What You Focus On, Grows

I wrote this quote when I realized how different exercise feels to me when I focus on the pain in my muscles, the pain in my lungs, the feeling of inadequacy, and the feeling of punishment, versus when I focus on the joy of being alive, the air flow through my lungs, the feeling of growing strength, and the feeling of gratitude for all the parts of me that work. Do I focus on the pain, or do I focus on the fun?

There’s a Native American idea that goes something like this:

A grandfather is telling his grandson that inside every person there are two wolves. One wolf represents the fear, pain, resentment, and anger a person feels. This wolf thrives on putting others down, holding grudges, being defensive, and hurting others. The other wolf represents the love, joy, gratitude, and compassion a person feels. This wolf thrives on giving to others, remembering kindnesses, having compassion for people’s pain, and lifting each other up. These two wolves battle each other inside all of us. The boy asks his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”

It’s interesting to me that modern neuroscience is reinforcing these ancient beliefs. I had this conversation with my son recently:

Him: Mommy, I wish I could erase some of my memories from my mind.

Me: Do you want to know what scientists say about memories? They say that memories exist in our brains because we think of them over and over. The more we think of them, the stronger the neural connections there are, and the faster and easier it is to remember them. We can’t get rid of these connections, but we can make other connections stronger than the ones we want to forget. We know from asking people not to think of pink elephants that when we try not to think of something all we can think about is that thing. We’re both thinking of pink elephants now! But if we think of something else, something we like, we can make that thought stronger than the memory you don’t want to have, and the memory will fade.

Him: Great! I’m going to think about Minecraft!

Do you see the shadow, or do you see the sun?

Do you focus on the pain, or do you focus on the fun?

The moment is the same; your attention chooses one.

What do you choose?

The Myths Around Self Care

Advertisers would like you to think that self care means buying bath salts or scented candles. Or maybe buying a cruise, or a vacation to play golf. I’m not saying these things can’t be ways to take care of oneself, but I’m stating that these are not the only, or even the most important, ways to take care of oneself.

I certainly think it can be lovely to take the time to unwind in a scented bath with scented candles and music or a book from Audible playing. When my muscles are all sore and I need to find a way to let them let go, a hot bath can be just the thing. I don’t, however, think this a daily need.

Self care means, at least to me, that I get exercise every day. That I eat nutritious food at least some of the time, drink enough water, get enough sleep. That I schedule in shopping at the farmer’s market, and cooking for the family. Self care is listening to my body and resting when I need to rest, being active when I need to move, speaking my truth when I need to be heard, and shutting up when I need to listen.

This type of self care isn’t very sexy, although advertisers are trying to find ways to make money off of healthy food and exercise and water, too.

And then, my mentor Jesse from Thrive Academy (see Thrive) said something that really struck me. You know those things you do that waste time every day? The things you do when you don’t wanna do what you need to do? Apparently, it can be self care to schedule some of that in, too.

What he actually said was something more along the lines of this: When you are out of alignment, not doing your work, not showing up as your best self, what do you give yourself permission to do? Do you get to stay in bed all day? Read trashy novels? Watch Netflix and eat popcorn? What if that payoff makes it extra hard to show up as your best self, because you want that guilty pleasure so much? If you can schedule some of that into your day, it will reduce the thrill of the forbidden and give you some of what you crave. That makes your day more fun, and helps you be more aligned.

For me, bubble bath is fun but I live in a drought-ravaged state, so I don’t want to indulge too often. But I love to read. I always reach a place, either late afternoon, or in the evening, when I just can’t think in a business way any more. I used to feel terribly guilty about not continuing to plow ahead. This ended up looking like sitting in front of my computer reading Facebook, or occasionally reading an email, or like overeating while I berated myself for not having the energy I needed. Now, I can sit and enjoy reading a book for a while, knowing I’m doing what I need to do to support myself, using my scheduled self-care time, and not feeling guilty at all.

Do you know how much energy guilt takes?

I’d like to challenge you to try this for a week. Instead of feeling guilty for what you’re not doing, give yourself permission to take a break and do something you want to do for a while. Something that lets you rest, or gives you energy. See if you can feel smug for using your self-care time well, rather than guilty for not working harder. And see if you get more or less done this way. Are you afraid you’ll never get back to work if you ever take a break? You might find your work is easier and you’re more rested if you take the time to rest!

And then let me know how it goes. I’d like to add this into my group program and I’d love some feedback from all of you!

Expectations

Expectations mess me up over and over again. Expectations based on insecurity (I won’t have any fun at that party, no one will talk to me) and on confidence (Of course they’ll hire me, I have everything they’re looking for and more). Then – surprise, surprise! – I have fun talking to people at the party, and don’t get the job.

https://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Expectations.jpg

Some expectations are pretty valid, and don’t get challenged often – things like the ground under my feet is solid. Here in California we occasionally get an earthquake to remind us this isn’t always so, but generally it’s true.

Other expectations are wildly arbitrary. I don’t feel like I’m my age, ever. But what is 15, 21, or 40 supposed to feel like? It’s entirely subjective and/or based on cultural ideas that don’t really consider the individual.

Expectations between people are responsible for untold amounts of trouble. I expect you to be prompt, and assume you’re lazy or irresponsible if you’re late. You expect me to be thorough, and assume I’m incompetent if I just scan the surface. So many of these expectations are unspoken, and often unconscious, assumptions of how things are or should be, and when things aren’t that way, we get in trouble.

(Today is Valentine’s Day, and boy is it loaded with expectations! Not even going there. But wow, is it hard to live up to the perfect holiday.)

I’d love to be able to say I totally take things as they are, but I don’t. I try to. I try to recognize when something is my expectation, or the culture’s expectation, and then focus on what is really in front of me. But the truth is, I want things to be a certain way, and I get huffy when they don’t go that way. Eventually I can accept that I didn’t get the job, or that traffic is just bad today and that’s why you’re late, but it takes a while of raging against how the world is.

I guess that makes me human. I’d like to be better than that. Sometimes I am. And sometimes I get tripped up on something I just didn’t see coming, and it pisses me off.

What expectations have you had recently, that didn’t come true? How did you handle it? And what do you expect your partner to do on Valentine’s Day?

Defense

https://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large-5/an-excellent-defense-lets-give-jb-handelsman.jpg

My husband came into my office the other day looking grim, and I immediately got defensive. As far as I knew I hadn’t done anything that would upset him, I had no indication that he was looking upset because of me, but I automatically told myself a story that he was upset with me, and that I needed to defend myself.

Sometimes, when I feel the need to defend myself, I go on the offensive and attack first. Sometimes I withdraw into myself. Either way, it’s difficult to be curious and open. I think I know what I will hear, and I don’t want to hear it, so I’m shut down and angry. I feel like I’m under attack and need to defend my borders.

These stories we tell ourselves get us in trouble, not just at home, but also at work. People at work may feel that if someone questions one of their ideas then they are questioning their worthiness to exist, so they defend their ideas to the death. Or maybe they’re afraid that if someone shoots down their idea that will mean they will be injured somehow so they don’t bring up their ideas at all.

All of this is normal human behavior. I don’t want anyone to think it’s wrong or bad to want to defend oneself. I want everyone to feel safe sharing their ideas. And – it’s very helpful to notice when the automatic reflex of defensiveness goes into play, so that we can ask ourselves different questions or tell ourselves different stories.

With my husband, I’ve learned over the years that my instinctive responses are often way out of sync with what’s going on for him. My fears are based in childhood stories, and almost never play out in my adult life. So I make space to ask what’s going on, while telling my defenses how much I appreciate that they are there, and to please wait in the wings for me to call on them if and when I might need them. It turned out that he was upset about an email he had gotten, and it had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was able to give him support, and he left considerably happier.

So what can you do when someone else gets defensive? Certainly, if you are the one getting defensive, you can notice, as I’ve learned to do, and put off the heavy walls until you’re certain they’re needed. But if it’s someone else, how can you help them listen?

Short term: Back off. Let them know you don’t mean to step on their toes. Acknowledge them for their insight, bravery, loyalty, or whatever else you see in them. Admit to any aggression you may have (inadvertently) brought to the encounter. Ask to talk about it later, when people are feeling more even-keeled.

Long term: Model openness. Talk about when you feel defensive and why. Ask how you come across to others, and try to be less aggressive. It is very powerful to be publicly vulnerable, and it gives others permission to talk about what is going on for them.

We don’t need more people in the world who look like they never make mistakes and never feel bad. We need more people who show up with all their humanness and flaws, and show how to move forward anyway. It’s more honest, it fosters more open communication, and allows others to show up more fully as well.

The Problem With The Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a good rule for things like murder, rape, theft, big things like that. But what about how people relate to each other in smaller ways?

Are you familiar with Chapman’s Five Love Languages? (5LoveLanguages) His premise is that there are five ways people tend to relate, and that we all have preferences among these. They are: Words of Affirmation; Receiving Gifts; Acts of Service; Quality Time; Physical Touch.

When someone whose main love language is receiving gifts falls in love with someone whose main love language is acts of service, they can have trouble. She showers him with gifts, which he doesn’t care about, because she is doing unto him what she wants him to do unto her. He takes out the garbage because he loves her, which she doesn’t see as anything special since it has to be taken out anyway. Until they are aware of the language the other one is speaking, doing unto others is just annoying them. Why are you spending money on gifts I don’t need? Why are you fixing my dishwasher when we could be snuggling?

As a general rule, I like the Wiccan motto the best: First, do no harm, then, do what you will. Perhaps because I’m Jewish and there are rules about everything – how to eat, when to wash your hands, what to say, how to pray, etc. – I like the simplicity of this. If studying Torah is what I want to do, great, and if it’s not, then as long as I’m not hurting anyone by not studying it, I’m free to go dance, or make things, or whatever makes me happy.

Do no harm is actually fairly difficult to manage. It makes me see things in a different perspective. Instead of “how would I like to be treated in this situation” I ask “will this hurt anyone?” It can become a complex question. Will it hurt them physically? Will it hurt their feelings? If I talk about it first, will it hurt their feelings less? Will it hurt their income if I say bad things about their business? Will it hurt the earth if I throw away plastic bottles instead of recycling them? It makes me aware of the consequences of my actions, and that even actions that I don’t intend to be hurtful can be.

In this week before a new year comes around again, it’s a good time to think about what motto we will use for ourselves in the coming year. Will you treat people the way you want to be treated? Even if it’s not what they want? Or is the idea of ‘do no harm’ what the ‘do unto others’ people actually mean? For myself, I’m going to attempt to do no harm, and also attempt to figure out what it is I want. The ‘do what you will’ part isn’t always easy, either.

Pleasure Is The New Gratitude

Does it sometimes feel like a chore to come up with a list of things you’re grateful for? Like you’re in a perfectly good grumpy mood, and someone wants you to say things like “I’m grateful for hot running water” and then you feel like a jerk for not being grateful for something that some people lack, but at the same time you’re annoyed that someone is challenging your status quo?

Now, what does it feel like to step into a hot shower? When you feel the warmth on your body, breathe in the steam, feel the dirt and sweat washed away, feel your body caressed by the water? Isn’t that delicious? I believe that intentionally enjoying pleasurable moments like that is a lot like gratitude. The good kind of gratitude where your heart feels full and happy, not the one where you feel judged and inadequately appreciative of all that you have.

https://static.pexels.com/photos/355336/pexels-photo-355336.jpeg

Noticing things that feel good in your day is also a means towards mindfulness. Noticing the flavor of the food you eat – yum! – or the softness of cat fur, or the laughter you share with friends, or the relief of sitting down after a long walk – all of these things that feel good also help us be present in our bodies, aware of the moment, present and happy.

I love touching soft things. Furry things, smooth things, velvety things, all sorts of things that feel soft. The lovely thing is, I can enjoy the brief moment of softness even on a day that’s not going so well. I can remember that the world is not endlessly bleak, and that there can be moments of light even on the darkest days. That is what a gratitude practice does too. There are reasons to be grateful even when the cat barfs on your new shirt and the toilet clogs – at least the car is still running, at least there’s food in the pantry, we are warm and safe right now.

So for this Thanksgiving holiday, we can make lists of things we are grateful for – and we can also enjoy the things we have to enjoy. The hugs of dear friends and family. The yummy food. Hot showers. Taking time to really notice and appreciate the things that feel good is gratitude repackaged – and delicious, too!

I Believe

I believe that having a seat at the table is not the same as having an equal voice.

I believe that sprouts need time and space to grow, whether those sprouts are tender new plants or fragile new ideas.

I believe that the still, small voice inside is the one most worth listening to, and that we have to get very quiet to be able to hear it.

I believe that everything, including mindfulness, can be used as a weapon by those who are acting aggressively, and that everything, including conflict, can be used as a tool for growth and connection by those who are acting with loving-kindness.

I believe that group dynamics are much more complicated than relationships between two people, which are complicated enough.

I believe that the stories we hear in our heads have a lot of power over us. It’s hard to see that they aren’t the truth, especially if the people around us reinforce them.

I believe that getting hurt when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable will keep us from getting vulnerable again for a long, long time. I believe that from the outside it can be hard to tell if another person is actually feeling vulnerable. I believe we should always assume the other person feels vulnerable, even if they are acting brash.

I believe that connections between people are the most important thing we can create.

I believe that understanding, compassion, and acceptance are the most important tools a team has to create a space where everyone feels welcome and able to be vulnerable.

I believe that new ideas are vulnerable things. It doesn’t take much to crush the idea and the person offering the idea.

I believe that new ideas are necessary to move the world in a sustainable and healthy direction, and to create prosperity for the people doing the moving.

I believe that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, that being vulnerable is a sign of great strength, and that it takes courage to be open to change.

I believe that I can help teams find this place, where they believe these things too and can make their own spaces safe to be vulnerable and new. I believe I can help you.