be the change

Unenlightened Blame

We all have our favorite Greek philosophers, right?  Mine is Epictetus. He never wrote any of his philosophies down, but his students would scribe his talks. As I wrote my book, From Type-A to Type-Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, again and again I ran across quotes from Epictetus which were in direct alignment to my thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes about life.

Recently I started reading, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, where Sharon Lebell shares collected passages from his talks. The passages are in bite-size chunks perfect for daily reflection. One passage, “No Shame, No Blame,” really stood out to me. In this passage, Epictetus exposes unnecessary self-created pain. Here is what he said.

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Blame

He starts out strongly saying that it is not the circumstances or issues we face that cause us pain, but our  feelings about them. I have thought and written about that before. Epictetus takes it one step further – which is obvious, but I hadn’t tied the two thoughts together. He says when things are difficult, “let us never place the blame on others, but on our own attitudes.” Pretty obvious – and powerful – right?  I always focused on self-improvement. How do I improve my thinking to resolve a painful situation? And yet, I might blame the other party for their role. That guy is a jerk for doing X, Y or Z, but I am going to rise above it and change my thinking. If, however, I am going to truly, completely accept that it is our “feelings about things” that torment us, then the others involved are not to be blamed, at all. Yes, they may be acting in inappropriate ways and perhaps we need boundaries to protect ourselves, but it is our feelings, not their actions that are causing us pain. We can not blame them for our experience. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” If you are feeling a certain way, you can not blame anyone except yourself because you are choosing to suffer.

Moral Progress

Epictetus then takes this concept out to society as a whole. “One of the signs of moral progress is the gradual extinguishing of blame.” Wow. Sit with that. What if our current culture stopped pointing their finger at the other side? What if we stopped attacking others for taking away our freedoms or putting us at risk? What if we stopped feeding our negative emotions with biased, sensationalized viewpoints? What if we stopped playing victim and instead stepped into responsibility for our own lives? Epictetus saw society moving from the small-mindedness of blaming others, to blaming ourselves for our situation, to “a life of wisdom” where we embrace the truth that blaming others or even ourselves does no good. This is true acceptance and compassion.

A New Way

As you go about your day, notice who you are blaming. Is it the driver in front of you who is going to make you late for your appointment? Is it yourself for something said or not said? Is it politicians or extremists? Take a step back from the circumstance and look at your feelings about the situation. What is causing your emotional reaction? What are the beliefs, attitudes, and expectations that are causing your anger or sorrow? You may not be able to change the circumstance, but you can ALWAYS change your attitude about it. Let’s all make strides to move our society into the way of wisdom, not unenlightened blame.

gnome go away

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?

start here sign

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.

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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.

park bench

You can’t go back

Recently I worked with a woman in job transition who was stuck. Every time we talked she would only bemoan how she wanted her old position back. She had worked for a company for decades. She loved what she did. She loved her co-workers and the company culture. She wanted it all back. But it was not possible. The position no longer existed. She could not go back. Her desire for what used to be kept her from moving forward. She was sad, depressed, and hopeless because she refused to let go of what was no longer possible.

Many of us are feeling this way right now. When the pandemic struck last spring, we did our best to adapt. We looked forward to the summer, then the fall, then the new year. Every time we reached our expectation of when things should “get back to normal” and found that nothing changed, we became sad, angry, and despondent. Lately I have seen many clients, friends, and family reach the end of their rope. They bucked up during the recent challenges inspired by the hope things would get back to normal. I am not sure if things will go back to what we knew as normal. What we need to do, is let go of the past and move into our future.

Release the Old

One of the recommendations I made to my client who wanted her old job back was to hold a funeral for her old position. She had to let go of the hope there was an opportunity to return to what was. Whether you are holding on to an old position, a relationship which can no longer be, or the life we used to know, the first step in moving forward is to let go of the hope that things are like they used to be.

Nothing stays constant. All of life grows and changes. If it does not, it dies. When things in our lives are not changing and growing, we need to mourn that their time is over. Until we let go of what was, we can never embrace what will be.

Release Time

Some of the stress people are feeling about the pandemic is because they created arbitrary dates in their minds as to when it would be over. Last March I researched the Spanish flu and learned that it lasted for two years. Instead of assuming our challenge would be over in the summer, after the election, or in the new year, I pushed my thinking into the belief that it would be at least five years. I hope and believe it will not be that long but pushing my expectation out past the point I think is necessary, has given me a peace.

We can not control when or if things will change or be better so it is best not to create expectations of timing we can not control. Many of my job seekers want their new position to come by a certain date. It is important to know when we need income and to have plans to pay our bills, but to set an expectation that we will secure a certain position in that timing is unrealistic. Instead of focusing on time, focus on your efforts as in the case of a job search or focus on the moment. Stress relief can be found in releasing uncontrollable expectations of timing.

Define What is Next

What we can do is to look at what is next. For the job seeker it is defining the ideal position. For the pandemic, it may be defining how we go about our day for the short term. We can not move toward something until we define it first. Instead of longing for what was or hoping something will happen in your timing, focus your efforts on defining what you want and making baby steps toward your goals.

As we move into 2021, release the past and your expectations of when things will change. Focus on what you want next and begin to work towards that. If you have the same experience I do, you will begin to see wondrous things come your way.

judges gavel

Accepting Where You Are

“Now that I am trying to change, I don’t like who I am.”

At some point, many of my clients say this or something similar. When they finally see a new way to be, but are not yet capable of acting that way, they begin to attack themselves.

judges gavel“I am a horrible person.”

“Being this way is bad.”

“It is wrong to act like this.”

These thoughts are natural, but not helpful. There are some very simple ways to begin accepting who you are so you can move into who you want to be.

See the Truth

When I work with individuals who are trying to lose weight, the first step is for them to truly see and accept where they are. Yes, they may have twenty more pounds than they would like, but that is the truth of the situation. If they constantly think they should be different than they really are, no changes can be made. We must first accept where we are before we can make changes.

Stop Labeling

We are often our worst critics. We will tell ourselves how bad, wrong, or horrible we are. This is also not seeing the truth. When we belittle ourselves we are judging ourselves based on our perception of right and wrong.  Judging also makes us stuck. We feel a powerless victim to the label. Instead, reframe your actions as being helpful or unhelpful. This frees you to make changes.

Love Your Shadow

We all have positive and negative aspects. Sometimes a positive, like being a Type A, can become a negative when it is out of control. See yourself as a whole person with shadow and light. One cannot exist without the other. Know your shadow and work to manage it instead of sentencing yourself to unhappiness because you have a shadow.

Celebrate Your Progress

Take a moment and see where you started. Yes, you may not be where you want to be, but how far have you come? Celebrate what you have already accomplished and be grateful for your progress knowing that there is more and better to come.

What you give to others, you give to yourself

Finding Joy through Focus

A client told me about a time when she struggling in her relationship.  The honeymoon was over and those little habits overlooked before now became a sore point.  Every day she was reminded about things she did not like about her partner.  After fights she would question whether they would stay together.  In her mind she would repeat what annoyed her, what she disliked about her significant other, what was missing from their relationship, and where she was dissatisfied.  Her frustration grew.  She was unhappy and frustrated.  She didn’t want to leave their relationship but she questioned why she needed to stay with someone who made her unhappy.  Then we tried a tool I had learned from other client.

She bought a journal.  Every day she was to write down three things she liked about her significant other.  They could be about his personality, intellect, appearance, choices, how he was with others, and a multitude of other things.  Some days she had no problem finding three things.  After a fight it was more difficult.  But she stayed with it.  For one full year she wrote down three new things every day.  At first it was a chore.  She was angry and didn’t want to find the good in her partner.  She wanted self-justified victimization and to mire in her discontent.  But as the project went on, she started to remember all the little reasons she loved him in the first place.  Two amazing things happened.

What you give to others, you give to yourselfFirst, she let down her guard.  For years she was unhappy.  This made her on edge, quick to judge, and guarded against attack.  As she remembered her love, she relaxed.  She expected good.  She looked for good.  She changed her experience by changing where she was putting her focus and attention.

Second, her partner shifted.  As she released her unhappy energy, it freed up space for him to breathe.  He then also let down his guard.  He relaxed for the first time in years.  He too became more open to the good.

What we focus on is what we experience.  Think about a relationship which is currently not ideal whether it be personal or professional.  Think about a job or a situation in your career which is less than satisfactory.  Go through all the aspects of your life and become aware of those areas where you are focusing on the negative, the less than desirable.  Whatever it is, start a journal about it.  Every day write down three things that are positive about that person or situation.  Do this exercise for at least three months.  Don’t skip a day.  And see if you too can improve your experience through your focus.