The Things We Cannot Change

It’s pretty safe to say that I haven’t had a conversation recently with anyone that hasn’t included a complaint about the weather. In my neck of the woods, we have been enduring “winter in extremis.” Bitter cold and lots of snow and ice, going on for what seems forever. And it seems that people are getting the rats of it. Even those who love winter are ready to see the back side of this one.

This reminds me of the part of the Serenity Prayer that includes the words, “those things I cannot change.” Certainly the weather is one of those things that we do not directly control. (Which is a good thing in my book. Can you imagine what a mess mankind would make of that? The wars that would break out? But I digress). The snow and ice have disrupted schedules, caused more “snow days” for schools than they have had in years.

In addition there are lots of injuries caused by slipping on ice that is hidden under a layer of snow, or on packed snow or “black ice”…ice that is disguised as macadam or concrete. A broken bone, sprain, concussion or heart attack from shoveling is quite the unpleasant reminder that we do not run the universe.

Losing an ability to plan, or to count on carrying out plans that we’ve made seems to be one of the most frustrating things about it. I heard on a news program on NPR that there is a steep financial price to pay, in part for lost sales. Those of us who are service providers take a hit when clients cancel and offices have to close. A woman I know said that her family vacation plans at the beach have been lost along with their deposit, because the kids will still be in school instead of playing in the sand.

So how on earth does one attain serenity in the face of such helplessness?

That is a challenge for me, I must confess. But I think the place to start is to remember that the snow and cold are NOT causing our grumpiness or fear or whatever the emotion is.

Now that might just sound crazy to you, but it’s true. It is our thoughts about the snow that bring up the emotion (helplessness, anger, sadness, despair, frustration, etc) that we are experiencing. If you need convincing, just tune in for awhile to your “mind chatter” and notice what your thoughts are. And after you tune into that frequency, you might change the thoughts, and thereby change the emotional state you are experiencing.

This is a key to benefiting from cognitive-behavioral therapy, and also to making use of the Law of Attraction. Knowing that as you change your thoughts, you put yourself into a position of choice. Very empowering stuff! Try taking a minute to write down what you are thinking. You might be surprised. We get into habits and patterns of thought that we learned and collected over the years, and for most of us they are like wallpaper that’s been hanging on the walls for 50 years. We don’t even see it any more.

After you do that, notice what emotion is being evoked by the the thoughts. And then ask, “What thought feels better?” Go ahead…write down another thought which would improve on that. And as you do, notice that you are raising the emotional (or vibrational) level of your mood. I would encourage you to continue this exercise until you really do feel better.

I have been changing my own thoughts by remembering a gift in all this “lost” time, and that is that it affords me an opportunity to do some things that I have been putting off, or don’t get on my daily to do-list very often. Writing, clearing the clutter off of every surface (I’m not exaggerating much) of my home office; catching up with some friends that I haven’t spoken with in awhile; writing a get well card for a sick friend; working on Quick Books (my CPA will be happy); reading some of the pile of required reading for my coaching class; cleaning up the linen closet which would cause Martha Stewart to shake her head in despair; use that organic butternut squash that I bought at the market and make soup.

Probably the best antidote to making myself miserable over what I cannot change (in this case, the weather) is writing my gratitude list every morning, and taking time before I sleep to recall the highlights of the day. It works because it isn’t possible to be thinking of lack and loss, arousing sad or bad thoughts, and feeling grateful at the same time.

Gratitude banishes fear and misery, because thinking grateful thoughts allows the feelings of joy or relief to come. You may even compound the experience by calling someone who enriches your life and tell them so. Buy flowers or a plant to remind yourself that winter doesn’t really last forever. Write a note and tell someone how much they mean to you. Text them if you must. Just do what you can to recount the blessings in your life. It will at least figuratively melt the snow and ice. I highly recommend it to you.

 

 

 

 

Slaying the Perfection Dragon

Today while thinking about the New Year and preparing for bringing our intentions into reality, I was reminded of how important it is to clear out what no longer serves us. This may mean paper and computer files (have you noticed what clutter you are harboring?) or clothing that you haven’t worn in years. It may also be unhealthy habits, be they of thinking or behavior.

Then I came across a post that was originally posted in 2011, and I thought it was worthy of a re-run.  And so here it is.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the greatest enemy of good self esteem is perfectionism.  And it’s also the greatest enemy of your peace of mind.

It doesn’t take much rational thought to see why this is true.  What on earth can you see in your daily life that is perfect?  Certainly human beings, as much as we may love them, are never perfect.  And so neither are our relationships.  And any undertaking we make may be excellent, but never perfect.

Elaine told me that her mother admired tall, thin, blonde girls.  She was frequently pointing out one or another girl in Elaine’s class or on the streets of their town, telling Elaine how pretty that girl looked.  It wasn’t lost on Elaine that she was athletic, short and stocky with dark brown hair and brown eyes.  Quite different than the “perfect picture” that her mother lifted up as the ideal.  Clearly, Elaine was never going to make that team!

We get these ideal images from our parents, and also are inundated with them every time we open a magazine, turn on the television or watch a movie.  Our bodies, our clothing, our relationships, our jobs, cars and homes are all held up in comparison with perfection.  Even our children “should” be in the right sports, schools and activities in order to reach some mythical perfect standards.

For quite a few years I was an ardent fan of a famous Domestic Diva, and bought her magazines, cook books, and watched her television program when I could catch it.  I was smitten with the perfect pictures of food, crafts and rooms with their soothing, trademark colors.  As her queendom grew, so did the number of her homes (how many homes can one person live in?), the elegant meals and complicated deserts.  It occurred to me that these pictures of perfection were only made possible by the work of a gigantic cadre of minions who designed and executed the perfect gardens, recipes and craft projects.

A capable cook (if I do say so myself) I could slave over holiday meals or special deserts captured in the perfect pictures.  But what about setting the perfect table with handmade decorations?  Well, maybe if I started the month before (which I almost never did).  And then what about the perfect room that my guests would eat that meal in?  When it came down to it, I was pressed to have everything picked up and cleaned in time.  Alas, I am a woman without even one minion to do my bidding.

As I was falling out of love with the Diva, I started to cringe when I heard her use the word, “Perfect!” on the episode I was watching.  This was occurring at the same time I was becoming aware that I lived with the dragon Perfectionism myself.  And what a misery it is!

You may notice that whatever picture you have in your mind about the perfect body, clothes, job, spouse, meal, etc., that it makes a moving target.  There is nothing that escapes the beady eyes of your inner critic!  Listen to your inner voice if you don’t believe me.  Or listen to how you accept a compliment.  You may sweat over finding the perfect dress for that dinner party; spend hours getting yourself put together.  And when the first person compliments you, you say something like,

“Thanks but… (insert) I need to lose a few pounds, I was worried that it was too short or too long, I’m not sure it’s my color, or I’m afraid it makes my butt look too big.”

Picking out what doesn’t measure up to that picture of perfection is a great way to undermine self esteem.  Struggling to reach some impossible standard is guaranteed to lower your self confidence!

Instead of being the Perfect Mom, could you be a Good Enough Mom?  Meaning you can rear a child that is healthy, happy and grows up to be a contributing member of society.  Yes, s/he will be another imperfect human.  Instead of struggling to be the Perfect Cook/ Home Maker/ Professional What-ever/ Spouse, could you be Good Enough?

Knowing that you are a growing, developing, learning human who enjoys success and learns from failure (and yes, endures it because no one thinks it is fun!) you might loosen up enough to have fun, live in the moment, experiment (more fun), be curious and actually enjoy your life.  The pictures may inspire us, but leave it at that.  Use them for ideas, admire their beauty, and remember that that is all they do.

Most of all look for the beauty in your own rooms, or your own table in the meal that you serve.  Enjoy the charm, warmth and uniqueness of the relationships that are a part of your life.  And most of all, feel gratitude and appreciation for you…the lovable human being that you are.

It’s Holiday Time! Are You Anxious?

Holly Wreath

It’s “beautiful December,” and if you are feeling anxious, you must know that you are not alone!

When the holidays roll around, so do emotions of every kind.  It is certainly a time when many feel nostalgic for the “old times.” Sometimes those memories are sweet or even bittersweet.  And even when those past experiences were disappointing or painful, remembering them brings up the same potent feelings.

Since most of us celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukah with family and friends, the quality and nature of those relationships color our emotions and the memories of the past.  If the relationships were loving and close, those memories warm us.  And if they weren’t, there is sometimes a sadness or bitterness that accompanies thoughts of the coming days.

For those whose primary focus is spiritual or religious, there is a deep connection with this season.  It becomes a time of reflection and meaning and awe.  Sharing it in community with family and others then is something to look forward to and to treasure.

Hardly anyone is immune to the secular pressures of the Christmas season in particular. After all, the stores were decorated before Halloween had passed, and the ads are running on every possible venue.  My mailbox is glutted with more catalogs every year, some from companies I have never heard of.  I wish they would put the recycle bin next to the mailbox, and save me from carting them off!  The few magazines I subscribe to are aglow with beautiful pictures of decorated living rooms, handmade ornaments and gifts galore.  Not to mention more menus and recipes than I could cook in a lifetime.

The comments that I am hearing from clients I work with are often that they feel anxious about the weeks ahead.  You may relate.

  • There is too much to do!  Activities to attend, entertaining to do, events to participate in or to attend.
  • Meeting the expectations of family and friends provokes tension.  Young adults who have their own families find it exhausting to get to every family gathering and worry about disappointing someone if they don’t.  Coping with fretful and overwhelmed children is a part of that.
  • Buying gifts while not wreaking havoc with the budget or the credit card balance is often a big problem.  Decisions made prior to Christmas may bring regret in January when the piper must be paid.
  • Perfectionism rears its ugly head!  Those images ranging from Normal Rockwell to Martha to toy ads on television are seared into our brains, and they are impossible to live up to. If we are hung up on needing to “do it right,” then we are doomed to be anxious.
  • Finding a balance between the spiritual, social and secular can be very difficult!

Of course there are degrees of anxiety that we may be experiencing. For some there are severe, truly unpleasant symptoms of panic.  If you would describe yourself as an anxious person in June or October, then the strength of your anxious symptoms is likely going to be cranked up.  Even if you wouldn’t categorize yourself as especially anxious the rest of the year, but are now, here are some tips for you:

  • Begin by deciding what you truly desire for the holiday.  It may be easier to clarify this by making a list first of what you DO NOT WANT.  For example you might list gaining ten pounds; or feeling exhausted and irritated; or spending more than X amount of money; or wrapping presents all night on Christmas Eve; or putting up the beat up hand-me-down artificial tree that your mother gave you after she couldn’t sell it at her yard sale ten years ago.
  • Go through this list, crossing off each item and beside it write a second list of what you DO DESIRE.  That list might include keeping your weight to no more than 5 pounds higher; getting to bed on time and taking time outs when you need them;  planning ahead and limiting gift buying to a specific amount;  wrapping gifts simply and ahead of time;  decorating in a way that pleases you.
  • Make sure that you choose and schedule activities that are really meaningful to you and your family.  Keep that list short.  It may include hearing music or attending a holiday program or performing a volunteer service or baking cookies together.
  • Be assertive with friends and family about your choices.  Most everyone will understand an “I statement” of what you are choosing.  For instance, “I have decided to host a potluck dinner (everyone brings a dish) instead of exchanging gifts this year. Would you like to come?”
  • If you find that your anxiety has reached a heated pitch, and you experience panic attacks, then help is at hand.  Click here for access to a terrific product that will certainly change your life in the New Year.

 

 

The Law of Polarity

Years ago, during my former life as a junior high English teacher, I worked with Miss Briggs, the school librarian. Miss Briggs was a bit of a colorful character, as her name might imply.  She was a woman near retirement age, a dedicated smoker (this was back in the days when teachers were allowed to smoke in the faculty room) who absentmindedly held cigarettes in hand while she talked, and hesitant to interrupt her, we would watch as the ashes grew long and fell all over the place.

She had a little dog named Queenie who came with her to school and spent the day out in Miss Briggs’ car, and Miss Briggs would periodically take a break and go out to tend to her.  Miss Briggs had a dry sense of humor, and her story telling would often be followed by a remark that has stuck with me over the years.  “Life is a snare and a delusion.”

I have to admit to having at times repeated her statement in a spirit of sardonic humor to my children’s complaining. And sometimes to my own complaining as well. There are times when indeed, life does seem to be a snare and a delusion.

Recently I have been reminded that while life certainly seems to present a lot to complain about, that everything contains its opposite. Meaning that while it is true that we may have a number of irritating or taxing things occurring in a day’s time, that we are also living lives that are blessed and bountiful.  It just depends on where you want to place your focus.

Polarity is best defined as the presence or manifestation of two opposite or contrasting principles or tendencies.  In language, it is positive or negative character.  For example, light vs. dark; acceptance vs. denial; love vs. fear; inner vs. outer. In physics, polarity is the positive or negative state in which a body reacts to a magnetic or electric, or other field. I think that both definitions are important and relevant.

They are important concepts because we must acknowledge that both qualities exist within a thing.  You cannot hold a pole for instance without seeing that there are two ends to it. Even the earth has two opposing poles which are a part of the same entity. You can’t get rid of one without destroying the whole thing.

Let’s get back to the matter of perspective, or the qualities that we focus on. Can you believe that we magnetically attract the people, experiences and situations into our lives depending on what emotions we are vibrating or sending out?

This may be a matter of our selective vision or perception or belief.  If I begin my day in an angry mood and am not aware that my moods are the creation of my own thoughts, which in turn evoke my emotions, and instead think that I am angry because my neighbor has once again let his dog poop on my lawn, I am likely in for a “bad day.”

On my way to the office, I will encounter every idiot who doesn’t know that his car is equipped with a turn signal. I will wonder what my boss’s problem is because she is obviously feeling cranky. And I’m likely blow up when my kid has left his bicycle blocking the front sidewalk.  Life is a snare and a delusion!

There is an alternative that I know is a happier and healthier one.  When you observe your mood, stop and listen to your thoughts that have brought those emotions about. You are talking to yourself all the time, and if you tend to see the glass as half empty, that ongoing monologue is not pretty!

You don’t have to lie to yourself or be delusional, or wear a happy face mask to appear to be “positive.” It won’t fool anyone, and pretending will only prove to be an additional stress and strain.

Instead, remember the Law of Polarity. Yes, the dog poop on the lawn is there, and you need to do something about it. Yes, the world news is unrelentingly frightening.  We get sick sometimes, and even people that we love get sick and die. We will grieve those losses. But everything contains its opposite.

There is also new life springing forth all over the place.  There are babies being born; the beautiful cycles of nature are surrounding us; there are those that we love and those who love us; there are people truly doing good in the world, and if we care to we can join them.

We can become empowered by taking responsibility for our moods and perceptions. We do not feel awful because the world is an awful place!  We feel awful because we are focused on what is lacking and are thinking thoughts that frighten us!  This is just a bad habit!  Stop and look around you. Notice that you are surrounded by abundance and that you have the power to envision and shape the kind of life you desire.

If you would like to learn more about this universal law, and others as well, or if you are interested in getting some coaching with developing your life vision, click on the Contact Page and send an email to arrange a coaching assessment and initial appointment.

Celebrating Independence Day

Of course it’s July 4th everywhere, but if you are living in the United States, you know that today is Independence Day.  For most, it’s the first holiday of the summer, marked by picnics, outdoor festivals, ball games and fireworks.  And there are some more solemn ceremonies observing the greater importance of the day and the establishment of a young country which would function independent of the English crown.

All of that came about with a great deal of struggle, idealistic differences of vision, and loss of life.  Certainly our visions and ideals continue to differ, and no shortage of argument and conflict goes on as we continue to shape our governing laws and the environment we live in.

What we can appreciate is that we have the freedom to express our differences, persuade others if we care to, and ultimately decide at the voting booth.  And although I get as aggravated with the endless debates as anyone else, I deeply appreciate that we can argue and vote and change the politicians in play if we choose to, without fear of recrimination or blood in the streets.

There are some other kinds of independence that I celebrate today.  You may notice that while we have these freedoms, we don’t always claim them. What kind of differences would it make in your life if you did?  Maybe you can add some of your own to this list.  I would love to hear them.

  • Independence of thought:  much of our thinking is still intact from our early life; you know the attitudes and beliefs that you absorbed even before your birth from your family.  And we are constantly exposed to beliefs and habits of thought by the media. Some of this may serve your life; but much of it doesn’t.
  • Become independent of the good opinion of others.  This is an empowering one! How much do you wonder what people think of you? How much do you tailor your behavior or speech to being pleasing to others?  Are you wearing camouflage in order not to be noticed?  Do you spend a lot of energy to avoid rocking the boat?
  • Free yourself from your own Inner Critic!  The chronic, perfectionistic, harping voice in the head that most of us carry around with us is responsible for most fear, pessimism, doubt and depression.  And stress, for that matter.  Formed in early life, this voice becomes such a constant companion that we aren’t even aware of it…unless we make an effort to tune in.  Your fourth grade teacher, or your dad might have said some mean things to you, but you have internalized those voices and act it out as if it were true.  It’s not!  Time to declare your independence and live the life you intend and desire.
  • Be courageous and examine your lifestyle; your job, your relationships, your state of physical health and well being; your intellectual life; your spiritual life.  Is it all that you want it to be?  Are you going along out of habit or real choice?  Are you settling for something because it’s easier than shaking your life loose a bit?  Are you having new experiences that stretch your awareness and your sense of being alive?  When was the last time you were filled with joy?  Is it possible that your own fear is holding you captive?
  • Are your habitual patterns limiting your quality of life?  The part of our brains that we have in common with the rest of the animal world likes routine and finds it comforting. Many of us have a routine that takes us from morning to night in a pretty predictable way.  Does that include zoning out in front of the TV every day?  Do you walk in the door from work, go to the fridge, open a beer or pour a glass of wine?  Do you comfort yourself with a big bowl of Ben and Jerry’s even though you aren’t in the least hungry? Do you go shopping even when you don’t really need anything, or it’s not in the budget? If you think that none of your routine is a problem, try changing it by doing without, and simply observe your reactions, thoughts and feelings.  You might want to go talk with someone about what you observe.

The beauty of independence is that when we claim it, we are open to fresh insights and new possibilities and the infusion of new energy that emerges.  Claiming our independence brings with it responsibility and if we can handle that, great empowerment.

Happy Independence Day!

 

 

The Grateful Brain

“If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness.
It will change your life mightily.”
~Gerald Good~

 

Gratitude is a cornerstone of every major religion, and indeed a part of North American culture.  (I am thinking here of Thanksgiving Day, which is celebrated in the US and Canada). For years we have been hearing from modern thought leaders such as Dr. Wayne Dyer and Joseph Dispenza, that we have the power to create our lives anew, and that gratitude plays a key role in it.

Recently I have been noticing the work of Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D., who is a psychiatrist researching brain functioning.  He uses the modern technology of brain scans to examine the electrical activity and blood flow in the brains of his subjects.

He discovered that gratitude positively and literally changes brain chemistry.  Especially the frontal lobes and cerebellum show increased electrical activity and blood flow. The frontal lobes are responsible for judgment, impulse control and planning. When your frontal lobes are functioning well, you are making high performance decisions that serve you well.

In a study to determine the effects of gratitude, Dr. Amen scanned each subject’s brain twice. One after asking the person to focus on things in life for which she felt grateful, and another after asking her to focus on things that made her angry.  The scans were amazingly different!  Feeling grateful showed a dramatic benefit to her brain.  Blood flow and electrical activity increased in the area of the brain which would result in better decisions, focus and judgment. By contrast, angry or hateful thinking resulted in a draining or restricting of blood flow and overall brain activity!

When we are taught that fear, anger and hatred are constricting and limiting, this is more than “New Age” mumbo-jumbo. And when the ancients indicated the way to expansion and a better spiritual life, we can now see how our human physiology is directly affected by our thoughts and resulting emotions. If you doubted the truth of what you were hearing, now science has demonstrated why they are true!

When you write a gratitude list and focus on the feeling, your pituitary gland releases endorphins and other neurotransmitters that contribute to a feeling of overall well-being.  This is not just your imagination, because we now understand more about the power of that imagination.  Improving your mood leads to improved brain functioning, making it easier to make healthy decisions that will make it possible to create the life of your dreams.

Practicing gratitude is the key.

Gratitude and Attraction

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things
for granted or take them with gratitude.”
~Gilbert K. Chesterton~

Have you heard of the Law of Attraction?

Over the past few months I have been giving a lot of thought to how the lives people are living often fall short of what they truly desire.  And yet we are all creating our lives every day.  According to the Law of Attraction, our thoughts and the emotions they trigger, and the choices that we then make, bring about the reality we experience.

We can make plans or set goals for taking the necessary steps to getting on track for getting a better job, improving a relationship, making more money or losing weight.  In fact setting goals and taking action steps is an essential part of the process of change.

So why do those plans often fall so miserably short?  What causes the sincere New Year’s Resolutions to fade away like so much dust in the wind?

Maybe it’s because we are attempting to force a change in those things that are external to us.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the desire to have a better job or relationship, or more money or a healthier body.  But all the “positive thinking” in the world won’t do any good if our real underlying beliefs are saying the opposite.

The problem is this:  how can I have a healthier body or bank account or relationship if I don’t BELIEVE that I can?  Or that I don’t DESERVE it? And even though it may be difficult to see and accept that I have such a limiting belief, the proof is apparent.  My life circumstances are the accumulated effect of my choices, and my choices are based on my beliefs about myself and the emotions they create.

 No matter how much I want something, I cannot receive it if on a deep level I believe that I don’t deserve it or that having it is impossible.

Many of these limiting beliefs are unconscious, or are so much in the thread of your daily thinking and feeling that they are like wallpaper you’ve lived with for 30 years…you can’t see it anymore.  You have absorbed them from your family and your culture, repeated them, and while you are certainly affected by them, you may not be aware.

So on a given day are you feeling irritable or grumpy?  Dour and dejected?  Cheerful and optimistic?  How would you rate your energy level on a scale from 1 to 10? This “vibrational level” and your mood will give you a clear indicator that your thoughts are positive or negative.

How can you brighten your mood and bring up your energy level?

The answer may surprise you.  You can do this when you practice gratitude!

And when I say “practice” I really mean practice.  Just as you practice the piano, or practice meditation, or practice doing the New York Times crossword puzzles, this is something that you do over and over again.  Some days it may feel awkward and difficult, and other days it will flow beautifully.  However it is, keep practicing.  The benefits are amazing.

How can I practice gratitude, you ask? 

  • Begin by writing a list of 10 blessings or things or people that you are grateful for.  Yes, write it down and do it every day, preferably first thing in the morning.
  • Write why you are grateful for it.  Don’t skip this step because it will help you feel grateful, and the feeling is the thing we’re going for here.
  • Pay careful attention to the beauty that surrounds you during the day.  Feel and express gratitude for the people who serve your needs every day; notice the beauty of nature in its large and smallness; see the beauty in the face of anyone you meet. Make eye contact and smile.
  • Notice what goes right in your life and express gratitude for it.  If you have a tight roof over your head and food on the table, you have something that a lot of the world’s population doesn’t.
  • Break your habit of complaining. When you catch yourself griping about the weather, the traffic, your spouse, your aggravating kid, your job, etc. just stop it!  You may have a habitual grumble going on in your head, and it forms a dark cloud over you and keeps you from seeing the possibilities that surround you.  Furthermore it contaminates the conversations you have with others and encourages more negativity. Shift your focus again to what is going right. Don’t play “Ain’t it Awful?” with others.
  • Make an effort to hang out with positive, grateful people. You will very quickly be able to see who they are.  Avoid the ones who are always complaining about slow business, or the management or the government or anything else.  This “low vibrational” energy is contagious. Think of how you would avoid someone with a lethal virus, and take similar steps.
  • When you are being challenged by some difficulty or loss; when it seems that things are not going your way, then being grateful might seem out of the question.  But I suggest that you look deeper. Is it possible that a failure or disappointment might bring some benefit to your life? To your growth or development? If we find purpose or meaning in these difficulties, they often help us become better humans, and thus we can be grateful for them.
  • At the end of the day, before you go to sleep, review the events of your day and focus on the best parts of it. It may be something large or very small. It may have been on your gratitude list, or not. Take a few minutes to re-live the positive emotions, and say thank you.

In a short period of time, you will begin to notice an improvement in both your mood and energy level. You do not have to do this perfectly or compulsively. Just make room in your schedule as frequently as you can, and practice.  I’m telling you, gratitude will change your life!