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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

Learning from Differences

When did we start being afraid? Really. What has contributed to many people hesitating, fearing people who are different, and worrying way too much about what other people think? Many people stay inside their heads analyzing way too many things - halting any action that can move them forward.

Josh Havens is the lead singer of the band, The Afters. He is a member of the church in Plano, Texas where my boys and I attend. Aren't we lucky to have him most Sunday mornings belting it out as we get grounded for the week? He recently posted photos (taken by his oh so talented sister, Esther Havens) on his Facebook page from his trip to Rwanda. Josh took his daughter Adeline with him. Adeline is six years old and she may not know how much impact she had on the community of children she met.

When I looked at this picture, Adeline had an impact on me. She reminded me of the importance of exploring, asking questions, and embracing differences. People in the Smart Zone seek differences. They ask questions. All in the spirit of working to the best of their ability emotionally, behaviorally, and intellectually.

Here are 5 ways to learn from Adeline and Live Smart in the Smart Zone:

  1. Meet new people and expand your circle. Too often we stick by those we know. I've been to holiday parties and watched men and women arrive with a few friends, hang out with the same friends, and walk away with the same friends. They hardly branch out to meet anyone else in the room. People are more likely to do this when they are uncomfortable meeting new people - or if they have anticipatory anxiety which I was interviewed about on Channel CW33 recently. Holiday gatherings, conferences, even PTA meetings are a good time to Live Smart by making it a point to introduce yourself to at least 5 new people. At a conference, sit with people you don't know. At a soccer game, introduce yourself to the other parents in the stands. By branching out and meeting new people, we are exposed to differences which can only make us better.

  2. "Get out of Dodge" and try new places. In the past year, I have made it a point to take my boys to new restaurants, to drive them a different way to events, and to expose them to different kinds of people. I want them to embrace the opportunity for change and the unknown. By staying in a routine of going to the same restaurant, out with the same people, and not exploring surrounding communities, we may be more comfortable but I promise you it won't be as interesting.

  3. Deliberately learn new things. We don't have to take a class to learn new things. One of my big diversions is to get on the website Pinterest. It is a website where people exchange ideas, get exposed to different ways of doing things, and where you can stoke your own creativity. Many of you have heard about my Director of Patient Relations, Tari Jacobs. Tari is so talented and she comes to my clinical practice to help run the place, even though she could work anywhere else she wanted to. She is a great fit because she puts her family first and because she challenges me to be creative. This year I made subway art as a Christmas gift for many of my friends. I also have started to try new recipes (my favorites come from, read books not from the psychology or business sections (right now I'm reading the Steve Jobs biography), and stepped out by letting someone else cut my hair (find out who on my facebook page).

  4. Embrace differences. The next time you are in a discussion with someone at work or in your neighborhood and the other person has an idea that is opposite of yours, deliberately listen to the polar idea and learn where it comes from. Don't dismiss it because it is not the same conclusions you made. I recently disagreed with Tari about the Amanda Knox trial. Tari had been following it way more than I had and I "didn't know what I didn't know" (a famous quote I use to hear a lot when I worked for Dr. Phil). Luckily, Tari was willing to go over the missing pieces with me and I was able to see that the differences in our thinking were due to my limited understanding of the trial. When you engage in discussions when differences occur, you are more likely to Live Smart in the Smart Zone.

  5. Tolerate Mistakes - those you make and those made by others. Some of our best learning comes from mistakes. When we try and hide our mistakes, we miss the juice. It is the juice of learning that moves us forward. If you are intolerant of mistakes, then you are more likely to try and hide it or create conflict because of it. Why would you do that when it is inevitable that you will make mistakes? We should always be trying something new because mistakes can make us better.

Live Smart in the Smart Zone by learning that differences can be good. New can be good. Feeling out of place can be good. It's all in how open minded you want to be. For most of us we were born fearless and risk tolerant. We should work hard to not lose it along the way.

If you are interested in booking me to speak at your meeting or conference please email Zan Jones.

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