Archive for May, 2015

Lifting Our Spirits: Moving Away from Isolation

May 28, 2015

It doesn’t matter what stage of life we’re in, as adults we’re all prone to experiencing bouts of loneliness. The irony of feeling adrift in an ever more connected world does not pass unnoticed and, yet, everyone understands what I mean—even here in gorgeous, glamorous, sunny Santa Barbara where all the beautiful people come to stare at one another from behind their sunglasses. In fact, in the midst of a happy round of socializing with friends I adore, I feel inexplicably solitary. It’s unsettling to feel reunited and separate all at once. I’m not sure what that’s about. People tell me the same thing: they say that they feel somewhat removed from what’s going on around them, no matter how grounded their lives appear, how busy their days. While I could spend plenty of time wondering what this says about the human condition, I know enough not to waste my time. It happens to everyone. We look around, unsure of our place, unsure of our purpose, and wondering how we got here. Feeling isolated is a chronic conundrum.

But feeling removed from the world for too long isn’t healthy. Dwelling on our sense of separation only increases it. Instead, we need to seek out reasons and ways to reconnect because doing so will both contribute to the greater good and enhance our personal sense of wellbeing. Remember, the entire point of re-booting is to empower us to move closer to that “sweet spot” of who we really are, so we need to start with where we direct our thoughts. Emotions are contagious; they influence every corner of our lives. Whatever we exercise grows, so the more joy and gratitude we express, the more we will feel connected to life. (By contrast, think of someone you know who feeds on their sense of disappointment or anger, allowing these feelings to poison them. My grandmother was a champion at this; she dedicated decades–eons–to nursing her feelings of resentment and jealousy. Regularly, she would transform into a frothing harpy. Ugh. I was glad when she left this earthly plane.) When we catch ourselves circling the drain of our gloom or indifference, it’s important to take steps to reverse course. Therefore, today’s post focuses on what we can do to rebuild our enthusiasm.

A great place to start is with praising others. Earlier today, I was talking with some men who told me that as they have progressed through life, they’ve made a conscious effort to compliment or thank someone each day—whether that’s their wife, the grocery clerk, or someone else entirely. The fact that these men have incorporated into their mindset the effort to notice, appreciate, and communicate something positive is a guaranteed strategy for seeing more good in life. When was the last time you praised a stranger? When you acknowledged the efforts of your spouse or a friend? What have you done, lately, that made somebody else feel good?

A slight variation on the same theme involves extending ourselves. A longtime mentor shared her tactic: she keeps a list of about 30 people she’s known over the years, each of whom would be happy to hear from her. These people needn’t be close bosom buddies, they just have to be individuals she likes. Once or twice a week, she’ll close her eyes and point at a name, summoning a happy memory about that person, and then she calls them–just to say hello. “A friendly call works wonders,” she gushed. “They’re happy. I’m happy. And we both feel lighter. Doing so changes my entire day.” When was the last time you called someone out of the blue?

A third strategy for building enthusiasm is more us-focused: making time to do something we love, something that fills an internal yearning. All too often, we eliminate such activities, telling ourselves that we can do it later, that there’s no time, we’ve got chores to do, deadlines to meet, we’re exhausted, other people need our attention. I know. I get it. But, I remind you how much more energy you’ll have to give to your responsibilities when you feel satisfied about how you’ve spent a portion of your day doing something YOU want to do. This is not an indulgence. It’s not a waste of time. It’s an investment that pays high dividends. Making time for this is precisely how we reconnect with the joy of living.

What are you compelled to do?

Whatever it is, you need a lot more of it in your life, but you have to make it a priority. For example, I know that for myself, even though here I am preaching to you about cultivating enthusiasm, I can easily slip back into the doldrums. Though it pains me to confess it, the temptation to sit in my shadowy basement, alone and wondering what in the world I think I’m doing with my life–when it feels like everyone else is living lives filled with purpose and connection, going to pool parties or barbecues or whatever it is normal people do—is great. I know better, but this doesn’t keep me from thinking these thoughts. When I catch myself which gets easier and easier, I literally tell myself to STOP. I find some sort of distraction—getting some fresh air is a favorite–and then I usually start to write. Writing makes me feel good; it’s a creative outlet for me. It makes me feel productive and fulfilled. This blog has helped me so much: I get to select a topic which interests me and then figure out a way to make it interesting to you, too. Hours go by and I don’t notice. The more I do this, the more my perspective brightens…

Ok, so that’s probably enough on this topic. I’ve listed out three strategies that you can experiment with to rebuild your sense of connection. It’s destructive to our souls to isolate ourselves. We are social creatures who need one another. The camaraderie of connection reassures us that we are seen, reminds us we are valued, and reenergizes us to move forward on a positive trajectory. Our friends are far kinder to us than we are to ourselves. They are there to lift us up and make us laugh.

Re-booters needn’t make this journey alone, but sometimes we need reminding. Your assignment for today is to compliment someone. Let them know you see the positive they bring. If that feels good, make a list of 10-20 people you know who would be happy to hear from you. Promise yourself you’ll call one of them later this week. I’m willing to bet you’ll feel better.

See Things Differently: Appreciating How Lucky We Are

May 26, 2015

So, Memorial Day was yesterday, with all of its emphasis on acknowledging and honoring the sacrifices made by hundreds of thousands of US service members and their families. As I was reflecting upon this and feeling guilty that I have not made a similar contribution, I began thinking about what a charmed life I lead. Despite the bumps in the road and the flaws I struggle to overcome, I am a very lucky person. The fact that I know this and am grateful for all the positives plays as much a part of my re-booting process as does the impetus to make some major shifts in my life. It’s important to remember that as hard as things can feel sometimes, we have much working in our favor. We always have more than we lack. In any situation, we bring with us the ample talents and strengths we’ve developed to support our efforts. Nobody starts from zero. Not one single person.

How charmed is your life? How have you been lucky?

It’s easy to gloss over the things we have working in our favor when faced with serious struggles that haunt our thoughts, reminding us of ways we have fallen short. For me, my despair and frustration about looking for work but loathing the idea of returning to an office hover over my my head, like a little black cloud. My worries color nearly everything I do, except for those times when I forget about them because I’m having too good a time doing something else. I could spend all day fretting that I’ve missed the boat repeatedly, paddling away in my own little circles doing whatever it is I think I was doing. But losing myself in such thoughts is not only a waste of time, it completely bypasses how much of the honey pot I get! To have had five years of total protection and support as I’ve gone about the business of re-booting my life is enormously unusual and has given me the luxury of time as I’ve clawed my way up over the sharp surfaces of my fixed ideas about how my life should be, let alone the excruciating process of forgiving myself for not seeing what I should’ve seen, for obstinately sticking with a course of action even when I knew it was a bad choice with less than primo values attached. To have had the opportunity to revisit and revise my ideas and priorities without feeling life grab me by the throat to feed my family or pay my bills is a gift from the angels. As terrified as I remain about all my unanswered questions, I can see how lucky I am to know what I know today, recognizing that all the things I thought I wanted turned out to be a burden I’m glad I’ve escaped.

What secret treasures have you uncovered in your struggle? In what way has life unfolded, enabling you to grow wiser and stronger?

I mentioned early on in this post my sense of guilt in the face of so many who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us. Of course, there are many, many ways we all contribute to the greater good—ways that extend far beyond serving in the military—and most of our contributions lay in how we care for those around us. Guilt is something I believe most people struggle with throughout their lives. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all gone back on our word or done the wrong thing or been unkind. We all know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of somebody’s betrayal or power grab or belittling. These experiences are as much a part of the human condition as living and breathing. But, as important as it is for us to “forgive those who trespass against us,” it may be even more important to forgive ourselves, since our guilt is the root of so many of our struggles. We must forgive ourselves first before we can hope to forgive others.

For me, I remain appalled and angry at myself that I turned out to be so needy and superficial that I was willing to put myself in a deeply uncomfortable place. I was so desperate to hear that I was smart and beautiful and charming and clever that I was willing to turn myself into a pretzel. Pathetic. It makes me cringe just thinking about it. It makes me sad for my younger self. I’ve had to work long and hard at finding sympathy for who I was when I made these decisions, at forgiving myself for being so recklessly stubborn about what I wanted and how I was going to get there.

What guilt are you holding onto? What is that thing that makes you angry at yourself?

Now that I’ve got you thinking about this tender place in your heart, I want you to try something. I want you to try looking at yourself from a place of calm benevolence, of seeing yourself struggling under this burden of anger and guilt. I want you to send calm, healing energy to that suffering version of you, placing your hand on their forehead, the way you might a sick child. I want you to try this. Close your eyes and do it. This is the highest and best part of you taking care of yourself.

We have to start by forgiving ourselves.

Our life journey will always involve bumps in the road—it’s how we learn. The fact that most of those bumps were usually constructed (or made worse) by us, making our path significantly harder or sending us on unnecessary detours is bound to provoke irritation. We could spend all day being pissed off about it and furious when we realize we did it to ourselves. All this is possible. The way forward is to recognize what the errors were and finding a way around them. This is the heart of re-booting. This is how we will find a new path, the one we’re meant to tread.

Arriving at this point is a miracle.

See? You do lead a charmed life.

When Life Sends Us Spinning: Finding A New Point of Reference

May 21, 2015

For the vast majority of you who have never experienced a bout of vertigo, let me tell you it is one awful ride. Something goes wrong in the inner ear, which is where the body finds its equilibrium, so that it feels like everything around us is moving about, making it impossible to orient ourselves. I know several people who suffer from this debilitating condition and I’ve experienced a fleeting spin or two, myself. The thing about vertigo is you can never quite predict when it will hit, how bad it will be, or how long it will stay. It’s completely beyond our control. When vertigo strikes, one feels completely unmoored, grasping for anything that feels solid in order to regain a sense of balance.

In a similar manner, there are occasions when Fate hits us smack in the face, sending our world into a tailspin. (Not all re-booting creeps upon us slowly, settling into our very marrow before we are forced to act.) Thrown for loops we didn’t see coming, our life fractures into a million little pieces, our solid frames of reference broken. If sufficiently dramatic and unrelenting, such upheaval can make us question everything from our intelligence to our ability to shoulder this burden to our faith. Nothing makes sense anymore.

What has made your head spin?

Now, I’m treading in somewhat unknown waters with this post because I have never had a dramatic event thrust upon me where I didn’t have at least some warning that change was a comin’. But having such hints doesn’t mean it wasn’t any less difficult or painful for me to find a new point of reference when the shit hit the fan. It was faith (as evidenced through the support of those close to me) that helped get me through. When caught in a black hole where I didn’t know which way was up, where I couldn’t understand why this terrifying development had descended upon my head, and where I had no idea what else might happen or how I would make it to the next day, I clung to an abstract faith, praying to help me get through because I had nothing else to lean on. That’s how petrified and exhausted I felt. I firmly believe that benevolent support for each of us exists, whether one is religious in the traditional sense or not. Faith was what whispered to me in the darkest of my despair that, maybe, what was happening was actually a good thing—even if I couldn’t see how. Looking back, I now believe that this disorienting upheaval was needed in order to jettison my old life and priorities, thus making it possible for me to find the right trajectory. It took faith for me to trust this was possible.

There’s no medication or standardized treatment that will “cure” vertigo; it comes and goes according to its own mysterious logic. Why some people suffer from it and others do not remain unknown. We have little understanding of it and, yet, we know it exists…

What do vertigo, life crises, and faith have to do with re-booting?

They influence how we feel anchored; they impact our life balance; and they trigger our need for a re-boot. Everyone’s life goes spinning. The people who tell themselves they have an unshakeable faith and a complete understanding of how life works are the least prepared to handle those times when life turns upside down. We are meant to be tested.

How we react to these troubles is where we receive our master lessons. Whether it’s your vertigo or your faith, recycling old ideas (aka frames of reference) to regain your balance is not going to work. Oh sure, for awhile, you might hold onto the side of the bed, but doing so won’t get you down the hallway. You may have to pause, lie back down, close your eyes, and drift, unsure how long this ride is gonna last. The destruction of ideas you’ve embraced for so long is hugely disconcerting—1) you no longer believe that occupying the top job is the “everything” you thought it was; 2) the family meltdown has forced you to change your vision of yourself as the “master fixer” you thought you were; 3) now that you’re better, you no longer have the “crutch” of illness as an excuse as to why you can’t get out there and do more in your life; 4) you must now forge an identity without that certain relationship in your life—given all that’s happened, who are you now? These previous identities gave your life definition, they provided the parameters for your choices and now they’ve been obliterated. BAM! You have no choice but to find a whole new center of balance if you want to get up off that bed.

It was faith that provided a gravity pull which kept me from spinning apart. Over and over, in those darkest of dark days, I would mutter in the car, “Just trust. Just trust.” I wasn’t even sure what I was trusting, but I knew I needed something bigger than myself. And so I did. Blindly. Stumbling as I went. Faith got me through then and it continues to get me through now. However, while faith cannot alleviate the symptoms of a problem, it can help overcome the problematical reactions that the problem brings with it. Overcoming a challenge or condition is very different from symptom alleviation. Your mother-in-law will always be a pill, but you can overcome your irritation towards her. Your chronic vertigo will continue to send your world spinning, but you can overcome your frustration at having to deal with it. If you are creative and adaptable enough to TRUST that there must, somehow, be a constructive purpose for you to endure this problem, you can begin to reorient; you can begin to re-boot.

Can you think of a time when you, or someone you know, radically shifted their perspective on how to handle a major crisis and things got better? The problems didn’t necessarily subside, but their reaction to them changed. This attitude adjustment is an example of faith that there is something important for us to learn through our suffering. This shift in attitude is a new center of gravity. It is in this manner that we can overcome our very real pain, which is different from symptom alleviation.

Upgrading Our Internal Software: How Inquisitive Adults Evolve

May 19, 2015

Any truly intelligent person has an innate curiosity about themselves and how the world around them works. What gets most people into trouble, I think, is assuming that the rules and strategies that worked for them before will be equally useful now. Not so. For those who are truly dedicated to expanding and enriching their comprehension of life, revisiting some of these old precepts is necessary. In fact, much adult learning requires us to unlearn previously taught techniques. When we were children, we lacked the capacity to manage anything beyond the most basic of approaches, but now we are more capable. The way we thought about and solved problems as children are no longer appropriate or helpful now that we’re adults. Relying upon childish fixed logic or rote memorization can interfere with our ability to grasp far more abstract and amorphous wisdom. The kind of wisdom that presents itself during the course of adulthood–if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Think of it this way: a five year old needs to master basic grammar and sentence structure (subject-verb-object) before he or she can advance to more complex concepts such as sentence diagramming or dangling participles. Learning these fundamental rules involves simplistic thinking and is about as much as a five year old can handle. But, spring ahead thirty or forty years, and our capabilities are much greater; the rich veins of meaning we find buried in a book extend far beyond what we could mine as children. A parent who reads Hop on Pop to his four year old has an entirely different understanding of the story than his child does. Why is this? What explains the difference?

Although the adult is applying the basic syntax and vocabulary rules he learned as a child, he simultaneously gleans far more insight and humor from the tale because he sees more and understands how to apply these insights in his life. His understanding of the plot is mature, rounded out by his experience of life. “True learning takes place in both our hearts and minds and is grounded in our acts.” It is a fundamental truth that understanding a concept intellectually is not enough—we must reflect what we have learned through our choices. This extends from how we interpret religious texts to our definitions of success or failure to our expectations about life and the behavior of others to extending sensible patience as a form of love towards the people around us (let alone ourselves). To clarify what I mean, here is an example: when you were a child, you probably believed in Santa Claus, whereas as an adult, you have evolved to appreciate the spirit of Santa Claus, instead. Literal vs. archetypal. Concrete vs. symbolic. We all know that the spirit of Santa is much more expansive, nuanced, and powerful than Santa the Toy Guy could ever be. If we limited ourselves to the child’s understanding of Santa that would be…pathetic.

How have you outgrown your old beliefs? What has life taught you that you refuse to accept? Where do you cling to childish or immature ideas, interpretations, or desires?

Everyone does this. For example, an adult who continues to feel plagued by the guilt they felt at 16 when their parent expressed disappointment in them. Decades later and despite having lived a productive and fulfilling life, they continue to wrestle with this shame. Wouldn’t this person be better served by reminding themselves that their parent’s opinion was based on outdated information? That feeling bad about who they were then has little to do with who they are today? Their guilt is a perfect example of clinging to an outworn interpretation.

Far too many of us blunder through life using the same techniques for analysis and decision making that we applied decades earlier. Despite acquiring adult bodies and lives, it’s never even occurred to us to reconsider how we interpret life, to update our internal software. This is where that hard work of re-booting comes in. Re-wiring our pre-programmed ideas about ourselves and our lives can feel awkward and excruciating. Upgrades unwelcome. It’s so much easier to continue to rely on the “fact” that X + Y = Z. Where Z is the only acceptable or possible result, and the only way to get to Z is through X and Y. It never occurs to us that there could be another way. Math at a first grade level.

Is this the level at which you want to operate?

Of course, there are trade offs to making this sort of upgrade in our thinking. Returning to my Santa analogy, I know that exchanging the childish idea of Santa for a more sophisticated understanding means that we won’t enjoy the same sort of anticipation come Christmas morning. That wonder and delight is limited to children. But children can’t experience the feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment that accompanies knowing we were able to provide the presents under the tree or the recognition that a warm hug and feeling of genuine acceptance surpass anything in a Tiffany’s box.

So, what does all this mean?

When it comes to extracting the very highest and best from life, we are obligated to lay down our childish ways. We need to look beyond the answers we have always relied upon, answers derived from a period in our lives when our capacity for abstract thinking was much more limited. We know more now, so we can see more. We can appreciate nuance now in a way that would have flown right over our heads in years past.

I offer myself up as a concrete example. There’s an ancient photo of me in my brother’s perambulator wearing a shirt that said, “I am the boss.” Oh, how I loved that shirt! For most of my life, I have believed that real achievement in this life meant being a power broker with outsized influence, bossing people around and making a lot of money while doing so. Anything else would prove I was a “failure.” These past five years of re-booting have (thank God) led me to radically reconsider every single part of this ill-conceived idea. In fact, I would no more want to have a power lunch at the fanciest restaurant in DC with all the other blowhards than I would want to boss around a bunch of people knowing how much they would loathe and resent me! That’s how much my ideas have changed. That’s how much my understanding of success and career has evolved. If I were to have clung to my shopworn ideas of what success looks like for me, I’d be one unhappy camper right now because what I thought was so great turns out not to be. I just couldn’t see it five years ago. But, now I can.

Where might you start re-programming some of your old ideas? How might doing so free you up to live a wiser, more compassionate life?

Chaotic Systems: Coping with Capriciousness

May 14, 2015

Since the summer blockbuster season is bearing down upon us, I thought I’d get into the spirit of things with this post. Taking refuge in the cool of a darkened theater, munching on deliciously greasy popcorn while escaping the unrelenting heat of a summer’s afternoon, few things can be more entertaining than watching the world fall apart before our very eyes. Hey, if they can successfully parachute a fleet of cars from the back of a cargo plane in Furious 7, anything is possible. A few weeks ago, the Washington Post had an article about the Yellowstone caldera. Apparently one of the world’s largest volcanoes, it was studied by a team of scientists who estimate that were it to blow (which it does about every 640,000 years), the destruction would be on a scale never before seen by humans. All of this is dramatic and very exciting to consider, but what really caught my attention was the following quote: “Geological processes don’t follow clocks. These are chaotic systems, with strain building unpredictably as distant faults break and the geological stresses shift here and there.”

For me, this sentence encapsulates a lot of what goes on in our lives. There is much about the human experience that is seemingly illogical and unpredictable; in fact, we ourselves exist within chaotic systems, with many aspects to our lives that cannot be predicted or controlled. Most of these aspects involve the actions of others, but our own evolution as individuals render us equally vulnerable. We can’t always predict our own motivations or shifts in perspective, let alone theirs. And then, BOOM! move over Krakatoa. Our personal tectonic plates shift under continual pressure, a personal continental drift, if you will. Of course, as the Yellowstone scientists reported, there are always signs of strain that hint at such movement. (A less dramatic analogy might be the annoying, unrelenting chirp of my carbon monoxide alarm which is too high for me to reach easily. It just beeps away in the background, alerting me to matters that require attention.) The thing about chaotic systems is that they’re unpredictable, and, as the article stated, “Risk assessment is tricky for low-probability, high-consequence events…”

Let’s think about that phrasing for a moment: low-probability, high consequence events. Now, I’m not talking about disaster films here; I’m alluding to issues you already know exist in your life, the ones you’d prefer not to think about. The really inconvenient ones. What issues might those be? What annoying carbon monoxide alarms contribute to your own sense of chaos?

The beauty of the re-booting concept is that it plays out on all strata of life, from the most mundane of exchanges between two people to enormous, life altering transformation. We all must cope with this instability, whether the signs are barely perceptible tremors or culminate in a total upheaval of how we live. Examples could be anything such as getting older, job loss, illness or addiction issues, relationship change, or even unexpected success. Any of these conversions from who we were to who we are (let alone those of others) will upset the equilibrium, forcing us to redefine what happens next in light of these new circumstances. Expecting our lives to move forward on a smooth, predictable trajectory is as delusional as expressing shock when a smoking volcano blows. Re-booting is about regrouping, about establishing a new normal, about training ourselves to become more aware of the minor tremors that make themselves felt. The wisest among us learn to watch for signs of internal magma pooling below.

What I have seen over and over in life is that the reason people fail to recover from loss or change is their inability to adapt. Their subsequent suffering ties directly into their fixed definition of who they are and what their lives must look like. In happy contrast, I have also seen people who have found much greater happiness and a sense of fulfillment living lives that took an unexpected turn or two, sending them on a paths they would never have imagined. “I didn’t realize life could be like this,” they say. “And, as hard as it was to go through [whatever], I’m so much happier now.”

Can you think of a time you felt something similar? What was it about that time that made such a difference? Is there a way for you to apply some of what you did back then to whatever it is that’s holding you back now?

The fact of the matter is, the plates of our lives are ever shifting (which, actually, to me makes life far more interesting—note that I didn’t say easy; I said interesting). Some things we can control, some we cannot. Sometimes we’ll be the one to screw up, to stumble, to hurt those we care about, but not always. And, we sure as hell can’t control the reactions (and overreactions) of others from our missteps—that’s their responsibility. Forgiveness, patience, flexibility, and a generous dollop of benefit of the doubt are all strategies we can use to ride out these waves.

Caught in the Act: The Problem with Automatic Pilot

May 12, 2015

Pattern recognition plays a fundamental and critical role in our ability to learn. Recognizing that a particular set of letters, ordered a particular way, teaches us to identify words and their attached definition. Mastering enough of these patterns and cultivating sufficient confidence in our ability to read then enables us to stretch our capacities to decipher words we don’t know by identifying patterns of letters and meaning within them, etc. But sometimes, we jump to conclusions about how a word is spelled or what it means because we’ve gone too fast, glossing over or ignoring exceptions to the rules we have already mastered. A slightly different take on this same theory is reflected in muscle memory. Regular DR readers know that I spend a fair amount of time at the gym where we’re taught that the body adapts to whatever exercise we’re doing and learns to execute a series of motions more and more efficiently, which is why it’s important to interrupt these patterns so that the body is forced to learn a new way to move (thus, burning up more calories while developing new strength). Each of these examples ties into today’s theme about automatic pilot and why we need to develop a heightened awareness whenever we’re kicking into this mode.

So for my birthday, I flew out to Santa Barbara and am spending time with friends and family. Birthdays are always a time of self-reflection for me, and doing so while visiting with relatives I haven’t seen for awhile can trigger an emotional bonanza of sorts. This can be good, but it can also involve a certain amount of anxiety. This year, however, I am determined to manage things differently. And the first step in such efforts requires me to recognize when I am shifting into automatic pilot around people who can set off an internal (and often subconscious) cascade of feelings. Easier said than done.

Who sets off an emotional chain reaction in you?

We all have people in our lives who evoke strong reactions within us. We may like them or we may not. We may see them often or years go by with minimal contact. But what is for sure is that as soon as we start even thinking about them, we shift into a particular mindset or stance. It is this internal reaction that signals our automatic pilot—we have pre-set channels when it comes to this person or situation and everything we observe gets sorted through this filter. Talk about emotional muscle memory! The closer they are to us, the more knee-jerk our response.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to board the runaway locomotive that can be Chrisanna. I’ve ridden those rails for so long that I’m sick of it, and as much pleasure as it may give me to blame the other party for all the Trouble, I’m the chief engineer of my part, so it’s up to me to pull on the brakes. It’s a colossal drag to summon a measured and logical response, and far less colorful than the typical show to which I am accustomed, but I’m the only one who can do it. I want to break this pattern. This emotional eddy is one I wish to escape.

These past few days here in sunny, sensational CA have been spent identifying those conversations and wordless exchanges where I’m already primed to react a particular way. As a determined re-booter, I put on my observational hat and entered the ring with my friends and relatives, reminding myself to monitor my thoughts. Boy oh boy, I didn’t realize how FAST I shift into automatic pilot! It’s like I have a set of go-to reactions no matter what they are saying or how they’re behaving. Talk about thoughtlessness! I had no idea I was this far gone! Geez. Two steps forward, three steps back…

In my family,” a friend confided, “I’m used to having difficult, substantive conversations that reliably end with fireworks. So, when my spouse just sat there and remained calm, I didn’t know what to do. (Pause.) Afterwards, we ate dinner and watched a movie. I’m not sure what to think. I guess it’s good. The whole thing feels really weird.”

When we’ve been conditioned to a certain set of reactions, it can feel enormously unsettling to experience something else or have that pattern interrupted. So, it’s understandable that asking ourselves to stop doing what we’ve always done leaves us feeling incomplete or weird with a vague sense of dissatisfaction. It’s really, really hard to break old patterns—even when doing so will make things better.

How often are you aware when you’ve shifted into automatic pilot? When was the last time you tried to change how you think about a situation that cuts deep? Why do you think you react the way you do with this person? Do you feel put down? Angry? Afraid? Used? Fed up with their irresponsibility or need to control everything? Something else entirely? What is that thing for you? Can you articulate what it is that you’re reacting to in this person?

We might have known this individual all our lives or simply for a short while, but the commonality is 1) the intensity of our underlying connection to them and 2) some manifestation of judgment. In my mind’s eye, I can see the barriers being erected between us, the coats of armor being donned. Emotional muscle memory like this doesn’t happen overnight; it requires layers and layers of experience to form—that, or we’re using this person as a substitute for somebody else.

Any of this sound familiar?

Given that today is my birthday, I figured the very best present I could give to myself in this campaign to re-boot would be to try and WISE THE HELL UP. At times, I can be a super slow learner, but being old and dumb ain’t no way to go through the ranks—especially for someone who gets on her soapbox and honks on all the damn time about re-booting and striving to live a more thoughtful and authentic life. So my first, best, and most important responsibility is for me to force myself to think more clearly and logically about what it is I’m doing (especially when it comes to the people I care most about) and how it is that I’m living my life. Recognizing my missteps is a good place to start. If I don’t see it, I can’t do anything about it. Right? Right. How about you?

The Charlatan Within: Wrestling with Imposter Syndrome

May 7, 2015

How often do you feel like a fraud? It’s happened to all of us. At some point or other, we all know what it feels like to struggle with the burden of feeling like we don’t measure up or as if we’re passing under false pretenses. Those nagging questions, “What am I doing here? Is this my group? Do I qualify?” can burrow their way into our awareness, leaving us feeling jittery. Sound familiar? The challenge for all re-booters is to move to a place where these questions arise less and less of the time.

Recently, I started working with an executive coach to help me get a handle on what in the hell it is that I think I’m doing with my life, and she introduced the possibility that maybe I experienced some of this. Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I do. I hadn’t thought of it quite that way, but now that she articulated it for me, the picture is coming a bit more into focus. I suffer from Imposter Syndrome. There. I said it. Not in all cases and not in all circumstances, and I have sufficient confidence that it might surprise some of you to hear me profess this, but here I am saying it. To you.

The anxiety we feel when we worry that we’re not good enough or somehow have arrived in this “place” by mistake or, maybe, that those around us—you know, the ones who truly “belong”—simply haven’t looked closely enough to recognize that we don’t fit in amongst their august group is an uncomfortable reaction that settles into the pit of our stomach or clutches at our chest. Is this an issue for you in some part of your life?

I bet it is.

In terms of re-booting, there is usually a sense that we don’t fully mesh with the life we are living, whether that’s because we detest our inescapable relatives or the career we’re stuck in or you name it. I mean, look at Bruce Jenner, right? Talk about agony. “This isn’t fully me,” we mutter under our breath, vaguely uneasy. “I’m not sure I fit in.” For me, I feel like I’m wobbling around, straddling life in two canoes, trying to hold it together as they drift further and further apart. There are many such dilemmas, but mine (for right now) is my career path. Part of me was/is the professional, accomplished, Type A obsessive/compulsive performer, but another is the creative, somewhat scattered and definitely random but hopefully funny writer. Except 1) I’m no longer a professional and only-sort of-in-the-most-attenuated-way a lawyer, but 2) I’m not quite a writer yet—not in any real way that “counts”. I’m trying to be both, but not very convincingly. Am I fooling myself or do I think I’m fooling you? Because the whole thing makes me anxious, I shut down this line of thought, put my game face on, and head onto the field…

I hate this sort of dissonance. What’s worse is the internal debate about what it is I’m going to do about it. This sort of purgatory is a key reason we need to re-boot our lives. It’s what propels us forward.

Perhaps you grew up in a family where athletic prowess is the highest form of achievement and while, sure, you’ve got long legs and can run like the wind, you’ve never cared about being a pass receiver or hurdler; you’d way rather play the tuba. Only, there’s not enough time to go to practice and study music, besides nobody at home wants to hear you honkin’ away, so it’s easier to make them proud embracing a sport that doesn’t interest you much—even if you’re great at it. Or perhaps you think of yourself as an artist only you’ve never had a show and only sold a couple of works for a couple of bucks, a couple of years ago. Have you “earned” the title of being an artist? Do you deserve to consider yourself part of this group? Two different constructs. Two different types of dilemmas. Same fraudulent feeling. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Where in your life do you feel like you don’t belong? Why is that? What possible steps might you take to move closer to that place where you do fit? What shift or attitude adjustment might you make to own what it is you really want? Where you’re closer to being the authentic you instead of the imposter you?

 

Take five minutes to think about this.

A few nights ago, I trooped downtown to the conference room of some big, fancy law firm to attend one of those university alumni lecture things about marketing and personal branding. Since I am a terrible self-promoter, I found it quite helpful, but one slide the professor showed really caught my attention. “Prepping Yourself to be Found” it proclaimed in bold letters. Prepping yourself to be found. Allowing ourselves to be seen. Is this something you want? To be seen? As you really and truly are? As you wish yourself to be? The artist tuba player? It’s easier to stay hidden, isn’t it? It’s safer to pretend we’re somebody else—that jock who ignores the band nerds.

“I’m tired of pretending I like them, anymore,” confessed a friend discussing their self-absorbed and utterly dominating in-laws. Now, while I would never encourage anyone to be their authentic self by expressing open disdain to extended family, I can sympathize with the forced, tight smile or feigned indifference we must assume when who we are clashes with what we want. Imposter Syndrome arrives cloaked in all the colors of the rainbow. What cloak does yours wear?

The goal of re-booting is to shed some of these layers, to strip away what we find stifling, to embrace that part of ourselves we’ve been fighting all these years. If it helps any, know that I continue to want to call myself a writer but struggle with whether or not I deserve it. But then, I tell myself, there are a lot of crappy writers out there—way worse than I—who run around all day long proclaiming to the world, “I’m a writer!” So, why not me?

Why not you?

A Re-booting Fundamental: Being A Friend to Yourself

May 5, 2015

Ok, kids, buckle up for this one. Are you your own best friend? I hope so. If not, I’m sorry, and we’re going to work on this together because this is a problem that has plagued me for most of my life and I want to get past it. I don’t know where you came from, but I grew up in a family and a city that is all about bloviating. Do you know what bloviating means? It means being a blowhard of sorts, always blustering around and usually involves some sort of grandiosity, to boot. You know, a braggart. Unfortunately we’re subjected to this all the time, whether it’s politicians who get caught in a lie, athletic superstars who’ve cheated their way to victory, or people who embellish their resumes claiming they achieved x, y, and z when “none of the above” is actually the truth.

No, I became sensitized to this practice very early on. In my day, I’ve seen a lot of folks make grandiose statements, puff and preen, swaggering about town, laying claim to all sorts of things that are either utterly false or grossly distorted. (Think Bernie Madoff, Bill Belicheck, Rosie Ruiz of Boston Marathon fame, Lance Armstrong, Brian Williams, Samantha Erdley.) It’s not everyone does this and its not that they’re all equally unredeemable, but this behavior creates impressions that are far removed from the truth and can have very serious consequences. What aggravates an already bad situation is when others confront, challenge, and humiliate with glee and viciousness those caught out in their lies. It’s not enough to shine a light on the wrongdoing, sometimes a sort of mob “pile on” mentality that takes hold. (I like to see the bad guys lose, too, but the sort of feral intensity that can follow by outraged mobs shocks me.)

As a result of seeing so many examples of this both in the media and (more impactfully) in my own circles, long ago I made the decision to do the reverse: not only would I downplay the achievements and talents I have, but I would energetically ferret out any possible weakness or angle of attack that might get sent my way. I did this as a form of self-protection, but what happened was it morphed into me becoming the first, sharpest, and most unfair critic of myself. Fear of criticism and judgment has driven many of my choices and curbed my risk taking. Quelling this unkind internal voice isn’t easy, but is probably the very most important thing I can do to re-boot my life. Does any of this ring a bell? How harsh a judge are you of yourself?

I’m thinking about all of this because a friend gently confronted me about my proclivity for running myself and my efforts down—and I’m grateful she did. She’s not the first person to do so, but maybe it’s the first time I’m willing to listen because I’m so tired of living my life this way. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot about my life that is very, very good and there is A LOT I feel confident about! It just could be a whole lot better and I am the one getting in my own way. I’m afraid to take the steps I want to take, so I invent all sorts of reasons why it wouldn’t work, why I’m really not as talented as I think I am, why I’d be subjecting myself to certain humiliation if I was so blind and foolhardy as to try. The odds against my success are astronomical and have a long trail of broken bodies along the way to serve as cautionary reminders of what can happen. (Yeah, I’m really good at this counter argument business.) My friend wrote to me, “You are holding yourself back with imagined concerns that only you see. It seems as though you don’t want to be happy. I don’t know how to get you to see reality in its proper form…Instead of an unrealistic goal and inflated sense of your chances, you have super talent to use but don’t see that you can get it engaged.”

Trust me, these were HARD words to read.

Now, having fileted myself open for you to see, I want you to think about a couple of things: If I were your invisible friend, what would you say to me to encourage me? Do you agree that it’s critical that we be our own best cheering section? How good a friend are you to yourself? What’s holding you back?

Because, the truth of the matter is, it doesn’t matter how loud and large our cheering sections are, if we don’t trust it, we won’t do it. The only person who can take steps in our lives is us. We’re the ones to lose or gain the weight. We’re the ones who open those books and learn what’s in them. We’re the ones who live inside our heads all day everyday. We are our own captive audience and we’re the only ones who can do anything about it.

Unlearning years and years of past negative self talk isn’t easy, but it is doable. I mean, we’ve all seen friends who continuously run themselves down and it’s painful to witness; we start to avoid them because it’s uncomfortable and unjust. There’s nothing we can do to change their mind. But, we can change our own minds. We can bring balance back into the “assessment of self” equation. And, don’t forget, it’s always nicer to live with a happy, optimistic person than it is Debbie or Douggie Downer. Where do you fall on this scale? How good a friend are you to yourself?

What occurs to me as a silly strategy is to pretend to hold a private election where you vote yourself Prom King and President of yourself. If not you, who? I write all the time about taking risks and rebounds and re-booting. It’s what this blog is about! So, I’m talking to myself every bit as much as I’m talking to you. If we don’t vote ourselves, in our heads and our hearts, as the best thing since sliced bread, is anyone else going to want to pony up? If we won’t pick up our own stick and run with it, why should anyone else? How much can we love others if we can’t love ourselves? So, get on out there and be your own best friend—what happens in your life depends on your decision.

Ok, well, writing this has exhausted me, so its time for my union negotiated break. That’s all I got…


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