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

pexels-photo-1040626.jpeg

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

pexels-photo-935756.jpeg

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

pexels-photo-360912.jpeg

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

utah-mountain-biking-bike-biking-71104.jpeg

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

pexels-photo-373984.jpeg

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

pexels-photo-868097.jpeg

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

pexels-photo-1631893.jpeg

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

pexels-photo-1391406.jpeg

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

pexels-photo-541520.jpeg

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

pexels-photo-1549280.jpeg

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.

Cure Your Insecurity, Part One: Get To Know It

pexels-photo-1537171.jpeg

How many times in your life have you known the answer but did not raise your hand or your voice to share it?

How often has someone asked for your opinion and you sheepishly say "Oh, no, it doesn't matter" or "Oh, well, I dunno, I just think...."?

The sad truth is that human development is saturated with insecurity. 

It does not matter what kind of family someone had growing up, EVERYONE IS INSECURE ABOUT SOMETHING. 

The Sparknoted reason is that your parents offer the kind of love and support that they learned how to give from their parents and their relationships, and the same for their parents and the parents before that. 

This means that there is not one right way of parenting because every single approach will lead a child to be insecure about something. There is no common denominator available to prevent it. That is the way it is.

INSECURITY

But what is insecurity?

Life is full of challenges that cause stress in people, but insecurity is tied to confidence. 

Insecurity occurs because you believe that you cannot successfully respond to that stress or challenge. 

This belief is reinforced with self-talk that prevents you from trying to face that stress or challenge again in the future.

Once it is a belief, it is even more strongly confirmed by avoidant behavior and then the all-powerful self-talk of "Oh no, I'm not the kind of person who can do ________", which protects you from the pressure of facing that stress ever.

Insecurity decreases self-confidence. Lowered self-confidence demotivates us to speak up for ourselves. 

Avoiding self-advocacy leads to self-talk that you do not need to speak up because what you say holds no value.

Self-expression gets more and more challenging the more you avoid it, so you protect yourself from the challenge by saying "Oh, I'm just a quiet person."

Great, good for you. You protected yourself from stress. 

But what will you do when something you should say could determine the fate of your career or your relationship?

What if something you know could save someone's life? Would you still stay quiet?

The problem is that people get so used to thinking that they do not have anything valuable to say that the fear of speaking out becomes paralyzing. What if someone was dying and you happened to have taken a CPR course in the past but you are stuck in the belief that you are not valuable?

Will you let the person die or will you speak out about how to save the person?

Does this sound familiar at all to your life?

THE HARD TRUTH

Here is the deal: Everyone possesses the same amount of value. 

What you know / believe / want to say does not hold any less value than the person next to you.

Whether in your journal, at a work meeting, or on a first date, your evolution depends on your ability to face your fear and share what you want to say.

YOUR FIRST STEP

It is a process, though. Let us do it together. The first question to ask yourself is:

  • What am I insecure about saying / doing?  What do I shy away from in conversations or interactive settings?


This is not referring to things like skydiving or white water rafting, activities that are not required for your survival. 

Instead, I refer to the fear of your own confidence. 

  • About what kind of self-expression are you insecure to share with the world?  

  • And why is that the case? Where did that come from?

  • Who or what "taught" you at some point that what you think does not matter?

This is the first step to understanding what is holding you back in your career, your relationship, and everything else in your life. There is no right or wrong answer, because your answer is just as valid as that of everyone else in the world. 

Learning How To Reflect Will Save Your Life, Part 5: When To Stop Journaling For Maximum Benefit

Once I teach people how to start journaling comfortably (see last week), the next limiting thought I hear a lot is:

How do I know when it is helpful?

It is a good question but it is not the point. The act of journaling is beneficial no matter what; it takes the writer's openness and attitude toward the idea of reflection that cracks open its true value. 

Just Start Writing

I used to work on a crisis inpatient unit at a psychiatric hospital and I had taught a sixty-five year old woman how to journal for the first time in her life. 

At the beginning of a shift, I found her crying in the hallway. She said she had received bad news and had a horrible afternoon and was very angry and wanted to know how to journal about it. 

I told her "The most important thing is that you want to journal about it. That you are already open to processing it. All you have to do is sit down and start writing about your anger. What you are mad at, who you are mad at, and why."

"But then what?" she said.

"Nothing beyond that. You will know when to stop. You will notice what happens once you get into writing your thoughts down."

And she did. She wrote free hand like I do about what had triggered her, why it triggered her anger, and why she felt helpless about it. She cried throughout the process but then noticed when she was losing steam and stopped writing. 


Unfortunately, for many of you overthinkers out there, journaling is that simple. You simply write until you should not anymore. 

Criteria For Stopping

"Easier said than done, Taylor. What are the criteria for that?"

Happy you asked.

Some signs for you to stop a journaling session include:

  1. feelings of physical fatigue from mentally focusing and thinking so hard

  2. trying to force the thoughts to come 

  3. you forget why you are journaling in the first place 

Number 2 refers to the point when the thoughts are not flowing naturally anymore and you are adding extra mental effort to think of the next connection or note to write. 

Regarding number 3, sure, this means you were properly immersed in the process, and it is the point of journaling to see where the mind flows, but be mindful of the overall intention. 

I once thought that I needed to journal and dive deep into it every day, which takes a lot of time and mental force since it is not natural. It was not sustainable because my intention was no longer about the immersion but about the habit of unnecessarily journaling every day of the week. 

The Power Of Immersion

Let me give you a good example of the power of journaling:

Close to four years ago now, I hurt a close friend's feelings. I did not intend to, but I own that I did anyway. I was so distraught by what I had done and how they had reacted and the whole situation of emotions and miscommunications that I had a hard time sleeping and spun my head into a migraine. 

I went to a local cafe I loved with only my journal, ordered a milkshake, and began to write. I wrote for four hours straight before I began to feel the fatigue (#1) between my head and my body that told me the immersion was ending. 

Furthermore, I noticed that the thoughts were not flowing as naturally and the connections I was making slowed down. Writing any more would have been more effortful than beneficial. 

I felt clearer. I felt so much more connected and integrated with my emotions. 

I was still sad, of course, but I had a deep understanding of why I was sad and what my triggers were in the situation. 

For the journaling process to have lasted four hours, the content flowed way beyond the incident with my friend. And that is the point of the immersion. 

You go wherever the thoughts take you. 

The journaling had also ameliorated my migraine. 

I will say that again: JOURNALING CURED A MIGRAINE.

Journaling did not fix my friendship, but it allowed me to speak with the friend with more understanding and clarity on my role in the situation. 

Even more, the journaling taught me how to be aware of situations like that in the future.

It had been made real and I had been made accountable. 

You Are More Ready Than You Think

Do not worry, I am not telling you that you must spend four hours journaling in order to get "immersed". The immersion happens almost immediately if you are open to the process. I just happened to need four hours on that particular day to work through what was in my mind.

To recap, here is what you do need:

  1. a journal that is best suited for your personality and productivity (see two posts back to determine this)

  2. a pen

  3. a simplified starting point - what you are feeling right then, a subject that is on your mind, etc.

  4. openness to the immersion

  5. awareness to stop when you hit the energetic markers I mentioned above. 

Within that, though, go for it. See where your mind takes you. It is a fascinating and wondrous journey to go on. Enjoy the ride.

Learning How To Reflect Will Save Your Life, Part 4: How To Start Journaling So That It Actually Helps

pexels-photo-733856.jpeg

So many people I know say that they are terrible writers. 

"I'm not a writer."

"Oh no, I can't write."

This limiting belief gets in the way of so many people learning how to access the enormous power of journaling. Much of the perceived limitation that people hide behind is due to the belief that there is a right or wrong way to journal. If people are not accustomed to the vulnerability of reflection or the practice of handwritten freewriting, then a giant mental block is formed in their brain, creating a balloon of pressure that leads to panic and........they never try to start. 

The concept of right and wrong is horrendously taboo. If you missed my post about why that is, check it out here before we continue, to give you better context.


The Problem

In this world of oversaturated markets peppering us with advertisements about what the internet thinks you need to buy, there are so many options for notebooks and planners and journals that are supposedly the miracle for your productivity and success, but how can someone know what journal is best for them if they believe that they will not be able to journal "correctly" from the get-go?

What To Do About It

The solution is to start with the end in mind. 

What makes you productive at home or at work? What practices do you have in place to be productive? What must be in place around you for you to feel productive?

For example, music needs to be playing in order to clean the house. A picture of your family must be lined up on your desk in order to start work. 

Everyone's unique productivity criterium is different and represents the way that their mind works.

In this way, the efficacy of reflective journaling depends on your awareness of what makes you productive. 

The Practice 

I started journaling in the winter of my freshman year of college. I remember it was a time where my self-awareness was blooming and I needed a way to filter the thoughts that were flooding in to my mind as college slapped me with the concept of "adult independence".

I was not so aware yet to necessarily do anything with the thoughts but I needed a place to put them. To save them.

My first journal entry ever was one simple phrase: "I am like Leonardo Da Vinci". Not because I was an artist and inventor at the time but because I recognized that I thought differently than a lot of people around me and I analyzed the world and my life in deep ways. 

This is a great example of journaling because the realization had been in my head for a while and I needed to get it out, even though there was nothing to do about it other than remain aware that that is the way that I am. 

I have a huge imagination. I spend probably 35% of every day consciously imagining life as though it were in a movie, with background music and all. Because of this, my productivity is correlated with my ability to hold on to the broader vision of something I am doing so that I can focus on the tasks that contribute to it. 

As a result, my mind does not respond well to confinement. 

This is why I am most successful at journaling freehand in a lined journal that has no prompts or schedulers or anything. Nothing that tries to constrain my mind into certain kinds of reflective structure. 

Your Turn

So again, what makes you productive?

Many people need much more mental structure than I do when reflecting, and that is okay. If you are one of those people, you would benefit from a journal that has writing prompts or specifically organized spaces for certain kinds of reflection in it so that the structure is provided for you and all you have to do is answer the questions.

Bullet Journals have become super popular because of the way they help people structure and organize their thoughts and notes with visual cues in the notebook itself.

Modern technology has advanced so far as to offer Rocketbooks, which are environmentally conscious notebooks that allow you to download pictures of your notes into a Rocketbook app and then microwave the notebook to erase the notes. 

This works well for the person who would not mind keeping the reflections somewhere but also feels compelled to burn all evidence of the reflection because of how vulnerable the process was. I know a few people like that...

How To Get Started

Clean and simple lined journals work the best for me not only because of the lack of visual constraints in the journal itself, but because it gives me total freedom to write in it however I damn want to.

I can say whatever I want in it. No one is telling me what to do.

"Okay cool, Taylor. But how do I start?"

(I get that a lot)

Start like I did with one simple phrase. It does not matter what it is. Anger is pretty accessible for people so say something you are pissed off about. For instance "I am pissed at ______________." 

It is as easy as that. 

Your next steps

Journaling has been one of the most powerful things I have ever done. It has saved my life on a couple of occasions, and continues to allow me to store information about myself beyond the confines of my head.

I want this for you as well. So start here:

  1. Determine what mental state makes you productive.

  2. Find a notebook or journal that coincides with that.

  3. Think of one simple phrase that is relevant to your life right now for your first entry. 

  4. Enjoy the boundless expanse of your thoughts.

Learning How To Reflect Will Save Your Life, Part 3: Don't Go It Alone

pexels-photo-1204649.jpeg

Our brains evolve in order to help us survive. 

This is why our brains are really good at looking around for threats or attaching its cognitive features to negative things. 

Why do you think it is easier to complain about something than be vulnerable and share something positive?

The common education system makes us think that we must store a whole lot of information in our heads in order to survive. That learning about every culture's ancient history will equip us with necessary skills to prolong our species. 

The problem is our brains cannot hold all of the information about the world, the universe, how everything works, how to use everything, how to construct everything, etc. 

Power of Deliberation

The book The Knowledge Illusion, by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach, examines the limits of human knowledge and learning as well as why our brains have evolved the way that they have. They discuss the difference between intuition and deliberation. Intuition is used to deduce knowledge of something instinctively from within yourself based on information from your surroundings or the way that you have become accustomed to making decisions and solving problems. 

Intuition is a quick judgment. Deliberation, however, takes more time, employs more analytical thought, and often requires some form of collaboration, even if that collaboration is in the form of talking to yourself. 

Those who respond with more deliberation to problems or questions, as the authors note, tend to be more reflective, detail oriented, and cognizant of the limitations of their knowledge. They are much more aware of what they do not know than those people who rely on intuition and snap judgment for an answer. 


Collaboration and Survival

While I mentioned how reflection helped our ancestors to more efficiently defend themselves against sabertooth tigers, Sloman and Fernbach mention how reflection and deliberation about hunting Wooly Mammoths contributes to survival. From their discussion, deliberating and collaborating with others is beneficial in three important events related to hunting a Mammoth:

  1. brainstorming different ways to effectively hunt one

  2. creating a system through which the Mammoth meat is stored and shared fairly amongst the group

  3. creating respectful expectations for living as a cohesive community 

Each of these phases present a new opportunity for huge neurological growth as well as social cognition about who knows what and how the group can work together to survive as a community. 

Collaboration and YOUR Survival

If you are experiencing any kind of emotional event or, say, anxiety, in which your brain is getting concerned for your wellbeing, reflection can help you learn about the emotional event and why you react the way that you do. 

A lot of people panic, though, and stop there because the vulnerability is too unfamiliar and they do not know how to proceed on their own. Cue the Mammoth concept. 

Get help. Collaborate. This does not mean that you have to go find a therapist, but instead it can be as simple as walking around your house talking through your reflections out loud to yourself. Hearing it out loud will externalize the thoughts in a different way than writing it down or just thinking it, and it will be almost as effective as hearing someone else speak to you.

Start with that if you are nervous about reaching out to someone. 

If you are comfortable with going beyond yourself and bolstering your odds for survival, find someone to talk to.  A friend, a family member, stranger in a coffee shop, whomever.

PRO TIP, start the conversation like this:

"Hey, I have been reflecting on something I have been going through and I wonder if I could talk it out with you."

If you want their advice, replace the second part of that with "...I wonder if I could get your take on it." 

Hint: people are always stoked to share advice, so be careful who you choose to talk to you about your vulnerable emotional material or take their advice with a grain of salt.

You will find that the dynamic of verbalizing it to someone else makes you hear your thoughts differently than when kept in your head, the person may provide relief by simply validating what you are going through and reminding you you are not alone, or they may have perspective or advice that turns around how you have been thinking about yourself. 

Cheers to your evolution. 

Learning How To Reflect Will Save Your Life, Part 2: What Are You Scared Of?

pexels-photo-268533.jpeg

Last week we began to discuss how self-reflection is important for your survival. It is a process of self-exploration that demonstrates how you learn new things and integrate them into your life. 

Learning new things and integrating them into daily life is what humans have done...um...forever. It is a natural process. 

That is why we think school is a required rite of passage into human-hood. Because we have to learn stuff.

Studies have shown that happiness is correlated to one's sense of making progress in any way, big or small, which means that the urge to grow is imprinted in our DNA as a means of achieving fulfillment.

Learning = Growth = Evolution = Survival

Sounds simplistic, yeah? But here is the thing:

People are absolutely terrified of reflection.

It is mind-boggling. 


The Evolution Problem

When you are a teeny tiny baby, you are learning stuff for survival just as often as you are as an adult, but the mental framework is different. Not only are your mental skills more evolved, you have a couple things called independence and responsibility. Other than the fact that you do not have a whole lot of consciousness when you are a tiny child, you are not yet fully responsible for your survival. As a result, you do not recognize or see the value in the many things you are constantly learning. 

As you get older and learn that you are, in fact, a person and that you are different than other persons around you, you learn that there are some things you might have to do keep yourself alive. 

The problem is that you do not face that realization with "Boom, I got this. I have been learning how to survive my whole life already" because you were not aware of what you were learning when you still relied on a caregiver for survival. 

When faced with the existential "holy crap, I am human" moment, people freeze.

They feel like they do not know what to do. They get stressed. They get down on themselves. They get sad. 

Even people who recognize the benefit of self-reflection and who begin to self-reflect often hit a point where they get scared and stop. 

The Survival Problem

Why the heck do they stop? Because they are insecure. They acknowledge the consequences of not reflecting but they believe that they do not know HOW to effectively reflect. 

They think there is a right or wrong way to do it. 

What is worse, they think that the vulnerability of self-reflection is a sign of weakness. Society promotes this. And this is true for people who see the benefit of reflection. What about those who never even allow themselves to start reflecting because it is a waste of time? Darwin sits up in his grave...

The Solution

Before I teach you any more about HOW to reflect in a safe and effective way, the most important thing is to first identify what is getting in the way of your vulnerability. 

For those of you who have never wanted to fully attend to self-reflection:

  • what are you afraid of?

  • what is scary about that vulnerability for you?

  • what do you believe this level of vulnerability means about you?  

For those of you who have given attention to self-reflection but then stopped when it got too deep or too vulnerable:

  • what did you become afraid of?

  • what was scary about that threshold for you?

  • what were you learning about yourself that you became afraid to continue exploring?

  • did you feel alone and unguided?

For both categories: from whom were you taught that vulnerability is not a good thing?

Everybody reflects to different extents and everyone stops for different reasons. For this reason, I cannot and will not ever judge someone for becoming scared in the course of their own unique evolutionary journey. 

You must understand your fear of vulnerability before you can learn your unique power and increase your chances of survival.