Tag Archives: peace

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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The Secret To Stop Growing Old

Do you feel your age?  Or do you feel older than your age, much older perhaps? Do you feel tired and drained?  Whatever your age is I invite you to read on and discover what you are doing that could be causing you to grow old faster, and what you can do to stop it before it’s too late.

Take a short trip with me down memory lane and recall if you can a time in your childhood when you were truly happy.  A time when you didn’t have any cares or worries and you were just happy.  Try your best to bring back all the details of that memory. When was it? Where were you? What were you doing? Were you alone or were others there with you?

Now close your eyes and sit with this memory for a moment before reading on.

Did you enjoy it?  Did it make you feel good? Did you smile as you remembered? Did it make you feel happy? Did it make you feel young?

Now bring your awareness back to the present, and think about your life as it is now.  Do you feel old again? Did your smile fade away? What happened to that little child?  Does he/she still come out to play, carefree and full of energy, or has he/she grown scared of the world and taken refuge in a dark corner within the older you?  When was the last time you played and laughed like that child?  When was the last time you channeled your inner child, and truly allowed him or her to express him or herself?

Has it been long?  If so, I invite you to ask yourself the reason behind that.  Are you scared that that child will be hurt?  Have you become so overprotective of your inner child that you, yourself, are preventing him/her from coming out to play?

Or do you feel like you are so overwhelmed with “grown up responsibilities” that you have no time to play? It’s easy to postpone or do away with playing when we become so absorbed with our everyday lives.  After all, who has time to play when there are bills to be paid, mouths to be fed, responsibilities to be fulfilled…?

Or is it, perhaps, that you believe that adults are supposed to behave like adults, and not like immature little children?  Do you frown when you see grownups acting silly or just “having too much fun”? Or… are you secretly wishing that you could do the same?

I invite you to really ponder these questions and come up with some truthful answers, because your answers will reveal to you why it is that you feel as old as you feel.  At one point or another we all experienced that carefree child spirit.  We played pretend and absorbed ourselves in imaginary worlds that were filled with fantasy.  We built sand castles, we erected fortresses, we constructed spaceships and race cars, we fought pirates (or perhaps we were pirates); we engrossed ourselves in these activities so much that we lost track of time and space.  Those were good ol’ times weren’t they?

But at some point, somewhere down the line we were introduced to work and responsibility. We were told to stop dreaming and focus on reality. We were instructed, whether with words or by example, to start taking life more seriously, because after all, we weren’t children anymore.

Somehow we got the idea that growing up meant that we had to smile less and stress more; that we had to stop playing and focus all our energy on working; that we had to dream less and do more.

But is that really true?  Must we really bury that free-spirited child in order to live a fulfilling life? Wherever did we get that idea?  It is true that as we grow up, get jobs, get married, have children, our responsibilities increase and our free time decreases.  But where did we get the idea that we had to carry out our responsibilities without having any fun in the process? That we had to frown, be stressed, or be “serious” in order to show that we are mature grownups?  All of this has nothing to do with maturity.  Maturity is demonstrated by taking care of our responsibilities, not by how stressed or serious we are or look when we take care of them.

I believe that it is possible for us to let that inner child out to play again.  Not only is it possible, it is a must if we are to enjoy life to the fullest.  I know all of us are busier than we’d like and it’s difficult to find the time to involve ourselves in fun activities.  But this is precisely why we must make it a point to let our inner child come out to play as often as we can while we carry on with our grown up responsibilities.  Understand that I’m not talking about acting like a child while you’re in that important office meeting or taking that exam.  I’m talking about feeling like a child as often as you can, no matter what you’re doing. I’m talking about letting go of those inhibitions and letting that fun side of you really shine through.

You know the side I’m talking about. You have it. We all do.  But maybe we’re afraid that people will laugh at us or frown at us if we show it.  You know what?  Let them.  Let everyone else frown and think what they want.  Show them that it’s perfectly okay to feel young, to not take life so seriously, to be happy.

How do you go about it?

Next time you are around children pay attention to them.  See how uninhibited they are.  See how little they care about what the other children think.  See how happy they are as a result of it.  Then make it a point to be just like them.  Here are 10 suggestions to help you coax your inner child out of his or her hiding place:

  1. Next time you’re moving from one place to another, whether it’s going from one room to another in your house, or from one isle to the next in the supermarket, skip instead of walking.
  2. Next time you take out the trash pretend there is a hopscotch drawing on the floor and hop, hop, hop your way to the dumpster.
  3. Buy a coloring book and crayons or coloring pencils, or a sketch pad and sketching pencils and spend 5-10 minutes coloring or drawing while you wait for your laundry to be done.
  4. Surprise your child or spouse by tickling the heck out of them. Then dare them to do the same to you and run!
  5. When stepping out of the shower make funny faces or talk in funny voices in front of the mirror.
  6. Next time you pick up your kids from school ask them what they did in school that day. When they tell you what they did, say, “Sounds boring compared to what I did.” Then make up a fantasy about going to the moon, or fighting monsters, or having a sea adventure.
  7. Dance in place as you cook, do the laundry, or make a deposit at the ATM.
  8. Buy a bubble set and have fun making and popping bubbles at the park while you watch your children play.
  9. Put stickers or post-it notes on your face while doing paperwork or paying bills.
  10. Next time you’re cooking dinner wear a bowl on your head and pretend it’s a chef’s hat, then narrate what you’re cooking as if you were doing a cooking show.

Give these suggestions a try, or come up with your own! There are hundreds of ways to channel your inner child and have fun while taking care of your adult responsibilities.  Whatever you do, give yourself permission to be free, and smile as you’re doing it.  Not only will you be less stressed and have more fun, you’ll be stopping or even reversing the aging process.

This post was inspired by my lovely wife whose inner child is always inviting my inner child out to play, and who reminds me every day that, no matter how hectic our lives are, there is always time for laughter.

We don't stop playing because we grow old...  We grow old because we stop playing.

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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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Remember This The Next Time You Feel Like You’ve Lost Your Way In Life

A few days ago I was driving to a store to which I had never been before located in a different city.  I wasn’t very familiar with the area where it was located so I plugged the address into my GPS, turned up the speaker volume and prepared to be navigated to my destination.

I was following directions as they were spoken to me and driving right along when I went into one of those autopilot moments and didn’t realize that my turn was coming up in less than 100 feet.

Unfortunately I was driving in the middle lane and there were cars on the lane next to me so there was no way I was going to be able to make my turn.  I had no choice but to continue driving straight.  Needless to say, I was frustrated.

I started beating on myself for getting distracted.  I should have been paying attention to the directions, what was I thinking?  If only I had been paying attention this would not have happened.  Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

In the meantime, my GPS went about its job and in a few seconds I heard it say, “Re-routing;” a few seconds later it said in its usual calm and matter-of-fact tone, “In 500 feet make a legal u-turn”.

I finally made it to my destination with no further incident (I was focused on the directions this time), but on my way back I had time to think about what had transpired earlier.  It occurred to me that while I was sitting in my car frustrated and beating on myself for not paying attention to the directions, my GPS simply re-calculated the route and continued guiding me towards my destination.

I then started thinking of how often this happens to us in everyday life, and how often we get distracted and stop listening to our internal GPS.  We all have one, you know. And if we know how to use it, it can help us get to our destination using the shortest route possible.  It can re-route us if we missed our turn or had to take a detour for whatever reason, and it can set us back on course.

But like an electronic GPS, we must make use of it in order for it to work.  Here are a few suggestions I thought of on how we can make the best use of our internal GPS.  I will compare each suggestion to an electronic GPS for illustration purposes:

We must use it
I’m sure you would agree that it would make no sense whatsoever to have a GPS in the car but not turn it on and not plug in the address, but expect it to direct us to our destination.  That would be illogical, wouldn’t it?  We know that in order for the electronic GPS to guide us to where we want to go we must  turn it on and plug in the address of our destination.

So it is with our internal GPS.  We must decide what we want to accomplish in life, what goals we want to achieve, what dreams we want to fulfill, and set them as our destination by thinking about them often and visualizing the end result, so that they become plugged into our internal GPS.

We must be clear
What would happen if instead of plugging in an exact address into our electronic GPS we entered a “general location?”  The GPS would still do its job of guiding us towards the general location, but it would not know how to get us to the exact place where we want to go, because it has no clarity.

Similarly, when we are unclear about where we want to go with our lives, or what specific goals we want to accomplish, our internal GPS will fail to guide us towards them.  It is not enough to have “a general idea” of where we want to go.  We must be clear about our goals so that our internal GPS can do its job of guiding us directly to them and not just in their general direction.

We must listen to it
The electronic GPS will do its job of guiding us towards our destination following the shortest route.  But this will not do us any good if we decide to do whatever we want to do anyways.  If the GPS says to turn right but instead we turn left, we may never get to our destination.  Or we may get there eventually, but it will take us longer.  For as long as the address is plugged in and the GPS is on, it will continue to try to re-route us to get us back on course using the shortest route, but if we don’t pay any attention to it and do what it’s telling us to do, it won’t do us any good.

Our internal GPS works the same way.  It is always on, but the trouble is we are not always listening to it.  We become distracted by our daily chores, or we just decide to do the opposite of what our internal GPS is telling us.  This will only cause unnecessary delays or keep us from reaching our goals altogether.

We must not panic
Imagine that as we are driving to our destination we missed our turn like I did that day, and since we missed our turn we blame and curse the GPS, and turn it off (yeah, that’ll teach it!).  I’m sure we can all agree that this is not the right thing to do.  We must remember that our GPS will kick right in and re-route us to get us back on course, so there is no need to panic.

Similarly, if we end up getting off course from our goals for whatever reason we must not blame our internal GPS and we must certainly not stop listening to it!  We must remember that it has the ability to re-route us and get back on track towards our goals.  That is the time to shut off all distractions and tune in to our internal GPS, paying close attention to it so that we can hear the “re-routing” cue.

Later on I will be talking more about our internal GPS, what it is and how we can use it, but for now see if you agree with my conclusion the next time you use your electronic one, and let me know what you think!

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Breathe and Realize That All Is Well…

beach_sunset3

On a gorgeous Saturday evening I was sitting with my wife outside a beach front coffee shop watching in awe as the sun set behind the calm, blue ocean.  A moment prior to that, we had been engrossed in a lively conversation about our plans, our goals and our future.

We talked about needing to move to a bigger house, needing to earn more money, needing to expand her business; but somehow as soon as the sun began to set, our lively conversation was replaced by a contemplative silence.

Everything around me faded away; the sounds, the street, the cars, the people, the buildings, even the beach and the sun disappeared and I was left with nothing but emotions.  I was instantly submerged into a deep appreciation for the countless blessings that I have in my life.

I realized that at that very moment I was truly happy.  At that very moment there was nothing else that I wanted or needed in order to experience the emotions that I believed a bigger house, more money, or more success could bring me.

I felt peace, love, appreciation, gratitude, exhilaration and immense joy.  I felt as if I was in a different realm, finally being able to see and understand the reality of things.  I did not want to come out from that trance. I wanted to remain there, experiencing this indescribable beauty.

A few moments later the hustle and bustle of the street began to gain volume, and I became aware once again of my surroundings.  I immediately turned to my wife and shared my experience with her; I expressed my longing for that feeling to come back, and my disappointment that it had been short lived.  Could I bring it back? It felt like it was gone forever.

But then I realized that nothing seemingly out of the ordinary had happened to take me there.  While it was true that I had entered this peaceful state while appreciating the gorgeous sunset at the beach, it wasn’t the sunset itself that took me there. I had certainly seen many sunsets at the beach before.  Moreover, if the sunset itself had been the cause, everyone experiencing it would have been likewise hypnotized.

Then it hit me. It was my contemplation and appreciation of the sunset that got me into that state. And this…this was something I could certainly repeat. A sunset was not the only beautiful or awe-inspiring thing around me.

There are thousands, even millions of such things around me every single day. The sound of a bird’s chirping in the morning, the butterfly that lands on a rose, the flowers that grow outside my house, the millions of stars in the sky, the smile on a friend’s face, the look in my wife’s eyes, my child’s voice calling me daddy.  All of these and countless more are things that could help me get to that state of pure bliss, if I only decide to contemplate and appreciate them.

Since that day, it has been my intention to re-live that experience at every chance I get.  It’s no small task because it requires focus, and one can easily get distracted by the endless pile of things to do.  But this is why I found it’s important to at least once a day take a break and breathe slowly for a few minutes, uninterrupted, and allow myself to enter into a state of contemplation and gratitude.

I invite you to do so now, as you finish reading this post.  Take a deep breath in and relax your body as you exhale. Close your eyes and think about something that elicits feelings of love, peace or gratitude. Bask in those feelings for a few minutes or for as long as you can, and let them permeate every cell in your body.  Smile as you do so, and know that at this very moment, all-is-well.

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Embracing A Better Version Of Me

beach_sunset

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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