Guest: Doug Foresta Guest Title: Producer of Human Potential at Work
Date: March 08, 2017 Guest Company: Ruh Global Communications
Debra: Hello this is Debra Ruh and you are listening to Human Potential At Work. Today I have one of my favorite guests, which is why I have him on all the time, Doug Foresta. Doug is joining me and we are going to have a conversation about taking care of ourselves during turbulent times. Welcome back to the program, Doug.
Doug: It’s always a pleasure, Debra. Thank you.
Debra: Doug, I remember one time you said to me- you used this term and I actually wrote it on my white board: “Staying on purpose in a crazy world.”
Doug: Oh, that’s right.
Debra: And I have it on my white board along with other little sayings to remind me-
Doug: You know what, Debra, the reality is that the world is always crazy
Debra: Yeah and maybe that’s the beautiful part of being in the world.
Doug: That’s right.
Debra: Last night, in the middle of the night, it was so windy. I live deep in the middle of the woods. And the trees were just rockin’ and rollin’-
Doug: That’s what is happening outside right now. The house is just shaking.
Debra: Yeah and then you’re like, “Oh yeah, we’re on this live Earth that’s very dynamic and wild and sometimes human beings are wild and unpredictable.” And it’s the joy and the beauty of being alive, but at the same time it can be so stressful. [laughs]
Doug: Absolutely. And when we think about human potential in that context, how do we do the best work? How do we do the best work that uplifts the world, uplifts us and then helps others? We can’t do that if we’re in a trauma response. I used to give this presentation about staying grounded. There were two plane crashes that happened close after each other. One was the miracle on the Hudson.
Debra: Yup, I remember that.
Doug: And if you remember, everyone survived that. And then there was another one in Buffalo, New York, not long after. In that crash everyone on the plane died.
Doug: The interesting thing and the sad thing was that plane was perfectly fine. There was nothing wrong with the plane whatsoever. So you have these two crashes where in one of them the plane lost complete power and nobody died and in the other one the plane was perfectly fine and everyone died. And the difference was in how the pilots responded to what happened.
Debra: Right, Right.
Doug: And, you know, this idea: that no matter what happens in life, it’s how we respond that really makes the difference.
Debra: Yes, and that’s a really, really good point; staying present. Sometimes I find that’s very difficult to do. Especially, if I’m in a situation where I feel overwhelmed or I feel afraid or I just feel like too much is coming at me. And there is so much in the world coming at us right now. I think we are available to a lot of this content in ways that was never available to us in the past, as well. I know a few hours ago I was working and I was starting to get a little overwhelmed and I could feel it in my body; the tightening of my stomach. As I noted it’s a sort of cold windy day here in Virginia, but it’s also a very bright pretty day. So I went out and I just took a walk. I looked at the incredible blue of the sky and the trees and most of the trees don’t have leaves on them right now. I looked at the way the wind was moving the trees and the creaking of the trees. For some reason it put me back into perspective. It just really calmed me down. Those two airplane accidents are a perfect example of how there are so many things that we don’t have control of. I know that I try sometimes to control my life, my environment, my family- to make sure that we are all ok. It’s a little bit of an illusion. I know you and I have had this conversation before, but I do think that I feel a little traumatized right now. I have had a lot happen. You know, the election, for example. Regardless of which side you wanted to win in the United States, I think, it was traumatizing for everybody. The sheer volume of how long it went on was traumatizing. And then we lost our husband’s beloved father, my father in law of many many years, in January. That was very traumatizing. We understand that he’s in a better place and all those things and yet we are a little traumatized from that and all the things of normal life. You looking at this from the lens of human potential and really looking at what we can and cannot control is very timely; where many people are, no matter where you are in the world. Don’t you agree, Doug?
Doug: I do and what I wanted to share was, when we talk about trauma response, I thought it would be helpful to share with our listeners what a trauma response is and what happens. There is actually a line in the Psalms that says, “From the narrow places I call to you and you answered me from the expanse.” What I find happens in trauma response is… think about when we get overwhelmed. I’ve had this happen. It happens to me [laughs] a lot of the mornings trying to get my son up to school. And then I’m like, “I have to find something”, and I’m stressed out and I can’t find it. You ever try to find something when you’re really stressed out and you really need it?
Debra: [laughs] Yeah.
Doug: And then of course you come home later when you don’t need it anymore and it’s right there?
Debra: Yup. Like your glasses on your head.
Doug: Yeah. And you’re like, “Oh my god, it’s right there. Why couldn’t I see it?”, but what happens when we’re in that flight-or-flight response our body releases cortisol into our bloodstream and what happens is literally our vision tunnels. If you have ever had the experience of being really frightened you lose your peripheral vision and your vision tunnels; you also experience a kind of freeze response or a flight response. And this was a very evolutionary adaptive thing because if you were being attacked by a tiger or something, you needed to be able to see very clearly and either freeze because animals a lot of the time won’t eat you if you stay frozen. You know, like that saying “a deer in the headlights”?
Debra: Right, right.
Doug: That’s literally what happens. Deer try to be very still because they see that as a threat, but unfortunately what is an evolutionary adaptation for not being eaten by a lion is not a great evolutionary adaptation for a 2017 Honda.
Doug: The problem is that the issues and the things that we need to face in the world today require us to be flexible; require us to have a range of responses. And when we’re stressed out that range of responses really dwindles. Another example I think of- Debra, I’m sure you can’t relate to this- I certainly have had times when I am having an argument with my fiance and I can’t think of the way out because I’m really upset in that moment. And then later, when time goes by, then I can think of something but in that moment it just seems like the world is terrible and awful and I’m stuck in it. I think that that’s the problem. We have to notice when we’re in that trauma response and not act out of that because it really limits our ability to respond effectively.
Debra: That is a really good point. I was talking to a young woman the other day. To be honest I’m not sure exactly how old she is, but she is in her late twenties. She has a little baby, a ten-month old baby. I was talking to her and she told me this pretty terrible story about her and her husband. Some people broke into their house. They held her husband at gunpoint. They robbed them. It was extremely traumatizing. And she was saying every time she goes near that place, near that area of town, she starts having panic attacks and feeling overwhelmed. And I said, “You know, thats post-traumatic stress disorder.” And she said, “Oh, oh.” Because I think often we think about trauma as, “I can’t be.” Really, Debra, you’re traumatized because of the elections? Well, it’s not just the elections, the trauma for me is that I’m really worried that people are going to be hurt. That people that are illegally in the United States, muslims… I am just worried that people’s human rights will be taken away from them. It’s so important to me as an individual for us all to be able to just live autonomously and reach our fullest potential that the thought of large groups of people, or even one person, being hurt because we have a change in politics is very traumatizing. And I’m not saying those things are for sure going to happen but those are the things that I lay awake in bed at 3’oclock in the morning and worry about. This young woman walking this really awful path and trying to walk through the path of healing and post-traumatic stress disorder, that is not anything to mess around with either that is very serious, it seems like a lot of people are traumatized. And maybe we, like anything else in the world, have a spectrum. And maybe some of us are only traumatized at 26% and some people like this young woman I mentioned, she’s traumatized at 86%. But it doesn’t even really matter. It feels like a lot of people are traumatized. I was talking to somebody that I’m working with, Doug, that you referred me to who I think is amazing. Her name is Michelle Vandepass and I think she is a very talented woman. I was talking to her the other day and I said, “Michelle, do you find that things just seem to be a little bit harder lately?”. Michelle lives in Colorado, so she lives in the United States. She said I can sit on the couch and if I was feeling a little blue or something I could eat chocolate. But now if I do that, I know that sugar causes me to feel very depressed and low. It seems like what I could get away with, some of the ways I would take care of myself, carelessly maybe, I can’t get away with it now in this new world where we are in. I know a lot of people are just trying to get back on with their lives and focus on their intentions, but it seems that we have to take a little bit more deliberate steps. Even like what I was saying, Doug, when I was feeling stressed out and I thought, “Ok. Go outside and just walk for a few minutes. It’s not going to hurt anybody if you walk outside for just a couple minutes.” And it actually helped. But I thought, Michelle is saying what she is trying to do to make sure she stays balanced. She’s making sure she exercises. She’s making sure she’s doing her Tai Chi. She’s being very careful with what she eats. She’s walking outside. It was interesting to me to listen to another person that is walking the same path that a lot of us are walking. It’s fascinating because a part of me wants to say using the word trauma is an overestimation, Doug, for me to say that word.
Doug: Yeah, let me say a little bit about that. When I say trauma response, you don’t have to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder to have a trauma response. We all have the fight-or-flight reaction. What I say to people sometimes, for example, god forbid if you were to walk outside and somebody were to come up with you with a shotgun and say, “Listen, can you tell me what movies are playing in the theatre? Do you see anything good?”, are you going to be able to hear what that person is saying?
Debra: [laughs] No.
Doug: There is no way. The only thing you’re going to be thinking is, “Will I survive? Will this person shoot me? Am I going to be OK?”. You’re not going to hear anything that they say because you’re going to go into a fight-or-flight response. Now, that’s actually perfectly normal and that’s what our body does when we feel threatened. To have a trauma response does not mean you have to be diagnosed with PTSD. Although, certainly that could happen but any one of us can go into this response where our body shuts down and that’s what we have to be careful about.
Debra: I have talked about before that in this lifetime I have struggled with depression (always have) and I find that in the winter time when I don’t get to see the sun as much it’s worse, but that’s called SAD- Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Debra: For some reason it’s better in the summer, things like that. There are things that I know I do that will keep me healthier in my mind and my body and everything else, but it does feel that I have to try a little bit harder lately over the last 6 months. That was the point Michelle was making to me, too.
Debra: Some of the things that I could get away with in the past, some of the careless behaviors (I’m using the words she used), I can’t do that now. Now I have to be more deliberate about getting enough rest. Ariana Huffington, who we really want to have on the program some day-
Doug: Definitely. Yeah.
Debra: I love her work. She has a crusade right now to make sure people understand how important it is for people to get a healthy night’s sleep. All through the world people are not getting enough sleep and certainly not in the United States. People are not sleeping enough. People in the United States don’t take their vacations. People are working too hard.
Debra: People when they’re going on vacation they’re coming back exhausted. People are exhausted and the social media and the technology that I love, that we all love, is actually adding to the stress of the times.
Doug: I’ll give you something simple that I love that really helps. I haven’t done this in a while, myself, but it’s really helpful. Are you familiar with “heart math”?
Debra: No, I’ve never heard of that.
Doug: If you go to heartmath.org… Heart math created this exercise that is really simple. On their website they have a free audio that you can walk through, but it’s really just this: if you feel upset (or whatever you’re feeling) go somewhere quiet (it only takes a minute or two) and put your hand over your heart and focus your energy into your heart. Then, you want to focus on your breathing, just the rising and falling of your breath, and picture something you are incredibly grateful for. It could be the birth of your child. It could be your spouse. It could be your work. But picture something in your life or something that happened in your life that makes you feel incredibly grateful and hold your hand over your heart and walk through that video in your mind of that gratitude. And when you do that, it only takes two or three minutes, it will profoundly change your state of being.
Debra: that sounds very powerful. I believe that, too. I was even doing it while you were talking about it.
Doug: Oh, that’s great.
Debra: I think it brings us back to the reality in that it takes away some of that fight-or-flight response so we can be calm and really keep moving forward with our lives. Sometimes, I believe that we have to go through some of these contrasts so we can appreciate. If you never have a low moment, how can you contrast it with a high moment? One thing that I believe is that you’re going to have problems in your life. Maybe you are going to be born with a disability like Sarah Ruh was. Now, does that mean you have to have problems because you have a disability? No, but the reality is you’re a human being and I think that we have these opportunities/problems so that we can grow. I also think that it’s fascinating, Doug, I was listening to one speaker and she was saying “I’m going to learn my lessons with love not from fear.” I thought, “Oh! That’s a great idea.” I would much rather learn my hard lessons by loving than by fearful activities. But I think about when I had a business that was failing and I couldn’t stop it from failing. There were going to be a lot of people that lost money. And I was mortified. I didn’t want that to happen, but I couldn’t stop it. It was out of my hands. It was during the financial crisis and I learned so much from that walk. I am a different person because of that walk. I learned so much from that walk. I am a different person because of that walk. Now could I have walked that in pure love and light? Maybe, if I’m a lot more evolved than I am, Doug. [laughs] But I was afraid a lot of it. I was really scared. I remember listening to songs and crying while I was driving because I didn’t want other people to be impacted. Even though I didn’t create this situation I was mortified and traumatized by it. But at the same time after walking all the way through it and surviving it and being stronger, I can say right this second (not that I have a choice) that I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Ok, maybe if you took me back to that moment when I was first having to start walk it, we would have to fight with the old Debra and the new Debra because I would be like “Yeah.”
Doug: [laughs] Right.
Debra: Can’t I learn my lessons with just love? Yeah, ok. So I think that part of being alive is that we have to walk these problems these traumas these contrasts.
Debra: Even some of the things I have been walking lately with, Sarah, my daughter. I’m working with Simple Books and one of the books I’m going to work on is the History of Down Syndrome. Or what I’m now going to say, Doug, is Trisomy 21.
Debra: I talked about on a show with you, Doug and Sarah, about my daughter Sarah (29 years old) was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. But I’m not allowed to use that word because Sarah has decided she hates the term Down Syndrome. So we got into another little argument about that the other night and she said “Stop using that term.” And I said, “Sarah, you know, by the way the term Down Syndrome is from a Doctor. Doctor “Down” or Doctor “Downs””-
Doug: Which I never realized.
Debra: Right. I knew that but I didn’t know much about it. So I was explaining that to Sarah, that there were just some symptoms and they put them together and they saw some of the same. And so Sarah has unfortunately inherited my depression. My daughter, Sarah, she also has to be careful with depression so does my son Kevin. My husband, Ed, doesn’t have that. My two children got it from me. So they also are the same way. They have to manage-
Doug: I actually want to stop there a moment, Debra.
Doug: Just to say, how do you know that’s true?
Debra: I don’t know for sure it’s true. I just see them reacting to things the way I do but neither of them have gotten clinical diagnosis of that, but I have.
Doug: Even if they did get a clinical diagnosis of depression, is it true that they “got it from you”?
Debra: Well, Ok. Good point, too, Doug. [Laughs]
Doug: I’m not saying- I don’t know either way-
Debra: No, but you’re right. It’s funny how we own these things and how we make decisions about things when we think we have all the data and we realize, “Oops, I didn’t realize I didn’t have all the data.” So going back to the Doctor Down or Down’s story. There actually was a Doctor Down but it turns out after some investigation on my part, he is really not somebody… I am going to write a lot about this so I am not going to go into it too much.
Debra: But the reality is that after reading a little bit of his story, I agree with Sarah. I don’t want her to be called Down Syndrome either. My daughter doesn’t have Down Syndrome. She has Trisomy 21.
Doug: It’s very eye-opening.
Doug: I definitely encourage people to read the blog that you’re writing because it was really eye-opening for me.
Debra: Yeah and I thought it was so interesting from your perspective as a clinician, how you said “Oh yeah, when we’re talking about this the doctors are not supposed to say you have Down Syndrome. They use the medical term Trisomy 21.” Getting enough information is interesting. Like you said, “How do you know your children got depression from you, Debra. How do you know?”. So back to what do we do about it? First of all, we have to acknowledge that maybe things are a little bit harder right now. We have technology and social media coming at us and news and fake news and comedy coming at us both positively and negatively. We just have never seen this kind of content coming at us. It’s worse than drinking out of a fire hose. I know that I am practicing meditation. I am religious about exercising. I am trying to be very careful with sugar because it makes me feel more depressed. At least I think it does. So I’m eating right. What are other things, Doug, that we can do?
Doug: I think just number one is really noticing and understanding and holding the intention that we are not going to act out of a place of a trauma response. Which does not mean that we’re not going to experience these things. We’re going to experience stress, right? [laughs] I’m not going to sit here and say I’m always calm and equal and even-keeled, but in terms of the work we do, when we are working and we are doing the work in the world that we want to do, we have to be in a place… You know the Einstein thing that said that we can’t solve problems at the same level of consciousness that created them?
Debra: Yeah. I love that saying.
Doug: I think you shared some really good stuff. Yoga, eating healthy, whatever it is for you; meditation, exercise, spending time with your loved ones. Whatever it is that gets you grounded- do that. But when you are in that fight-or-flight place, walk away. Don’t try to do work in that state. Don’t try to solve your problems in that state because it’s not going to be effective.
Debra: Yeah, I find that when I do try to solve problems in that state, I always make things worse, I make things worse not only for myself, but generally for anyone I’m interacting with. And I’m like you, Doug. I think both you and I are pretty grounded leaders, but we’re human beings.
Doug: We’re human beings!
Doug: Have you ever done this? I know I have. Someone sends you an e-mail and you get upset and you write a quick e-mail back. You don’t think about it and you just hit send. Then an hour later you go, “Oh my god. I really wish I hadn’t-
Debra: Yes! Yes. It’s usually like two minutes later, but yeah.
Doug: Two minutes later. Right.
Doug: I wish there was a 7-second delay, like the way they have on live TV.
Debra: Yeah, Yeah.
Debra: Yeah, I know. I am pretty good about not doing that but if I’m aggravated or if I feel bad energy and I’m replying to an e-mail, I 99.9% of the time will walk away and breathe and then come back. But there is a couple of times… I wrote an e-mail. It was such a stupid, stupid point. I wrote it and I sent it to a friend of mine and then I went back later and I had misspelled like eight words.
Debra: And he calls me up and he’s like “How’s that spell check working?”. So then I was embarrassed but he gave me a break because he’s my friend. [laughs]
Doug: Yeah, we all do it and I think, just to wrap up here, this is the other piece of needing to take care of ourselves. In terms of social media, it’s the same way. I think one of the problems with social media is someone says something we’re upset with we can immediately respond by sharing our two-cents then they do.
Doug: And then it just cycles. If you find yourself in that place, just walk away. Just walk away. Take a step away and come back later and see if you still feel so compelled to say what you needed to say in that moment.
Debra: Yeah because otherwise maybe you’re just making things worse.
Debra: Some of the hashtags, “notmypresident”, and things like that I see… I always look because I’m a nerd about what’s trending and every once in a while I will just go into the conversation to look. And some of the conversations are so mean-spirited. They’re so mean. It’s almost like I’m quickly running out of the room even though I’m just looking at a social media feed. I very deliberately will not participate in that because I think I’m making people more fearful and more afraid instead of adding value to the conversations. With this thing that I was talking about with Sarah, deciding that she doesn’t want to use the name Down Syndrome, I really wanted to seek to understand why.
Doug: And look what happened when you did.
Debra: Yeah and she’s right. I had no idea. And then I thought, “How could you not take the time to investigate something as important to your life as this, Debra?”. Until Sarah kept pushing me back it never occurred to me. I think the main thing we wanted to accomplish on the program today is to remind our listeners that if you’re walking these paths and you’re feeling some of the same stress and fear and trauma and heavy energy that you’re not alone. And there are actually things that we can do to protect ourselves and our friends, our co-workers, our families from almost getting caught in this catch-22 situation of “Well you said that to me”, “Ok. Well I’m saying this to you” and then we’re all miserable. I just think we have to be really, really conscious right now of being really gentle with ourselves and each other during these tough times. Don’t you agree Doug?
Debra: Well, thank you so much for having this conversation with me, Doug. I always enjoy having you on the program. You are a good mentor and friend to me. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Doug: Thank you, Debra. I appreciate it.
You have been listening to Human Potential at Work with Debra Ruh. To learn more about Debra and how she can help your organization visit: www.RuhGlobal.com. If you’ve enjoyed listening to this episode and you want to make sure you don’t miss any future episodes go to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast Human Potential at Work. Thanks for listening and we’ll be back next week with a new episode.