Unplug and open up

Last week I arrived to a lunch meeting about 20 minutes early and decided to keep my phone in my jacket pocket instead of keeping myself preoccupied with the latest status updates on all of the social media sites.  As I sat there and took in my surroundings, it was astonishing the stories that I could envision of the people around me.  The restaurant was buzzing with activity with a lunch rush; staff were hustling by and communicating to each other; one table in the corner was celebrating a birthday; another group of elderly women were toasting to their friend for her recent success; and a couple to my right appeared to be newly in love.  I was able to process all my information through various verbal comments, facial expressions, body language, smiles, and pure energy throughout the room.  Granted, it wasn’t detailed information about the circumstances behind each interaction, but they were all full of life.  Undoubtedly, that experience was way more interesting and incredibly more ‘real’ than any status update I could have read that day.

It made me wonder, how much of the world do we shield ourselves from now in the spirit of ‘staying connected?’   And why is it so difficult to simply sit and observe?  Are we hesitant to observe others or perhaps, even our own self?  Are we afraid that someone will actually look in our eyes and engage us, even if simply through a smile? Or are our own thoughts so chaotic that we don’t want to be alone with them for even a few minutes?

I love forums such as this where I can intentionally seek out particular topics, ideas, and like-minded people.  And I am grateful to share my thoughts and ideas with whoever may want to listen, but we both know that throughout this post I have had the luxury of editing, adjusting, or otherwise omitting information for one reason or the other.  And while I value the ability to appropriately formulate my thoughts before sharing them with the world, there is a limitation to my ability to truly connect with someone who is not able to look into my eyes, hear the tone of my voice, or simply be with me in that moment when I stumble for the right words.  My hope is that we find that balance of engaging with each other as  honestly as we can, in whatever venue we have available to us.  I know that my best and most real self comes out when I unplug and open up to the world right in front of me. And in the end, that is what helps me feel more confident in opening up to this world as well.  (Insert a gentle smile here).

 

Happy guys

Happy guys

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Complaint free day

What if you spent an entire day without complaining? How would that change your perspective?  How uncomfortable would it be to refrain from voicing a complaint and accept the reality of a situation and continue to move forward?  I’m not suggesting that we all become passive and not speak up about unequitable, unjust, or unacceptable behaviors, I’m suggesting we think about how to voice our feelings and thoughts in a more productive and healthy way that result in either a reasonable solution or follow up plan of action.

We all have our moments of complaining and it’s totally understandable.  Especially when we feel frustrated, upset, fearful, confused, and overwhelmed.  At the end of the day we have to ask, what is the point of complaining?  Are we seeking validation from other people?  Maybe.  Do we need to complain about how tough our day was in order for people to understand that we are struggling?  Or are we looking to excuse our own behavior through the fault of something/someone else?  Maybe we complain to connect with others.  I’m sure many of us have complained about another person or event to someone and it made us feel closer and more connected than before.   Are we complaining often because we don’t feel that anyone hears us otherwise?  Or are we complaining because we are fearful?  The next time you hear yourself complaining or feel the need to air out a complaint, ask yourself these questions:

What is the purpose of my complaint? Or What do I need right now from this situation? 

Is this something that serves me well or can I let it go?

If this serves me well or I feel strongly enough about it, what can I do to positively impact the situation or create change?

Once you realize those answers you can more easily determine how to frame your thoughts and feelings in a productive and helpful way instead of simply complaining about it with no means of appeasing your emotions tied to the situation.

The challenge is not about complaining, it’s the discovery of what is driving the complaint.  Ultimately if we approach our struggles with more self-understanding and awareness we are more likely to find a solution that not only helps our own sense of well-being but promotes more peace and contentment within our immediate environment.  I do not envision a world without complaint, but I love the idea of changing our personal space and space around us to a place where complaints are less frequent and ideas of action/resolve are the common theme.

There is an important disclaimer about increasing your awareness of your own complaining:  once you become aware of how often (and honestly, how easy) it is to complain within yourself….you will start noticing it much more in everyone else around you.  This is not an easy thing to navigate because as you begin living with an intention to complain less and act more, it can be incredibly taxing to be more attuned to everyone else’s complaints.  The best advice I can offer in those moments is to practice love, understanding, compassion, and kindness for both the other person and especially yourself and to remember that it is not your place to learn lessons for other people.  After all, lessons can be helpful but the models of those lessons are way more powerful.  Be a model of Love, Understanding, Compassion, and Kindness and enjoy the space that you create around you.

Holiday check-up

Holiday Lights

Holiday Lights (Photo credit: ImageMD)

Who is ready for the holidays?!  If you just responded with an exasperated sigh or cringed as you read those words, this may be a good post for you.

This time is mentally and physically exhausting all by itself, so why not consider doing a quick mental health check-up before you find yourself wanting to call in sick to your next holiday event?

 

Here are some areas to consider:

1)      First, you may want to check your emotional temperature.  Are you running hot lately?  Noticing a tendency to respond in anger?  If so, ask yourself what is underlying the anger?  Maybe you’re sad, maybe you are feeling insecure about something, or maybe you are just overwhelmed.  Irritability can be an indicator of all sorts of things, both emotional and physical.  Spend a few minutes thinking about the last few things that have gotten you really upset.  Notice if there is a theme or common thread.  Then create a plan to unwind or unplug each day and create a space of calm.  If you are able to meditate (or what I sometimes do,  which is simply sit still for a few minutes)…it has been show to decrease feelings of irritability and anger greatly. It’s amazing how even 60 seconds of stillness positively impacts our emotional well-being.

2)      Second, how is your appetite?   Are you eating your feelings?  Have you been reaching for extra servings of carbs and sweets?  Think about what is it that you may be trying to compensate for.  Another thought is to really consider what makes you feel “full”.  Are you seeking out activities that inspire you and fill your heart with joy?  Think about something that you can set some time aside for that truly fills you up (without all the extra calories).

3)      How is your energy level?  Are you waking up only to wish for another hour of snooze time?  And more importantly, are you pushing through the day feeling like you slept on a bed of rocks?  Getting enough sleep impacts everything from our mental sharpness, our emotional responses, and ability to problem solve. Energy level is also impacted by what we put in our bodies and if we are not eating enough balanced nutrition and taking in enough water….our whole system suffers.  Also consider what kind of energy is surrounding you.  If you are rubbing elbows with negative people all day, that’s gonna run you down.  Sometimes you can’t escape a cranky co-worker, but maybe you can take extra steps to limit contact and be ready to respond with extra kindness and positivity.  It may be as simple as repeating a positive affirmation or even faking a smile until it feels real.  Yes, that does work.  Try it right now if you don’t believe me.

4)      Now, let’s talk about your flexibility.   Nope, this isn’t about being about to touch your toes (though it is important)!  It’s about being open to a new experiences and rolling with the flow.  Are you hearing yourself explain why you can’t do something, or why something automatically won’t work?  Rigid thinking leads us to experience higher level of stress and releases all those hormones that contribute to feeling fatigued, irritable, and generally uninspired.  Start stretching yourself.  Try to resist the impulse to immediately think why something won’t work and think about how you are willing to try.  If you are going through a lot of changes, give yourself permission to feel a bundle of emotions but work on identifying what type of support you need while you’re going through the change.  Do you need someone to hear you and validate you? Or maybe you just need to acknowledge that the change is scary as hell and you’re feeling scared or fearful.  It’s okay to feel all those things.  There is something powerful about acknowledging and owning feelings of vulnerability.  Again, this about increasing awareness.  There may not be a quick fix or solution…but a higher sense of awareness can serve you well.

5)      And finally, when’s the last time you checked your vision for yourself?  How far are you able to see in the future?  I’m not talking about a psychic hotline kind of stuff, I’m referring to feeling hopeful and goal-oriented.  Have you reviewed your goals for yourself lately  or even better, have you set some new ones?  Don’t wait until a new year’s resolution party….write down a couple of things that you would like to do now and create a plan of action to go along with it.  Include the people who you need support from and a timeline.  One of the most powerful ways to instill hope is to create a goal.  When you create goals, you acknowledge that something IS possible.  That is the crux of what hope is, believing in a possibility.  It doesn’t have to be an elaborate 5 year plan.  It can be something as simple as listing off the chores you want to accomplish by the end your weekend.  Next time someone asks you why you are writing out a ‘to do’ list, just tell them that you are engaging in an act of hope.

 

Yes, the holidays are coming whether we are ready or not.  So why not take a few minutes and think about your emotional health and where you are today before taking on a whole new set of worries, tasks, and responsibilities.   Who knows, maybe if you take the time to increase your awareness and possibly incorporate some strategies now; you may not end up screaming at your in-laws at the next family dinner or flipping out about the lack of adequate parking at the local shopping mall. Okay, maybe that last point was a stretch, but never underestimate the power of positive thinking.  🙂

Apples and Oranges

“Comparison is the thief of joy”—Theodore Roosevelt.

You know the saying “that’s like comparing apples to oranges”?  When I was younger, it would always baffle me because I couldn’t understand why you would need to compare such similar objects.  But as a culture, that’s what we like to do…compare identical things and circumstances and then participate in an exercise in identifying as many differences as you can.

The problem is that when we do this with ourselves and with people in our life, then we start attaching value or worth to those differences.  Suddenly the apple is better than the orange, or the orange is more vibrant than the apple.  We must determine the hierarchy of differences and assume the most valued object.

Brene’ Brown talks about this phenomenon in her book The Gifts of Imperfection.  She refers to this idea of robbing ourselves from joy the second we start comparing to another person’s circumstances.  We get so caught up in this idea of who has what and who did what that we minimize, and sometimes even negate value to everything we have ever known.

The skill is not about training your brain to stop comparing.  After all, some comparisons can be incredibly useful and lead to great insights.  The skill is increasing your awareness of how those comparison’s impact your overall sense of well-being.  Here are examples of defeating comparison statements:

  •  “I could do X if only I had Y like my friend so and so.”
  •  “Oh, I’m having a bad day, but it’s nothing like what you’re going through…..”
  • “Yes, I’ve lost 10 pounds, but I still need to lose 5 more.”
  • “If I was making that much money, life would be so much better.”
  • “Things are not going so well, but I know they can always be worse.”

In each of the examples the actual situation is discounted through the act of comparison.  It’s a vehicle to find ways to account for something that is lacking or a desire for change without accountability.  It’s also a method to devalue something painful or uncomfortable.  They allow a rationale to escape the full experience of whatever is happening at that moment.

If we begin increasing our awareness of how often we get lost in this act of comparison then eventually it will lead to us to recognizing that we are enough exactly as we are at this moment.  There is still room to improve upon something or create space for change, but first embrace acceptance for the being that you are in this very moment.

Hold this thought….”You have everything you need.”  This isn’t some profound discovery.  It has always been true. Sure, go ahead, argue the fact.  I invite you to reflect on the purpose of trying to disprove it first.  I expect some people would go to the nth degree of literal here and say, “Wait, you need food…you need water, shelter..and so on.”  I will save the trouble and whole heartedly agree, and I will gently follow-up with the statement that the spirit of this concept is not to cause some great controversy.  It is to invite you to think about the purpose of comparison.  Is it to motivate you to do something greater with your life?  It is to inspire you to be better?  Or is it simply to give a louder voice to an inner critic that is often questioning your own value?  Because if we start comparing ourselves and highlighting some differences that lend to an illusion of value and worth; we become separate from others.  And when we spend more of our life in a state of being separate…we spend more time feeling disconnected, lonely, and ultimately less valued.

Here is a practice in the spirit of unity and well-being:  the next time you hear or experience a remarkable accomplishment, stroke of luck, or encounter a challenge or barrier to something; instead of going to that place of comparison simply experience the feeling that arises and emotions that follow and detach from the impulse to immediately file that away as better/worse/luckier/scarier/or any other ‘er’ word for your own life.  When we can be completely present in our lives without needing a comparison for ourselves or another person, it becomes a true way of honoring each other and maintain a connection without the expense of someone’s worth, especially our own.

It’s not about agreeing that an apple and an orange are different or even how they are similar…it’s about appreciating the apple just as it is and the orange for everything it has to offer.  When we can appreciate things and ourselves exactly as we are, something beautiful happens…we begin to feel more connected to others and ultimately more loved and valued.

If you’re going through a tough time, experiencing grievances, or simply having a bad day, own it.  If you’re doing well and enjoying success, own that.  If someone else succeeds, enjoy their happiness with them.  If they fail, support them.   Be accountable for your own situation without having to add some sort of disclaimer as to how it could be better or it could be worse.  Realize that everyone is on their own journey with their own obstacles, worries, and triumphs.  We are human.  We are all beautiful and complex.  And most of all, we are perfectly imperfect.