Monthly Archives: April 2015

If You Truly Want to Be Exceptional, Go For Being Average

As far back as I can remember I used to be a perfectionist overachiever, and this was greatly due to the meaning I had derived from my life experiences growing up.  I was surrounded by people who, with the best of intentions, expected the best from me.  They had high hopes for me, and they wanted me to rise above average, to be exceptional.

It wasn’t long before I learned what I deem to be one of my most important life lessons.  I found out that when I set off for being exceptional, always striving to be the best, always reaching for first place, always pushing myself to do more, more, more, I found it more and more difficult to feel happy or even content about my current and past accomplishments; in fact, I could not even bring myself to acknowledge them, let alone enjoy them.

Whether they vocalized it or not, the expectations of those around me always rose above the results I produced.  Whenever I showed them I could do more, they expected more. The more I showed them I could do, the more they expected of me.  And if I ever I fell short of performing at my newly set standard for whatever reason (maybe I was just having a “bad” day?) the spectators around me cut me no slack.   They frowned and showed signs of disappointment, which in turn caused me to feel disappointed in myself.

As a result of this, my own expectations on myself rose high above my accomplishments; even the times when I excelled at something, I always told myself, “You could have done better. You must do better next time.”  This caused me a tremendous amount of pressure and anxiety, not to mention feelings of never being “good enough” or “special enough.” Needless to say, I was unable to find satisfaction in my accomplishments; they felt like empty victories to me. I was literally unable to be pleased with myself. How sad it was to go through life feeling like no matter what I did, I was not good enough even in my own eyes.

In his book “Supercoach” Michael Neill shares with us the concept of going for “having an average day” as a way for being exceptional.  When I first read this I was skeptical because I thought, “This goes against the conventional belief of making every day exceptional!”  And indeed it does.  At first glance it may seem like we’re being encourage for settling for an average life and being conformists or having a mediocre attitude.  But as Michael explains,

The paradoxical promise of the “average day” philosophy [is that] the cumulative effect of a series of average days spent doing an average amount of what loves and wants to do is actually quite extraordinary

It took me a bit to digest this concept but the more I thought about it the more sense it made to me.  I realized then that whenever I wanted to accomplish something or do something I wanted to do, my perfectionist overachieving attitude kicked in and suddenly the task seemed too daunting or complicated. I could anticipate my own expectations about it and felt anxious rather than motivated.  As a result, I tended to put it off!  “If I’m going to do it, it has to be perfect” – I thought – “otherwise I am not going to do it.” And then I felt burnt out before I even started.

Well you can imagine how many things got put off or postponed as a result, from making sure I spent quality time with my kids, to working on the next chapter in a book I was writing. I knew I wanted to spend quality time with my kids every day, but I always believed that it had to be this whole ordeal that would take at least a couple of hours each day in order for it to be done right.  In the case of my book, I often focused on the fact that I needed to do additional research and get all the words and all the paragraphs perfect, which again would take a long time to do.

But after reading Michael’s tip I saw how my perfectionist-going-for-exceptional attitude was actually working against me and holding me back.  So I decided to implement his suggestion and shoot for having average days instead.  This simply meant that there was no more pressure to get it perfect. The goal was just to get it done.  So I made it a point to spend at least some quality time with my kids on a daily basis. That time was sometimes spent playing a few rounds of go-fish, or talking to them while I was cooking dinner (yes, I’m a dad who loves cooking for his kids), or sitting with them on the couch with my arms around their shoulders asking them about their day.

Was it ideal? Far from it. But I realized that if I waited for the “ideal” I would rarely (if ever) get to spend any time with my kids!  At least now, I got to spend some real quality time with them, talking to them about their needs and their dreams, and really giving them my attention.   If during the time we spent together I was able to make even the tiniest bit of difference, the impact this would have over the course of their lives would be far from average!

So now, whenever I find myself putting off something I want to do or postponing it until the stars and planets align and everything is perfect, I apply Michael’s tip and get right to it.  I’m finding that as a result of that I am able to accomplish more, and get more satisfaction out of my accomplishments.  My wife and I have also made it a point to convey this attitude to our kids.  They know that we are effort-oriented rather than results-oriented, and that we don’t expect straight A’s in their report cards.  We’re making it a point to take the pressure of perfection off of their shoulders and encourage them to just give things their best shot.   We’re reminding them constantly that if they’re not pleased with the results, they can always try again. But at this point it becomes a choice rather than an expectation, and this allows our creativity and our energy to flow freely and shine.

Remember the fable of the (average) tortoise and the (overachieving) hare, and the moral of the story?   “Slow and steady wins the race!” It really is true!

What do you think of this “going for an average day” tip?  Drop me a line in the comment box below,

I’d love to hear from you!

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Ridding Yourself of Your Life-Sucking Energy-Draining Trolls Once and For All

What are Energy-Draining Trolls?

Energy-Draining Trolls are things that annoy the heck out of you when you look at them or are reminded of them.  They could be anything from a stack of papers that needs to be organized or a closet door that needs to be fixed to a pile of clothes that needs to be put away or  button that needs to be re-sewn on your suit or jacket. Every time we look at these things we are reminded of something we should do and are not doing or haven’t done, and usually the derived meaning is that we are failing at something or not measuring up.

Energy drainers suck the life out of us, and they do so often without our even realizing it.  They irritate us, annoy us, wear us down, and are constant reminders of our procrastination or perceived incompetence. That’s why I call them Trolls. They are merciless bullies. Because they drain our energy and keep us focused on what we’re not doing, they prevent us from looking at what we could be doing to be happier, healthier, more relaxed, more energized and have a better life.

So today I’m going to invite you to make a list of all your energy-draining trolls, big and small, and do something about them once and for all.  I know, I know, you carry a mental list of these things with you everywhere you go, but that’s part of the problem, you see. Items on a mental list can easily be forgotten or missed, and as a result they rarely get done, especially when they are annoying tasks or chores (or trolls) we’d rather not bother with.

Also, you can’t use your phone or tablet or any other such device to make your list because you know exactly what will happen.  Your file will accidentally be hidden among all the other applications you have there, and it will likely end up being missed or forgotten as well.  So for this exercise you’ll have to make an actual, physical, tangible list and you’re going to hang it in a place where you can see it as often as possible. We want it to be staring you right in the face every time you walk by it.

Then, you’re going to group the list into categories, such as “things I can do immediately,” “things I can do this week,” and “things I can do this month.” At the bottom of each group you’re going to write: “When I’ve eradicated these trolls I’ll reward myself by ________________” and fill in the blank with something that is pleasing and exciting to you.  Pick any variation of those words that suits you; the point is to jot down the reward.  If you can, make it something out of the ordinary so it can really motivate you. You can also write down a reward for when you finish the entire list as an additional motivator.

You’re going to give yourself 30 days to knock out these life-sucking trolls and put an end to their annoyance and energy-draining power. Then you’re going to get to work, and start doing them.

Three things are going to happen:

  • One: You’ll find that as soon as you get these energy-drainers out of your head and onto paper you’ll feel a sense of instant relief. Even though nothing has gotten done yet, at least you now have a clear idea of what it is that has to be done, and you don’t have to be wondering whether you’re missing something important.
  • Two: As a result, you’ll clear up some mental space for the really important stuff. Now that these annoying things are out of your head, you may notice that you can think clearer and be less “foggy” in general which will allow you to make better choices and see more opportunities.
  • Three: You’ll find that you’re actually going to start doing these things!  The brain has a natural tendency to want to see check-lists be, well checked off. So by having the list in a place with high visibility, you’ll constantly be giving your brain that nudge it needs to help you get those things done. And the more items you check off your list, the more motivated you’ll be to continue doing them.

When you have completed any of the groups, reward yourself immediately! Don’t put it off or wait for the “perfect moment” to reward yourself.  Show your brain that you mean business and that you deliver on your word. Savor the victory and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. Play it up as much as you can! You just took care of business instead of procrastinating, so you deserve your reward. You’ve earned it. Enjoy it!

I have found that this approach works wonders when trying to eliminate those life-sucking energy drainers. It also helps me stay productive which definitely helps me feel better about myself. Talk about a self-esteem booster! “Oh yeah, I got this!” “That’s right!” “Who’s the boss now?” “Me, that’s who!”

Ahem! Anyways, I want to encourage you to give this exercise a whirl and show yourself what you’re capable of. Give these life-sucking trolls what for and show ‘em who’s boss.  You may soon find yourself asking, “So what ELSE can I do to change the world?” And changing the world you’ll be; you can count on that!

Do you have any input or stories you’d like to share?  What are your energy-draining trolls, and how do you deal with them? Drop me a line in the comment box below.

I’d love to hear from you!

Are You A Sleep-Deprived Zombie?

The pesky alarm went off again and I pressed the snooze button for the umpteenth time. “It’s not possible,” I thought half-asleep, “I just closed my eyes!” Well, it felt like it. I had been up working late yet again, very late, and now I was paying the price and suffering the consequences. I felt incredibly tired and groggy, and I felt no enthusiasm to get out of bed.  I fought the impulse to close my eyes again. “If I close them again I may not open them until the weekend,” I thought. So I dragged my aching body out of my comfortable bed and up I went to start my day. I’m only 40 years old yet I felt like a person of 80.

Through my morning routine I wondered, “Why do I always do this to myself?” Then I realized that it was my sense of duty and responsibility to my family and my work.  I have a hard time leaving things half-done, or postponing something that I know needs to be done, so I stay up until I do it. The problem is that I don’t usually make a distinction between “must be done today” and “must be done, period.”

If anything must be done, there is no time like the present to do it, is my mentality.  While this allows me to accomplish many things in a day, I feel like I do of these things in a zombie-like manner; lifelessly.  This prevents me from being fully present in the moment, or even from getting any enjoyment out of the things I do.  That’s not living; it actually feels like dying, and it isn’t right.

I’m committed to fulfilling the rights that my wife has over me, and the rights that my children have over me, but I seldom think about the rights that my own body has over me.  My body also requires my attention and my care, and by overworking it and depriving it of the rest and sleep that it needs, I’m not fulfilling those rights.

So today I’m making a commitment to respect my body and go to bed at a decent hour at least 4 days this week.  I would say every day, but I know that would be unrealistic for me.  Nevertheless I have to start somewhere, and I’m starting right here.  And 4 days is definitely more than 0.  I’m also making a commitment to make a distinction between what “must be done” and what “must be done today.”  I will focus on the things that must be done today, and take care of the other list a little at a time.  That’s my commitment for this week, and that’s how I’ll take care of myself.

What about you? How do you take care of yourself? Drop me a line in the comment box below.

I’d love to hear from you!

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How to Determine If You Should Keep Holding On To Your “Shoulds”

Not very long ago I felt very disappointed in myself.  There were several things that I knew I should be doing but wasn’t doing them, and this made me feel like a hopeless failure.  I had been carrying around those “shoulds” for several years and every time I thought about them I felt an immense amount of guilt and shame for not being strong enough, and for not using my will power to force myself to do the things I knew I should be doing.

I later learned that these “shoulds” are very damaging to our sense of self-worth because they make us feel incompetent and less-than; they give us the impression that we are wrong or that we are doing something wrong. They weigh us down just as if we were carrying actual weights tied around our neck and shoulders, and cause us to look down on ourselves and blame our lack of discipline or will-power.

One day I came across the book “You Can Heal Your Life” by Louise Hay. In one of the chapters Louise mentions an approach that she uses in her sessions with some of her clients.  This approach involves taking a close look at those “shoulds” we have carried around on our shoulders for years, and really assessing whether they should remain with us or be discarded once and for all.

Louise’s approach works as follows:

  1. Fold a piece of writing paper in half. On the first half make a list of all the “shoulds” that come to mind. Begin each sentence with “I should [fill in the blank].”  Really take the time to find all those “shoulds” you’ve been carrying around and bring them to the forefront of your mind, and write them down.
  2. On the second half of the paper, write “Why?” as the heading; now, for each “should” that you listed in step 1, write down the reason why you should be doing it. Don’t second guess your answers; simply write whatever first comes to mind.
  3. Now you are going to go down the list of your “shoulds” one more time, except this time instead of beginning your sentence with “I should [fill in the blank]” you are going to begin each sentence with “If I really wanted to, I could [fill in the blank].” Notice that this puts a whole new light on the matter.  See if you experience any difference in the way you feel when you state your “shoulds” as “coulds” instead. After each of these statements ask yourself this question. “Why haven’t I?” And answer it honestly.

This exercise was very revealing to me.  It allowed me to clearly see that many of the things that I was beating myself up for all those years weren’t even my idea to begin with. These were ideas that were put there by other people in my life who thought that I “should” do them.  And many of these I didn’t even really want to do!  I remembered how inferior I felt when a member of my family said I should “be smart like so and so who is younger than you and already bought a house.”  What a load of baloney! Anything that fell in this category I discarded immediately, and oh what a relief that was!

As Louise explains,

There are so many people who try to force themselves for years into a career they don’t even like only because their parents said they “should” become a dentist or a teacher.

If you have been carrying around a bunch of “shoulds” that have caused you to develop guilt, shame or low self-esteem, I encourage you to give Louise’s approach a try.  If you find out that these “shoulds” shouldn’t be part of your life, don’t carry them around any longer! Write them down on a separate piece of paper, ball it up and burn it. You’ll feel tremendous amount of relief once you let them go.  If you can’t get rid of a “should” for whatever reason (be sure it’s a valid one), then at least see if you can reframe it in a way that does not cause you to feel any negative feeling when you think of it. You’ll love yourself more in the process.

Do you have any input on the subject that you would like to share?  Drop me a line in the comment box below.

I’d love to hear from you!

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The Pursuit of Happiness

Do I have the right to be happy?  That was a question I asked myself several years ago, on one of those days when nothing I did seemed to make me happy and I felt empty and unfulfilled.  I had worked so hard to be a “good” person and not follow the negative patterns I observed as a child.  I had embarked on this self-improvement journey which had helped me to overcome many negative tendencies. I was married to a wonderful, supporting wife and was blessed with 3 beautiful children.  Yet, I always felt like something was missing in my life.

You see, before I got married I used to think, “Maybe when I get married I’ll be truly happy.”  And when I got married I thought, “Maybe when I have kids I’ll be truly happy.” But don’t misunderstand; of course I was happily married, but I’m talking about lacking that deep sense of well-being that seemed to be missing within me.  When my first child came I thought, “Maybe when I have more money I’ll be happy,” and on and one the cycle went, and each time that the desire was fulfilled, the deep sense of well-being I craved kept eluding me and seemed unreachable.

But it wasn’t until later in my journey that I discovered that the things and people on whom I placed the expectation to make me happy were not to blame for my not attaining my happiness.  That was an unfair and irrational expectation placed on them, because it was not their job to make me happy.  I realized that I was not attaining the level of happiness I was looking for because I was looking for it in the wrong place.

You see, I had learned very early on – when I was a baby, in fact – to connect my source of happiness to the people and things that I believed were the cause of it, whether it was my parents or siblings, my toys, my activities, etc.  It’s the most natural thing in the world for all of us to do when we’re growing up, because those things do seem to help bring us back to the state of bliss in which we’re born.

As we grow older it becomes second nature for us to continue attributing the source of our happiness to those things outside of us; we place expectations on people around us such as our spouse, our children or our friends; we spend much time and energy trying to obtain the material things that we believe will make us happy such as the new car or latest gadget; we invest so much of ourselves on the activities we engage in such as our jobs or our hobbies.

As Michael Neill puts it in his book Supercoach, if we believe that our happiness comes from a particular person, we’ll put up with all kinds of nonsense we wouldn’t ordinarily put up with just to keep that person around; if we believe it comes from our work, we’ll invest more time and energy in that job at the expense of our health or even our principles. In other words, whatever it is that we attribute our happiness to will determine how far we’re willing to go to get it.

This approach seems to work, and that’s the primary reason we keep trying it.  However we soon find that the results are only temporary and the happiness is short-lived.  As the novelty wears off and we lose that temporary state of happiness, we begin craving it once again and, just like an alcoholic or a drug addict, we search anxiously for our next “fix” to bring it back. Because it did work, if only temporarily, we believe that this is the right approach; we just haven’t found the thing, the real thing that will make us happy. So we try it again and again whatever the cost may be for the sole purpose of finding that happiness.

But the problem is that we’re going about it the wrong way to begin with, because we can never find something that was never lost.  We are born in a natural state of bliss, and the real source of happiness is within us at every moment. Therefore, when we feel like we’ve disconnected from that state of bliss, we do not need to look outside of ourselves for something to bring us back to it. What we need to do is look within, and focus our attention and energy in realizing our highest and truest self. Michael Neill puts it beautifully:

“Well- being is not the fruit of something you do; it is the essence of who you are.  There is nothing you need to do, be or have in order to be happy.”

This is not to say that we should not engage in activities that bring us pleasure, or spend time cultivating friendships with pleasant people, or do things to please our spouse, or buy that new car or that new gadget, or go after whatever goal we want to accomplish.  But as Michael Neill puts it, we should focus our energy in being happy going for what we want, rather than going for what we want in the hopes that one day it will make us happy.

I believe that this is something we are meant to discover on our own at one point or another in our lives, when we are ready. And when we do, it’s like an awakening, an aha! moment that causes us to truly assimilate this truth in a way that no amount of teaching or preaching can.

I will close with an Old Sioux Legend that seems to fit here:

In ancient times, the Creator wanted to hide something from humans until they were ready to see it. The Creator gathered all the animals and sought their advice.

The Eagle said, “Give it to me. I will take it to the highest mountain and keep it there.” The Creator replied, “One day, the humans will conquer the highest mountain, and find I, but they may not be ready for it.”

The Salmon said, “Give it to me. I will take it to the deepest ocean and keep it there.” The Creator replied, “One day, the humans will explore the deepest depths of the ocean, and find it, but they may not be ready for it.”

The Buffalo said, “Give it to me. I will bury it in the heart of the great plains, and keep it there.” The Creator replied, “One day, humans will rip open the earth and find it there, but they may not be ready for it.”

The creatures were stumped, until an old blind mole spoke up and said: “Why don’t you hide it inside them? That is the very last place they will look.” The Creator said, “It is done.”

Do you have an aha! moment related to happiness that you’d like to share? Drop me a line in the comment box below.

I’d love to hear from you!

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Shattering the Illusion of Control

Holding a Crystal Ball

Before I began my self-improvement journey I used to think that I was in charge.  I used to believe that it was my job to be in control of making sure that my family was safe, that we had a roof over our heads and food on the table, and that the money I made was enough to take care of all our needs.  Boy was I mistaken!

I was the head of the household and the only person in my family getting paid for my work, so that did sort of place some responsibility on my shoulders.  Notice I did not say that I was the only person working; that would not have been true, because my wife did work and more so than me, she just didn’t get paid for it.  My job at least ended when I left the office, and I usually had nights and weekends free.  Her job as a mother and homemaker, however, didn’t allow for such privileges. She literally worked around the clock.

Back in those days I was confusing responsibility with outcome, and in my mind there seemed to be no distinction between the two, especially when it came to providing for my family.  You see, I believed that if I was not able to provide for my family, if I wasn’t able to take care of our needs, that would mean that I was a failure.

Back in those days I had a job that paid okay; not good but okay. Back then not only did I believe that this was probably the best I could do with my knowledge and experience, I also believed that there was no other job out there that would provide the flexibility I needed to be able to take care of my family.  The job provided a certain level of safety for me and my family, so even though I knew I wasn’t getting paid very well, I felt it necessary for me to stay in that job in order to remain in control of my family situation.

I also believed that I had to watch our expenses like a hawk in order to make sure we had enough money for rent, food, and other necessities, so I would often worry and stress greatly about our finances. Even when there was enough money to cover our need, I used to worry that we would overspend or that something would happen that would put us in the negative; after all, we were barely making it every month.  So I had to be vigilant and watchful of our expenses in order to remain in control of our finances.

These were just two of the many ways I worried and stressed for many years (and caused those around me to worry and stress) because I believed that I had control, and that it was my job to have control.  Once I began my self-improvement journey, however, I soon discovered that much of my worry and stress and my excessive need to have control was founded in fear.  Fear of becoming a failure; fear of not having enough; fear of not being enough.

My mentality was, “It is my job to ensure that my family is safe.”  But I could never be with them 24 hours of the day, 7 days a week.  I was at work or otherwise occupied in some task for many hours, and not with them, not watching over them, not protecting them, so who was in control during that time? Not me.

My mentality was, “It is my job to ensure that our needs are provided for, because if I don’t do it, who will?” But my health and my life were not guaranteed; I could have easily dropped dead or fallen ill at any point in time; who would have provided for our needs then? Who would have been in control then? Not me.

With a little analysis, my illusion of control was equally shattered in all other areas of my life in which I believed I had control.  I realized then that I wasn’t in control, and that the control I seemed to have was no more than an illusion created by me and the expectations I imposed on myself.  The reality was that my only job was to ensure that I did my best, and then the outcome would be taken care of just as it always was. My responsibility is not, and has never been, the outcome. My responsibility has always and only been my effort.  And this effort was not limited to me working hard at my job, but it included making sure that I changed and improved my thought patterns to allow me to see the resources and opportunities readily available to me.

When I realized this I felt tremendous relief.  It was like having a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. The effects were almost instant. I began to see and explore other possibilities that I didn’t even know existed.  I began to see life in a new light and to believe that better things were possible. My attitude and demeanor improved greatly and so did my health because I no longer carried the burden of results on my shoulders. I realized then that I no longer had to fear being enough, because my being enough was never measured by any external circumstance. In fact, being enough was a state that nothing or no one could take away.

Yes, I did get a better job, and not just one that paid better, but one that actually provided greater flexibility and better benefits for me and my family.  I now make it a point to share this with whoever will listen.  Whenever I hear someone speak of their worries it reminds me of the way I used to think back then. So I try to help them realize that they are enough just as they are, and that their only job is to focus on themselves putting their best effort forward. I encourage them to let go of the illusion and see and embrace the reality and the truth, because in the end, the truth will set them free.

Do you have any input on this subject?  Drop me a line in the comment box.

I’d love to hear from you!

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How To Find Out If Your Decoder Glasses Are Serving You Or Holding You Back

I love board games. They are an excellent way to spend time with family and friends while having a lot of fun.  But did you know that one board game in particular can help you improve your life almost instantly?  It did for me, and I’m about to share with you how it did that.

I’m talking about the game “Password.” Did you ever play it? It’s a fun game from the ’60s or ’70s in which the players try to guess a “secret” word based on minimal clues given by their opponents or by someone from their team.  The secret word is printed on a special card and is “encoded” by red and white squiggles that make the word appear invisible to the naked eye; however, when looked at through the special decoder glasses that are included in the game, the word is “magically” revealed.

After writing my post yesterday about the principle which states that we tend to experience more of what we focus on,  I suddenly realized the striking similarities between this board game and the game of life; our life.

Have you ever met or been around a person whose very aura feels negative to you? Someone who is constantly complaining or whining about how bad things are in his or her life?  People like these are generally unpleasant to be around because their attitude about life just seems to bring us down.

On the other hand, have you been around people who are the complete opposite?  These are people whose very presence just seems to brighten our day and make us feel better.  People in this category seem energetic and full of life and their attitude about life is always positive and uplifting.  You can’t help but smile in their presence.

What is the difference between these two types of people?  Some may claim that this was probably due to the conditions of their upbringing or how they were raised.  But that’s unlikely.  If the difference were due to their upbringing, siblings who were brought up in the same household would all have similar attitudes towards life and therefore similar auras; yet I know of several examples of such siblings who have grown up to have totally different attitudes and auras. A classic metaphor used to illustrate this phenomena is one about two siblings who were raised in the same household, yet one grew up to be a successful businessman while the other grew up to be a drunk bum.

When the drunk bum was asked about the reason behind his failure, he stated, “I come from a broken home and had a terrible childhood; as a result, my life has been filled with one misfortune after another.  This weakened me and broke my spirit, and that’s why I am where I am today.” When the successful businessman was asked about the reason behind his success, he replied, “I come from a broken home and had a terrible childhood; as a result, my life has been filled with one challenge after another; that made me stronger and more determined to succeed, and that’s why I am where I am today.”

As you can see, the two brothers had the exact same upbringing and were exposed to the same circumstances, yet they both attributed the reason behind their success or failure to the same thing.  What does this reveal to us?  To me, this story reveals that our individual life experiences are never based on our conditions or circumstances, but rather on the attitude towards them and the meaning that we assign to them.

You see, I believe that we all walk through life wearing permanent invisible decoder glasses just like the ones that are used in the board game, and all the experiences we encounter in our lifetime are those that we pick up or are able to read based on the lens that our glasses have.  This lens acts as a filter, and out of everything that life has to offer, we are only able to pick up or attract those experiences which match our filter.  That’s where our attention will be focused, and that is all that we’ll see.

I find this to be fascinating, because it means that at any given moment we have the power to change our life experience and remove what we don’t want to see simply by changing the lens in our decoder glasses, therefore shifting our focus to what we do want to see.

This is great news, because it means that while I may not have control over everything that happens in the world, I do have control over what I see and how I see it, and what I do with the information I receive.  Read again the metaphor of the two brothers and see if what I stated makes sense in their case.  The two brothers were exposed to the same situation and circumstances, but one of them was wearing decoder glasses that allowed him to see his life experiences as negative, and all he ever saw was the misfortunes that plagued his life, and eventually led him to ruin.  The other brother was wearing decoder glasses that allowed him to see the same life experiences as challenges that propelled him higher and higher in his path of success; all he saw were the positive qualities that each of those experiences helped him to develop, and which eventually led him to his great success.

The thing I’d like you to take away from today’s post is this: that which you consider good and that which you consider bad are both readily available to you everywhere.  There is an abundance of both types of experiences all around you. What you actually see and what you end up incorporating into your life experience will depend on the filter that you choose to look at the world with. You have that decision each and every day, every second of your life.

So I will close today by inviting you to analyze the lens of your decoder glasses.  Remember, we all are wearing these glasses, the only difference is the lens or filter that they have.  So I invite you to take some time to really ponder on this and determine if the lens that you’re wearing is serving you or if it’s holding you back from reaching your highest potential.  If you discover that you are wearing a lens that serves you, congratulations! Continue doing what you’re doing.  If not, what are you waiting for? Replace your lens immediately and begin your journey to a better, richer, more rewarding life today.

Do you have any input on this subject?  Drop me a line below.

I’d love to hear from you!

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How To Instantly Improve Your Life Using This Simple Yet Effective Technique

One day while sitting at a coffee shop I overheard a conversation between two women who were sitting directly in front of me.  No, I was not eavesdropping, they just happened to be talking in a rather loud voice, and the coffee shop was small so the tables were pushed rather close together.  I heard one of the women say “Every time I make a little bit of money, something bad happens and I end up having to spend it right away.  I just don’t know what to do anymore! I just can’t seem to be able to save any money.  Just the other day we got our yearly bonus at work, and not 2 days later my car broke down and we had to use practically every penny of it on the repairs, which wasn’t much to begin with.”

I zoned out after that.  You see, a while ago I learned that engaging in conversations of a negative nature – complaining, whining, or just talking about everything that’s wrong with the world – has the potential to perpetuate the very situation we’re complaining about by the mere act of giving our attention to them, especially when there is nothing we can do about them.

I found this to be true in my life; I found that the more I complained about something, the more accentuated that something became, and the more of it I experienced!  For instance, I had a habit of dreading traffic. I often told people, “I can’t stand driving, and I especially hate sitting in traffic.”  But that wasn’t entirely true.  I’ve always found driving to be enjoyable, but I often got tense and anxious the moment I saw red tail lights on the road, especially if I was on my way to work or to an appointment.

The problem was that whenever I was on the road I often found myself stuck in traffic, and so slowly but surely the association became lodged in my subconscious: driving = stuck on traffic = ugh! I often complained to people at work about how bad traffic was in the morning. If I was meeting up with friends or colleagues I complained to them about how bad traffic was on my way there.  This habit became so engrained in me that my first thought when getting in the car usually was, “I hope there is no traffic.”  So what do you think I often encountered? You guessed it! Traffic, and plenty of it!

So when I learned that giving my attention to something tends to accentuate it in my experience, I decided to test it out.  I made it a point to not give my attention to this dreaded traffic, and focus instead on something else, something pleasant.  I made it a point to change my thought when getting in the car to something other than traffic.  For instance, I would take a deep breath and think, “What a gorgeous day today is!” Or, “I’ve never seen the sky so blue!” or anything else that was positive or uplifting.  The thought I chose had to be non-traffic related, because if the thought was related to traffic in any way, my focus would still be on traffic! So that would not work.  I also decided that driving was the perfect time to listen to some recorded self-improvement seminars or some uplifting or relaxing music.

Let me tell you. It wasn’t long before I started seeing a marked difference in my driving experience. Slowly I started noticing that I found much less traffic in my commute to wherever I was going, at whatever time of the day.  And even when there was traffic, it seemed to flow faster in whichever lanes I chose.

I then conducted an experiment to see if the opposite was also true; meaning that if I focused on something that I did want to see manifested in my life, would I experience more of it? To my amazement, my experiment brought about similar results. This was to me a clear indicator that the notion that whatever we focus on we’ll tend to see more of was completely accurate.

Since then I made it a point not to give my precious attention to anything I did not want to see manifested in my experience, and focus instead on those things that I did want to see more of; and I’ve had wonderful results.

That day that I was sitting at the coffee shop and overheard that woman complaining about her money situations, my mind suddenly took me back to when I learned about this principle.  She seemed upset and worried, which I understood completely. I had no reason to believe that things weren’t as she described them, so her feelings about her situation were perfectly reasonable.  But it occurred to me that if she were to shift her focus or take on a new perspective on her situation, she would feel much better about it.

You may be wondering, “But what is the use of feeling better about it, if the situation itself remains the same? Aren’t you just lying to yourself or being unrealistic?”  But I would ask you these questions: “What is the use of complaining about it, if the situation itself remains the same? Don’t you feel worse rattling on about how bad your situation is? If there is something you can do about the situation, do it and make it a point to expect the best outcome.  But if there is nothing you can do about it, wouldn’t you rather spare yourself this unnecessary added stress and worry?”

It’s something to think about isn’t it? A simple shift in perspective or refocusing of your attention can turn your attitude 180 degrees and do wonders for you, your health, your beliefs, and your expectations, which ultimately shape your reality.

If I were standing in this woman’s shoes, knowing what I know today I would shift my attention and alter my story by saying this instead:

“I am so grateful that my needs are so anticipated, that the money I will need for whatever situation that comes up is provided to me in advance.  I don’t even have to worry about “what ifs” because I have received an abundance of evidence that my needs will always be provided for. I have plenty of examples to support this truth; for instance, my car broke down just the other day and it required a lot of major repairs, but you know what? Not 2 days prior to that, almost the exact amount of money I was going to need was provided to me via my bonus at work and I did not have to spend a single dime out of pocket. How wonderful is that!”

Don’t you feel better about this woman’s situation just by reading that? Don’t you hear and feel the attitude of gratitude in those words?  Wouldn’t you rather live your life in a state of gratitude, trust and reliance that everything will turn out all right?

I will leave you with a quote that my wife shared with me which encompasses this message perfectly:

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.
~ Mary Engelbreit

Do you have any thoughts on this that you would like to share with me?  Leave me a comment below.

I’d love to hear from you!

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How To Give Your Negative Thoughts a Knockout Punch

So far we’ve discussed some eye-opening facts about automatic negative thoughts and learned how they can twist our perception; we’ve also learned about the characteristics of automatic negative thoughts so that we can easily identify them.  It is now time to put into practice some techniques to help us stop these negative thoughts dead on their tracks.

Today I will be talking about a skill I learned from the book “Thoughts and Feelings – Taking Control of Your moods and your life” which the authors call “Thought-Stopping.”  So put on your boxing gloves and prepare to give those negative thoughts a knock-out punch!

Thought-Stopping

Thought stopping involves focusing our attention on the unwanted negative thoughts for a short period of time, then interrupting the train of thought abruptly by vocalizing the command “Stop!” or making a physical move to act as an “interruptor.”  It’s a very similar approach to the one used by Pavlov when conditioning his dogs to salivate upon hearing the ringing of a bell.

I used this method successfully whenever my mind was preoccupied with thoughts of excessive worry.  For instance, I used to stress excessively about our financial situation and whether we were going to make it to my next paycheck.  This caused me to be in a high level of stress and anxiety for most of my waking hours, and any sign of an unforeseen expense, however small, would set me off on a worry tangent.

Here’s how this technique works:

Preparation

  1. Take a piece of writing paper and fold it in half. At the top of the page write “Trigger Situation” as the heading for the first half, and “Negative Thoughts” as heading for the second half.
  2. On the section labeled “Trigger Situation,” briefly describe a scenario that typically causes you stress, worry or anxiety. A single sentence is preferred.  For instance, in my case I would write “Looking at my bank statement.”
  3. On the section labeled “Negative Thoughts” write down the thoughts that generally plague you regarding that situation. In my case I would write “We won’t be able to make it. I can’t believe money is running out so fast.  We won’t have money for groceries or even to put gas in the car, so how will I be able to get to work? If I can’t pay the rent we’ll be evicted and then where will we go?” As you write, allow any feelings or physical sensations to come up and cue in additional negative thoughts associated with this scenario.
  4. Now flip the page over to the blank side, and at the top of the page write “Positive Situation” as the heading for the first half, and “Positive Thoughts” as the heading for the second half.
  5. In the section labeled “Positive Situation” you are going to briefly describe a scenario or topic that you would like to focus on instead of the triggering situation. Again, a single short sentence is preferred.  It could be anything positive from a vacation, an achievement or award, a person you love, or even a pet.  The key here is that whatever you pick must not be related to the triggering situation at all.  You’ll be writing pleasant thoughts about something that brings you peace or pleasure.  In my case I love the beach especially at night because I find it very peaceful and relaxing, so I would write “sitting on the beach on a cool, full moon night.”
  6. Finally, in the section labeled “Positive Thoughts” you are going to write down some thoughts associated with the positive situation you chose. Just as you did with the “Negative Thoughts” write down some brief sentences about the situation that you find pleasurable or peaceful, and allow the positive feelings or sensations to come up and queue in additional thoughts as you write.  In my case I would write something like “I’m sitting barefoot on the beach, and feeling the cool sand between my toes; I feel the cool, refreshing ocean breeze gently brush my face; I close my eyes and I hear the soothing sound of the waves. I take in a deep breath and feel the salty scent of the ocean fill my lungs.”

The process

You are now ready to begin. Keep in mind that this technique requires you to set aside some time for the process, so that you can practice it while you are in a calm and stress-free state of mind.  It cannot be successfully learned while you are in the middle of stressful situations, and as you read through the process you’ll understand why.

When you are ready to begin follow these steps:

  1. Sit in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for at least 5-10 minutes. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and relax your body completely.
  2. Now look at your paper and read silently the “Triggering Situation” and the “Negative Thoughts” you wrote about. As best as you can, focus on the thoughts and feelings that come up, taking in any sounds, scents, or sights from the scenario you described.
  3. Allow the scenario to become as vivid as possible and sit with it for a while until you feel like you are on an unstoppable train to worryland (or whatever emotion you feel as a result of the negative thought pattern).
  4. Once you’ve reached that obsessive-like state, shout “STOP!” very loudly, and mean it! To accentuate the effect snap your fingers, clap your hands loudly, or stomp your feet once.
  5. Immediately empty your mind of the unpleasant thoughts, flip the page over, and read the positive scenario and related positive thoughts you jotted down. Allow yourself to switch completely to the positive scenario and focus on it as much as possible, taking in all the pleasant sights, sounds, scents, and imagery from the scene; breathe slowly and deeply.  Do this for at least for 30 seconds.
  6. If the negative thoughts or feelings return before the end of the 30 seconds, shout “STOP!” again and focus on your positive scenario and positive thoughts.

Follow the above process until you are successfully able to stop the negative train of thought dead on its tracks when shouting “STOP!”  If you find that the positive scenery you’ve chosen is no longer strong enough to hold your attention, the authors recommend picking a different one.  It is important that the imagery you choose helps you to completely make the switch from the negative train of thought to a positive one.

As you can see, this technique does not involve resisting the negative thoughts; often, trying to resist a negative thought pattern can backfire and end up accentuating it or reinforcing it instead. This technique is about training or conditioning your brain to instantly (and eventually effortlessly) switch the focus to a different, unrelated positive thought pattern.

Advanced thought-stopping

Once you’ve succeeded in interrupting the negative thought pattern and refocusing on a positive one by shouting “STOP!” it is time to begin preparations to bringing this newly acquired skill into the real world.  Don’t worry, I am not going to ask you to yell “STOP!” and clap, stomp or snap your fingers in the middle of your next office meeting or while you’re standing in front of a bank teller making a withdrawal.  Imagine that!

What you’ll be doing is slowly modifying the technique, but you’ll be doing it in stages:

  1. Still in private, begin to interrupt the negative thought pattern by speaking the word “Stop” in a normal voice instead of shouting it.
  2. When you have succeeded in doing this, switch to just whispering “Stop.”
  3. Finally, don’t say anything at all, but instead think the word “Stop!” as if it was being shouted inside your mind. If you have difficulty accomplishing this, wear a loosely fitting rubber band around your wrist, and try thinking the word “Stop!” being shouted in your mind while at the same time snapping the rubber band just enough to feel the snap but not enough to cause you pain.

When you have succeeded in reaching level 3 above, you will be ready to bring this newly acquired skill into the real world without bringing attention to yourself.  The next time you find yourself in a situation that causes you stress, worry or anxiety, and you find your mind being plagued by obsessive negative thoughts, shout “Stop!” in your mind (and snap the rubber band if you need to) to interrupt the train of thought, and switch to your positive imagery.

Final words

Remember that this is a skill and every skill requires practice to master it.  If you’ve struggled with being able to stop or interrupt negative thought patterns, don’t beat yourself up for it.  Be patient with yourself and give yourself time.  It is likely that negative thoughts will return time and time again even after you’ve mastered this or any other thought-stopping technique.  The important thing is to condition your brain to make the switch as early on as possible and to focus on the positive imagery, so that in time the frequency of their occurrence will be greatly reduced.

Have you used this or any other technique to make the stop or replace negative thinking?  Please share with us.

I’d love to hear from you!

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How Negative Thinking Can Twist Your Reality And Ruin Your Life – Part 2

In my last post I talked about automatic negative thoughts being the reason behind our negative emotions, and explained that it is the meaning that we have attached to people, circumstances and events that trigger the automatic negative thinking cycle rather than the people, circumstances and events themselves.

Today we’ll be looking at ways to identify those negative thinking patterns as the first step towards stopping them and ultimately changing them.

Here are some characteristics of automatic negative thoughts to help you identify them.  As you read, try to see if you can relate to any of them:

  • Automatic negative thoughts often express themselves as one or two words which we already associate with some negative meaning, for instance, fear or loneliness. Sometimes they don’t express themselves as words at all, but rather as flashes or brief images, or even as memories of scents, sensations, taste, etc. I my case I experienced this in an intensified manner. The memory of a person who had broken my trust in the past was enough to put me in a bad mood, and that memory could be triggered by the mere mention of the person’s name.  All of a sudden my demeanor would change to the point that it was clearly discernible to those around me that something was bothering me.  This happened because the utterance of single word (the person’s name) triggered a series of automatic negative thoughts associated with that person breaking my trust.
  • Automatic negative thoughts are usually very believable to us; when they occur, we tend to grant them the same validity as the validity we ascribe to things we perceive with our senses such as the color or texture of an object. Basically, we think it therefore it must be true.
  • Automatic negative thoughts often involve words such as should or ought to, which imply a certain level of expectation whether from ourselves or from others. A person may think, “I should clean the house because it’s a mess.” This is a self-imposed expectation which, if not fulfilled, may result in negative emotions such as self-blame or feelings of failure or low self-esteem.  And while it’s true that some “shoulds” are valid, they happen so automatically that we tend to take them at face value without analyzing them or modifying them to fit the situation.
  • Automatic negative thoughts tend to exaggerate (or as the book “Thoughts and Feelings” calls it, “awfulize”) the situation. They tend to predict and expect the worst in everything. And while this may have its function in helping us prepare for worst-case scenarios, we must learn to keep these thoughts in the proper perspective as tools rather than as reality.
  • Automatic negative thoughts vary tremendously from the way we describe our circumstances or events to others. When speaking to others we tent to describe our situations in a cause and effect context; however, our self-talk about the same situation may include words of blame or guilt or detrimental predictions. For instance I could say to someone, “I’m feeling sad because I hurt your feelings.” But internally, my self-talk would be more like, “I’m a terrible person. I can’t believe I did it again.   What kind of a monster am I?”
  • Automatic negative thoughts are generally theme-based, especially in the case of chronic emotions. For instance, chronic anger may be caused by thoughts about deliberate hurtful words or behavior from others, and chronic anxiety may be caused by thoughts of danger or impending doom. I could see now that my chronic anger stemmed from my thoughts about other people looking to intentionally hurt me or take advantage of me in some way.

These are just a few of characteristics to help you identify automatic negative thoughts.  On my next post I will provide some tips on how to go about stopping the cycle before it spins out of control, and we’ll explore some techniques we can implement to change the direction of our thoughts.

Do you have any additional input on this subject that you’d like to share? If so, please do so in the comment box below.

I’d love to hear from you!

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