Friday, October 17, 2014

WARNING: Bumpy Road Ahead.

One of the hardest things about life is that things don't always go according to plan. The happily ever after tales we read about in our childhood are works that stop before we ever see Cinderella and Prince Charming argue about whose turn it is to change the baby's diaper. Or before we get to the part where Belle sends her handsome prince to counseling to deal with his anger issues.

Let's face it, life doesn't always take us in the direction we anticipate. Sometimes those paths are ones we might embrace and sometimes there are dark and painful sections pitted with potholes of disappointments: cancer, divorce, money, health issues, loss of a loved one...the list is endless.

The challenge for us is to see that no one has a perfect road. That joy and pain are both components of our journey and none of us are immune to experiencing either of them. So how do you get through the painful potholes of life?

Find the good that comes along during the journey. No matter how dark the clouds may be, actively seek the rays of light that faintly peek through the grey. It's not always easy to find and you might need to ask for help in seeking them but they do exist.

Author and historian Alice Morse Earle's quote is one that I find myself turning to for inspiration when the road gets rough. I hope it helps you too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Battling Fear

Fear is a feeling we all intimately understand.  Decisions made throughout our lives have been impacted by this emotion.  Sometimes it becomes the reason we push through and other times it is the reason we give up. Spiritual author, Pema Chodron, eloquently describes this experience in her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.  Enjoy...

Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave her the instructions for the battle. The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. They both had their weapons. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, "May I have permission to go into battle with you?" Fear said, "Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission." Then the young warrior said, "How can I defeat you?" Fear replied, "My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power." In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear. ”

Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Chödrön, Pema. When things fall apart : heart advice for difficult times. Boston: Shambhala Distributed in the U.S. by Random House, 2000. Print.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Caught in a Game of Dominoes?

Imagine taking a stack of dominoes and standing them vertically one by one behind each other.  What happens when you push the first piece down?  If done correctly, it will start a chain reaction and each will cause the next to fall.

If you set the dominoes up the same way, and then remove a few from the middle of the sequence, what happens when you push the first one down?  Again, if done correctly, the subsequent dominoes will fall.  This time, however, all of them will not.  The last half will stay upright.  The pieces you removed ultimately prevent a total collapse.

In therapy, clients are taught that they do not always have control over the events that occur in their lives, but they always have control over their response.  The outcome is not only impacted by the event, but also by the reaction that it triggers.  The way that you respond can limit the impact the stressor has on your life.  In other words, you cannot always stop the first domino from falling, but by changing your negative reaction, you might be able to limit the number of dominoes that fall.

Consider the painful experiences in your life.  How many could have been minimized or stopped altogether if you had reacted differently?

So how do you change your behavior?  Do some introspection.  What are your patterns of reaction to stress?  Write them down.  What did you not like about your responses and what caused you to act that way?  Was it a particular person, a loss of control, or a feeling of shame?  Be honest with yourself.

Now ask yourself, what can you do differently the next time you are in that type of situation.  How can you minimize the impact?  Maybe you could walk away and collect yourself, or talk to a safe third party and process your feelings, or mentally prepare yourself in advance for the stressor. What ever it is you decide to do, make a plan and commit to it.

When you understand your own patterns of behavior, you learn to control them in a healthier manner.  This will empower you.  Remember, your dominoes will get pushed, but it does not have to end in a total collapse.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Keeping the peas

"Eat your peas," I order my 3 year old for the hundredth time.

She's sitting in her highchair smiling sweetly back at me.

"I don't like peas," she says and eats her corn instead.

"You have to eat your peas," I insist and try to put a spoonful in her mouth.  She seals her lips tightly and turns her head.  I try being forceful. I trying being angry.  I try bribing.

After a good 15 minutes of this battle, I finally give up and walk away.  Confident that somehow her life will be limited because she didn't get her peas, I decide that I have failed her.

Fast forward seven years... she still doesn't eat her peas.  To be honest, no one in the family eats peas.  You won't even find peas in our freezer.  We are a pea-free household.  :)  So many little time.

For most of us, rules govern our lives.  The way we behave, the way we eat, even the way we love are often the result of regulations we have created.  They are a product of cultural, social, and familial norms and some are due to life experiences.

Some rules are mandatory.  These are necessary to protect us and keep us safe. Others are optional, like eating everything on your plate.  The problem occurs when we mistakenly identify an optional rule as mandatory.  If you were to make a chart of the mandatory and optional rules of your life, I would be curious to see what you would put in each category.

A lot of times, the way we phrase a request impacts how we label it.  The words "have to" or "must" before an action makes the sentence sound a lot different than the words "it would be nice if" or "would like to." Sometimes we get so wrapped up in behaviors and expectations that we lose sight of the bigger picture. There may be more important things going on than what we're fixating on.  We may need to take a step back and be mindful in order to appreciate the things that are happening around us.

 Looking back, I can now see that the "you must eat your peas rule," should have been, "it would be nice if you eat your peas." After all, she was eating her corn.  What should have been mandatory for me back then? The simple act of enjoying the place I was in and the person who was sharing it with me.  Enjoying the three year old that would never be three again.

The next time you are feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself if you are making an "I would like to" into an "I must."  Maybe a self-assessment of the rules in your life could redirect you towards what is truly important, and free you of the burden of those things that are simply optional.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What's in your salad?

Imagine that you just made a salad.

                                Bear with me here and don't write me off just yet.

Now imagine what that salad entails.  In mine: I see spinach, lettuce, cranberries, tomatoes, walnuts, feta, and a vinaigrette ...yumm I'm hungry

Now you have this salad in front of you, and company comes over for dinner. Some of your visitors might hate spinach.  No problem, just pick out the spinach when you serve them.  Some might hate cranberries.  Again, you can get them a bowl and pick out the cranberries... You get the picture. 

So what happens if your salad consists of just one ingredient?  If it's a spinach salad and your company hates spinach?  What would you do then?

Well now imagine that salad is you.  The ingredients that you put in the bowl are actually all the roles you identify in yourself.
If you see yourself as an excellent professional, for example.  What happens when you lose your job or you get a new boss who hates spinach? 

It can be devastating.

For most of us, our identity is impacted by the roles we play.  The positive reinforcement we get, whether monetarily or other, motivates us to continue in that role.  This is actually quite healthy as long as we have more than one role and the roles balance each other.

The struggle happens when our identity is only from one specific role.  It could be as a student, or a professional, or a mother, etc. 

Let's say my identity came from praise and promotions in my career.  What would happen if I loose my job or find myself under a boss who, for some reason, just doesn't like me?

I would be lost.

Losing a job or having a difficult boss will impact you.  In fact, it is a common cause of depression.  But when you have other sources to pull positive energy from, it motivates you to get back up and not give up on yourself. 

Do some introspection and ask yourself how do you assess your self worth?  What would happen to that self worth if one of those ingredients were removed?  Now imagine what would happen to your self worth if there was only one ingredient.

So where can you find your balance?  It can come from various sources:  family, friends, a talent, career, volunteer work, faith, a religious institution, community involvement, exercise and wellness...the list is endless.

The variety not only will add flavor to your life, but it will help balance you and support you through tough times.

Realize that all the components of your salad are not the same in size or value, but each plays an essential role in the final product.

Be picky about the things you choose to invest your energy in, and understand that some of them will change over time.  Just never stop exploring, growing, or savoring your creation.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I think I can't

Recently,  I took my 10 year old to work with me.  She needed a quiet place do her math homework and my office was the perfect environment.  It was all about fractions. 

My daughter loves to read books and write stories.  Math is something she doesn't like.  In the 3 hours that she was at the office, she completed 2 of her 16 problems.  This was an assignment that should have only taken her 25 minutes.  

When asked why, she started to cry.  The phrases, "I can't,"  and  "I don't know how", and "it's not fair," were thrown around.  

Sound familiar?   Amazing how powerful our thoughts can be.

How often have we said the same things to ourselves and allowed it to limit our own potential? 

After the hugs were given, the tears dried, the nose blown, and the face washed, I told her what I now will tell you:

You are as powerful and smart as you allow yourself to be.  Yes there are things you can't do but most of them you can learn how to do.  

Nothing that is being asked of you right now is beyond your ability.  You have these skills and you have a choice:

                - Avoid the things you know you have to do and deal with the consequences....But 
                   remember these consequences will only support your theory that you can't. 

                -Do it and move on with the knowledge that you didn't give up.  It's not always going to 
                  be easy and a lot of times you're going to have to ask for help but you will get through it 
                  and you will know you did it.

                 At the end of the day what message do you want to take away with you?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The wisdom in ignorance

 As a kid, for obvious reasons, I saw adults as all knowing and flawless.  They never got in trouble nor did they ever make mistakes - only I and the rest of the kids in the world did.

It would be decades later before I discovered that adults were actually very flawed and that their mistakes had much far reaching consequences than the ones I had ever made as a kid. 

So I spent a significant portion of my early adult years, from about 20 to somewhere in my early 30's,  trying very hard to look and act like the person I thought I was supposed to be.  The words "I don't know" or even "No" rarely...I mean never....fell from my lips.  I was always running..always doing...trying to avoid being found out. 

You see looking back at my younger self, I know it was because I was scared.  That people would see how flawed and ignorant I really was.  That once this secret was revealed I would no longer be welcome in this elite society I had so eagerly rushed to join.

If we are all cars on this highway of life, then during this period, it was a very insecure me that was driving.   Three totaled cars later, I'm lucky the DPS still allows me on the road. 

So when did it all change for me?  You would think it was the totaled cars, sigh, but it wasn't. It was a process.  A process that started with the birth of my first child.

Like all other things in my life, I needed to be a competent and capable new mother.  You know what I mean...the Dont tell me anything, I know it all kind of attitude.

Well, I think my daughter's goal in her first year of life was to make sure I realized that I knew absolutely nothing.  She came into this world colicky and when I say colicky, I mean screaming every hour on the hour.

When I wasn't looking for plane tickets to ship her off to my parents, I was holding her tightly next to me and sitting with the fact that I had no clue how to fix this.  Even more mortifying was the fact that I couldn't pretend to have this situation under control. 

 It was during this time that I discovered that when you ask for help - people help.

And so begins my true evolution into adulthood.  My relationships became stronger when I let them see my cracks.  And every time my weaknesses were greeted with acceptance, I became more comfortable in sharing them and in accepting them.

Ten years later, I am still evolving.  I understand and accept that I am flawed.  I know that I don't know everything and I am comfortable in saying the words "I don't know."  

Actually, there's something freeing about those three words.  It allows me the opportunity to find out what I don't know because it is of interest to me not because I am fearful of being seen as ignorant.

And it allows me the opportunity to be OK with the fact that I don't know and don't need to know everything. You know the old saying, "With knowledge comes responsibility?"  Well what I've discovered is that sometimes, I don't want the responsibility.  If I figure out how to use the lawn mower, then ultimately I would end up cutting the grass.  If I knew how to change the air filters in the house, I would be up on that ladder every few months, changing the filters. 

Sometimes, ignorance is very blissful.