Why Embrace Difficult Emotions?

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“Stop your crying or I will give you something to cry about” bellowed from the front seat of our 1978 white Plymouth Fury as I sat sobbing in the back seat.  My mother, hot with frustration, shot this favorite one-liner out in hopes I would pull myself together…and sometimes when she said this, I actually did.  I’d swallow my stomach and suck back the tears with a pinched face.  Not because I gained new awareness from my mom’s statement.  Rather, I feared her reaction if I didn’t.

She meant well.  This I know to be true.

However the message I tucked away somewhere inside my brain was “upset emotions are bad, really bad”.  Stuff them down.  Hide them from others.  It is wrong, and if you show them, YOU are bad and wrong.  This led to heavy doses of shame and self-loathing for me when discontent showed up at my door.

When I became unzipped, it wasn’t simply, “Gee, I don’t like this”.  It was a quick slip into a deep groove of something being terribly messed up.  “What’s wrong with me?” I’d think to myself.  A question I didn’t truly ponder.  I had a mental list of perceived shortcomings circling in my mind.  Harsh.  Then I’d have two things to feel bad about, the original event and my reaction to the original event.

I was stuck in the starting gate.  Unable to hear what my emotions were trying to tell me.

When I began to welcome repugnant emotions into my life…first into my living room, and then onto my lap, and eventually into my heart…I could see they had a job to do and I slowly opened to allow these villains a chance to do their handy work.

Eventually I realized the better we get at facing the hard stuff, the easier life becomes.

Consider for a moment, when you were young how did your caregivers or siblings respond to your strongest feelings?  Really explore this.  What messages did you take away?  Are those patterns or beliefs still at play in your life?

We need anger and sadness in our lives.  These are our protectors.  They help us set limits and allow us to love.  Without them around to stand guard, we would hold back our joy.  It would simply be too vulnerable to open our wings.

Try to slow down and “listen” to your body the next time a wave of heavy tight emotion shows up.  Rather than get caught up in the experience, stop and notice.  Let it be okay.  You are needing something in that moment.  What is it?  The hardest part of watching the emotions will most likely be a strong and persistent urge to act.  This is a part of the process we are better off keeping in check.

Fully feeling and experiencing emotions doesn’t come naturally.  It takes effort.  However, the payoffs are like fruit flies in a dirty bar.  Want details?  The book The Upside of Your Dark side by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener is oozing with examples.

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One wave at a time:)

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One Thing Wednesday

It occurred to me, “Hey, today is Wednesday!”  Does that mean anything?  Not really.  It only has the meaning we give it.    This One Thing Wednesday is about our amazing ability to change how we see things.  Like these visual illusions:

 

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Not only do we tend to “see” things a certain way, we tend to think about things in a certain way.  Often limiting ourselves into a small reality when so much more is possible.  The quick fun snippet below gave me a few “Ah Ha” moments…well worth the 11 minutes it takes to watch.     Embrace the challenge:)

What reality are you creating for yourself?

One Thing Wednesday

5 Practical Alternatives to Complaining

This Wednesday I have a question for you…What if you were one powerful habit away from changing your life?  Breaking the complaining habit has me feeling less stressed and more empowered.

I probably wouldn’t pose such a question if it weren’t for a hesitant agreement I made with a co-worker a few weeks ago.  We decided to take on a 21 Day No Complaint challenge together.  I had a few quivers but thought, “Why not?”

I never imagined it would begin to unravel so many tightly knit negatives in my thinking. 

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After one day of watching my mental dialog, I realized, I absolutely had to commit to this challenge.  Some of the thoughts streaming through my head were sneaky little agitators and oh so subtle.  I could do better.

Complaining serves a purpose for us but not without a cost.  There is a flavorful mix of negativity, tension, and victimhood swirling through the words we think and speak.  Complaining and criticizing create an illusion that something is being done to bring about change, when it’s not.

Maybe a real issue started the mind flowing in an unfavorable direction but continuing on that path will only work to keep us stuck.  We bring about rapid results when we take responsibility for how we reply to the sting of a challenge.

What are some practical alternatives?

The 21 day challenge forced me to find some effective and concrete strategies to replace complaining.  Below are five;

  • Talk about what you do want instead of what you don’t want.
  • Connect with others around positive things rather than problems or negatives.
  • Focus on facts and finding solutions rather than on what’s not working.
  • Accept what is happening/has happened and face the uncomfortable emotions.
  • Focus on what is available and/or abundant rather than what is lacking.

And if none of those work, we could always simply allow ourselves to complain for a while.  Then smile at the whole mess and wait for the next round.

The goal isn’t to be perfect after all:)

XO

Monitor Energy, Rather Than Time

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What cleaning the floor unexpectedly taught me about self-care.

I was already in my exercise clothes when I noticed the floor, “Oh my god, it’s filthy.”  I march to the closet and grab the broom thinking “I’m just going to take care of this real quick.”  And two busy hours later, I found myself still working.  The floor cleaning got me picking up dirty socks, which got me doing laundry, which got me wiping the bathroom mirror, and on it went.  My time slipped silently past me and so did my chance for a workout.

At some point, my intention separated from my reality .   Nighttime arrived with a list of uncompleted tasks and one exhausted human.  Another day and I didn’t _____ (meditate, go running, read). Fill in the blank.

How could I feel so deflated? Like I failed even? I worked all day on taking care of things and still I am followed by a shadow of discontent.

The source of my discouragement wasn’t the amount of work I was doing or even a “lack of time” but rather where my energy was going.

When we change the focus to monitoring our energy rather than our time, we feel more on track and fulfilled.

What’s the difference?

Energy is an internal commodity we can direct and maintain.  Time is not.  Time is an external structure, a guide we can use to support our activities.  The concept of time is essential.  It creates an invisible deadline, which gives us a limit.  This bumper pad is valuable and can help keep us moving forward rather than end up in the gutter.

But “time” ignores all of the activities competing for our attention.  These are objects in our way like my dirty kitchen floor or an unexpected phone call or discovering you are out of the capers you need to make dinner.  These forces yank us this way and that, screaming “Look here! Do this…”  This is where regular life messes up our plans for how to spend our time.

When we stop trying to manage our time and start noticing our energy, then we begin to take charge of ourselves.

We begin to base what we are choosing to do on whether or not it fills us up or depletes us.  We each have our own way.  It is as unique as the rhythm of our heartbeat.  Consciously knowing and using this information to construct your day is irreplaceable.

We can actively monitor our energy and respond.  We put energy into our vessel, plug the leaks and stay above water.  Notice when you need a deposit and act accordingly.

So it becomes a simple math problem; energy in=energy out.  Our most basic job is to balance the two sides, but hey, why not tip the scales in the direction of FULL-FILL-ment?  Give yourself permission to make the activities that nurture and replenish you a priority.  This is your source of income and is required for all you plan to do.

All the best,

XO

 

One Thing Wednesday

A splendid Wednesday to you!  Today I am sharing a quick no-fail practice for finding greater balance. I use it all the time.

Everyday stressors are an opportunity for self-kindness.

IMG_3759Our stress system is set up like a teeter-toter: It only slants one direction at a time.  The energy of our thoughts will either pull us toward fear and constriction OR toward rest and expansion.

When we perceive any threat, even something as small as self-doubt, our bodies respond with tension and our brain activity tips toward the stress center in the mid-brain.  Our energy goes toward the primal activity of safety, even if the attack is simply, “Am I good enough?”  or “Will they be mad at me?”

This holds us back.  It is filled with mental chatter and uncertainty.

To tilt the neural teeter-toter in the opposite direction, shift your attention to notice the present moment.  This moves energy toward the part of the brain that can help you observe and soothe yourself, calming your fears and putting you in a more receptive state.  The neurons in the pre-frontal cortex start firing making it possible to act on what is truly important to you.

You may want to stop everything but you don’t have to.  Just be where you are, feel your body, and look around the room.  Little by little, let go of your thoughts and tension.  You don’t need them.  They don’t help you.

Name what is happening.  “Oh, I got caught up worrying about making that deadline.”  Or, “I think I shouldn’t have said that thing/acted that way/eaten that donut and now I am scared/ashamed/mad.”  Perhaps add a big “Thank you” for the awareness, for your ability to see what is happening and your willingness to address it.  You caught your stress system at work trying to protect you.  How cool is that?  Take charge and let your stress system know…”There really isn’t any danger and so you can rest easy my dear.”

Put your hand on your heart or at your sternum and gently tap or, if you prefer, wrap your arms criss-cross around yourself for a little squeeze.  Still in the moment, allow this physical touch to soak in.  A kind word or two directed to yourself earn extra credit.  Something to acknowledge how you mean well or try hard.  Give yourself the same kind support you would a person you deeply care about. 

Finally, remember this is how we are made.  We all struggle.  You are not alone in your challenges, ever.  Allow yourself to be a beautiful “perfectly-imperfect” human just like the rest of us.

If you try this, click on the comments and let me know what you think or what adjustments you made to make it fit you!  I’d love to hear from you.

All the best,

XO

Change the Way You See the Problem

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I stumbled into some F-A-S-C-I-N-A-T-I-N-G research recently.  The information hangs in my brain while I oooohhh and ahhh thinking about the possibilities. The studies come from different areas of health research but they all have a common element: The way we think about something influences the outcome of the situation.

“Okay” you say, “We already knew this.”  …maybe placebos come to mind.

But these studies show that placebos only begin to reveal the level of influence our thoughts can have on our lives.  They expose how our thoughts literally form our mental and physical reality.  Here are three quick summaries:

  • One study I heard about demonstrated the level of hunger hormone in a person’s blood significantly changes based on whether or not they think the drink they are drinking is “indulgent” and high in fat or a “smart choice” with low calories.  It is the same drink with a different label, yet the physiological response is different based on what they think they are consuming.
  • In another study, people were shown a short video on the harmful effects of stress.  They were then put in a mock job interview with critical interviewers.  Their stress hormones were measured and found to be significantly higher than a second group of people who were shown a short video on the positive side of stress and then put through the same critical interview process.  Study participants experienced a different stress response based on how they viewed stress.
  • A third example comes from therapy outcome research.  As it turns out, therapy is significantly more effective when the person seeking services believes it will be helpful. They think it will help and, wha-la, it does.

My excitement about this research comes from the opportunity for us to use this super power with everyday challenges, big and small.  In this way, we take the wheel.  We become skilled at choosing how we think about a situation, which leads to problem solving and empowerment, rather than being stuck or alone with it.  Love that.

It all starts with embracing the enormous gravity of our own perspective.  Seriously. Open to the possibility that you can influence your situation.  You can change your footing, your experience of something, and all that happens 100% right within YOU.  No one else needs to agree or validate or even know you are changing anything.

The goal is to modify YOUR part in whatever it is you are facing.  Obviously, the facts stay the same but don’t let that rob you of finding peace for yourself.  After all, the research is screaming at us how important our view is to our own wellbeing.

Once you are armed with the determination to see your situation differently, begin to dis-identify from your thoughts.  In other words, see them as separate from “you” and be objective with them.  Get to the bottom line so you see your interpretation of good/bad or right/wrong.  Writing down thoughts helps us separate from them.

Finally, discover gold with curiosity.  Ask yourself:

  • What else might be true?
  • How could I change the way I see this?
  • How might someone else see it?
  • How can I see this more positively?
  • How could I see this in a way that benefits me/everyone involved?

Make sure you resonate strongly with the new perspective.  Repeat it out loud and see how it feels.  If it doesn’t quite fit, leave it.  Keep looking until you say, “Yes! That  works.”

This medicine is available to you anytime you need it.  However, fear and anger will stop the show.  Let those emotions have their moment and, once they have settled, take the time to slow down and evaluate your thoughts.  Cultivate an understanding that works to support you.  When you connect with new meaning, everything shifts effortlessly into place.

May you know the gifts that changing your thoughts provides…

With love,

XO

The Safety to Flourish

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One day, somewhere in the neighborhood of my mid-thirties, a day like any other, I sat on my office chair at work and realized, I didn’t feel “safe”.  Not the kind of unsafe a person feels when they are walking on a tiny ledge 100 feet above the ground…No, the sort of safety I longed for was much more subtle, elusive even.

This goblin hung onto my back wherever I went.  My constant companion, such an integral part of my life I didn’t recognize it as an issue.  Like a fish doesn’t know what it is like to be out of water.

Gratefully, I started to see safety and protection as powerful forces in my life. These two unmet needs were running the show.  Without a sense of safety, I kept myself in a small container: I built an illusion of safety through my decisions about who I married, where I worked, what I said…everything.  I held myself back without knowing it.  At times, the yearning for more had me pushing the limits and trying new things.  When I walked a little too far down the path toward  uncertainty, SNAP, I’d sabotage and spring back into the security of my tiny life.

I unconsciously created the restriction and it remained strong due to a sharp absence of psychological safety.  There was no real danger and yet I operated with a black cloud of fear looming over me.

  • “Will they like me?”
  • “What will they think?”
  • “Will I fail?”
  • “Can I do this?”
  • “Will I look like a stupid, no-good, idiot?”

I exhausted myself trying to control the uncontrollable or hide from risk of harm, as if it was possible to avoid being hurt or rejected.

Life tasted like flat soda, which was warm, and often made my stomach yucky.  I knew there was more to life and it became my mission to feel one hundred percent, in-my-bones, safe.  Once I knew how to find internal safety, I could face my fears.

Safety provided the platform for me to jump into the unknown and explore.  I learned how to tolerate the discomfort and discovered a world of opportunities before me.

Psychological safety is required: A prerequisite for authenticity and growth.  When we find it, our lives  flourish.  We create deeply rooted safety by becoming our own protector.  We stand up for ourselves, set boundaries, speak our truth, and follow through with agreements.

The filling that holds all of these layers together is an emotional responsiveness to ourselves.

Let’s get physical

Steven Porges developed an awesome theory called the Polyvagal theory.  This theory essentially puts forward the scientific foundation of feeling safe.  It goes beyond the psychological and into the physiological causes of insecurity.  We face our fears on both levels to heal and thrive.

Regardless of what we may want, our autonomic nervous system takes over during times of perceived threat in an effort to “keep us safe”.   This shows up as tension and emotion in our bodies.   It is energy and can move much quicker than our logical brains can think.  We must get skilled at recognizing and changing the physical state of our bodies to get good at shifting emotions.  We see it.  We feel it.  And when we are ready, we release it.

Imagine how this one step alone could increase your sense of safety.  Nothing leads to insecurity more than feeling like you have no control.  Tuning into yourself, and turning towards the disturbance empowers you greatly with the ability to take charge on your own behalf.  This takes conscious effort, as we are built to move away from discomfort.


“Out of clutter find simplicity; From discord find harmony; In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” – Einstein


When the nervous system is firing off danger signals it needs us to engage and actively create an “all-clear” signal.  We do this in many ways and they all involve stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

The most direct route is simply to breath deep.  Slow it down.  Your biology will not fail you, but your expectations might.  Expect the sharp edge to round a bit, not go flat.  That is success.  Revisit deep breathing often.

You can also talk yourself down.  Become your own guide and support with safety reminders like these;

  • “This will pass”
  • “I am safe right now”
  • “Everything will be alright”
  • “I can handle whatever comes my way”

Practice finding deep calm and relaxation as often as you can.  Our bodies come to know what this deep level of peace feels like and it becomes the new standard.  We develop our own personal homing pigeon to escort us back to calm.

May you come to intensely crave the internal sanctuary of hushed nerves.

All the best, XO

One Thing Wednesday

Welcome Wednesday…here is your one thing:)


“There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing you are not the voice of the mind-you are the one who hears it.” 

Michael Singer


The wide open sky floats from horizon to horizon, ever present and fundamentally unchanging just like the pure awareness at the foundation of your life.   You are this awareness.

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Clouds come and go filling the sky with movement and dynamic shapes that grab our attention just like thoughts and sensations fill our minds.  We don’t mistake the clouds for the sky.  Yet somehow we “get lost” in thoughts almost automatically.  Habits and conditioning begin to run our lives when we operate solely from the level of thought.

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When we tease ourselves apart from the thoughts and connect with our awareness, we  take back the reins.  We are the thinker, not the thoughts.  We decide how it will go.   Shift your attention to the one who observes and watch how illusion and strife naturally soften.

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Bring your attention back home on purpose so you can see the stories your mind creates and discover the freedom of finding a new story: one that lifts you up towards greater possibility and well being.  It’s there somewhere.  Keep looking.  You’ll know when you find it because it will feel like the freedom of a wide open sky.

May you find peace in this crazy cloudy world.

XO

Learning to Let Go

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It is a bright February day.  Warm sun hits my forearm as I sit on the soft surface of my bed. My back presses into the pillows behind me and my legs fold gently in front of me.  I draw in some fresh air and notice my body settle downward as I push the air over the back of my throat.  Air from my lungs slowly seeps out with a long quiet hiss.

Ahhh, sweet sweet release.

My mind absorbs the stillness for a few moments creating the perception of space opening up within me and around me. There I am, rolling around in the delicious serenity of it all, when an  uninvited scene takes over.  As if, Scotty from the USS Enterprise pressed a button and tele-transported me to a meeting at work.  Mentally, I find myself sitting at a table with my coworkers talking about the latest policy changes in the department.

“Oh wait, I’m mediating…bring it back.” I say to myself.  I consciously let go of thinking and the whole process starts over.

Like a blip on a radar screen, this process happens over and over again.

Learning to let go


“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Aristotle


Each time I move through this cycle (focus-distraction-disengage-refocus), I practice the skill of letting go and begin to re-wire my brain for resilience.  I consciously release the thoughts and reclaim the focus of my attention.  Like a ringing phone briefly steals us away from the flow of our lives.  Part of us knows we don’t have to answer the call but we often do anyway.  We free ourselves when we let go of the urge to pick it up.

Who is in charge anyway, the phone or the person who owns the phone?

The more you can “catch and release” with the little snags in your day, the easier it will be to free yourself from the big barbed hooks life throws your direction.  Next time a slow car holds you back on the highway or you discover Walmart is out of the blue cheese stuffed olives you want for your party, welcome these as opportunities to practice letting go.

Letting go of little disappointments makes the perfect play ground for building your cognitive flexibility.  It’s safe.  The risks of harm are low.  You can allow yourself the freedom to watch every dirty detail.  Discover and take in what you notice.  Look within for your process:

  • How does it unfold?
  • What happens in your thoughts and body when the thing you DO NOT WANT is exactly what shows up?

First notice, then release.  You will reveal and refine a valuable gift to yourself: The keys to unshackle yourself in any plight, regardless of intensity, and the self-awareness to consciously use it when needed.

Letting go is an emotional skill we develop one thimble full at a time.  It’s not as easy to gauge as tick marks on a growth chart.  Honor where you are and sprout from there.  Let your hands get dirty with the little upsets; the dog chews the furniture, the dishes weren’t done, it’s raining on your day off…then use the same resources to wrestle with the big monsters.

Mindfulness meditation really pays the bill for us on this one.

Moving Forward


“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”

– Lyndon B. Johnson


Letting go is the starting block for us to spring forward with an empowered response, a sunrise not a sunset.  Accepting and releasing allow us to make friends with the reality of the circumstances we face.  Our energy lifts for what’s to come, like a birthday balloon snipped free from it’s bouquet.

The crazy-making spin of rumination and worry or the dark pit of complaining and self-righteousness only make it SEEM like you are doing something.  It is a sticky illusion. Your mindful disengagement from the struggle with facts liberates you to roll up your sleeves and take action in a deliberate plan full way.

If the predicament is truly out of your control or realm of influence, then you have gratefully just stumbled into the next thing you can let go of.

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Celebrate!

All the best to you and moving forward, XO.