In What Cage Are You Trapped? A Roadmap For Mental And Emotional Freedom

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Nod your head if this sequence of events describes your daily life at all:

  1. You wake up in a bad mood or somewhat angry for whatever reason, maybe the mere fact that you have to get up.

  2. You go to work and do your job but you're not excited or super engaged. You just do it.

  3. You start to daydream about the vacation, job, or life in general that would make you feel happy again.

  4. Pressure on you increases because you are not productive while you are daydreaming...

  5. ...which increases your stress about your responsibilities 

  6. You go home and eat, drink, or watch netflix to hopefully numb out the stressful thoughts and feelings that you predict the next day will bring

  7. You wake up again the next morning even more bitter because the coping skills did not erase the stress. 

It becomes a vicious cycle as one day compounds on the day before and affects the next day in an endless loop of dissatisfaction and increasingly detailed daydreams of a different life. 

We all fall into cycles like these. 

Similar to how chaos in the universe eventually organized itself into a steady flow, human beings seek and then fall into cyclical patterns all the time even when we do not know it. Patterns create predictable routines for our brains to think "Okay cool, everything is organized" such that our survival is streamlined to the best extent possible. The problem is when we settle into patterns like the one above and call it "survival" when really it is disintegrating our souls and leaving us stressed, angry, restless, and unhappy.

How can your survival be streamlined if the routine you put yourself in is severely unhealthy? 

The above flow is just one example of someone's cycle. It happens to be an unfortunately common one. 

Identifying my clients' unique cycles was one of the first things I learned how to do when I entered this field. Not only did I learn how to identify them, but I would easily draw them out on a whiteboard in front of the client. 

Their minds would be blown because their brains would be illustrated in an simplified six-step circle. They say "if it's that simple, why does it feel so much bigger and intense and scary?"

And there is the segue to talk about the emotions associated with each step of the cycle.

THE CAGE

I refer to these cycles as cages because they are mental flows that we get trapped in, often without knowing it. 

We even often walk ourselves into our cages. But why do they exist? How do they come about?

Here is why: other than our brains' tendency to do what it can to streamline our survival and create consistent thought patterns, we are all taught different versions of a certain way that we "ought to" live life. Our parents, society, social media, and pop culture all love to teach us that one way of living will lead to success and happiness, but it is also an attempt to ensure that we stay in line with everyone else and do not veer off of their controlling course.

It is not their fault, of course. Their brains want the same consistency so they will teach what has seemed to work well in the past because why divert?

As what we are taught about life gets reinforced when we are little, the steps of the cycle - also known as the bars of your cage - are formed. 

THE EPIPHANY

Have you ever started to question the path of your life?

SPOILER ALERT: everyone does and, even though a lot of thought is put into it, very few people in the world do anything about it. 

Very few people in the world do anything about it because they have become comfortable in the cage that has become so familiar and routined for most of their lives. The idea of breaking out of the cage is far too uncertain and scary. 

That is for another article. Staying on point, you start questioning your life path because you realize that you have strengths, skills, and interests that pull you from the unquestioned routine you have been in for so long.

This pull creates the tension we feel between what we are doing and what we want to do. The stress of realizing that you are actually free and allowed to make a change. 

But what change do you want to make? 

These cages most often are seen in relationships and career, but they can happen in all sorts of other ways and times. 

THE FIRST STEP

My clients come to me most often presenting in two ways:

  1. the sensation of feeling "stuck" and conflicted

  2. some version of the phrase "I don't know what I am doing with my life."

So let's start with the simple question: IN WHAT AREA OF YOUR LIFE DO YOU FEEL STUCK? 

What part of your life causes you to feel angst, restlessness, and frustration on a regular basis?

About what aspect of your life do you feel most often tempted to complain?

Seeing our cages is a difficult process. If you are able to answer these questions, you will have taken the first step to identify yours. 

Get ready to change your life...if you want to...

How To Finally Eliminate Your Crushing Need To Be Perfect

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Okay, we are at that point of winter where the pressure of our "New Year's Resolutions" has faded and we are on the brink of spring. Even colder cities (like the one in which I reside) are starting to loosen their wintery grip and present some milder temperatures. 


Other than sharing the current weather conditions in Salt Lake City, this time of year is yet another point of transition in our long swing around the sun. This is the point during which kids start to think about the end of the school year, weekday warriors' cars take less than ten minutes to warm up, and parents start getting excited about spring cleaning.

Spring is the season of rebirth, affording the opportunity to start over, start fresh, and try new things that we had been thinking about or putting off through the gray of winter. 


In childhood, this was getting rid of excess junk in my house. As an adult, though, spring cleaning can look quite different. Many still take the opportunity to purge their house or closets and that is plenty for them, but people also get outside more and consider their physical health even more than when they set that New Year's Resolution to lose fifty pounds and stop eating Oreos. 


However one chooses to enact it, "Spring Cleaning" is often meant as a cleanse of some kind. There are a million juice and diet cleanses out there, but my job is not to comment on the physical cleansing. Instead, I am concerned with the psychological Spring Cleaning that many people feel forced to pursue. 


CLEANSE THE SOUL

Back when we humans first compare ourselves to others - um, when we are born? - we fall into the trap of social competition and develop a perfectionist pressure to be the healthiest, most successful, and got-it-all-together version of ourselves as we get older. After all, it is for your survival, right? It is just science. 


The problem is that the "got-it-all-together" benchmark for which we all strive is completely unrealistic...and impossible. 


This is why there is still such a dramatic misconception about meditation and mindfulness in western society. Even those athleisure influencers who have been doing bikram yoga and juice cleanses for years still fall prey to the thought that in both yoga and meditation one must be able to "clear out the mind" to achieve total peace. 


Then it does not happen.

Then they get nervous.

Then they try again.

It still does not work. 


Then they call themselves "hot messes" that they playfully need to "clean out". But when meditation and yoga do not seem to empty the mind, they begin to identify with the label of Hot Mess in a way that is like "Well, this is just how I am now" while internally there is panic that they have "failed" to "have it all together" and that they "do not know what to do with their lives". Unfortunately, they only succeed in creating a cage for themselves where they feel inadequate but try to present as successful as possible, which is a misalignment that requires a ton of extra energy, which is likely treated with more yoga and the cycle repeats itself... 

THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH

The goal to cleanse the mind or clean the hot mess in your head is a perfectionist ideal. 


We see other people presenting as having it all together and we think "oh no! I am a failure. Why can't I be like them?" and we set the ideal in our mind to at least present the same way. We present like we are perfect and happy because we have trouble figuring out how to actually wipe our brain slates clean and at least feel zen. 

SPOILER ALERT:  THERE IS NO HOW. IT CANNOT BE DONE.

Your brain is constantly working. All of life is energy and, like the Black Eyed Peas say, the energy never dies. Everything in the universe is chaos; not in the negatively connoted sense of turmoil but rather in the sense of turbulence and movement at all times. The energy organizes itself so that the chaos is directed to form things like bodies and weather, but the chaos never stops. 


In the context of your perfectionist hope to turn your brain off, you will not be able to. The energy will continue to flow. The truth about meditation is that its purpose is not to erase all thoughts from the chalkboard of your mind. Instead, it is to create a mindful and metaphysical detachment from your thoughts so that you can watch them flow by like they were dropped in a river. 


The British philosopher and zen buddhism professor Alan Watts says that trying to stop thinking is like "trying to make rough water smooth with a flat iron, and all that will do is stir it up. So, in the same way as a muddy, turbulent pool quiets itself when left alone, you have to know how to leave your mind alone." In psychoanalysis, this relates to offering yourself self-compassion in that you must not be so critical of your own thoughts. Even if you assign frustration or stress to a thought, it is still best to let that thought happen and witness it without acting to stomp it out. 


Proper meditation provides different energy, rejuvenation, and mindspace because the meditator surrendered their extra energy exertion to try and stop the thoughts. The unused energy is kept in storage.


THE EXPERIMENT

Try this for the next three days. 

  1. Identify the pressure you put on yourself for the sake of your mental health.  For example, "I need to figure my life out", "I need to clear my mind", "Oh my god I'm such a failure."

  1. Write whatever your pressure is down in a concise sentence. Be as specific as you can without feeling like it has to be perfect...

  2. Beneath it, write down the version of that statement that is just one level lower in intensity.  For example: "Oh my god I'm such a failure" ----> "Ugh, I am struggling so much with _______(specific "issue")"


Even though the new statement is not much more encouraging, the exercise of easing off the extreme perfectionist pressure frees up space to feel a more authentic version of the original emotion (such as sadness or fear) and even that tiny semantic adjustment draws you to slightly more humility and honesty with yourself, which closes the gap between the idealized "perfect" external presentation and your internal panic of inadequacy. 


Extra credit: If you want to go pro, keep repeating the activity with one original statement to see how deeply you can lower its pressure. See what happens...

A Case Of Need: How To Get Past Your Ego And Get The Help You Want

Think about the last thing you needed. I mean, really NEEDED. Like could not live without. 


What did you need?


How did you know that you needed it?


When did you know that you needed it? Was it a matter of desperation? Did you feel fear of missing something? Or of lacking? 


At what point does your survival instinct kick in and inspire you to do something about it?


Often human beings do not pursue something they need until they hit an absolute breaking point. When all alternatives are futile and the bullet is bitten to do something about it. Last week we discussed how one must get to a point of humility before they can have a breakthrough. The realization that they are not all knowing or all-powerful or perfect deflates their ego and opens space for the breakthrough connection to be made in the brain. 


But how do we know when that ego-check must occur? 


My personal opinion is that we all ought to be a little more humble all the time anyway, but the truth is that that moment of need comes at different times for everyone and everyone has very different sensitivities to need. Some freak out sooner and make a big deal of what they are missing, while others calmly recognize the need after a while and figure out how best to address it. 


People's egos get in the way of something that will help them survive. Stubbornness to go to the doctor, denial about emotional issues, even investment in something like food. 


In the mental health field, as a prime example, people's egos do not want to know that they need therapy or a certain kind of coaching so people develop arrogance about "how bad" their issues really are and try to deal with them on their own. How many people do you know who are in denial or make excuses to not get help that everyone knows they need? 


Here is a NEWS FLASH: ARROGANCE ARISES FROM INSECURITY. INSECURITY ARISES FROM A LIMITING BELIEF SYSTEM. A LIMITING BELIEF SYSTEM ARISES FROM FEAR.

The ego creates arrogance in order to protect you from opening up about your fears and insecurities. Your ego drank the Kool Aid that it is not a good idea to be vulnerable about that stuff. 


But I ask you now to open up about your fears to yourself. In the privacy of wherever you are reading this.

If you open up, what are you afraid of? 


What is the consequence of opening up?

If you can tell yourself what you are afraid of, deep down inside, you will have successfully identified the barrier between you and your evolution. The source of your fear is the wall between you and getting the help that you so desire deep down. 


Don't hold yourself back. It is your life, after all. 

A Reflection On Reflection, Part 2: The 6 Step Path To Your Breakthrough

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Have you ever watched a suspenseful movie in which some character, often a policeman, puts together a few clues that lead him to an epiphany? Whether or not that epiphany is conclusive or that epiphany leads him to connect even more clues into even more clarity about some other characters in the plot, the sudden connection provides the character with some ground breaking realization and a new perspective on the information he had been analyzing for a long time prior.


Once this realization occurs, it cannot be undone.

The epiphany cannot be unwound.

In fact, it takes an exorbitant amount of energy to reject, suppress, or forget the realization. It cuts through the character's ego and makes sense on the most internal level. Everything is aligned. 


If the character is a policeman, the plot often leads to an arrest but it also offers powerful humility for the policeman when he learns the weight of his clarity and how much he may not know about himself, life, or the world on a regular basis. 


This also plays out in movies with wild twist endings in which a character puts all the pieces together and the audience is afforded flashbacks to earlier scenes that explain the whopping reveal at the end. Our minds are blown just as much as that character's. 


After the movie concludes, we the audience cannot unlearn what we learned or forget the twisty truth that was unveiled at the end of the movie. This is why we have such a dramatically different perspective on the movie when we watch it a second time. We cannot NOT know the truth anymore. 


In fact, we see mind blowing movies multiple times because we want to pay attention to all of the scenes differently for clues that hint at the twist that we know is coming. It is like we watch a totally different movie every time and we continue to learn more details that reinforce the big realization. 


The Shift


How did the policeman, for example, finally piece the clues together and have that realization? 


A lot of breakthroughs seem to occur by chance but, as Louis Pasteur famously said, "Chance favors the prepared mind". The policeman must first prepare himself for the breakthrough by devoting himself to the work needed to get there. In his case it is commitment to his job and the specific case. 


The next step, though, is the most important.

The next step is the abandonment of at least some of the ego.

The policeman must get to a point where he is fed up, pissed off, and the words "giving up" float through his mind. He must ease off the throttle fighting the narcissistic wound of failure and anger in order to invite a little humility in to free up space in his mind. 


And that is the moment that he sees the picture on his desk that he needed to see. Or he saw the name that had not registered since the beginning of the investigation. And the heavens open. 


In the movie Prisoners, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman, Gyllenhaal's character is a cop who gets so enraged at the fruitless investigation that he smashes all of the stuff on his desk and throws things around. Only when he slumped into his chair and felt the humility of helplessness fall over him did he see a certain photograph on the floor and put a few clues together that he had not connected before. 

The Locked Door


This is the same as with self-reflection. 


Millions of people want to learn something about themselves or change something about their lives but they remain in a state of arrogance thinking that it will sort itself out or that the solution to their case will magically arise. We do not know that we already have all the clues we need to unravel the mystery of who we are or what we want. Our ego sends arrogance to get in the way so as to avoid feeling incompetence or failure. 


But then we get fed up. We get pissed off. We go out and drink and complain to our friends that we are stuck on hamster wheels and everything is terrible. This is the anger of Jake Gyllenhaal's character, except so often we do not allow ourselves to get to a tipping point. We do not want to cause a scene. We still do not want to feel incompetent or learn that the life or career or relationship we have settled for is somehow unhealthy, which would mean that our choices have been somehow wrong. 


This is why so many of us remain at jobs we do not like and never get to the point of wanting to flip our desks over and storm out. 


Reflection requires humility. 


It requires the slightest bit of acceptance that we have been wrong. Like the policeman after staring at the clues for so long with too much arrogance that he will figure it all out, we must accept that we are not all-powerful. That we must learn as we go. 


The moment can occur anywhere: at home, at the bar, at the office, in rush hour traffic. That little bit of humility, when we finally let down our shoulders and step back from fighting ourselves for a moment, shows you the door to the most beautiful knowledge about yourself that will make sense of your past and empower your future. 


The Key 


Finding the door is not enough, of course. Especially with something as powerful as a life-changing realization or a clue that breaks a policeman's case, the door must come with a lock. Beyond his devotion to the solution, his experience of fed up anger and incompetence, and his newfound sliver of humility, the policeman must have a singular question that he is trying to answer. 


This singular question is the key that directs him to the breakthrough.


We all have a different question that unlocks the door and directs our introspection. Here are some examples:

  1. Why am I still at this job?

  2. Why am I such a loser?

  3. Why doesn't my girlfriend / boyfriend listen to me?

  4. Why can't I grow my business?

  5. Why am I so angry all the time?


They are curiosity questions that arise from an inner sense of helplessness, recognizing that we somehow feel trapped and do not know how to escape whatever our cage is. Despite the horrible feeling of helplessness, your unique question provides the unique key for your unique door through which you will find your breakthrough. 


Self-Assessment


What stage of this process are you in?

  1. Devotion to your daily routine?

  2. Ignorant arrogance?

  3. Fed up and pissed off?

  4. Helpless and sad?

  5. Humble and open?

  6. Breaking through to your epiphany?


No matter which stage you are in, what is your question?

What is the unique question about your daily life that your emotions inspire you to continually ask yourself?

A Reflection On Reflection: When Did You First Journey Inward?

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I so often hear clients and people say "If only I had started thinking about this stuff earlier in my life" when they taste the tiniest bit of the sweet relief that self-reflection and introspective insight offers. 


Another version is: "I wish I knew this stuff when I was younger."


I always respond the same way: "You did not know you needed it then."


You see, people seek out help - from a coach, a teacher, a therapist, whomever - when they realize that they cannot figure out the answers they seek on their own or through their basic support system. They ask such deep questions about themselves, their life, and career that they get overwhelmed in a seemingly undirected pursuit of the answers. 

Human beings are so very good, though, at creating and using defense mechanisms when we are younger, and the longer we go using defense mechanisms to feel better, the longer we go until we realize we need help traveling inward.

The Peril Of Self-Worth

Kids often begin to CONSCIOUSLY compare themselves to others and create a sense of self-worth in middle school. As a result, they create defense mechanisms and coping behaviors that protect them from feelings of worthlessness. The mechanisms are called defense for a reason. 


I do not bring this up to criticize defense mechanisms because they are, in fact, strategies we use to survive. Their creation is our brain's effort to make sure we avoid pain at all costs. If we do not know how to boost our self-esteems on our own, our brain looks for the next most compelling alternative strategy. 


I am struck, though, by the sense of embarrassment my clients show when they realize how long they have relied on these defense mechanisms. The sudden shock of relief from a little insight immediately shifts to terror at the amount of their life they think they have "wasted".

It is like they feel a sharp remorse for something they did not know they were missing.


It is also a positive experience they swiftly turn regretful, as though they have been making a mistake their whole lives. Making a mistake implies judgment of right and wrong, though. 


We all have survival strategies and defense mechanisms that we learned at different times for different reasons so no one can judge someone else for theirs. Our strategies are all different, and that is all that they are. Not better or worse.

My Reflective DNA

As the introverted youngest child of my family, I was lucky to have introspection hard wired into my genetic disposition. My childhood was spent noticing my thoughts and building curiosity while high school brought the consciousness along to my interests, capabilities, opinions, and sense of self. I was given my first journal for Christmas during freshman year of college, and opening that little notebook was the literal emblem of me opening up my mind and swan-diving into the depths.


Despite the many years and many ways I have engaged in self-reflection, I still have my own assortment of defense mechanisms that like to linger and fill in when my reflective mind wants a break. I trust, though, that that part of my mind will kick back in in a moment of need. 


A Case Of Need

The overwhelming NEED is what my clients begin to realize once they have tasted the fruit of self-awareness. They are finally able to pinpoint why they needed something deeper than a primitive defense mechanism in the moment to answer the questions they cannot let go of. Whether it be pain or sadness or restlessness or stress, the opening that self-reflection creates allows them the space to realize where they were stuck and why. 


The relief that comes encourages them to try a little more reflection, and in doing so provides even more space to safely learn even more about themselves.


In a poem by Charles Bukowski, the author writes "Your life...is your life. Know it...while you have it."

Why not know more about why you are here while you are here? Why not learn who you are while you are you?


We all give in to the power of reflection at some point. 


When did you first begin reflecting? 


What caused you to defend yourself in the first place? 

Let's Talk About Love...And Why We Love It So Much

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It is Valentine's Day again. That one day each year where everything somehow takes on an aura of pink and red like the green tinge of all of the Matrix movies.

Unintentionally, the holiday falls soon after the string of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, all holidays that offer a fresh opportunity to reflect on around whom we are grateful to spend time. Valentine's day lets you get through the dreary lull of January and then reminds you to think of who matters most to you now that the group-heavy holidays are past. 


It also marks the two weeks that count as a florist's annual "peak season". 


As children in school construct mailboxes on their desks in which they hope to receive little cards and candies from their peers, we often forget why that is what we do on Valentine's day. 

Mr. Valentinus


The most widely accepted recordings account St. Valentine as a priest in 3rd century Rome who chose to continue marrying young Christian couples in Rome even though the emperor was outlawing it in hopes of using the single men to serve in the Roman army.

Not only was St. Valentine upholding and spreading the word of the Christian faith, but he also respected the institution of marriage within it so devoutly that he prioritized the love that the two individuals shared. 


St. Valentine was imprisoned and ultimately executed for his secret marriage practice. While imprisoned, the most popularized account of him describes the story of his falling in love with a young woman and giving her love notes whenever she might visit, hence inspiring the practice of sharing cards with our loved ones or giving them to peers in elementary school. 


St. Valentine was reportedly executed because he chose not to renounce his faith after having gone so far as to try and convert the harsh Emperor Claudius. 


His sacrifice certainly rings a metaphorical bell toward the kind of sacrifice we all must make in love and relationships, but let us focus more literally on what his martyrdom represents. What he provided for those young couples in secret marriages. 

What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me…


Father Mike Schmitz, a Catholic priest in Minnesota who hosts a popular podcast that speaks to our daily life as developing humans, defined the word Love as "willing the good of another person". In other words, inviting one's goodness to be brought forth.

Offering the space for that person to open themselves and share their beauty.


To will that good from someone, though, requires your ability to acknowledge that beautiful goodness in them, hence the reciprocal vulnerability and acceptance inherent in love and relationships. 


Not only did St. Valentine acknowledge that goodness in the people he served, he offered them his own love by willing that good from them. He offered his love in order to celebrate theirs, all under the umbrella of loyalty and devotion to their faith and each other. 


Your Love

When we enter into a relationship, vulnerability is required.

Alan Watts, the famous British philosopher, states "this is why it is called FALLING in love. You do not rise into love, but you fall. Something about you must fall for you to love."

A wall, a belief, arrogance, a mask, a barrier of any kind between you and the person you love. 


You must let that barrier fall in order to acknowledge the beauty with which you connect within that other person, and in doing so invite them to see your beauty as well. 


Valentine's Day has become so revered because, underneath the rose pedals and the chocolates and dinner reservations, it invites you to remember the beauty and goodness in those that you love, and to remember the beauty and goodness that you offer them in return. 


Today, I invite you to consider this for yourself:

  1. What / who do you love?

  2. What part of you do you allow to fall in order to love them / it?

  3. How do you acknowledge their beauty and goodness? On your own? Outwardly to them?

  4. How do you know that you are loved in return? What evidence do you need?

  5. What beautiful sacrifice do you make for that love?

This Productivity Technique Is So Simple It Might Just Work

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This post is unusually short. 


It offers a productivity technique. 


It is short because I do not want to overly contribute to the noise of the billion different productivity techniques that are out there. 


I want to convey one that I have been taught and let you play with it. 


The Context


Because of the fact that there are a billion different strategies out there, people often get trapped in thinking that there is one that works for them. I wrote those words very intentionally. 


"Works for them"


The truth is that the technique does not work for you, you have to do the work.

The technique is simply a mental habit that you need to practice. 


Those who think that it is the responsibility of the technique to do the work are the ones who try it once and give up because it "did not work".

The Technique

Try this one for a week, I dare you: 


August Birch, a crime thriller novelist, has a small figurine of Buddha on his desk which he lays flat down when he is not writing and then stands back upright when it is time to write. Not only is it is a symbolic on/off switch for his productivity, but its power resides in his distaste for disorder, so making sure that Buddha is sitting up no longer distracts him and means that everything is in order and he is able to focus.

To him, it is a factor of externalizing the responsibility and taking the pressure off of his willpower. He writes "The object or ritual doesn’t matter. The importance lies in taking the behavior away from the weak force of willpower. When we build a habit attached to a simple object outside ourselves, there’s no more willpower. We’re punching the clock at the gas station. It’s time to get to work." It is a tangible marker that we need to focus, like when the clock strikes a certain time to mark the beginning of an exam." 


Boom:  taking the behavior away from the weak force of willpower.


Let us state it plainly, we Americans give into temptations. Temptations are distractions. We are a horribly distracted culture. 


The only responsibility we can give to some inanimate object is the alleviation of our willpower struggle when sitting down to work. Birch can pretend that Buddha is now watching him when he works so it is like a boss staring at him to make sure the work gets done. 


I dared you to try it for a week, so make it fun.


What is one inanimate object that you could assign the task of being your productivity light switch? Do not say your phone...


Once you choose the object, decide what the on / off looks like.


Finally, commit to time frames of productivity that are realistic. For example, if you know that you have to get up and take a break every hour on the hour, that's fine, but make sure that you turn your Buddha down or whatever it is that you are using. 


Productivity is a muscle that you have to train.

Life Is Suffering. Here Is How To Enjoy It.

"I want the easy life."


"Summertime and the living's easy..."


A lot of us dream of retirement all the time because of the beautiful allure of free time, no work, and all play. If we are being honest - which a lot of us are not - we really just do not want to work. Work is labor. Work is toiling. Work is taxing. 


None of these words ever fall on our ears in a comforting way. Kids do not like school when they are little because it is the opposite of staying home and playing video games. It is an extended obstruction to their free time. 


Yeah, sure, we learned we need to work 9-5, 40 hours a week from our previous century comrades as way of making a proper living and providing for our families. The previous century (the 1800s, if you are keeping track) had a semblance of the 40 hour structure following the industrial revolution and the advent of the assembly line. The previous century, however, we still farmed and worked in artisan shops. If you know anything about farming, responsibilities are not confined to eight hours per day, but can last from sun up to sun down. 


Rewind many centuries before that and you will find our dear original friends, the cavemen. Work for them could not have been more simple. They must have had a poster of Maslow's hierarchy of needs nailed to their cave wall and followed the base levels as their job description. They needed food, shelter, and protection in order to survive and perpetuate the species. Animal Biology 101. Survival 101. 


Even though a caveman would take one look at someone now spending eight hours stressfully churning out blog posts to meet a digital marketing quota and struggle to see how it codes for survival, we still go to work in order to survive. 

The Issue


If survival is so important, why do so many of us hate getting up in the morning and going to do it?


Oh that is right, because no one thinks about it as survival.

People think of it as something they are supposed to do. That their parents told them to do. That their teachers told them to prepare for. That society tells them is necessary for society to stay strong. That you get to complain about with your friends over beers at happy hour.


We are never taught why, though. 


Steven Pressfield wrote an incredible little manifesto called the Warrior Ethos in which he discusses how to accept that life is a battle but in accepting it you are able to define and pursue your own honor and glory. 


That honor is authenticity and the glory is being able to live a life free of the expectations of society and actually enjoy how you spend each day. 


A little different than the image of soot-covered factory workers grinding through the day for the dollar they will spend on whiskey, huh? 

The Point


Life is struggle. Nothing about life is easy.

The "easy life" that people dream about achieving still requires just that: achieving.

Achieving requires a whole heck of a lot of work. What I find to be the most glorious irony is that those who work really hard their whole lives and finally achieve the "good life" in retirement stop and realize that they actually enjoyed the work and then find other work to do in retirement and do not actually live the life that they originally imagined. 


But they are okay with it. 


Pressfield describes a story of the Ancient Spartan soldiers who, after defeating the Persian army, asked the Persian private chefs to make an opulent Persian feast for them. Once the feast was prepared in all its exaggeration, the Spartans still ate their customary stew and barley bread, asking the Persians "why would we let you rob us of our poverty?"


The dark humor aside, the Spartans would not let the Persians provide some kind of first class treatment that would allow the Spartans to relax and dissolve their way of life as warriors. 


Spartans were proud of their struggle.

They loved that their life was a constant fight. There was no other profession but as a soldier. All that they ever learned was survival. And survival motivated them. 


What motivates us today? Instagram followers?


Buddhism teaches that all of life is suffering. It does not matter how great your life is, there is always some form of suffering or sadness inherent in daily life. In Buddhism, the only respite - or retirement - from the suffering is death. To achieve that relief, you must accept the suffering. 

The Solution


If you view survival as the ultimate goal, accept that life is a battle, and that you are a warrior, you are invited to choose what authentically fulfills you. 


Instead of what kind of retirement you have dreamt of, what kind of work have you dreamt of? What kind of struggle do you enjoy? Maybe it is a hobby or a job you had during a college summer. 


If you can answer that question, the next question is: how does that job contribute to your survival?


Remember that survival = struggle, so what kind of struggle does that job offer you, and what about that struggle do you enjoy? 

Tell Me Your Favorite Color And I Will Tell You How Well You Handle Change

Have you seen ELF, the famous Will Ferrell Christmas movie? If so you will likely remember the scene where he picks up someone else's phone and answers it with "Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color?" What's more, you have probably quoted that at some point in daily life. 


I want you to answer Buddy’s question. What is your favorite color? 


Umm why is Taylor asking me my favorite color? This isn't elementary school. Great question. Before I explain why I'm curious, I also want to know if your favorite color has changed over time or if it has remained the same. 


While you think about your answers, let me tell you a story.


Cheating on Green

Throughout all of childhood, my favorite color was green. Plain old classic green. I loved the certainty of having green as my favorite color. It was something I knew to be consistent about myself. In high school, it changed to "hunter green". I was okay with the change because it was simply another shade of the same color, like a graduated to a bolder version of it. 

But then college came and I realized how much I loved navy blue. OH BOY. STOP THE PRESSES. That it was one of the constituent colors that combine to make green did not matter to me. It was a totally different color. What the heck was wrong with me? Had I changed? Why did I suddenly cheat on Green with Blue?? In college, I came into my own fashion style - finally - and learned that I happened to look really good in navy blue (if I say so myself). It also happened to be one of my school's colors. As I was developing into a mature, learned young man, navy blue seemed to be equally adult and bold. 


Nowadays, I kinda like purple and I am not sure why. I only own a single garment that is purple and nothing about my work or life currently connects to purple in any way, but for some reason I have begun to see it as bold and powerful in its own right. 

I rarely think about green anymore. No fault goes to green, but life has changed. I have changed. It is okay that my favorite color has not remained the same, just like my taste for certain foods has changed over time.  

What does this mean?

Our brains crave routines. 


Predictability and consistency allow the circuits in our brains to become strong and straight. A super easy flow of energy. 


Predictability leads to certainty. Certainty represents a lack of threat. A lack of threat means survival. Routines, therefore, help our survival. 


This is why we latch on to a certain idea of who we are that we call an identity. It is a consistent sense of self that we can rely on and that does not pose any kind of threat to our ongoing survival. 

The problem, though, is that many of us believe that survival is more important than evolution. 


As a result, people blind themselves from their everyday growth and prohibit themselves from progress that they wish to make. You probably know people who settle for a job, relationship, or hobby that does not actually excite them. They do this because it is predictable and consistent, and that consistency offers such great comfort that the thought of a risky life change, though ultimately for something fulfilling, is not compelling enough. 


But we evolve all the time. Molecules are never stationary. Everything that makes up the universe is endlessly in motion. No matter how predictable and comfortable and settled we make our lives, nothing about it ever stays the same. 


So if what is "predictable" in your life actually continues to be tested and transform itself every second of the day, why not embrace that evolution? 

Evolution happens whether you like it or not. The question is whether or not you want to be the one driving it.


In other words: do you wish to let life happen to you or would you like to be involved with your own progress?


In other words: can you be proud of the fact that your favorite color has changed? 


If so, you will not just survive, but you will grow in ways that you want to and you will enjoy your evolution along the way. 

Do This Simple Activity To Determine Who You Can Actually Trust

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Following my series of posts last month about how to deal with your insecurities, a subject that has been discussed recently with my clients is the concept of Trust.


Not only how one uniquely defines trust, but also what criteria must be met for one to both receive and offer trust. I have recently written on healthy ways of establishing a support system, but I did not go so far into the establishment of trust with those within the support system.


To do so, I am going to tell you a story. 


The Solar System Activity

I used to work in a short term crisis stabilization treatment program for teens who had either considered or attempted suicide, were self harming, and who experienced anxiety, depression, and many other related emotional presentations. 


Early in my tenure there, I worked with a fifteen year old girl who was so mature for her age that she had trouble navigating friendships. She got bullied for being intelligent, spent too much time taking care of others, and ended up feeling isolated and depressed. She had a close friend group, but she could not figure out on whom she could rely or to whom she could go for support when feeling down. 


I introduced her to the Solar System Model, a simple activity that maps out one's "circles of trust", so to speak. Here is how it worked:


She was a good artist with phenomenal handwriting, so I asked her to draw her own depiction of the Solar System and label the sun as herself. 


Next we used the metaphor of planet proximity to determine who was most trustworthy in her life, the closest planet representing the most trustworthy person. Once she had the planets drawn, she assigned a name or two to each planet, the asteroid belt, and even a couple moons.


We did not stop there, though. 


It is not enough to simply map out who is more trustworthy than others.

For her, the most important thing was knowing for what specifically she could rely on those individuals. The kind of support that those individuals could predictably provide.


Before indicating that on her Solar System, we made a separate list of the categories of support that she might need, and what it would look like. Everything from homework help from a certain teacher to emotional help from a very specific friend was on the list. 

Once she had her support list, she assigned a code or keyword next to each name on her illustration that indicated the category of trust on which that person could be relied to provide.

The Result


She now has a literal map of those people in her life to whom she could go for support as well as a framework for what kind of support those people can give. 


This means that, depending on the type of distress she is experiencing on a given day, she can look at the map, find the keycode for the support she needs, and then has a name or several names, ranked perfectly by their trustworthiness to her, of who to contact that can help. 

The map eliminates the stress, fear, and overwhelm involved in asking for help, especially when in a moment of emotional distress. 

Your turn

What would your solar system look like?


There are of course a hundred different variations of the Solar System activity for your system. A common variatoin that I have also used in the past is ordering the planets and moons by physical proximity, as in who is easiest and closest to contact when in need of a certain kind of support. Another one is making a whole Solar System focused on one singular form of support at a time. 


For instance, one Solar System of people to whom you could go for relationship advice, another for work stress, etc. In the young girl's case, one map could be family stress, another one could be academic stress, and yet another for emotions related to her social life. 


PRO TIP:  Not an artist? Write it down in order of the planets with you being the sun. Make a list that indicates the exact same planet proximity metaphor of who you can trust the most and for what. 


A lot of the kids I worked with put these illustrations up on their walls, so you should too. Photocopy it and post it at home, in your car, at your office, in your phone, everywhere. 


Life is too short to not know who you can ask for help any time you need it. 

How To Set A New Year's Resolution You Can Actually Keep, Part 3: Your Six Step Strategy

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When people do not know what they care about, they often receive criticism or feedback or demands from someone or something external (like a pressure to lose weight, for example).

When people do not care enough about a goal or idea, they look outside of themselves for accountability. Sometimes for the right kind of accountability that keeps them motivated, but also negatively other times because they want to deflect responsibility to someone or something else in order to relinquish the pressure on themselves.


That way, if they fail, they can blame it on who or whatever is the external source of accountability and they are free to continue living their settled, unchanged life. 


For those who are actually motivated for deep personal change and who have kept up with the last couple weeks' posts, I have a powerful suggestion for how to use external accountability more effectively. 

If you have your What and your Why nailed down, this is your How.


Asking for help

Think back to early school years. When you did not understand something in class, what did it feel like?  When you raised your hand and asked for clarification, what did the teacher do to the concept that helped you understand it?


When human beings do not understand something, it is often because the concept feels too large and broad for our brains to grasp. We can feel overwhelmed. 


When we raise our hand and ask for help, the teacher often words it differently or breaks the concept down into more specific chunks or even uses metaphorical examples to explain it in a different context. 


For me, it was always math class. I often understood what the thing was being explained, but I had no clue where it fit or what it did or how it applied to anything. 


Application


When we set a goal that is too large and broad, we do not know how to achieve it. We feel overwhelmed, even though it is something we want.


It does not mean that the goal is wrong or bad, but rather that it is not specific enough. 


When we ask someone we know for accountability help, the best question they can ask you is: how are you going to break this up?


Just like when you ask for help in grade school, the best way to strategize HOW to achieve your resolution is to word the goal in such a way that it is more succinct and then break it up into smaller, more specific pieces. Perhaps the person you ask for help is also someone you know has achieved a similar goal themselves and you know they can be a good example for you. 


Remember that Support System we talked about a few weeks back? Now would be a good time to look at that list and see who might be able to help.


The smaller the pieces of the goal are that you must pursue, the more manageable the overall resolution will be and the more successful you will feel along the way, fueling your motivation even more. 

Your Six Step Plan

Let us return to our weight loss example from last week. We determined that the reason to lose weight is to avoid future heart attacks and feel confidently more healthy moving forward. Now how the heck do you do that? Get a notebook.


1. Break up the year into 12 months.

Use these 12 months as benchmarks for yourself. What do you want to have achieved by the end of each month? Do not put pressure on yourself to have all 12 labeled. Allow yourself to fill those in as you go. Maybe start with something six months from now and your year end goal. 

SPOILER ALERT: THOSE FAR OFF GOALS WILL DEFINITELY CHANGE AS YOU GO ALONG AS YOU ACHIEVE ALL THE SMALLER GOALS.

2. Next, brainstorm some weekly goals.

Are there certain events or special weeks that you are aware of throughout the year that can also act as benchmark deadlines. Is there anything that you want to make sure to have achieved by then?

3. Now, look at weekly goals in terms of each set of seven days.

What do you want to make sure is done during each normal week? What habits do you hope to start and maintain?

4. List the specific needs you have to reach those weekly goals.

What must you have in place to do so? In the weight loss example, consider who you need to call, what gym to attend, what classes to take, what day they are on, how to find a good nutritionist, etc. 

5. Make a list of the order in which you would like these tasks to be set in stone.

In the weight loss example, are you already a member at a gym? Do you want to contact the gym first or find out about nutrition first? Make a list like a grocery list that maps out the order of these little things that must be in place for you to begin working toward the resolution.

6. Start working.

Human beings get caught up here because they feel so accomplished with organizing that they do not want to put the effort into the actual work. That is incorrect. This is when the support system and appropriate external accountability comes into play. Ask that person for how to get over the hurdle to start. Or ask your personal trainer or nutritionist.


All you need is that little push through the first threshold of the goal. 

Once you have felt what it is like to start in on the HOW and you have the overall WHAT and WHY clearly nailed down, you will have a super specific experiential picture of what your year will look like, broken down into realistic chunks for you to achieve. 


Are you ready? 

How To Set A New Year's Resolution You Will Actually Keep, Part 2: the WHY

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What do you care enough about to work on and improve in your life this year?


What have you been thinking a lot about and wanting to start? 


Last week we discussed these questions in order to make you think about what you really value in the pursuit of "New Year - New You".

Remember the series of posts I wrote that offered steps to ameliorate your insecurities? 


POP QUIZ: HOW DO YOU THINK INSECURITIES RELATE TO RESOLUTIONS?

I'll give you a hint:  A WHOLE LOT.


Think about this:

Those who wait until a certain date in order to finally set a personal goal and try to make change in their lives need that extra external motivation.

Those who need extra external motivation are not motivated enough on their own.

Those who are not motivated enough on their own are often not confident in the goal they want to pursue.

If they are not confident in the goal, then they are insecure about their ability to work toward that goal on the most basic level.


If that sounds like you, a couple pieces of comfort I can offer are 1) you are not alone, and 2) it is a matter of how you have worded the goal. 


That is all it is. 


Take weight loss, for example. Weight loss resolutions are often based on pressure from someone close to you or from society at large. 

Say you want to lose 50 pounds, but in reality you do not care enough to actually do it. Your spouse has made so many annoying comments about your weight that you think maybe you will do something about it just to appease him or her. In this way, you do not feel the urgency of intrinsic motivation to get that real push. 


On the contrary, if you recently had a heart attack and your doctor told you it is because of a certain food you eat and a lack of exercise, and that you were however close to dying, you might just care enough about losing the weight. 

The goal gets worded differently. 


It transforms from "I want to lose 50 pounds" to "I care about being healthy because I do not want to have another heart attack."


Now you have your Why. 

In the first part of the weight loss example, only an insecurity of being overweight was being addressed. But what happens when you lose that weight? What is the goal then? 


By rewording the motivation of the goal in order to convey WHY you wish to achieve that goal, you blossom the goal up into something much bigger than the initial insecurity or sense of lacking. 


The WHY expands the goal into a lifestyle. Losing 50 pounds ---> having a healthier body to avoid heart attacks and not die. That is a big difference. Instead of just losing 50 pounds, you will end up engaging in a whole lot more that will positively affect your health if your goal is to avoid a heart attack. 


Recap:

Question #1:  What do YOU (not your spouse, not People Magazine, YOU) care enough about to change or improve upon in this new year?

Question #2:  Why does that thing matter to you?  How is that thing unique to you and your life?

Answer This One Question To Set A New Year's Resolution You Will Actually Achieve

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Christmas and Hanukkah are behind us. How are you holding up?

New Year's Eve is just a few days away, and so is the conclusion of the three month string of relentless holiday celebrations. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year's are all fun, but they can wear people down. 

After the fog of sugar, Tryptophan, Michael Buble Christmas songs, and overstimulating family time dissipates, people frantically grasp for control again by attempting to make New Year's Resolutions. They have a mixed experience of the relief that January brings from the holiday onslaught as well as the tiring realization that January is still the dreary dead of winter and you have to go back to work.

As a result, people err on the extreme and set lofty resolutions that are simultaneously vague and unrealistic. 

Only 8% of people who set resolutions actually stick to them, but that does not mean that the resolutions are specific or appropriate.


Here is your guide to making sure that your resolutions are right for you.

I am going to help you nail down your perfect resolutions and plan how to actually maintain them for the whole year.

This week's objective is to determine what you care enough about to work on. 


First step

Real talk: have you ever set a resolution and then gave up on it within days?

Do you set resolutions just because you felt pressured to do so and because someone else did?

Do you even want to set a resolution for yourself?


These questions are key because they highlight the most important question about setting resolutions: WHY?  

What is the point of them, for you? 

Why do you need a resolution?

What are you having trouble doing without the accountability of a resolution?


Second step

Resolution is defined as "a firm decision to do or not do something."  Okay, that makes sense. We all knew that it is that kind of decision, regardless of its "firmness".

A second definition, though, is more interesting: "the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter." 

Ooooooooooo have you thought of setting a resolution as personal problem solving? 

Mmmmm I love that perspective.

Setting a resolution is resolving to solve some kind of "problem" for yourself?


So by what have you been preoccupied in your life that you would really like an excuse to finally solve?

  • Is it a conversation you have been avoiding with your spouse or partner?

  • Is it a change you have been hoping to make in your job or business?

  • How about a habit that you have really been wanting to start practicing (often as exercise, nutrition, or housekeeping)?

Third step


That is all I want you to answer this week. What do you care enough about changing or working on this new year? 

Keep it specific as though it were something that could be achieved within an hour. Think small so that you do not think about having to continue it for 364 more days. 

7 STEP SURVIVAL GUIDE: How To Enjoy Holiday Parties, Gatherings, And Family Reunions

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Ahhh the holidays.


Fun fact: Though all about joy, cheer, and gratitude, the holidays are also rife with threats to one’s emotions, self-esteem, and self-talk that send people straight for the spiked eggnog.


My recent posts have been about identifying and eliminating your insecurity as well as how to obtain a support system that is unique to your emotional needs. What better time to test what you have learned from me than the holidays??

Holidays are full of family time. Family time can be stressful. Stress leads to insecurity. Insecurity leads to a need for support.

Need I say more?

Okay, I will say more.

Sometimes that support is family, yes, but family is often the cause of insecurity so support comes in the form of booze, naps, or your cell phone. 

Family members know how to trigger your insecurity and anger better than anyone in the world because they were there when your triggers were created. In fact, they probably created them. 


Whether you celebrate the holidays with your entire extended family, you spend a couple days with only a few family members, or you spend the holiday with friends, here is your guide to making it through and maybe, just maybe, enjoying yourself along the way:


1. Plan ahead

Your family or friend has definitely already come up with an itinerary for the festivities, so make sure you memorize it ahead of time.

What parts of it are you looking forward to or dreading? During which events will you be most tired / stressed / overwhelmed / comfortable?

Predicting your reactions will make the instances so much less intense.


2. Define your outcome

Answer this question:  What do I want to get out of this family / friend time?   

Set an intention for yourself so that your participation in all the cheer is purposeful related to your enjoyment and fulfillment instead of being an aimless passenger that is just one of the crowd.

Is there a family member with whom you particularly want to speak? Is there something that you would like to learn about? Is there an activity in which you want to make sure you participate?


3. Find an ally

People often feel alone in the sea of family members and friends at holiday gatherings, blending in with the cookie-cutter etiquette of cocktail attire and trying not to drink too much, rinsing and repeating the same conversation about their life.

When these people feel alone, they soon feel stifled.

Though sounding ironic, it so happens that feeling alone drives people to recoil, which inspires them to separate even more and find relief in solitude.

Before the party begins, find an ally that you know will be in attendance, invite them to be your buddy ahead of time, or make sure to find them at a certain point in the evening to feel the warmth of connection and fulfilling together-ness. 


4. Choose a coping skill

You probably have not seen the family and friends you see at holiday gatherings in a long time, so it can be a shocking change from normal day to day life and can make them feel overwhelmed and overstimulated.

If this is you and you are able to predict how you will react to the group at the party, pick a coping skill ahead of time that you can reliably fall back on and engage in sometime throughout the day, evening, or next day as a way of recentering.

This could include going for a walk, calling a friend, journaling, sitting in a favorite chair, going to the mall, retreating to a corner for five minutes of private meditation.

Whatever it is, make sure it is something that can be realistically performed in the setting and is something that you know is effective for for your mental state. 


5. Determine self-expression

This is a toughy. Holidays are wrought with the question: "What are you doing these days?"

Even though this is the most common chit chat question of any family reunion, people often do not rehearse their answer ahead of time.

Do not be like those people.

Answer this question instead: "What do I want to share with everyone about my life right now?"  What are you excited about or proud of? What best describes what you have been doing or working on or exploring?

Your answer will be the arrow in your quiver any time that cousin or aunt walks up to you and awkwardly starts the conversation.


6. Be aware of the exits at all times

Have an exit strategy. I helped a client strategize how to politely excuse herself from the holiday table to walk out of the room and the house, if needed, if the conversation became too stressful, frustrating, or overwhelming.

Do as flight attendants tell you to on an airplane and locate the nearest exit to your seat.

Whether it is for a quick respite, a walk in the fresh air, or a pro-level Irish exit from the party altogether, determine which exit will be most effective for getting you there. 


7. Breathe

Speaking of fresh air, please remember to take deep breaths.

People at holiday parties get overwhelmed, want to retreat, and did not follow suggestion #6 so they panic and forget to breathe. Breathing literally gives you space when you feel like the walls - or your in-laws - are closing in around you. 

What Does SUPPORT Mean To You? How To Customize Your Support System When You Need One

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How many times in your life has someone told you that "you need a good support system"?


The topic will come up with your guidance counselor or teachers when you are younger or your therapist or boss when you are older.

Despite their good intentions, the question often conveys a sense of necessity, as though it is something you have to have in order to feel better, be happy, and live a correct life. This conditional way of thinking is not true, nor is it healthy. 


Consider this: a teenager speaks with her guidance counselor about depression that she is experiencing due to family stress and academic pressure. Guidance counselors and therapists will always ask about the child's support system to assess whether or not she has friends, a good relationship with anyone in her family, and to what extent she is comfortable advocating for their support. 


A lot of people, however, especially children, will interpret the question as a message of necessity, often because they are used to hearing "you need to make friends" from their parents throughout all of childhood.

Any sense of necessity makes it feel like a demand, which puts even more pressure on the child while they are already experiencing so much other pressure. When kids feel like they do not have a support system but need one, they can feel incompetent and feel even more down about themselves. 

A support system is not a NECESSITY, but it is good to have one. 

Let me explain. 

The objective of last week's post was to guide you to create a support system if you wanted one. It was not meant to pressure you because you need one. 


Furthermore, my priority as a coach is to teach you that you always have options. 

I have worked with many people who come to me thinking that they are alone and they do not feel like they have any support (Joke's on them because coming to me is recognizing that I am a support). I also know many staunchly independent people who, even after going through a great many hardships growing up, have never "needed" a support system, per se.

Last week's guide to designing your best support system was meant to show you that a support system is always available to you when and if you need one.

Support can look like a lot of things:

  • friends

  • family members

  • stuffed animals

  • video games

  • movies

  • sports teammates

  • coaches

  • strangers in a coffee shop

  • music

  • literally anything

Support can be anything. Listening to that one song you love is support. Your bed can be considered as much a support as a therapist. 

It all depends on the kind of support that works best for you.

What kind of support do you prefer? 

  • Is it an activity?

  • Is it a person?

  • How do you know that it has helpful?


Remember, this is your life. You set the criteria. 

How Healthy Is Your Support System? Do This Now To Create The Best One For Your Life

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Cool. You have now eliminated all of your insecurity. Congratulations!

Now go take on the world!


(I can hear your increased heart rate from here...)

It is like when you put training wheels on a kid's bike and then she still doesn't know what to do to start biking. The kid always looks up at you and wonders "Wait, you want me to go by myself now?"

And that, folks, is the fallacy of life: that you are alone. Sure, the world is a difficult place and yes, life has its way of punching you in the stomach all the time, but we are all still here only because we have learned ways to remain together as a tribe. 

The trick that the devil plays, however, is making you think that you are not worthy of anyone else's attention. 


When things happen that sequentially diminish your self-esteem, that belief becomes much more powerful. You recoil from others and the world, and the more you recoil, the more you confirm the belief that you should not engage with the outside world.

The cycle continues to circulate until you no longer go to work, you ruin your friendships, and you lose your sense of self and direction.  


Alone vs. Lonely

Now that we have the hard truth nailed down, let us talk about the difference between alone and lonely.

When you feel insecure, you feel small. When you feel small, it is easy to feel alone. But lonely is a deeper sense of isolation in which no connection with another person may even be possible.

Lonely is when you are seeking some kind of connection. Alone is when you feel like you are all by yourself, even when loads of people are around you. 


This way, the alone-ness is a feeling state in which one can see others around them but either does not know how or is not confident enough to reach out to any of them. 

I do not want you to stay there. 


Your Support System

A "healthy support system" is a trendy term in the mental health world, particularly for adolescents who have not yet developed survival behaviors in the big bad world.

Being a buzz term, like happiness and success, it creates an ideal to which we think we need to strive. Like most ideals, though, it is pretty darn impossible to get there. In order to establish your own healthy support system, we return to the process of defining it for yourself instead of letting society define the ideal for you. 


How about we define it together? Come on.


Activity

Here's a fun first question to start with:

who is in your life right now that you WISH WAS NOT in your life?

Just name one person for an example. Once you chose someone, ask:

what is it about that person that you do not connect with, enjoy, or want in your life?

An example is somebody who is always negative, or only speaks in gossip, or eats with their mouth open.


I am not going to shame you here and ask why you have not voted them off the island yet. The purpose is to start evaluating valuable characteristics to you in other people.

Once you have identified the primary characteristic whose presence you do not appreciate in your life:

what is the opposite of that characteristic?


And Boom! You have your first personally unique feature that you appreciate in others around you. See, pretty easy. Let us keep going. 


Characteristics

Make a list of characteristics that come to mind that are deal breakers for you in people around you.

  • What kind of attitude must they have?

  • What kind of outlook on life?

  • How do you like them to talk?

  • How do you want them to listen?

  • How honest can you be with them?

  • How much of yourself are you comfortable to reveal to this person?

  • How do you know that you can trust them?


Geography

  • How accessible does someone have to be to you?

  • Can their support be accessed over technology or must you be able to be with them in person?

  • What is the maximum distance from you at any given time that someone is allowed to be while still included on your list of supports?

Number

  • What number of individuals feels comfortable for you to have in your support system?

  • How many is too many?

  • How many is too few?

Names

Get specific.

  • Who comes to mind?

  • Who is in your life right now that meet your criteria?

  • How do you currently seek their support?

  • How do you currently use their support once it is received?

  • To whom would you like to reach out today, even just to say hi?


PRO TIP: Quality over quantity is true all the time, but do not feel weird if you write out a large number of people. If you have a large number of people who meet your unique criteria for quality, so be it. 


ANOTHER PRO TIP: IT IS OKAY IF NOBODY SPECIFIC COMES TO MIND RIGHT NOW.

That is why it is the fourth category.

Here is the deal: if you are reading this in a state of insecurity or low self-esteem, answering any question I have posed above - even the very first one about someone you dislike - you are providing yourself valuable criteria that you can own and use to seek support you need instead of sinking deeper into the hole of questioning if there is any support out there for you at all. 

But still, choose wisely.

My personal list would be short. Not because I do not like having people in my life. On the contrary, I have many people in my life whom I value, but rather I do not need many people in my life to feel supported because just a few people can meet all of my criteria. 


Loud and Proud

Keep all of your answers in one spot so the list can act as a rubric for your support system. Here are some fun and easy ways to keep the rubric with you all the time:

  • Put it on a note card and bring it with you when you go to a party.

  • Save it in your phone to discretely review while on a date.

  • Bedazzle it on poster board and hang it up in your living room so people know what your rules are.


EVEN ONE MORE PRO TIP: Come up with a personalized title for your support system. Have fun with it.

Comfort Consortium?

Super Supporters?

Heroic Huggers?

Play with it. It is your life. 

Cure Your Insecurity, Part Four: The Question You Need To Ask

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NOW WHAT?

If you have followed along so far, we have identified what you feel insecure about and, more importantly, why you feel insecure about it. 

A lot of people think that that is good enough and that they are in the clear now and can go live their lives. 

Maybe for a select few that is the case, but it is rare. 


THE TWO TRAPS

Knowing what you are insecure about and why is crucial but it is not enough. You have a lot of new awareness but you do not know what to do with it. 

At this point, people often break up into two groups:

  1. They do not know what to do with the knowledge and so they puff their chest up and think that the knowledge is enough and brace themselves for whatever life throws at them.

  2. They think that the next step involves some huge change in order to make new confidence permanent, they hype themselves up way too high, and then whatever change they choose to make is short-lived. It burns brightly in the beginning and then peters out, New Years Resolution style.


POP QUIZ: What do you think happens to both groups?

No, really, take a guess. 

Do not say that they fail, because trying is not failing. 

The answer: both groups end up insecure again! Maybe even about something new!

Why? Because they created a new expectation for themselves about what to do with the new awareness but realized they have a skill gap around what to do next, which can make them feel incompetent.

And the cycle keeps spinning. Over and over. 


CONSEQUENCES

Group #1 has it a little worse because they are basically saying "Okay, I got this. Whatever comes my way, I can take it and push through. I will not let it affect me." 

Though honorable, this mindset relies on two huge factors: your adaptability to life things that randomly occur and a level of serious reactivity

What I mean by reactivity is the fact that you are literally opening yourself by saying "Bring it on, World" and so you will always only be reacting to everything.

Remember when we talked about the caveman a month ago? If he did not learn how to learn how to survive, he would be stuck in a cycle of endless reactivity learning how to fight a Sabertooth tiger for the first time every time he faced one. 

Insecurity cycles are the new version of that learning experience. It is about your survival. 

If you set yourself to be in reaction mode at all times, you will be in a constant state of hypervigilance and a low level stress response...which is not healthy. 


WHAT TO DO

Neither is blowing up the next step to be this huge unsustainable life change that you do not really have a chance at accomplishing. 

So what do you do?

Ask a question.

It is that simple. 

Here is what I mean: Last week I asked you to think about the connections for which you are grateful. Before that, you learned what you are insecure about and why.

Beneath insecurity is a desire for something, otherwise you would not care very much about the task or goal and then not have to worry about feeling competent about it. 

So here is what you do:

  1. Choose one of your human connections for whom you are grateful.

  2. Reword your aforementioned desire into a question (I'll give an example in a second).

  3. Ask your connection their advice about the desire. 


This is a matter of classic networking, but with the increased focus on breaking you out of insecurity.


Here is an example: You are insecure about changing jobs.

Desire: to get a new job / gain new experience

Group 1: "I will quit and see what happens. Bring it on."

Group 2: "I have to have a new job and everything all perfectly set up before I quit this job."

What you should do: Ask someone you appreciate: "Hey, I am trying to change jobs. Do you have any advice for me about a first step?"

Other versions of the question: "Have you ever changed jobs before?"  "Do you know anyone who has changed jobs in the past? I'm curious what to do first."

THE REASON WHY

Questions are the most powerful force in the universe, in my opinion.

Questions are the only way we learn anything, and learning things is how we survive. 

In the coaching industry, the sole responsibility of the coach is to ask questions in such a way that guides clients to new understanding without ever forcing a suggestion. Sometimes a coach's questions lead clients to ask new questions of themselves and opens the door to deeper self-exploration. 

When I worked with suicidal youth in the past, suicide was contemplated because they did not know how to ask a question to someone who could support them.

They gave up.

They thought that no one would be able to help them with their core desire and that they certainly could not help themselves. 

That is where I came in. I asked them questions they had never thought of and opened up thoughts they had never had, which led to opportunities they did not think were possible. 

Questions have the power to change your life.

No matter what you are insecure about, there is always another question that can be asked and another person out there who can answer it. 

Keep it simple. 

VIDEO: For What Connections Are You Thankful This Year?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Holidays are all about gratitude, but gratitude does not exist if not for the things and people with which we are connected.

For example: are you grateful for your car? It is because you have a pretty close connection to it. Are you grateful for your family? It is because you are strongly connected with them.

Need I continue?

The point is that connections make up everything in life and impact everything about what we do and who we become.

Our connections show us who we are and what we care about.

What connections are valuable to you?

What connections you notice have played a big part in your life?

Cure Your Insecurity, Part Three: The Power Of Gratitude

Next week is Thanksgiving, so it is perfect timing to discuss the power of gratitude. 

Some families love Thanksgiving because they love getting everybody together in one place. Other families have Thanksgiving out of custom even though the members do not enjoy getting together with the rest of the family.

And of course there are so many families around the world that do not get together for Thanksgiving, due either to difficult circumstances or simply because they do not prioritize time together as a family.

There is no right or wrong, and it does not matter whether people sit and eat their faces off for Thanksgiving or not. This is because holidays are not about the food or the presents or the days off from work or school. 

Holidays are for something more. They are about gratitude.

GRATITUDE VS. INSECURITY

It takes strength to express gratitude. A confidence to show vulnerability. 

Those who battle with insecurities have a very difficult time being vulnerable. They may think that they are unworthy of someone else's attention, fear their vulnerability will not be received with compassion, or that anything they would want to share does not mean anything.

This leads so many youth, unfortunately, to get in the practice at a young age of learning how NOT to stand up for themselves. 

Things get swept under the rug over and over to the point when the individuals end up saying "There is no point in me even thinking about what I want to say."

Many times, this has tragic consequences. 

The confidence required to comfortably own your vulnerability and express it without any concern for its reception takes a lot of practice. A switch does not flip overnight. 

THE UPSIDE

Luckily for you, however, gratitude is an example of vulnerability that everyone has been taught how to express in one way or another when they were really young, so it is a wonderful starting point to lean into a little vulnerability. 


START WITH YOU

You know the protocol on airplanes that you must secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others? Follow that same protocol with gratitude and vulnerability. Start with yourself. 

For what are you grateful?

Start with the easy categories like materialistic items: car, home, money, significant other, etc. The low-hanging fruit of what you have. Make a list of those things that come to mind. 

Then go deeper and think about those things ABOUT AND WITHIN YOURSELF for which you are grateful. 

What abilities are you grateful to possess? What skills are you glad you learned at some point along the way?

Toward what things in life do you feel confidence? 

Make a second list of those things.

Now you have two lists full of unique items that serve to remind you what means something to you in life and which make you feel good about yourself. 

Showing gratitude to yourself and the qualities that you possess will diminish the fire inside you that your insecurities feed. 

It will give you a moment of relief from the pressure and lack of confidence you may feel.

PRO TIP: think about the little things. Does the way you wear mismatched socks make you smile? Add it to the list. How about the specific way you pour sugar into your coffee? Put it on the list. These are unique to you, so call them out. No one is going to look at the list - yet...

PRO TIP 2: Do not force it. If you can only come up with a few items for which you are grateful, so be it. Let that be. There is no expectation for the number of items on the list. If you think you need more, that is just another insecurity and you will come up with things for which you are not actually grateful and which only serve to make the list longer. 

Cure Your Insecurity, Part Two: Understanding Expectations

Now that you identified a few possible sources of your insecurity after reading last week's post, it is time to think about toward what your insecurity is a response.

I will stop there for a second to repeat: Insecurity is a response. 

A reaction to something. An effect. 

Sure, your insecurity becomes the cause of many other effects in your life, but it is born as an effect. 

EXPECTATION

To understand insecurity in its simplest form, we work backwards. 

Insecurity is about competence. Competence is related to ability. Insecurity is then a reaction to a perception of ability. 

Specifically, perceived inability or incompetence.

Judgment of one's ability is based on criteria to complete certain tasks. Those tasks can include everything in life: work responsibilities, doctor's appointments, vacuuming the house, being on time for dinner, buying groceries, planning your budget, the list goes on forever.

The criteria of each task is proportional to the importance of its completion. For example, going to the doctor is more important for some people than for others, so the pressure to make and attend an appointment is greater for others, so their ability or inability to complete that task may cause more stress.  

Judging that a task is important to you creates demand for its completion. 

And this demand creates an EXPECTATION to complete the task.

Whether you put the expectation on yourself, a boss puts it on you, a doctor, a family member, a significant other, whoever, the expectation creates pressure to make sure something is completed. 

And that pressure puts pressure on your ability to complete the task. 

INSECURITY

Depending on who you are and how you have conditioned your self-talk, there is a predictable sequence of three ways that insecurity blossoms when an expectation is presented:

  1. Knowledge:  You do not know how to complete the task.

  2. Resourcefulness: You do not know how to learn how to complete the task or who to ask for help.

  3. Self-worth: You do not think you are able to find the solution at all and you do not think you are worth anyone's time to ask.


WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The task is not completed and your self-talk that you are incompetent is reinforced. 

RIGHT or WRONG

When I was younger, I thought there was a right or wrong way to call the dentist's office and make an appointment. My mom had made them for me earlier in life so I got it in my head that I did not know how to conduct the phone call. 

The expectation came from my mom over time to make the calls myself (like a big kid) but I was terrified - not because I was uncomfortable with talking to strangers on the phone but because I was stressed that I was going to somehow "fail" the task of making an appointment.

In this example, the task's expectation came from my mom and then I added the expectation that there was a right or wrong way to do it. 

The two expectations combined in a paralytic fear of picking up the phone and I preemptively perceived myself as incompetent.


WHAT ABOUT YOU?

We respond to and deal with expectations all day long, on every section of the pressure spectrum. The pressure of them is likely higher in some areas of your life more than others, but all of the expectations boil down to this one single question:

  • Why does it matter to you to complete that specific task?

What is your intention behind it? How does its completion serve you? In addition to considering those questions, your assignment is to stop and think about the last 24 hours. 

In the last 24 hours:

  1. What tasks did you complete?

  2. Why did you care about completing those tasks?

  3. Which ones were stressful? 

  4. Which ones were not?

  5. What expectation was placed on each task? What are the consequences of incompletion?

  6. Who placed that expectation on each task?

Write all of these answers down. At the end, you will have a lot of data - FROM JUST ONE SINGLE DAY OF YOUR LIFE - that can map out

  • what you deem important in life

  • what daily tasks cause you stress

  • what kinds of expectations make you feel insecure

Start there. You got this.