Monday, June 29, 2009

learning as the antidote to fear

My friend sent me an article recently called "What You Can Learn When You Stop Fearing Change" and I found it really insightful. The author, Kristyn Kusek Lewis, spoke with life coach Gail Blanke, author of Throw Out Fifty Things (which I haven't read yet), who believes it's not when we are being high achievers that we learn about ourselves, but rather that "it's the in-between, uncertain times, the moments when you're tempted to just pull the covers over your head, that can teach you the most about yourself and help you grow — if you let them."

She then goes on to outline scenarios in which fear could cripple you, or, conversely, stretch and grow you to new and greater places. From those, I'll share two. (For the rest, follow the link and read the whole article.)

When you hit a new milestone or undergo an identity change, Lewis (with Blanke) argues that "[o]ne way to turn an identity crisis into an exciting metamorphosis is to develop a student mentality — meaning, take time to notice what you're learning about yourself in your new life. Ask, What am I discovering about myself now that I never would have otherwise?"

Similarly, if you are affected by all the negative media available to us these days, Lewis encourages you to filter what comes into your life. "[That] doesn't mean that you stick your head in the sand — obviously, it's important to stay informed — but that you keep a watchful eye on the kind of information you feed your mind. Do you fixate on negative stories? Do your conversations run pessimistic? If you tend to concentrate on the negative, see if you can pare down your daily doom-and-gloom intake... so that you can open yourself up to more hope and optimism."

It boils down to taking care of yourself and not dwelling on the negative.

And I'm all for it!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

book review: Taming Your Gremlin

"You're too fat."
"You're stupid."
"You're a failure."
"You'll never get a job."
"You'll always be single."
"You're such a waste."

Any of that sound familiar? If so, you're human. (If not, congratulations!!)

I don't know about you, but the little voice inside my head can be so cruel sometimes that it's a miracle I can drag my ass out of bed in the morning and make it through a day. It judges me at every turn, telling me what "everybody" knows (that clearly, I don't) and gives me "helpful" pointers about how I should live my life.

Rick Carson, in his wonderful book, Taming Your Gremlin, calls this little voice the gremlin, and he offers useful tips for how to turn down its volume, and keep your head cleaner, clearer and more focused on who you really are.

The major tools he offers are these: Simply Noticing, Choosing and Playing with Options, and Being in Process.

Simply Noticing
It's as simple as it sounds. "Simply Noticing... is what happens when you experience the natural you and your surroundings without input from your gremlin." You can notice your body, the physical world, or the fact that you're paying attention to neither and are lost in the world inside your mind. This tool will help alert you to the presence (and "contributions") of your gremlin and can help you identify the voice that isn't yours. It also grounds you in the present, and reminds you that unless it's real (e.g. noticeable), it's probably fantasy.

Choosing and Playing with Options
Once you've simply noticed how irritating your gremlin can be, Carson offers five different options to play with to turn down the gremlin's volume. Since one of thes has been particularly useful to me in the last couple of weeks, I'll share more about it.

Breathe and Fully Experience. "If, instead of listening to your gremlin, you will simply breathe, feel your emotions, and give them lots of space in your body, you will notice that these emotions are no more than simple energy, and to experience energy is to feel vibrant and alive. ... The only time that emotions become dangerous is when we habitually bottle them up or discharge them impulsively without respect for other living things."

I met someone recently, (yes, a guy) and let me tell you, my life has been full of supercharged emotions and overwhelming gremlin chatter. (Let's just say that if my gremlin were communicating via cellphone, my bill would be in the thousands-of-dollars range.) Instead of freaking out, though, and taking foolish action to make my crazy feelings go away, I've been working to give them lots of space in my body and my life. More breathing, less doing/talking/thinking/judging/etc. It's been a major change, and one I can't recommend enough.

Carson shares additional tools, too, including changing just to show yourself and the world that you can do it, or speaking the words of your gremlin outloud, just to hear how absurd (or evil, or whatever) they are. All are useful (if you ask me).

Being in Process
"Being in process," says Carson, "is an attitude -- an appreciation of this simple truth and of the reality that your life will be forever unfolding and your future always unknown. ... Seeing yourself as in process will help you increase your level of simple moment-to-moment contentment and your appreciation of your very own gift of life."

This section of the book reminded me that there is no endgame, no finish line, no "being done" with change. That my gremlin will never fully disappear (even if I do manage to turn down the volume on him every now and then), but using the tools I have, I can create more happiness and peace for myself at every step along the way.

This book has been so helpful to me, I'm offering a two-night book group/workshop on it! July 7th and July 21st, I'll be gathering people in my office for a couple of hours to talk about what we learned, what we practiced, what resonated most with us, and how we can continue to use these tools to enrich our lives even more. If you're interested in joining, pick up a copy of the book, and drop me an email so I can share all the details!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

good thing? bad thing? who knows?

I recently ran into something in my life that seemed an awful lot like a setback. The Universe didn't give me a flat-out "No" (it was more of a "Not Yet") and yet it still knocked the wind out of me and, for about an hour, I was pretty despondent.

But then I thought of a story I had read in Are You Ready to Succeed? by Srikumar Rao:

An old man lived in a valley with his son, a handsome and dutiful youth. They lived a peaceful life despite a lack of material possessions. They were very happy. So much so, that neighbors began to get envious.

One day, the old man used all his savings to buy a young wild stallion. It was a beautiful horse that he planned to use for breeding. The very same day he bought it, the horse jumped the fence and ran off. The neighbors came over to sympathize. “How terrible!” they said.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

Ten days later the stallion returned. It came with a whole herd of wild horses, and the old man was able to lure them into the corral and fixed it so escape was no longer possible. The neighbors again gathered around “What good fortune!” they said.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

His son started to train the horse. One of them threw him to the ground and stomped on his leg. It healed crookedly and left the son with a permanent limp and endless pain. “Such misfortune, “said the neighbors.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

The next summer, the King declared war and all the young men from the village were forced into the army. Except the old man’s son was spared because of his injured leg. “Truly, you are a lucky man,” exclaimed the neighbors who cried over the loss of their own Sons.

“Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?” said the old man.

And the reality is that when something, on the surface, seems like a bad thing, it could actually be a good thing. I started thinking about all the times in my life when something "bad" turned into something really "good" (or at least something fairly neutral). That time missing my regularly scheduled train meant I managed to snag a seat on the later express train. Or the time I didn't get a window seat on the plane and ended up on the aisle next to a good looking guy I dated for the next six months.

And vice versa: how many times have I rushed into a subway station late at night to jump onto a train car (when they only come once every twenty minutes), only to find someone really drunk (and potentially barfable) in the car with me?

So I'm suggesting that for the next few days, when you jump to a conclusion that something is bad, instead you say "good thing? bad thing? who knows?" and try to see the doors that opportunity is opening up for you, rather than the ones you see circumstance closing. (And, as a note, the MTA is a really good place to start!)