happiness, mindful

Highs and Lows Are Part of Growth and It All Makes Us Stronger

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Just like a muscle needs to tear to grow stronger, sometimes we need to wade into our own darkness to find a brighter light.” ~Lori Deschene

Sometimes we need to journey into the deepest, darkest, scariest, most painful places inside in order to reach the next level.

This is what happened to me earlier this year.

When I was younger, I was in an abusive relationship that created a lot of stories in my head. These stories became beliefs that I carried around for a long time. Beliefs like, “I’m not good enough,” “Relationships are painful,” “I don’t have a say,” “I need someone else to show me I’m worthy,” and “I need to be perfect to receive love” (just to name a few).

As a conscious adult, I’ve done a lot of healing work and spiritual development around this, and am proud of the growth I’ve experienced between where I was then and where I am now. But even still, I have setbacks. We all do.

None of us are immune to the fears and self-doubt that pop up when “life happens.” None of us are safe when the ground we’ve worked so hard to establish gets ripped out from us.

After lots of self-development and work around relationships and love, I recently declared to the Universe that I was no longer afraid of being alone and that I was no longer afraid of being vulnerable and my “true self” in a future relationship. So, the Universe delivered. Big time.

I met someone new. He wasn’t like the other men I’ve dated—men who are safe and stable, and who give me a sense of being in control of the situation. He was uncharted territory for me. Hard to read. Mysterious. Kept me guessing.

He would surprise me with nice gestures like showing up with sunflowers, sending me unexpected notes about how beautiful I am, you know… the works. Not to mention the sex. THE SEX! For the first time, possibly in my whole life, I felt really seen, appreciated, valued and truly beautiful while having sex. There was nothing awkward or uncomfortable or weird or threatening about it. I had met Mr. Perfect… or so I thought.

What I know now that I didn’t recognize then was that this guy was an assignment. The Universe heard me loud and clear when I announced that I was ready to be alone and/or in a vulnerable relationship (which is actually a very confusing declaration to make in the first place, so… no wonder stuff got weird!), and so I was sent this guy—let’s refer to him as Mr. Perfect from here on out—as a test.

Mr. Perfect was an opportunity for me to put into practice all of the things I had learned about myself over the past twenty-five years.

Let’s just say that I failed that test. Miserably.

After an all-out eight-day binge on this guy, we were both like a couple of strung-out addicts, totally manipulative and controlling and hopeless about our futures, but pretending everything was just groovy. We were practically playing house together when we hadn’t even known about the other’s existence just a month earlier.

Somewhere throughout the week with Mr. Perfect, my energy shifted. I went from this high-vibe, loving, independent, strong version of myself, to this weird, controlling, self-conscious, anxious, creepy version of me. I went from Jennifer Aniston status to that chick in Mean Girls who’s obsessed with Regina George way too quickly, and my old limiting beliefs started to take over.

Suddenly, I was operating from that old, abusive relationship version of me.

The version of me who thought that being vulnerable in a relationship meant getting hurt.

The version of me who thought that the guy needs to control everything, and that I am not safe to speak up about what I really want, because you never know how he’s going to react.

The version of me who felt uncomfortable in her own skin, so tried really hard to look pretty, say the right thing, and always do something more in an effort to be noticed.

The version of me who thought that I needed a man to “save me,” or that he was the one answer to all of my problems in life.

You can only race like that for so long until you crash.

And so, eight days of passionate sex, cute notes, sleepless nights, hours of butterflies in my stomach, several dinners, one brunch, way too much tequila, and two bouquets of flowers later, we bottomed out. Both of us.

Mr. Perfect and I took a crash course in “How to Not Date as Intentional, Conscious Human Beings 101.” Our worlds both went spinning—his, with a huge f*ck up at work, likely the result of us spending too much time together; mine, reversing to harmful coping behaviors that used to show up when I was younger.

When I got the text from Mr. Perfect that started with “We need to talk,” I went into a downward spiral of emotion and drama. He wanted to end things. I wanted to die. I literally paced outside my apartment building for three hours trying my very best to not have a heart attack.

I questioned everything. Was any of it real? Did I mean anything to him? How could I screw this up? How could I fix it? I needed to fix it. How could I mess up such a perfect thing?

But suddenly, I had a beautiful recognition. I noticed that there was a shift. In my heart space, I could feel the presence of my Higher Self. The part of me that’s connected to something bigger. The part of me that knows these stories of not being good enough are complete BS.

And just like that, I was no longer living in the stories that were sending me into a near panic attack. I was above that. I knew that I was better than that. That I deserve more. That it wasn’t my fault. That I didn’t do anything wrong. That I was still just as worthy as love and acceptance and beauty as anyone else on this planet.

In that moment, I forgave myself.

I forgave myself for the behavior that caused him to end things.

I forgave myself for the fact that I let it get to the point where we even engaged in an eight-day binge on each other.

And most importantly, I forgave myself for all the negative and self-doubting talk, limiting beliefs, and lame stories I told myself when it happened.

I saw that the stories were keeping me stuck. I saw that they made me revert back to this old version of me that I no longer was. And I saw that I had the awareness and the power now to intentionally choose to believe a different story instead.

I chose to believe that this story was no longer serving me, and that I could rise above it.

That I actually didn’t need a man to “fix” me or to complete me, but that I had actually been doing that work on my own all along.

I decided that I was done with this belief of not being good enough.

I was soooo done.

I decided then and there to stay committed to this path of personal growth and transcendence, because I see now how all of the pain and struggles that I’ve been through actually happened forme, not to me.

All of it was for a reason.

You can do the same. Everything that you’ve been through—every negative thought or limiting belief or fear that you’ve had that’s kept you from what you want the most in life—it’s all within your power to change. If you decide that you deserve it.

Healing is not linear. There will be highs and lows, laughs and tears, moments of total bliss and moments of complete uncertainty and self-doubt. But your Higher Self is there through it all, and S/he wants to see you come out stronger through each and every assignment that the Universe throws your way.

S/he is cheering you on from the sidelines and always there for support as your #1 fan, no matter what crazy stuff comes across your path. And that person, that part of you, needs you to show up to these assignments. To really face the fear head on, to feel the pain, and to move through it.

Because on the other side of fear and pain and struggle and darkness lies your greatness.

Looking back at it now, I don’t think I failed the test the Universe sent me. I think I passed it. Because I chose my Higher Self, I chose self-love, and I chose me.

Maybe that was the lesson all along.

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happiness, mindful

How to Move Past the Fear of Judgment and Break the Silence of Shame

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“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” ~Brené Brown

Every time I think I’ve unloaded most of the pain from my past, something surfaces that tells me I have more work to do.

A couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were cuddling one morning. I’m not sure what the trigger was, but out of nowhere, my thoughts rolled down a hill and into a painful memory that I must have blocked out.

Tears rolled down my cheeks as my whole body curled up into the fetal position. He asked me what was wrong and I slowly told him about a sexual trauma I had experienced.

We are radically honest with one another. Sharing the not so beautiful has deepened our connection. I thought I had shared my darkest secrets that carry shame.

I was wrong.

I had minimized and buried this story. Maybe subconsciously, I was afraid he would see this situation as my fault. He absolutely didn’t, and sharing my experience with him made me feel like a heavy burden was lifted.

This last part rang especially true the following week when the #metoo hashtag went viral. It was during that week of teasing through my feelings and thoughts that I realized just how much confusion shame can create.

The word shame can evoke such discomfort that we often don’t see how it shows up in our lives.

If there’s one emotion I see as most prevalent and most hidden in the work I do, it’s shame. Every time I lead a workshop or retreat, there’s a common theme that I witness in nearly everyone. As humans, we all tend to feel in some way that we’re unworthy.

Yet, the last thing we want to do is acknowledge our shame and vulnerability.

But if left buried, shame inevitably causes harm to ourselves and our relationships. In my experience, I’ve seen firsthand how understanding and shedding light on shame can hold the key to healing.

Shame is the emotion that says, “I am bad. I am unworthy.”

It’s not that we did something bad and feel remorseful. That’s guilt. Guilt says, “I did something bad.” But shame is the internalization of “I am bad.”

Most of us, even if we had kind, loving parents, grew up feeling a bit like we had to censor our true feelings and experiences. We may have done this to avoid dismay, protect others, or keep the peace in our families.

We’re conditioned from a young age to feel shame when we learn who we shouldn’t be in the world. But as we get older, we don’t need others to make us feel shame. Shame becomes easily internalized and lives in that voice that says, “It’s dangerous to let others hear my story,” or, “They won’t love me if I share this secret.”

Who we are becomes fragmented so that we hide the parts of ourselves we want no one to see. We unconsciously employ defense mechanisms. While those defense mechanisms might help us to survive, they’re bound to stand in the way of having healthy relationships and growing a sense of self-love.

When we’re afraid to share our vulnerable side because we believe it would render us flawed, dirty, weak, and so forth, we’re carrying shame.

Shame is carried silently and secretly for fear of judgment; yet, it is the self-judgment that grows the longer we conceal our vulnerability.

I refuse to keep painful secrets festering inside of me, as I know that will only keep me repressed and disempowered in the long run.

All humans experience shame, and it presents in many ways. Here are a few examples I’ve noticed within myself that maybe you can relate to:

  • Being too sensitive and emotional
  • Not doing enough to “save” my mother from her death
  • Being too selfish to fully want to be a mother myself
  • Feeling I’m not ambitious or smart enough to live up to my potential
  • Struggling to communicate clearly when I have too much in my head
  • Feeling too “needy” with my partner at times
  • Believing I was somehow at fault for the sexual abuses I have experienced

My personal list could go on… But what I noticed when writing this list is that while many of the original sources of shame might be specific people or society as a whole, the critic is still me.

When we keep shame locked away inside, we get stuck in feelings of inadequacy. Shame may cause us to feel mentally or physically ill. Feelings of inadequacy can be accompanied by emotions such as anxiety, anger, and loneliness. And when we feel inadequate, we sometimes develop destructive ways of relating to others: avoidance, lying, blaming others, attempts to control others, and so forth.

So how can we deal with this lurking self-critic that wants to keep our stories in the dark?

1. Speak kindly to yourself.

Most likely, at some point you’ve heard the phrase, “Shame on you,” or, “You should be ashamed.” It can easily become habit to talk similarly to ourselves and challenging to learn to speak kindly.

A simple framework for healing I teach comes from an ancient Hawaiian tradition called H’oponopono. H’oponopono means “to make right,” and it’s rooted in the essence of reconciliation and compassion.

H’oponopono consists of four phrases: I’m sorry. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. You can use these phrases speaking to another person. And you can use them with yourself. Here’s a personal example of the latter:

Melissa, I’m sorry for making you feel the trauma you experienced was your fault.

Melissa, I forgive you for placing blame on yourself and carrying shame all these years.

Melissa, thank you for your courage to shine light on your vulnerability and resilience.

Melissa, I love you and I commit to treating you with lovingkindness.

2. Self-soothe with movement and massage.

Think about what happens to your body when you recall a memory that carries shame. Often our bodies slump sinking our heart into the back body. Our gaze drops and our brows furrow.

Emotions, including shame, reside in the body. Much of what I practice and teach relates to physical ways to release stuck emotion for this reason.

If we want to reduce the unworthy and unlovable feelings we carry, it can help to self-soothe your body through dynamic movement practices like yoga and dance. Self-massage, tapping, and comforting touch while speaking kindly to yourself can help to release shame.

3. Share your story.

The most uncomfortable, but perhaps most effective method I can offer you is to share.

You don’t have to share your vulnerability with the whole world. Many of my friends shared courageous, deeply personal stories on Facebook in response to #metoo. For a moment, I thought I had to share this way as well, but then I did some reflection.

There are times I share my vulnerability through my blog or when I hold space for a group. But I don’t always want to share everything with strangers. In those cases, my partner is my greatest witness because of his ability to hold space for me.

Whether you share in a twelve-step program, with a loved one, or therapist, or in an article for the world to see, there’s immense healing power in this process. When our voices are heard and we’re seen just as we are, we open up the door to growing a new sense of self-love and self-worth

happiness

How Expectations Can Drive People Away and How to Let Go of Control

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“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” ~Bruce Lee

About five years ago, I had a falling out with a close friend. I was irritated because she didn’t do the things I thought she should and she didn’t give as much as I did. I felt I had been very generous with her, and I expected her to do the same. I felt she owed me.

My anger became unmanageable and started seeping into pretty much every interaction we had. She began cancelling dinner plans and camping trips. She wouldn’t call me back after days of me leaving a message. It happened out of nowhere, and of course everything was her fault.

Except that it didn’t. And it wasn’t.

Not too long ago, I was a bit of a control freak. I didn’t know it, of course, and I would have described myself as open-minded and easy going. In reality, I was tormented by my own expectations.

Since I was a child, I had an image in my head about who I was supposed to be. What my family was supposed to look like. What house I was supposed to live in. What career success wassupposed to mean. That’s a lot of supposing! I had always assumed these expectations were my future.

I am an artist by trade, and in my art studio, I have many tools. Paintbrushes, sanders, stencil cutters, and paper punches fill shelves up to the ceiling. However, I tell people that the most important tools I use are flexibility of mind and a practice of not having expectations as to the outcome. This allows new and amazing techniques to be discovered and yields paintings that continuously surprise and delight me. I find these tools are useful outside of the art studio as well.

As time went on and distance grew between me and my friend, I began to feel enraged by her apparent apathy toward me and everything that I “had done for her.”

I thought to myself, “I would never treat anyone that way. How dare she do that to me?” and “After all I’ve given her, she should want to give back!” Every thought I had praised me for all the good deeds I had done and blamed her for ruining our friendship. I was the victim and she was the wrong doer.

One day, I sat down to enlighten her about how she had negatively impacted our relationship. Her reaction was horrifying to me. She said she was going to take a step back from our friendship.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I mean, I was telling her how she could singlehandedly improve things. What was wrong with her that she didn’t understand that? We stopped speaking and I didn’t see her for a long time.

Then something life changing happened—sobriety. In the first year after I quit drinking, I learned a lot about myself and my need to control just about everything in order to meet my expectations.

I learned how my expectations of others (unexpressed, by the way, because “I shouldn’t have to say it!”) and the anger that followed when people didn’t act the way I thought they should, actually drove people away.

The entire time our friendship was breaking down, I thought that if she would just do the things I wanted her to do, not only would our friendship be fixed, but everyone involved would be better off. I knew better than she did. My way of living was better than hers. She, of course, ran away from me like I was on fire.

My need to control others was unfounded, unrealistic, and unattainable. It was a hard thing to admit that my way wasn’t better than her way and, in fact, people weren’t abandoning me. I was driving them to leave. I saw that other relationships in my life were also going down this path. I had to change.

One day after surfing, I went to sit on a bench overlooking the water. One of the “old guys” we surfed with, who lived across the street, came and talked with me as the sun was setting over the ocean and I was lamenting about the stresses in my life. He said one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me: “I don’t do stress. Stress is optional.”

WTF? How on earth does one not get stressed? Teach me, Oh Wise One. I thought deeply about this and about my issues with expectations and control. I needed control in order to meet my own expectations. When those expectations were not met, anxiety, anger and depression followed. Where does stress fit in?

The stress comes from trying to control actions that I think can bring my expectations to fruition. Have you ever seen the YouTube video of the zoo keeper trying to take a photo of all the baby pandas together? He expected a cute shot. All he got is a video of him trying to put baby pandas in a line, as one by one they continuously wandered off.

I know that’s kind of a cut and dry example, and life isn’t always cut and dry. However, the primary reason that I would get so pissed when my expectations were not met is rather simple: “My way is superior to everyone else’s way. How can people be so stupid and disrespectful?”

I don’t want to be an angry person. I don’t want to be unhappy with the people in my life. At some point, I realized that all of the control I was attempting to put on others was really me trying to make others meet my own expectations. That doesn’t work. Like ever. And it creates a huge amount of stress and frustration akin to trying keep baby pandas in line.

The real questions are: Who do I think I am? Why do I think I can control anything? What does it really matter if people are late, or my flight is cancelled, or my hat got lost when it flew off the top of the car.

Do these things affect my life? Sure, they can. Is it worth having an explosive hissy fit and making myself and everyone around me miserable? Uh, that would be a no. (Embarrassingly, the loss of that damn hat came close to ruining our evening.)

Advice from an Artist—Three Ways to Let Go:

1. Have zero expectations about how anything is going to turn out in the end.

It’s easier said than done, but if I went into the art studio expecting a certain painting to be created, I would be disappointed all the time. It’s so much easier to have an open mind and go with the flow.

This is also true when it comes to other people. By accepting the fact that people are not predictable, I am not attached to outcomes about how they “should” be.

 2. Stop trying to control everything.

My passion is creating, but I can’t always get in the studio to paint. And guess what? I don’t pitch a fit. I simply do what needs to be done to continue on.

For whatever reason, this is easy for me to apply to my business, and harder to apply to situations that involve people. I have to peel my fingers from the white-knuckle grip they have on how people should be and be okay with the possibility of “my way” not being an option. Perhaps somebody else has an awesome way I’ve never even thought of.

3. Be flexible and don’t be attached to outcomes.

I choose to open my mind to all the possibilities. In the studio, experimentation and the ability to adjust comes very easily. In life, not so much. Last minute changes in dinner plans aren’t going to kill me. When someone is “inconveniencing” me by wanting to meet at 8:00 instead of 6:30 I don’t get pissed anymore. I go for a hike because now I have time to.

Does that sound too simple? I don’t think it is.

My old friend and I have begun to repair our friendship. She moved away and I miss her dearly. We have talked about the past, but not in great detail. I try to show her that my thinking has changed and I don’t want anything from her but her friendship. It’s a hard thing to repair when you live far away but it’s mending little by little.

I no longer expect her or anyone to think like me. When I start feeling superior, I have to remember that I’m no better and no worse than any other person on the planet. I hope she forgives her wayward friend. At the time, I really thought that I was doing her a favor by showing her a better way to live. It was hard to realize that my ego was running the show.

When I’m working on a painting and I make a mark that I didn’t intend to, I don’t look at it as a “mistake.” I look at it as an opportunity to go down a road I may not have seen had it not been for that out of place mark. This is how I strive to live my life now. When a monkey wrench is thrown in, I put it in my back pocket figuring that a wrench may come in handy at some point.

And if it doesn’t, that’s okay. Just as with my art, I choose to live open-minded to all experiences. Also, just like my paintings, life isn’t only made up of straight lines. There are twists, turns, and interruptions. The question I must ask myself is, do I want to put up a fight whenever something unexpected happens, or go with the flow and gracefully see where this new road leads?

We can’t control other people and situations. But we can choose to set expectations aside and not put so much emphasis on how things are going to end up. After all, it truly is about the journey. And the destination? Well, sometimes the most beautiful views are the ones that we stumble upon unexpectedly, while on the way to where we’re “supposed” to be.

happiness, mindful

Leave the Past in the Past: What Matters Most Is Who You Are Now

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“Focus on what matters and let go of what doesn’t.” ~Unknown

When I was in rehab for alcohol addiction, one of the most difficult things for any of us to overcome was the fact that we thought we were beyond redemption.

Why? Because during the depths of our addiction, we had done some things we weren’t too proud of. Unhealthy behaviors that included drinking while driving, calling in sick when we weren’t because we were too hung over to go to work, or neglecting our children for the lure of spending the evening with a bottle of wine instead. None of this sounds like anything you could feel good about it, does it?

The biggest thing I had to learn through this was that who I am now is what matters most.

My unhealthy past behaviors don’t make me the person I am now. And the first step in becoming the person you are now—the one where your kindness can shine, your love for your children takes center stage, your choices with others are healthy, your self-abuse is nonexistent (or, at least dormant)—is to leave the past where it is.

Instead, focus on the future and building the person you want to become. If you are struggling with being stuck in a place where you don’t feel like you’re being your best person, where you might be berating yourself for your behaviors you aren’t proud of, where you might not know how to turn your life into something that more positively reflects the better parts of you, then read on!

“It doesn’t matter where you are coming from. All that matters is where you are going.” ~Brian Tracy

First, we need to understand a very fundamental thing: the past does not define us. Often, we believe that the past does define us and, therefore, there is no escaping it. This is simply not true.

We are the ones that decide whether or not the past holds us hostage. Your past may have shaped you, but it does not define who you are now. What defines you is what you do now, your actions now, and what you have become since the past you left behind.

The second thing in becoming the person you are now is to stop doing the behaviors you don’t like, those ones that make you feel like shit about yourself. You know the ones. But, changing bad habits or unhealthy behaviors doesn’t happen overnight.

I couldn’t change everything I disliked about myself all in one night. It was a process. You need to learn that things take time and this is just part of the journey. And, most importantly, that this is okay.

“Every positive change in your life begins with a clear, unequivocal decision that you are either going to do something or stop doing something.” ~Unknown

It starts with first changing your behaviors one at a time. If you could slow down just a little and ask a simple question “Will this make me feel lousy about myself if I do it?” and the voice said yes, you might be able to pause long enough to say to I don’t want to do things anymore that make me feel lousy about myself.

You could then decide I am going to choose to not commit this behavior this time. And, that is precisely what it is—a conscious decision to thwart one unhealthy behavior at a time from coming to fruition and sending you down that ugly road of self-loathing and condemnation.

“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” ~Max de Pree

If you ask yourself the opposite question “Will I feel good about myself if I do this?” sometimes it is even easier to follow through on the action.

It was a long road for me to turn my life around from where I was, but I did it. I started by building better and more positive behaviors one at a time, until I started to have more of those than the unhealthy ones. And slowly, but steadily, I built myself into a different person—one I could be proud of and one I liked being.

For example, if I asked myself, “Will I feel good if I go into work despite being hung over and at least show up?” And the answer was yes, then I did it.

“Will I feel good if I don’t drink tonight and instead hang out with my children?” And the answer was yes and I did it, I actually did feel better about myself!

The more actions you can collect that make you feel good about yourself, the further along you get to leaving actions behind that you don’t feel good about. It’s a process of collecting more “I feel good about myself” actions than “I feel bad about myself” actions. This is what you need to do.

Even more importantly, each time you do an “I good about myself” action, you need to give yourself some credit for it. This is important, even if you slip up and commit an “I feel bad about myself” action the very next minute.

If you don’t give yourself encouragement for the small victories, then you’re doomed to not have the courage to keep going. So self-reward, recognition, and credit are all very important things to give yourself.

Every small act in the right direction needs to be recognized as something good and valuable, so give yourself a pat on the back, a verbal good job, a kudos, or a gold star sticker. It doesn’t matter what, as long as it is some kind of recognition that works for you.

Make sure to give yourself recognition in whatever way makes you feel good about it. These will add up over time until you begin to start feeling good about yourself in general, at least a little bit, then more, then finally much more.

“No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” ~Buddha

What about the moments when you fail, or commit the “I feel lousy about myself action?”

You must forgive yourself these, practice some self-compassion, and let it go. Just say to yourself, “I messed up, I forgive myself, I will try again.” Otherwise, you will stay stuck in the “I feel lousy about myself” behavior by beating yourself up for it, making yourself feel bad, and then dangerously looking for a way out of that bad feeling by committing some other unhealthy behavior.

For example, here’s what usually happened to me. I’d feel bad about drinking, so I’d drink so I could forget about this horrible feeling I couldn’t stand being in.

Guess what always happened in that scenario? It became a vicious cycle and a whirlpool that just kept sucking me down further and further. And that is exactly, what it is like—a whirlpool.

Your job is to stay out of the whirlpool, by focusing on doing actions that you feel good about, building your self-confidence that you are a good person, acknowledging your accomplishments, and creating a sense of strength for yourself that you can continue to build on this foundation.

“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” ~Buddha

So, when you commit an unhealthy behavior, forgive your wounded self. This does not mean you accept it as okay or that you shouldn’t take accountability for your actions. It simply means you don’t demean yourself over it, or punish yourself for it, or otherwise stay stuck in it. You forgive, move on, and try to focus more on doing actions that make you feel good about yourself.

By focusing on actions that make you feel good about yourself, you begin to build up a new sense of self. Because, this is exactly what you are doing. You are building a new you. You are creating a new version of you—a stronger version, a version you are proud of, a version that reflects your true values and true self.

happiness

Leaping into the Unknown: Why We Don’t Always Need a Plan

Sometimes, don’ think too much. Close your expectation box and just do it! May be that is the reason why running is so fantastic! We always want to get some good results from doing each job, attending each event or even each relationship. But sometimes if we aggressively focus on results, nothing could happen since we forget the thing itself! ~ Lucy

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“You don’t always need a plan. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens.” ~Mandy Hale

Wake up.

Wish I could go back to sleep.

Get up and ready for work. Tell myself that today I’ll leave earlier but then leave the same time as usual.

Walk to work. Pass all the same people I did yesterday. At the same time.

Arrive at work. Listen to the same people complaining about the same things. Complain about the same things myself.

Teach my classes. Tell people off for being late—the same people as yesterday and the day before that.

Go home. Try to work toward my dream life. Collapse from exhaustion after about half an hour and wonder what the point is.

Go to bed. Cry lots. Hope that I don’t wake up in the morning.

Wake up again and repeat.

This was my routine for a good number of months before I finally couldn’t take it anymore.

Did I have the world’s worst job? No, not really. Did I live in a hell hole? Not at all. In fact, you could probably say that I didn’t have any problems, yet I was possibly more miserable than I’d ever been.

I couldn’t believe it. How had I ended up like this? I’d tried so hard to change my life. I’d meditated, done yoga, followed my dreams, made a vision board, and bought lots of self-help books. I’d even read them, too!

What more was a girl supposed to do? Why wasn’t my life changing?

I desperately wanted to leave my job, but couldn’t. I wouldn’t have the money to pay the rent. I wanted to leave my apartment but I had nowhere to go. Not unless I went to stay with my mother and, I couldn’t do that—not at my age!

So I plodded on, I tried to be a good ‘spiritual’ person and accept my life as it was. I tried to make the best of things. And sometimes, it worked, but not for long.

Eventually the feelings of dissatisfaction would return. The feeling of helplessness. Feeling stuck. Wanting to escape.

But there was no way out. I’d be repeating this day forever. And ever.

Let It Go

Around this time, I was reading a lot about how we need to close one door before another can open. I was also seeing colleagues leave work to pursue a life of their dreams.

Rather than giving me hope, this made me feel more downhearted. It was all right for them; they had money, a partner, a new job, or an already-up-and-running business.

I was all alone. I was broke. I had no husband to support me. No rich relatives to bail me out.

Everything I’d done to try to make a living out of work that I loved had already failed. I didn’t even know what I wanted anymore. I just knew I didn’t want what I had.

I’d get irritated when I’d read about how I had to simply quit my job, how I had to follow my heart. What if my heart was only telling me what I didn’t want? What if it was refusing to tell me what was next?

What if I closed one door and the other one got stuck?

What then?

I was so afraid of what would happen, I held on for months, hoping for an answer to drop out of the sky.

Until the pain of staying where I was suddenly became too much to bear. I couldn’t take it anymore. Suddenly, what happened next didn’t matter.

I didn’t care.

I saw the madness of what I was doing: staying in a job I didn’t want to do, to live in an apartment that I didn’t want to live in, to stay in an area that I didn’t particularly like. Just to survive. And even surviving wasn’t much fun.

So I surrendered. I did what I’d felt called to do all along: I said goodbye to the security I’d been clinging to. With no idea of what was coming next. With no income and little money. And no idea where I was going to live.

But as soon as I made my decision, I felt a huge sense of relief. I wondered what had taken me so long.

Of course, it wasn’t long until the fear crept back in. I had moments when I wondered what I was doing and how I would survive.

But even in those moments of doubt, there was a knowing that leaving my present situation was the right thing to do.

All my life, I’d put survival first. Now it was time to put myself first.

My happiness. My sanity. My peace of mind.

The worst-case scenario may not be so bad. In fact, it might be quite good.

I was lucky. I was never going to be out on the streets. I knew I had the option of returning to stay with my mother until I sorted myself out. But I really didn’t want to do that. I was far too old for that now.

Besides, that would mean living in a town far away from anywhere, with no transport of my own. I’d be so lonely. I’d have even less chance of finding work I loved. I’d be even more stuck!

Despite my best hopes that something else would magically turn up, I indeed ended up returning home. I tried telling myself it would be fine, but the scary thoughts were still lurking.

However, within a couple of weeks of the move, I saw the new path begin to emerge—chance meetings with like-minded people, work opportunities in unexpected places, community events where I thought there’d be none.

And for the first time in months, I actually felt happy. Because for the first time in my life, I was truly putting myself first. And I was truly living in the present. Survival was no longer the name of the game. My own peace of mind and happiness was.

When the pain of being where you are is too much to handle, when life is shoving you in the direction of the unknown, dare to trust it.

As I said, I was lucky. I know not everybody can do exactly as I did. Not everyone has someone who can help them out while they make a drastic life change.

I also know how annoying it can be to be told to change your life when you simply don’t see how. But the point here isn’t to do what I did, but to let go where you can even if you have to face your own worst-case scenario.

When you begin to take care of yourself, when you follow what feels good for you and put your own physical and mental health first, you’ll find the path will begin to open up. You’ll find support from unexpected places.

You may even find that your worst-case scenario turns out to be the best thing you could have hoped for.

What I’ve learned is that having a plan is overrated. Sometimes we really do need to let go and see what happens next.

happiness, mindful

Think You’re Not Good Enough? How to Stop Holding Yourself Back

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“Stop holding yourself back. If you aren’t happy, make a change.” ~Unknown

Growing up in a culture where physical beauty determines how successful you are in finding a job, a suitable husband, and a promising career, and most importantly, bringing honor to your family reputation, I was a disappointment to my family, especially to my mother.

She was the definition of a perfect beauty—5’6″, slim, big eyes, high-bridged nose, perfect skin, and gifted with charisma. I was the opposite.

As I got older, my mother’s negative words got louder and louder. They were a constant reminder that I wasn’t good enough; I was useless and ugly, and nobody would love me because of the way I looked. I was excluded from all of our family trips and left alone in the house for days with my grandmother. Because of how I was treated, I started to believe that I would be a loser for life.

At twenty-nine I thought I was healed, until one phone call changed everything and forced me to re-evaluate what I believed about myself.

I got a job offer to oversee one of the biggest commercial real estate investors in North America. The job consisted of creating twenty-two financial budget packages in three months, while convincing the client to sign a two-year deal with the company and restructuring the entire accounting department.

I was convinced that I could not do this job, despite all the encouragement I received from my husband and best friend. I knew it would be a great opportunity for me to advance in my career, but I wanted to turn it down because I believed wasn’t smart enough and thought there were better candidates out there.

We all grow up with both positive and negative memory banks, with one being larger than the other, thanks to our parents and the environment we were raised in. As we get older we add to our memories through our life experiences. Every time we encounter situations we’re not prepared for, we refer to our memories to support our decision making.

Mine was full of “You cannot do well in this position,” “You don’t have enough knowledge,” “Other candidates are smarter than you,” “You cannot wear these clothes since you don’t have the body for it,” “You need to wear more make-up,” and the list goes on. So it was hard for me to seriously consider seizing this opportunity.

After much consideration, I decided to sleep on it. The next day, I looked back at everything I’d done so far in my life and realized that if I kept holding myself back, I’d never get to where I wanted to be. Happiness would never become a reality for me. I knew I didn’t want to live a life of “what if.”

I decided to accept the job, and three months later, I submitted twenty-two financial budgets on time, got that two-year agreement signed, and completed the restructuring three months after.

Here’s what I learned along the way. If you’re holding yourself back, like I formerly did, this may help.

1. Change your attitude to reflect what you want to become.

Your attitude will either move you forward or backward. It’s greatly affected by what you believe, since what you believe determines the decisions you make. Your beliefs largely stem from your past—what people said and did to you and what you concluded those experiences meant about you.

Become aware of what people told you when you were a child and ask yourself if those statements were actually true. Study your accomplishments and your environment, go over what you have done so far and see if they align with the accused statements.

Here’s what I discovered when I did this exercise:

Untrue fact number one: I was ugly. And yet people outside my family have complimented me on my looks. At first it was hard for me to believe the compliments were genuine. However, as I observed and listened to the actions and words that followed, I realized that I am not ugly, as my mother led me to believe. We’re all beautiful in our own way, and the beauty on the inside is more valuable than what’s on the outside.

Untrue fact number two: I was stupid and not good enough, unlike my siblings. And yet I graduated with a business degree from a reputable school, went on to get an accounting designation, and now work as a Manager of Business Solutions for one of the biggest commercial real estate companies in North America.

Untrue fact number three: I was useless. And yet every two years, I would travel back to my home country and help the elderly, who were abandoned by their families, with the essentials they need to survive. I also donated money to rebuild old temples so monks and nuns can continue their studies and have a safe haven away from home—all with my own money.

These are just some of my personal experiences. Write yours down and use them to shed any negative beliefs that don’t fit into your present situation. You don’t necessarily need to get rid of every belief right away, but start with something, no matter how small it may seem, so you can start letting go of your past traumas.

2. You know more than you think.

Stop selling yourself short by saying, “I don’t know” and instead say, “I will figure it out,” and ask yourself “How can I do this better?”

You have the ability to ask for help and connect yourself to the right resources as part of your self-development journey so you can become more, know more, and prepare for the challenges ahead.

The moment I decided to accept the job, I knew that I didn’t know everything, but I also knew I had the ability to reach out and get all the tools I needed to complete the project.

3. Let people in.

I started to believe in myself when I decided to surround myself with the right friends and mentors, both from work and at home. I opened up to them about how I felt, what I wanted to improve, and how I wanted to move forward from there.

I believe that having the right people behind you is one of the most critical parts of forming self-belief. That may seem counter-intuitive, since self-belief comes from inside, but it’s easier to develop confidence when we have people in our lives who believe in us and motivate us to go after the things that will make us happy.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to those you feel comfortable with and let them in on what you’re going through. When you believe in yourself enough to reach out to others, trusting that you’re worthy of their support, you will become a magnet for opportunities that you never thought were possible for you. Take a chance, be honest, and life will surprise you.

4. See obstacles as opportunities.

Life will never stop throwing obstacles at you, no matter how much you try to avoid them. Instead of running from them, learn to see them as opportunities to make what you currently have better.

I used to throw in the towel the moment there was a problem or a glitch in my life and my job. These days, I ask myself, “What are these problems going to teach me? What is life trying to tell me? What are the lessons I’m about to discover?”

Obstacles are there to show you new lessons. The message behind them will only be revealed to those who work hard to overcome them.

What I have learned after successfully completing the project for my new job is that I can do practically anything if I give myself a chance and time to learn and grow. By giving myself a chance in this job, I learned how to approach people better and how to get things done faster, more effectively, and more efficiently.

5. Do not allow defeat to win over triumph.

Remember in the beginning when I said we all have a memory bank? There are two kinds of memory banks. One is “Defeat” and the other is “Triumph.” In the first you store all your memories of things you believe you haven’t done well; in the second, memories of times when you’ve succeeded.

Everything you’ve ever experienced lives in one of these memory banks, which you will withdraw from in the future to inform your decisions. Your choice will inform your habits and behavior, which ultimately dictate your success and happiness.

Be mindful and guard your mind carefully so you don’t allow yourself to withdraw from your “defeat bank account.” I didn’t, and that was what saved me at the end.

6. Embrace mistakes as teachers.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Mistakes are part of life. I have learned to love them. Though I don’t look to make mistakes often, they are my teachers in growth and self-improvement.

During my first job after graduation, I was friendly with a few people. We would have lunch together and share our thoughts on the company and our jobs.

Later on, they used the information I shared against me later. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my job, but it definitely hurt my chances for future promotions within the company.

Looking back, I’m glad I went through that early in my career, as it set a strong foundation for how I now interact with colleagues, which helps with my professional achievement7. Don’t give up just because things get hard.

If you really want something, you have to be prepared to seize opportunities, work hard for it, and never give up.

There were many times during my new job when I wanted to walk over to my boss’ office and give my resignation because every day it was a struggle to get just one thing done. However, deep down I knew that if I quit and went back to my old job, I would live an unhappy, unsatisfying, and regretful life.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you should never quit anything. You need to set goals that align with your values. If your values change along the way, as we all know may happen as we get older, it is okay to give them up and embark on a new journey. Knowing what you really want will help you determine when to give up and move forward, and when to stick to your guns.

You have the power to overcome the limiting beliefs that stop you from realizing your full potential and creating happiness. It starts with the choice to stop giving them power and start seizing new opportunities.

happiness, mindful

Put Down Your Phone: Why Presence Is the Best Gift You’ll Ever Give

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“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

The only thing worse than not listening to someone is pretending to listen.

Giving the vague murmur of agreement, or a quick nod to communicate “Yes, I’m listening, totally,” when really, we’re not.

I remember vividly a dinner I had with friends about four years ago. I’d been backpacking in New Zealand for twelve months and had just returned to the UK. Traveling in the car to my friend’s house, I imagined how the night would look…

There would be lots of laughter (it was always side-splitting when we all got together).

There would be lots of hugging (I hadn’t seen them for a whole year after all)!

There would be lots of storytelling (I would get to share my epic adventure).

Did all of this happen? To some extent, yes, but not how I had imagined.

In fact, I left feeling a little miffed, a little gutted.

At first, I couldn’t work out why.

My friends were the same old fun-to-be-around people.

Despite ‘finding myself’ while traveling (I joke), I felt I was pretty much the same old person.

So what was different?

It hit me.

The constant. Mobile. Phones.

The entire evening was tainted by endless selfies, videos, status updates, incoming phone calls, outgoing phone calls, and notifications.

Distraction, after distraction, after distraction.

There were moments you could have heard a pin drop as the four of us, faces illuminated by the glow of the mobile phones, sat, hands glued to our devices. Ironically, telling anyone who was on Facebook and Instagram that night what a terrific time we were having.

To begin with, I was angry with my friends. But sooner I realized I was really angry with myself. I was equally guilty, and people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones after all.

What could have been, rather, what should have been, an evening of being deeply present with one another, each one of us offering our full and undivided attention, was tainted by technology, spoiled by social media, marred by meddling mobiles.

Backpacking was more campfires and deep life conversations below the stars, so this evening was felt like a return to reality. Most of us struggle to put our flipping phones down.

If we stop and think about it, what message does it send to the human beings in front of us when we are busy on our phones?

I made a vow that evening to get better at this, to be more present with friends and family, anyone I’m communicating with.

I didn’t want to make anyone feel how I felt that evening—unheard and unimportant.

Zoom forward to today and, well, I’m much better but far from perfect.

Technology certainly is a huge barrier to presence, but it’s not the main culprit.

The main culprit lives between our ears, the mind.

The mind is a lot like a talking alarm clock, and you have no control over when it goes off and what it will say.

For example, I can be sitting face to face with someone, physically a few centimeters in distance, but consciously, a world away.

Instead of listening to what the person sitting across from us is saying, we listen to our thoughts.

Hey, did I leave the oven on this morning when I left the house?

I hope my breath doesn’t stink.

Why is that stranger in the corner laughing—is my underwear tucking into my shirt?

Or literally, anything else. Anything. Any other thought can pop up at any moment, pulling my focus momentarily away from the person in front of me.

Luckily for us, people can’t always be certain when we’re not being fully present with them, especially if we’re an expert fake listener, able to give a very convincing response like “Yeah, sure, I get you.” Occasionally, I sense that the person I’m talking to senses I haven’t been listening. I feel bad and forgive myself for being human, before returning to the conversation.

On the other hand, when someone is really listening to us, fully present with us in the moment, we can be certain. Without a doubt, because we feel it.

It’s tough to put such moments into words, but you just know.

Moments when we’re fully present with someone and it’s reciprocated, it’s like magic, like the rest of the world fades into the background. Like the first time you fall in love and you just feel connected; you feel the dance of communication, the resonating, the synchronicity, the oneness.

That’s it. This, for me, is what presence is all about. The oneness.

A few of my favorite ways to get present and cultivate oneness are:

Eye contact

The eyes truly are the windows to the soul. Giving eye contact really lets people know they’re being heard.

Listening to understand instead of listening to respond

We’re stuck in our heads if we’re listening purely to plan our response. Tuning into a person’s words and also how they say the words has greatly helped me to connect with people.

Limiting distractions.

Technology, off. The world can wait.

Remember the good old days when only landline phones existed and if you weren’t at home people would leave a message and patiently wait for a response? Bliss. Nowadays, we’re available on mobile, Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, Snapchat, email… the list goes on. Flight mode is my friend. Anytime I want to get present, flight mode is activated.

Facial expressions.

When I really listen to someone, I find I empathize with them so much more. Naturally my facial expressions will reflect this, communicating I understand how they’re feeling. We all wish to feel understood.

In a few weeks’ time, I’ll be flying back to the UK to spend time with my family. In fact, this will be the first Christmas in six years we’ll all be together (my dear parents, older sister, younger brother, and me).

A part of me is sad knowing that around the world, there will be families sitting in their living rooms, surrounded by their nearest and dearest, but not really being there.

Distracted either by their own minds, their mobiles, or maybe their new presents.

It doesn’t have to be like this. Board games can be played and conversations can be had, with presence, together.

In truth, we needn’t wait until the holidays to connect in this way, as any moment, any conversation, offers a chance to be present with each other. But the holidays, for me, really are prime opportunities.

To be surrounded by the ones we love most and be with them more than just physically, but emotionally and spirituality too, well, this is worth more than any gift you’ll give or receive this year. This holiday season, give presence.