I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take It Anymore

I heard a wonderful segment about anger on Public Radio International’s To The Best of My Knowledge Our Knowledge March 26, 2017 show which is worth a full listen. The show features a brilliant discussion with the author of a new book The Age of Anger: A History of the Present which traces the shared feelings of powerlessness experienced by both nationalist movements and fundamentalism terrorists to a disagreement between Enlightenment philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau. The show also explores how anger can be a channel for good and how we may have become addicted to anger. If you have the time, check out the recording.

The part of the show which got my attention was focused on our personal anger, how to look at, and what to do with it. Many of us are feeling angry these days. Whether it is an unjust layoff, personal relationships gone wrong, or current political events, we are surrounded by reasons to be angry. But what is anger and how do we manage it.

The first guest on the show, Northeastern University Distinguished Professor and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, talked about what anger is, why we can’t trust our anger, and how to make anger work for us.

angryAt the core, our emotions are based on the mind predicting a sequence of events based on what we experienced before. When our friend is late for dinner we are angry, not because they are late, but because last time they were late our friend had forgotten to tell us which made us feel unimportant. The mind is reacting to its assumptions about the meaning of the event not the reality. When you are triggered by an emotion of anger, look at the reality of the situation. Are you reacting to what is there or what you assume is going on based on previous experience?

Ms. Barrett also expressed that anger is both a form of ignorance and a source of wisdom. Anger results from our ignorance of others. We see the result of how people react, but we don’t know their why. How often have you become upset with a speeding driver? You focus on how much the driver is a jerk and how they are threatening others. But did you ever stop to wonder why they are driving recklessly? Perhaps they have someone injured in the car and are going to the hospital, or a sick child delayed them at home and they are late for work, or it could be they just like speed. Anger is our emotional reaction to our ignorance about others and their motivation.

Anger is a source of wisdom. Anger is a catalyst to uncovering truth. When we are angry, we don’t see the whole truth of the situation. Anger encourages us to take a moment, explore and uncover others’ perspectives and needs, and to truly understand the circumstances. Without taking this moment to analyze what is really going on, we can unconsciously enter us-versus-them thinking; good drivers versus bad drivers in the instance of the speeding driver. We pass judgement on them and feel righteous indignation about their actions. But this indignation only separates. Anger is actually calling us to understand and come together.

Anger can also be helpful in reminding us about things of which we feel deeply about. If you are triggered by anger, look to your why. Why is this thing, this event, this issue important to you? As I have mentioned in past posts, I am currently focused on deep self-care and self-love. When my anger arises now, it usually points to the fact that I am not nurturing myself. Next time you are angry, besides understanding the other, take some time to understand what your anger is highlighting. What challenge are you not addressing? What actions do you need to take to make things right?

Next time you feel anger stop feeding it and stop playing the victim. Instead take a few moments to understand the others’ motivation and perspective, and to understand why this issue is important to you. Anger is a tool of insight which can help us come together with understanding.

the brain

Don’t trust your brain

In our scientific focused society, there is an assumption that what we think is undeniable truth. We believe that our brain is like a supercomputer built to only provide fact. But our brain can’t really be trusted.

Recently I watched a documentary on brain plasticity. I love brain plasticity because it shows we can reprogram and change our brains – with the hopes of living a better life. You can read about brain plasticity in a great book called The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr. Norman Doidge. While watching this documentary, however, I was struck by how the brain works more in illusion than fact.

Phantom pain is having sensation of a body part that no longer exists (30 minutes into the documentary). If our brain can create real pain for something that is not real, what else is it doing? What “realities” are we experiencing which are actually illusions?

the brainTen minutes later in the video, a doctor shows a how an amputee decreases his pain by tricking his mind with a visual illusion. By using a shadow box, the missing limb is “seen” as real. Through moving his existing hand but seeing it as his missing hand, pain in his phantom limb subsides. The real pain is actually an illusion which was stopped using a different illusion.

Not only can our brain be tricked into feeling or not feeling something in our own bodies, but a part of the brain, mirror neurons, makes us feel what is happening to another. This means we are experiencing something happening to another as if it is happening to us. Being an empath, or perhaps more apt having extra-sensitive mirror neurons, is why I need to protect myself in public because I pick up what others feel. And this is also why you tense up watching an action film or Dancing with the Stars because you experience what you are watching someone else experience.

Another great talk about the brain and how it interprets our surroundings is by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor the author of My Stroke of Insight. In her book and the talk, this brain scientist deftly explores how her brain broke down while having a stroke and what it took for her to be able to regain the full function of her brain again. This is an amazing look into how the brain works and again about how much of what we experience – think, feel, touch, taste, hear, see – is not “reality” but our perception and interpretation of reality.

Much of what our brain signals as reality may not be. Which got me thinking, if we can prove our brain is experiencing an illusion what is it that is aware of this illusion? What is outside of our brain’s illusion seeing it as an illusion? And if we only see our perception of reality what is really real?

I don’t have the capability to answer the questions I posit so instead I invite you to explore how questioning reality, questioning how the mind works, and questioning your perception of life can empower you to create the life you want.

view from the rooftop

Say What You Mean

We were fortunate to be able to spend Christmas with some friends on the rooftop of the house we live in. They loved the view and the sunshine. I was asked, “Are you guys up here all the time?” Without thinking I replied, “We are too busy.” Being an avid reader of this blog, a guest called me on my response. “Either you are lying or you are a hypocrite. Aren’t you the life coach who creates her life her way? How could you be too busy?” He was right. I wasn’t too busy. We were simply choosing not to use the rooftop. The truth is due to short winter days, it is too dark to have dinner on the rooftop and we simply don’t think about it other times. (We’ll explore this more next week.)

The question is, why did I respond with a flippant untruth instead of expressing the reality of the situation? I realized I was saying what I thought they wanted to hear. I was responding how “normal” overwhelmed people would respond. I was keeping the spotlight off me and downplaying the blessings I have in my life. But why? Why am I driven to keep myself small? Why am I inclined to say what I believe others want to hear instead of speaking my truth? Why am I unintentionally lying?

view from the rooftop

The real question, however, is not “why” but what am I going to do with this information. How am I going to change the way I speak to better serve me? Here are a few things I am committed to doing this new year to reclaim my truth and my life.

Think Before Speaking

When I was asked about rooftop usage, my response was out of my mouth before I realized it. How many times are our words kneejerk reactions instead thought-out responses? Just like during anger or stress, before speaking I plan to take a breath. This will give me time to consciously choose my words, ensuring my words match my intention.

Speak My Truth

Instead of saying what I think others want to hear or saying what I think is the “right” and “normal” thing to say, I will speak my truth. Even if that truth is not popular, I am committed to expressing my truth, my words, my way.

Express What I Want

The biggest realization about this incident was how I was unknowingly creating a negative attitude and experiencing a less than ideal life with my response. Instead of saying, “I am so blessed to have this amazing view and want to resume my morning meditations up here,” I joined the mantra of our modern world expressing the lack of time, being overwhelmed by responsibilities, and the belief that life is hard. This year I am committed to speak only the words that create the world I want to live in. I will abstain from sarcasm or negativity. My words will show appreciation, abundance, hope, and joy.

What would you like to change for yourself in 2017?  How would you like experience life differently? Join me in saying what you mean and meaning what you say, or share with us your intention for 2017 here.

fear worry

Focus on What You Want

Like many, I have drastically cut down on my Facebook time. Most of what I see posted is based in fear, negativity, and attacking the “other.” No matter what your political or life views are, it is easy to see people of all types feeding into this fear. In fact, many of us are addicted to it. Fear appears to be a theme of our current human existence.

I read a great piece in Psychology Today about the true source of fear. In my previous writings based on the science I had read, a little part of the brain called the amygdala was responsible for fear. But Joseph E. LeDoux Ph.D., amygdala expert, makes an important distinction. He states that “[the amygdala] is responsible for detecting and responding to threats, and only contributes to feelings of fear indirectly.” Danger detection is one of the responsibilities of the brain’s amygdala. But fear is a conscious human action.  According to Dr. LeDoux, fear is the result of conscious attention, perception, memory, and arousal.

Bottom line, our unconscious brain keeps an eye out for danger to keep us safe. Our conscious brain is responsible for the feeling of fear we experience due to what we choose to focus on, how we perceive the situation, our memories of previous experiences, and the passion we instill into our thinking.

fear worryWe appear to live in the age of terror. We focus on it. We are afraid of attacks from other countries. We fear clowns which are appearing throughout the world. We fear what GMO food or environmental pollution will do. Big or little, our first reaction to situations is usually to focus on the fear of what will happen. Valid threats may exist, but we are not logically focused on solving the threats. Instead we consciously feed fear.

But is fear and negativity what we want in our lives?

If fear can be created through our conscious attention, perception, memory, and arousal, I propose that hope and freedom can be created the same way.

Attention:  We can see everything around us as a threat. We can perceive that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Or we can choose to see the world is evolving, bumpy as it may be, into a new age of love, acceptance, and compassion. Where are you focusing? What information are you bringing in? What news and news sources are you engaged with? Are you consuming death and mayhem, or the newest advancements and acts of kindness?

Perception:  Our reality is based on our perception. Two people at the same party can experience it differently based on their unique perceptions of the host, guests, food, and music. How are you perceiving the world around you? Do you have rose-colored glasses on or are you looking for issues and challenges? Can you look past the apparent pain and see how a circumstance may actually be a catapult for growth and advancement?

Memory:  Are you looking at circumstances cleanly or are you piling on your previous negative experiences? Think of animals who have been abused and then react to those who look like their previous abusers with fear and self-preserving aggression. Are you taking each circumstance at face value or looking at it through the lens of your past?

Arousal: The past few months have shown how fear stirs those to action as apparent in negative posts, protests, and anger. Another definition of arousal besides being stimulated to action is to awaken. Is now the time that you look past how you have been taught to view the world and awaken to your own world view? Is it time to stop buying into a society of fear and awaken to the possibility of a world of hope, peace, compassion, and kindness?

We consciously choose our experience. Are you creating fear or hope?

type a cigarette

This is Why I Don’t Like Labels

Don’t you just hate it?  When you state something as a fact, and then the fact changes?  Here is a case in point.

Throughout my book From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It I talk about why not to label things and people, yet I start off the book labeling myself and others as Type-A personalities since we exhibited the behaviors Drs. Friedman and Rosenman uncovered in their research. These doctors created the labels of three personality types (A, B, C) and their research showed how those labeled as Type A had a greater risk of heart attack. I had heard a great story about how the doctors uncovered this link. It actually wasn’t their medical or research skills, but a perceptive janitor. The story goes that the janitor for the heart doctors’ office noticed that the chairs in the waiting room were always needing to be replaced. The individuals with heart issues who needed to be in that office were impatient, high strung, and stressed. They couldn’t stand waiting for the doctors and therefore they were constantly picking at and wearing down the arms of the chairs. Great story, right?  Unfortunately, it is probably just a fable. And it turns out, Friedman and Rosenman’s research may be a bit of a fable too.

type a cigaretteThe first study the doctor’s conducted in 1959 found a correlation between heart disease and personality. However, the results of this study have never been replicated by any other medical researchers and the research is inherently flawed as only Caucasian American middle class men were part of the study. But then it gets better. The tobacco industry, looking to keep their revenues coming in, gets wind of the study. For a good thirty years, tobacco companies provided millions of dollars to the Meyer Friedman Institute to continue this misguided research and the belief that your personality, not smoking cigarettes, causes heart issues. You can read the whole story here.

If we all agree, we can still call people with a list of behaviors like being a perfectionist, taking everything too seriously, and constantly feeling rushed, Type A. The truth is many of us may have certain tendencies that fall under the Type-A behavior umbrella. But having a label does not make it a fact. It just helps us communicate. We all agree a plant with bark, roots, branches and leaves is called a tree. We do this to improve and simplify our communication. When I need to tell the fireman my cat is stuck in a tree I don’t have to have to say, “If you look between those green petals you can see my cat sitting on the long brown wooden arm coming out of that vertical wooden pole.” When I am being stressed out and controlling, my husband can just call me Type A instead of going into the laundry list of how I am acting.

But just because we decide to call these behaviors Type A, it does not mean that we are sentenced to forever be a Type A. No matter what the label we need to treat it only as a means of communication not an absolute unchangeable truth. Labels are based on perception not hard cold immutable facts. A multitude of personality tests exist and each one is based on the perspective of the person who created the test. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, founded on the work by Carl Jung, is probably one of the most well-known tests and ranks people based on sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. A plethora of business focused assessments are also available these days including the Personality and Preference Inventory career compatibility test. Whatever the assessment test, when we are labeled by one, it only means our answers are being categorized by specific criteria and labeled for easier communication. It does not mean we are one thing or another. It simply means in this specific context we exhibit these behaviors or traits and therefore we have all agreed to a certain label.

It is important to not hold tight to any label because when we are labeled it is only one point in time. Think about taking a personality test when you are ten years old and then again when you are fifty years old. Do you think your behaviors, preferences, skills, and perspective would be identical on both tests? I would imagine not. One of the risks of creating labels is we think it is a death sentence. “They say I am a Type A and I will always be a Type A.” Wrong. Labels and test results are a point in time. They show us where we are now. They can point out things we like and want to keep. They can also point out habits or behaviors which we would like to change because they don’t serve us.

Think about the ways you label yourself and others around you. Is it helping in communication? Is it making you feel stuck to being a certain way? Is it causing unneeded and possibly untrue judgment?

taking water for granted

Waste Not Want Not

I took a long hot shower. And I felt a little guilty. Cabo San Lucas has been on water rations for the past few months so getting a shower at all is a luxury. On my recent visit to the States, when I was able to have more than a three-minute shower, I felt a little guilty. When I shared this with friends, we made jokes and of course I released any guilt, but it really struck me how water is not an issue for them – not even on their minds – where to me it is a constant thought and challenge.

Water usage is in the top 10 of things I think about in Mexico. When can I wash dishes? How many loads of laundry can I get done when the water is turned on? Will I get to take a shower today? Water is rationed. Water is precious. Water is priceless and rare. Water is not wasted.

In Illinois when I caught a friend washing the kitchen sink and not really using the water but letting it run full blast down the drain, I freaked out. To me it was like sucking all the air out of the room or buying groceries and immediately putting them in the trash. To her, it was a daily occurrence. Water is abundant. Water is readily available. Water is taken for granted.

I have often written about focusing on what we have and acknowledging the good in our lives, but this is more than just taking things for granted versus acknowledging our abundance. This is about truly being aware of our lives and what is happening around us. How often do we go about our day not even noticing what we are doing? Not seeing what we are using? Not noticing what is available to us? It is almost as if we are sleep walking through life. We are going through our routine and unless there is an issue we don’t really see what we are doing or effecting.

What if you spent one day really noticing everything you touch, experience, and have? You wake up in a room with a comfortable temperature. You are able to get out of the bed. You have the ability to take a shower and get clean. You have a refrigerator which keeps your food fresh. A vehicle takes you to do work allowing you to receive money to buy what you need – and sometimes a bit more. And on and on. This is not to mention the enjoyment you have when you interact with family and friends. Being able to enjoy music or a movie. Create a piece of art. See and smell beautiful flowers.

What if you spent one day and really looked at what is around you? Like water, what are the things you love and would miss, but don’t acknowledge every day? Is it your spouse? Your children? Housing? Ready transportation? The ability to walk?

Take a moment today to really acknowledge the world you interact with and the wonder and abundance all around you.