out of the negotiation.

9. Be open about what you can and can’t do. Don’t be afraid to show your discomfort if you feel you are being offered too much or too little. Thats the truth of it. People pick up on your gut reaction, and that influences them to shift their position.

10. Be prepared to walk away. Your biggest power in a negotiation is the genuine willingness to walk away. No hard feelings.

What is so engaging about American Pickers is the enjoyment that the pickers and the collectors both get from the process. The pickers get all excited sifting through piles of old stuff looking for treasures. The collectors, who have often invested a lot of time, money and space in their stuff, find it affirming that someone else values what they have. There is a rapport that builds out of a mutual interest. Even though they negotiate hard, each party has a respect for the process.

When its done by masters, negotiation becomes a dance of complex factors that interplay to produce a final outcome. What each party knows, wants and feels interacts in an dynamic process that moves back and forth towards a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Head and heart have to work together to find a solution that gets you what you want, but still makes sense financially. It all happens so fast, you have to be able to trust your gut to know when to say yes or no.

Having seen the masters in action, I feel like its OK to want to make a trade that works out well for both parties. In fact, having fluidity about the price and the conditions attached is probably more respectful to the needs of both parties than a fixed price system. The challenge in a negotiation is that you have to display yourself and what you are about in a way that isn’t necessary when you just pay the set price.

Now that I am setting up work on a job by job basis, rather than being an employee with fixed pay and conditions, I need to set aside my old ideas about negotiating about money and learn from the Pickers. Engage openly and enthusiastically, and be prepared to walk away. I don’t think I am going to be satisfied to just pay the ticket price on what life wants to sell me.

On the weekend in the interests of Family Fun I decided to get out the origami books and paper. We picked out some things to make at random, and got folding. I was the lead folder, and I pressed forward with trusting and expectant eyes following each move. Trouble was, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I keep getting stuck on the tricky bits …. Can’t do! Can’t Do! Lets try another one.

Origami has a lot in common with assembling flat packed furniture. It seems like a perfectly straightforward exercise to put together a computer table. Here are the pieces, here are the instructions. Should be possible for a reasonably intelligent person to work out. Only somewhere along the way, I get stuck. The instructions or the illustrations are just missing that extra level of detail you need to know what they really mean.

Is that the front or the back? Does that mean fold the whole section to the back, or fold it inside? Is that the symbol for cut or a fold? How am I meant to get that in there? Why doesn’t it look like the picture?

I remember now that although I like the idea of Origami, I actually find it quite stressful, because I get stuck and confused. I decided to try a different approach to picking things out at random. I choose the easiest instruction book with the best instructions, and started at the beginning. I did a little each day, stopping when I started to feel bored or stressed, which was after making two or three things. I got through the whole book, and am now on the next one.

Origami is one of those things that takes time and patience to master. Start easy and increase the level of difficult gradually. Do little and often. Learn before you teach. Stop if its driving you crazy. If all else fails, search for video instructions on the internet.

Hopefully we will be able to have some folded paper Christmas decorations this year.

 

I have been having a great time since I stopped working in April this year to travel. Since I got back I have been hanging out, sorting out, blogging, going to the gym, lunching, knitting, learning, and setting up a business. It seems like the only thing I haven’t been doing is earning.

Starting a business is a much slower process than I thought. Thinking and planning and setting up and advertising. Spending and spending and spending. Waiting and waiting. Everything seems to take four times as long as I expect. I am putting in a lot of work, but not getting immediate results in terms of income.

Its becoming a strain to have days filled with fluff, but no paid work. Its like having dessert for every meal, without the meat and potatoes.  Life feels insubstantial, like when an airplane flies too high and you get lightheaded.

Based on the progress so far, I think its going to take about 6-12 months to really get things going, and there are no guarantees. There seems to be a natural pace to starting a business that you can’t really rush.  You can’t grow a child more quickly by mothering it twice as much. And I don’t really want to hurry. I want to grow into the process, and with the process. Its something I want to build with care, not slap together in a panic.

So I am still working on being self employed, but also shifting some energy to exploring other work options that can run in parallel, and provide a more predictable source income. This will give me the freedom to keep developing my own interests without having to worry about money to cover expenses. It will also get me back out into the workaday world, mixing with real people, which I am starting to miss while working on my own projects at home.

If the plane flies too high for too long, you have to fit your own oxygen mask. Once you make sure your basic needs are taken care of, then you can then think about helping others.

I have received yet another email from Amazon promoting deals for “Black Friday”. Here’s the problem. Australians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and therefore we also don’t have a massive shopping frenzy the day after it. In fact until I started reading blogs on minimalism this year, I had never heard of Black Friday being a super-deals shopping day. I suppose the equivalent in Australia would be the Boxing Day sales.

In Australia, Black Friday means something else. It refers to terrible bushfires when a firestorm swept across Victoria and killed 71 people in 1939. We have a history of servere bushfires, with devastating events such as Black Friday, Ash Wednesday, and the recent Black Saturday in 2009 etched in our consciousness. I think most Australians are going to do a double take when they see Black Friday used to promote online shopping, particularly people closely affected by the fires.

I did a bit of research and found that Black Friday means different things in different parts of the world. In addition to the Australian association with tragic fires, there is Eyemouth disaster when 189 fishermen died, a particularly voilent women’s sufferage event in England, an Allied air attack against German ships in Norway, a massacre of protesters in Iran, and a tornado in Canada.

So here’s my point. Get your act together Amazon, and stop splashing the world with culturally inappropriate and offensive advertising.