What do you struggle with most? This was the question I posted for my friends on Facebook; i expected weight loss, more money, etc. These were not the answers though.
People seemed to search deep down and came up with the answer; self-acceptance. In some way or another, they were unable to accept any flaw about themselves. They either focused on the flaws or begrudgingly lived with it.
Self-acceptance is one of those traits we're born with.
Children display it with enthusiasm. One of my favorite things is to watch young kids playing. Nobody is hiding their personality; they either get along or don't (but find something to play anyway). They aren't afraid to "look stupid" or "silly". And they don't worry about hiding their flaws!
The first real problem a child learns (yes, most problems are learned) is perfectionism; a self-made demon. The first of many that burden us well into adulthood.
A child's world suddenly gets bigger around school age, which means they're primary role is no longer being the apple of their parent's eye. It's a fierce wake-up call. There's more eyes and they must compete against a lot more apples, more if they have siblings or perfectionist parents.
When my own kids were learning something new, I witnessed the perfection monster rear its ugly head in the form of a terrible tantrum. It didn't matter if I reassured them with a, "You did good." Oh hell, they would've spat venom if I said something like, "Good try." We all know that's code word for "that sucks, but I still love you" (adults have pulled that 'good-try' sham far too long).
In our house, perfection resembled crumpled papers that collected in our garbage. Broken pencils, shredded erasers, and wadded up clay outnumbered the satisfactory masterpieces produced.
Then it changed. Three letters made all the difference....
Every Tuesday my son and I attend story time at our local bookstore. I happily join him, and other toddlers, in books and crafts.
A few weeks ago, was the first time my son didn't want to quit or crumple his craft (he often compares his art to his sister's, 4 years his senior). He was proud of this latest piece it wasn't perfect! The grass was pasted midair, and flowers scattered haphazardly across the landscape.
The theme for the craft was draw, cut, color, paste, and design a garden (ish). This meant it didn't have to be perfect. Rejoice from the heavens above as you could see the look of relief on the other parents' faces. They knew the feeling of trying to help their kids recreate the "example" craft, which looked perfect!!!!!
We had just finished reading "ish" by Peter Reynolds.
The story explains that some of our creative work or endeavors in life are wonderful(ish) and perfect(ish). The creation or accomplishment of great (ish) work is free of those burdens adulthood creates.
This notion caught on even among the adults . We all began talking about how each of us could allow room for "ish" in our lives. Simply adding the "ish" made fun out of difficult tasks and decent outcomes.
Seriously?! How many of us are training for the olympics like we need to be a perfect 10?
Most of life (and perfectly wonderful things) fall into the kinda sorta "ish" category; between average and perfection. Could it be another option we've overlooked?!
Is bluish still blue? Yes...and sometimes prettier.
Sure, it's not an excuse to produce subpar work or efforts, but putting it into practice lately has eased the reign of the perfection monster, and injected a sense of enthusiasm into my family. A lot of happy faces around here. That's a much needed break!
The other day my daughter, in third grade, says there's some big tests coming up. She was worried. I said, "how about you just do great (ish)?!" My statement was returned with a lighthearted smile.
(ish) might make room for mistakes yet most of (ish) is necessary building blocks to creativity and eventual masterpieces. We need (ish)!
Start tacking this word onto things and you will see smiles!
"You are very insightful, and I am grateful for the time you take, not just to answer my question but all the questions that head your way."
My (original) blogging career turned into answering emails regarding people's problems, like a Dear Abby or Dr. Laura (without the "Dr." suffix).
I wrote about life, but that seemed to open up a can of worms. I quit blogging for a while.
I took some time to reflect. "Fixing" people's problems began when I was a kid, navigating my mother's problematic life. What kid gives good dating advice? A lot of them I'm sure, because they're not the one dating. It's pretty easy to see a problem for what it is, when you're on the outside of it.
And it continued from there...
Late night texts from friends with troubles, emails from strangers who needed help sorting out their life, and opening my house up to people like a crisis center, describes my early adulthood. I literally heeded the mantra about turning no one away, being helpful, kind, and compassionate to all.
It was draining...
Very few people are dumb enough to solve the endless amount of problems people have. ENDLESS! And even less people would do it for free! But sign me up! I did it! I got paid for blogging, not answering a barrage of questions as long as the wall of China! That part of the deal was out of the goodness of my own heart...and habit.
That was my problem.
Even with obtaining my Psychology degree, I resolved that I would never be a counselor. I pictured myself inundated by patients' problems and perpetually lie awake at night. Yet here I was... just casually answering (and solving) people's emails (between the hours of midnight and 2am). Same difference, right?! Duh!
I got pretty good at solving problems that I noticed it wasn't exactly rocket science.
It turns out anybody with an objective viewpoint can tell anyone what they're doing wrong and how to fix their issue, because it's not their own life. In fact my comment sections- turned forums- there were people with problems giving great advice to others with problems.
We have an ability to see others lives more clearly than our own sometimes.
This is similar to yelling at a TV screen when one of the characters is doing something ridiculous-CAN'T YOU SEE THE KILLER RIGHT BEHIND YOU ? No. Too close. Too obvious! But hey, people do murder their lives with endless problems.
I murdered a few of mine solving them for people. But I don't think any stupid deed goes without a great big fat slap in the face, I mean lesson.
When I ran an advice column on my new website (for 3 months), I couldn't make this sh*t up. I have heard everything. Yes, people really do use their brother to impregnate their wife if the husband can't help her conceive. Yes, it always ends badly. You solved one problem (fertility) and now you're looking at another problem (divorce, a baby, and co-parenting).
It wasn't until I received a 5-page "question" that the mother of answers revealed herself! Typically, I'd receive one question at a time, but somebody had the nerve (thank God for that) to submit a novel. If it wasn't for seeing eight(!!!!) problems glaring back at me in one submission, I wouldn't have noticed that nearly all problems boil down to just one thing.
And proximity. You're too close to your problems so your perspective is subjective and skewed up. If you keep trucking along in life like this, you pile up a hefty list of issues.
"To diagnose yourself requires the ability to achieve some distance from those on-the-ground events", says Harvard Professor Ron Heifetz. "Getting on the balcony (figuratively speaking)provides the distanced perspective you need to see what is really happening".
Also, when solving problems, look for the answer now that supports the best possible future.
There is no way some kid has enough experience in life to have divine insight into the dating or work life of an adult (i.e. scenario between my mom and I). But the reason I was right 99% of the time was because I had an outside perspective.
An outside perspective, like a twice-removed second cousin you've never met, is able to point out things you can't see. You're too close to the situation to have a good view. Take a trip up into a hot air balloon and suddenly objects that were once larger than life become ant-sized!
Some people claim they need to "get away", and while you can't successfully run away form problems, you can gain perspective by doing this.
You want to move from the eye of the storm to a witness or observer of your own thoughts and problems. This means watching your thoughts from a distance without associating yourself too heavily with them.
How on God's green earth does someone do that?
When you write it down, magic happens...
I've tried this (on myself and others) and it works tremendously. I started answering people with their own question. "How would you answer yourself?"
The goal is to have a view that incorporates a distance of time and perspective...
The problem is but one facet of your entire life. Otherwise known as the big picture.
My mom, like most people, would think about how she felt in the moment whether it was someone she was dating or an issue with a co-worker. Her vision of the events was too narrow. On the other hand, I was thinking about her- the person I knew all my life and who she really was- in relation to how well she would best handle those situations.
Have you ever felt like life is thrust upon you sometimes? If it weren't for life, you'd be this great awesome, perfect testament to humankind! Right?!
But life gets in the way....
"Some are born great, others achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them"
The other night I was watching a movie called Night at The Museum with my kids. One character, played by Ben Stiller, is a night guard at a very "lively" museum. He's this type of guy with greatness on his mind. Before begrudgingly taking on a night guard position, he was a wannabe entrepreneur and inventor.
Life had other plans.
Along comes a talking wax replica of Theodore Roosevelt played by Robin Williams. He sees this man's tendency to run from problems- the most immediate one being pissed on by a stuffed monkey in the museum...
Teddy Roosevelt wisely proclaims; "Some people are born great, others have greatness thrust upon them".
And I thought, maybe there's a Ben Stiller night guard in all of us. Looking for our greatness in great things, but hey, it could very well resemble a monkey peeing on us.
Change is rarely noticed as an “Aha!” moment.
We can have several aha! moments, but never actually change as a result.
When it comes to positive change, it is unlikely you will experience some kind of eureka or euphoric experience without some grunt work or the full-force thrust of life upon us.
Change is more often something that happens without us really noticing; when we're not given the tools, but rather given the experience.
The process of ideal or desirable change is never as glamorous as we might imagine so we abandon it before it has a chance to transform us...before we ACHIEVE GREATNESS.
On the other hand, the fortunate few can go many years believing they have grabbed life by the horns, but the reality of personal growth looks like a river of unfortunate circumstances.
Your idea of greatness may not be doused in monkey urine, but greatness is essentially growth. And growth isn't a realm of enchantment. Growth can literally be one undesirable thing occurring to help you deal with the next one. This still classifies as growth.
The good news? We always have opportunities for growth!
We can take our own opportunities, and be equipped to handle what life hands us.
The real Teddy Roosevelt began life as a sickly child afflicted with asthma and a weak body. As he got older, he decided that he would "make his body." He got involved in gymnastics, boxing, weightlifting, and bear hunting. He made up his mind to develop himself, and even so he was thrust into precarious events; when his mother and wife died within hours of each other.
Nobody asks for the greatness that disguises itself as difficulties. But this is the greatness that grows us!
Roosevelt was a lifelong champion of the "strenuous life," from pioneering to becoming the youngest president, by default (greatness being thrust upon him).
My "moment" of greatness began with a chronic illness thrust upon me. Eventually, it led me to rearrange my life so that my demanding career didn't kill me first, and I could spend more time at home being a mommy (ironically, getting peed on).
Mommy (and part-time writer) is hardly the picture of greatness for many people, but easily the greatest thing to happen to me.
Recognize the opportunities that are not dressed up in pretty packages.
The original quote I began this post with was preceded by one more line: "Be not afraid of greatness."
Why would we fear greatness? Because we walk away from the difficult monkey moments with a piss-poor attitude instead of recognizing a prime opportunity for growth and change.
My (original) blogging career turned into answering emails regarding people's problems, like a Dear Abby or Dr. Laura (without the "Dr." suffix).
"You are very insightful, and I am grateful for the time you take, not just to answer my question but all the questions that head your way." (the last email I received before calling it quits.
I quit blogging for a while.
I have been "fixing" people's problems, beginning with my own mother's when I was a kid. What kid gives good dating advice? A lot of them I'm sure, because they're not the one dating. They are objective.
Late night texts from friends with troubles, emails from strangers who needed help sorting out their life, and opening my house up to people like a crisis center explained my early adulthood. I literally heeded the mantra about turning no one away, being helpful, kind, and compassionate to all.
It was draining...
Very few people are dumb enough to solve the endless amount of problems people have. ENDLESS! And even less people would do it for free! F*ing stupid! I got paid for blogging, not answering a barrage of questions as long as the wall of China! That was out of the goodness of my own heart. And that was my problem.
I actually claimed, I would never be a counselor, even though I went to school for counseling, because I'd inundate myself with all my patients' problems and perpetually lie awake at night. Only one thing...I was just casually solving people's problems (between the hours of midnight and 2am). Same difference, right?!
I got pretty good at solving problems.
However, anybody with an objective viewpoint can tell anyone what they're doing wrong and how to fix their issue, because it's not their own life.
This is similar to yelling at a TV screen when one of the characters is doing something ridiculous- like can't you see the killer stalking you? No, he's too close...it's too obvious! But hey, people do murder their lives with endless problems.
I murdered a few years of mine solving them for people. But I don't think any stupid deed goes without a great big fat slap in the face, I mean lesson.
When I ran an advice column on my website (for 3 months), I couldn't make this sh*t up. I have heard everything. Yes, people really do use their brother to impregnate their wife if the husband can't help her conceive. Yes, it always ends badly. You solved one problem (fertility) and now you're looking at another problem (divorce and a new baby).
It wasn't until I received a 5-page "question" that I saw a pattern! I'd receive one question at a time, but somebody had the nerve (thank God for that) to submit a novel. If it wasn't for seeing 8 problems glaring back at me in one submission, I wouldn't have noticed that nearly all our problems boil down to just one thing.
And proximity. You're too close to your problems so your perspective is subjective and skewed.
There is no way some kid is going to have divine insight into the dating or work life of an adult (i.e. scenario between my mom and I). The reason why I was right 99% of the time was because I had an outside perspective.
An outside perspective, like a twice-removed second cousin, points out things you can't see. You're too close to the situation to have a good view.
You want to move from the eye of the storm to a witness; a witness to your own thoughts. This means watching your thoughts from a distance without associating yourself too heavily with them.
How on God's green earth does someone do that?
I've tried this (on myself and others) and it works tremendously. I started answering people with their own question. "How would you answer yourself".
Write down your problem- try to pick one or two only.
Next, take a day or two and read it back to yourself.
You've gained distance in perspective and proximity.
The goal is to have a view that incorporates a distance of time...
When solving problems, look for the answer now that supports the best possible future.
...and the problem as one facet of your entire life. Otherwise known as the big picture.
My mom would think about how she felt in the moment about someone she was dating. I was thinking about her- the person I knew all my life and who she was- in relation to how well she would jive with this person, realistically and in the future.
After you have written your problem on paper (with a pen...and all that jazz), have read it a few days later, now pretend you are me (not really, but go with me on this) and answer your question(s) as if it were some random person writing into you (Dear, Whatever your name is...).
Are you motivated by pleasure or pain?
Motivation is a pain in the derrière.
The truth is I'm not motivated by fanciful dreams of myself on eight vacations a year in the tropics, a new sports car, or cash at my disposal for liposuction on my problem areas. That all sounds nice, but obviously I'm pretty comfy as I am. But the instant I realize I'm late for an appointment, my ass is in gear.
Notice the picture of the shoe above. I know a lot of women motivated by acquiring shoes like this. But seriously, we all KNOW they are a PAIN. That's not me. This obvious pain in the shoe motivates them to acquire something they really want. An image they want to portray (which is fine- no judgment here).
However, this picture makes me motivated to work from home in slippers. I'd rather suffer the self-discipline of my own crazy schedule and deadlines amongst my kids and 8 pets. I would do almost anything to avoid working a typical 9-5, commuting to work, or wearing high heels on a daily basis ever again.
Currently I have three clients who want to improve their lives. We're in the consulting phase. The first thing I have to assume about any individual is that most people are motivated by both pleasure and pain, somewhere in the grey area.
Not that we're all asses, but a donkey is both motivated by a carrot dangling in front of him or a swat with a stick from behind.
Indeed, "pain" is a powerful motivator. For pain to be motivating though, it has to be more uncomfortable than say our ritualistic negative thoughts that sweep through our brain for no apparent reason. It has to be the pain of going to the gym to see positive results. Getting up a little earlier to "catch the worm". We have to accept pain as part of the process.
You have to choose the pain, or the price to pay, to get what we want.
If "pleasure" predominantly motivated us, we'd see nearly everyone's life match their dreams and goals effortlessly. Pleasure motivates moments, but when we're talking long-term, real change, something substantial and meaningful to us, pain is involved.
For quick reference, here is pain motivation in a nutshell:
Pleasurable motivation is much easier to give credit to. People assume positivity is at the root of accomplishing goals. This is not true. Positivity is certainly toted as a cure-all. Happy quotes run down our social feeds like an enthusiastic waterfall. Most of the time, they keep us comfortable. With this barrage of pleasurable feedback, we stay stuck.
We all need a healthy dose of reality every now and then.
You can be happy and stuck too. The world is changing. You are changing. What makes you happy today will not be true tomorrow. What makes you happy in the short-term, does not lead to long-term joy.
Motivation is a push-pull effort; being pushed by pain (away from your problems and out of your comfort zone) and being led by pleasure (your dreams/goals)
People lack motivation because everyone around them supports their beliefs and scripts-whether its pity or putting them on a pedestal. Very rarely do we subject ourselves to a painful truth...let alone using that to motivate us.
Someone could be committing career or relationship suicide and everyone would be inadvertently cheering on the sidelines, encouraging the wrong behavior because they want to appear "supportive".
(Takes me back to being the only one of my friends that did not support our friend driving by her ex's house to see what he was doing. Never drive by your ex's house!)
Negative motivation is being practiced, in conjunction with other methods, by many personal development coaches, beginning with the notion that everyone has room for improvement. Minus derogatory personal attacks, they are using the rigorous truth to help people make a positive change in their lives.
Of course I like this idea, because I've seen and help implement change in people's lives using these tactics. Get real. Get better.
Choose your potion or poison (Pleasure or pain? Hint: don't go for the obvious answer).
The next time you're torn between pleasure and pain as a way of getting into motivation-mode... think of a fork in the road. Pleasure on one side, pain on the other. You are in the middle, standing in that grey area.
Facing the mouth of this fork just before it splits off into two different paths, you look
ahead at the two paths spread out before you. One is who you want to be (think of what that ideal incorporates) and the other is all things you do not want to be (think of the unpleasantness of what exactly you don't want).
You will likely choose the path to your best self, not only because you want those desirable things that one path offers, but because you also want to avoid that path that leads to more pain and unwanted things in your life. We are a mix of both!
Run out and get a psychology degree! ASAP! Ok, you can't...too expensive, not enough time, or you don't want to...so I'll save you the time and headache and explain what I learned that I didn't necessarily bargain for (we'll get to that in a moment). Let's just say, I am really careful about what I feed my brain now.
My mom is an avid Fox News watcher. I'm not- I have seen it once or twice. That may be disappointing to whichever side you pledge your allegiance to (besides the point: to be fair ALL news stations need to change their delivery of information to get my time. I prefer info in thoughtfully, written form so I can research and digest it).
I'm used to my mom talking to me in "Fox-news speak", but just this last week after her stint in the hospital, she blurted out an original nugget of insight; "I think people are more concerned about who the world thinks they are than who they really are." BINGO. I agree (if you listen long enough to somebody, you can find something you agree on).
People want to portray themselves to the world as a "good" person (that's not rocket science, but it is psychology). Psychology studies should've come with a warning label: "You can't handle the truth".
There's a thing in psychology called the actor-observer bias (you're bad, I'm good) and it basically says that we're all a**holes.
It's nothing like going to war, but you will never be the same after learning who all of us really are (something war veterans get a heaping dose of).
Time-tested studies undeniably pinpoint who we are as a people (it's not puppies and rainbows). But of course, YOU are a good person, while everyone else is subject for debate.
(Approximately 85% of people are, and react, very similarly on any given study or test. You couldn't guess that with the current divided country...and world.)
Don't ever be too certain of yourself.
Can we all agree the brain is tricky terrain and an unreliable source of who you are? Do not take yourself too seriously, right?!
You might believe yourself to be compassionate, but science states it is practically impossible to be truly compassionate for all of humankind, and even so, internalizing the suffering and experiences of others would lead to extreme emotional burnout...look what happened to Jesus!
The thought that we are not as compassionate as we think threatens the perception of ourselves or that we could be good people, but unknowingly racist for example- that can be very uncomfortable. I've experienced tests where people are flabbergasted at their results- it wasn't cohesive with who they thought they were.
The less "desirable" facets of ourselves serve as a reminder that we should not get too attached to who we think we are or who we portray ourselves to be. Unfortunately, our common threads aren't pretty- they're human. Instead of embracing that truth toward connectedness, realizing we're not all that and a bowl of grits, we try to prove how we are the good guy. We can't see who we are as natural functioning humans (the traits that bind us). Try to point it out, and people refuse to see or get very upset (yes, I try to do this).
When we choose not to see (we don't have to show) all our less desirable parts then we fool ourselves into thinking it's everyone else who has problems in their behavior or thinking. Most of those facets are things we all struggle with.
We rarely take a walk into that kind of unknown. If we did, it would resemble Alice in Wonderland.
The following exchange between Alice and the caterpillar, makes a great argument for our inability to grasp the idea of who we are:
'Who are you?' said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, 'I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'
'What do you mean by that?' said the Caterpillar sternly. 'Explain yourself!'
'I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, sir' said Alice, 'because I'm not myself, you see.'
'I don't see,' said the Caterpillar.
'I'm afraid I can't put it more clearly,' Alice replied very politely, 'for I can't understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different ways in a day is very confusing.'
'It isn't,' said the Caterpillar.
'Well, perhaps you haven't found it so yet,' said Alice; 'but when you have to turn into a chrysalis — you will some day understand, and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you'll feel it a little queer, won't you?'
'Not a bit,' said the Caterpillar.
'Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,' said Alice; 'all I know is, it would feel very queer to me.'
'You!' said the Caterpillar contemptuously. 'Who are you?'
And now I ask you, are you closer to who you are or further? How would you answer the caterpillar's question?
Like Alice came to find, what you see is not as it seems- don't distress like she did. In this scene, Alice stomped off quite perturbed at the caterpillar for pointing out she is not who she thinks she is.
Knowing ourselves is less about who we think we are (and proving that "identity" to the world), and more about accepting what a caterpillar must- there are as many facets to ourselves as there are stages before becoming a butterfly.
By "something"...I mean God.
I'm passionate about no-nonsense self-improvement. Too many of us are plagued by faulty thought patterns- I aim to change that!