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By Steven G. Mehta

There comes a time in every mediator, litigator or person’s life when somebody that you have a relationship with — whether it be business or personal — gives you criticism.  How you react can make a huge difference.

The criticism I speak of is not criticism that you know is coming and expect (and perhaps agree with).  But instead, criticism you receive that you weren’t expecting and that you may not necessarily agree with.

First, it is important to understand that receiving criticism is never fun.  It always affects you.  Some people get angry, others get defensive, some people go inward.  But there is no doubt that it will affect you.  I believe that one of the reasons we react so negatively to such criticism is the fight or flight phenomenon.    This phenomenon comes from our stone age ancestors that had to make instantaneous reactions to threats:  Do we fight or take flight?  We still carry those instincts with us today.  The fight or flight reaction can be triggered when anything threatens us:  Our ego, our self worth, our self perception, and so on.  The modern person’s flight or fight reaction is to defend his or her actions or to take the attack against the beast that dared to threaten us.

Second, there is a difference between criticism by a person who is trying to help and a person who is trying to be destructive.  If you are receiving criticism from someone who is destructive, Buddha has some advice for you.

“A man interrupted one of the Buddha’s lectures with a flood of abuse.Buddha waited until he had finished and then asked him, “If a man offered a gift to another but the gift was declined, to whom would the gift belong?”

“To the one who offered it,” said the man.

“Then,” said the Buddha, “I decline to accept your abuse and request you to keep it for yourself.”  (found at the Postivity Blog).

Sometimes, you have to decline to accept the abusive behavior.  But, How?  It is difficult to say, “I don’t want to hear it.”  But you can listen until they stop.  You can move away from the conversation.  You can also thank them for their thoughts, and tell them that you will consider it.  This does not, however, mean that you accept it, but that you will consider it.  You can choose to reject the advice or criticism.   Sometimes simply thanking the other person will allow them to feel that they have been heard and they can move on.

What, if however, the advice is not destructive but intended to help.  It is important to consider that people who don’t care, don’t give advice or comments.  Think about it, your mother or father criticizes because they care about you; your spouse comments because he or she cares, and a person in business with you who takes the time to criticize cares.  They would like to continue the relationship with you.  They want to make you better.  If they didn’t care, they wouldn’t even bother to take the effort to criticize.

Remember, giving criticism is hard.  People don’t like to give criticism.  Recently, I had 2 separate occasions in two completely different circumstances where I received criticism.  At first, the way that both gave such criticism was “rough.”  It initially set off my fight or flight reaction.  But as I sat down and thought that these two people who I knew very little about took the time to provide me with criticism, my instant fight or flight reaction went away, and I was intrigued to understand the reason for their criticism.

I listened to the criticism intently.  I thanked them for their criticism and then went home and considered it carefully.  In one of the circumstances, after carefully considering the comments, I agreed with some of the criticism but not all of it; Nor did I agree with the conclusion.  But the fact that the person made the comment ultimately reflected the fact that she liked me, wanted to continue to interact with me on other occasions, and needed to make sure that I knew that something I did made her feel uncomfortable.  That criticism was valid, and was more of a plea for help.

In the other circumstance, I again agreed with part of the comment.  I even told the person that I agreed with part of his comment, and appreciated his thoughts.  I suggested that after ruminating on his statement, I understood why he made the comment and appreciated the thought even more.  His response was, “That’s what friends are for.”  What amazed me is that I didn’t consider this person as a friend, but more an acquaintance at that point.  But now we were friends.

As Benjamin Franklin once pointed out, nothing can make a friend faster out of an enemy than the enemy giving you a gift.  Here both persons that I didn’t know too well, now became friends because of the gift of a criticism.

So the score at the end of the day:  Two critiques, Two changes in a part of my behavior, Two Friends.  Not bad for something that could have gone so wrong.

By Steven G. Mehta

I love this time of the year.  Happiness abounds everywhere.  People wish each other to be happy every day.  Each year family members express wish and desire to continue this feeling all year round.  Well, the reality is that happiness can be bottled and enjoyed all year long.  I have been doing a lot of research on happiness this last year, and to my delight, the research I have done has confirmed that I am happy.  Here are a few thoughts on happiness from my research:

Do let the sun go down on anger. When I first got married, I made a pact with my wife to not go to bed angry.  As time progressed, I learned that sometimes it is o.k. to sleep on it.  Studies show, however, with many types of anger, there is no such thing as catharsis by airing out the feelings.  Expressing anger related to minor, fleeting annoyances just amplifies bad feelings, while not expressing anger often allows it to dissipate.  [10 ways to be happier]

Remember Nostalgia.  According to Dan Buettner, author of Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, swapping stories and viewing things from the past makes you view yourself in a more positive light.

Don’t Dwell on Mistakes.  Recognize your mistake, take corrective action.  But don’t dwell on it.  Dwelling on mistakes can only lead to feelings of helplessness and just creates a downward spiral of negative emotions. [Real Simple, January 2011]

Happiness Lies in the Chase, even if you fail. University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson has found that working hard toward a goal, and making progress to the point of expecting a goal to be realized, doesn’t just activate positive feelings—it also suppresses negative emotions such as fear and depression. One of the keys to happiness is to constantly have a challenge and expose yourself to new things.  The mind is stimulated by surprise and new experiences.   Experiencing new things and challenges give a person a powerful sense of satisfaction. According to research, people who do new things―travel to unfamiliar places, try new food, and try new experiences―are happier than people who stick to the familiar.  The reality is that even trying and failing is better than not trying at all.   [10 ways to be happier] [The Pursuit of Happiness]

Good can be good enough.  According to author, Gretchen Rubin, there are two types of decision makers.  “Satisficers make a decision once their criteria are met. When they find the hotel or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied. Maximizers want to make the best possible decision. Even if they see a bicycle or a backpack that meets their requirements, they can’t make a decision until they’ve examined every option. Satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. Maximizers expend more time and energy reaching decisions, and they’re often anxious about their choices.” Sometimes good enough is good enough. [10 ways to be happier]

Exercise.  Studies keep showing that exercise — even a little — can enhance the mood.  Take a walk.  You’ll like it.

Money can’t buy Love or Joy. According to researchers, after income of about $75,000 a year, money doesn’t really affect happiness.  In other words, money is important for basic necessities, but after the necessities are met it doesn’t change the degree of happiness you feel.

Buy Experiences, not Toys. Research has also shown that when buying gifts, people are much happier when they buy experiences rather than the new toy.  So buy a vacation rather than a T.V.

Donate Money and Spread the Wealth. Studies show that giving away money can make you happier than spending it on yourself.   The same is true of buying things for others.  Maybe that is why so much joy is had in the giving of gifts to ones that you care about.

Limit Your Options. Having too many choices keeps us wondering about all the opportunities missed.  The more choices that we have, the more that we stress over those choices and our desire to get the best option.

Make Your Bed or Wash the Dishes. According to Gretchen Rubin, people are happier when everday tasks in their lives are completed.

Practice Mindfulness. There mere act of enjoying the little things — The taste of coffee, the aroma, the feeling of the coffee swirling on your tongue, the warmth in your hands — increases your ability to enjoy life, be more calm, and be happy.

Without Pain and Sorrow, there can be no happiness. In life we all experience difficult choices, life’s pain, and other uncomfortable experiences.  However, without those feelings, we could not appreciate the joy of living and we would not value the things that do come to us.

Take Up A Hobby. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology and managment at Claremont Graduate School, taking up an activity that fully engages your mind and attention will make you more motivated and focused — which promotes happiness.

Exercise Your Gratitude Muscles. The mere act of being grateful for something changes your perception on life and makes you happier.  I have taken to writing a gratitude journal of the things for which I’m grateful.

Don’t Wait For It, Go Out and Get it. You can’t wait for some outside force to make you happy.  You have to grab it yourself.  According to research, we are born with certain predispositions to happiness.  However, over 40% of our happiness and contentment is up to what actions we take and how we interpret the actions around us.

Practice Your Inner Labrador.  I have never seen a labrador retriever that wasn’t happy.  My wife calls them bomb proof.  They are great with kids and are always happy.  Nothing ever fazes them.  You can choose your actions, and your attitude.  Every day, you have the choice to be happy or the choice to be angry or sad.  Choose happiness.  There is something very powerful about you choosing how you will live your life today.  Today, as I write this article, I am out sick.  But I am thankful that it is only temporary and grateful for my overall health.  Despite my circumstances today, I can choose to be happy about being sick because it gives me a chance to think about how good it felt to be healthy and how great it will be to get back on my feet.

Happiness is a relative and subjective state of being.  However, no matter how happy you are, you can increase your level of happiness by using some of the concepts outlined above.  So in this season of joy, here’s to having a happy holiday.

By Steven G. Mehta

Today, 30 years ago, John Lennon passed away.  His creativity and passion for life were unparalleled.  I thought I would look at some one of his quotes today and see what popped out after a particularly hard few weeks of mediations.

The one I found: Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.
John Lennon

Sometimes down time is exactly what you need.  Time to do absolutely nothing.  This is time that you can use to recharge your batteries.  Time you can use to center yourself, and time you can use to be mindful of life.  In doing so, you can then be better able to handle the complex stresses put on you during mediation and litigation.

According to the article, the Art of Doing Nothing, you can’t just jump into doing nothing.   You must start small.    Do small nothings at first. Focus on 5-10 minutes at a time, and start your practice sessions in a safe place — at home, not at work or in a busy public place. You may also not be ready to do nothing in the middle of nature, so do it in your bedroom or living room. Find a time and place where there are not many distractions, not much noise, not a lot of people to bother you.

This is actually harder than you think.  I have tried to do absolutely nothing — shutting off all distractions — and have failed miserably many times.  But in failing miserably, I have also become more centered simply in my efforts.  In prior posts, I have written about how mindfulness can help in conflict resolution.  The mere act of doing nothing can help become more mindful.

breathe

The first place to start doing nothing when you find that nice spot is to simply breathe.  Deep in and out breaths.  I actually use an Iphone app called  Destress which shows you when to breathe in and out and shows you how many breaths per minute you are doing.   There is a a good article identifying 50 Iphone apps relating to destressing.

An important part of doing nothing is being able to completely relax. If we are tense, then the doing of the nothing is really for naught. Relaxing starts by finding a comfortable place to do your nothing — a soft chair, a plush couch, a well-made, clean bed. Once you’ve found this spot, lie in it, and wiggle around to make it fit your body better.  Then breathe.

One advanced technique of relaxing is to take a bath. I, however, have not mastered this advanced technique.  I can only handle 10 minutes in a bath at a time.  However, I have modified this by going into a jacuzzi and lying on a flotation device in the warm water for 30 minutes simply relaxing.  You should try it and see how you like it.  It is amazing how many shooting stars I have seen doing this.

Finally, taking this art of relaxation to your daily life is also fascinating and beneficial. Today on my way home today, I felt like I should look up at the tall buildings in Downtown.  They were truly beautiful with their lights, geometry, and holiday spirit.  Taking in the sights, especially in routine places, can help you focus on the small things in life.

So with that said, I am going to go upstairs right now and do absolutely Nothi……

Steve’s Book

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