Friday, March 30, 2018

Living between two delights

Letting go is one of the primary tasks of people in the second half of life. By that time, we have gathered so much material "stuff," and we have also gathered a good deal of internal "stuff"—anger, old resentments, things unforgiven and held tightly for years, old behaviors that no longer work (perhaps never did) and so much more.

Letting go is easier for some people than for others. But it's not necessarily easy for anyone. Take a look today and see what you might be holding onto that could be weighing you down or holding you back. Think how great it will feel to let go of some of that—to simply let some things fall away. 

Author Phillip Harnden says this: "We take delight in things; we take delight in being loosed from things. Between these two delights, we must dance our lives."

Yes! It is both/and, isn't it? And somewhere between those two things, we live. Perhaps today is a good day for you to examine where on that line between you wish to cast your lot for now! From what can you be loosed?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Turn the switch to positivity

Are you having difficulty staying positive these days? Are the details of your life dragging you down? Or perhaps it's the news coming from outside you that's depressing you?

I encourage you to not let the situation continue. It's not good for your health, for one thing. Also, the longer you allow negativity to continue in your life, the tougher it is to change. It's all too easy to get stuck in a rut of negative thinking. But you can create new pathways. One way is to think of five or six things for which you're grateful when you first awaken each day. Another is to think of a role model in your life—someone who inspires and uplifts you. When you find yourself getting down, think of that person. Call them and get a positive-energy fix, if that's what you need!

Look for opportunities to help others. I guarantee that will bring you out of yourself and your negativity. It always feels good to be of service to others and to have purpose in your life.

Try meditation. Even just taking time to relax, breathe deeply and exhale your stress will help you create a more positive frame of mind.

Find things to savor each day. Pay attention. Notice the green shoots popping up through the ground now. Listen to the birds. Take time to stop and notice the sunset—or the sunrise. Appreciate it all. Try to not sleepwalk through your days. Live awake and aware! You'll be so glad you did.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Why do you do what you do?

You may be among those of us who have taken the Myers-Briggs personality test. I found that test somewhat helpful in understanding some of my behaviors, and I've taken it several times through the years—sometimes in work settings and other times in less formal settings.

However, there's another resource that, for my money, tells me far more about myself; and that's the Enneagram. The Enneagram sorts people into one of nine personality types but also includes side wings so offers more possibilities. In addition it shows what people are like at the unhealthy end of their type, in an average state and also at the healthiest end of the spectrum. Most books on the Enneagram offer lots of pointers to help you move from unhealthy to average to healthy. Personalities are seen as more fluid, and there's more possibility for growth and transformation, which is why I am so fond of it.

Many books are available, but there's also a quick online test you can take to give you some idea of what the Enneagram is like before you invest in a book. If you just want a quick-and-dirty idea of the Enneagram, here's an online test to try. If you're intrigued by what you learn here, look online for resource books. My favorite is The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Don't let expectations hook you

Have you heard it said that, "Every expectation is a resentment waiting to happen"?

Think about it for a minute. I don't know whether you're like I am—but I often have an expectation of how a situation will unfold, how a conversation might go, what an event will be like or what an experience will be from start to finish. And just how often is the real thing even close to how I'd imagined or hoped it would be? Not often, I fear.

I can too easily get hooked by this. I am disappointed when things went south in a way I hadn't foreseen, when someone reacted so differently from what I'd expected, when a given conversation took a nasty turn. And, yes, that's when resentment settles in for a nice, long visit. I hate when that happens!

Does that ever happen to you? Have you found a good way to deal with it? A way to avoid it?

We can surely deal with the resentments on the back end. But it would be far more effective to avoid feeling resentful in the first place—much better to avoid unrealistic expectations or even avoid expectations at all. I'm trying to practice staying at a remove from outcomes, difficult as that is. I would love to be a little less attached to the outcome of either a given situation or a conversation—to just stay open to whatever unfolds. It's not easy as I've had years of practice creating expectations! But it's worth staying alert to this and trying to avoid attachment to outcomes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Acts of kindness

With all the bad news I hear every day—school shootings, ongoing war brutality, arrests, and political wrangling, just for starters—I am always delighted when my news sources deliver a story of an individual or group of people who are helping in ways small or large.

So I cheer when a big-hearted restaurant chef cooks thousands of meals for the people of Puerto Rico who are still recovering from a hurricane. And I cheer when I hear about what a custom-suit designer for men who can afford such things is doing for ex-offenders trying to start over after prison life: He is part of a larger program to help get these men back on track, and his part is to collect gently used, high quality men's clothes into a store where ex-offenders can come and get fitted for an expensive (though free to them) interview outfit: suit, shirt, tie, shoes, socks and the whole deal. To see how these men feel about themselves once they're all dressed up in clothes they likely never had before was just so uplifting. They stood taller and seemed filled with a new sense of possibility. And from what I've read, the recidivism rate for this program is far, far lower than the typical rate in that state.

Then there's the Muslim man who takes in orphans with serious, untreatable illnesses and cares for them until they lose their battle to illness. He just holds them, takes care of their needs and lets them know they're loved. Amazing!

Such stories remind me that there really are lots of good people in this world. Sometimes we really do need that reminder. And that leads me to ask myself: What am I doing to remind people that there are good folks around? Does my life reflect that? Can I do more acts of kindness?

What about you?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Good enough!

Winston Churchill once said, "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." Most definitely, there were many times during World War II when he was uncertain about the outcome. But he kept moving ahead—and kept Britain moving ahead.

In a book titled Keep Calm and Carry On, author Mark A. Reinecke describes the most disabling of distorted thinking, perfectionism, as "the belief that there's a best solution and that nothing less than the best is acceptable."

He goes on to say that as we face our problems, "We need to find the solution, the approach that brings only positive outcomes and has no negatives or downsides. Expecting nothing less than the best brings more security and guarantees a positive result, doesn't it?

"Actually, it's quite the opposite. Seeking perfect solutions can magnify our anxiety as the future unfolds. ... Because we can't predict how events will present themselves over time, there are no perfect solutions. If events don't develop as planned, you may believe you have failed, which leads to feelings of disappointment and regret and to a reduced sense of efficacy and control."

By now, I think we all realize that we should not let perfect get in the way of good. Seeking perfection can keep us from finding perfectly acceptable and workable solutions to our problems. Or as some people say, "Many things worth doing are worth doing badly!"

Are you a perfectionist? I'm a recovering one—still working to be satisfied with good! Good is good enough!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Don't let social anxiety get you down

Most everyone wants to be liked, loved, admired, respected and treated well. Some of us want it too much, however. Have you ever experienced that? And when that happens, are you angry with yourself for wanting approval too much? Angry that you haven't stood up for yourself or shown more self-esteem and self-confidence? Upset with yourself that your fears got the best of you?

Let go of the anger at yourself. Drop the shame. Instead, take a look at your patterns of behavior in a variety of social or work situations. What are the situations that most trip your triggers? And what are your responses? What are you thinking at the time? What fears are driving your behavior? Do you "awfulize" (everything is absolutely disastrous)? Do you overgeneralize (this always happens to me)? Do you magnify (blow things way out of proportion, similar to awfulizing)? Do you compare yourself, always coming up way below average and below everyone else in the room?

Challenge those thoughts and see whether there aren't more reasonable ways of seeing the particular situation(s) in question—and of seeing yourself.

Then develop some mantras or self-statements that you can repeat whenever you find yourself in a situation that might trigger your social anxiety. For example, "I'll be just fine. Others here are anxious, too. We are all in this together." Or "I am calm and serene, and I won't let my fear and insecurity rule me." "Everyone has baggage and insecurities. Some just hide it better. I will be friendly and show compassion to all I meet."

Over time, you just might see your anxiety reduced. It takes time, attention and intention to make changes like this. But it's so rewarding.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sharing brings strength

 A daily devotion I read recently discussed the fact that many churches don't have what's called "testimonies" from members. But, as a pastor, she wondered whether it might not be a good idea. She said this, "I sometimes wonder what testimonies the people in our pews need to hear. Do they need to hear someone say that there is life after the marriage implodes? Do they search for an assurance that chemo was hard for everyone else too? Do they long to know that everyone is a little afraid of growing older and depending on others more?"

It raises an interesting point: Are we vulnerable enough to share those fears and stories that can reassure each other? For it's in sharing our stories (and our fears) that we receive support, compassion—and, yes, even hope.  That's why support groups are so valuable for all manner of situations. We gain strength from each other's stories.

Who needs to hear your "testimonies" today? And who might reassure you if they told theirs?

Monday, March 12, 2018

'Love more'

Even though I'm a Norwegian, I have to hand it to those Swedes! One of their proverbs goes like this: "Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours."

I can't argue with that. And, of course, I'm just teasing about the Swedes—even though this really is touted as a Swedish proverb.

More hope and less fear would be a good thing right now. So much of what is happening in our country (and around the globe) these days is fueled by fears of all sorts. We'd be far better off truly facing these fears and addressing them than to lash out at others because of them.

As for chewing more, yes, one of the things I learned in Weight Watchers was the benefit of chewing more slowly. By doing so, I was told I would eat less. True enough. It's still something I'm working on, however!

And whining? Yup, we know how unattractive that is in children—and in adults, well, that's truly disgusting. As for making our words count—I'm sure we can all agree with that.

And love more? Yes, the world truly does need more love. If each person truly felt loved, how different might this world be? So let's each do our part—and add more love to the world.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Stories are life-giving

American author and essayist Barry Lopez once said, "Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive."

Interesting thought, isn't it? Think about it: Don't our stories tell us who we are? Where we've been? Even perhaps who and what we might become?

When someone listens, really listens, as I tell my life story, I feel heard. I feel real. Alive. And when they affirm what I've been through and how I've come through it, I have truly been listened into existence.

Sharing our stories with one another is a pretty intense and deep way to get to know someone, especially when we don't hold back. Sharing your story is a gift. Hearing another's story is a gift, too.

Can you think of a time when you reminded a friend or loved one of a part of their story they'd forgotten? Do you recall their joy at being given that gift? I've had friends say to me, "Thank you so much for reminding me of that part of my story! I'd completely forgotten that. That helps me know that I can get through this situation, too!"

Yes, it's true: sometimes we really need our stories to stay alive.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Staying on good behavior

Most of us really do want to be our best selves. We try hard to take responsibility for our lives. We try to help others in whatever ways we can. We want to be good parents, good mates, good friends, good employees. And we're extremely disappointed in ourselves when we mess up.

Because of this, it's important to identify those things that trigger us to be less than our best or ideal selves. Are there certain behaviors in others that really set you off and pretty much guarantee that you'll come out with guns blazing? Not literally, of course. Behaviors that bring out the petulant child in you?

It's good to know your own triggers. Knowing what they are empowers you to make better choices when such situations occur.

A speaker recently reminded those of us in the audience that, in addition to any specific triggers we each have, an acronym expresses triggers common to us all. She encouraged us to think of the word HALT and tend to the needs expressed by it so we could avoid sinking into less-than-ideal behaviors.

HALT reminds us to ask these questions: Am I Hungry? Am I Angry? Am I Lonely? Am I Tired? Those four things are issues we're able to tend so we don't get triggered into bad behaviors. I know I'm paying more attention to those these days.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Barriers to self-love

A refrain I hear repeatedly from women is that it's so difficult to love themselves. We have been conditioned so well to care for others and to put the needs of others before our own. Doing so ought not push love and care of self to the back burner or to the very bottom of the list. It should not be a case of either/or. Either I love and care for my children, my spouse, others in my life OR I love myself. No, it doesn't work that way.

If this is an issue for you, I encourage you to try identify what barriers are specific to you when it comes to self-love and self-care. Do you find self-care difficult because of shame, because of fears, because of excessive responsibility or inferiority? Or is there some other barrier?

Once you identify the barrier, you can begin to work through it—perhaps by journaling, talking with a trusted friend or counselor. Should you wish, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary strategy session on this issue.

Once we can truly love our selves and care for our selves, we have so much more compassion and love for others. And then our own light and love can emerge and shine brightly!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Share the good news

I just read a post on Facebook by a woman who said she'd gone to a local grocery store for a few items. When she got to the checkout, the cashier told her, "Your money isn't any good here today." My friend thought, "What?!" Then the cashier told her that the person in line ahead of her had paid extra for those following behind. It just made my friend's day!

Well, guess what? It made my day, too. It's sometimes easy for me to get caught up by the negative news—school shootings, deadlock in Washington, wars and murder in so many parts of the globe, etc. And although I want to be aware of world and domestic events, I also want to stay positive. So reading about a random act of kindness really made my day. It's so easy to forget about the good people in the world and think the world is populated with evil, nasty folks.

Somehow, I need to maintain perspective and balance. I want to do what I can to help bring justice and peace into the world. At the same time, I don't want to get bogged down in all the negativity and pain. Most days, this can be a real challenge!

My friend's post reminded me to share good news when I hear or experience it. The good things that happen to us boost our attitudes. And when we share those stories, others receive a positive boost too.