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.

 

 

 

The Empowerment Dynamic (Drama Triangle part 2)

Who’s ready to be done with drama, forever? It’s possible! Simple, too. Not necessarily easy, but simple, and anyone can do it, no matter what your circumstances may be.

In my last post, I taught about the dreaded Drama Triangle, and how victims take that role on themselves when they blame villains, or persecutors, for their problems. They see themselves as helpless and powerless, and look to a rescuer to make things better. I explained how these rescuers unwittingly keep victims down by reinforcing their sense of powerlessness.

Sometimes simply being aware of these three players in the situations that arise in your life is enough to cause you to shift your perspective and make different choices. The feedback I received in response to the previous post confirmed that to be true. But there’s an even more powerful way to rise above drama. Instead of merely trying to avoid and/or stop drama, you focus on what it is that you DO want to create. This is where the Empowerment Dynamic comes in. This is the antidote to the Drama Triangle, and it is glorious!

Before diving headfirst into that, it’s important to draw a distinction between victimization and victimhood:

Victimization happens when one’s dream or desire is being denied or thwarted by another person or circumstance. If you think about it, you can be victimized quite often throughout the day, whether it’s a traffic jam that makes you late for work, or your economic situation that isn’t allowing you to take your kids to Disneyland, or more serious incidences which cause you pain and suffering. You can find 10-point scales out there ranking different incidences in terms of severity. First-world problems (or the “cruise-world problems” I wrote about in this satirical post) would be 1-3 on the scale, with more life-altering situations such as job loss or illness in the middle of the ranking, and disasters such as those which make news headlines in the 8-10 extreme. As varied as our experiences may be, victimization is a part of life in this fallen world for every one of us.

Victimhood, on the other hand, is a source of identity, an orientation, a way of being in the world, in response to victimization. Victimhood is distinct from victimization in that an external event is being given power to define one’s very identity. When we say things like “This always happens to me,” or “I can never catch a break,” etc., it’s an indication that we’ve taken on victimhood orientation. Here’s the important part: even though we may be victimized, we can always choose whether or not to take on victimhood. Without putting our head in the sand, we can acknowledge the reality of victimization, while choosing our attitude and actions in response to it. The stories we tell ourselves are very powerful.

The key is where we put our focus. Are we focusing on problems or outcomes? Instead of looking for someone to blame, or someone to rescue you, think instead about the choices you have available to you and about what your ultimate end goal is. It feels a lot more comfortable in the moment to lounge in victimhood and point fingers outward rather than take responsibility for moving forward. But I promise you, when you live your life primarily as a creator, you will find joy and satisfaction far surpassing the momentary pleasure and comfort one may find in victimhood.

Okay, so here’s David Emerald’s diagram of the Empowerment triangle, placed over the Drama triangle. Each of the three players in the Drama triangle has an antidote counterpart in the Empowerment triangle, and I’ll go into those in a minute.

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Just as you choose to put yourself into the Drama Triangle by focusing on problems, you also choose to put yourself into the Empowerment Triangle (aka TED: The Empowerment Dynamic) by focusing on outcomes–what you want to create, contribute to, have, do, become, see happening, etc. It’s as simple as a shift in perspective and can be done in the snap of the fingers.

The drama triangle operates through anxiety, whereas the Empowerment Dynamic is fueled by passion. I’ll talk more about passion in a future post, but it actually means “to suffer.” Being passionate about something means we are willing to suffer for it, which probably won’t be pleasant or comfortable, but the rewards of peace, fulfillment, love and joy come through the creation process and in no other way. When we’re passionate about the positive outcomes we intend to produce, we become creators, generating growth and progress for ourselves, others, and the whole world!

Persecutors or Villains are still operating in the Empowerment Dynamic, making things difficult and causing situations that we’d rather not be in. That’s just always going to be the case. The difference is, in Creator mode, we label them Challengers. Nothing about them changes except our perception of them. Instead of viewing them as persecuting us, we view them as challenging us to rise up and be our best selves, to spur our growth and development. In this way, we hold onto our own power over ourselves, and those former villains do nothing more dastardly than “red-flag” our weaknesses or become catalysts for our growth. If nothing else, Challengers help us develop patience and resilience, which can’t be brought about any other way than by going through challenges.

Can you imagine how boring it would be if everyone was perfect and behaved exactly as we expected and wanted them to? If every situation went exactly according to our plans? When we recognize and celebrate our differences from one person to the next, and the randomness of life, it becomes so much richer and more vibrant. Think about that the next time you want to wish away your particular Challengers.

Rescuers or Saviors still come into play as well, but we view them instead as Coaches or Mentors. We no longer give away our power to them, but allow them to guide and instruct us. We retain our power over our own lives by taking personal responsibility for our own results, and then that power grows.We turn to coaches and mentors not to get out of a challenging situation, as we would with a rescuer, but for support and guidance through our challenges. A real coach or mentor doesn’t take credit for our successes, but is more like a teammate and supporter, sharing in and celebrating our successes with us.

A coach or mentor can even be someone we’ve never met, but who we’ve learned from or whose example we follow, such as Christ, the Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln, Justin Timberlake, etc. Nor does a coach even have to be a person. I believe animals also support us and can be examples to us, and that we can find great strength just from being in nature. There are also habits and routines that support us, as well as physical objects which we particularly love.

Is all of this making sense? Please ask away if you have any questions, and feel free to share your experiences in the comment section. I’ve planned one more installment in this series, in which I will be giving you powerful questions to ask yourself to help you shift out of the lower triangle and into the upper.

Remember, the choice is yours. Are you going to give away your power, operate under anxiety, and worry constantly about problems? Or are you going to retain and grow your power, live with passion, and make your dreams come true? It’s up to YOU!

 

The Drama Triangle (part 1)

Six months ago I learned about a framework called the Drama Triangle. It’s been on my mind ever since, and now I see it everywhere. Those who I’ve taught about it have found value in the way it conceptualizes the victim mentality. It’s simple, yet profound at the same time, as all the truest things are. 🙂 I knew I had to share it on this blog. And since there’s a wealth of ways to extend and apply this framework to different aspects of life, I’m breaking it up into 2 or 3 separate posts. Be excited–there’s more to come!

Before diving into the content, I wanted to add context about my own ongoing journey from victim to victor. As a child and into young adulthood, I didn’t think I had much of a choice about the way my life unfolded. I thought that things just happened to me and that I didn’t have much control over my feelings and reactions. I was fearful around most people because I saw them as having power and myself as helpless. Either that or, with those I considered myself already having power over, such as my younger brothers, I’d manipulate and control them to make sure I kept the upper hand and got what I wanted. Even when people did nice things for me, I would suspiciously wonder what selfish motives underlay their actions rather than attributing it to love. I didn’t see others as REAL people with their own thoughts, feelings and perspectives. They were more like objects that were either roadblocks, saviors, or non-entities, because I only viewed them in relation to myself.

Although I cringe to look back on how I used to be, I have to give myself a break, for not really knowing better. Looking back at how I was raised, I don’t recall much instruction in emotional intelligence or social skills, either at school or home. The little bit I did get came from church, although the concrete tools taught were limited and seemed to only apply in isolated situations. So, I was largely left alone to navigate the complex worlds of emotions and of social relationships through trial and error.

The most difficult relationship of my youth was between me and my dad. Because we just couldn’t understand each other and kept triggering each other every time we tried to communicate, things were broken between us for a long time. For something like eight years, I neither hugged him nor told him I loved him. Although we have a good relationship now, I still feel sad about my part in the disconnect and to have missed out on what might have been.

I’ll come back to that story. First, here’s the Drama Triangle framework, which was first conceptualized in the 1960s by Dr. Stephen Karpman. David Emerald precedes it with “Dreaded” in order to acronym it D.D.T.–like the poison–because it’s toxic to relationships and to peace and happiness.

At the bottom point of the triangle, VICTIM is player #1. A person assigns himself or herself the role of Victim. We step into this mindset through the disempowering stories we tell ourselves and meanings we attach to others’ behavior and the experiences of life. Victims don’t see their own thoughts and actions as contributing to their circumstances. They see other people and situations as having the power over their lives. Because they don’t take responsibility for a given situation, they don’t take action to change it and just wait for others to change it for them, or manipulate them into it. Wherever there is drama, there’s always a victim.

PERSECUTOR is player #2. A persecutor inflicts their will on another person, usually in a dominating or blaming way. A persecutor can also be nonhuman, such as an event that creates a problem; for example, a recession or natural disaster. A persecutor is either real or perceived, from the point of view of the victim. (I don’t minimize the fact that real abuse happens in the world. There are actual persecutors out there; not simply perceived. And yet, it is possible to be actually persecuted without necessarily stepping into the Victim role or blaming yourself.) Although our society likes to blame persecutors for any drama that exists, I’m learning more and more that the persecutor doesn’t really have much to do with it. Stay with me here and read on.

RESCUER is player #3. The rescuer is any person, thing, or experience that the victim turns to to solve their problem or temporarily distract them from or numb their pain. The victim believes the rescuer can make the persecutor go away. A rescuer may not always be present or apparent in every situation, but the victim is constantly looking for it, yearning to be rescued somehow. Rescuers can show up in many forms–a friend who takes pity on you or gets indignant on your behalf; a parent, spouse or coworker who goes after and takes down your persecutor; distracting addictions such as shopping, eating, gaming, social media, substances, etc.; “feel good” literature designed to soothe and excuse–to name a few.

You may look at these three players and think: “Well, if I’ve gotta be one, I think I’ll be the rescuer. I’m a nice person and I like to help people, especially underdogs.” But know that nowhere in this dreaded drama triangle is a place you want to be. All three roles are disempowering and toxic by nature. Rescuers actually do more harm than good. Rescuers keep victims stuck in their own victimhood by reinforcing their sense of powerlessness. They say things like, “Oh, you poor thing! How awful!” or “I can’t believe he did that to you! What a jerk. I’d like to throttle him!” or “It wasn’t your fault. There was nothing else you could have done.” Although these may seem like nice things to say, all it really does is elevate the rescuer, making them feel important and needed, and keeps the victim stuck in their low place.

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What I’ve learned about the roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer has helped me understand why things went wrong with my dad. Whenever he treated me “unfairly,” which I perceived as happening often, I saw him as my all-powerful persecutor and myself as a helpless, innocent victim. We had arguments when I wanted to spend time with my friends and he thought once a week was too frequent, or if I invited people to our house before making sure it was clean. I didn’t think I had any real choices besides reacting to his authority through yelling, crying, resisting, pleading, retaliating, etc. And despite my dad’s efforts to “teach” me through doling out severe consequences when I behaved in such ways, I didn’t see the connection between my own behavior and the way I was being treated. I viewed his “teaching” only as further persecution, so I defended against it rather than taking the opportunity to learn and grow.

If my dad was my persecutor, my sweet mother was my rescuer. I would give her sob stories about how unfair my dad was being, and she would try, usually unsuccessfully, to intercede on my behalf. I would listen to them argue with my ear pressed up against their closed bedroom door and feel a twisted sense of satisfaction that my mom was taking a stand for me. I had been pleased that I had an ally and that she loved me enough to take my side, but it made me sick inside to see what the contention was doing to their marriage. I felt guilty about being the thing that came between them and thereby weakened our entire family. But those guilty feelings weren’t enough for me to change the dynamic. And I hate to admit it, but I didn’t respect my mom very much when she was my rescuer. I didn’t see her as a real person with feelings, only concerning myself with how she could help me get what I wanted.

So the years went by. I convinced myself that I didn’t want or care about having a relationship with my dad. I had stacked up so much evidence of all the wrongs against me, and of my innocence and entitlement, that even when my dad wrote apology letters and left them on my pillow, I wouldn’t budge an inch from my victim stance. The letters pulled at my heart when I would first read them, but then I’d convince myself that he was just trying to manipulate me. In fact, I took on the persecutor role against him many, many times because I thought that that was the only way to avoid being the trodden-under victim. I was not myself. And I was so, so sad.

I took the victim mentality with me into other relationships, including my early marriage, and I remained sad and felt trapped. It was only when it finally sunk in that I am always at choice, no matter how other people act, that I started to change my thinking and behavior patterns. I feel so much more empowered now as I strive to take responsibility for my own part in the situations that arise. I still have a long way to go, but the peace I feel tells me I’m on the right track.

Friends, the drama triangle is never a place we want to be. The good news is, we can choose to step out of it and into more empowering roles. We can shift our focus away from problems and onto what we want to build and create. Part 2, my next blog post, will be about the Empowerment Triangle, and how the situations and relationships in our lives can help us grow and get us closer to our goals. Watch for it within the next few weeks. This information has blessed my life and I know it will bless yours as well. (*High five* if you actually stuck with this clear to the end!!!)

Lean Into It

“Growth and comfort do not coexist.” -Ginny Rometty, CEO of IBM

Do you ever take cold showers…on purpose? Call me crazy, but I’ve tried it a few times. You have to psych yourself up for them. As soon as that cold water hits you, your heart races, you start hyperventilating, and it feels for half a minute like you’re gonna die. But then the discomfort recedes and the cold water starts to feel refreshing. You feel a surge of vitality and energy, and by the end it doesn’t even feel cold anymore. And that energy boost and refreshed feeling lasts for a long time. Given several good experiences with cold showers, and knowing how beneficial they are for your circulation, brain functioning, and energy level, you’d think I take them all the time, but I hardly ever do. It’s that half a minute of discomfort that I have such a hard time voluntarily putting myself through.

If you were given the choice between experiencing discomfort, or experiencing pain and suffering, which would you choose? While the answer seems obvious, I see people over and over again choosing to be comfortable in the moment, even knowing that they will reap pain and/or suffering in the long term. Or, like with the shower example, knowing that rewards and benefits lie just on the other side of a temporary discomfort, but resisting it anyway.

A prime example of this is exercise. It doesn’t matter how conclusively science proves its benefits; many will not exercise enough–even when their doctor tells them they will die an early death! That’s because in the file cabinet of our minds, the discomfort of exercise is filed in the same file folder as “Pain.” Yes, exercise feels uncomfortable or even painful at times, but the surge of vitality that comes with it confirms just how good it is for us. A muscle will never grow unless it is strained first. (That said, please don’t push your body past the limit of what’s healthy! Learn the difference between real pain and fake psychological “pain.”) One benefit of practicing yoga is learning how to breathe through discomfort, finding relaxation and surrender even while pushing to the edge of your pose.

Feedback is another necessary part of life that can feel very uncomfortable, for both the receiver and the giver of the feedback. We shy away from feedback because it challenges us to change, and change almost always feels uncomfortable. A feedback conversation is deep and real, causing us to (hopefully) examine ourselves beyond the superficial. One thing that can help a feedback conversation feel less stressful is going into it knowing that it’s supposed to feel uncomfortable. When we begin to normalize these experiences, we will start to welcome them rather than shy away from them.

I’ve enjoyed reading what Brene Brown has to say about discomfort. She challenges us to “lean into” discomfort instead of instinctually shying away from it. When you lean into and welcome discomfort, you often gain a new perspective that causes you to cease to be concerned about comfort. She writes:

“When we stop ‘taking the edge off’ and those sharp edges come back into our lives, we begin to witness how leaning in to the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude, and peace.”

One of the most uncomfortable experiences for me is leaving a conversation before it’s resolved. Sounds pretty stupid, I know, but I have almost never been able to make myself walk away from an unproductive conversation when emotions and tempers are running high. I want to keep on discussing (translation: arguing, repeating myself, crying, demanding, etc.) until the issue is tied up neat and tidy, according to my own standards. It doesn’t matter how many times I learn by experience that continuing to behave this way leads to pain and suffering in my marriage; the short-term sensation of discomfort gets me almost every time. Also, during stressful conversations, silence is so uncomfortable that not talking for ten seconds while I wait for my husband to respond takes every ounce of willpower I have. My poor husband. For him, having these conversations is more uncomfortable than just about anything else in life, and for me, it’s not having them or ending them. What a wonderful opportunity for growth this provides! (Translation: recipe for disaster!) Declaring this here makes it official: I’m now challenging myself to end conversations with my husband when they become strained, and lean into the discomfort of letting things remain unresolved for a period of time. It won’t kill me, and I know it will add to the peace in my home and build trust with my husband.

Comfort seems to have become almost a religion in our society. I won’t get into politics here, but it crops up everywhere, from discussions about altering bathroom legislation so that some individuals can feel more comfortable, to demonstrations in favor of raising the minimum wage in order to provide people with a “comfortable” living. The problem with comfort is that it’s different for every person, and what one person is comfortable with may alter rapidly, even day to day or hour to hour. For this and many other reasons, comfort is not a benchmark we should be shooting for.

Why do so many of us choose comfort above all else? A primitive area of our brain actually thinks that uncomfortable things will eventually kill us. Going without food may cause discomfort, although for a limited time period it doesn’t harm us, and it is in fact healthy to fast periodically. But if we were to keep going without food for many days, obviously, we’d die. Getting pins and needles in a limb is harmless, but uncomfortable, because if the blood flow is restricted long enough, our cells would start to die. We feel uncomfortable being in situations or around people who leech our energy, because our energy is our life force and we’d die without it. That discomfort serves us by motivating us to cut off those drains on our energy.

Discomfort can therefore serve a purpose, but it has a negative effect when we mistake the harmless or beneficial for things that can kill us. The reason the experience of embarrassment is so uncomfortable is because in primitive cultures, if someone were to make a big enough social blunder, they’d be ostracized by the community, which often meant death, since the harsh realities of life caused ancient people to depend upon one another for their very lives. But even though times have changed, we’re still so afraid of doing anything that could cause us embarrassment that we hold ourselves back from doing things that could help us grow and add to our quality of life.

On the other side of discomfort lies opportunities for growth, excitement, love, adventure, learning, happiness, and connection with others. I certainly don’t want to give up these benefits in order to merely remain comfortable. So get outside your comfort zone daily. You don’t have to take cold showers, but challenge yourself. Find out who you really are. Beyond discomfort, you just might find the life of your dreams!

Mama’s Masterpieces

“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” – John Trainer, M.D.

It’s been one of those weeks as a mom. Kids constantly picking on each other, yelling, screaming, whining. A toddler who suddenly forgot he’s potty-trained. A baby who quickly goes to sleep in my arms, but won’t remain that way after being laid down. A sick child throwing up in bed all night. Overall constant neediness and inability to entertain themselves or to even be in a different room than the one I’m in. Sometimes. I. Just. Want. To be. Alone.

It’s all normal mom stuff, but when it seems to come at you all at once, it can be hard to handle at weaker moments. Although seeing their mother dissolving into tears momentarily distracts my little boys from fighting amongst themselves, crying is way too exhausting to utilize as any sort of tool. I had to get a grip and regroup this week.

And that happened when I remembered a simple little sign I had seen in the pump room of a Newborn Intensive Care Unit almost five years ago, which said something like, “Your healthy, happy baby is your masterpiece.” My first son, whom we’ll call Buddy, had had a pretty traumatic birth thanks to a rather forceful forceps extraction.

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Little baby Buddy ended up in the NICU for 12 days, which many of you parents out there know is no fun. For almost two weeks, all I did was drive back and forth to and from the hospital, pump, pump, and pump some more, and try to get my baby to feed so that we could get him out of there. All this while trying to heal from my difficult delivery while getting barely any sleep. When I saw this particular sign on the door of the pump room, I thought it was a nice idea, but didn’t give it that much thought at the time.

Funny that it came to mind this week, though, and that these simple words impacted me so much. These children aren’t just side projects that I attend to in my “spare time” while I get other things done. They are my masterpieces! They are my life’s work, right now at least. Shaping and nurturing and growing them is a privilege I wouldn’t trade for anything. This is not the perspective that naturally arises while cleaning up my three-year-old’s poop from the carpet, but just look at this sweet face:

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He won’t stay little forever. Soon the day will come when he can wipe his own butt. (Hopefully sooner than later!) But I’m so glad I have the privilege of being his mom. They’re worth it all. And much, much more.

Seeing them grow up from helpless babies into wonderful, loving, caring little people is one of my favorite things about being a mom. My sweet daughter, the next morning after throwing up several times in the night, came to me and thanked me for being there for her when she was hurting, and for cleaning up everything in the middle of the night. She said that she was sorry that I got even less sleep than I normally get waking up with her baby brother. What an empathetic heart in a girl only seven years old.

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And my baby, only 2 1/2 months old, so helpless and needy right now, but so pure and innocent. I’m so excited to get to know what kind of person he is, to see this new masterpiece unfold. When his cries wake me in the night, I just want to stay in my warm bed and go back to sleep. But then I remember that I’m his whole world right now, and it won’t stay that way. I love that I get to be everything to him. As tedious as it can be to be needed in these basic ways, it’s really wonderful too.

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I am so thankful for these masterpieces that are my whole world right now. The work may not be glamorous, but the products are more beautiful than anything else in the world to me.

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.)

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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!

The Paradox of Optimism

I’ve long thought of optimism as one of the finest qualities a person can have; a characteristic I aspire to embrace more completely. I think we’d all agree that optimists are generally happier than pessimists. But there can be times when the very optimism that buoys people up can turn to their disadvantage, or in extreme cases, their demise. I was in a class last week that started the wheels turning in my head when I heard the remarkable story and words of an incredible man. His name: James Bond. James Bond Stockdale, rather. This guy is a real-life hero to look up to.

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James Stockdale is the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to ever be held captive in a prisoner-of-war camp. After being shot down in 1965 during the Vietnam War, he was taken to the Hoa Lo prison, euphemistically known as the Hanoi Hilton. Tortured to unconsciousness over twenty times during his nearly eight-year stay was not the worst of what this man suffered. He and his comrades were placed in solitary confinement, in leg irons, for four years. At first he was kept in total darkness, then with a light on that was never turned off. This alone would be enough to drive a person insane.

When told by the guards that he’d be put on parade to demonstrate how “well-treated” the prisoners were, Stockdale cut his own forehead with a razor blade. The guards just washed him up and covered his head with a hat. Determined not to become an object of propaganda, he beat himself in the face with a stool, disfiguring himself until he was completely unrecognizable. This is the part of the story that absolutely floors me. I’ve heard many examples of those who’ve found the strength to endure the worst kinds of torture imaginable at the hands of others, but this man deliberately inflicted his body with great pain on a matter of principle!

When asked by Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) how he made it out alive, Stockdale said, “I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.” The defining event of his life. To me this means that what he went through actually created his character, and that who he became as a result was so precious that, if it were possible to be given the choice, he wouldn’t have traded those eight years for any other experience. Wow. Wow. Wow!

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Collins then asked about those who didn’t make it out of Vietnam. Stockdale was quick to reply, “The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Stockdale, however, had no expectations as far as timing. He said he was prepared to go on for twenty years. “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end–which you can never afford to lose–with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”

At first glance, this really to be a paradoxical idea. How can you really hold to the belief that you will prevail, while simultaneously confronting all the negative aspects of reality? If you’re being truly realistic, isn’t that mutually exclusive of a faithful, optimistic attitude? I do not believe this is so. And I think it all comes down to what your optimism is rooted in. Those optimists who died in prison had set for themselves arbitrary timelines of when they hoped to be released. They had no evidence that their particular timeline was valid enough to pour all their faith and hope into. But they poured it out anyway, and when the timeline proved to be invalid, they had no faith and hope left to sustain them, so they gave up.

Stockdale, however, placed his faith in the end of the story, knowing he would eventually prevail, while acknowledging that the timing was totally outside of his control. This is true surrender. This is real faith, not superficial optimism masquerading as such.

I’ve seen shallow optimism often, and it has always bothered me, though I could never articulate it as well as others can. English writer G.K. Chesterton wrote that this type of optimist will “defend the indefensible. He is the jingo of the universe; he will say, ‘My cosmos, right or wrong.’ He will be less inclined to the reform of things; more inclined to a sort of front-bench official answer to all attacks, soothing everyone with assurances. He will not wash the world, but whitewash the world.” These are clearly not the kind of optimists that add value to the world.

I also like what a speaker named Bruce Hafen said of another type of superficial optimist: “Every new day is probably going to be the best day they ever had. These cheerful ones are happy, spontaneous, and optimistic, and they always manage to hang loose. They are able to weather many storms that would seem formidable to more pessimistic types, though one wonders if the reason is often that they have somehow missed hearing that a storm was going on.” It’s interesting that some people are so attached to a certain point of view that they will actually blind themselves to anything that apparently contradicts it! But, if this extreme is to be avoided, should we then embrace pessimistic realism? Hafen continues:

It is not much of a choice to select between a frantic concern with perfection and a forced superficial happiness. Both perspectives lack depth, and their proponents understand things too quickly and draw conclusions from their experience too easily. Neither type is very well prepared for adversity, and I fear that the first strong wind that comes along will blow both of them over. This, I believe, is primarily because their roots have not sunk deep enough into the soil of experience to establish a firm foundation. Both also reflect the thinness of philosophy untempered by common sense. In both cases, it would be helpful simply to be more realistic about life’s experiences, even if that means facing some questions and limitations that leave one a bit uncomfortable. That very discomfort can be a motivation toward real growth.

So what does this look like? How do we be optimistic while still holding common sense and seeing life for what it really is?

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I think the answer is found in the words of a man I dearly love, Gordon B. Hinckley:

“Stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that we ‘accentuate the positive.’ I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, … that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears.”

It’s definitely possible to be in the heart of the storm, recognizing it fully for what it is, but carrying the absolute knowledge that the storm will end and the sun will come out again, even if we have no idea when that will be. Even better, we can look for the benefits in our personal “storms” and recognize the ways in which these situations are shaping us and accelerating our growth into individuals rich in character.

The Formula for Happiness

Do you think it’s a little far-fetched that I can tell you right now the simple formula for a happy life? “The way to happiness is different for everyone,” you might argue. That’s the beauty of this particular formula. It can work for anyone, in any lifestyle. (This information comes from Tony Robbins, Creating Lasting Change.)

First, think of an area of your life that you’re really pleased with. It can be anything: career, health and fitness, financial situation, connection with your higher power, home and family, relationships with friends, etc. Now, think for a minute about why are you so happy with this particular aspect of your life.

Personally, I would say motherhood is the area in my life that I’m over the moon about. I absolutely love it, each and every day. I find fulfillment in watching my three children explore their world, and I feel so blessed to have privilege of guide them in their journeys. I love how affectionate and expressive they are, whether it’s their hugs and kisses, or finding love notes all over my bedroom and bathroom. I can’t get enough of squeezing them and snuggling with them. They are also hilariously funny and incredibly smart. Yes, there are many moments of tedium, not always being able to do what I would like, and some setbacks along the way, such as when my toddlers clog three different toilets by flushing toys, destroy my parents’ plasma-screen smart TV, or do this

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to the carpet (I can’t really blame him, since I left my calligraphy ink within his reach). These incidences can be very frustrating, but they don’t take away from my happiness because I expect things like this to happen with little children. If, on the other hand, I expected to always have a clean, organized house and perfectly behaved children, I would not be happy as a mother, in my current reality.

Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Does that clue you in to the formula? Here it is: LC = BP (life conditions = blueprint) You are happy when your blueprint, or core expectations about the way life is supposed to be, are matching your actual experience in that area. For me, motherhood is everything I expected it would be, more even, so I’m not just satisfied with it but am overjoyed. (Hopefully that’s still the case when they’re teenagers!)

But what about the areas in which this formula doesn’t include an equal sign? Well, you simply won’t be happy until you make both sides of the equation match up. Consider an area in your life that you’re unhappy with (or at the very least, less satisfied with than the other areas of your life). Think about what your expectations have been for how life should be in that area, and you’ll probably notice a disconnect from the way things actually are for you now. When LC doesn’t equal BP, you experience frustration, pain, and/or disappointment. Suffering comes in when you believe you’re helpless and can’t change your life conditions (which is an illusion). In the situation you’re thinking of, can you change any of your life conditions to move closer to your blueprint/expectations? I would guess that if that were possible, you would have changed those conditions a long time ago. The good news is that you can always change what it means to you, or alter your blueprint.

Here’s my own example. I really love my husband, but at times I’ve been pretty disappointed about our marriage. I like to think of myself as a realistic person, but I had pretty lofty expectations about us being totally unified, being able to talk about anything, having my feelings validated, always enjoying each other’s company, and other things. The times I’ve been the most unhappy have been the times when the actual conditions of our relationship were furthest from these expectations. Thankfully, now that I’ve come to realize about the formula, I’ve altered my expectations (notice I didn’t say lowered). Although I would love to have a relationship encompassing these ideals, and although I believe that someday we will experience those things, I acknowledge the huge learning curve unity demands. As long as we’re moving in the right direction, remaining committed, and trying to improve, I can be satisfied with where we are currently. I can appreciate that the inevitable down-times make the up-times that much more significant. I can focus on recognizing and accentuating the positive aspects of our relationship and not worry about what I can’t change.

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Basically, when our life conditions don’t match our blueprint, we have three choices:

1. Blame something or someone. Say, “It’s not my fault.” We love to blame our problems on events and other people, because it directs our focus away from ourselves, which can seem liberating, but is actually a trap. You may also blame yourself, which, if you stop there, won’t do any good but causes you a lot of pain. You’ll never change your life in a state of blame.

2. Change your life conditions. If you’re unhappy with your income, then find a way to raise it. If you don’t like your figure, then start exercising and eating better, or (although I don’t endorse it) get surgery. If your kids are brats, get new ones. (Totally kidding.)

3. Change your belief system, or blueprint. This is the key to longer-term change.

If you’re suffering, stop blaming, and choose option #2 if possible, or #3 anytime. If happiness is important to you, trust me, this formula works. Let’s hear it from you, readers. Do your experiences match up with the formula?

Stick With It!

Have you ever second-guessed yourself when you were going the right way all along? I had a simple little experience with this last week, but the lesson it taught me was pretty profound.

My husband was out of town Saturday, and the weather was lovely, so I took my children on a little two-mile or so hike up to a gazebo overlook on our neighbors’ private land nearby. Lil Miss had been wanting to do this for a long time, since her grandparents used to take her up there to see the view. I hadn’t actually been up there myself, but it looked like it would be easy to find.

A couple of different paths looked like they led to the gazebo, but I was pretty confident about which one was the right way. We trudged up a very steep slope, but as we neared the top, I second-guessed myself. I saw another path, going downhill, that looked like it was going more in the direction of the gazebo. I sent Lil Miss up a little further to investigate the path we were on, and she reported that it turned off in the opposite direction than we wanted to go. So I decided we must not have been on the right path after all. We backtracked and took the downhill path instead, only to realize that there was absolutely no way to get up the steep slope to the overlook from there. At this point, Lil Miss was upset, stomping her feet and pouting, saying she just wanted to go home. But I cajoled her on, since we were so close, and now I was certain of the way.

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And so we turned around, again, and climbed up to the very same spot we had been before. After going only about twenty feet further than where we had been when we bailed, we saw that another hidden path turned off and went straight to the gazebo! If we had kept going just a little further, we wouldn’t have had to go up that steep part of the path twice. It had been impossible to see the path high up along the ridge while we had been down below it.

How often in life, when things get steep, do we start to second-guess ourselves? As soon as an alternative way presents itself, we question the validity of the path we’re on. We’re suddenly so eager to just assume we’re on the wrong path simply because it doesn’t seem to be headed in the direction of our ultimate destination. Instead of pushing ahead through our doubt, we immediately change course for another path that looks more welcoming. It would have been so much simpler to keep going just a little further, and then we would have been high up enough to know for sure if it was the right way.

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Now, the mistake hadn’t cost us much, just a few minutes of time and some effort. But it made me think about the times in life when bailing for a deceptively easier or more direct way costs a lot more. I think of marriages that fall apart, when one or both parties decide that the marriage just isn’t the right path. Did they know that absolutely and totally for sure? Or were they simply tired of walking uphill when things with their spouse got strained? Were they lured by another path that seemed more promising? The sad thing about this is that, depending on how far down the new path you decide to go, it can be very difficult to get back to where you were before you decided to bail.

I’ve faced this temptation in my own marriage. There were many times, years ago, that I thought I was sure I had married the wrong person, and that I’d be much happier not being married at all, or being married to someone else. That downhill path can start to look pretty appealing when the uphill struggle gets more difficult, especially with children in tow. But I had been simply contrasting my perception of my current reality with my assumptions about an imagined alternative reality. It’s easy to do this when we can’t see the future clearly.

I’m relieved that I stuck with it and didn’t fall for the deception, because now that I’m higher up, I’m 100% sure that the path I’m on has always been the correct one. I held on to my core belief that the marriage relationship is ordained by God and not something to be discarded; that once entered into, this covenant is a blessing in life and binding for all eternity. I realize that divorce is necessary in rare instances, but the decision should be very carefully evaluated, and only after all other options have been exhausted.

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I’ve seen people bail from the right path in other areas of life as well: career, a hobby, decisions about where to live, and religious choices. It’s sad when people only realize the original path was the right one for them, after they’d already forsaken it for another. Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t throw in the towel at the first, or second, or even third time you doubt yourself. Stay on your path and keep going up a little further to where your perspective is clearer and surer, and then make the decision about whether or not to turn back.

And what if you’ve already bailed? Should you stomp and huff and give up on your goal altogether? No! Not now that you’re certain of the way. You can retrace your steps, climb uphill, and get back to where you had been before. There is always a cost to pay, but there is also always hope.

The view from the overlook certainly was inspiring. It was worth the climb. The real challenge was getting the kids to leave! Little Toad plopped down on his belly to play in the rocks and dirt, refusing to come along when it was time to get moving. Hmmm, might there be there may a lesson in this, too?

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Cruise-World Problems

Problems. Part of life, yes, but for some, problems seem to define their very existence. In fact, I think problems are society’s most prevalent addiction. Is “addiction” is too strong a word? Addiction can be defined as, “A habitual or compulsive involvement in an activity.” How many people do you know who are habitually involved in their problems? And as soon as one problem is solved, they’re on to the next one? This is why people are so stressed out all the time; they’re perpetually in a state of fight-or-flight. (More on lizard-brain later.)

I find it interesting to divide problems into three (oh-so-scientific) categories:

1. Third-world problems, which are a really big deal. Usually life-or-death matters of survival.

2. First-world problems, which are actually just inconveniences, encountered in everyday life. (see this video for some awesomely hilarious examples.)

3. And finally, Cruise-world problems, the most ridiculous and inane of all problems.

A year ago this week, my husband and I went on our first cruise, to the Eastern Caribbean with Celebrity. It wasn’t long before I encountered my first cruise-world problem. I had gone through the buffet, put my tray down at a table, and gone back for something else, but when I got back, my tray had already been cleared away by the staff. I didn’t see it where I expected and thought I was losing my mind, in those 30 seconds I spent looking at all the tables in the surrounding area. Of course it wasn’t a “problem;” it was just startling, merely an inconvenience to have to go back again for the same food.

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I didn’t think about that experience again until the end of the trip. We had to sit behind a group of people on the bus after disembarkation who were rolling out complaint after petty complaint. Here they were on the tail end of a wonderful vacation and all they did was whine about all the privileges they felt entitled to, but didn’t get. I would have understood if they had been simply comparing the positives and negatives with other cruises they’d been on, but their tone was bitter, and they sounded like someone had stolen something from them; like they’d been cruelly mistreated and abused. These were some of their complaints:

  • “I can’t believe I didn’t get any slippers until the second-to-last day of the cruise!”
  • “Last time we had a butler in the hall who came and got you whatever you wanted if you so much as cracked your door. This time we had to call for him when we needed something, and *gasp!* he didn’t seem very happy to help. Like we were bothering him!”
  • “He asked to take his tea out of the dining room and, can you believe it, they said no!” (because of a potential safety issue while the boat was pitching)
  • “[My daughter] spilled something on her shirt and I had to scrub it out with stain remover. Can’t believe I had to do laundry while on vacation!”
  • “The way we’ve been treated on this cruise has just been terrible. My wife is planning to make quite a few phone calls when we get back.”

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Now, I know I’m in no place to judge their situation, but I definitely judged their attitude! My husband and I talked about them a few times since, sometimes just making fun of them, sometimes angry, because these people represent the attitudes of so many more spoiled, entitled people. What made me sick was that they spoke this way in the presence of their little girl, only about ten years old. What kind of example are they setting for her? There were so many things we’d wanted to say to them at the time, and now, we really wish we had said something. Something positive, of course! Most of all, though, I feel sorry for them because they’re missing out on so many wonderful blessings that they just don’t see, right in front of their faces.

One of the episodes of the Travel Channel show “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain portrays hundreds of people digging through a dump for anything recyclable they could find to earn a mere $1 a day. Little children were among the scavengers. These people were on the very edge of survival. Problems like these are third-world problems, the only kind that would warrant bitter complaints. This is what truly is “not fair;” not the fact that you paid for a suite only to get the kind of service you’d get in a veranda.

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To deal with our frustration with those people, we had fun coming up with a comprehensive list of the cruise-world problems we were subjected to while we endured the unpleasant experience of our Caribbean cruise vacation:

  • You are already late to the evening entertainment show when you get stuck behind a group of geriatrics in the casino moving at a snail’s pace.
  • You forget to reapply sunscreen at the beach and get baked like a lobster.
  • The first night at dinner, no one else is seated at your 8-person table, and you are left with only your spouse to converse with.
  • You go back to your stateroom for a sweater, but the housekeeping staff is cleaning your room and you feel awkward.
  • The pool volleyball game is cancelled because the ship is pitching too much, so you don’t get a chance to show off your mad volleyball skills.
  • You sleep in and miss the seating time for breakfast at the Grand Restaurant, and have to end up eating buffet food instead.
  • There are no elliptical machines available in the fitness room, plus it’s way too hot in there.
  • The weather is too cold and windy for swimming while at the beach.
  • You get guilted into paying way too much for a lousy back massage on the beach.
  • The ship’s photographers keep harassing you for photo ops with people dressed up in smiling dolphin costumes.
  • Everything on the menu when you dine looks so good that you can’t decide.
  • There are so few people on the dance floor that you feel too awkward and self-conscious to be out there shakin’ it.
  • Bartenders annoyingly keep asking you if they can bring you a drink, but you don’t drink alcohol.
  • Your stateroom TV’s remote control doesn’t work or is out of batteries.
  • The water is too warm in the shower and there’s no cool water.
  • The nearest restroom is closed for maintenance and you have to walk all the way around to the other side of the ship.
  • There are no available lounge chairs on the deck because they’re all being “saved” for others.
  • The elevator takes so long to arrive that you have to use the stairs instead.
  • There is only one electrical outlet in the stateroom, so you can’t charge both your iPhone and iPad at the same time.
  • The water container is empty during Zumba, so you have to walk all the way to the cafeteria for a drink.
  • You have to endure the hassle of changing clothes yet again to comply with the dress code for dinner.
  • Your shoes give you blisters while walking around the island and you have to go barefoot.
  • The minibar fridge is so full that you can’t fit your own drinks in there.
  • You don’t have enough low bills for tipping and are forced to tip much higher than you want.
  • The humidity makes your hair frizz out and you can do nothing with it.

Just look at all these horrible problems we experienced. What an awful vacation, apparently.

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Thinking back on this makes me more aware of the blessings that are hidden within every one of the situations we often label as “problems.” Sometimes all it takes is a perspective adjustment. When something isn’t going the way I would like or expect it to, I try to think of it as an opportunity for growth, instead of as a problem. How about you, readers? What do you do to free yourself from the tyranny of being in problem mode?