The Swimming Pool Principle

This may come as a shock, but I was totally that bratty 15-year-old who thought that my parents knew absolutely nothing. I felt they understood nothing about me and never could. Is that normal? From what I hear, yes it is. Part of me is glad for that, so I don’t feel quite so bad about being such a horrid teenager. (I have four brothers and my mom keeps saying boys are SOOOO much easier than girls, especially as teenagers. Guess that implicates only me, with no sisters to share the blame!)

But the other part of me really hopes that it’s not normal. When I look at my sweet 7-year-old daughter, who keeps showering me with notes about how I’m the best mom, I wonder how much longer this will last. Sometimes I naively think that she’s just such a sweetheart through and through that she could never turn out to be like I was. I hate to think of her transforming into a sassy, entitled, know-it-all manipulator. Does expecting this to happen cause it, or just help you be more prepared when it inevitably becomes reality? I’m pretty sure that every child goes through something like this at some point, whether at 2 years old or 22 years old, but most often in the teen years.

So, parents, you might as well prepare for it. I’ve got a great tool that you can use pre-emptively. (I learned this from Ann Washburn, one of my mentors.)

swimmingpoolprinciple

Here’s how to use this graph: Before the age of 9, when your child still thinks you know everything, or at least a great deal, draw this graph out for him or her and explain what will happen. He or she may say something like, “Oh mom, I’ll never think you don’t know anything. You’re the best mom in the world! You’re amazing, and wise, and talented, and beautiful,” and on and on. Cherish that.

Fast-forward to when he or she is 13-16 years old, yelling, “You don’t know anything!” or something more fun than that. When your teen is calm and ready to listen, draw out the graph for them again. They will probably remember it. And when they do, inform them that what they are playing out is exactly what you had told them would happen. It will be hard for them to deny the fact that if something you predicted so long ago has now happened, you must know something. So maybe there’s other stuff you’ve figured out, too. Maybe this will cause enough of a paradigm shift to readjust their perspective on you and your parenting.

The green line on the graph represents where the dip might be if you use this tool. The child will still drop to a point where they think you know very little, but it might not hit rock bottom. I’d say that holding on to at least that much ethos during such difficult parenting years makes this tool worth using!

Sticky Negativity

As a middle school teacher, I dreaded calling the parents of disruptive students. After making the calls, I couldn’t stop thinking about these students’ problems and generalizing in my mind that ALL students were difficult. I also thought about everything else about teaching that was a struggle. I felt so deflated and drained of energy.

My mentor teacher gave me a great suggestion: each time I make a call about a problem, choose an admirable student and make a call to his or her parents simply to praise their child. Although this took some extra time to do, it was well worth it because it focused my mind on the fact that a lot more kids were doing wonderful things than those that were causing problems. As I grew in gratitude for these stellar kids, I was reminded of the great work I was doing and felt renewed energy to accomplish what needed to be done. It trained me to look for and notice the positive things that were happening instead of focusing on the negative only.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how negativity gets a grip on us. It sounds obvious, but I think we are usually unaware of what’s going on because this happens so often. When you hold a negative thought or belief, it snowballs into more and more negative thoughts and beliefs, until you’re totally stuck in the mire of negativity. I believe that the law of entropy is the force behind this destructive pattern.

Simply becoming aware that this is happening, however, can cause a shift. You can choose a new thought or belief. And when you consciously choose to hold something positive in your mind, it can lead to more and more positivity, if you keep up the effort. The law of entropy is the default governing force of our world, but it can be overcome through intention, energy, and work.

The following 10-minute TED talk explains this phenomenon well, using experiments and examples. I think you’ll find it interesting:

When you identify with any negative idea, it tends to stick to you. Deepak Chopra has identified the following common negative thoughts and beliefs. Which of them do you commonly identify with?

  • I feel horrible.
  • I don’t deserve this. Why me?
  • Somebody’s going to pay.
  • I didn’t bring this on myself.
  • Who can I unload this on?
  • This is making me crazy.
  • Nobody can help me.
  • How can I distract myself until this feeling goes away?
  • When I’m feeling this bad, everybody better look out.
  • I need [my drug of choice] to get through this.
  • I want to be rescued.
  • Somebody has it in for me.
  • This has to be settled right now.
  • I can’t help how I feel; it’s just how I’m wired.

When you catch yourself in these thoughts, let them act as red flags warning that you need to shift to positive thinking. Try replacing the thought with one of these:

  • I can get through this; it won’t last forever.
  • I’ve felt this way before. I can deal with it.
  • I won’t feel better unloading on someone else.
  • No one ever wins the blame game.
  • Acting out leads to regret and guilt.
  • I’m not alone; I can call someone to help me through this bad patch.
  • I am much more than my feelings.
  • Moods come and go, even the worst moods.
  • I can be patient; let’s see if I calm down in awhile.
  • I know how to center myself.

If you can make any of these statements true, you’re moving in the right direction. How do you make them true? By simply wanting them to be. What you persistently believe to be true becomes your reality.

Also, focus on what you’re grateful for, and negativity will immediately begin to lose its power over you. When you train your mind to habitually look for the good, you will notice it more and more often until positive thinking becomes your default pattern.

Recognize Your “Awfulizer”

I was recently told that I have a tendency to go into “doomsday mode” at stressful times. After some reflection, I admit that is often true. I will see evidence of something I don’t like or experience unmet expectations, and then extrapolate my current reality way out into the future. At these moments, instead of taking things one step at a time and dealing with the present situation, I fixate on the bleak future of my imagination. Along with that comes anxiety and fear, and suddenly I’m desperate to protect myself from this dragon in my imagination that I totally invented myself. Do you think at these times I’m very pleasant to be around? Not one bit. This is one of my many self-destructive patterns that I need to reduce and hopefully eliminate. Is anyone else in the same boat with me on this?

I recently heard of the term “awfulize” in a class. It means to imagine something to be as bad as it can possibly be. This seems to fit what I just described about my doomsday mode. This verb has been made into the noun “awfulizer” to describe a person who does this often, but I don’t care for that usage because I don’t think self-destructive patterns should define a person. But many of us have an “awfulizer” in our brains that can hijack our rational thinking and send us into a downward spiral of horror and woe.

The first step to avoiding spiraling to doomsday is simply to recognize the awfulizer when it kicks in. Parents, especially moms, are likely to be victims of thought patterns like this one:

  1. My child lies and keeps lying.
  2. He will grow up to be a sociopath.
  3. He will end up in prison!
  4. And I will be a failure as a parent,
  5. And everyone will know!

As soon as you catch yourself obsessing over an imagined negative future, trace your thoughts back until you identify what the problem is in the present moment. In this example, it’s that the child has just told yet another lie. As frustrating as that can be, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he will continue lying until he is inevitably led into a life of crime. Instead of throwing your hands up in dread and fear, think about what you can do now to encourage your child to live more honestly, and take whatever steps are in your power.

The Awfulizer likes to hide its existence from us because its nefarious operations can only continue as long as we remain unconscious of it. But there are ways to bring it into the light. In Huffpost, Penny Love suggests that we ask ourselves the following questions the moment we recognize we are spiraling into a negative thought pattern:

  • Is this thought helping me?
  • Is it really true?
  • Am I overemphasizing the negative?
  • What’s the worse that will happen?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions?

Just being aware will open our eyes to the broad range of alternatives in front of us, allowing us to make a better choice than we would have, had we remained unaware of the Awfulizer operating so sneakily in our minds. Living mindfully in the present is the only place where we can have peace. The past is a place of guilt; the future is a place of anxiety. Both past and future are illusory. Only in the present do we experience reality; only over the present moment do we have any real power. I like how Eckhart Tolle expresses this:

“The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.”

How exactly can we create a more positive future through the present moment? First, make a plan and take action. Say you’ve already done that, though, or the situation is no longer under your control, and the future still looks bleak. There is something you can yet do. Visualize what you want to have happen! When in doomsday mode, I visualize a negative future outcome, and usually what follows is that circumstances conspire to move me closer to that. Instead, do the opposite. Fear dissipates immediately the moment we replace negative thoughts with hopeful and positive intentions and visions of our future. Author and healer Carol Tuttle has written, “The greatest power you have to avoid the worst is to intend for the best to happen.”

Everything that now exists started out as something merely imagined. Our imagination is truly an instrument of creation. It is powerful, so instead of allowing it to produce anxiety and stress, put it to work to add value to your life!

The Father of Motivation

An inspired and wonderful man, Dr. Wayne Dyer, the “Father of Motivation,” passed away last weekend. I’d like to leave a small tribute to him here, in my own humble way. Although I’ve only just recently become familiar with a small fraction of the large body of he created through his lifetime, his teachings have deeply resonated with me. I wanted to share with you just one of the powerful ideas he introduced me to, even though it’s incredibly difficult to condense it down into a simple blog post. (I encourage you to read his beautiful book Wishes Fulfilled, the source of all the quotes in this post, for a much richer explanation of these things.)

The idea is this: I am God. You are God. We are the image of God in the flesh. We are God in action. I have long been familiar with the idea my religion teaches: that we are all children of God, and that we can one day become gods and goddesses as well. But Dr. Dyer insists time and time again that our highest Self literally is God. This is powerful stuff. We aren’t just mere humans with the potential to become gods someday. We are, and have always been, God, and His power lives within us and is our power. Dr. Dyer uses an example to illustrate this:

“Imagine God as the ocean. If you take a bucket of water out of the ocean, is the water in the bucket the ocean? Yes, indeed, it is altogether the ocean–and the ocean, even though it is larger, is still altogether the whole of the ocean in the bucket. Now think of yourself as a bucket of God. Altogether God; and God is altogether you. It is only when you stay separated from the ocean that the water dries up. This is your task in grasping your highest self–staying aligned and not separated from your Source.”

In the scriptural account of Moses talking with God face-to-face, God says to him, “I AM THAT I AM.” He goes on to say that “I am” is His name forever. God speaks of Himself in “I am” throughout scripture. Here is the implication: Every time I use the words “I am…,” whether I speak them aloud or just thinking them, I am using God’s name. This means I need to take reverential care whenever I use these words, in order to avoid blasphemy or taking the name of God in vain. So never say, “I am stupid,” “I am ugly,” “I’m not good enough,” etc., if you’d never use these adjectives to describe God. But actively say things like:

  • “I am amazing.”
  • “I am powerful.”
  • “I am loving.”
  • “I am wealthy.”
  • “I am valuable.”
  • “I am vital and healthy.”
  • “I am beautiful.”
  • “I am intelligent and wise.”

When you say these things, especially out loud, you will feel a power immediately increase in your life. Even if you don’t see these statements as being true of yourself in the present moment, since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, as you become more aligned with your true nature, you will become these qualities. Or rather, you always were these qualities, but they will more fully manifest in your present physical reality.

Dr. Dyer goes on to say:

“Every time you think of the expression I Am, you initiate God in action. Why not continually remind yourself that I live, move, and have my being as God, the I am that I am? … The words I am align you with the Divine, and at the same time remind you that you are the Divine, possessing the same power to create as God.”

This is a really big deal. We are more powerful than we can realize. The more fully we glimpse who we really are, the more readily we can harness and use this power, as long as we are in alignment with God. Learning this is what made the abstract idea of faith a lot more concrete for me.

So what keeps us from being aligned with God? Well, many things, but I’d like to discuss just one of them here, and that is judgment. When we judge, criticize, and condemn others, we have left the place of love, and since God is love, we are no longer aligned with Him. The natural man, as some call it, or the Ego, as others call it, seeks to divide ourselves from God, others, and nature. Even though we are all One, the Ego thinks we need to see ourselves as separate and distinct in order to preserve ourselves, and itself. So we set up boundaries and immediately judge the things and people outside of who we think we are, in order to create and preserve a sense of our own individual identity. (Read more about ego boundaries in Peace Which Passeth All Understanding.) Wayne Dyer explains that the letters in EGO could stand for “Edge God Out,” because that’s exactly what the ego is doing. He writes:

“My criticism and condemnation of the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of others–regardless of how right and moral my human self convinces me it is–is a step away from God-realization.”

I’d like to return to this destructive idea of judgment, and its common sidekicks blaming and shaming, in a future blog post and expand on it. For now, it’s sufficient to say that criticizing and condemning anything about another person will move us out of alignment with God and our power will disappear. And that is a devastating loss, because it is the power of God within us that attracts every good thing life has to offer.

I wish I could share more of what I’ve learned from Dr. Dyer, but let me close with one more idea that he expresses so well:

Your soul is infinity itself. It has no restrictions or limitations–it resists being fenced in–and when you attempt to contain it with rules and obligations, it is miserable….The ideal of your soul is space, expansion, and immensity, and the one thing it needs more than anything else is to be free to expand, to reach out and to embrace the infinite.

Let’s let go of the limiting beliefs we hold about ourselves. It’s all about expansion and growth. As long as we are constantly striving to learn, grow, and create, and encouraging this in others, we will live lives of great peace, joy, and abundance. Dr. Dyer exemplified this in his life of personal growth and service to an uncountable number of people. He will be missed, but I’m so grateful for the wealth of truth and insights that he left behind.