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Learning from History

When I wrote my book, From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, I was sure I had a novel and new idea. But I did not. Turns out Epictetus, a philosopher from around 100 AD said pretty much the same thing. He thought philosophy should be lived, not just discussed. He taught acceptance of what is and releasing the desire to control things we can’t control. He believed in self-examination and self-discipline. Many of his quotes could have been easily integrated in my book like, “People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.” Or “Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.” And “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

At first, I was bummed that I was my writing was not groundbreaking. Then, after I accepted that there was nothing new under the sun, I started to see his writing as a validation of my thoughts. We saw the world similarly and having the same thinking as someone else lent credence to what I intuitively believed. This was no longer my experience but a shared experience.

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Photo by adrianna geo on Unsplash

Often when something happens in our lives, we believe it is new, novel, and singularly unique to us. The truth is that someone, somewhere has gone through what we have. It may not be exactly the same, but it will be close enough that we can learn from that person’s experience, strength, and hope. We can understand their challenge and how it relates to ours. We can learn how they approached the issue, and what worked, or didn’t. We can be inspired to act knowing how their actions netted a positive result.

Learning from history and from others’ experiences helps us to create our own plan of action. This is different than receiving some guru’s three-step plan to happiness. This is learning from someone’s experience, applying it to our lives, and discerning how we should mirror, or not, their choices. This is real life experience that can be applied, not some sterile one-size-fits-all expert formula. Learning from others is learning to fish, not being given a fish.

Learning from others can happen on many levels. It may be talking to others who went through something similar and discerning our options based on what they tried. Small and large business can learn much from the practices other businesses have had in the past. Learning from others can also be applied on a global level so we can learn from and not mindlessly recreate history.

It helps to go through this process with a confidant; to have an outside objective voice to work through your problem. They will be able to spot things quickly and more easily because they are outside the story, outside the emotion. If they have gone through something similar, it is even better because they will know what to watch for which you may not yet realize.

What is your current challenge? Are there those you know, support groups, or memoir books which explore your challenge? What can you learn from their choices? Is there a mentor who can help you navigate what you learn and how it applies to your situation? Knowing that others were able to rise above their challenge, are you ready to try to tackle your own?

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Are your means leading to your ends?

The other day a friend shared with me a simple reality check for our behaviors. He said that he looks at his goal and then reviews the methods he is using to reach that goal to determine if those methods are actually moving him toward his desired end result. Very simple. Very telling.

Here are a few examples where the means are not getting to our desired result:

I have often wanted to have deeper, more loving relationships (goal). My actions (method) have been to be distant and aloof to keep me from being hurt.  The result is that my distance kept others distant which prevents my having deeper, more loving relationships.

A millennial dreams of owning his own house (goal). Every day he eats out breakfast, lunch, and dinner (method). The result is that he is not able to save enough money for the down payment.

A spouse wants to be trusted by her partner (goal). Yet she continued to lie and manipulate him (method). The result is that she is less, not more trusted by her partner.

A worker wants to receive a promotion and be respected in the company (goal). He constantly complains to his co-workers that he is not treated fairly (method). The result is that his co-workers see him as a complainer instead of management material.

Looking at the goal, method, and results is simple in design and difficult in practice. The two challenges that come up are the ability to look at our methods objectively and second, to know that if we are not headed toward our goal, we need to make changes.

Being Objective

Humans are very rational beings. Or maybe I should say that we rationalize things to make ourselves feel better about them. We can do awful, unethical, or at least not wise things, but if we can find some story or premise to explain our choices, we feel justified. To learn from the Goal-Method-Result tool, we need to look at each action objectively, without excuse or justification. If we explain away our less-than-ideal choices, we can not learn to do better.

Goals

The goal can be something specific like buying a house or the goal may be something less tangible like being more peaceful. It is important for your goal to be YOUR goal. It should not be what others want you to do or what you believe you should do. In your heart of hearts, what would make you happy?

Method

Next, look at your current actions, words, and beliefs. This is not a time to analyze, just uncover. Be honest with yourself. What are you doing?  What are you not doing? How are you currently acting, speaking, and feeling?

Result

Now play out those methods to the end. Are they moving you toward or away from your goal? If they are not moving you toward your goal, what is the end result you are heading toward? Look at the examples I provided at the beginning of this article. The methods applied were in direct conflict with the end goal.

Change

Nothing changes until something changes. It is hard to honestly look at our methods (actions and beliefs). It can be more difficult to be willing to change those methods. First you need an honest desire and willingness to be and do different. We may want change but the actual transition into something new can be terrifying. Even welcomed change is scary because it is not what we have known. Humans crave consistency. Our stress levels are lower when life continues in the way we are accustomed. That is why so many people stay in a bad relationship or an unfulfilling position longer than they should. It is the devil they know. Moving into something new upsets the apple cart, takes us out of our comfort level. But it can also move us toward our goal.

What is the life you want (goal)? What are your current actions and beliefs (methods)? Are you heading toward or away from what you want? Are you willing to make a change to head you in the desired direction?

The Freedom to Think and Reason

Many years ago, I stopped actively watching the news. I found the focus on negativity and the desire to sensationalize events adversely affected how I felt personally and how I approached the world. Today, I choose when and how I receive the day’s events. I do not rely on one source. I do not take information, even from trusted sources and friends, as the truth until I do my own research. And most importantly, I do not allow newscasters to tell me how I should feel about the facts.

This last point is what affected me most strongly on my last visit to the United States. Whether conservative or liberal, it appears that many news sources are no longer providing facts but are focused on drumming up and feeding emotions. Many of the newscasters I watched were bent on affecting viewers’ emotions through sarcasm, fearmongering, and bias.

Many legitimate journalists are still providing objective news. This piece is not about the state of journalism. As always, my focus is on you. My fear is that many people are becoming lemmings. Believing without a doubt what they see online or in the news. Allowing their feelings, emotions, and beliefs to be dictated by a talking head. Many of us have lost our ability to freely think and reason. Because of this, many of us are also feeling sad and hopeless.

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Photo by Agni B on Unsplash

Choice

Upon my return to Mexico, I had coffee with a friend born in a socialist country. She understood growing up in her homeland how those around her had no choice but to watch the government-run news organization. What she could not understand was why so many American citizens, of which she is now one, did not actively choose what they watched and consumed when they had so many options.

Ask yourself, why are you watching the news source you are? Why are you choosing what you are choosing? Are you choosing a source that validates your views or helps you expand your perspective? Are you choosing multiple sources or restricting yourself to one viewpoint? Like what you eat, what you consume through your eyes and ears affects you. Are you giving yourself things that help you learn and grow, or that make you sick?

Validate

I have a personal list of news sources that I trust. But I don’t trust them blindly. I have gotten into the habit of checking at least three news sources on any critical issue. Before I trust anything I hear, it is important for me to validate and process the information.

One of the things I respect about Jewish and Islamic faiths is that they encourage their followers to question everything. It is through the debate and the discussion, that deep knowledge and faith is found. If you can not stand to listen to another’s view, if you are threatened by a different perspective, it may mean that you do not really trust what you profess to believe.

Facts Not Feelings

As a marketer for many years, I understand how to manipulate consumers through emotion. This is probably why I am so sensitive to the overt emotional manipulation occurring in many purported news sources. I can only guess if the media are doing this solely for ratings and therefore revenue, or if they are truly trying to manipulate the minds of the citizens, but either way, it saddens me that so many people are falling for it.

One of the ways we are manipulated is by framing information into extremes, absolutes, and labels. Listen for the use of “everyone,” “no one,” “always,” and “never.” These words can point to ways the source is trying to manipulate your thinking.

Another way we are manipulated is through fear. Does every story your news source share focus on the negative and difficult? Do they take it to the extreme that this means the end of life as you know it? My first recommendation is to find a source that provides facts not feelings. Another option is to balance the negative with the positive. Check out information on how people are helping people, what good has been brought into the world, and every day actively recognize the good in your life.

When you consume media, ask yourself: Is your news source giving you the facts and only the facts – or are they telling you how you should be feeling about the issues? Does what you are consuming make you feel good? Does it bring you closer to those you love or further away? Does it offer tangible solutions and actions or just make you feel angry, sad, and frustrated?  Our emotions are powerful and if they are not based in fact, they can have a negative affect on our quality of life.

It is important to be knowledgeable of the world events happening around you. It is your responsibility to use your own mind and reasoning to discern the facts and keep yourself from being manipulated.

Emotions are real – but not true

Recently I had a negative emotional spiral to the level I have not experienced in a very long time. An emotional spiral can be caused by many different circumstances, but they always lead to the same place. Something happens. I interpret the event to mean I messed up or someone doesn’t care about me. Which leads me to the thought that I am worthless. The initial incident may change, but my story that situations always mean, deep down, that I am worthless and have no reason to live, always ends in the same place.

We all have our emotional stories. Our deep-seated beliefs that color how we interpret the world. In the midst of an emotional story, it is easy to be overcome with the emotions.  We can’t think. We can’t reason. We can’t see the reality of the situation. All we feel is the emotion. The emotion drowns out all other feelings and rational thoughts. The emotion overtakes our minds and bodies. It is hard to believe, think, or act in ways contrary to the emotion. It is uncomfortable at least, and for me it can be devastating and reduce me to a desperate sack of tears.

The emotion I feel is real. I feel the emotion. I experience it physically. I am in the emotion. It exists.

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

The emotion, however, is not true. The basis for the emotion never truly justifies the extent of the emotion. The emotional logic is usually all-or-nothing thinking. It is not the truth that work is slowing down, the thought is that I don’t have a job. It is not the truth that one person is upset with me, the thought is that everyone in the entire world hates me.  In this state, it is impossible to break out of these irrational thoughts. As Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” We can not break through the lies of our story with the same mind that created the lies.

Hopefully you do not experience negative emotional spirals, but if and when you do, here are a few ideas that may help.

Awareness and Detachment

Before things become bad, practice being aware of your feelings and thoughts. It is necessary to be aware that you are experiencing the spiral to do anything about it. If some part of you can separate or detach from the experience of the emotion, then you are able work through it. It is like being in a pool. If you are underwater and it feels like everything is water, there is no escape. If you can see the edges of the pool and can see that there is a space without water, you can now detach from the feeling that everything is water.

Phone a Friend

If you try to think your way out of things, you will end up replaying the same story again and again. By calling a trusted friend, who wants to help you detach versus feeding your story, you can use their perspective to unsnarl yourself from your dishonest thinking.

Get to the Facts

Working with your friend or a sheet of paper, get to the facts, the real facts. Take away the all-or-nothing thinking. Take away the assumptions. Take away the dishonest beliefs. When we can escape our misleading story, we are relieved of our emotions and can take tangible steps where needed.

Next time you have a heavy bout of emotions, don’t fight them. Don’t pretend you shouldn’t have them. Acknowledge them as the truth of your experience. Then, work with a friend to release yourself from the false story you created. This too shall pass.

Wanting versus Willing

Throughout my life I have studied, analyzed, and comprehended. I expressed theories and best practices. I feel I have a good understanding of how to live the best life. Thinking, feeling, and believing are great. But none of those make me experience the best life, until I act. Taking action is a theme for me this year. I have written about how action can take us out of worry, and I have shared tangible steps to help someone take action. In this article I want to explore the step before action, willingness.

How many times do we want something, desire something different in our life but we are unwilling to do anything about it? We think it is too hard. We think we can not obtain it. We know it is good for us, but we stubbornly or fearfully don’t want to change. Wanting to change is not the same as willing to change.

Let’s go to Merriam-Webster to learn the difference. To want is defined as desire. Desire is an emotion, not an action. Willing is an action. Willing means “done, borne, or accepted by choice or without reluctance.” Willingness is a strong confident unwavering action.

Our want or desire is good because it defines for us the change we want in our life. If we don’t know where we want to go, we will never get there. However, the best visions and plans do not ensure we reach our goal if we never take any steps toward completing them. Here are a few stumbling blocks that may hinder us from moving from wanting to willing.

Overwhelm

A common reason we don’t move forward is that our goals seem insurmountable. Maybe we have so much on our plate already that we can’t imagine adding one more thing. Maybe we know what we need to do but the amount of time and effort needed is discouraging. Some of us shut down before we get started. We dream and imagine, but we are not willing to put on our big girl pants and make those first steps. It all seems like too much.

Worth

My usual stumbling block is feeling unworthy. I want better but I don’t believe I deserve better. Maybe I say others are worse off than I am, how can I be so greedy as to want more. Maybe I have resigned myself to a position of less-than and don’t believe I deserve to be happy. Being stuck in unworthiness can make our desires a fantasy we never give ourselves permission to explore.

Fear

Fear is usually the base culprit of our inability to move forward. We may be afraid we can’t reach our goal and will be disappointed. We may be afraid that our goal is not the right choice for us.  We may be afraid we will reach our goal and there will be backlash from others if we do succeed. Fear comes in many forms and no matter how it shows up, it can be paralyzing.

Make the Switch

How can one flip the switch from wanting to willing?  The answer is by removing all of the dishonest beliefs that are holding us back. Look at the excuse keeping you from willingness. Is it overwhelm, unworthiness, or fear? Is it real or imagined? If it is real, can you solve or address it? If it is imagined, which it usually is, stop feeding it. Stop replaying the what-ifs. Stop telling yourself again and again how this is insurmountable. Next, build proof that the story you are telling yourself is false. By listing tangible examples about how our dishonest beliefs are dishonest, it makes it easier to be released from their grasp.

What do you want next in your life? If you are stuck in wanting but not willing, break down the lies you are telling yourself and use the truth as building blocks to your willingness and eventual action.

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Actions speak louder than words

I am a thinker. I am a writer. I am unafraid of pondering the tough issues in my life. In fact, I spend most days running through scenarios of what I did, what I could have done, and what I should do next. I think. I think a lot. And it is good. My self-awareness is strong. My knowledge of forward-thinking and spirituality is vast. What I have learned however is that all my thinking and all my knowledge does not make any changes in my life. Nothing changes until something changes.

All the thinking in the world does not change anything until we actually take action. Saying that the world would be more peaceful if we were kinder to each other doesn’t change the world until our actions are actually more kind. Simple concept, yes? Like much of self-improvement, simple concepts are the bedrock of improvement, but the execution of those concepts is where things become more difficult.

How many times in our lives are we replaying the same story day in and day out? We say the same things, do the same things, and then are upset that nothing changes in our lives. Why would anything change? We are on autopilot. We are hoping and wishing for change, but until we take some action for change, our stories will simply repeat.

Photo by Gia Oris on Unsplash

Start Small

The good news is that we don’t need to take big actions to start change. If we are unhappy with our job, we don’t need to quit it right now. The first change we can make is to admit our unhappiness to a trusted confident. We can find one small thing about our position and change it. We can start networking to find a new position. We can dust off our resume. We can take any little action to make our current situation better or to move toward the new. It is like the answer to the question of how do you eat an elephant – one bite at a time. We don’t need to eat the whole thing. Just one small step will move us in the right direction. It is amazing how a tiny little step forward initiates a chain reaction of other movements. We don’t have to do it all. We don’t have to do it all right now. We don’t have to do it alone.

Start Today

As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the second-best day is today. If you catch yourself hoping and wishing for change, stop replaying the story. Stop beating yourself up for not doing something sooner. Stop hoping for change. Be the change. Have the courage to do something today to start the process. Do you want to write? Buy a notebook or create a file on your computer. Do you want to lose weight? Research what is healthiest for you. Whatever you want to move toward do something today, right now, that is alignment with your dreams.

Change Your Routine

Our fear can keep us in a rut. If taking a small action toward your dream feels overwhelming, do something – anything – that is different than usual. Drive a new way home. Style your hair differently. Rearrange the furniture in your house. Making changes elsewhere in our lives can also start the momentum to making the big changes we desire.

Write down the change you want to make in your life. Place it somewhere you will see it every day. If you don’t know the change you want to make, take some time to identify what is not working in your life and then write down the opposite. Each day read what you want to change and make some small effort toward that goal. The journey of a thousand miles, begins with the first step.