Being Your Own Worst Enemy

This year I have been soaking up as much as Brené Brown and her research as possible. Here is a great talk she gave at a design conference which delves deeply into fear, and to me, the call to have the courage to be 100% me and to be 100% in my life.

When I was in graduate school at Roosevelt University, a favorite class of mine was on Organizational Development. One day we were given an exercise to prioritize a list of twenty or so steps we would take to start a fire or some sort of survival task. First, we did the exercise on our own. Next, we decided the sequence as a group. After receiving the proper sequence, the professors asked for a show of hands for everyone who had more correct responses as a group rather than as an individual. Most of the class raised their hands. Truth was, the exercise was supposed to show how as a group we all perform better than as individuals. To prove their point, the instructors had everyone raise their hand who did better as an individual than in the group. I was the only one who raised her hand. The professors were shocked. I don’t think they ever had anyone do better on their own before. The reason I tell this story is not to show how smart I am, but to show the biggest challenge in my life – self-confidence and being able to speak my voice. I did better on my own, because I couldn’t voice my opinions in the group.

Photo by Felix Koutchinski on Unsplash

This incident is just one of many throughout my life where I can show unequivocally that I hold myself back. I discount my ideas. I bow to others. I am afraid to speak my truth. I don’t voice my needs because I don’t want to insult or hurt others. The end result is that I have not lived fully, unabashedly; I have not made the most of opportunities that came my way. As a friend said recently, “It really, really is the bald-faced truth that we are our worst, if not only, enemies.” I know I have been for decades. 

In this video, Brené touches on the importance of having clear values and, importantly, living by those values. If we do not know our values, the choices we make in our lives are not tied to our goals and what we deem important. On the other hand, if we have values but do not act upon them, we are not living fully, honestly, intentionally.

In the second half of my life, I am committed to fully living the values I have defined in the first half of my life. I am striving for vulnerability, compassion, healthy boundaries, and living without hesitation. Instead of looking back at my previous choices (which I can’t change anyway), I am instead – not focused on the future – but focused on this moment. In this moment, am I doing my best to be vulnerable? Am I living openly and honestly?  Am I being compassionate, understanding, and accepting?  Am I creating healthy boundaries to protect myself while I am supporting others? Am I living fully, without hesitation?

It ain’t easy. I ain’t consistent. And it is worth it. I am learning to make new choices – and receive new, better results. I am grateful for the path I took when I was younger. I am grateful to have the courage to look at my past and learn from it. And I am so grateful to have the courage and support to fully live by my values, to the best of my ability, today.

latte

Why do we hurt ourselves?

My mind is blown when I learn about words that other cultures have that we don’t. These other words may exist because it is something important or integral to that culture, or maybe it is just because it is. Either way, I find it fascinating. The most common example is that there are probably more than 10 Inuit words for snow while, of course, Americans probably have at least as many words for sandwich (sub, hoagie, hero, etc.).  I find it intriguing when I learn a word that does not have a direct translation in my native language. For example, in Spanish and perhaps just in Mexican Spanish, tocayo means someone who has the same first name. If your name is Melissa, you are my tocayo. I can understand the concept of the word tocayo, but there is no direct English word translation. Anyhow, I was working up this week’s post and I learned a new Spanish word – desperdiciar – that played right into what I wanted to talk about this week.  

What I have been thinking about is why I choose to do something to make myself feel better, which in truth, actually makes me feel worse. For instance, bread and dairy are not my friends. I can have a very little of each, but if I have too much or have it too frequently my body is not happy. Why then are a chocolate croissant and a mocha latte the first two things I think of when I have a challenging day?  I want the luscious taste of these delicacies to make me feel better. Yes, the first taste feels like a gift. Yet when I finish and for hours afterward, my body is not happy with me. Do you have similar experiences whether regretting too much food, shopping, or binging on Netflix? Why do we look to external solutions to provide ourselves with joy and relief, when in reality, the “solution” causes us pain? Let’s look at this using the new Spanish verb I mentioned to understand the depth of our choice.

Photo by Ohmky on Unsplash

Aprovechar: Defined by SpanishDict.com means to take advantage of. In the local colloquial, it means to be beneficial. This is why when someone is eating, it is customary to say, “Provecho” which means hoping your meal is good or beneficial for you.

Desaprovechar: Adding “des” to the beginning of the word means the opposite. This verb means not taking advantage of something. The analogy my Spanish teacher came up with is if your friend is going to hang out with George Clooney on the weekend, and you don’t take advantage of the opportunity by asking to tag along.  You have missed an opportunity. You have missed out on a benefit for you.

Desperdiciar: Is listed in dictionaries as a synonym of desaprovechar, yet it was described differently to me and I could not think of a word in English that means the same. This word can be seen as squandering or wasting an opportunity similar to desaprovechar, yet it goes deeper. It is not just to not take advantage of something, but it means to knowingly not choose what is beneficial. Following the Clooney example, you have asked to go to the party and are standing next to George but instead of talking to him, you choose to leave. You have not just missed or squandered an opportunity; you have knowingly chosen to go down a different, less desirable path. My teacher provided these additional examples. Yo desaproveché la oportunidad que tenía de robar un banco. I missed an opportunity to rob the bank; I didn’t act on the opportunity. Versus: Yo desperdicié mi vida esperando el amor a primera vista. I wasted my life waiting for love at first sight; I actively choose not to live until the arrival of something which never came.

Let’s apply these to my bad day food choices. If I had decided to have juice and a gluten-free bar, then I am actively choosing what is beneficial to me (aprovechar). If I see the healthy choices on the menu, but go with what I have always done and choose the croissant and latte, then I have missed what is beneficial to me (desaprovechar). Worse of all, if I knowingly stock my refrigerator with things that are bad for me and choose to only eat at bakeries, I am knowingly choosing what is bad for me (desperdiciar). Thankfully I more often make poor choices in the moment versus actively seeking the bad choices, but either way, I am not always choosing what is best for me. I don’t know if I can determine why I choose again and again “rewards” which hurt more than help. What I can do is my very best to make better choices in the moment through awareness, courage, and connection.

Awareness: Play detective in your life. Are the choices you are making helping or hurting you? Is what you have always done making your life better or is it time to find a different way? Instead of just complaining about how you feel, find out why you feel emotionally, mentally, and physically like you do. We can not fix that which we are not aware.

Courage: Be brave enough to explore the pain you are trying to soothe with vices outside of yourself. Look at and experience your feelings instead of hiding from them. Explore the thoughts behind those feelings. Examine why you reach for poor solutions. Be brave enough to see your truth.

Connection:  Having the courage to look at our self and our choices is powerful, but not enough. I spent years doing self-help, by myself. It only got me so far. There is a magical power that happens when we reach out to someone else. Maybe we share what is going on with us. Maybe we ask someone else how they are doing. Either way, connecting with another gets us out of our head and into the world. We often feel like we are all by ourselves, yet the truth is, we are all connected and just need to reach out to find support. Making that human connection can do more for you, without the side effects that a chocolate croissant and a mocha latte have.

marketing strategies

Using Marketing for Self-Improvement

Most of my professional career was in the field of marketing. I enjoyed working on marketing strategies. We would define the goal we wanted to accomplish, then create strategies to accomplish those goals. After executing the strategies we’d take a step back and review our return on investment or ROI. Based on our analysis, we would revise our strategies and try again for success. Lately I found the process works the same when we want to make improvements to our lives.

Goal

Often in business, strategies or tactics – or how we get to the goal – are often mistaken for the goal. For example, the goal is not to create a website; the goal is to increase brand awareness. The website is a tactic in the strategy of increasing online presence. The tactic is the how we execute the strategy. The strategy is the path to the goal. As in business, our personal goals should be what we really want to achieve. When it comes to our personal lives, to truly achieve the life we desire, it is important to stay out of the specifics (strategies or tactics) and instead look to a larger goal. For instance, stop focusing on wanting a specific job or promotion. Instead, focus on the goal of fully expressing your purpose throughout your life. This may include a new position (tactic) within the strategy of living your purpose through your work. It may also include volunteering which fits within the strategy of living your purpose through a hobby or passion. Spend some time gaining clarity about what you want on a very deep level. Explore what you want to feel and experience. Steer way from specific ways to get there, instead define the overall essence of what you want.

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Strategy

Then open your mind to multiple strategies to achieve your goal. Often our thinking is limited. We can only see one way to accomplish what we want. What if instead there were multiple paths to our ultimate goal?  When we explore various ways to reach our goals, our stress levels decrease as our options increase. If we only see one path to our goal and if that path is blocked or delayed, depression, frustration or anger may be the result. Be open to multiple ways to reach your goal. Explore them all. See what works and what doesn’t. Find out if one or a combination of multiple strategies create the final result for which you are looking.

Tactics

The tactics are where we take action. Tactics are the daily efforts. If you are a procrastinator, break down your tactics into bite-sized chucks. Many of us may find the tactics stressful if we put too much importance in them. Remember we want to achieve our goal. We don’t always need to achieve each specific tactic. If we want to make a delicious cake, but we don’t have the exact ingredients the recipe calls for, we know we can still make something delicious with a few substitutions. Don’t stress over following the recipe. Make substitutions and use what is available. You may find that you are able to create something even better than what you had planned.

ROI Review/Revise

Sometimes our strategies help us reach our ultimate goal. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes when we reach our goal, we find out it isn’t quite what we wanted. Periodically review your strategies and goals. How often are we so focused on the doing of life, that we don’t stop to note if what we are doing is making us happy?  Every so often, review what you want out of life and how you are going about achieving it. Has what you want shifted? Is the effort in your strategies paying off or is it time to find a different way? Be open and flexible as you explore new strategies to achieve your dreams.

What are you choosing to experience?

Many of my friends are very into the Law of Attraction. The basic concept is that you receive what you focus on; that your thoughts become real life things. I have many thoughts on this subject and have shared some below.

You Create Your World with Your Focus

I touched on this a bit in my book, basically your life is determined by where you choose to focus. Whether it is because of how the energies of the universe work or due to your reticular activating system, I have seen a correlation between our thoughts/focus and what we receive in our life. It may be something harmless like focusing on the Chicago Cubs instead of the White Sox, or it can cause anxiety when we choose to only see the horror of the news and not the good that is happening as well.

You Can’t Get What You Don’t Define

Many people are unhappy. And many people don’t define what makes them happy. These people focus on what is making them unhappy and therefore they see/receive more of it. The first step to creating the life of your dreams is to define what an ideal life looks like. Focus on the feelings and the experiences you do want. What would make you happy, content, satisfied? What does the good life look like to you?

Don’t Focus on the Outcome

One of the problems I have with other discussions about Law of Attraction is the focus on receiving concrete physical world items.   The way the concept is presented is that the ultimate goal is to have stuff. I don’t know about you, but my goal in life is not to have stuff. Things are great, don’t get me wrong, but it is the experience of the things, not the thing itself that makes us happy. Instead of focusing on the new house, car, or job you want, focus on how you would feel if you had it. Then, even if you don’t receive the thing, you are still experiencing the feeling which is what we really want.

Photo by IIONA VIRGIN on Unsplash

This or Something Better

I have to admit, I don’t always know what is best for me. This is another reason I don’t focus on the outcome. If I achieved the dream I had when I was a little girl, to become a movie star, I would be very unhappy today in the role. Imagine an introvert being constantly in the limelight and spending time with the falseness that is Hollywood. Yuck. Not my dream now. When I focus on something I want to bring into my life, I always say, “this or something better.” It is my loophole. If I am thinking of something that won’t make me happy in the long-run or if what I am asking for is less than I should receive, this or something better leaves space for the powers that be to bring to me what I really want and need.

Release the How

When I talk to people about what they really want in life, they often put restrictions on how they can receive it. When I retire I’ll have the time to do X, when the kids are off to college then I am free to do Y, once I meet Oprah my book will become a best seller. The amazing things that happened in my life never happened in a way I imagined. I had absolutely no clue as to how they would happen, but since I was focusing on what I wanted when an opportunity came up that was in alignment with my dream, I took action.

Show Up

This is not Uber Eats where you place your order and it comes to you. You need to make a little effort and move in the direction of your dreams. Sitting in your room and wishing for a million dollars is not going to make it appear (probably). You have to go out and buy that lottery ticket or start that business you always dreamed of. Imagine, pray, and then act.

Have Gratitude

Be grateful for where you are now. Be grateful for the baby step which takes you closer to your dream. Be grateful every step of the way. One of the ways we are unhappy and we stifle what could be, is by not being happy about where we are. Love and appreciate what is great in your life right now, and dream of this or something better.

We only get one try at this life. Why not make the most of it by choosing to make it the life you want to experience and enjoy?

Stress is . . . oh, wait, I don’t remember

For years I was caught in the trap of overdoing everything. I took on more and more work because I felt I had to prove myself. I couldn’t let go of my responsibilities because I felt I would no longer be of value. I made myself feel more important than others because I did more than they did. I was not only creating an unhappy life; truth is I was also hurting my brain.

According to recent research based on The Framingham Heart Study, high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, leads to reductions in brain volume, memory, and visual perception. This agrees with that I have found in my life. When I am too busy, when I am overextending myself, when I have intense stress, I don’t think, remember, or see well.

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

During my recent visit to the States, I had to prepare a property for a new renter. The last renter left a lot of surprises. Almost every day we found something new to repair, a utility bill that was not paid, or some other twist that now needed untwisting. I was stressed. I was under a deadline. Much of what had to be done was outside of my abilities which made me feel powerless. Plus, I was trying to do this while still working and attempting to visit with people I had not seen in a year.  Every day I was at the rental house, I felt distracted. I was unclear as to what to do or what I intended to do next. I didn’t see things the first time I looked at them. Basically, I was not working on all cylinders.

Stuff happens and we need to deal with it. This is part of life. But there are a few ways we can minimize the effects of stress on our lives and our brains.

Stick to Your Routine

This is my current challenge. I know, believe, and see proof that when we keep healthy daily practices, we are better able to deal with the challenges of life. However when life becomes too stressful or busy, I find myself more times than not saying I don’t have time for all of my practices or I am not doing them thoroughly. Our daily practices are our foundation of our sanity and serenity. Hold true to your practices as much as possible even when things go sideways.

Phone a Friend

Whether you ask a friend for help or just have a kind, compassionate ear to share with, making connections with others can lower our cortisol level. We go from stress and victimhood, to feeling heard and supported. This can make a difference in our physiological response, our ability to handle situations, and our experience of the challenges. Remember to reach out to the right person for the support you need. Brené Brown has some good advice about this; she talks about sharing shame but it applies to sharing our challenges as well.

Don’t Make More

Life is terrific at taking a left turn. Part of life is dealing with challenges. And there can be a lot of them. That is why it is important to not create more. Are you making mountains out of molehills? Are you currently in a good spot and therefore feel a need to create an issue to deal with? Do you feel naked and exposed without something to complain about? Life is better the less we have to be stressed about. Be aware of when you are adding on instead of removing stress from your life.

Be kind to your brain. Reduce your stress.

stop complaining

Quit Yer Bitchin’

I loved talking to Dr. Rick Hanson a few years ago about neuroplasticity. The basic concept is that our brain likes to be efficient, so the brain focuses on what we tell it is important and wires together circuits to help us more effectively focus on what we choose to focus on. This science makes sense to me and I love how we have the power to change our thinking by consciously creating new pathways in our minds.

The challenge is, we are often unconsciously focused on negativity. Travis Bradberry posits that we “complain once a minute during a typical conversation.” This does not take into account how often we replay the negativity and fears in our own mental monkey chatter throughout the day. If what we focus on becomes hard-wired, how much negativity are we programming into our brains – and into our lives?  Additionally, in the article Travis Bradberry shows how focusing on this negativity does not only affect our quality of life but it affects how our brain functions – or doesn’t function – overall.

What is to be done?

stop complaining
Photo by Omar Prestwich on Unsplash

First, quit your bitching. Complaining to complain does not solve anything. As a society, we have made a ritual of sharing our negativity to bond, but it is not helping us as a society. Complaining makes us focus on lack, focusing on lack makes us feel hopeless, feeling hopeless makes us act as if we are powerless. Not a good downward cycle to be in. Instead, throughout your day, see if you can limit the time you spend talking about your woes or feeding the woes of others.

Second, choose who and how you share. Brené Brown discussed with Oprah who to share your shame story with and I think provides great guidelines about with whom we share our complaints. The six people she describes are those we should avoid since they dig us deeper into our bitch session. The description Brené provides of who is worthy of our shame, is also great advice for who to surround ourselves with and how to be when others share their complaints with us.

Third, fix it. The only time to get into your issues with another or to replay them in your mind, is when you are ready to look at them so you can resolve them. It is not to just bitch, wallow in the complaints, and hang on to the wrongs that have happened to you. Instead use the replay of your challenges to find a solution to make it right. Hopefully in replaying the issue with a trusted friend, you can sort through the pain and anger to the real issue and find a real resolution. Sometimes we find that the only solution available to us is to accept the situation as fact and move on.

One exception to the fixing, is when we need to complain so we can release the emotion and move forward. My husband and I recently had an issue with someone who was renting our house. A few times I complained to my husband about the situation. I didn’t do this to bad mouth the individual or get sympathy or to feed the mental wrongs which were happening. I did it to release the emotional pain I was having so I could move forward. Before I shared with my husband, I prefaced what I said with, “If I don’t share this, it is not going to leave my mind. Please let me release my negative thinking so I can move forward without it.”  And when I was finished, I was finished. I didn’t feed the story anymore.

What have you been complaining about lately? Are you sharing to resolve the issue or to wallow in the injustice? How can you share the issue with a trusted friend so you can explore solutions?