maslow needs

The Quest for Improvement

Today I was going to write about the story of the two monks and the river in order to show how most of the time our mental pain hurts us more than our physical pain. Then I realized I shared the monk story back in 2010. So . . . I thought about a different angle to take so we could explore how we usually cause more pain and discomfort in our lives by how we think about others, ourselves, and situations then by anything that is actually physically happening to us. I looked up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to use that as a basis to show how for most of our current society the base human needs are taken care of, yet we are torturing ourselves so much more from our mental pain. In researching Maslow I found this great article giving the basics about Maslow’s psychology and found some solace for my own current angst.

maslow needs
From Simple Psychology

Being a perfectionist, I unfortunately tend to beat myself up for the times I do not act how I know I am capable. Instead of seeing these struggles as part of my growth, I wallow too long beating myself up for my imperfections. Yet they are not imperfections. They are the bumps and struggles we all have as we strive to become the best people we are meant to be. It is our challenges, our setbacks, the adversity we face (from others or self-created) which give us the opportunity to grow. Not that I am anywhere close to this, but I looked at the list of characteristics of self-actualizers in the article and can see that at my core this is who I want to be. Seeing the goals of life this way has always made me feel different than others and yet it is what I feel driven to become. It is my goal. It is my definition of happiness and contentment.

Lately I have been praying for help because I have been so down on and overcritical of myself. Finding this article was Spectacularly Perfect for me as it told me that although the path is currently bumpy, I am heading in the right direction because I share many of the behaviors, or strive to have the behaviors, that lead to self-actualization. I am trying to be fully and completely in each moment. I am listening to my inner guidance (even when it is not popular or when it is scary) and sharing my truth honestly. I am willing to try new things, to walk the road less taken. I am surrendering my defenses and having the courage to take responsibility for my growth.  And I promise to remember what Maslow said, “There are no perfect human beings.”  I’ll just continue to do my best every day and accept when my best is the bare minimum.

What are you currently struggling with? What are your goals? What obstacles are in your way? What Spectacularly Perfect Events help you to know you are on the right path or give you the next step on your journey? How do you accept the hiccups and imperfections of the human experience?

Have hope. Keep walking. Keep growing. Keep loving.

planning

How to Change

I have been listening to John Siddique on Insight Timer. One thing he shares is about how self-help articles often tell us what to do – we should have more self-esteem, we need to treat our bodies better, we need to release our past – but they don’t say how we accomplish these things. I believe if I asked you each right now what you should do to change your life for the better, you could easily come up with a list of things you should do. And if I asked you how you were going to make them a reality, you may come up short. Or if you do have a plan to make them happen, you probably find it hard to follow your own program.

Below are a few tools I use to create change which help me and many of my clients to accomplish our goals.

Ask Why Change is Important

planningWe know what we should do. We know what is best for us. We read the data; we know the facts. However, many times we don’t really buy into it because we are fearful, feel unworthy, or just think we can’t accomplish it. As Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough.” Knowing what we should do is not enough. We need to dig deeper. We need to get down to the real reason we want change. I found a great TED talk that recommends that we “start with the question.” I often do this when I coach people; I call it being the two-year old. I ask “why” and then to each of their answers, I ask “why” again. With each “why” we get closer and closer to the real truth. The real desire. The real fears. It is not what we think should do but what we are driven to do from the deepest part of our being that empowers us to make change. We have to get past our lies or others’ expectations, to the truth of what we really want. It is in this vulnerability that we can choose and stick to what we really want.

Stop Looking for the Reason

We use “why” to help us get to our personal truth, but asking the bigger “why” – the reason behind our situation – is not helpful. The other day I was learning about indirect objects in my Spanish class. In a few situations, verbs are not handled like they are in English. Instead of saying “I like chocolate,” the direct translation in Spanish is “Chocolate is pleasing to me.” In the Spanish sentence structure chocolate is take the action, not me. Because the concept is so different, I wanted to know the “why” behind it. I wanted to use logic and knowledge to help me learn. Truth is, there is no logic per se. It just is. It is a fact of that language. Personally, I spent many years trying to find the reasons in my past of why I act and think like I do. Some of this reflection was good and a little bit of understanding is helpful. But knowing the deep-down sole reason “why” things are like they are is not necessary for change and does not always exist. Don’t get stuck in trying to find the why. It only keeps you from moving forward.

Don’t Be Rigid

When we want to make changes in our life, we often create a plan we are going to enact – a daily diet plan, the number of times we will go to the gym, or other resolutions – and we try to force ourselves to adhere to that said plan. And to which we usually fail. The reason why is that we think we know the right answers today for what is going to happen tomorrow. We don’t. Life changes and we need to adapt to it. What we think will work may not and we need to adjust. Instead of creating a rigid plan to follow, have some simple goals like “I choose to be healthy” or “I am deepening my relationships.” Then in each moment ask yourself if the belief or action you are choosing is making you more healthy or is improving your relationships. If not, choose differently. After choosing for a few weeks, you will see a pattern of good choices arise that will then become your new way of being.

Be in the Moment

As mentioned above, instead of following a plan, change is best accomplished by making moment by moment choices. To make moment by moment choices, you need to, obviously, be in the moment. Throughout your day, try to focus on the present moment. Steer away from replaying the past or worrying about the future. As Ram Dass wrote, “Be here now.” Use meditation and mindfulness tools to help you retrain your mind to be in the moment. You can not change the past or control the future. Change only happens in the moment.

Choose, Don’t React

You are empowered to change. Really. You may not be able to change circumstances or the actions of others, but you can control your reactions to people and situations. One other benefit of being in the moment is to that you can learn how to choose your thoughts and actions, instead of having them be unconscious reactions. First, strive to be aware. Next, discern the thought/action which will serve you best.  Finally, act. A friend once told me, “You are responsible for your second thought and your first action.” Our first thought is usually a knee-jerk reaction based on fear and past experiences. This is human and part of us all. The key is not acting on this first thought. Take a breath, think about options, and choose the healthiest thought you can. Then act on that second thought. Breaking out of a reactionary way of being empowers us to make better choices.

I hope one or more of these concepts will help you create the changes and life you want to live.

march of the penguins

Think Before Committing

Have you ever watched March of the Penguins or any other penguin documentary? Those silly little birds who can’t fly are pretty tough creatures. They migrate for hundreds of miles and then overcome amazing odds to feed their young. If I wanted to choose an image for persistence and perseverance, it would be a penguin.

march of the penguinsI am a penguin. I am very good at doing, at persisting, and at pursuing difficult challenges come hell or high water.  What I am not good at is choosing where I should put my efforts. I am still learning to discern and choose.

Last August I participated in a yoga class that consisted of doing a twelve-step sun salutation for one-hundred eight (108) repetitions. Penguin powers activate!!!!! Somewhere in the smart part of my brain, I knew that I should not have accepted the challenge. It was clear halfway through that I could not maintain the speed of the rest of the class. I finally had to recognize that one of the twelve moves was difficult for me, and my doing it incorrectly was hurting my lower back and shoulders. But I didn’t want to stop. I felt I chose to take the course and I should persevere no matter what my body was telling me. Thankfully, I finally chose to recognize and fulfill the needs of my body and stopped.

How many times do we feel like we have committed to something and have to see it through?  I understand that some of us make commitments we never intend to complete, or we have a hard time with follow-through. I am not talking to this camp. I am talking to those people, or all of us at times, who push ourselves harder and harder to complete something we don’t really want or worse, which may be hurting us. If you are like me, you need to learn to stop, discern, and choose what is really best for you.

Stop

Before raising your hand at the PTA meeting or just jumping in to fix something, take a breath. Count to 10. Turn off the knee-jerk reflex to do and allow there to be space to decide.

Discern

When we allow space, we are able to more clearly see the right choice. To discern is to come to know and to recognize one choice from the other, and which is right for us. Take the time to see what the options are and how they affect our experience and goals.

Choose

Sometimes we can discern what is best for us, but we do not feel we can choose it. We always have the power to choose. When working with career transition candidates, sometimes they have to take the first position offered so they can keep their family afloat. That is a choice. It is also a choice to continue to search for the ideal position while working the new not-so-perfect position. Choice is always available to us. Sometimes we receive the result immediately, sometimes in the future, but we can also choose the path we take.

As you go about your week, notice the things you are pushing yourself to do. Stop. Discern how this project could benefit you, or not. Choose what is for the highest and best of all involved, especially for you.

dog on tightrope

Achieving Balance

Here is a dog on a tightrope. Really. It. Is. A. Dog. On. A. Tightrope. I don’t usually share cat, or in this instance, dog videos in my posts, but better way to get your attention about what balance really means. As you watch this talented guy, you will see that he doesn’t get on the rope and stand perfectly still. He is in constant motion. He is constantly readjusting. To balance on the rope, he is moving and adapting in every moment.

dog on tightropeIt is the same with our balance. To be in a state of balance takes continual readjustment.

I think the pain many of us feel is that we expect to one day reach a state of perfection; to find the perfect way to be and handle our day – and that it is repeatable in the same way every day. We believe there is one perfect state of being and once we find it life will be steady.  This steady state of perfection does not exist. As life constantly changes, so too do we need to continually shift. Balance is not a point on a graph, it is not a timetable to be adhered to, it is not the perfectly planned execution of our day. Balance is our ability to constantly shift and adapt to the ever-altering and ever-changing way of life. When things are not shifting and changing, they are dead. To be alive is to be constantly moving, shifting, changing, and growing.

Somewhere along the line, work-life balance was assumed to be a steady-state. It was assumed there was a mythic point were the needs of our personal lives meet perfectly with our work responsibilities; 8.75 hours at work, 10.2 for personal care, and 5.05 for our family each and every day, not shifting, but uniformly working like clockwork. Sorry folks, a perfect ratio of time does not exist. Work-life balance takes constant readjustment. Child gets sick – life needs a bit more time. Deadline for your work presentation is tomorrow – your career gets the focus. Unexpected guest pops by – plans are dropped and redeveloped. Throughout the week, day, and each hour we are constantly adjusting our focus and efforts to maintain balance based on the changing world around us.

To gain balance sometimes we need to add one thing, sometimes another. As I tend to lean towards being a stressed-out Type A, I often write about bringing calm and self-care to my life. But sometimes I need deadlines, focus and concentration. Perfect balance is not just adding one thing. It is the pendulum swinging from surrender/peace to concentration/effort. Back and forth, and back and forth, in a continuous state of movement.

As you head into this new year, do not set resolutions to bring you what you think is perfect balance. No one formula exists which will work every day and in every situation. Instead, set a resolution to go about your day in a state of constant readjustment. It is in the moment by moment choices we make that we find happiness, good health, and success. The plan you make now for the rest of 2019, will be foiled by the gifts, glitches and unexpected changes which will happen over the next 365 days. Focus on the next 24 hours, not the next 12 months. See how focusing on the moment will give you the power to find as much balance as you can each and every day.

Wishing you all the best in the new year!

we all fail it is up to you to rise again

Oops, I did it again

Did you see this coming? I should have. Again.

Back in March, my perfectionist ego was triggered during the 30-day yoga challenge. To help create a daily practice of yoga, there was a contest to attend yoga every day in March. Those with the most days won a massage. At first, my competitive overachiever was triggered. It was not just winning, doing the most or being “the best,” but it was the feeling that I was a failure if I did not meet the challenge. Thankfully, after about a week I caught myself. Yoga isn’t about competition. Yoga is about a physical, emotional, mental connection, and a way of being which improves our lives.

we all fail it is up to you to rise again
Photo by Simeon Jacobson on Unsplash

Unfortunately, pride, competition, overachieving, and perfectionism are my life’s challenges, so I was tested again this summer with the headstand. At first, I set a realistic goal for achieving a headstand. I had a year and a half until my 50th birthday and thought that was a fair goal. I was proud that I did not push myself to do it faster. The concept of a headstand was the challenge and giving myself plenty of time to get there was in alignment with yoga. Instead of sticking to my plan however, a comment by the 20-something instructor that I didn’t need that much time kicked me into overachievement mode. Now the goal was to do a perfect headstand by my 49th birthday, just a few months away.

The yoga class I took at the time included headstands as a basic part of the routine, so I thought I would have enough time to master it by my birthday in September. However, I went on vacation for two weeks in July then in August there was teacher training at the studio. Not only was my morning routine thrown off and my daily opportunity to practice the headstand gone, but now the classes were much more difficult. I could not keep up with them and the perfectionist in me was triggered. I was no good. I should never have started yoga. Instead of quitting, I pushed myself harder. And I did what I set out to accomplish. I was able to do a headstand by my 49th birthday, but there was a price.

Because I rushed things. Because completion of the headstand was more important than technique. Because I was driven out of anger, resentment, and self-attack. I hurt myself. If you look at the headstand I shared, you can see I am in pain. The headstand happened, but it was not well executed and doing it caused damage. So much damage in fact, that for the last two months I have not been able to do any yoga and initially lacked even basic mobility. My routine changed from morning yoga to regular cupping and acupuncture to make the pain manageable. What happened?

What happened was that I got in my own way. I made the accomplishment more important than my health. I listened to instructors and gurus instead of my own body. I pushed myself toward perfection instead of accepting where and how I was. Throughout my life I have a history of pushing myself harder than is necessary, pushing myself past my breaking point. Because I push myself, I have accomplished amazing things. Always followed by a need for recovery.

The theatrical director Peter Sellars shared that his mentor told him he was bound to repeat the same mistakes, only in the future he would recognize them. So it is with me, and all of us. We all have our character defects. We all have the challenges we are going to be plagued with this lifetime. They will not go away. What we can do however, is notice them earlier and earlier, and choose differently when we realize we are headed down the wrong path.

What challenges do you continue to repeat? How can you approach them differently next time? How can you catch yourself earlier so things do not go too far? How can you cut yourself some slack when it inevitably happens again?

building blocks

Building Blocks

I work with a lot of perfectionists. The reasons they became perfectionists may differ, but they do share a few challenges because of their desire for perfectionism. First, they have high expectations for themselves and others. This can be a good personality trait when used with realism, otherwise it can be very detrimental. Second and surprisingly, sometimes perfectionists give up too early; we lack persistence. If we are not immediately perfect, we quit and stop trying. And finally, we perfectionists lack patience for completion which can affect our happiness. By focusing on the building blocks instead of the overall achievement, perfectionists – and others – can accomplish what they desire without unnecessary stress and hopefully also find joy along the way.

Expectations

The other day I spoke to a driven overachiever who had just taken on a new challenge. She was attacking herself for not perfecting something new immediately after setting the goal. I compared it to deciding to start running and berating oneself for not winning the Chicago Marathon the next weekend.

Building Blocks: It is important to have realistic expectations for what we c

building blocks
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

an accomplish. If we decide to take up running, winning the next marathon is not a realistic immediate goal. However, waking up the next morning, stretching our legs, and putting on our running shoes is a good first goal. Trying to do too much too fast will only hurt us (and maybe others) and we will probably not achieve what we want. Analyze what you are capable of doing in this moment and set realistic goals. Then as you master each level move on to the next, but only when you are ready.

Persistence

Another aspect of expecting immediate mastery is that if we can’t achieve perfection on our first attempt, we attack ourselves for incompetence and stop trying. If we are not first, we are last so better to get out of the game before we are labeled a “loser.” A recent client had this all or nothing attitude. Either she was amazingly accomplished or she was a failure. She saw no middle ground. She gave no credit to her progress. Her success at the overall goal determined her self-worth.

Building Blocks: By breaking down our goals, we can celebrate our wins during each step. Instead of thinking we are a failure because we don’t have our degree on our first day of class, we can celebrate showing up for that class. Then we celebrate passing each test then passing each class then finishing semesters then completing years, until finally we can celebrate our degree. The key to persistence is constant recognition of how far we have come.

Patience

I heard you perfectionistic Type A’s laughing. Patience is not part of our vocabulary. Even if we create realistic expectations and break them into smaller goals that we persistently work through, we may feel very impatient with how long things take. I ran across a story the other day about how it took Ann Dowd until her 50’s to really make it in acting. This article is a great read for many reasons. For us, it is a lesson in staying in gratitude and joy throughout the process, even if it takes decades.

Building Blocks: Focusing on the end goal creates impatience and disappointment. Achieving the goal gives you 30-seconds of satisfaction. The processes leading up to that goal may give you years or even decades of enjoyment. When we stop looking at the accomplishment, we can tune into how blessed we are to experience the journey that takes us to our goal.

I agree with Daniel Burnham when he said, “make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” And . . . I think we have to cut ourselves a bit of slack. Mr. Burnham didn’t say one had to accomplish those plans immediately or perfectly. He didn’t say that failing was the end of the world. And from what I can tell, he had a pretty good time accomplishing what he did. Look at your goals. Are they realistic? Are you trying to accomplish too much at one time? Are you berating yourself for not doing as much and as perfectly as you would like to right now? Slow down. Accept what you can truly accomplish in the moment. Celebrate where you have come from and how far you have progressed. And please, enjoy the ride.