50 Favorite Words – # 9 Quest

11193259_1644788485752495_8484246335348647505_n-2quest noun \ˈkwest\
: a journey made in search of something
: a long and difficult effort to find or do something

I am on a quest. I am on a quest to feel good in my own skin. To be able to accurately give myself feedback, while taking in positives and successes.  To have the people in my life see the wonderful things in themselves and to feel confident, happy.

It seems silly that this would even be an issue.  But in reality, most people are quite unkind to themselves. 97% of women have negative body thoughts, daily.  The women who I work with, who I am friends with, and related to all share one thing in common. They speak to themselves in a way that would be absolutely unacceptable if we heard someone else say such things to them.  Not just about their bodies, but about all sorts of things. It’s not just women, many men who I work with and know have lots of unkind things to say to themselves as well.

In the field of psychology we know a lot about the relationship between attributions (what you say to yourself) and how you feel.  It is not surprising then, that lots of folks spend lots of time feeling not so hot.  The problem with a lot of negative attributions that people make is they feel true – when often they are just old and familiar and that makes them seem true.

What we need to do is learn how to write a new script.  For some folks, the negative self talk is sort of a reflex – but they know better.  If this is you, all you need to do is pay attention to what you are saying to yourself and when you hear the negative come in replace it with a positive (accurate) statement instead.

For people whose negative self talk is more entrenched (maybe an internalized voice of a critical parent; maybe the manifestation of anxiety or depression) this task is more challenging, but still doable. In these situations it can be hard to come up with the positive thought to replace the negative one.  If this is your situation, I invite you to ask 3 people who you love and respect to tell you their 3 favorite things about you. Then pick the thing that comes up the most or really resonates and have that be the replacement thought (it will be harder to discount since it came from someone who you respect and therefore must be quite wonderful and wise).

What if the first step was that simple? Today, decide to say something nice to yourself. Something small and true, but kind.  Say it over and over and over until you believe it. Tomorrow, do the same thing.  Each day, be on a quest to make the proportion of kind self-talk greater than the critical, harsh inner voice. Notice how much better you feel….

50 Favorite Words – #8 Patience

I have a confession to make. I am not patient. In fact, I am markedly impatient. I obsessively check my phone when I am waiting to hear about something or from someone, I tap my foot when I am waiting in line, I check my phone when I am waiting in traffic, I snack while making dinner, and I have been known to peek at a present. I often focus so much on the potential outcome, I miss the process, the joy of getting there. Patience is less one of my favorite words and really more an aspirational goal.

Here is why I wish I were patient:

1. As soon as what I’m waiting for happens I’m on to the next thing. I think that overall my drive, planning and focus have served me well. But in my constant quest for meeting my goals I don’t spend much time celebrating or showing gratitude at each stop on the way. I skip the chance to savor small successes.

2. I miss many special moments while trying to get to the one I have in mind,thereby missing possible pleasant surprises on the way.

3. At times when I’m impatient, my intensity limits my very process. When I am patient, instead of trying to rush my insights or my writing, I just relax, let it be. During those rare moments, I sometimes happen upon an unexpected gem.

4. It also turns out that patience is really good for you. The physical and emotional toll of being intense, anxious, jacked up all the time is significant. The power of a few calm, yoga-breath moments in your daily life goes a long way.

Kind, sweet patience. That is what I hope for. For myself, as I strive to meet my personal goals. For my partner. For my children as they grow into themselves. Patience…it’s worth a try.

“Genius is eternal patience.”

Michelangelo

50 Favorite Words #7 – Livid

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Livid. This is a very important word. I know it may seem like somewhat of an unlikely choice with all of the mindful happiness I routinely share my thoughts about. But I think being able to feel and (appropriately) express legitimate anger is another key to fully self-actualized living—being able to feel our feelings, even the ugly ones.

Maybe it is because I am a woman, and women are often discouraged from expressing their anger. Maybe it is because I am a fan of being fully present in as many moments of my life as possible. Maybe it is because there is something inspiring about caring passionately about something. About being so invested or principled or connected that an injustice can resonate deeply. Feeling livid. Having the intense physical reaction that flushes our faces. There is an aliveness to it. There is power in anger that can lead to positive change.

I am not talking about needing anger management kind of anger. I am not talking about being unkind to others in how we express our strong feelings. I am talking about being connected to our feelings and really feeling them. This type of anger can help us recognize and respond to things that are unacceptable in our world. It can help us realize when a pattern in our life isn’t serving us.  It can help us realize when a relationship we are in is not good for us.  Being livid is your body letting you know something is not right. Feeling it and recognizing it are the instrumental first steps to doing something about it.

Being livid can revitalize, mobilize to action, help us understand what matters to us at our core. Maybe it’s a toxic relationship in your life that you recognize you want to end. Maybe it’s a negative self voice that keeps you down that you will no longer tolerate. Maybe it’s a broader injustice and you want to do your part to change it. Your emotional reaction doesn’t have to translate to you expressing your anger at someone. It can instead run through you as fuel to empower you to take the steps you want to take. Steps to change your world or the big world around you.

What matters enough to you that you would be willing to let your blood boil a little? What if you were allowed to feel your anger (go into a wind tunnel and scream)? How would you use this fuel to make changes in your own life?  How would you use it to change the world?

50 Favorite Words – #6 Alchemy

Sometimes it’s not fun having kids – they fight and are rude and I daydream that I am in a Calgon commercial.  Sometimes it’s kind of magical.  One of my favorite memories ever is the Christmas of 2013.  It was the first holiday since my divorce that I had my three kids all to myself. I had a little one bedroom apartment and we didn’t have our furniture yet, I just had an air mattress in the living room. The four of us lounged around on the air mattress and watched every holiday movie you can think of (Christmas in Connecticut is my personal favorite).  We even had our Christmas dinner picnic style.  It was lovely, and connected and wonderful.  Why did it come together this way? I have no idea.  It could have just has easily been miserable: cramped in a small space with lots of complaining and fighting and crankiness.

But it wasn’t miserable, it was wonderful…

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Photo by Elizabeth Messina

I attribute it to Alchemy. Those special, extraordinary moments when things just click and are right. It’s easy—an instant connection with friends, a romantic partner, or family.  It’s infectious laughter that makes your face hurt and later you don’t remember what was so funny. I don’t know why it happens. But I know that when it does it has a bit of magic to it – and it is advisable to free fall into the moment lest it pass you by.

 

50 Favorite Words – #5 Self-sufficient

Photo by Elizabeth Messina

Photo by Elizabeth Messina

Imagine what daily life would be like if you were supremely confident in your own resources.  You would walk around every day with a presence that would draw others to you, you would face new challenges with excitement, you would say things to yourself that would have you beaming and holding your head high…

Self-sufficient.  I’m enough.  It sounds nice.  Being self-sufficient doesn’t mean be a selfish, narcissistic, jerk. It can mean being a boundaried, confident, and loving adult.

Finding this word took a long time (literally and figuratively). I was looking for a word that was like selfish (considering oneself) but that wasn’t pejorative. But in the English language, considering one’s needs is apparently a bad thing because it connotes not caring about anyone else. Unfortunately, that deep seeded belief that it is “selfish,” inconsiderate, indulgent to consider one’s own needs leaves many of us caring for others while utterly disregarding ourselves. In fact, many of us take it even one step further, we are harsh and critical of ourselves, have an internal dialogue that we wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else (more on this in future posts…).

As I write about relationships and caring for others, I feel compelled to pause and reflect upon the relationship we have with ourselves. There is a reason why we are instructed to secure our own oxygen masks before we help someone else.

There are three main reasons why treating yourself like your best, most favorite person makes good common sense. First, it turns out that you are the one sure thing in your life. You will be there with yourself until the end. Developing a really strong positive relationship with yourself will make that journey a much more pleasant one. Second, it will help you to be much more discerning in your choices about who you develop outside relationships with. When we feel crappy and desperate we aren’t super selective. The last reason, is that thing we have all heard and sort of know (even though it sounds pyscho-babbly) – to take in love from others we have to first love ourselves.  Having a positive relationship with yourself is truly a pre-requisite for a positive relationship with anyone else.

So, how do we get started? Just like in romance, what if you swept yourself off your own feet.  Be your own best partner and the kindest loving friend.  Do all of the sweet things for yourself you wish someone was doing for you:

1. Tell yourself 3 things you like about yourself (really think about it, be specific).

2. Make yourself a special meal – nothing but the finest ingredients (what if you actually treated every meal with yourself as if it was special – not fancy, but special).

3. Run yourself an extra bubbly bath and bring your favorite magazine in for a soak.

4. Organize a lunch with all of your favorite friends.

5. Get a monthly pass to your favorite yoga studio and give yourself permission to go almost every day.

 

50 Favorite Words – #4 – Grit

Grit
grit noun \ˈgrit\
: mental toughness and courage
: firmness of character
: indomitable spirit

I absolutely love Grit.  Grit is the scrappy persistence that can triumph over a whole host of limitations.  Grit is badass.

It is my birthday today, so I find myself reflecting on the things I like about who I have grown into and the ways I hope to continue to evolve and improve.  One thing that has always been true about me is that I am fairly tenacious – turns out this is a good thing. Grit means the fact that I have always been persistent to the point of annoyance and some may say “strong-willed” is a strength!

Exhibit A: Circa 1974IMG_2528

 

Now, I am not the only one who likes this word – a quick google search will show you it is all the rage right now, and with very good reason. It turns out that the key to success is, you guessed it, Grit.

According to Forbes, there are 5 characteristics of Grit:

  1. Courage
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Endurance (follow-through-it-ive-ness – that is a made up word but you get the point)
  4. Resilience
  5. Striving for excellence (vs. perfection)

Fear not if you read the above list and don’t see yourself in it.  Grit is still attainable.  All of the above characteristics can be cultivated if they aren’t currently strengths for you. What if today, you decided to build your courage?  Courage is simply about managing your fear. What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?  Give it a try, and if it doesn’t go well, dust yourself off and try again….

 

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

Thomas A. Edison

50 Favorite Words #3 – Potential

Potential
 po·ten·tial adjective \pə-ˈten(t)-shəl\
 : capable of becoming real

Potential is one of my favorite words because it can serve as the foundation for realistic dreaming.  Potential means “capable of becoming real” – so in its very definition we are assured that the dream is possible.  Now, daydreaming can be seductive.  I have often fallen prey to wishful thinking of how I should…could…would be – and much of it was quite unrealistic.  Most of my clients’ problems with self-esteem relate to this same process – comparing oneself to an unrealistic ideal and then feeling inadequate.

You can instead take a more strategic approach to your dreaming.  If you anchor your dream in what is possible, you make it much more likely that your vision will become your reality. This requires intentional focus.  Thinking through what is actually possible for you; being honest with yourself about where you are today, and where you want to end up.  Owning your limitations or past failures/disappointments can actually empower you to build your best future.

Use this approach to make New Year’s resolutions that are attainable, sustainable and that will help you flourish. Here are the steps:

  1. First, you need to practice radical acceptance of the things that just are what they are. For instance, I will never be an Olympic athlete, I am very unlikely to participate in an Ironman competition, and I like my sleep too much to wake up at 5 a.m. to work out everyday (in fact, I am currently napping). That just is what it is. Radical acceptance is about accepting your present reality and not resisting what you cannot or choose not to change. “Radical Acceptance is about saying yes to life, just as it is.” (Hall, Psychology Today, 2012)
  2. Second, you need to allow yourself to ask “what if?”  Brainstorming a vision for the realistic ways you would like to grow and change.  Conjure a vision that can actually happen, you know you can stick with, and that energizes you.
  3. Third, you need to crystalize your dream.  Say to yourself, “I want to be able to clearly articulate where I will be in a year, 5 years, etc.”  So, taking my fitness example, my vision is that I will feel strong and healthy and exercise will be a regular part of my life.
  4. Fourth, you need to identify the first small step to get yourself there.  For me it was joining a yoga studio that had convenient class times and was close to my apartment.
  5. Lather, rinse, repeat…As you achieve each small step you identify for yourself, you will feel better and stronger and will then be fueled by your own success. You will build on this new foundation and step-by-step make your vision a reality. My second step is that I am going to start jogging for 15 minutes for at least two of my current daily walks each week.  I will let you know my third step once I accomplish this second one….

So….what is your realistic dream…how will you fulfill your potential….what is your vision for your future…what is the first small step that will get you on a successful path for 2015?

50 Favorite Words #2 – Simple

sim·ple
adjective \ˈsim-pəl\
: not hard to understand or do
: having few parts : not complex or fancy

Ah…yes…simple.  Just saying it makes me feel good.  And yet we often make things so complicated.  Whether it’s the complex set of expectations and criticism we put on ourselves…the labyrinth of mindreading that we overlay on other people…or the overload of our hectic daily lives.  Maybe the answer is simple. There are boundless simple things we can do to transform our daily lives so they are populated with health and happiness.

  • Smile more and you will feel happy – it’s scientifically proven!
    • Other people will smile back; this will help you feel connected.
    • If someone doesn’t smile back assume that they are having a hard day (not that they are being specifically mean to you due to some flaw of yours or personality problem of theirs).
    • This realization will help you feel empathy and show the other person kindness (which eventually may help them to smile…).
  • Take 15 minutes to indulge in your favorite treat (a bubble bath, decadent reality tv…), even though you have a ton of work to do.
  • Make yourself a cup of tea and let it steep so that it is just how you like it.
  • Take an extra few minutes to cook dinner for yourself the way you would if you had company coming over.
  • Click on a silly video that shows up in your Facebook feed (laughter is really good for you – this is also scientifically proven!).  Click here to see one of my all-time favorites.
  • Say one nice thing to yourself every morning when you first wake up.
  • Tell the people in your life – your friends and family – you love them each time you talk on the phone to them.

Simple. Simple is good.

50 Favorite Words #1 – Brave

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Brave
brave adjective \ˈbrāv\
: feeling or showing no fear : not afraid

I love the word brave, but I disagree a bit with the definition.  I believe brave is acting as if one does not have fear (even if one is petrified) – it is a refusal to allow fear to determine our choices.  Brave does not = not afraid.  In fact the times of greatest bravery that I have ever shown have been times that I have been flooded with a lot of anticipatory anxiety/fear and self doubt.  Now…once on the other side of the brave choice, the overwhelming sense of empowerment and fearless calm is quite distinctive. To trust oneself, to do what we know is right (for us) or more globally, that is brave.  To feel fear is normal, adaptive…we should be worried about ourselves if we operate without a healthy level of fear.  That said, what would you do, try, experience, express if you refused to let fear define your choices? The possibilities are endless….

[Stay tuned in the coming weeks, more to come….]