I had this week’s blog post all planned out. Then, on Saturday morning, my cat Kohaku climbed into my lap, requesting love. I set aside my phone and began to pet him. At that moment, a new blog post idea climbed into my head, requesting my planned topic be set aside like my phone. So here we are – plan A will have to wait a week.
Kohaku joined our family this past June and immediately captured my heart. He is my new black panther. One of his distinguishing characteristics is a nearly unending capacity to receive love. Throughout the morning, as I’m getting ready for the day, if I sit down, he immediately climbs into my lap. If I try to avoid this circumstance by remaining standing, he crawls up my leg, begging for attention.
Thankfully, there is enough space in my schedule to respond to his requests. When he climbs into my lap, I try to give him my undivided attention. As I pet him, I’m rewarded with a loud kitten purr motor. He loves to reach up and touch my face or rub his cheek against mine.
As I focused my attention on Kohaku Saturday morning, three life lessons arose that I want to share with you.
Responding to a Bid
Dr. John Gottman is a psychologist who focuses on relationships. He is perhaps best known for the studywhere he predicted whether or not a couple would eventually divorce with over 90% accuracy. One powerful technique he offers for strengthening a relationship is responding to a bid.
When someone close to us makes a bid for our attention, we can respond by turning towards the individual or turning away fromthem. Suppose your son points out a butterfly that has caught his attention. In that case, you can turn toward your son, share in the moment, and admire the butterfly with him, or you can (consciously or unconsciously) turn away, continuing to look at your phone or saying something like, “Not now, I’m busy.”
When your partner asks if you’ve got a minute, you can turn towards them by stopping what you’re doing and giving them your full attention, or you can turn away by telling them no or by saying yes and then continuing to do what you’re doing in hopes you can multitask.
When Kohaku climbs into my lap, he is making a bid for my attention. I strive to turn towards him whenever he does this, give him my entire focus, and enjoy our time together. These bids usually last five minutes or less. I try to do the same with everyone close to me, including my wife, children, family, friends, clients, and, of course, my pets. It’s not easy, and we don’t always have the luxury of responding favorably to a bid. Having the concept in my awareness helps me respond favorably more often.
For the second lesson, let’s look closer at our attention.
I wrote a while back about my value of teliodosis– embracing the integration of doing and being. The doing part has always come easy to me. I am goal-oriented and purpose-driven. I have spent the past two years strengthening the being part. Strengthening your effort to “just be” may sound paradoxical. If you’ve spent five decades maximizing your ability to do you can probably appreciate the paradox. I am getting better at pausing and allowing myself to be fully present in the moment.
My moments with Kohaku are great opportunities to strengthen my teliodosis. Faced with this scenario a few years ago, I’d probably pet him with one hand and still have my phone in my other, doing something “productive.” My experience, his experience, and our shared experience would be significantly altered if I chose to do so. Focusing my love and attention entirely on Kohaku calms me. It brings me joy. It allows my mind to clear out the clutter and reset. If I were looking at my phone, I couldn’t look into those beautiful eyes and tune into his purring.
When you respond to a bid by turning towards the person, do so with your whole being. Set aside whatever doing instinct you have and allow yourself just to be. You will get more out of the experience, and so will they.
This brings me to the final lesson as we explore that capacity to bring joy further.
In a conversation with my teacher and guide, Jonathan Gustin, he mentioned that bliss was an indigenous word for me. His use of the term indigenous hit me like a thunderbolt. It was a great way to describe my relationship with the word and the concept. Joseph Campbell’s “Follow Your Bliss” quote is one of my all-time favorites, as it perfectly describes my experience since I began coaching.* I am following my bliss and experiencing it regularly.
As I explored bliss further with Jonathan and another teacher, I began to flesh out some of the details behind my purpose. I want to help others find and follow their bliss in hopes they can experience the same joy and happiness I’m experiencing. I’m still experimenting with how to language it – for now, I’m calling it being a bliss generator.
When Kohaku jumps into my lap, I give him my undivided attention, and he purrs loudly. I recognize that I am generating bliss. This example is easy to verify, thanks to the purring. What sank in for me Saturday morning was that Kohaku was also generating bliss. His purring, his loving looks, and his cheek-rubbing fills me with love. Not to mention a very healthy dose of oxytocin, which will serve me well throughout the day.
There is a positive feedback loop going on between us as we each generate bliss. Our bliss feeds off each other. Our connection deepens. Life is good. Blissful.
If you focus your attention on someone else, being fully present, and bringing your whole self, you may generate bliss for them. And the joy they experience may return to you and generate bliss in return for you.
Conversely, if you bring negativity to someone and generate anger, fear, or frustration, they will probably return the favor. We get out of this world what we put into it.
Putting It Into Practice
Who are the Prince Kohakus in your life? Try these three practices to strengthen your relationships:
- Be mindful of bids for your attention. When you see a bid, make every effort to turn towards the bid and fulfill the request.
- Practice teliodosis. When you are with this person, be fully present. Avoid the temptation to be doing something else in parallel. Just be with them. Your task list can wait.
- Be a bliss generator. The more bliss you can generate in others, the more you will generate within yourself.
I am an Executive Coach and Life Coach with software executive roots in Higher Ed and EdTech. I coach because I love to help others accelerate their growth as leaders and humans. I frequently write about #management, #leadership, #coaching, #neuroscience, and #arete.
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* In searching for the quote, I stumbled across this video of Campbell delivering the quote in full context, which leaves me loving the term even more. It begins at 3:39, but I invite you to watch the full five minutes.