5 Insights from a Silence Retreat

I cannot tell you how many people (especially women) looked at me in sheer terror when I said I was going to a silence retreat over Labor Day weekend. “There is NO WAY I could do that!” “I wouldn’t survive even an hour.” “What is wrong with you?” This is just a smattering of the reactions I received. I have to say, I was a bit terrified myself, and if I wasn’t going through an enormous pivot in my life, I probably would not have devoted an entire holiday weekend to meditation and silence with a total group of strangers. In retrospect, I was glad it was strangers and that I only had to be responsible for myself.

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The Art of Living has become a way of life for me now and it is fantastic. I began on this path in June and attended the Happiness Program. It coincided with my huge life pivot. I learned of a Silence Retreat that is offered at their retreat center in Boone, North Carolina. My curiosity got the better of me. After all, the Happiness Program had changed my life! In the end, the program was the best thing I could have ever done and it was the most arduous. The silence wasn’t the arduous part–it was facing my own thoughts through meditation. But in the end, the sweet, glorious clarity was worth all the pain.

 

So here are my insights from my silence retreat:

 

  • Authenticity. During the first 24 hours communication is allowed. Most of the group were complete strangers. Everyone I came in contact with were truly present and authentic. We did activities like sharing our life story in ten minutes (it’s amazing how at 56 years of age, I ran out of material) or sharing our top ten qualities and weaknesses with a complete stranger can break down our façades. It’s impossible to share an idyllic “Leave it to Beaver” childhood when your partner just shared their father was an alcoholic and their mother psychotic. It’s humbling, real and raw.

 

  • Childhood. There were several activities that were rejuvenating, like dancing with our eyes closed and coloring with crayons like we were eight-years-old again. When was the last time you made a smiley face on blank white paper with purple crayon or swayed freely to music without worrying that someone was watching. There is joy. There is freedom. There is connecting with yourself without the parameters of adulting. I learned to embrace my inner child.

 

  • Relax. When we entered the silence portion of the program on Saturday afternoon, we were not allowed to read, write, text or use our phones.  As our instructor Mona said, this is a time of relaxation.  So, relax.  It might have been the altitude or perhaps the lack of constant distraction of being “connected” to the outside world, but I was exhausted.  Perhaps it was from the lack of cortisol constantly spiking from text and Facebook notifications, but I really relaxed.  I am not a nap taker but I can tell you that every free moment I had, was back in the television free room laying on my twin bed “relaxing.”  Perhaps even better, I didn’t feel guilty in the least about relaxing.  This was my weekend, and I was going to relax.

 

  • Clarity. We spent probably 10 hours a day in meditation.  Yes.  10 long freaking hours mostly in silence or a periodic “focus on your nostrils.”  This was the arduous part.  There were several times where all I wanted to do was to run screaming from the room.  There were parts of my body I didn’t know could hurt from sitting in meditation for an extensive period.  BUT, the moments of clarity?  When my mind was completely and utterly free of thought (which is rare for me even though I meditate daily); that was complete nirvana.  It might be for just 10 seconds.  It might last a minute.  But to be completely detached and in full consciousness was completely liberating.  I learned how to find clarity.

 

  • Humanity. The final activity after we had broken our silence was completely life affirming.  There were some fifty people on this silence retreat (including four, yes four, married couples).  Even after the first day of interacting with folks, I didn’t know the majority.  For some 60 hours there were no “please”, “thank you” or “sorry”.  Perhaps a smile or holding the door for someone but besides that, we were all islands.  But in the final activity I was seated across from a woman I didn’t know. I was told to look into her eyes as if she were a child.  She smiled.  I smiled.  Her eyes welled up.  My eyes welled up.  In silence, I was completely connected to this woman and her face is forever etched in my memory.  We don’t need words to connect to each other.  Sometimes we just need to look into someone’s eyes to see their humanity, to feel them and to feel as one.

By Sunday morning on the retreat, I was swearing I would never do it again.  But now that I am home and in such a state of peace and balance, I know I can and will do it again.  The metaphor that is frequently used is that the snow globe no longer has the flakes swimming around.  The clarity and peace is priceless.

4 Ways to Unplug Negative Thoughts

You stand on the scale and you’ve gained 5 pounds. You think, “Fatso, why did you have that extra chocolate chip cookie?” You avoid setting up the meeting with your boss because you are sure your idea will be shot down. “She doesn’t think I’m smart. She’ll never like my ideas.” You gossip about your co-worker because you know they will never get the promotion they want. “He’s an idiot. There’s no way he’ll get it.” All these thoughts are wearing a super highway of negativity in your brain. The good news is you can change that.

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Your brain is malleable and can be changed–and it doesn’t even involve surgery. The key to disempowering your negative or unwholesome thoughts is to change your pattern of thinking. It takes practice. But when you start creating wholesome thoughts, they beget more wholesome thoughts. Soon, you are a wholesome thought-machine. As Professor Mark Muesse taught in the Great Courses: Practicing Mindfulness, “Unwholesome thoughts break down into three areas: selfish desire (I want my neighbor’s car), hatred (I hate that person because they are different from me) and deluded thoughts (I think I’m the greatest or completely unworthy).”

 

Here are Professor Muesse’s four “R’s” of disempowering thoughts:

 

  1. Simply replace the negative or unwholesome thought with something opposite.  If someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of angrily swearing and tailing them, you should instead think, “I’m sure they are in a rush for a good reason.” I’ve done this when my boss’ door was shut. I would switch my paranoid thinking: “She’s going to fire me” to “She must be working on my raise or a new challenging project.” When I had a four-hour unplanned airport layover a few weeks ago, I replaced my “I hate this airport and this lousy airline” thought (which became my new negative mantra for a few minutes) to “This’ll be a great opportunity to listen to my book and get in 10,000 steps.” I also cultivate compassion by saying, “Just like me.” If someone steals my parking space, I say, “They want to be happy, just like me.” Replace the unwholesome negative thoughts with positive, wholesome ones.

 

  1. Reflecting on results.  Think about the long-term results of this thinking. Contemplate the forward trajectory or consequences of these thoughts. If I believe that I am a nervous speaker, I will become a nervous speaker. If I think that I am financially insecure, I will become financially insecure. Seeing the long-term consequences helps squelch the inner critic. Another way of looking at it is: do you want to be the Grinch? Even Grinch-like folks were small children at some point. It took years of unwholesome, greed-filled thoughts to result in the vengeful person they became. What are you really creating with all those unwholesome thoughts? Your best you?

 

  1. Redirecting attention.  This is where you direct your attention away towards something more wholesome. Like your breath, your toes or your ear lobes. I advise my clients to do this when they get angry and have regressed into their lizard brain (the fight-or-flight part of your brain). When you are hijacked by emotions, it’s important to get out of your head and back into your body. Especially before you say something you might regret. Your best thinking is in your prefrontal cortex but it’s impossible to get there as long as you are in a state of fear or anger. Remember the phrase This too shall pass. Good or bad, everything is impermanent. We just need to accept that it is impermanent. Joy or terror, thoughts pass away, lose power and fade. Bring it all back to the breath.

 

  1. This is all about challenging your assumptions.  It might be that you’ve become jealous of your co-worker’s new convertible sports car. You assume that if you had that car, you would be happy. Examine what you might feel you’re lacking. Maybe you want some freedom. Maybe independence. Look at the underlying assumptions of why you might be envious. You might be envious of your boss’ new smart phone. You want to have the latest technology. But won’t that phone be an out-of-date piece of junk in three years? I recently moved my home office. I thought about a nice chair I wanted for it. I realized that I didn’t want to add any more furniture to my already fully-furnished house. I realized there was a chair and ottoman that was unused in another room. So instead of feeling like I was lacking, I discovered I already had what I needed. Challenge your assumptions.

 

Any type of mindfulness is a practice that takes time and consistency. Habitual thoughts are not easy to break but it can be done with persistence. I personally journal each evening about how I have reframed my thoughts throughout the day. I think the reflection helps me hardwire the new positive, wholesome thoughts. Good luck!

Challenging the Unknown Unknowns.

I was recently at the International Coaching Foundation’s Converge conference in Washington D.C. The keynote speaker was Hal Gregersen from MIT. Considering it was a keynote (which can generally be pretty much a fire hose of information with little or no interaction), this keynote was quite thought-provoking and we ended up with a list of fifteen plus questions for a personal dilemma. Very informative and action-oriented.

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The premise of the speech was what Hal referred to as the “leadership dilemma”. It’s so easy for leaders of small and large companies to be ensconced in what Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys, calls “the good news cocoon.” No one wants to deliver the bad news, and everyone around the leader is nodding their head in agreement, instead of challenging the status quo. This leaves nobody ever trying to get to the bottom of the “unknown unknowns”, especially the leader. This is why the great innovative leaders are out scanning the environment to find out what they don’t know.

So how do you do that? Figure out what you don’t know you don’t know? Here are some ideas:

  • De-insulate. Break out of your cocoon. This works for all of us who aren’t CEOs as well. I can remember owning a restaurant several decades ago. Generally, I ended up eating in my own restaurant or at a franchise of the same restaurant. This was not going to open my eyes to the latest trends. In fact, it gave me a false sense of satisfaction. “Hmmm. Well, we do the Malibu Chicken so much better than that Sizzler across town.” What is the latest food trend coming down the pike? Who is delivering customer service that goes above and beyond? Break out of your insulation and find new horizons to uncover the unknown.

 

  • Break barriers. How many hoops or folks do your people go through to get to you? Even if it’s one person, according to Hal, it’s too many. This encourages leaders and CEOs to do what Jonathan Bechen recommends: “Manage by walking around.” If you are out and about, or in the lunch room, or by the water cooler or dropping by your employees’ cubicle, there are less barriers to talk to you. I spent 3 years working for a tortilla manufacturer. I can speak from experience that the person who knows the most about the quality and issues with a tortilla is the person hand packing it into a plastic bag. Not the machine operator, not the lead, not the supervisor, or the production manager, or the plant manager, or the engineer. It’s the tortilla packer who knows that the oven is too hot, the masa is too moist, or that the machine is spitting out tortillas too fast. Go pack tortillas with the tortilla packer if you want your finger on the pulse. Get out of your ivory tower.

 

  • Let go of being right. Hal asked us to ask ourselves, “How many things am I dead wrong about?” Geez. I’m not even sure I can admit that I’m ever wrong. How is the CEO of a fortune 500 company going to do that? Won’t that appear weak? But admit it. Think about it. What have you been dead wrong about in the last week?  I, for one, was pretty sure my son was not going to be able to surmount a recent huge obstacle. He did. I stand corrected. My assumption was dead wrong. And if you can’t seem to detect anything that you were dead wrong about, maybe you aren’t scanning your environment enough to be challenged. This takes humility, but it also breaks you out of your “good news cocoon.”

 

  • Get uncomfortable. How often do people ask you uncomfortable questions? And if your circle of influence is not asking you uncomfortable questions, maybe you need a new circle. This is why leaders join peer group circles, which can be beneficial, so long as it’s not some big competition to outshine each other on the balance and income sheets. If you’re not getting uncomfortable questions, it may be attributed to the way you react to uncomfortable questions. You may shut down or stonewall. If you aren’t approachable, you never get uncomfortable. You will continue to be unknowing of the unknown.

 

  • Find different. Hal asked how often do you talk to different people. We all get comfy in our own sphere of friends and co-workers. How often do you try to change up that sphere? I recently joined a meditation group in a town an 80-mile drive away. I don’t look like anyone else in the meditation group. Most of the people in the group were not born in the U.S. This has opened my horizons to difficult-to-pronounce names, unfamiliar food and a different take on my meditation practice (for the good). It’s changed me as a person and has opened my horizons to get to know the unknown. Seek out different folks.

Hal called this “Bursting the CEO Bubble.” But don’t we all have a bubble around us? What bubble do you have? How can you burst it?

“What other people think of me is none of my business” – Wayne Dyer

Are you having trouble wrapping your head around that title quote? I did. I still do. I’m not sure if it’s my upbringing. The Wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident and What will the neighbors think? kind of upbringing. My parents are always passing judgment on whether or not so and so is too thin or too fat, or spending their money unwisely. I know when I dress in the morning, I’m wondering what people will think. Is the skirt too short? Is the blouse too tight? I’m not paralyzed by this, but as I read that statement, I realize it’s a monologue that goes on in my head unconsciously.

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Actually, the source of this valuing other’s opinions above all else is Junior High School life at its finest. I was in 7th grade in the 70’s. Bell bottoms and corduroy were the rage. I had purchased 10 pairs of corduroys in 10 different shades with all my hard earned babysitting money. I cared a lot about blending in. God forbid I walk into the cafeteria and stand out by wearing a dress. My world centered on what others thought about me;  if I gained weight or lost weight, had an opinion different than theirs, had a bad hair day…the list goes on and on. Heck, I do that today. Has anyone noticed I lost 5 pounds? Should I point it out? Am I expecting too much? Do people really notice me? I realize I spend a lot of time and energy wondering about others’ opinions.

 

Here are some ways to let go of the importance of others’ opinions:

  1. Realize that this is self-inflicted pain. Bryon Katie’s book, Love What Is, posits that the suffering is in your head. The first question of “The Work” is “Is it true?” When I work with clients, I hear all kinds of statements that are causing the client pain. “She doesn’t like me,” “He wants me off the project,” and “They think I’m incompetent.” How can you verify that it is true? Realize that believing it is true is in your own head. You are suffering from your own beliefs and thoughts.
  1. Beware of how you accept both criticism and compliments. These are two sides to the very same coin. Someone can be validating you and giving you feedback that sounds like or is actually a critique. Whether it’s positive or negative it is an opinion that you could potentially benefit from and has no bearing on who you are. You are still you. If you are focused and enamored only with praise. When you are criticized, you will roll down the other side of the hill and be thrown off your game. I believe a simple “Thank you” for either is just fine. Temper your reactions and how you internalize feedback. Find a way to benefit from the critique of those whose opinions you trust.
  1. Let go of the battle. In Jack Kornfield’s A Path with Heart, he writes, “Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.” Fighting requires a lot of energy. It’s exhausting to spend your day worrying about what everyone else is thinking. Put down your armor and let go.
  1. Be skeptical. As written in Don Miguel Ruiz’ book, The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery, “Doubt takes us behind the words we hear to the intent behind them. By being skeptical, we don’t believe every message we hear; we don’t put our faith in lies, and when our faith is not in lies, we quickly move beyond emotional drama, victimization, and the limiting belief systems our ‘domestication’ has programmed us with.” When you find the truth for yourself, you are free to live without regret and fear.
  1. Let go of attachment. Kornfield has some wonderful meditations in his book. One of them is letting go of anger. He writes, “The strength of our anger reveals the strength of our attachment.” It’s amazing how many things I am attached to and how much suffering it causes. It’s my control freak inside who doesn’t want to let go. But this constant striving to control the thoughts of others is unobtainable. This is a huge insight for me. It’s futile. Don’t attach.
  1. Be careful of your own language. My daughter made me aware of this. I would say, “Have you lost weight?” She asked that I say, “You look healthy.” You might think that it’s a compliment but as she explained, it’s also a value judgment. It is essentially saying that you were or weren’t thin enough before.
  1. Give up the idea of perfection. I think about this when I meditate. I feel like when my thoughts wander (and they always do) that I am not being perfect at meditation. So what? It’s the same with your self-dialogue. When you are trying out #1-#6, let go of being perfect. So when you start worrying that your boss thinks you’re incompetent, acknowledge that you let that thought slip in and maybe you can avoid it the next time. Perfection is exhausting.

All of this can be difficult to try and implement. It’s a habit that you’ve likely been doing since you were a child. Changing your thoughts takes patience and trial and error. We are all just works in progress. How wonderful it is that we have others to help us!

Quit Awfulizing

Do you want to procrastinate? Do you like to procrastinate? Do want to come to a complete stop? Start worrying? Worry about the what ifs? Dwell on all the things that could happen? Might happen? Could happen? Should happen? It sucks the life out of you. Quit awfulizing.

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I had a client recently gnashing her teeth because her child was going overseas for a month. Her biggest issue was the not knowing. How would they communicate? What is Skype? Where would he be living? So my question to her was: “How is all this worrying working for you?” Well, it’s not. It’s paralyzing, sleep depriving…a waste. Worrying or not worrying will not change the outcome.

 

I’m not saying I don’t understand. I have two young adult children who have been more than an hours drive away for the last two months (one 11 hours south and one 2 hours west). They are making their own decisions, their own plans and their own mistakes. My worrying or lack of worrying won’t change the outcome. But at least I sleep. This has not always been my M.O. (modus operandi). It’s taken me years to back off the Ledge of Worry.

How to get to worry-free in 5 not-so-easy steps:

1. Decide.  You need to simply get on board or not. Unless you really enjoy thinking of the endless amount of ways your child, parent or spouse could be in a car accident. If this is your fuel, then join the fretters club. But if you’re ready to do the mental dump and start living in the moment, then you need to make the commitment. This can’t work unless you do.

2. Optimism. You will need to be optimistic. This will be difficult for the glass-half-empty people out there. What if everything is going to be better than expected? Maybe the plane is getting in early. Maybe your team will go to the NCAA finals. Maybe the boss’s office door is shut because they are working on your raise. Everything is possible, including the windfall, the referral and the next project. Expect the best.

3. Turn it off.  The news that is. I was just in Atlanta and my friend had the evening news on. OMG. Shootings. Drownings. Murder. Car accidents. My blood pressure went up. My mind started wandering down horrible trails. What if that was my kid, friend, or coworker? Nothing good can come from the news. 98% is sensationalized and depressing. I’ve taken a clue from my daughter. She gets caught in rain storms without an umbrella or in freezing temperatures with flip flops on. She doesn’t watch the news or the weather. She takes is as it comes. Why ruin the surprise?

4. Moment.  As in, Ya Gotta Live in the Moment. This is the most difficult. There is always a certain  amount of reflection and planning in life. We just need to stop dwelling on embarrassments, back stabbing and finger pointing. We need to quit anticipating the worst outcome. So your friend has cancer. Worrying for them is not going to help them. Praying for them can. Assuming they will be cured is a much more positive approach. Being with them in the moment is a gift.

5. Alert.  Pay attention to your thoughts. No one else will. You need to be vigilant. Pessimism has a way of seeping into our heads. When you get caught in your fourth red light in a row, chill out. It’s going to be fine. Sometimes I fantasize that if I didn’t get caught at the red light, I would have been some place three minutes earlier and caused a car accident. This was meant to be. Just make sure you’re staying in charge of those fretting thoughts. You are your own sheriff. Clean out the riff raff.

So the next time your spouse/partner is late, imagine that they’re picking up your favorite coffee or scoring a new project. It will send out positive energy and you will sleep so much better.

What would you do?

6 Steps to Creating Space

“When you let go, you create space for something better.” – Unknown

You’re angry because the meeting isn’t going your way. You’re frustrated because your partner never makes the bed. You smolder as the traffic piles up and makes you late to work this morning. What’s next? The self-critic pops in for a drive-by of self-berating. “My ideas stink.” “He doesn’t appreciate me making this bed. I’m a doormat.” “I’m an idiot. Why did I go this way?” Does any of this sound familiar?

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It’s amazing how often my clients don’t realize the language they use when they refer to themselves. Client: “I’m the only one my mother has.” Coach: “So you are responsible for your mother’s addiction?” Client: (smile) “Well, when you say it like that…probably not.” Coach: “Probably?” Client: (bigger smile) “Why does it sound different when you say it. Definitely not.” We all have a ticker tape of the little self-critic rambling that goes on and on and on in our heads. That little self-critic is taking up precious space from valuable real estate for much better things. It’s time to let go.

Here are some things that you will create space for:

  • Random acts of self-care.  I gave up on the news about a year ago. I let go of the need to be constantly informed. I am calmer. I am no longer hyper vigilant, waiting for the next shoe to drop. With the thirty minutes I saved (actually it’s probably more like 2 hours, if you count all the news links I would take randomly throughout the day to get the latest on the stock market or the president), I’ve added 20 minutes of meditation and self-reflection. If I’m home early enough, I read or meditate. Create the space for self-care.
  • Loving kindness for others.  I have given up the resentment I feel when I do things for others. I used to get angry when I did the dishes or made the bed for someone else. I had to let go of my story that I was being a doormat. I had to quit keeping score. I changed the story to be one of loving kindness for my family, instead of constantly searching for the balance of power of “I did this” now “You owe me that.” It was exhausting to constantly keep score. Now I am in the space of having loving kindness for everyone. A sort of pay-it-forward love and kindness. There is no scoreboard necessary.
  • Liberation for myself and others.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your children’s success or failure. To see it as a reflection of you; as an extension of you. If your son doesn’t go to an Ivy League school, what will the neighbors think? I let go of the attachment to their outcomes. It’s the same when you want to implement a new procedure at work and it gets shelved. Oh well, move on. A year ago, I would have lost sleep over the shelving of the procedure and had mock arguments in my head with the nay-sayers for hours ad nauseam. I am set free. Embrace liberty.
  • Embracing uncertainty.  As I say to my clients, we all want control. We all want to be the Wizard of Oz with our hands on the joy stick of life. Fact is, there is no control. This can be uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. When I let go of control, I started to be more adaptable. I was driving home from Virginia last week. The tire pressure indicator on the car came on. I initially felt a jolt of anxiety. I took a deep breath and realized that I could control my reaction. I called my friend for a second opinion on a 29 psi and he told me it would be fine for the time being. I did stop at a gas station and filled up the tire (I have not filled a tire with air in about 30 years). No sweat. I didn’t panic. Let go the illusion of control and embrace uncertainty.
  • Space for openness.  When you let go of judgment, you make space for openness.  Self-judgment is debilitating. Constantly judging others is also debilitating. “I’m fat.” “She’s fat.” “What an atrocious dress.” “He’s late again.” Judge. Judge. Judge. Judge. I am not completely free of doing this, but I am at least calling it out in my head. “This is judgment.” The first step is to label it. Acknowledge that you are doing it. Calling my judge out lets me embrace acceptance. I imagine writing on my forehead with a sharpie and masking tape: Judge. Label it. Then let it go. The universe is open to me (and you).
  • Detach from emotions.  I have been a stuffer of emotions. I would numb them or stuff them deep inside. I am learning to lean into the emotion and observe it. Oh, so this is anger. My throat is constricted and my head is hot. Oh, so this is sadness. My stomach is clenched and tears are streaming down my face. I love the analogy that I am just the movie screen and that the movie actually being projected is my thoughts. I am able to just be the movie screen and not the movie. Let go of the thoughts that create the emotion and observe.

This has been a deep and deliberate practice for several months, but I am reaping the rewards. Create space for what you really want and let go. It is better.

Letting Go and Moving On

You are still mad that you didn’t get that plum promotion. You are still ruminating on the time you totally blew Thanksgiving dinner some 15…er 20 years ago. You still can’t believe that that guy from Sophomore year never called you back. You’ll never forgive your parents for not being perfect. Turns out that all this ruminating and dredging up all the past sins of you and others is a recipe for long term unhappiness. It’s time to let go and move on.

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It’s crazy how much time that most of us spend on rehashing the sins and failures of the past again and again and again. Or “should-ing” all over ourselves. The “what ifs” take over and suddenly we are on a new trajectory that is completely false and, in fact, painful. There are some steps you can take to get past the past. The rehash. The regurgitation. Want some freedom? Here are a few ideas:

 

  • Reframe.  As Mark Chernoff writes, “Oftentimes letting go is simply changing the labels you place on a situation – it’s looking at the same situation with fresh eyes and an open mind.”  So, change the frame around the situation.  Didn’t get the promotion? This is a great opportunity to learn something new and completely different.  You could be kicking butt as a yoga instructor. What an opportunity.  That dry turkey from so many years ago?  It’s a success because absolutely no one remembers it but you.  They all remember what a great time they had and how you produced the WHOLE dinner on your own.  You are the Thanksgiving Hero!  Your imperfect parents?  Yeah but didn’t they get you safely to adulthood.  Are you a bit thicker skinned because of the bumps along the way?  Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me resilience.  Reframe your trials and tribulations.

 

  • Effort.   This was my insight from this past week’s mediation. Did you give “it” your best effort? Especially at the end of what you thought was a lifetime relationship.  Did you give it your best? Were you your best self? If so, let it go. If you didn’t give your best effort then maybe you should revisit and show up with your best. When you have given it your very best, then it’s time to let go. Giving only a little effort and letting go just means it was never that important to you. If you are constantly doing this, you may just be skimming through life. Give your best effort and then, walk away with your head held high. You gave it your best. Move on.

 

  • Emotions.  You cannot go around, you must go through. I believed that I could cry a few times and then tip toe around the grief. Nope. You need to feel it. Accept it. Live it.  Fully sense the constraint in the pit of your stomach, the heat on your forehead and the tightening of your throat. Then label it. “Oh…so this is grief.” Definitely find a time and private place to do this (so staff meeting isn’t a good time for this). Skipping this step only ensures that it will come back again and again. Experiencing it eventually makes it clear enough so that you can move on.  For me the barometer was when I told the story of loss to someone new, I didn’t get choked up anymore.  Be sure to live through the emotions.

 

  • Care.  Take care of yourself. What does self-care look like for you? Is it a new dress? A facial? Going for a ten-mile hike? Fishing along a stream? Making a seven-course meal for yourself? Seeing the latest feature film? Karaoke? Roller skating? Sky diving? Scuba diving? Sitting on the beach with a great book? Taking that new yoga class? One of the main things about letting go and moving on is making yourself a priority. Since suffering my loss, I’ve been driving once a week for 70 miles for a group meditation practice. It recharges me and resets my brain. Take care of yourself.

 

  • Gratitude.  My home was flooded during Hurricane Matthew some nine plus months ago. I had a list of over ten thousand things that needed to get done to finish the house. I don’t focus on that list. It’s debilitating to focus on all that is wrong. Instead I write in my gratitude journal every day about what is going right! It’s much more uplifting. This past weekend, my attic was finally empty of all its contents. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. What a weight was lifted. I am so grateful. Being grateful rewires your brain to the positive. Show your gratitude.

 

  • Truth.   In one of my recent readings I read the Total Truth Process by Jack Canfield. The premise is to write a letter to someone who has hurt or injured you at any point in your life. It could be anything from your parents to middle school to the nun who smacked your hand in catechism class. I have a list of folks and I am working my way through the list (don’t worry, I’m sure you aren’t on my list).  Anyway, write a letter answering Canfield’s questions:
  1. Anger and resentment. I’m angry that … I hate that … I’m fed up with … I resent …
  2. Hurt. It hurt me when … I felt sad when … I feel hurt that … I feel disappointed…
  3. Fear. I was afraid that … I feel scared when … I get afraid that I…
  4. Remorse, regret, and accountability. I’m sorry that … Please forgive me for …
  5. Wants. All I ever want(ed) … I want you to … I want(ed) … I deserve …
  6. Love, compassion, forgiveness, and appreciation. I understand that … I appreciate … I  love you for … I forgive you for … Thank you for …

I haven’t given the letters or talked about them with the person I have addressed         them to but it is quite cathartic to get it on paper and out of my head.  Sometimes bullet #3 showed up.  Sometimes not.  But I highly recommend writing the truth down.

This is all a process and cannot be sped up (although I wish it could be).  Having a coach can be helpful as well.  My coach pointed out some great resources on transitions.  Having a third unrelated party to provide insight and thoughtful questions can be invaluable. What do you need to let go of?

Going Solo

Have you ever been to a movie by yourself? Have you ever eaten in a high-end restaurant on your own? Have you ever planned a week-long vacation all by yourself? Turns out these are a great fear for most folks. The fear of everyone staring and thinking they are a loser because they couldn’t “find” anyone to tag along. The supposition is the appearance of abject loneliness in front of strangers, where we will then be “found out” and embarrassed.

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I travel frequently on my own, mostly due to business. I attend conferences in various cities and typically end up being by myself a fair amount of the time. I have to tell you, it actually can be quite liberating and exciting to be on your own. There are many advantages to being on your own as you travel, eat and engage in all kinds of activities that we typically think of doing with others.

Here are the advantages of going solo:

  • Itinerary.  Guess what? You get to decide where you want to go. Chinatown? Little Italy? Koreatown? Germantown? It’s all up to you. No need to take a poll of what your family, friends or co-workers want to do. It’s all up to you. I went to Scottsdale earlier this year and took a hike in the botanical gardens. It was all on my own itinerary. I felt like I was able to connect to an area of Scottsdale I had never been to before and engage my inner adventurer, all by using an Uber driver or two, and venturing into uncharted territory. Set your own itinerary.

 

  • Food.  We all have people in our lives who can’t have lentils, milk or super spicy food. So what happens? We end up eating what everyone else will eat and never go to that great Lebanese place or order that burrata appetizer. I remember the first time I traveled on business some 25 years ago to Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was scared to eat out all by myself. I brought a book and a magazine, just so I could look occupied. Turned out it was no big deal. I had a wonderful meal and no one “stared”. We mostly get caught up in our own head that everyone is looking. Turns out, everyone else is in their own head. Relax. No one is staring. Eat alone and eat the food you want.

 

  • Pace.  Have you ever been to a museum with someone who had to read EVERY description on every piece of art? You end up retracing your steps to make sure you don’t lose your companion. Or you want to see and feed every animal at the zoo, while your companion is anxious to get to the next destination. When you are on your own, you set your own pace. At the botanical gardens in Scottsdale, I was most interested in the large Saguaro cactus (think Roadrunner cartoons). I found some other lovely cactus and flora, but I made a beeline for the Saguaros. No one complained or held me back because I was able to set my own pace.

 

  • Perspective.  You end up seeing things in a new way. When you are traveling with a companion, you may end up focusing on pleasing the other person and making sure they are entertained. When you are alone, you are present. You aren’t distracted by someone else’s attention, or their needs and wants. You are free to smell the roses or not. Grab something to eat or not. Sit and stare at a portrait by Van Gogh for an hour or not. On my recent trip to Provincetown, I felt like the supreme observer. The colors, the pace of the town, the various groups of tourists and locals. I was able to drink it all in from my perspective.

 

  • Envelope.  Bend and break out of the envelope. According to the Whil blog, “The LA Times interviewed almost 100 people and found that only 30% would be willing to go to the movies alone.” I remember going to movies by myself back in my twenties. It was uncomfortable the very first time. I felt like the vanguard. But be realistic. You are alone in the dark in a venue that does not invite interaction. Isn’t this the perfect venue to go to alone? I saw Wonder Woman last week and the only issue I had was that I jumped at a scarier part of the film. No big deal. No one is taking notes. Actually there’s no one there was to make fun of me. Press the envelope.

 

  • Spotlight.  Turns out, there isn’t a spotlight on you. As Justin Keller wrote for Whil, “The reason no one will notice you is ‘the spotlight effect’, which is the natural tendency to think that others notice us much more than they actually do– and it’s been tested and proven through the cunning use of bright yellow Barry Manilow t-shirts. Students were forced to wear these bright shirts to class and were asked how many students they thought would notice. The subjects thought, on average, about 50% of the class would notice them. In reality, fewer than 20% of the students noticed the shirts. People are usually so lost in their own thoughts that they don’t pay attention to what’s happening around them.” There is no spotlight.

 

I have to admit, I haven’t taken a week-long vacation on my own, but I really admire those who do. I also would like to attempt a longer hike on my own (say more than 3 miles). For now, they are on my bucket list. Enjoying your own company is so important. Let’s face it, if you don’t enjoy your own company, why would anyone else? What are you afraid to do on your own?

Quit Keeping Score

It’s Christmas morning and you realize that you spent $100 more on one child than the other. Ugh. Will your daughter think you love her less? You have definitely done the dishes AND laundry every day this week and your spouse took the garbage out once. Hmmm. Seems a bit unfair. You never seem to get invited to that charity golf outing where all the deals are done. But Bob? Yeah, he gets invited every time. What you are doing is keeping score. The problem is if you are ahead or behind, it’s just not helping you.

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There is a cost to all this score keeping. And you are the one who pays the cost. First of all, you damage your self-worth. In keeping score, you are feeling less than by comparison. Second, the information you are scoring against is always flawed. It’s just your perception. Maybe Bob is a horrible golfer so he’s getting invited to make everyone else look good. Maybe your spouse spent three hours in the rain at a baseball game for your kid. Your kids never saw the price tags of their presents and don’t equate money with being loved. Lastly, it doesn’t move you forward. In fact, it puts you in a negative spiral, where you are constantly comparing yourself to confirm that you are overworked and underappreciated. Not a good space to be in.

So here is the antidote to keeping score:

  • It’s an inside job.  Who is exactly keeping score? You are. It’s starts with you acknowledging that you are doing it. I used to resent doing the dishes. I grew up in a family where Mom cooked and Dad washed the dishes (pretty remarkable since my dad was born in 1925). I have expected in my married life that my spouse would do the dishes. And if he didn’t? I resented it. That resentment was not hurting anyone but myself, and it would snowball into who bought groceries, vacuumed and took the kids to doctor visits. As Byron Katie, author of Love What Is, wrote, “What I call ‘doing the dishes’ is the practice of loving the task in front of you.” Resenting it or loving it is an inside job. Choose love.

 

  • Catch yourself doing something right.  It’s easy to get caught up in the negative. You can’t seem to get the DVD player to work or you still haven’t figured out pivot tables in Excel. Think about what you have been successful at. It’s funny. I’ve been writing this blog weekly for over 5 years and have been read in over 100 countries. That’s pretty cool. In fact, it’s awesome. But I completely forget about how amazing that is in my day-to-day life until someone makes a comment. It takes a moment. Like when I ran into someone who had been a reader of mine for years in Chicago (yes, you Chris) and he told me how much he loves my blog. And for a brief moment, I felt like a Rock Star! Tally up what you’ve accomplished. Maybe you tried a new recipe or made someone’s day by calling them out of the blue. Take stock and tally up what you are doing right.

 

  • Be present.  Truth be told, I now enjoy washing dishes. It’s a moment to be present, and mixing warm water with soap is a lovely experience. It’s a moment for me to get out of my head and back into my body. Listen to the water, feel the suds on your hands and the ceramic of the plate. As Byron Katie posits, “We are really alive when we live as simply as that — open, waiting, trusting, and loving to do what appears in front of us now.” Washing the dishes is about living and loving what is present now.

 

  • Break it into pieces. I travel fairly frequently and I used to hate returning home to a mountain of unsorted mail, a full suitcase of dirty clothes and a dishwasher full of unclean dishes. It can be overwhelming. The secret is to piece it out. One task. Run the dishwasher. Sort the mail. One piece of mail here, one over there. Sort the laundry. One load of laundry at a time. In the age of rapid technology and moving at breakneck speeds, it’s all about breaking things down into doable chunks. Even better if you can have a smile on your face and take pleasure in the task and your accomplishments. Escape the overwhelm by doing one piece at a time.

 

  • Be grateful.  When you notice that your spouse mowed the lawn, thank them. When someone compliments you on your facilitation, thank them. Gratitude really takes you out of score-keeping so long as you don’t add anything on like “Thanks for doing the dishes. Will you go clean the garage now?” Nope, that is not straight-up gratitude. Don’t qualify it. Just say thank you, be genuine and be done. And put a period at the end of the sentence. Express gratitude without trying to score a point.

 

As I ask my coaching clients frequently, “Who are you in control of?” The only one you can control is yourself. Keeping score suggests that you can have an impact on the final score. The only score you are in control of is your own self and how you respond. What do you keep score on?

7 Tenets of The Happiness Program

Your coworker hasn’t responded to your proposal email in the last five minutes, so you assume they don’t like the idea. Your son doesn’t answer his phone, so you assume he’s in the hospital. You don’t hear back from the doctor, so you’ve decided it must be catastrophic. This is the negative bent of your brain looking for the worst-case scenario.

I have recently found the antidote for what people refer to as your “lizard” or “monkey” brain. With all of the recent turmoil in my life, I decided to attend The Happiness Program. It has changed my outlook on life in many ways. Even though there are still a thousand loose ends and unanswered emails on moving back into my house post-hurricane, I am in a state of equilibrium and peace.

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The heart of the program is learning a meditation with very prescribed breathing techniques and timing. I can’t describe it here, and I’m not qualified to teach it, but I can give you the remaining tenets of the program, which are based on the teachings of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, taught worldwide at The Art of Living.  I wrote about 5 of the tenets in my previous post, which you can read here.

Sri Sri’s important things to always remember:

  • Accept people and situations as they are.  I truly believe that everyone is a closeted control freak. The constant strive for control is exhausting. In an age of constant uncertainty, you can’t control anything but your response. Gary Coxe’s book title is apt as well: Don’t Let Others Rent Space in Your Head. How much space are you renting out to others? Don’t give up the valuable real estate of your beautiful brain to anyone else. Acceptance will set you free from the struggle.

 

  • Don’t be a football of other’s opinions.  I wrote an entire piece on what I think is a similar quote from Wayne Dyer: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Gulp. How much of your time do you go around worrying about what other people think of you? Do you really have any control over it? Nope. Didn’t think so. Focus on your opinion of yourself. Do you like that dress on you? Then wear it. I coach so many women who are focused on other’s opinions. They are stuck until they figure out that their own self-worth is what’s important.

 

  • Stretch out your hands first.  Be the first to say hello or smile. My class had about 12 folks and most of them were immigrants from India. I could not pronounce most of their names. On the first day, we all introduced ourselves by shaking hands and having to say, “I am Cathy and I belong to you.” It was incredibly powerful to say that to a complete stranger, twelve times. Don’t we all really belong to each other? Wouldn’t that approach solve some world problems? Be the first to reach out.

 

  • Take responsibility.  Own what you do. Don’t point fingers. Blaming others or not owning up for your own life makes you untrustworthy. Someone did this to me recently. A relationship had not panned out and she blamed me for the fallout. I was not in the relationship nor did I have anything to do with it falling apart, since I did not know the other party. In the past, I would have felt guilty or argued back. But now I realize I can only take responsibility for myself and no one else. That is their path. Stay off their path and take responsibility for yours.

 

  • Complain = irresponsibility.  I have been suffering from this for months. I have complained about contractors, insurance companies, FEMA and my mortgage company. It’s debilitating. Take it from me and get your head back by not complaining. It takes you into a negative spiral, where all you look for is confirming information that everything is falling apart. Stay away from other’s who complain, if possible, as it is infectious. It’s hurting your ability to be happy.

 

  • Don’t try; just do it.  As Yoda famously said, “Do. Or do not do. There is no try.” I’ve been doing and doing and doing. The secret for me is to tackle only a few things at a time. It’s overwhelming to deal with everything at once. When I coach others, this is probably one of the biggest pieces of advice my clients take away from the process. Dice it up into doable pieces. Accomplish a little piece and the moment starts. Just do it.

 

  • Whatever you resist – persists. Psychologist Carl Jung contended that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” This is especially true with feelings. Most of us try to stuff our feelings by medicating, eating or ignoring them. It’s so important to feel the feelings of betrayal, or anger, or abandonment. You can’t go around it; you have to go through it to move on. Label the feeling as it comes up. So this is what betrayal feels like – burning in my stomach and tension in my shoulders. So this is what abandonment feels like – tears streaming down my face and wailing from my gut. You have to feel it to get past it.

I highly recommend the course. I am now into my 21st day of using the meditation and I am feeling more optimistic, more equilibrium and, slowly but surely, letting go of my resentment and anger towards others. What tenet resonates for you?