Tag Archives: hope

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 Negative Thinking Can Twist Your Reality And Ruin Your Life

There are many things I’ve had to work on and address as part of my self-improvement journey, but one of the main things was being able to spot and change my negative thinking.  For as long as I can remember I suffered from chronic negative emotions such as anger and fear.  As a result of this I unintentionally ended up hurting people I loved with my words and actions.  I wanted to change these negative patterns of behavior but I didn’t know how to go about it.  At one point I came across a book by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning called “Thoughts and Feelings – Taking Control of Your Moods & Your Life.”  This book helped me tremendously and was an excellent tool for what I wanted to accomplish.

One of the first things I learned was that thoughts and thought patterns, rather than people, circumstances or events, were the cause behind my negative emotions.  As easy as it would be to blame my anger, fear, frustration, sadness, irritation, or whatever it was on a person or situation, it was always a thought or a series of thoughts that would precede and give birth to my emotions, and subsequently to my behavior.

I learned that situations in and of themselves are neutral and have no emotional content; but it is our interpretation of those situations that causes our emotions.  This was a little bit difficult for me to accept and process at first.  Surely if something appeared to me to be negative, it had to be! Looking at a situation and judging it for what it was, it was clear to me that the situation was the trigger behind my negative emotions.  But I quickly learned that that was my black-and-white mentality speaking, and a little bit of logic proved me wrong.

If in fact it the situation was the cause behind my negative emotions, absolutely everyone experiencing that situation would also experience the same negative emotions, isn’t that so?  Allow me to illustrate.  Let’s say that my teenage son has a 10 PM curfew, and he has broken the curfew several times in the past; the last time he did this I let him off with a stern warning.  Today he decided that he would not respect the curfew yet again, and came home well after midnight.  When he walked in I reacted by getting upset and irritated at him for disrespecting me and being careless and dismissive of the household rules.

But let’s say that a stranger was walking by the house just as my son was returning home, well after midnight.  Would the stranger have reacted in the same manner? It would be weird if he had.  The stranger is not emotionally involved with my son or the situation, so he would have no emotional reaction even though he observed the exact same situation I observed. Although very simplistic, this is a good example that demonstrates that the situation itself was not the cause of my angry outburst.

What then, was the real cause behind my anger and irritation about this situation? The answer? My interpretation of it; the meaning that this situation had to me, or put another way, my thoughts about the situation, regardless of how fleeting or unnoticed those thoughts were.

Here’s where I learned that if I changed my thoughts, it would logically follow that I would also change my emotions.  The tricky part was being able to identify the thoughts because they seemed to happen so quick and almost unnoticed, as if my brain was bypassed altogether and my emotions spontaneously expressed themselves.

But cognitive therapy tells us that that doesn’t happen.  There is always a thought behind every feeling, and being able to spot those thoughts is the first step towards changing behavioral patterns.  This is a skill I would recommend to anyone looking to improve their lives.  And it is indeed a skill, for it takes dedication and practice.

The situation->thoughts->emotions->behavior sequence is not always as clear as in the example I described above. Sometimes, our own emotions and behaviors join the cycle and create yet another situation which is followed by additional thoughts which then give birth to additional emotions and behavior, which then become another situation….and the cycle goes on and on.

For instance, imagine that you are on your way to work, but your car doesn’t start.  What is a possible emotional cycle that may result from this?

  1. Situation: Car does not start.
  2. Thought: “I can’t believe this. I’ll be late for work again! And my boss warned me that I’d be fired if I came in late again.”
  3. Emotions: anxiety, fear, irritation; sweaty palms, heart beating fast.
  4. Thought: “If I lose my job we won’t be able to pay the bills. It will be very difficult for me to find another job, especially these days. We will lose the house!
  5. Emotions: more anxiety, more fear; feeling sick to your stomach, dizziness.
  6. Thought: “We’ll be homeless. We’ll have to move to my in-laws and they don’t like me already. They’ll blame this entire situation on me. My mother-in-law will drive me crazy!”
  7. Emotions: sheer panic.

You can see how easy it is to get carried away by these cycles.  We’re constantly making interpretations and assigning meaning to the situations that we encounter in our lives. We judge events as good or bad, pleasurable or painful, relaxing or stressful. These judgments and labels are the result of the constant chatter going on in our minds, and this is why these thoughts are very subtle and rarely noticeable.

Since childhood we have practiced habitual patterns of thinking and have been conditioned to interpret our lives’ circumstances and events a certain way.  There will always be situations and events which will have some level of negative meaning to us; and unless we learn to identify the cycle and put into practice some techniques to break it, we’ll be in a highly stressful state most of our lives.

In my next post I will share with you some of the most common characteristics of these automatic negative thought patterns to which most of us fall prey to one degree or another, and then we’ll start looking at some techniques that we can implement right away to help us get out of the cycle. In the meantime share with us! Do you believe you’ve fallen into the automatic negative thinking trap? When does it usually happen? What have you done to get out of it?

I’d love to hear from you!

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Why Having A Magic Lamp Wouldn’t Make You Happy

magic lamp, wishes, dreams, Aladdin, dreams, goals

Imagine for a moment that you found Aladddin’s lamp. I know. Humor me. Imagine that one day you’re taking a relaxing stroll around your neighborhood and you suddenly spot something shiny hiding in the bushes.  At first you ignore it and dismiss it as something unimportant (perhaps an empty soda can?).

You continue stroll but a few moments later you can’t shake the feeling that you were meant to see that, whatever it was.  What if it was something important?  “I better make sure,” you think.  So you walk back to retrieve the shiny object and to your surprise you find yourself staring at what appears to be a magic lamp.  Could it be?  “Yeah, right.” You let out a sarcastic chuckle and laugh at yourself for thinking such a ridiculous thing. “Still… what if it is?”  You take an inconspicuous look around to make sure no one is looking, and carefully rub the sides of the lamp.

As soon as you do that, smoke starts oozing from the lamp and suddenly, out comes a genie who, to your amazement, utters those amazing words you’ve been waiting to hear all your life, “Your wish is my command.” He then tells you that he’s there to grant you all of your heart’s desires.  Not just 3 wishes, but all of them.

Now think for a moment. What would you ask for?  You’d probably ask for all the major things right away. Love, health, money, success, vacations to exotic locations, mansions, more money, more love, etc. etc. etc.  You would basically ask for all the things that you believe would make your life easy, happy, pain-free, and struggle-free.  You’d go wild, testing the waters to see if you would really be able to get all you want.

You’d then realize that you can ask not only for you but for everyone else around you.  So you’d become the biggest philanthropist, sharing your good fortune with everyone around you.  At some point, however, you’d start running out of things to ask for.  You’ve had all the vacations you could think of, helped everyone in the world (work with me here), have more money than you know what to do with, all the success and love you can imagine, all coming instantly to you without any amount of effort or struggle on your part.

How long could you live like this? Honestly. How long? A year? Ten years? Twenty?  How long would it be before you were bored out of your mind and were left feeling depressed and worthless?  How long would your mind be able to live without a challenge or a worthy goal?  How long before you felt like you were no better than an inanimate object that adds no value to anything?

Sooner or later you’d start looking for things to do, challenges to face, goals to pursue, problems to solve.  But you wouldn’t ask the genie to bring these to you, you’d want to go out and find them yourself.  We would all want to do this.  And do you know why?  Because that’s our nature.  We think that we want life to be a breeze; we think that we’d just as soon be without the worries, the pain, the suffering, the sorrow, the struggle.  From our vintage point, we’d trade our lives for the imaginary scenario I described above in a heartbeat. But how quickly we would tire of it.  We’d soon find out that a life like that is not much fun.  You probably know by now that the things we value the most are those that required some involvement or contribution from us, no matter how small; and the higher our contribution, the greater its value to us.

There is a lesson in all of this.  I’m not saying that life has to be difficult in order for it to be fun, exciting, exhilarating or rewarding.  What I’m saying is that life is not supposed to be pain or struggle free.  I’m saying that the pain, the struggle, the challenges and all the emotions associated with these things, the good and the bad, are what make the human life such a magnificent experience.

The true joy of living does not stem from never experiencing difficulties or struggles, but from overcoming them.  So don’t get all bummed out about how life may be right now.  It won’t stay that way forever.  In spite of what it seems like at times, there is perfect balance and order in the universe. The seemingly negative experiences we encounter are meant to help us become better versions of ourselves. Embrace the challenge and push forward with confidence.

Pain may be inevitable, but suffering is optional.

Decide today that you will suffer no more.  Decide today that you don’t need to wait to find Aladdin’s lamp to be happy.  Decide today that no matter what situations you encounter in life, you will make it your dominant intent to look for the good in them, for there is good to be found if we only look hard enough.  Decide today that you will take on every day with unshakable confidence, and the determination to feel good, to spread love, to experience joy in everything you do. Decide today that you will go after your goals and your dreams, and that you will enjoy and appreciate the ride as much as, if not more than, getting there.  Decide today to share your gifts with the world, which no one but you can share.  Decide today to leave your mark in this world.

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The Painful Trap of Unreasonable Expectations

Black and white; ones and zeroes.  As a person who enjoys working with computers, understands and enjoys programming languages, and is guided primarily by logic, that is how I see the world. Black and white; ones and zeroes.

At least I used to. There was a time in my life where there was no room for gray areas. Everything I experienced had to pass through that determining filter, absolutely everything and in every area of my life; my self-image, my marriage, the people I interacted with, their words, attitudes and personalities.  Everything.

Something was either good or bad; it was either for me or against me.  Everything had to be that clear and that logical, and I was the judge of it all.  If something didn’t follow that logic internal panic would ensue.  Like a computer that’s running a faulty program, I could almost sense my brain throwing out an error. “Does not compute.”

Stern in my ways, self-righteous and judgmental, I would scorn at others who would speak or behave in a manner that wasn’t up to my standards. But I wasn’t this way only towards others.  I acted this way even towards myself.  I measured myself against my own standards, and many times – many times – I failed miserably; because you see, I am human, and as a human being I made mistakes.  As a human being, I often landed in those gray areas for which I had no room or tolerance.  Being a perfectionist at heart, this made me feel angry and bitter, both at myself and at the world.

My perfectionist attitude led me to have unreasonable expectations of me and of the people I loved the most.  I would compare their behavior against impossible standards without taking into consideration the countless variables that could affect them; and then I held them accountable for failing to meet my expectations.

As a result of this, I became unlikable and disagreeable. Not a fun person to be around.  Friendships were practically non-existent.  My own wife avoided me because she never knew when I was going to tell her that she had failed to meet my expectations or didn’t measure up against my impossible standards yet again; I had done that so often, you see.

I almost lost my marriage because of this and that was my wake up call.  I remember the day like it was yesterday.  After she had announced to me that she could not take it any longer and was thinking of leaving, my whole world was turned upside down.  I demanded to know why she would consider ending our marriage after we had spent so many happy (in my opinion) years together.  Granted, I knew that they weren’t perfect years, but they were happy for the most part, weren’t they?  When she listed her reasons my heart sunk. She spoke of the pain and fear that my attitude caused her.  She told me how she felt like she was walking on eggshells when she was around me.  And she told me that as a result of this, she felt like she no longer loved me.  I could no longer hold the stern, unyielding mask that I had been wearing all those years, and I felt it crumble to pieces.  How fragile it was.  How tired it had made me.

It’s as if the blindfold that I had been wearing for as long as I can remember had suddenly been removed.  I suddenly had great clarity and saw for the first time just how much pain and stress I had unintentionally caused her.  I also saw how difficult and how stressful I had made my own life.

This was the beginning of my – our – recovery process.  I had already been working on other aspects of myself that were more obvious, but this one I hadn’t even thought of because up until that point I didn’t see it as a problem.  Rather, I saw it as a good thing, an intention to strive for excellence.  The recovery process wasn’t easy or quick.  Much time passed before my wife and I felt emotionally connected once again, before she even felt comfortable being around me once again.  And I can’t get tired of expressing how grateful I am that she stuck around and gave me another chance.

Since then I have learned that there is nothing wrong with striving for excellence, but that we must remember our individuality.  We must allow each other the ability to walk our own path.  The concept of excellence is not absolute, because each person’s standards vary greatly from the next.  Who’s to say that my standards are better? Then again I would not like it if someone else judged me according to their standards, and certainly not without walking a mile in my shoes.

I can only look at myself, my journey, my abilities and my limitations, and even then my reaching for excellence should be based solely on my effort, and not on the results that are produced.  When things don’t turn out the way I expected I now ask myself this question, “Did I try my best?”  If the answer is yes, I am satisfied even if the results are not what I wanted.  If the answer is no, rather than beating on myself for it I remind myself that I am human, and make it a point to do it again perhaps trying a different approach.

Needless to say I am a happier man.  Rather than judge, I now support those around me in their own journey.  Rather than criticize I now look for the good in a person or situation. Not only does it free them from being held prisoners of unreasonable expectations, but it frees my heart to allow more love to flow.

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The Stigma Associated With Sacrifice

Have you ever met a person who says “I’ve sacrificed xyz for xyz” with a smile on their face?  I haven’t.  I can usually tell by the tone of their voice or the look on their face that the feeling associated with their sacrifice is not a positive one, and I’m beginning to think it has something to do with the stigma associated with the word itself.

The dictionary defines sacrifice as:

An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.

That makes sense to me.  But why then do we have this somewhat negative emotion associated with it?  Shouldn’t the emotion elicited from the true recognition of the worthier cause be joy or something similar?

I thought about this, and realized that generally when I say that I’m making a sacrifice I may feel a somewhat negative emotion because I may be focused on what I’m losing or giving up rather than on the worthier cause; I may be, therefore, feeling the loss or absence of what I’m giving up instead of the joy of why I’m giving it up.

The stigma generally associated with sacrifice is one of loss, suffering, or going without. This in itself has the potential to create feelings of resentment or self-glorification.  I may consider myself a nobler person because I’ve made sacrifices.  Therefore, you must look upon me as a nobler person, too, and praise me for my ability to make such a sacrifice. On the other hand, if I‘m focused on my loss, and the worthier cause for which I gave up something ends up going south, the feeling of loss may turn to resentment.  “I sacrificed [fill in the blank] for this? What a waste!”

I’m sure not everyone views sacrifices this way, but my experience has been that when people (including me) speak of sacrifices, they generally do so with an almost sarcastic tone.   I’ve decided that I would like to change that about myself.  I would like to change my perspective so that when I sacrifice something for the sake of a worthier cause, I am so intently focused on the worthier cause itself that whatever it is that I’m giving up no longer even matters.

When parents work in order to earn money to support their family, aren’t they sacrificing something?  They certainly are. They are sacrificing family time, or fun time, or “me” time.  Yet we normally don’t call that a sacrifice.  Even parents themselves don’t call it a sacrifice.  Why? Because the focus is not on what they are giving up but on the worthier cause, taking care of their families.  No body even thinks of the time and energy that is being expended or given, because the focus is not on the loss, but on the gain that results from the loss.

These are the types of sacrifices that I’d like to make.  To others it may seem like I’m making a sacrifice, but to me it would simply feel like the most natural thing to do.  I want to get to the point where, having acknowledged and assimilated the worthier cause, the absence of what is being offered simply no longer matters.

How will I go about making this change?  I don’t know yet, but while I figure it out I’ll start by making it a point to change my perspective.  Perhaps that is all that is needed!

What does sacrifice mean to you?  What feelings have you experienced as a result of the sacrifices you’ve made?

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Embracing A Better Version Of Me

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I grew up in a household where hard feelings were harbored against anyone whom you perceived had done something wrong to you, whether it was done intentionally or otherwise; a household where people didn’t talk about their feelings, but instead acted them out.

Instead of verbally articulating that someone’s words and actions were hurtful in some way, my family members would either bottle up their feelings never speaking of them and allowing them to turn into resentment and bitterness, or they would express their hurt by lashing out verbally and sometimes even physically, against the perceived aggressor.

But of course, it wasn’t only the perceived aggressor that felt the effects of the lashing out.  The bitter effects would be felt by everyone around, and slowly but surely, everyone around would be caught up in that cycle of anger, bitterness, resentment, and victimhood.

This atmosphere is bad enough for an adult to experience, but for a growing child it can be devastating.  In time the effects of such an environment become so deeply rooted in the subconscious that sooner or later the growing child begins to act in just the same manner he observed others behave.

By the time the child becomes an adult, these negative and destructive patterns have become second nature, and without knowing why, he or she becomes a living copy of the adults from his childhood, hurting and alienating the people he or she loves the most.

That was me not that long ago.  As far back as I can remember, I observed this destructive behavior in most if not all of my family members.  I became afraid that people would hurt me, and put up all kids of walls to prevent them from doing so.  As I grew older it became difficult for me to make and keep friendships, because I scrutinized every word and every action, to determine whether they were trying to hurt me somehow.  Most of the time, I decided that they were.  The stories I told myself included lies such as:

“I’m not good enough for them.”

“They are just pretending to be my friend because they want something from me.”

“They’ll probably stab me in the back the first chance they get.”

“They are judging me for my appearance.”

“I’m not cool enough, smart enough, […] enough to be their friend.”

…and many others.  Doubting or questioning someone’s loyalty, friendship, honesty, etc. was my predominant attitude.  I also felt that in order to keep the few friends that I managed to make, I needed to make them feel sorry for me; I did not feel like I was good enough for them just as I was so I caused them to pity me so that they would not leave me, by faking illness, sadness, and pain.  Of course that did not work for long because people eventually saw right through me or got tired of my pity parties.   No wonder I was alone most of the time.

That’s what I thought the rest of my life was going to be like. It took many years for me to realize that I was creating the very circumstances that I wanted to avoid.  I didn’t want my friends to leave me, but my behavior would push them away.

These thought and behavior patterns were not limited to friendships, however.  When I got married I had the exact same attitude towards my wife. I took everything way too seriously, and often took offense when she was merely joking or being playful with me. I bottled up my feelings and harbored resentment. Were it not for the fact that my wife was extremely patient with me and held on for so long, I wouldn’t have a marriage right now.

I think I always knew that I wanted to change; I knew that these thought and behavior patterns were destructive and hurtful to me and to those I loved.  I wanted to change, but didn’t know how to go about it.

Deep inside I knew it was possible, and I believed that I could do it if only I was shown the way.  Well, nobody came along to take me by the hand or show me the way; I had to look for it myself.

I started reading a lot of personal development material.  I watched personal development videos; I listened to self-improvement lectures and recorded seminars.  Over the years I learned many techniques that helped me to heal old wounds, forgive the people who hurt me intentionally or unintentionally, develop my self-esteem, learn to love and accept myself, and overall, let go of the past; in other words, I learned to quite literally recreate myself.

I had to muster up the courage to take a hard and honest look at myself and accept that change was needed; then I had to forgive myself. This was probably the hardest part of my journey.  Being a perfectionist at heart, it was extremely difficult for me to accept that I was imperfect. That I had character flaws that needed to be addressed and changed. That people around me, people I loved, got hurt as a result of my words and actions.

The process was painful and anything but easy, but the rewards have proven to be more than worth it. As a result of what I’ve learned and applied in my journey, I am a lighter, happier, more relaxed person. I am able to smile and laugh more and frown less, and I am no longer overcome with stress or worry.  I’ve also learned that I am more of an introvert, but this does not prevent me from making and nurturing friendships.

The person who has truly experienced my transformation first hand is my wife.  She now considers me the ideal husband, and after everything I put her through, after all the pain and anguish I caused her over the years, to have her say “I would do it all over again to get to this moment” fills my heart with immeasurable joy and gratitude.

Have I arrived? Am I now at the point where I can say that there’s nothing else to change? Far from it. But I am no longer afraid to take a look at myself, because I no longer fear finding imperfections.  I am more tuned in to my thoughts and feelings. I’ve learned to spot destructive or negative thought patterns, and I know what I need to do to change them.

I know that I am imperfect, but I also know that I am human, and making mistakes is a part of the human perfection. It is how we grow and evolve into better versions of ourselves, and how we begin to realize our full potential.

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