Bringing Presence to our Obsessive Thoughts

Does anyone else get plagued by OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS? Here is a great tool that can help, from mindfulness teacher Tara Brach.

First, identify your primary areas of obsessive thinking. These may include:
– How someone or people are treating you
– Mistakes you are making/ways you are falling short
– What you need to get done
– What others are doing wrong
– Your worries about another person
– How you look
– Symptoms of being sick/what your symptoms mean
– Worrying about a relationship problem
– How you want someone/people to change
– What is going wrong/what has already gone wrong
– How you need to change
– Something you are craving
– Something you really want to happen
– Something you wish was different

Select a couple obsessions that regularly take over your mind and trap you in anxiety, anger, shame or discontent. Give each one a specific label. It would be a good idea to journal about these.

For example, my main areas and their labels would be: “What I need to get done” (Productivity), “Worrying about a relationship problem” (Marriage Story), and “How I need to change” (Be Better). Also, “What does my husband’s tone of voice mean about me?” (Tone Decoder). That one’s a real doozy!

For a few days, try to notice when you are caught in the obsessive thought, and when you do, whisper its name and pause. Offer a non-judging, FRIENDLY quality of attention to the thought. Remind yourself that the thought is Real, but not True. Check in with how your body is feeling. Breathe in and out with whatever emotions are there. Don’t try to change them; just offer respectful, allowing presence, and then go back to what you were doing. This practice should take only around 30-60 seconds each time.

Would anyone like to comment with your own labels for the obsessive thoughts you identify in yourself? I’d love to hear!

Avoid Overwhelm–Manage the Moment of Choice

I’ve heard so many people say they’re overwhelmed right now. Do you know what “overwhelm” really is? It’s simply an **inability to manage the moment of choice.**

When you have a lot to do in a short period of time, how do you handle it?
– Do you shut down because you don’t know where to start or what’s most important?
– Do you try to do several things at once and end up doing nothing very effectively?
– Do you rush around busily, but plague yourself with guilt over what you are avoiding doing or can’t get to?
– Do you spend all your time and mental energy planning what you’re going to do rather than actually doing it?
– Do you take no time to relax, refresh, and renew your energy, so that you’re dead in the water when you barely even start?

There are so many manifestations of overwhelm, but one solution to get out of it. CHOOSE what you’re going to do in each moment, and do that intentionally, until it’s time to do something different. You’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish this way!
– If you have chosen to cook or clean your home, decide what exactly you will accomplish and for how long, and completely focus on that. Don’t think about everything else you COULD be doing with that time.
– If it’s right to nurture your relationships with family/friends, really be there and be present with them. If you choose to multitask on this, (IE involving the kids in making neighbor gifts) be intentional on what result you desire (bonding with the kids, expressing your creativity, or getting the gifts done). Trying for more than one result usually causes frustration.
– If you need to plan, realize that planning is DOING something, but when you’re done planning, STOP. Write it down. Don’t keep ruminating on and adjusting the plan when it’s time to take a different action.
– Take intentional time for rest and relaxation. (If you tend to overindulge this way, set a limit. Ex: just one TV show or just 30 minutes on Facebook.) No guilt during this time! It’s an investment in your energy level, if you’re really present and not thinking about all the other things you’re not doing.

What will you do TODAY to manage the moment of choice and avoid overwhelm?

Candlelight

I am like a candle. My role as the wick is to stand tall and shine my light to all within my corner of the world, my sphere of influence. One candle doesn’t light up an entire room—much less an entire house—but it can light other candles, and has infinite potential if it just keeps burning. These lit candles have potential to reach the whole world, like the Olympic torch. 

The candle needs a few things in order to burn:

– First of all, it needs to be lit. It can’t start on its own volition. The spark comes from somewhere outside it. Our flame can be lit from other candles—when we’re inspired by people in our lives; or straight from the lighter—when our inspiration comes from God, our higher power. We must be close enough to—intimate with—others and God to catch the flame: we cannot be on the other side of the room.

– Second, it needs a fuel source: the wax, which must be continually pooled around the wick. The wax supports the wick and allows it to stand on its own rather than falling over. My wick draws consistently on this fuel source as it burns. I need to be constantly connected with people who fuel and support me. I receive what they freely give, and then I am enabled to give my light and heat to the world. The larger the circumference of the wick, the larger the flame, but the more fuel it needs.

– Third, a candle needs oxygen. If you put a lid over a jar candle, it’ll keep burning for just a second, then flicker and die. Oxygen can’t be seen but it’s constantly surrounding our flame and we feed on it, unless we cut ourselves off—which doesn’t mean it is gone, but that we can’t access it. The oxygen is spirit, God’s power, and the energy of the universe.

– Fourth, a candle needs to be trimmed. Sometimes parts of the wick get used up and must be removed. If not, the candle can still burn, but the flame flickers a lot rather than providing a steady glow, and the flame leans sideways. Trimming our wick is removing limiting beliefs and anything else that no longer serves us. The candle must be extinguished while the wick is trimmed, but can be immediately re-lit for a better effect. We have to take the time and effort to clean ourselves up and examine how we can be more effective.

Can you think of any other ways you may be like a candle?

 

Healing the Divide

A house divided against itself cannot stand. –Abraham Lincoln

What is really going on when you beat yourself up? In an assault situation, there’s a perpetrator, a victim, and sometimes a witness. When you assault yourself, you have divided yourself into these different parts. And you rationalize the beating by saying that the victim, which is yourself, deserved it somehow for being wrong or bad, or needs the “motivation” to straighten up and fly right. Have you ever heard these excuses given in response to a civil assault? The result is outrage. Where is the outrage when you abuse yourself in this way? And why is your “witness” part standing idly by and watching this all play out?

Last night I was listening over and over to “Halfway Right,” one of the last songs Chester Bennington of Linkin Park wrote before he took his own life.* The lyrics illustrate this dynamic perfectly. The verses allude to some cryptic, horrible mistake he made while high behind the wheel one night, and then comes the chorus:

I scream at myself when there’s nobody else to fight
I don’t lose, I don’t win, if I’m wrong, then I’m halfway right
I know what I want, but It feels like I’m paralyzed
I don’t lose, I don’t win, if I’m wrong, then I’m halfway right

What a heartbreaking choice for someone to make. I know, because I’ve been there, many times. I’m sure many of you can relate as well. We’re socialized to look for someone or something to BLAME for everything we see as “wrong.” When we recognize the object of blame, we lash out at it, because we really think that’s how to “fix” it. But when there is no outside entity clearly at fault, we determine that it must be ourself which is to blame, and play out the same pattern of violence by lashing out on the inside.

So who “wins” in this scenario? Let’s say the violent part “wins” by beating the blamed part into submission, which then is seen as “losing.” Or let’s say the blamed part “wins” by withstanding the abuse and not being “defeated” by the violent part. Either way, you end up feeling “halfway right” (and halfway wrong) because you neither lose nor win entirely. I would submit that in this scenario, it’s always a total loss for you. Not only do you FEEL paralyzed, but you actually are, because of your inability to take any kind of productive action, nor have you really learned anything of value or grown because of your experience. It also feels like paralysis because we get really good at numbing out the painful emotions this pattern inevitably brings.

Some may argue that beating themselves up actually does bring them positive results, and that by keeping themselves whipped, they accomplish their goals. But at what cost? Slavery did produce results by way of huge profits for plantation owners in the South, but it came at the steep price of the wounded hearts of both slave and slave-driver.

Kristin Neff, the pioneering researcher in the field of Self-Compassion, has done dozens of studies which show that beating ourselves up is actually the opposite of helpful. Think about it. If you beat yourself up every time you make a mistake, how likely are you going to be to pick yourself up and try again, or attempt something new or difficult? You probably wouldn’t; you’d shut down, in fear of the possibility of a beating. Also, think of a parent berating a child who brings home a poor report card. Is this action likely to bring the child’s grades up? Or would it be more motivating to sit down with the child and come up with an improvement plan, all while encouraging him that you know he’s capable of more and that you love him regardless?

By being kind and loving to ourselves, our capacity expands exponentially. Because loving ourselves results in a “whole” person, we become much more attuned to our true purpose, and our authentic goals unfold before us. We courageously strive, even when the chance of failure is huge, quickly forgiving and learning from our own mistakes and moving on. Our life manifests an abundant cycle of accepting and loving, giving and receiving, instead of the downward vortex of blaming and shaming, taking and losing.

Choosing to be wholehearted, to be merciful and kind to myself, is an ongoing journey that has brought me so much joy and peace. Stopping the cycle of self-blame and learning to love myself has also radiated outward and improved my relationships by helping me accept and love every person in my life as well. If you would like some support on your own journey, I can give you some tools that for me have proved invaluable. Please reach out! The wholehearted life is worth every effort, and it’s never too late to turn these patterns around!

 

*Disclaimer: I don’t presume to know the reasons behind Chester’s suicide. I am merely trying to show that he clearly understood this pattern well enough to portray it in such a way. The person who wrote these lyrics knows how it feels to be divided against himself, whether or not this led to suicide.

The Power of Identity

“The strongest force in the human psyche is the need to remain consistent with our own definition of ourselves—our identity. In other words, once we decide who we are as a person, then we will give ourselves no choice but to find a way to be consistent with that perception. However, many of us settle for an identity that is less than our true capability, so our job as leaders is to help others raise and expand their identity.” – Tony Robbins
 
The kind of person we believe we are determines everything that we do. So if you want to change your behavior, don’t focus on that. First, work on shifting your beliefs about yourself. Believe that you already are the person you want to be, and you will start to think, speak, and act that way until you become that.
 
When I was a teenager, I was insecure, shy, and fearful about talking to people I didn’t know well, especially adults. It was incapacitating at times, and I didn’t have the kind of relationships I wanted. After graduating from high school, I decided to become a new person: outgoing, fun, confident, social. I was headed to BYU where nobody knew me yet, which made it easier to shift this. It wasn’t “natural,” but it worked, and I had a great time in college. Plus, I never would have met my husband nor entered the teaching profession had I stayed my “old self.”
 
I’m still working on being more natural in interacting with people. The old fears and insecurities still creep up, but I’m usually able to ignore those and be intentional in how I show up. I’m loving how interesting and FUN it is to meet people and get to know them!
 
If you struggle with holding yourself to the identity you desire, get a mentor. He or she can hold that standard for you until you believe it, and help you remove what’s stopping you. It’s so worth it. There is so much joy to be found in loving who you are! How do YOU want to start showing up in the world?

The Parable of the Omelet

Did you know that at Golden Corral, you can ask for a whole-egg omelet instead of having them use that pre-prepped egg mixture? Not many people must request this. I watched, both fascinated and appalled, as one girl smacked a raw egg against the edge of the bowl about a dozen times before finally letting the innards slide into the bowl. Then she’d peer in and pick out all the shards of eggshell one at a time and throw them away. I assumed that with the second egg, she’d alter her method, but no. CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK. PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK-PICK. As she did the same thing all over again with the third egg, my mouth was literally hanging wide open. WHY would she smash each egg to smithereens, if she knew she’d have to pains-takingly extract each tiny piece of shell after?

As an expert egg-cracker myself, I know that you only have to gently strike a raw egg against a hard edge ONCE and then pull the two halves apart, and you don’t get any shell pieces in with your egg. It really doesn’t seem like an advanced concept. But maybe she never had her mother show her a better way to do it. Maybe she never really thought about optimizing her method and just assumed that everyone has to pick half the shell out of the slippery mess every time.

I’ve been thinking about how often we beat ourselves up for every perceived failing, thinking that we must be hard on ourselves in order to “force ourselves” to get the results we want in life. Our society teaches us that shame is an effective motivator, and we may not even realize that better methods are available. In my life, I’ve found that being kind and gentle with myself produces a much more favorable outcome. Not only do I feel comforted, loved, and soothed, but my results are better too. I naturally behave more skillfully in the areas that I once shamed myself for, as well as relating with more compassion and love to others, because I have started with myself.

This process has been slow, but I’ve made several shifts in the way I talk to myself. Instead of saying, “You’re so stupid! I can’t believe you said that! You ruin everything. When will you ever learn?” (CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK) I say gently to myself, “It’s okay. You didn’t realize. Everything’s going to be fine. You’re doing the best you can. I love you.” I still “learn my lesson” and make the changes I need to make, but this way, there’s no sharp eggshells in my omelet. I don’t have to go back through and tediously repair the damage I’ve done by contriving to build myself up when I need to have confidence in moving forward with my goals.

I’m far from perfect and often fall back into old shaming habits, both with myself and my family members, but I’m becoming self-aware enough to realize when I’m doing it and make a shift. I’ve learned several tools for self-compassion as I’ve studied this topic, which have revolutionized the way I treat myself, and it’s starting to positively impact all my relationships.

I hope that you will start seeing yourself in a new light, shifting from a critical, judgmental eye to seeing the beauty and greatness that God and others already see in you. If I can support you in some way, please comment or message me. I would love to be your guide on this beautiful and important journey.

The Silver Lining–Pure Gold

What if there is NOTHING WRONG with anyone? Could it be that every perceived flaw, failure, weakness, or limitation points toward our highest gifts and qualities? What if every hangup we have is the very energy of our life’s purpose trying to express itself?

I was privileged to gain this insight from the wise Gary Acevedo a week ago that completely turned upside-down my view of other people and myself. Although he expressed it so much better, I feel compelled to share it.

If you take some time to reflect on every upset you’ve had in your life, you will recognize some common threads woven throughout each. This just may be the key to recognizing your message in this life, your gift to the world, your mission. Every victory and defeat you experience will revolve around your message. Have you ever noticed how little difference there is between your successes and “failures?” It all comes down to mere perspective and whether or not our expectations were met.

Take any negative or limiting label we give ourselves and others and try to see it in a new way. Can you see how the noble energy of the person’s life message may have been turned inward or somehow warped by the circumstances of life?

– A depressed person may have shut down inside because they’ve thrown out the old meanings in life and the new meanings just haven’t shown up yet.

– A shy person may possess incredible clarity and insight, but may be hesitant to let that be seen.

– An overweight person may be wanting more from life and just hasn’t found it in the right place yet.

– An anxious person may possess great power to accomplish, but fears have shut down their ability to access this power.

– An emotionally sensitive person may be keenly perceptive and sensitive to other people and their feelings, but without opportunities to safely express this, it has turned in on themselves and become magnified.

– A critical or demanding person may hold to higher standards than anyone else and may be the best equipped to optimize processes.

– One who harbors self-doubt may hold the greatest insight to their true self but have been caught in emotional “black holes.”

– Those with abandonment issues may be the very ones who will never leave you.

– Those who think they’re stupid may be the most brilliant in the room.

– Those who think they’re unloved may be the most lovable in room.

Are you willing to look beyond the limitations of people’s personalities, successes, and failures to see the higher self shining through? With this higher vision, can you discern the message and purpose underlying every person’s choices? It is all there, waiting on a silver platter, if we only open our eyes and see.

“I Saw You Suffering”

Am I the only one who has kind of a morbid fascination with suicide? Well, with not the act of suicide itself, but the mindset of someone who would make this kind of drastic and irreversible choice; the factors and environment and thought processes leading someone to no longer want to exist on the planet anymore. In college I did a lot of research on suicide in literature. And whenever there are public suicides reported in the news, I haven’t been able to resist being drawn in.

Last week was another case of a well-known and successful person choosing suicide: 52-year-old Chris Cornell, best known for fronting the rock groups Soundgarden and Audioslave. I’ve immersed myself in his music for days, ever since I first heard about him taking his life by hanging. I recognize in him the soul of a poet–a deep thinker, a deep feeler.

“Choosing suicide” has been called into question by Cornell’s widow, Vicky, whom he called his “soulmate.” She insists that he never would have intentionally committed suicide, and that he wasn’t himself that night after taking too many prescription anxiety pills, which the shy loner needed in order to perform in front of large crowds. If that really was the case, it adds another heartbreaking dimension to this tragedy, and goes to show to extent to which drugs, even legal and prescription, can alter one’s mind and personality. But that’s a topic for another time.

It’s common for people to look for suicide messages in everything the victim had said or done before the death, or in this case wrote and sung about. I certainly saw some things in his music that can be read that way, such as this portion of “Worried Moon:”

Yeah if it all goes wrong
And I’m a heart without a home
Maybe you can talk me out
Of doing myself in

But since we all have our moments of depression, heartbreak, and despair, I decided to look for other kinds of messages he may have been trying to convey. Because he produced dozens of albums and hundreds of songs with four different groups, I’ve decided to limit myself to just his most recent solo work: Higher Truth. (Just the album name itself conveys importance and meaning.)

To start, enjoy the lyrics to his song “Misery Chain:”

Won’t you take one link, from this misery chain?
Keep it to remind you of a long-forgotten time or a place,
So that you recognize its shape, when it’s near,
Any time or place this misery chain should appear.

Take the locks and shackles, and melt all of it down.
Shine a light upon every shadow, every acre of ground.
The hidden corners on it all around,
Any way you feel this misery chain should be found.

When we’re gone, and it’s all said and done,
What will we leave?
Stories told, will they speak of us, when God only knows
What those words will be.

And if I should fall, from the top of the world
To the depths below, so far below where our belief could exist,
Down further still will be the one who hides the key.
And there to try to put these misery chains on me.

Won’t you take one link, from this misery chain.
Keep it to remind you, of a long-forgotten time or a place.
So that you recognize it, ’till it’s understood
That every trace of this misery chain is gone for good.
‘Til every trace of this misery chain is gone for good.

There’s a lot of meaning here, but what I took was that we need to hold on to just a small piece of the painful experiences in our lives. Not enough to cause us to relive the pain over and over again, but to be a reminder of it, so that we can learn from it and avoid going through something like that again. This allows us to “shine a light upon every shadow” and see things as they really are. We don’t want to hold on to the whole chain, because it’s too heavy and would enslave us in misery, but just one little link of that chain, in order to be equipped to rid ourselves of any future misery chains.

I also love the idea in the chorus of this song: “When we’re gone, and it’s all said and done, What will we leave?” It’s so empowering to think about the mark we’re making on the world because most of us are typically more focused on the daily trivialities of life. But we must all depart eventually, so hopefully by that time, we leave the world better off for us having lived. Also, it’s only God who knows the full story of our lives. We may think we know enough of certain people to speak of them and tell their stories, but our view is limited.

Here’s a portion of another song along similar lines: “Before We Disappear:”

Time ain’t nothing if it ain’t fast,
Taking everything that you ever had,
And giving nothing in return
But a cold bed in a quiet earth.
If there’s a door to every cell
A pearl inside of every shell then
How hard can it be
To share your love with me?
How hard can it be
To rise with me each morning?
I know that it feels like
We will live forever,
But I fear
That time will hide the years.
Life ain’t nothing if it ain’t hard,

It’ll show you who you truly are,
Knock you down when you get too tall
Till you’re spun around in a free fall.

But somewhere out there past the storm
Lies the shelter of your heart.

I know that it feels like
We will live forever,
But I fear
That time can hide the years
Like we were never here,
So hold on tightly my dear
Before we disappear.

He was clearly thinking a lot about his mortality and the short time we have to be alive. There’s a sense of urgency in the title “before we disappear.” Sometimes we lose touch with just how temporary our mortal existence is, and we waste time because “it feels like we will live forever.” But this song speaks to me of the importance and necessity of our relationships. Are we letting time steal the years we have, “like we were never here,” or are we making the effort to truly love each other?
This life is far from easy. In fact, it’s meant to be hard, to “show you who you truly are,” and to keep us humble. If it were easy, we’d gain nothing from it. It’s such a blessing that through it all, our loved ones can give us much-needed shelter from the storm.
Along similar lines to these songs is the chorus to “Our Time in the Universe:”
Save the dying arms of midnight
For the patience of the lapse of light
Cuz it’s our time in the universe
Well I don’t mind
If we’re blessed or cursed
And it’s our time in the universe
Yours and mine
Just being here and alive is something to be celebrated. At times we may consider ourselves either “blessed or cursed,” but that’s only a matter of perspective. Our existence here must eventually come to an end, so seize the day! As another lyric in this song goes: “So don’t worry on what tomorrow holds for you,” but live in the present moment.
The lyrics that resonate with me the most come from these selections of “Through The Window:”

I saw you suffering
Through a foggy window in the rain
When you thought no one was watching,
Going through your memories
Like so many prisons to escape
And become someone else,
With another face
And another name
No more suffering…
I saw you suffering
Through the cracked and dirty window pane
I was ashamed that I was watching,
Going through your imagination
Looking for a life you could create
And become somebody else,
With another face
With another name
No more suffering

…spit the ashes from our mouths
And put the grey back in the clouds
And send them packing with our bags
Of old regrets and sorrows
‘Cause they don’t do a thing but drag us down
So far down
The past is like a braided rope
Each moment tightly coiled inside

I saw you suffering
Through the yellow window of a train
With everybody watching,
Too tired for imagining
That you could ever love somebody else
From somewhere far away
From another time
And another place
With another life
And another face
And another name
No more suffering.

So many around us are suffering. Do we see them, through those foggy, cracked, dirty, or yellowed windows? They may think that no one’s watching. Do they know that you are there for them? Or are you too ashamed that you were watching them in their pain? Our culture teaches us to value independence above all, so we hide our pain and struggle from others, and assume that they want to hide their pain and struggle from us. When someone is “caught” looking, it can seem like a humiliating thing, for both parties. But is it really? There’s something so vulnerable about seeing through those windows into the pain of another. Anything vulnerable can seem scary, because our culture teaches us that in order to be strong and safe, we must keep our shields and defenses up. But is this really so? What if true strength is found in being ourselves and connecting with one other’s hearts?
What causes our suffering? It almost always results from being removed from the present moment. You may be stuck in the past, “Going through your memories, Like so many prisons to escape.” Or you may be living in the future, “Going through your imagination, Looking for a life you could create.” Either way, you will suffer. Memories and imagination serve important purposes, but they’re abstractions, and when we spend too long there, we become removed from what’s real and productive: right now. Anytime we want to be something other than we are, in another place than that which we’re in, or yearn to have another life or place or name, we are going to suffer.

I love the idea of sending “old regrets and sorrows” packing. Other than the little bit of the “misery chain” that is constructive to hold on to, these regrets and sorrows “don’t do a thing but drag us down.” The braided rope of the past, containing each moment that has gone before, is a heavy thing to drag around. When we can let it go–relinquish, move on, surrender, forgive–that’s when there will be “no more suffering.”
Since I’m currently reading the book Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, I can’t help but read into this song a perspective of seeing ourselves suffering. Even if no one else can see through those windows, we can see it in ourselves. We can comfort and soothe our own pain. When we can do this, everything becomes so much clearer and we’re equipped meet our own needs so that we can let go of that “braided rope” of the past that’s dragging us down. And once we’ve seen our own suffering, we will see so much clearer in order to be aware of it in others. Sometimes just knowing that we’re seen is all we need.
Although it’s so tragic that Chris Cornell is no longer among the living, I’m grateful for the impact his music has had on my life. I fully consider this recent delving into his Higher Truth album to have been a mentoring experience, and I hope that you have found some gold nuggets here as well!

You Created It–Label It!

I love the way the sun goes down each night and comes up again each morning. It provides predictable breaks in the flow of time, creating the manageable, bite-sized periods of life that we call “days.” Can you imagine how it would be to not have days, but just a free-flowing expanse of time? Without the contrast, without the natural endings and beginnings provided by day and night? I literally cannot imagine it. But sometimes, in my mind, I operate as though this were the case. Maybe you do too.

Do you sometimes feel like each of your days bleeds into the ones before and after until they become meshed together in one blob? Do you ever wake up in the morning already feeling burdened and overwhelmed by Yesterday rather than energized and eager to begin a fresh new Today? Does it ever seem like Tomorrow never really comes because you just keep living Yesterday all over again Today? In this post I will provide you with a very simple tool to help you leave the past where it belongs–in the past–so that you’re free to create each new day the way you wish. Sound good?

Most humans spend around 95% of their time in the land of “Has Been.” Our minds like to dwell on what has already happened in the past, because it’s concrete, certain, and we have evidence to show what happened and why and how. It seems more real than the land of “Will Be.” A lot of the time, when we think our minds are focused on Tomorrow and all the things we need to do and what’s coming up in life, we’re actually still in “Has Been” land because it’s all generally the same stuff we did Yesterday.

It is uncomfortable to truly spend time in the land of “Will Be” because it’s uncertain, we have no concrete evidence for how things will work out, we don’t have control over it, and it seems almost fake. Our brains don’t like this unpredictability, but our spirits love it and crave it. That’s because our spirits yearn to Create, and you can’t create in the land of Has Been. Everything we have yet to create is in the land of Will Be. And the only time we can ever create in is Today.

I don’t know about you, but I have ruined so many Todays by letting them become polluted by the mistakes and failures of Yesterday. I think things like, “That was such a stupid thing to do!” “I can’t believe I said that.” “What did I even do all day?” “If only I had ______ then things would be so much better.” “Why don’t I ever learn?” These thoughts, which are all from the land of “Has Been,” are so burdensome that the energy needed to accomplish my goals ends up going towards re-creating Yesterday’s failures. But with a new mindset, you can free yourself from this tyrrany.

The tool is simply this: at the end of each day (or first thing the next day if you forget), label that day with just one word, and write it down somewhere. You can write it in a journal, on a calendar, on a document on your computer, or use the Notes app on your phone (which is what I do). That’s it. Just one word for the day. It only takes a few seconds! You can always write more, and I usually do, but I can feel successful even if the one word is all I write. This tool is so simple and easy that you will probably think it can’t possibly be powerful. But give it a try and see what it does for your mind. I learned it at a training ten days ago, put it into practice, and have already seen my mindset improve, which has created more energy, less stress, and better results in my life!

Try to settle on the label that best encapsulates most of the day, or something significant from the day. And please be more creative than just the words “Good” or “Bad.” Those labels have little meaning. I love positive labels, such as Amazing, Accomplished, Connected, Powerful, Peaceful, Fun, Vibrant, Decisive, Inspiring, Treasured, Relaxing, Clarity, Fulfilling, Generous, Influential,  Reverent, Meaningful, Growth, etc. If the day wasn’t so great, you can use a negative label, for example: Frustrating, Disappointing, Lonely, Blah, Hopeless, Exhausting, Loss, Despondent, Confusing, Dramatic, Tired, Strange, Indolent, Flurried, Complacent, etc. Neutral labels can be useful too, like Quiet, Independent, Unbelievable, Interesting, Wow, Unexpected, Busy, Nostalgic, Extreme, Low-key, Alert, or Unforgettable. (It’s not easy to think of neutral ones, but I like how they can go either way. Please comment with more that I and other readers can use!)

So why does this work? Giving names to things makes them real in our minds. It’s hard for us to even think about things until they have a label, or name, or category of some kind. If it has a label, suddenly it Exists as Something. (You might argue that each day already has a name, such as Sunday, April 30, but dates are arbitrary and not personally meaningful in and of themselves.) Giving a label to the day separates it as distinct in your mind from other days that have gone before, and makes it feel “finished.” You don’t have to worry about it or dwell on it anymore because its creation has been completed. Those days with negative labels can be put behind you and filed away along with the lessons you learned. The days with positive labels can be celebrated as a great accomplishment and an example for future tomorrows. And the other days…well, they’ll count for whatever meaning they held for you, instead of just disappearing into oblivion forever.

Since I’ve started doing this, I automatically start out each morning thinking about what kind of day I want to create, rather than just letting the day “happen to” me. This makes it more likely that I will consciously and intentionally take the actions needed to get my desired results. Labeling each day causes our minds to become more aware all day long of what we are creating, and that awareness multiplies the choices in front of us about how we show up in each moment. If the way I’m showing up isn’t aligned with what I’m wanting to create, I can course-correct and salvage the rest of the day.

Recently in church we studied the account of the Creation in the book of Genesis and other scripture, and I noticed that the principle of labeling or naming what you create is an important part of the process of creation. God exemplified it first. He calls each segment in the creation of the Earth “The First Day,” “The Second Day,” and so on through “The Sixth Day.” And He also looks at what He created and says that it was good. Do we do this? Do we acknowledge that what we put forth effort to create is good? I think that one reason we don’t is because we don’t want to seem boasting or prideful. But we need to acknowledge, celebrate even, the good things we create and accomplish! In that acknowledgment we find closure for that particular creation and gain the accomplishment energy to go on to what we’ll create next. It’s a beautiful upward spiral.

So I challenge you to try labeling each day! It really is so easy to do. Just set an alarm on your phone if you think you might forget to do it. Make note in the comment section if you’re committed, to add some accountability. Also come back here and let me and the other readers know what your results are with this so we can celebrate with you! Or just comment with some awesome words that would make good labels. Let’s get a dialogue going!

(photo credit: David Swindler, Action Photo Tours)

From Victim to Victor (Drama Triangle series, part 3)

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

– Charlotte Brontë in Jane Eyre

I hope that becoming aware of the dreaded drama triangle (part 1 of this series) and learning that you can shift out of the drama into the more empowering creator mode (part 2 of this series) has had a positive impact on your life. I have two objectives with this third part: First, to denounce the “victim-shaming” approach common in the personal development field, and second, to provide you with some questions to ask yourself when you’re ready to make the shift from the anxiety-based victim mindset into the passion-based creator stance.

Self-Empathy

I cannot stress enough that the #1 most important part of the process of change & growth is to be kind to yourself. Most people who are striving to improve themselves–which includes you, the audience of this particular blog–beat themselves up continually for every perceived failing. They think that this will motivate them to change. However, no good, no lasting positive effect, ever results from an atmosphere of shame. Unfortunately, our society has conditioned us to believe that shaming has a purpose and can be productive. Even the personal development field is rife with attitudes of putting victims down (under the guise of trying to help “motivate” them) and condemning them for choosing such an unskillful mindset. I hear you saying, “But victimhood IS an unskillful mindset!” I do believe this is so, as described in my previous two posts, and that there is a better way to live, but what I’m NOT saying is that people are wrong and bad for taking on the role of the victim.

Every time someone chooses to go into victim mode, it is because a deeper need is going unmet. It is those needs that deserve attention, not the victim behavior, which is only the symptom of the problem. When a baby is crying, telling him to stop crying does no good. We don’t turn up our noses at the child and say, “He’s making the choice to be a victim” and lecture him on why he should adopt a more positive outlook. That would be ridiculous. Nor do we punish him and tell him that he’s bad. No, we just try to figure out what the baby needs and then meet that need, because he can’t meet it on his own. We all are like that little baby sometimes when we have an unmet need and don’t know how to get it met. We may pout, sulk, throw tantrums, or lash out. When we see that we are reacting in these less-skillful ways, let that be a red flag to alert us to the fact that we have an unmet need, so that we can take the proper steps to get that need met.

This looking for our own unmet needs and trying to meet them in loving, constructive ways is self-empathy or self-compassion. We are so often told to love others, to be empathetic and compassionate to them. But our first responsibility is to ourselves. We cannot be of much help to others when we are broken inside and in need ourselves. Every time we take a flight, we are told that in the event of a depressurized cabin, we are to attach our own oxygen mask first before attempting to help others. Same principle. Love yourself. Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can. Check back on this site for future blog posts about core human needs and some tools you can use to cultivate self-empathy and to demonstrate compassion to yourself at the times when you need it most.

That being said…Moving on!

The Three Vital Questions

When you recognize that you’ve been playing the victim, and you’re ready to make the shift to a more skillful inner state, asking yourself these questions can help:

  1. Where am I putting my focus? Ask yourself, “Am I focusing on problems or outcomes?” Whenever there is drama in my marriage, it’s usually because I’m overly-focused on the problem. For example, I say things like, “You’re not spending enough time with me; I feel ignored and unloved; I wish we had a closer relationship;” etc. These comments usually make things worse because they activate shame and drive us apart. When I’m outcome-focused, however, I can communicate the same concerns in a more constructive way that actually leads to solving the problem. “Can we set aside 15 minutes to talk after the kids go to bed each night?” or “I’d like for us to start going out on weekly dates” or “When you’re finished watching the game, would you please help me clean up the kitchen?” This approach usually elicits a more positive response, free of drama.
  2. How am I relating–to others, to my life experiences, and to myself? We have a relationship with every person, including ourselves, and with every situation we’ve ever been in. Are these relationships constructive or destructive, positive or negative? Ask yourself, “Is the way I’m relating to others perpetuating drama, or empowering others?”
  3. What actions am I taking? Ask yourself, “Am I just reacting to the problem of the moment, or taking deliberate action? Are my actions helping to solve my problems and contributing to the outcomes I desire? Am I spending more time planning my steps than actually taking them?” If you find yourself paralyzed into inaction by the enormity of the tasks ahead of you, look out to next thirty days rather than over the next year, or out to the next day or week rather than month. You don’t have to have it all figured out before you start. After all, the Wright Brothers experimented with different ideas and didn’t have a set plan in place, and yet they were able to achieve their dream of giving mankind the gift of flight.

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I like this graphic (from David Emerald) because it shows how these questions each build on one another. If we’re focused on problems, we’ll probably be predisposed towards anxiety when looking at how we are relating and the actions we’re taking. And actions is the last question because relationships trump them. No action is independent of a relationship of some kind.

An even more basic question to start with when you want to shift out of drama is, “What do I want?” Obviously, I don’t want a marriage full of issues and problems, but if that’s what I’m focused on, that’s exactly what I get. Instead, if I focus on what I DO want–a marriage of connection, passion, harmony, fun, and trust–I’m more likely to attract those things instead. Also, your mind notices more of what you focus on. The problems and issues may still be present in my marriage. But if my mind is focused on the positive aspects instead, I will notice those more than I would have, and notice the problems less, thus creating a happier relationship.

Other great questions to ask yourself in shifting into Creator mode are: “Why am I experiencing this? (Not asking with the intent of generating pity!) What is there to learn? How can I grow?” 

You may have already seen the following graphic in the previous post, but I’m adding it here for reference for the following section. Sometimes we may have already made the shift from victim to creator ourselves, but we need to shift out of being a part of someone else’s drama triangle. Asking yourself some other vital questions can help with that.

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From Persecutor to Challenger

If you find yourself commonly perceived by someone else as a Persecutor, it’s time for some introspection. The vital question in this case is, “What is my intention here?” Is it to be right or take charge or look good, or is it to support others’ growth and learning? Basically, are you focused on elevating yourself, or on helping them? When you’re focused on yourself, it’s no wonder they view you as a Persecutor. If you really do want what’s best for them, and they still see you as Persecutor, look at how you can improve the way you have been relating to them, or whether it’s even appropriate for you to attempt to be their Challenger in the first place. If the person really does need you to be a Challenger for them, if you are their boss or parent for example, remain firm, but be fair. Preferably with their input, set some boundaries and outline the consequences of their actions with them, all with the intent of helping them learn and grow.

From Rescuer to Coach

If people are often turning to you to rescue them from their problems, remember that this does them and you more harm than good in the long run. Ask yourself: How am I viewing this person (that I’m wanting to support)? Do you see them as needing to be fixed or needing someone to take care of them? If so, you are probably viewing them as a Victim and yourself as their Rescuer. Instead of reinforcing their powerlessness, make the shift of seeing them as a creator in their own right. See them as responsible for their own choices and actions. Then you will have made the shift to being a Coach.

A Coach asks questions and helps someone clarify their vision rather than merely tells them what to do or solves their problems for them. Some questions you can ask the person are:

  • “What do you want?”
  • “What’s your current reality?”
  • “What are the possible baby steps you can take toward what you want?”
  • “What support can I offer you?

Choose Choice

The key point I’m trying to make with all of this is to choose choice. Having the ability to choose brings limitless power. Be aware of how you’re relating. Think the thoughts, say the words, and take the actions that will enable you and others to make choices rather than limiting choice. If you haven’t been skillful at this, no shame. Take it easy on yourself and go forward with a new mindset.

I’ll leave you with a powerful declaration that you can say out loud when you feel stuck in drama: “As a creator, I own my capacity to respond to my life experiences, even when I feel victimized.”

I love you all. Choose choice.