BALANCE YOUR CONVERSATION SPACE

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1 BALANCE YOUR CONVERSATION SPACE Conversation space if this term is new to you, don t be surprised. It s not common. Yet this term points to a practice that can re-create your everyday conversations and your life. Conversations occupy many of our waking hours. They take up a lot of space in our lives. And we can make a conscious effort to balance the way we fill that space. To achieve balance, we can experiment with the following five options. Balance the tenses of your conversations We can classify conversations according to their focus in time. At any moment, we can ask about the tense of a conversation: Where is this conversation resting right now in the past, present, or future? Many people fill most of their entire conversation space with the past. They talk about what happened at work or school, about what they did yesterday or the day before. They focus on events that took place minutes, weeks, years, or even decades ago. The same can be said of our mass media. Most television programs, radio shows, newspapers, and magazines dwell on events of the past. There is a second way that we can occupy our conversation space focusing on the present. This is the domain of artistry, excellence, and joy. This is the focus of the tennis player at the moment of a great swing, the musician giving a great performance, the mountain climber ascending a sheer cliff. Deep friendship, intimate romance, good meals, enjoyable massage, and great sex occur when we savor the present moment. Another option is to fill our conversation space with the future. This is the time we spend thinking, writing, reading, listening, planning, and speaking about what s yet to come in our lives. For many of us, conversations about the future usually focus on what we p r e d i c t will happen or what we w o r r y will happen. Talk is seldom about the future that we w a n t. Instead, conversation dwells on our fears or on the kind of future we will have if present trends continue. The way we balance our conversations about the past, present, and future offers potential benefits and potential problems. For example, people who talk and think mainly about the past might neglect to discuss what they want in the future. People who talk mainly about the present can have the same problem. At the same time, people who dwell on the future could miss talking about lessons from the past or the joy of the present moment. As a person who writes and teaches about creating the future, I sometimes get carried away. I find myself writing so many 3x5 cards about what I want next that I forget to enjoy what I ve already created. The point is that you can balance your conversations about the past, present, and future. And when you are in a conversation about the future, you can devote most of that conversation to creation. Instead of worrying F a l l i n g A w a k e

2 about the future or predicting the future based on current trends, start changing the trends. Write, speak, and think about the future you w a n t, the future you c h o o s e to have. For most of us, balancing our conversation space means making a concerted effort to dwell more in the future. The following strategies can help: Speak about the future. Consider adopting a goal: When I am with people, I will assist them to speak about the future. We can meet this goal in many ways. One is to set an example to model the possibility by speaking about the future ourselves. Another strategy is to shift conversations into the future: For the last hour, we ve focused mainly on the past. Can we shift gears for a while and talk about the future instead? Write about the future. I t s almost impossible to think about the past while writing about the future. When you write, your thoughts can trail your pen into the future. Immerse yourself in the future. Since many conversations are dominated by the past, you can usefully go overboard in speaking about the future. During the next 24 hours, for example, you could focus most or all of your conversations on the future. Describe your distractions. When you find yourself distracted with thoughts about the past or worries about the future, write each thought or concern on a 3x5 card. Perhaps you re filled with regret about a mistake you made. Describe that mistake on a card. Perhaps you re worried about an upcoming task. Write that task down. In s u m m a r y, use cards to capture the distracting conversations you re having with yourself at any given moment. Doing this can help you refocus on the conversation of your choice. Handle your distractions. Once you ve described your distraction on a card, you have several options for what to do next. One option is to file the card away and handle the matter later. You can also destroy the card; this works well with thoughts you don t want worries, regrets, resentments, and so on. Another option is to flip the card over and write an action plan: Describe, step-by-step, how you will handle the distraction or complete the unfinished task. Or read your card to someone else. See if your distraction goes away when you report it. Balance the long-term future with the short-term future. Goals that we intend to achieve in five, 10, 20, or more years can start sounding h a z y, distant, and vague. To give these goals more immediacy, bring Choose your conversations 195

3 them closer to the present. For example, spend 15 percent of your conversation on a long-term goal and 85 percent on the next step toward that goal a step you could take today. Balance the topics of your conversations So far I ve discussed ways to balance the t e n s e s of your conversations. In addition, you can balance the topics of your conversation. For instance, you can talk about: Things (such as jobs, money, houses, books, and ideas) Other people (friends, family, politicians, and celebrities) Self (your opinions, fears, hopes, dreams, discoveries, and intentions) Us (the kind of relationship you have with the person you are conversing with) Many conversations are dominated by things and other people. Intimacy increases as we move from these topics to self and us. Balance problems with solutions When I listen to people, the bulk of their time is spent talking about their problems. They spend only a small fraction of their conversation space talking about solutions. Check this out and see if it s true for the people in your life. Also listen to yourself and see if it s true for you. Sometimes people move the conversation away from problems to solutions. When that happens, they tend to talk about the o n e solution to a problem. As soon as they create one decent solution, they start talking about other problems. You can change these habits. Spend some time talking about your problems. Then devote the bulk of your conversation space to talking about solutions l o t s of solutions. For any single problem, create at least 20 solutions before choosing one to implement. Your second, tenth, or twentieth solution might be the best. If the solution you choose doesn t work, just go back to your list and pick another one. Since you ve generated multiple solutions, you ll have more to choose from. Balance complaints with celebrations People constantly point out what s n o t working in their lives. They point out w h a t s not working with the government. They point out what s not working with the movies they see or the books they read. And they point out what s not working with their relationships with colleagues, friends, and family members. I t s useful to talk about what s not working. And at any point, we can also choose to devote more conversation to celebration. We can celebrate what d o e s work about the government, about our relationships, or about any other aspect of our lives. And as we shift more of our conversations from complaints to celebrations, we might find ourselves filled with more appreciation and more joy in life F a l l i n g A w a k e

4 Balance content with process The strategies in this book are processes habitual ways of acting and thinking that can help you get more of what you want in life. This fact brings up another way to balance your conversation space shift from content to process. Instead of focusing exclusively on w h a t you do, also talk and think about h o w you do things. You can use the Success Strategies as starting points for this shift in conversation. For example, talk about ways you focused your awareness, told the truth, or practiced moving toward love in many areas of your life. Also talk about new ways to apply these processes in the future. Ask for help Changing the way you fill your conversation space is not something you have to do alone. Enlist the help of others. Ask them to point out when you re speaking about the past or losing yourself in worry or prediction about the future. Also ask them to monitor the topics of your conversations and listen for the ratio of problems to solutions, complaints to celebrations, or content to process. This can lead to many intriguing conversations about your c o n v e r s a t i o n s. In my office, I have a cartoon that shows a hiker standing at the intersection of two paths in a forest. One path is marked Scenic Path. The other is labeled Psycho Path. This cartoon reminds me of the choices we can make when entering conversations. If we don t stay alert, we can easily find ourselves going down the psychopath. We can join communities that focus on problems and complaints. We might spend hours with magazines that focus on the lives of celebrities. And we can dwell on advertisements that equate success with owning a new car or drinking the right kind of wine. As an alternative, we can make the extra effort to stay awake to our conversations. We can join communities that focus on solutions and celebrations. We can create more intimacy with friends by talking about us instead of the things we buy. And we can increase our satisfaction with life through regular conversations about changing our habits and experimenting with new strategies. Begin choosing now. The longer you travel the psychopath by hanging around people who have unbalanced conversations, the harder you might find it to return to the scenic path. And the more you start balancing your conversation space and managing your communities, the more often you will find yourself on the scenic path. Your friends might appreciate it when you start tuning up your conversation space. They might even seek you out as someone who restores balance and points the way down the scenic path. That s a compliment worth winning. Choose your conversations 197

5 During the next 24 hours, observe how you fill your conversation space. Gain some clarity and awareness about the typical focus of your speaking, writing, listening, reading, and thinking. At any given moment, check to see where the tense of your conversation rests: in the past, present, or future. Also observe the topics of your conversations. In addition, notice the balance between problems and solutions and between complaints and celebrations. If you like, also notice how often you talk about content and how often you discuss processes. To make these distinctions most useful, avoid judgment or blame. If you re speaking about the past when your aim is to dwell in the future, simply notice it. Any regret or self-reproach might only keep your conversation about the past more firmly in place. At the end of this 24-hour period, describe in the space below the ways you filled your conversation space. Express your discoveries as percentages, such as: I discovered that I spent 70 percent of my time talking about the past, 20 percent about the present, and 10 percent about the future; 50 percent of my conversation about the future had to do with worries, and 50 percent involved prediction. I discovered that I spent Now consider expressing these percentages in visual form. For example, your diagram might look like this: F a l l i n g A w a k e

6 Next, consider any changes you d like to make. Think about ways to change the typical tense, topic, or other aspects of your conversation. Again, express your intentions as percentages. For example, I intend to spend 10 percent of my conversations with my spouse on problems and 90 percent on solutions. I intend to Also consider expressing your intentions in visual form. For example, if your intention is to balance the tense of your speaking by allowing equal time for the present, past, and future, your diagram would look like this: You could create similar diagrams to express your intentions about other ways to balance your conversation space. Choose your conversations 199

7 The word problem comes from the Greek word proballein, which means to throw forward. Given this definition, we can see problems in a new light. Instead of avoiding them, we can accept them as opportunities to grow to throw our lives forward One way to shift conversations from problems to solutions is to restate any problem as a question. This technique offers several benefits. For one, it helps us step back and get some perspective on the situation. Suddenly the problem is not just my problem any more; it s a question that anyone could face. Also, a question by its very nature invites answers possible solutions that can lead us into action. Apply this idea to your life by completing four steps: 1. First, describe a current problem in your life. 2. Next, rewrite the problem as a question to answer. For example, the problem I don t have any money left at the end of the month can be rewritten as How can I bring my expenses in line with my income? 3. Brainstorm as many answers (solutions) as you can to this question. List every idea that occurs to you, even if it seems wild and crazy at first. 4. Finally, choose one solution that you intend to implement. Play with this four-step process by writing in the space below. The problem I want to examine is F a l l i n g A w a k e

8 I discovered that I can rewrite this problem as the question Some possible answers/solutions include I intend to Choose your conversations 201

9 2 0 2 F a l l i n g A w a k e

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