Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

How often do you find yourself creating a narrative that reinforces the negativity we have going through our heads? I would imagine, that more often than not, we may be knee deep in the narrative before we even realize what we’ve done, if we even realize it in the first place.

I’m not good enough.

I’m not smart enough.

I don’t have any friends.

I’m not good at my job.

I’m not any good at ___, so why try.

If we are lucky, we realize the path we are on before too much damage has been done. If we weren’t so lucky, we find ourselves physically sick, and our outlook on life to be bleak.

I’m a big fan of inspirational quotes, but the ones that tell me I can choose happiness always bug me. I need steps to being happy. Directions, a map, a guide, whatever. Not some subjective, mushy mush thought.

Oddly enough, for every ounce of annoyance I have for the idea that I can choose to be happy, there is another ounce that knows it is true. Actually, I don’t just know it is true; I feel that it is true. Dang it.

Now, embracing the notion that I can choose to be happy doesn’t mean I am floating around in a sea of white clothing, emitting an aura of hope and pleasantness. If anything, I often find myself floating around in a sea of sarcasm and wit (it’s part of my charm, I promise).

Embracing the choice to be happy is nothing more than an ongoing practice in mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as being aware of a situation as it happens. Simply put, you are in the here and now. You’re not worried about tomorrow, nor are you caught up in yesterday. And as much as this sounds like a bunch of hippy dippy stuff, it isn’t. What it is, is the intention of not allowing yourself to hop on the crazy train when the narrative you’re creating gets too much to bear. It means, when confronted with a situation where you have no control and you’re feeling all sorts of anger, resentment, jealousy, etc., you can take a step back and see the situation for what it is.

I’d love to tell you that all you have to do is read one article about mindfulness, go on two retreats (the silent kind), attend four seminars, and not punch one person in the throat that is making you insane for mindfulness to work, but that’s not how it goes. Unfortunately, it actually takes work.

The silver lining to all this? Being mindful actually starts to act like muscle memory once you’ve been practicing a while. Not to say that you won’t still get upset, and spend the afternoon telling yourself and anyone that listens what a deplorable human being you are. However, you will eventually be able to catch yourself in the act of marinating and make the necessary changes the situation calls for.

And how do you get started with this thing called “mindfulness?” Here are four ways I work at mindfulness each day.

  1. Check in with myself and “see” how I’m feeling, even if I’m in the midst of nothing but a bunch of desk work. This allows me to learn to notice the entire range of emotions I have, so that when something goes awry, and say, my stomach starts to hurt, I know there is something going on.
  2. When I find myself creating a narrative that can’t be substantiated with actual proof, I take a step back and poke a stick at it. I mean, clearly, I don’t poke an actual stick at it, but I do take a step back and see what the trigger was for the thought process. Someone not responding to a text? Instead of taking it as a sign that they are mad at me, I take a step back and ask myself if I did anything worth of someone being mad at me. 99% of the time I haven’t done anything, so having that perspective shift helps.
  3. When I’m in the midst of a heated conversation, I try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Admittedly, this has taken some practice. When you’re in the “heat of battle,” it is hard to stop and see the situation from the other side of the table. Doing so may save you and the other person quite a bit of heartache, and may even allow for an opportunity to find a mutual understanding.
  4. If all else fails, I get it out on paper. I’m a huge fan of mind-mapping. I take a main thought and write it down in the center of a piece of paper. From there, I create legs of all the supporting thoughts, which in turn get their own thoughts, and next thing I know, I have a mind map that looks quite a bit like a complex molecular make-up of some unknown solution. Getting the thoughts out of my head and onto paper allows me the much-needed perspective shift. I start looking at it as puzzle to solve instead of emotions to feel and be at the mercy of. After sorting through what I wrote down, I typically find the clarity I need. Or at the very least, I find the issue that needs to be addressed.

Mindfulness is one thing that each person can use in their life, regardless of how stressful it is or isn’t. Being present is something that we could all benefit from. To quote one of my favorite movie characters, Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Mindfulness is the tool that allows us to slow life down enough to enjoy it, instead of life taking us for the ride.

Losing My Voice

It is fairly accurate to say that up until about two years ago I had a very idyllic view on the world. I knew bad things happened, and that the good guy didn’t always win, but I had never really been in a situation where I was on the receiving end of the injustice.

Then, suddenly, I was.

I was in a situation where I once felt safe. I felt as if I could be myself, and that I didn’t need to water myself down for anyone, or anything. I love to banter, and I love to give people a hard time. I’m also very straightforward, and I’m a fairly transparent person. You know if I don’t like you because I can’t fake like I do. It’s just not how I’m wired.

I had learned that there was a time and place, and certain types of people I could banter with. I mean, it pretty much comes with the territory of having my personality. I’m an acquired taste, and some never quite catch on. Not everyone can handle a person that doesn’t back down and is more than happy to go toe to toe matching wits the entire time. Not everyone can handle someone that calls it like it is, either. Or a person that refuses to be a yes-man, and also refuses to back away from sticking up for themselves (I affectionately refer to this as “refusing to eat shit,” because that is what it is to me).

The details regarding the moment I realized the good guy doesn’t always win is not the most interesting. Let’s just say, a person that acted like they could handle my personality, suddenly couldn’t. Perhaps they figured eventually I’d come to their inner circle and be one of their minions, and when they realized that wasn’t my thing, they turned. Either way, it was horrible and hostile. It was people questioning my audacity to speak up, and me telling them I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was painful and it was discouraging. It changed my perspective on everything. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

Soon, I got over it.

Life moved on, and I was lucky enough to never really have to see this person any more. Things had finally started to calm down.

And then, I choked.

I mean, not literally. I was bantering with someone I don’t know all that well, but knew well enough to know I could joke with them. However, in the midst of the banter, I panicked. Suddenly, it was if I had forgotten how to speak.

I had lost my voice.

Again, not literally. But, it could have been. I thought I could be “me” again, but suddenly I was shown that I wasn’t able to be. No one was holding me back, or telling me that I had to be quiet. It was all me. I started to relive the hostility. I was starting to feel discouraged all over again. I started to water myself down.

Weeks later I notice this watering down BS bleed into other facets of my life. I’m angry now. I’m angry because I’m afraid. Afraid that if I am myself, I won’t be liked and that people will no longer want to be my friend. Angry that I even care.

So, here I am, pounding on my keyboard hoping that by pouring my heart out on this computer, I will somehow find the answer to make it stop. To make me stop watering myself down. To make me stop caring if others like me, and wondering if I need to change who I am.

I just want to stop.

I want to end this post with a nice, warm fuzzy, filled with all sorts of sunshine and rainbows. Sadly, it’s not going to happen.

Instead, it will end with a type of declaration:

I will stop watering myself down. I will start to trust people again. I will not change who I am to make anyone happy. I will embrace those who choose to be around me, both professionally and personally, and be thankful that they are there. And to those that think they have broken me? I will continue to live in such a way that each time you see me succeed, it will be as if I am sending a gigantic “F*CK YOU” your way.

I will find my voice and I will not lose it again.

The Art of Saying No

My toddler is going through that stage where “no” is the response to everything. Even if I know she wants something, or to do something, she always gives me an enthusiastic “no!” There are times where after I ask her again does she suddenly want exactly what is being offered. I figure it comes with the territory of being a toddler. Too many emotions and thoughts swimming around, so having a do-over on a decision is a perfect opportunity for them.

While I find myself getting more and more annoyed at being told “no” all the time, I am also finding a lesson in it. I often say “yes” to things out of the feeling of obligation, when in reality I just want to say “no, thanks.” This type of situation, where I agree to something when I don’t really want to, just breeds angst and unhappiness.

Not so surprising confession: I am a people-pleaser.

Well, I was.

My days of acquiescing to the wants and desires of those around me are over. Instead of being worried that someone will be upset with me if I don’t go along with their plans, I worry more about the toll it will take on me if I keep saying “yes.” It’s called setting boundaries.

Have I started to be like my toddler, and enthusiastically say “no” to every request? Of course not.

But what I have done is determined if whatever I am presented with is truly something I want, or want to do. If it isn’t, I decline. If it is, I eagerly join in.

Obviously, it isn’t all black and white. I don’t say, “see ya later, suckers!” to less than desirable situations right out of the gate. I also don’t recognize that I’m not feeling it, and then stick around for hours.

For me, the art of saying “no” comes down to a few things:

  • Listening to your gut: there is a stark difference between putting yourself out there and experiencing new things, and doing something you absolutely don’t want to do. Being able to identify the difference when you’re offered an adventure is paramount to keeping true to yourself.
  • Being polite: No one plans to intentionally hurt someone’s feelings, but the way you decline has a direct impact on how your message is received. Some people will worry that your desire not to join them is a reflection of how you feel about the person who invited you. When you pass on an offer, be honest about why you aren’t joining them. It is acceptable to admit when you’re too tired, need a break from other people, or just want to be alone. You don’t need to make up an excuse in an effort to avoid hurt feelings. The truth works just fine.
  • Returning the favor: Every single one of us has been faced with a situation where we just weren’t interested in doing something with other people. I’m the world’s biggest extrovert, and even I need a pass every once in a while. That being said, when it comes time for someone to decline your invitation, graciously accept. You’ve been there, so you understand.

I’d like to say that each person you talk to will understand, but that is totally not the case. You will encounter those that understand, but you will also find those that try to make you feel guilty, or make you feel like you are somehow hurting them. They just don’t know how to handle someone putting up boundaries. But, the more you persist, the more they will learn. You may even be an example to others that need to learn to put out boundaries too!

So, the next time you’re given the opportunity to do something you’re on the fence about, what are you going to do?

Some Days You’re the Pigeon

Some days you’re the statue.

I think today I’m the statue.

I have a deep-rooted fear of failure. And when I say deep, I’m talking into the depths of the ocean deep. It is totally debilitating.

I’m so afraid of failing, of making a mistake, of looking like a fool that I overthink things, plan things out, consider every single scenario, and obsess.

My version of spontaneity is thinking something over for a month, and then one day suddenly deciding to do it.

Perhaps it is because I lack faith in myself and my abilities. Maybe I give too much credence to the thoughts of those around me. How about both those things together wrapped up in a tightly wound ball.

*sigh*

I often give up before I’ve even started, simply because I don’t think I’ve done everything perfectly.

Yes, I know that last statement was ridiculous. Believe me, I know.

Every day is an exercise in reminding myself that mistakes are good. Mistakes are to be overcome. Mistakes are what helps us learn and grow. It is exhausting.

I have what is often referred to as a fixed mindset. This implies that if I don’t inherently know how to do something, or do something right the first time, I immediately think I’m terrible at it and should not go any further.

Conversely, a growth mindset implies that you know you won’t be good at anything the first time, and that after much practice and experience, you’ll eventually master whatever you set your mind to. You know it takes time, so you don’t sweat it.

I think the day I learned the term “fixed mindset” it was like one big Aha! Moment. Suddenly, my habit of being hard on myself made sense.

So, what do you do when confronted with the idea that it is practically ingrained in you to remain stationary out of fear of failure?

Hole up in the basement with some sodas and pizza?

Yes!

Wait. No, no you don’t.

You fail. Repeatedly. You damn near make a sport out of it, seeing how often you can fail and how spectacularly. The more fireworks, the better.

Doesn’t that sound totally uncomfortable? My whole body aches just thinking about it. Purposely making an ass of myself for fun?! What am I thinking?!

I’m thinking that this fixed mindset is for suckers, and I want out.

You can find your way towards a growth mindset, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

It is a constant exercise in remembering that no one is good at something the first time, and if they are it is pure luck.

Everyone has to work at something. No one has a perfect day, or experience, every time.

It is intentionally living in such a way that leaves you space to make mistakes and not kick your own ass for it afterwards.

It is striving for excellence; not for perfection.

So, while today I feel like the statue, I know it will get better. Mistakes are the fuel to be better and do better. Mistakes are what make life interesting.

Ha! Just kidding. Mistakes suck big time.

More importantly, though, is that while today I feel like the statue, I know tomorrow I’ll feel like the bird.

Onward and upward!