Monday, September 17, 2018

Are you a worry-wart?

Author and entrepreneur E. Joseph Cossman, creator of the ant farm, had a subtle reminder for those of us who are prone to worry. He said, "If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today."

Chances are pretty good that you cannot recall what you worried about on this day a year ago—unless, of course, something traumatic and dramatic was occurring on that day that makes it stand out for you.

Typically, those of us who are worriers spend far too much time worrying about things that never come to pass, preparing outcomes for problems that don't even develop and therefore, wasting perfectly good time that could be better spent!

I tell myself that worry is a monumental waste of time. But it doesn't really stop me. I would like to at least cut back on the time I spend worrying. How about you? I would far prefer to spend my time living in gratitude and letting life unfold rather than worrying about things and thus, trying to control them (a useless pursuit anyway).  Starting the day thinking of 3-5 things for which I'm grateful does help. And calling myself back to gratitude helps, too, whenever I find myself stressing over some possible future event. Can I refocus? Or even reframe?

Do you have some tried-and-true ways to decrease worry?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Control as illusion

Have you ever tried making a list of the things in your life that you actually control? If you haven't ever tried this, do so now, just for fun.

How long is the list? In retrospect, are there even some things you want to cross off that list as you give it more thought? Did it just get far shorter yet?

It is true that we like to think we're in control of a good deal in our lives. But think about it honestly—are you really able to control much of what happens?

When we get really honest with ourselves, we realize that about the only thing really in our control is how we respond to what happens to us. Try as we might to keep things under control, "stuff" still happens and we have to resort to Plan B, C, D or even X and Z! And for that matter, even how we respond isn't always something we control. Some of that is knee-jerk and may have been programmed into us at a very young age.

It's humbling and necessary to get past the idea that we're in control. It can also prevent a good deal of frustration, anger and resentment. Again, it's a matter of letting go of some illusions. We can learn to be more flexible and to acknowledge that we're really not in charge. We can go with the flow more often; and through it all, we can learn to be more grace-filled and accepting of others as we recognize that we're all just trying to do our best to get by.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

'I am loved'

I recently saw a journal exercise that would be fun to try. First, you are asked to list the ways you think someone you love would describe you. Second, you then go to them and ask them to list their favorite elements of who you are. Then compare their list to yours. In the exercise instructions, you are invited to not be shy, because "it will make them so happy to tell you why they love you!"

Are you willing to try this? Often, we think others would let us down if we tried such an exercise. We think others see us as we see ourselves—and who is harder on us than our very self?! In truth, such an exercise might make the other person happy. But it surely would make us happy, too—that is, if we can suspend our disbelief and self-doubt long enough to really believe the other person is sincere.

Sometimes we do a real number on ourselves and think of someone who compliments us, "Oh, they have to say that" or "They're just saying that; they really don't mean it." We don't think we're worthy of love.

Make it a point today to let go of that kind of thinking. Shed those old tapes that tell you that you aren't worth loving. Believe people when they say they love you. Believe in your own lovability!! Remind yourself every day that you are lovable. Repeat to yourself, "I am loved, and I am worthy of love." For letting go of the old negative messages is only half the equation; the other half is to fill your head space with new, positive tapes!

Monday, September 10, 2018

More grace

I just read the most fascinating quote by American author and playwright Robert Anton Wilson: "Under the present brutal and primitive conditions on this planet, every person you meet should be regarded as one of the walking wounded. We have never seen a man or woman not slightly deranged by either anxiety or grief."

Wow! It really made me stop and think. Such a quote has a way of grabbing our attention, right? I admit that I don't know the context of that quote, although I did do a quick search that didn't yield anything.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how everyone I meet is dealing with something or other—many facing painful, frightening and heavy issues. And I have absolutely no idea when I see someone in a store, at church, in a meeting or on the street what's going on in that person's life. The term "walking wounded" really seems apt. Yes, we are all wounded in some way, aren't we? And we are all dealing with anxiety or grief.

For me, that means that I need to pay special attention to how I treat everyone. I need to remember to approach people with kindness and a full measure of grace, acceptance and forgiveness. More grace. Less attitude.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Anger's good side

It's clear to me that there's a large amount of anger in our country right now. And no wonder, really. We are experiencing many changes—in our economy, in what we consider "civil discourse," in norms that we'd come to expect (for example, that it was safe to go to the mall or a theater), in some of our institutions and so much more. And many people still struggle to replace lost jobs and income, to get by on less and to hang onto what they consider "the American dream." Add to that all our personal struggles with illness, career, relationships and more—and it's no surprise we experience anger.

Anger in and of itself is not bad. Anger is a necessary emotion, in fact. It can remind us that we've just witnessed or experienced injustice, and so it can serve as a call to action. It can protect us, reminding us of danger and the need to create safety and boundaries. Anger often has messages for us. It may flag to us that we have some unresolved grief and loss issues, things we've not acknowledged or grieved yet. For example, I just read about a woman who had completely buried her grief and pain about being raped 50 years ago (at a time when she knew she'd likely be re-victimized if she talked about it to anyone).

What we do with anger is what's important. Notice it. Acknowledge it. See what lessons might be learned from the anger. Do you have grief you've not faced yet, for example? Is it telling you that you need better boundaries with someone in your life? Once you have gleaned the lessons, let go, let go, let go of the anger. You definitely do not need it anymore. It'll be a ball-and-chain if you hang onto it.

It's essential that we learn to deal openly and healthily with our anger—not that we suppress it but also not that we use it to lash out at others. It needs to be processed. And then, shed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The real you

Who is the real you? We all wear masks. It's something we learned to do when we were quite young. We develop masks to protect ourselves. We fear that if people saw who we really were, we wouldn't be loved. Or perhaps we would be harmed if someone saw how weak or afraid we were—in which case, we may develop a stance of toughness that tells the world, "I dare you." So many reasons, so many masks.

By the time we reach middle age and beyond, we may have several masks, depending on whom we are around at any given time and what the situation is in which we find ourselves. Typically, however, by that stage of life, we're also beginning to realize that the masks meant to protect us are suffocating us, too. They are keeping us from being who we truly are. They keep us from being authentic. And authenticity becomes more important to us as we age.

What Muhammad Ali once said is true: "If you're the same person at fifty that you were at twenty, you've wasted thirty years."

Yes! The idea is to grow, to evolve, to let ourselves be transformed by life and its experiences. When we reach a more mature stage of life, we want to be as true to ourselves as we can be. Having said that, we will always hide behind some masks for safety. The hope is that those become fewer and lighter as we become stronger and more sure of ourselves.

What masks are you still wearing? Do you need them? Have you shed some of your masks? Do you feel that you're as authentic as you can be?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Look for the light

As I observe my own behavior and that of others, I often wonder why it is that we're so drawn toward the negative—toward the chaos and drama—rather than toward the positive and inspirational. It's as though the worst behaviors are the shiny objects in the middle of the road. On any given day, we collect as many of those as we can and cluck-cluck about it all. "The world's going to heck." "Whatever happened to civility?" "There are too many nuts out there."

I keep remembering what the late Mr. Rogers said his mother told him about "looking for the helpers" when any tragedy occurs. Rather than focus solely on the tragedy itself, he was taught to look for those who rush in to help. And there are lots of them out there, once we refocus!

I like what poet and inspirational writer Mark Nepo says in The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be:

"So, in a world where tragedy is broadcast every half hour; where situation comedies are rerun nightly; where confusions and betrayals replay themselves; where dark histories repeat themselves, help me put my stinger down and I'll help you take the deep chance to come to your senses. We can take the time to move toward whatever we sense is precious."

Yes, that's it. We can help each other in this regard. It's so easy to focus on the bad behavior, the tragedy, the negative—but we can help one another refocus. Go toward the light. Find what is precious. Look for the helpers.