Monday, December 30, 2013

Ring it, 2014!

It's my end of the year post, and I probably should be writing it tomorrow because this morning I have such a heavy heart. When I think back on this year, I'll remember so many amazing things: a scruffy little dog joining our crew, John finding a job he loves, our wedding, how the kids have grown and blossomed, finishing my book, finding an amazing community at USSB (and jumping in with both feet), and exciting new ventures on the horizon. It has been such a great year.

And still, there are things to do. Today the youngest kiddo got on a plane back to Pennsylvania, throwing the house into a gloomy quiet as we all deal with missing him. We have more work to do to replace the band-aids put in place when we moved to California and it's tough to know what to say to him when he tells us he doesn't want to leave. We don't want you to either, little guy.

This year challenged me to heal and forgive myself for past mistakes. Early in the year, I took a deep breath and told the truth about a past relationship, which was hard and scary and long overdue. After I finally just said the truth out loud, I realized that although we're all the heroes in our own stories, you can easily be cast as the villain in someone else's. Do any of us really see ourselves as a villain? And yet, we make mistakes, we hurt other people, we act out of selfishness and fear. We all do it. As we travel along our paths and make good and bad choices, some of us look at others with compassion and love and forgiveness for the mistakes that we make. Others call names and throw stones and vilify people for their bad choices. I guess it all depends on how you look at the world and how you write the story of your life. I have never thought in terms of good guys and bad guys; real people are so much more complicated than that. And yet every day you meet people who throw a label on you, fitting or not, and there you are, cast in a role you didn't audition for.

This year I've come to terms with being other people's villain. It hasn't been easy. When you're your own toughest critic, it's easy to hear the bad stuff because it justifies that little voice in your head that tells you you're not good enough.  I want to be worthy of all of the good in my life, and it's so easy to believe that I'm not. When I see the amazing people our kids are, when John shows me every day what an amazing partner I have, when I walk out the door in the morning and see ocean and's easy to wonder if I'm worthy of all of this beauty. Maybe I'm not. And yet, here it is.

If there was a word of the year for me, it was appreciation. I do not take for granted a single second of the happiness of 2013: so much growth, so much joy, so much love. I'm looking ahead with wonder at the possibilities of 2014 and the work I still want to do. And with that, here's the resolution recap and reveal. It's good to have goals :)

In 2013, I had 3 resolutions: play more games, run another 5k and get to know the local Unitarian Universalists here in Santa Barbara.
I definitely played more games, although they were more of the board game variety. Maybe it was the fact that I can't get much console time with all the kids in the house, but I branched out to mobile and new board games this year. All in all, I'd say mission accomplished, although I'd really like to up my video game play in the next year.
I didn't run another 5k because my doctor told me no. Shortly after running my first 5k, I threw out my back spectacularly, and afterwards was basically cut off from running. Instead, I did p90x before the wedding, which would have been great, but as soon as the wedding was over we were DONE. Not a total bust, but not really what I had in mind in terms of consistent training.  
I totally pwn'd the third resolution. Not only did we join USSB in January of this year, but I'm now serving on the Worship Committee and the Membership Committee. I have grown so much from being part of this community. I can hardly remember what it was like to not be part of this church and am so looking forward to the opportunities to participate in the next year. 

So, for 2014, I've been giving the resolutions a lot of thought. There are some big ones. Let's see how it goes!
My first resolution is to consistently practice yoga. Back in my pre-kid days, yoga helped  me overcome anxiety attacks, kept my back in shape, and generally made me a happier person. Plus, I like it. So for this year, I'm committing to practicing yoga consistently again, finding a studio or two that I like, and carving out an hour or two a week for some time to find my center. 
Second, I'm resolving to find my focus in my "hobby" ventures. I've had a couple great starts in 2013, but 2014 is all about follow-through. There's some great things ahead and I'm ready.
And finally, the big one: I'm giving up meat. This one is going to be a huge challenge, and I don't want to say I'm going to be vegetarian, because I'm still planning on eating fish and eggs. I'm also pretty sure that I'll eat bacon, and if I go to Michigan and my mom makes venison steaks, well...I'm eating them. Despite these exceptions, I've just been reading too much about factory farming, and I've come to realize that I don't believe in the practices that provide us with meat. Having grown up a butcher's daughter, I knew exactly where our meat came from. Today is very different, and while I have no moral opposition to eating meat, I want to know how it got on my plate. I already started on this resolution, and so far, so good. 
Thank you 2013 for all the adventures and wonder and love. You're gonna be a tough act to follow.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Tis the season for love, actually

We all have our holiday traditions: how we decorate, what foods we make and eat, special holiday outfits, places we go...and movies we watch. Oh, I LOVE holiday movies.

And my favorite? Love Actually.

Which is actually taking a bit of a beating by critics as it celebrates it's 10 year anniversary. So let me be defensive for a second. 

There is no question that Love Actually, just like every movie, has its flaws, especially as a holiday movie. It's not a "classic." It's barely even about Christmas at all, really. And while some have cried misogyny over the fact that three of the relationships focus on men and the women who work for them...that may be misogyny but it's not unrealistic. And yes, the women mention their weight and there's a lot of emphasis on physical appearance. To be fair, these things might be some of the most realistic things about Love Actually because this move is totally, delightfully, too fantastic to actually happen. And that's why I love it. Because life is ridiculous and unbelievable and fantastical if you let it be, and there will be mistakes and sadness and loss and still, love actually IS all around. 

Love Actually captures over and over those fantastical moments and the power of the Grand Romantic Gesture as the point of epiphany for the reality and surprise of love. Sometimes you realize that supporting your family is more important than pursuing a romantic relationship, sometimes you realize that the love of your life is your best friend. Sometimes it takes a big mistake to realize where your heart really is, and sometimes you need to learn a foreign language in a week and fly to France and ask someone who you've known a very short time to marry you. These are the beginnings, the epiphanies, the points of revelation and change. Do we see what happens after? No...just like every other fairy tale, we're left to imagine that people live happily ever after, even though we know it's usually not that simple or easy. But sometimes it is, isn't it?

Maybe your view of love is that relationships are hard work, or that the only true love is one that lasts forever, or that there's no such thing as love at first sight. I disagree. Some relationships are easier than all depends on how, and with whom, you want to spend your energy. Some love is driven by attraction, some by friendship, some by shared life experiences.  Not all love looks the same and that's ok. But let me let you in on a secret: love isn't hard work. Anyone who tries to tell you that it is hasn't found the good stuff yet.

Life, however, IS hard work, and the best you can do is find someone to be by your side to weather the storms. If your relationship is hard work, then maybe you haven't found the right person to share the ride, or maybe that's part of the life work you're willing to do...either way, that's YOUR story. For the rest of us, don't try to convince us to try to stop believing in the fairy tale. We're going to bask in Love Actually: the hope and wonder and sadness and surprise of love in all of its small and grand romantic gestures and the value and beauty in our successes and stumbles in the search for true love. I'll always be on the side of that kind of love, actually ;)

And now to watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas again, who reached HIS epiphany upon hearing the Grand Romantic Gesture of the Whos singing (without any packages, boxes, or bags). Sometimes it really IS that simple and easy.

ps. Full disclosure: When John and I got married this summer, he surprised me with a tribute to the wedding scene in Love Actually where musicians sing/play All You Need Is Love as the bride and groom's recessional. How's that for a Grand Romantic Gesture?

Yeah, I was surprised. This man. *swoon*

pps. Find out what character you are in Love Actually! C'mon, you know you want to...


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vote now! FUND$TER in the Global Startup Battle

I need your help.

Our start up FUND$TER from Santa Barbara Startup Weekend is competing in the Global Startup Battle. 

Would you vote for me?

Reasons to vote:
1. You gave birth to me or we're in some way related. 

2. We went to school together, we've worked together or we've dated(!) and if i win you can have bragging rights that you know me.

3. You still owe money on your student loans.

4. You have no idea how you're going to afford your kids' college.

5. I voted for something for you or your kids at some point.

6. You have ever had a conversation about the lack of women tech entrepreneurs.

7. You drink Coke. (They are sponsoring the competition.)

8. You think there should be an option for funding college besides student loans and your parents.

9. You need a distraction from your family over Thanksgiving and you can use this as an excuse.

You can vote every 24 hours until December 6th! Please help us make it to the finals!

And please share...thank you :)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Our village

This past weekend, I had one of those not-so-proud parenting days. Sunday, we were helping support a luncheon at church, and shortly before it started, we realized that we had not planned for what to do with our kiddos. It wasn't a catastrophe, but it is unusual that we don't have everything planned out...with 6 kids, you really need to have a knack for logistics. John and I had a moment where we looked at each other Sunday morning and thought, "oh crap." A few moments later, we mentioned our oversight to one of our friends, who volunteered to add our kids to the "daddy day care" that had been planned while we were hosting the luncheon. We had 4/6 of our kids, and after a brief call to confirm, we walked them over to spend the next few hours with two amazingly accommodating friends. As we walked back to the event, we felt terrible...we had basically just invited our kids over to our friend's house and dropped them off on a moment's notice.

During the luncheon, we were prompted to share with the others at our tables something that we are grateful for. When I thought about it, in that moment, I realized that I haven't really had a support network quite like this before, friends who are not just my friends, but who have our back, friends who would welcome our crew into their fold without question - even better, with a smile. And so, that evening, when our teenager's ride from youth group to a birthday party fell through, these same friends took her home to wait for us to shuttle her between social engagements, and sent her off to us with dinner to go.

This is new, this feeling of community. Here we are, on the west coast with no extended family to lean
Not bad for a village ;)
on, with a big herd of kids and both of us working full time. We are busy, BUSY, but we do well with figuring out schedules and making sure that everyone can make it to writing club and soccer and play practice and we can still eat dinner together as a family every night. There have been more than a few days that I wonder how we do it, but in general, we work together as a team and get stuff done. Yes, it sometimes takes weeks to get to a minor home improvement, and no, our house is not spotless. But everyone is clean, fed and happy, and we have, by and large, done it on our own.

This weekend showed me that we don't have to do it on our own, that it's not a failure to lean on our friends, just as we have always welcomed others leaning on us. In fact, it's great to have our kids know that there is a network of loving adults who all think they are awesome and on whom our kids can depend if needed. It is amazing to see how, in just over a year, we have started to create a new village, an extended family of choice, that we can turn to on our not-so-proud parenting days and who can depend on us right back.

We have a west coast village now, with elders and parents and kiddos and it is wonderful. In November, this month of gratitude, I am so grateful for our village and for this feeling of knowing we are not alone. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Immersed in fear: a study in design

This weekend, I took John on an early birthday date to Knott's Scary Farm. If you haven't been, imagine an entire amusement park transformed into a macabre scare fest, where you can't even walk from one destination to the next without something jumping out at you. All in all, we went through 11 haunted houses/mazes, saw a couple creepy shows, and even snuck in a roller coaster ride. We literally spent 6 hours surrounded by fog and freaks, screaming and laughing the whole time.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect before we went, but coming out of the experience, I couldn't help but apply my designer lens on what it was like to be scared for hours on end, and how it changed my behavior and thinking.

From the moment that you passed the ticketing gate, the experience began. Frightening characters accosted you as you tried to orient yourself, snapping some sort of clicking contraption so close to your face it was a wonder they never actually touched you. It was dark, the fog machines were in high gear, but you could still see the creepy people intermingled with the crowd, and just as you thought you had safely passed them, they would jump out at you or target you for spooking. If you showed weakness, screaming or otherwise obviously reacting, they would continue coming after you, and often others would join them. There was more than one occasion when we'd see a patron cornered, cowering, surrounded by spooks. It was unnerving, yet exhilarating, trying to face your own startle reflex and forgotten nightmares.

The haunted houses and mazes were worse, of course. Not just because of the closed in walls with creepers hiding behind curtains and in corners, and not only because the clicking in your face and the jumping out was was worse because you knew they were there, you knew what was going to happen, and it STILL made you scream.

And not just scream, but laugh...laugh because while you were scared to death, it was mixed with the
Photo credit:
relief of knowing that even as that killer clown was LITERALLY breathing down your neck as he followed you from room to room, you were safe knowing they couldn't actually touch you. We went through haunted maze after haunted ride after haunted house because we wanted to be scared but we knew there was no real danger, and that gave us the freedom to feel the fear and work through it.  We could laugh at the folly of our screams and yelps, knowing it wasn't really a vampires' lair or a BBQ joint where the sandwiches were made out can probably guess.

Even as we walked through paths between attractions, our radars were on high alert. We learned that certain scenarios increased your likelihood for an "attack"...particularly if you looked directly at them. Or if you were completely engrossed in something, like looking at a map (thanks, corpse bride, for smacking that out of my hands...good one. I was just trying to find the next maze...). Three hours in, we had seen enough other people attract the unwanted attention of the creepies and made enough of our own errors that we finally were able to make through a path (mostly) without being attacked, only to turn a corner to walk down a completely fog-filled path, where you could barely see the person in front of you, and no more. Surrounded by mist, we were vulnerable again, waiting for something bad to happen...but it didn't. It didn't even matter; after hours of raw fear, just walking through fog was terrorizing.

I relied on John to help buffer my fear, to assure me that if I was going down, it wouldn't be alone. While strangers would give you up or run away when the ghouls attacked, couples and friends physically clung to each other for support, screaming and laughing together.

This is what immersive design should do...elicit the emotions of a real event and challenge you to react and adapt appropriately, but give you the freedom to experiment and practice and fail and succeed and see what happens in all of those situations. Yes, we all would hope that we wouldn't be trapped in a post-apocalyptic gaming arena a la Mad Max's Thunderdome...but if we found ourselves there, there's a certain simulated arena in Knott's Scary Farm where we could practice.

I've never been scared for six hours straight. And I can't remember having so much fun. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

DevLearn 2013 Lessons Learned

I'm a notoriously bad note-taker (I blame it on paying attention), but coming out of DevLearn this year, I had some big epiphanies that I wanted to get down in writing.

First, thank you, as always, to the e-Learning Guild for hosting a wonderful event. Every year I say I'm going to present less and attend more sessions, and every year my dance card fills up. David Holcombe, Heidi Fisk, David Kelly, Reuben Tozman - another inspiring year! And a special thanks to Juli Balding, who is the world's best herder of cats.

In no particular order, my thoughts and observations on DevLearn 2013:

1. People have a hard time breaking out of "conference mode" - I would have liked to see more people building Lego robots. Maybe next year I can convince them to have a "Battle Bot" competition during DemoFest and bring in a Battle Bot alumni to host (ironically, I know one...). In general, I like the hands on learning activities, but I think it's difficult to get people to transition from soaking it all in to trying something new. Still...I think this is worth broadening and refining - and could evolve into a real application at a conference of immersive learning.

2. I wanted more diversity in the keynotes.

3. I didn't have to explain what immersive learning was so much anymore. I had GREAT turn outs at my pre-con workshop and Morning Buzz sessions. I like seeing the shift from "ooh shiny" technology focus to "what can we really do with this," and not in a dismissive way.

4. The data sessions were packed, and it's clear that many people still don't know what or how to measure. What the LMSs typically measure and track aren't the metrics that executives care about and that is a serious gap we need to bridge. A few years ago, I did a panel with Cammy Bean and Ellen Wagner at Learning Solutions on speaking the language of the business. We need that BIG TIME in data analytics. I want to show more examples. I want to break down a PNL for training professionals to really get what we need to communicate. I already have ideas on how to refine my session. Maybe there's a book in there.

5. There seemed like a lot less higher ed and government attendees. I like seeing a good mix, but all of my sessions were heavy on the enterprise attendees. I'd love to see more diversity, not less!

6. I worry about the new tech hype. As the girl who touted virtual worlds a few years back, I am seeing parallels in some of the new technologies. Augmented reality hasn't found it's home yet. Mobile is still struggling with good design practices. Games are finally accepted as valuable, but still there are so few examples of organizations implementing them in deep ways...still a lot of pilot tests. And now we have AI and robots and Google Glass and sensors...and yet many are still struggling to show how training adds value (and is not just a cost center) to an organization. Which, of course, takes me back to analytics...we need to keep the horse in front of the cart, and while I'm a huge fan of new tech, I worry that we need to catch up to where tech was 3 years ago. (Am I getting old and jaded?)

7. I was thrilled to get to hear Ian Bogost's keynote and even more excited that he delineated games from gamification. It's a message that learning folks need to hear, and he really broke it down well. I hope it helped some of that "let's make this boring activity a game" syndrome. Plus, I fan-girled out a little that he recognized me.

8. I've been talking about ARGs for 5 years and people still don't really know what they are. Part of it lies in the confusion of games versus gamification, but I'd like to really push more examples and case studies. It's a low cost way to create immersive learning that is completely under-leveraged. It may be time to jump back in to that pool.

9. Don't get a tattoo in Vegas when you live an hour from LA. Especially if you already got a tattoo in Vegas last year.

10. People are sheep. NO ONE would enter the Silver Clouds exhibit at the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Bellagio, even after John and I stormed in. Why would you not experience the art? Jump into it, people. JUMP. IN.

11. Every conference I go to, I think about the difference in value of presentations versus conversations.  Presentations are valuable, but it's usually the conversations where we learn the most. What would it look like to structure sessions around conversations with the goal of an outcome. Something like, "I need help with..." and "I can help with...!" and pair people up? Maybe we need problem - solution speed dating?

12. I didn't get as much social time this year. I think that's ok, but I do like to stay for the whole conference, which I couldn't do this year. There's always next year, right?

13. Smart people I admire take lots of good conference notes, or compile peoples' tweets, etc. You should check out Cammy Bean's blog for notes on the sessions she attended (including one of mine, and Ian Bogost's previously mentioned keynote). And David Kelly's compilation of the conference back channel, of course.

14. People really do love I can't tell you how many people stopped me to tell me their personal stories, and thank me for what has done for them. It really makes me proud to represent a company that people feel so passionately about.

A few more thought-provoking conversations will be covered in separate blog posts, but my key take-away from DevLearn 2013? It's still all about the design, and the data, not the tech. We just need to figure out design and data FOR the tech. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My little woman

I spent a quick lunch watching 3 of the kiddos in their Fall Sing. I always love to see the kids perform and it was Vardan's first performance on the trombone! But the best part came after the concert.
I spy a clarinetist & a little guy in the back with a big trombone...
I was walking my sweet Sallie Rose from the auditorium to get her lunch, when a woman I didn't recognize came up and gave her a big hug. She said, "Oh my little woman, Sallie, it's so nice to see you." The woman looked up and saw me; I'm sure I was standing there with a very confused look on my face. She asked if I was Salllie's mom, and when I said yes, she told me that every day, Sallie makes an effort to say hello to and talk to her son. She got choked up as she told me that her son is the little boy who's severely disabled in a wheelchair in 3rd grade (a year older than Sallie) and that most of the kids ignore him or worse. She thanked me for raising such a beautiful little spirit who every day reaches out to make her son feel included and welcome.
My little woman

I think, in that moment, with Sallie looking up at me smiling and kinda confused, my heart almost burst. And, of course, she said to me as the woman walked away, "Mama, why are you going to cry?"

It's amazing when you realize your children are living the values you hope you are teaching them, when you find out that without your coaxing or guidance, they reach out to those in need. It's amazing when you see the little people they are becoming, when you see who they are and a glimpse of who they will someday be. It's breathtaking to see your child through someone else's eyes and know that she, just by being herself, is making the world better and brighter.
Jazz hands!

Sallie has always been my little woman. I loved seeing her singing and dancing on stage today, but the best part was seeing the impact of her big heart, for which no audience may ever applaud and no viral video may ever be posted.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ada Lovelace would probably be pissed that she has a day

(Let me caveat this rant by saying that I think it's important to recognize the significant achievements that women have made and are making in science, technology and mathematics. I think the intent of Ada Lovelace Day is good and YAY and etc.)

Doesn't it piss anyone off that we have to have a day to remember the achievements of women in STEM? Because Ada Lovelace day totally annoys me.

I was reading an article about Ada, and read this about her tutor:

So is it really any different today, when we have to have a special day to recognize and celebrate the achievements of women in STEM careers? I can imagine how Ada felt, hearing from her tutor that because she'd been born the wrong gender, she really didn't have a chance to lead her field of choice. I can imagine it, because I remember in 11th grade Advanced Trigonometry, when I got the exact same answer (and worked the same process) on a test as my male friend, but he had it marked correct and I had it marked wrong. I took both tests up to my teacher and asked him why. He replied, "It's because you're a girl and girls aren't as good at math." There were only two girls in that class, and the following year there was only one in calculus, because I decided I wasn't going to spend another year with that same teacher being subjected to ridiculous gender bias. (I took calculus in college and aced it, btw.)

This is not an unusual story. There's rarely a day that goes by in the games and tech industries that there isn't an article published about the struggles of women to be treated equally and with respect. I know it's no different in science or math. Those of us who stick it out find coping mechanisms, learn how to pick our battles and seek each other out for support. 

And then once a year, we get to hold up Ada Lovelace as a beacon for other little girls, to have at least ONE role model in STEM to whom we can refer when we tell our students and daughters that there is a place for them in medicine or math or robotics or physics or programming. I don't want to have to tell my daughters to lean in. I don't want to tell them they should wear high heels to make them look taller when dealing with all of the men in the gaming industry. I don't want to tell them that there are so few women in these fields that we have to have a special day. I want them to know that they are smart enough and geeky enough and logical enough and techy enough to outperform their male peers in any field they choose. I want my sons to know that women are a force to be reckoned with, not dismissed. 

So thank you, Ada Lovelace, for being our role model. I think the best way to honor you is by ensuring that there's a long list of women that make your day irrelevant.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Habit of Forgiveness

Wayside Pulpit quote
Yesterday morning I led my first service at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. This month's theme was forgiveness, and I focused the service around learning to forgive, and building a habit of forgiveness. I can tell you that this process of leading a worship service is one of the biggest challenges I think I've ever taken on. It has taken me weeks of focus and thought to figure out how to approach the service, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to push myself to learn and grow and hopefully help others to see forgiveness in a new way.
A surprise good luck card

Thanks (always) to my wonderful family who were amazing cheerleaders, to Minette Riordan for being a great worship associate partner for the service, and to Ken Ryals for surrounding us with beautiful music.

Here, in its written form is my reflection: 

A Habit of Forgiveness
I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm really sorry. I'm sorry.

I have a really bad habit of apologizing for...everything. Problems big and small, things that I did directly, or things that I had nothing to do with, chances are if you are upset about something and tell me about it, I'll apologize. It’s not that I walk around carrying the weight of the world; I just tend to take on responsibility for things in an attempt to alleviate the burden on everyone else. So I'll say I'm sorry for all manner of things and shift the responsibility of dealing with issues from other people to myself, as if to say "this is my fault, I'll try to fix it and make things better for you."

A few years ago, I made it my New Year’s resolution to stop apologizing.

It's not that I didn't want to offer support or friendship or kindness, but just the simple act of apologizing misplaces responsibility when the apology isn't warranted and puts me in a position of constantly being responsible to everyone. Quite frankly, I make enough mistakes on my own without taking on other people's.

To be honest, I failed pretty spectacularly at breaking the habit. What the resolution DID do was force me to take a look at how much I apologize and why. 

We all learn to apologize at a very young age. Our caregivers prompt us to say I'm sorry as part of the process of learning from our mistakes. We learn that apologies do two things: first, they allow us to take responsibility and acknowledge our mistakes and secondly, apologies are implicitly an ask for forgiveness from whomever our actions impacted. I learned this from my parents and teachers, and in turn, I'm teaching my children the importance of apologizing too. 

We also are taught, from a young age, that there are "right" ways to apologize. It's not simply a matter of saying the have to show that you mean it and that you don't intend to make the same mistake again. We learn that an insincere apology often has the exact opposite affect of what we want; when my kids try to give me a fake apology like "I'm sorry that you're upset that I didn't finish my homework" or "I'm sorry that I can't seem to do anything right" or "I'm sorry that you didn't wake me up on time"...typically, that will escalate the conversation to a more unpleasant one about taking on personal responsibility, sincerity and consequences for not owning up to your mistakes. But a sincere apology conveys an important message: the person who hurt me is sorry, I believe that they understood what they did and I believe that they will try not to hurt me again.

Usually by the time we're adults, we've learned from role models and experience the importance of a sincere apology. For some people like me, the lesson was over-extended, learned so well that it became a habit. I had begun to confuse empathy with apology.

We learn how to apologize, but do we learn to forgive? 

Forgiveness for me is a much harder habit to form than apologizing, because apologizing is a simple ask, both a statement and a question: I’m sorry and will you forgive me?  But forgiveness is not so simple. Forgiveness is a process of letting go, and healing that doesn’t always happen right away. Forgiveness is both healing and release, and some times those things take time.  But it is worth it, learning to forgive, because without forgiveness we would walk through our days with broken hearts…suspicious, bitter, angry…when we forgive our hearts are mended and we are able to move forward in joy and love and an openness to what is next.

Forgiveness is also much harder to teach because while apologizing is an outward expression of regret, forgiveness is an internal process, often unnoticed and not explicitly communicated. How do we learn something that needs to happen within us, without external feedback from others?

Colloquial wisdom tells us to "forgive and forget." But let's be honest: when we are hurt or when someone does something hurtful to us, do we ever really forget? Yes, the intent of this quick phrase is good...when you forgive, you should truly forgive and let the hurt go. But forgiving should not be followed by forgetting, even if we'd sometimes want it to be, or else we can’t learn from our experiences. 

We've probably all known someone who, as I call it, is prone to bring out the "laundry list." You know, the person who appears to forgive some infraction in the moment, but who, at some tipping point, can list out everything you've done wrong in the last 10 years in great detail. It becomes clear that they didn't truly accept your previous apologies, just as surely as they won't truly accept your apology in that moment. Maybe you've even been that person, the one who has brought out "the list" even though you knew that you would neither receive a real apology for your list of grievances, or if you did, you were likely not in a place to offer your forgiveness. It's hard to forgive the accumulated hurts we collect over time all at once, if not impossible. And forget them? Not a chance. 

I taught a workshop a couple weeks ago on learning; specifically, the cognitive science of learning and memory. There's sensory memory: everything you perceive creates a sensory memory that you may or may not even realize moment to moment. We remember the taste of really good hot cocoa or the sound of our partner's voice or the subtle smell of our grandparent's house that we probably can't describe, but we know it when we smell it. There's also short-term memory: a little bit of information that we can store in our brains until we use it...and then it disappears. And then there's long-term memory: things that we remember because as we take in the information, it makes connections in our brain. Those memories strengthen the more connections that are made, or when the same thing happens repeatedly. Each time I walk into my kids' rooms and see that they didn't put their clean laundry in their drawers, it connects to the previous times that that has happened and fires a series of responses in my brain: they're lazy! they're dirty! they're rooms are a total mess! i'm a bad mom! i'm not appreciated! or, they're just kids and when I was their age, I didn't much like putting away my clean clothes either...and it's with that last one that I set aside whatever anger and frustration I feel and move on to forgiveness, and resolve to work as a family in keeping our house in working order. 

When we remember, we have learned something. When we use that information, retrieving it from our memory over and over, to apply it in new situations, with new memories formed each time we use what we know in new contexts, it strengthens the staying power of that information in our brain. That's the value of the memories of my childhood in raising my own children - I can remember what it was like to be 11, and it allows me to empathize with my kids and move past hurt to forgiveness. 

There are different types of memory: episodic memory is the composite of your experiences. And "flashbulb" memory - the memory of a particularly emotionally charged event. I used to ask the question "where were you when the space shuttle challenger exploded?" until I realized that many younger folks weren't born yet. Unfortunately we have a more modern collective memory: where were you on 9/11?  Our episodic memory and our flashbulb memory are why it's difficult to forgive and forget. In fact, we shouldn't forget, because forgetting means we haven't learned. Keeping the memory of a past hurt or pain is what can help us not repeat mistakes, or motivate us to approach life differently, or reprioritize the things in our life that are truly most important. If those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, then remembering the past, good and bad, helps us to move forward, learn and grow.

Sometimes, we use knowledge so much and in so many different contexts that we develop muscle memory - the type of memory that causes you to automatically brake when you see a police officer with a speed gun on the highway, or not remember how you drove from home to work, or allows my pre-teen boys to play a video game using complex button controls without thinking about it...or allows me to play the song from my freshman year of high school marching band from memory if someone were to hand me a mellophone. 

This muscle memory is the sign that you've mastered and internalized a process that you can retrieve at the right time without even thinking about it. This is the same type of memory that forms habits, like my constant apologies. 

What if we learn to forgive and practice it so much that we create a habit of forgiveness? What if, just as we learned the right way to apologize, to identify and communicate the feeling of remorse, we could learn, internalize and build muscle memory around the process of forgiveness? 

Charles Duhigg, the author of the book The Power of Habit, breaks down the process of building a habit into three steps.

Step 1 is “The Cue.” The cue is the context, the trigger for the habit that you want to create. If the habit we are hoping to develop is forgiveness, then you might think the context or trigger would be an apology.  But how often is an apology insincere, or never comes at all? An apology might be the prompt to express forgiveness to another, but can’t be the cue to develop a forgiveness habit. Better, the cue for forgiveness is actually the hurt itself, the point at which we feel emotional, psychological or physical pain. 

Step 2 is “The Reward.” When forming a habit, Duhigg tells us that one of the critical components is making the behavior more favorable than any other action. In the case of forgiveness, it’s hard to imagine what type of reward would be better than the forgiveness itself, and that’s actually a good thing. Because in order for a habit to really form, we have to be able to remove an extrinsic reward like a cookie, and replace it with the intrinsic reward of the feeling we get from repeating the habit. Anyone who has had to potty train a toddler knows this all too well. The tipping point of potty training is not when the child gets a gold star on the potty chart, but when she is motivated to use the potty because she’s proud of being a big girl. Until the intrinsic reward is motivating, though, cookies and star charts help to tip the balance to motivate us to practice our desired habit.

Step 3 is “The Routine.” It’s not really a new step so much as a call to action to commit to performing the desired habit whenever presented with the Cue and to follow that up with a Reward. Neuroscientists have traced our habit-making behaviors to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which also plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition. Decisions, meanwhile, are made in a different part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. But as soon as a behavior becomes automatic, the decision-making part of your brain goes into sleep mode and transfers responsibility for performing the behavior to the habit-performing part of the brain. That transfer of memory from intentional to automatic is the goal of forming a habit, and establishing the routine to reinforce it is critical to getting your basal ganglia to take over.
Duhigg cites research that suggests the best way to create the routine is to write down your intentions.  In it’s basic form, your plan should be  “When the Cue, I will Routine because it provides me with Reward.” For example, if your goal is to lose weight: When my 2pm meeting is over instead of getting a snack in the break room, I will take a walk with my co-worker because it provides me with a chance to catch up with a friend.

While Duhigg uses lots of examples in his book of how this process works, one of the most recognizable is Alcoholics Anonymous. He says,

“There's no real logic to how AA was designed. But the reason why AA works is because it essentially is this big machine for changing the habits around alcohol consumption and giving people a new routine, rather than going to a bar or drink. ... It doesn't seem to work if people do it on their own. ... At some point, if you're changing a really deep-seated behavior, you're going to have a moment of weakness. And at that moment, if you can look across a room and think, 'Jim's kind of a moron. I think I'm smarter than Jim. But Jim has been sober for three years. And if Jim can do it, I can definitely do it,' that's enormously powerful."

In the case of AA, the Reward is the social connections and support for not drinking, until you get to a place in your life that you’ve created new habits, removed triggers and established an ongoing support system to help you handle the inevitable cues that used to result in having a drink.

But what about forgiveness? Some of us have already developed routines to help us along with the process. Taking a drive, going for a run, grabbing coffee with your best friend, listening to your favorite song…these are all examples of routines that we establish to help us work through our emotions when we are hurt or angry or sad. Sometimes they help, but sometimes they are more of a distraction, a temporary band aid that doesn’t elicit the forgiveness we want to achieve.

Forgiveness is a process prompted by a decision to forgive. In creating a habit of forgiveness, the intent is to get to a point that we can bypass that decision and internalize the forgiveness process for the little hurts, and be armed with the ability to forgive when we are strong enough for the big hurts. Not all forgiveness is equal, not all pain is the same, and hurts may not be forgiven equally. But by knowing, and internalizing the process of forgiveness, by making forgiveness a habit, we will have the ability to truly forgive when we are ready.

Although I wasn’t so successful in breaking my habit of apologizing, I’m now more interested building a habit of forgiving. I’m learning that this forgiveness habit, not surprisingly, comes easily now when with the daily hurts and grievances, but I still have to work at the big things. I think that’s ok, because when I face those big things, my heart is already light, not weighed down by accumulated pain, but open to begin the journey down the tougher paths and armed with the knowledge and experience of the process and joy of forgiveness.

There are many examples of how to intentionally practice forgiveness, and I’d like to share one with you today in our meditation.  This process can be used as your Routine to practice, a few simple steps to repeat on the path to making forgiveness a habit.
(This exercise is adapted from Robin Casarjian’s Forgiveness: A Bold Choice for a Peaceful Heart.)

Everyone take a deep breath.

Close your eyes.

Take one more deep breath, and think about someone who recently upset you, made you angry or hurt your feelings…someone who you want to forgive.

Think about what the real issues behind this conflict are for you. Think about what you are feeling about this person.
Think about what is still valuable, still workable for you in this relationship.
Take another deep breath and feel the strength and wholeness within you.

Now imagine yourself in a safe place with this person.

In your mind, tell this person, as simply and clearly as possible, how you perceive the issues between you and the truth of your experience.

Speak from your deeper self to his or her deeper self.

Imagine that the person really listens and hears you.

When you are ready, bring your attention back to the present moment.

As you bring yourself back, think about what it would be like if you could actually have the conversation you imagined. If you can’t have that real conversation, imagine what it would be like to move forward as if you had.

As you go out into the world this week, find opportunities to actively practice forgiving. Think about what it feels like, think about the steps in the process and practice a meditation or reflection when you’re faced with an opportunity to forgive. Let your heart be light with forgiveness, towards yourself, towards the people you love, and towards the world. Let’s all work on building a habit of forgiveness together.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The happy revolutionary

I read an article yesterday on the 21 Habits of Supremely Happy People. It's a good list (and it wasn't a top 10 list, so that made me less suspicious). I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately, because I'm pretty ridiculously happy. It's taken me a long time to get here and there were a lot of missteps and big ol' mistakes that I made along the way. But here I am! Happy! And yet...

There's a big part of my personality that has always been perpetually dissatisfied. These are the parts that want to make the world better. These are the parts that want to call out injustice, the parts that get angry at the liars, the cheaters, the bullies, the mysogynists. These are the parts that want to take on new challenges. These are the parts that want to write books and start new ventures and fight against a broken status quo. The dissatisfied parts of myself are the parts that have pushed me to do the things of which I'm most proud.

Should we want to be supremely happy? Can we reconcile the complacency and contentment that comes with happiness with a desire to change the world? Can we be revolutionaries and still be happy?

I'm struggling with this. There are some days that contentment wins, and I embrace this wonderful time in my life with gratitude and appreciation. And then...the inevitable guilt: I'm not doing enough. I should be doing more. Am I wasting my life?

There are some days that the revolutionary wins. I write, I plot, I rally the troops. I get shit done. But I long to just be in the moment, to stop and read or listen to the waves or watch old Farscape episodes and just be happy.

I don't know that there's an answer, or that I'm asking a question. I do know that just being "supremely happy" or only focusing on changing the world would both leave me unsatisfied. So the eternal struggle for me is being a happy revolutionary: embracing happiness without being a sheep, changing the world without letting it jade me. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I've just written the acknowledgments page for my (coming soon!) book and it made me pause. There are SO MANY people I'd like to thank in my life...people who have given me parts of themselves, people that taught me things about myself, and those whose failures showed me how to avoid making the same mistakes they have (no worries, I've made PLENTY of my own).

I look forward to the book being published, and for those I've thanked to know that they contributed to this milestone for me, whether they knew it or not.

It's made me think about gratitude, and how often we thank people without them really knowing what they have meant to us or brought to our lives. How, while my acknowledgments are heartfelt, they are just a glimpse into how I feel about the people who have supported me, a little hat tip to a much deeper emotion of gratitude that I carry in my heart.

We probably can't ever truly express, or make someone understand, what they mean to us or how they've impacted our lives. That shouldn't mean that we don't try, though. Maybe because it's 9/11 and this sad anniversary is a reminder that life is short and fleeting. Maybe because you get a twinge of guilt when you think about how long it's been since you've talked to your mom, or dad, or sister, or best friend. Maybe it's for no reason at all, except you are thinking of someone in your life with gratitude. Tell someone today what they mean to you, even if they'll never truly understand the place they hold in your heart. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A game of a different color: design for accessibility

In an earlier post, I deconstructed the design of Candy Crush and sang the praises of a lot of the smart decisions that the designers made that improved engagement, increased replayability and fine-tuned the concept of social. It was clear to anyone who read it that I love Candy Crush (I've now passed my sister and am holding steady at level 213). But this week, my husband deleted Candy Crush from his phone, frustrated because he could no longer engage with the game as I can.

John is severely color-blind. I learned early on in our relationship that I couldn't use color as a reference to things. Instead of color, I would have to rely on shape or size or location or any other identifying characteristic to describe something to him. It made me realize how much I rely on color as a differentiator, and challenged me to notice more details about things so that I could have more effective conversations with him.

For weeks, we've been playing Candy Crush together. We cycle through different games, but this one had stuck for awhile. I'm a lot more competitive than him, so John had lagged behind a bit in his quests. Over the weekend, he got to the level where Candy Crush introduces bombs. On previous levels, John was able to differentiate game pieces by their shape. He even gave them names: Werther's, Mike & Ike's, lollipops...John had figured out a work around to the color coding and so could play just like me. When he got to the bomb levels, however, there was no work around. John would have to ask me or the kids what color a bomb was, which frustrated and annoyed him. After getting past a few levels with our support, he finally gave up. Candy Crush had introduced a design element that prevented him from being able to play the game.

This isn't the first game he's had to give up on. Even board games that have color-coded die force John to rely on others to navigate the game play (I'm looking at you, Smart Ass). He gets frustrated that simple design elements could easily be included to overcome reliance on color, but that designers are only focused on color-abled players. Did you know that 1 in 6 men are colorblind? This is a huge, significant player population.

In our family of 8, we have 2 colorblind family members and 1 bionic boy that is 85% deaf.  For us, helping each other navigate the world without reliance on color and sound is a way of life, and a big part of our lives is playing games. While we understand that there are some limitations of design that just can't be overcome (it's never going to be easy for Vardan to play football because he can't hear his teammates on the field), what's particularly frustrating is when there are easy ways for games to be designed that provide access for the broadest possible player populations.

So, here is my request:
Dear game designers, please consider that a significant portion of your players have disabilities. Your design decisions have a serious impact on the playability of your game. Design standards exist to help you identify how to overcome many of the design traps that can alienate players with disabilities. Please use them. And if you decide to not use them, make it a conscious decision - you can't claim ignorance towards designing for accessibility anymore.

Oh, and while I'm at it?
Dear Santa Barbara, painting your curbs red or green to indicate where street parking is available is a complete accessibility fail. Seriously? Red and green? For the love of all of your colorblind residents, please reconsider your design choices there.

a person who believes accessibility is not a design constraint but an opportunity for BETTER design