Electrocuting Yourself and Others

My husband and I celebrated our 21st anniversary last month and, as a gift, my parents thought it would be nice for us to replace the bare wires hanging from our home office ceiling with an actual light fixture.  (Do you know how hard it is to find a decent light fixture with a pull chain?)

We were delighted.  My parents suggested that we may want to exchange the fixture for something more to our liking so we unpacked the fixture and held it up to the ceiling to see how it looked and


…the exposed wires hanging from the ceiling touched, causing a startling spark and some equally startling foul language. Thankfully no one was hurt and within minutes my husband had capped the wires with those neat little twisty wire cappers.  All was well.

Many of us walk around with our own exposed wires just ready and waiting for some poor, unsuspecting soul to touch them off.  We call them “triggers” or “hot buttons” and when someone presses them…GZZZZTTTT!  Whether it’s the guy on the highway cutting you off, someone interrupting you, chronic tardiness or a disrespectful comment, we’ve all experienced that shot of adrenaline that tells us that our buttons have – yet again – been pressed.

Interestingly, while we accept the fact that electricity is conducted through wires and that they must be capped to avoid unnecessary or uncontrolled current, we seldom apply the same mechanics to ourselves.  It’s the other guy’s fault for doing the stupid thing.  She MADE us feel angry/sad/hurt/embarrassed.  They deserved our wrath in response to their lateness.

In fact, our personal wires – or hotbuttons – are unique to us.  Not everyone is wired to be aggravated by the same things.  Not everyone is annoyed by tardiness, not everyone is enraged by stupid driving habits.  So the currents flowing through these wires are our own.  And it’s our responsibility to know what those currents are and how to effectively manage them.  Because if we let our wires flail around uncapped, we find our hotbuttons get pressed more and more often.  And if our hotbuttons are constantly pressed we get worn down and either lash out or check out; or we decide that things are hopeless; or we decide that everyone else is at fault and we become isolated.

These wires – if figurative – are real and they originally existed in our brain to protect us from danger.  Today, with information overload, the fast pace of technology and the ever-more-demanding social and economic landscape, we need to become better managers of our brain’s threat response system.  To avoid hotbutton overload, here are a few ideas:

1. Give yourself a break.  Do something fun or relaxing – even for a short time (though the longer you can responsibly have fun or relax, the better).  The overloaded brain needs some quiet time.

2. Put words to your hotbuttons.  Instead of going straight for the jugular of the other guy (“idiot driver”, “lazy colleague”, “disrespectful oaf”…), PAUSE for just a second to name the impact of whatever just happened.  For instance: “Being cut off on the highway was scary and dangerous”; “When kept waiting, I worry. “; “Hearing disrespectful comments is embarrassing”. This lets your brain’s threat response system know that the rational part of you is aware of the threat and can handle it from here.

3. Ask yourself what you want instead.  “To get to work safely”, “to be in control of my schedule”, or “to be unaffected by others’ comments” are examples.  These “insteads” engage your the rational part of your brain and sets you on a path of positive solution rather than letting your threat response system go off half cocked.  Left to it’s own devices, your threat response would likely be hopping around shaking its fist saying: “run that idiot off the road”, “make the late person pay for their laziness” or “punch that person in the nose – that’ll teach ’em!”.  As gratifying as it may feel to flip someone the bird, it has no positive effect on you, your brain, or the other person’s driving habits.

4. Have fun and relax.  Life is extremely short.  Dr. Phil’s guests should not be our role models.  No one is waking up in the morning plotting how to ruin our day (and if there IS someone doing this to you – maybe you should find different folks to hang out with).  You have more control over your own well-being than you may be aware of.

These four steps are your own neat little twisty wire cappers.









When I was about ten years old my family took a trip to Misquamicut in Rhode Island – a classic New England beach boasting hot sand, pounding surf and a never-ending supply of body-boarding wave perfection.

The waves were taller than I was and they came crashing one after another after another creating a frothy and frenetic threshold into the fun.  As we flung ourselves toward the next wave, timing was everything.  To catch it just right was to feel the whole ocean beneath you, speeding you forward as you crested and sloshed into shore.

Scrambling to our feet there was no time to savor the victory before the powerful backwash threatened to suck us under and the next wave was upon us.  It was real-time, physical, thrilling fun.

There have been many times in my work that I’ve felt a similar rush – when the waves of problems and fires and demands come fast and furious and I’m tested to the limits of my skill and stamina.  I’ve loved those times.  I even grew a bit addicted to them.  The adrenaline rush of accomplishing the impossible; the “I can do it” mentality.

Misquamicut is also known for its challenging undertow. Because of the beach’s steep grade, the backwash (the subsurface current of water that returns to the sea after a wave breaks) is pretty powerful.  And with so many waves coming in, it can often cause an unsuspecting swimmer to be knocked down under the water and beaten to a sandy pulp before being (hopefully) spat out to enjoy her next wave.

After a particularly fabulous wave run, I had waited too long to scramble out of the way.  As I tried to get to my feet, the undertow kept pulling the sand out from under me.  The next wave slammed down over me, knocking me flat and pulling me further from shore.  Unable to break the surface before the next wave crashed down, I was tossed and flipped under the water as I felt my face and limbs scraped against the ocean floor.  Starting to panic, I tried to figure out which way was up.  I needed to breath.  I needed to stand.  I need to get out of this. Does anyone even see that I’ve gone under?!?

While it may be gratifying to solve a million problems, douse a million fires and still stand to shout “BRING IT ON!”, those waves can get the best of you if you’re not careful.

Here are some tips:

1. Don’t be an adrenaline junkie. It’s easy to get swept up in the urgency and the chaos of your work environment.  If you want emergencies, become an EMT or a pediatric intensive care nurse.  Know your work, understand your goals, perform triage and move on.

2. Pay attention to your resources.  YOU are a resource.  If that resource is tired, distracted, overwhelmed or unhealthy, it will not serve you well.  Pay attention to your own health, strength and focus.  If your resources need restoring, do it.  It is irresponsible to do otherwise.

3. Have a buddy system.  Whether it’s your manager, colleague, coach or family member, having someone with whom you can review what’s going well (and what’s not) is invaluable. Often we’re the last ones to notice that we’re about to be swamped by the next wave.  Good to have a spotter.

4. Relax.  When we’re in the froth it’s natural to tense up against the onslaught and fight your way through.  It may be counter-intuitive but the best thing to do when the waves are getting the best of you is to relax.  Take a moment or an hour or a day to step back, gain perspective, go with the flow, follow a lead.  Our panicked reaction is not representative of our smartest, most creative self.

The ocean spat me out.  I was shaken, relieved, embarrassed, and a little miffed that no one had noticed that I had nearly drowned.



Suck It Up

Employees whining?  Suck it up.

Colleagues complaining?  Suck it up.

Boss giving you “constructive criticism”?  Suck it up.

Spouse needing space?  Suck it up.

Children rebelling?  Suck it up.

And become resentful, rigid and reactive.  Roiling with resistance and rejection.


What if it wasn’t about you?

What if it wasn’t a judgment of your abilities and efforts.

What if you could hear them out, let them vent, begin to understand (not fix, mind you) their perspective?

What if you could really hear them without judgment, without reproach, without guilt or self-flagellation?

What if understanding and empathy (not enabling, mind you) trumped defense and disdain?

What if someone let you be heard for what you were trying to say?  What if they understood that you did not need or want them to solve your problems but that what you wanted was simply to be understood?

If we could do this, we would be so much wiser for the new knowledge and perspective and understanding we would have. If only we could just suck it up.