How I Make My Life Difficult!

Here is just one example: I am hurrying to send an e-mail to an important person in my life (it can be business related or personal) and I read it through thinking it is ready. I push “send”.

As soon as the e-mail leaves my outbox, I realize that the wrong person was CC’ed, or a word in the e-mail was unintentionally harsh, inappropriate or presumptuous.

The feeling in my gut is almost unbearable at this point. Various expletives (not for print here) dance around in my head!

Why did I not wait to send it?

Why did I not think of this before I sent it?

How can I be so thoughtless/stupid/inconsiderate/….?

 

And no matter how much I  wrestle with myself, I cannot undo the action. Done is done – there is no way back. And then comes the self-blame.

Self-blame is like fire – if left unattended it consumes everything in its path!

My day is now shaped by it. It casts a long shadow over my relationships with innocent bystanders such as business associates, and (especially) husband and kids by a sense of dread that I carry with me. I feel bad about me – therefore I have much less attention to give to other areas of my life. I am moody and short-tempered.

Isn’t it interesting that when we beat up on ourselves, we are really taking away attention from what we could be doing? We are less likely to have any excess energy, which means we won’t help our own situation or that of others,  and we are less likely to reach out and be of service. Much of our energy goes towards listening to that critical voice in our heads that is busy beating up on us!

Being in the throes of self-blame is a selfish act.

Think about it…

My daily practice has turned towards separating  self-blame from self-reflection. It is necessary to learn from our mistakes if we want to grow. And spending a little time and deciding what could be done better or more thoughtfully is usually beneficial (even if it is just to let a few minutes pass, do something else, and then read the same important e-mail with fresh eyes).

Yet to self-blame is completely useless!

Perfection is a town in Russia – but we can strive for excellence by learning from our previous actions! 

We can free ourselves from the self-imposed prison of thinking we need to be perfect by celebrating that we learn from our mistakes.  In a sense, if we learn from our mistakes, then they are indeed our greatest teachers and therefore causes for celebration!

For me, this helps to minimize of the guilt, shame and self-blame that I normally treat myself to when I screw up – and I get more done!

And still…. right now I kind of dread pushing that “publish” button over to the right….. And I take a moment – do something else – read it again. Then I push that button and move on!

(The Larger Than Life Coaching blog is in the process of moving to www.marietrout.com. To continue being subscribed – please go there and sign-up.)

 

 

The Dark Side of the Holidays – Or the Best Season that Money Can’t Buy!

Some of us go into this season dreading it….

We have a sense of impending doom, when we think of the long to-do lists that loom, when we consider all the decorating, cooking, buying, giving and planning that goes into the season.

Some find that the financial situation is so tight that being able to live up to the perceived expectations means going into debt for the coming “happy” New Year. The resentment follows like a holiday hang-over when the presents are unwrapped. Presents that effectively will need to be paid for with uncertainty and fear in the coming months.

At this time of year, glossy portrayals of family bliss, adored children with wrapping paper piles, tons of presents, old and dear traditions, lights and lovingly prepared family meals are everywhere.

And for many of us this is far from reality.

For some money is not the problem, but they are not looking forward to the emotional toll of having family members bicker and fight over the turkey. Or they dread the disrespect that their children, their spouses or their relatives show them, even as they try to give everyone a pleasant time.

This is a time of heartache and suffering for many of us. Even the ones among us who are not looking like we are on the surface. It can be a time of  pretending as we put on a happy face and allow the merriment of the season to wash over us, at least in public!

If you or someone you know is in this situation, there are a few things we can do to create a more joyous Holiday experience. First a quick internal assessment:

  • What would you really like to experience this Holiday Season? Try to back up and focus on internal aspects. So, for instance translate “I would like to be able to afford this or that” to the feeling that is below that wish. How would it make you or someone else feel?

If the “home is where the heart is” – then what is truly in your heart?

Sometimes we discover that our focus on how to set the table, what we would like to give, etc. is a cover-up for what we really want: A feeling of love, kindness, togetherness, meaningful relationships, a way to matter to others or simply absence of pain, despair and loneliness.

  • Identify what might be holding you back from having this experience that you would like to have

Is it money? No family? Not enough time? Or is it a perception that this is what others expect? Is it the sense that you by sacrificing yourself for others at this time makes you feel important?

  • Find out how you can step out of habit thinking, and find a way to create the experience you would like by thinking about it in a new way that includes what you have and not what you wish you had.

Can you show your love for your family without having to stretch yourself thin? How can you prepare them (and yourself) for this in a way that allows a new sense of anticipation?

If you are alone, how can you plan a meaningful time for celebrating you – or where can you look to find others who are in the same situation and help create a great experience for them as well as yourself?

If you family is bickering – how can you create new rituals with them that will further a spirit of togetherness and not the same old same old?

  • What components are needed to make this new way of doing things work?

As part of the preparation we can ask family and friends for input as they help us create new traditions.  The mad dash we normally engage in is largely self-imposed. And many of our relatives actually appreciate a less stressful season with more emphasis on togetherness and less on keeping up appearances.

Convention is a town in our own head!

And it is possible that all that we need to change our “have to’s,” is to just have the conversation – first internally, and then with others. You might be surprised at what you find when you lift the veil of convention.

Happy Holidays. To coin a phrase: Have it YOUR way!

How Is Your Election “Hangover”?

Looking at the numbers from last night’s election it would be easy to state that about half our country is jubilant today and the other half feels despondent. .

Yet, looking at the exit poll numbers, it looks as if there is a third group that is equally large.

People in this group might feel a kind of indifference at the election result. Like there was no good choices anyway.

So if this is true, our populace in America today is almost evenly split in three groups: One that feels post-election triumph, one that feels post-election blues, and a third group that is coping with post-election indifference.

People in the triumphant group might be liable to “shout it from the roof tops” as if it were some sort of personal achievement that the “right man won”.

People in the group that feels defeated might feel profound loss and, as someone tweeted last night, a sense of “the world is over”.

The people in the third group might feel a variety of emotions from cautious optimism to moderate resignation to downright anger at not having someone in politics they can believe in. For many in this group the reaction might be a lack of interest and a sense of disengagement.

No matter which group each one of us are in, I think today calls for a reality check.

Our perceptions color our reality. For instance, it is clear that you can have two people watch the same movie and have completely different interpretations of what they saw.

Likewise our next four years can be colored by what we choose to focus on.

If we walk around in a exhilarated self-righteous daze, we will probably get disappointed at every “set-back” and every obstacle in the President’s future way.

If we see our world through fearful, hurt and disappointed lenses, we might find “scary” and “alarming” signs around every corner – and take them to mean things they don’t.

If we are indifferent we might find a place of resignation with our own ability to make a difference and our country’s leadership in general.

Maybe if we step out of our groups for a moment and look at our lives, it is good to remember that things to a large degree depend on our interpretation of them.

We can choose to step out of our assumptions and beliefs at any point in our lives. Instead of seeing ourselves and our world through the lenses of Republican defeated, Democrat victorious, or Independent indifferent – who are we really?

We all want to enjoy life, love and be happy. We want the children of the future to have opportunities for the same. It is blood that runs through our veins whether we are Democrats, Republicans, Christian, Muslim, American, Asian, African, Buddhist or Portuguese.

I wonder how our interpretations of the post-election season change if each of us step out of the tendency to segregate and divide – and instead step into a place of appreciation for our own individual blessings and our collective possibilities as a nation, and as citizens of the world too.

What can each of us do for peace and prosperity in our own lives, in the lives of our friends and neighbors, for our country – and indeed for the world in general?

If we take off the blinders of interpretation, we might actually be able to see choices and opportunities that we didn’t even know we had. If we step out of the jubilant fog, the defeated haze or the indifferent murkiness, we might actually find that each of us can make a real difference.

This difference might be just sending our neighbor a friendly smile even though he or she had that sign in the lawn that really irritated you for months.  Or it might be simply going to work comfortable in your own clothes appreciative of each moment, each blessing and finding yourself impervious to the despondence, jubilation or indifference all around. Just appreciative of what is. And the possibilities that we all have to make a difference.

It starts right here and now. With you and me.

Can We Be The Change We Wish To See?

The Scream. By Edvard Munch

– What do you see when you look at that person from the “other” political party speaking their “truth” at you like you don’t have a single functioning brain cell?

– What do you see when you look at the people from another religion who dress and act differently from you?

– What do you see when you look at the homeless person on the street corner?

– What do you see when you look at the man in the Ferrari, who just cut you off in traffic?

Many times we get triggered. We find ourselves irritated, angry, anxious or even afraid when we meet people who seem different from us. They look odd, they sound strange, they might talk about things that we find absurd. Or they might simply invade our personal space and push our buttons.

Yesterday I was having a delightful conversation with a group of people. We talked about if God has a face. Some of us felt the question was irrelevant. Others felt that God is an entity too large for personification. And then someone simply said:

– “Of course God has a face – it is the face of everybody I see”

I wonder what would happen if we started looking at everybody like they were a personification of God? Or if God is a concept you do not subscribe to, then what would happen if you looked at everybody like they were a part of you?

What would happen in our political process if the boundaries between “us and them” ceased to exist?

What would happen in religion, if we stopped name-calling (or killing) those from another faith than our own?

What would happen?

Maybe we would feel less anger towards “those other people”.

In neuroscience it has been found that anger interrupts the functioning of our frontal brain lobes where rational thought, compassion and empathy take place. When angry, we return to an emotionally charged and primitive behavioral pattern that is very useful if we were a dinosaur (or if we are in legitimate danger) – but maybe not all that practical for a modern-day human being living in a complex world. We tend to feel self-justified and self-righteous. We get reactive and are not able to respond with kindness or even with a rational outlook.

Instead we turn into an emotional loud-mouthed (or internally raging) person.

What would happen if our political discussions were not conducted from this place of opposition, but rather from an inclusive place of “we’re all in this together”. Or if the warring fractions in religious wars reminded themselves that they are really both reflections of the face of God?

It takes a conscious intention to change the way our brain does business. But neuroscience shows it can be done. And reminding ourselves that our “enemies” are in fact a part of us, or have the face of God, might help. It is easy to look at a newborn baby and see the face of God. But can you look at Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner the same way?

Just food for thought.

Why would you want to?

Well, sometimes our normal anger response, the sense of “knowing better” and the feeling of the other side being inferior does not bring us any solutions or a lasting sense of achievement. We simply mire ourselves more and more in our habitual thinking patterns. And the world doesn’t change if we don’t.

So what do we have to lose? Next time we are tempted to go on the offensive whether in action or in our thoughts – maybe it makes sense to give it a try:

-“I am looking at the face of God”

-“I am looking at a part of me”

Maybe we will find that as we unlock new thinking patterns in our brain, new solutions come to mind.

Maybe, as we discover what it feels like to not hide behind our bastions of preconceived notions, we also find a new sense of empathy and understanding.

Maybe it is worth a try….

Good Grief! I Am Falling!

Yesterday morning I was walking at 4:30AM. It was foggy and dark. A delicious time to walk in peace and quiet. The fog was like thick oatmeal and the dampness of the air was invigorating, sprinkling my face with a cool mist. I was lost in thoughts as I walked. I felt connected to all and nothing in particular.

And then I got the brilliant idea: to break my meditative state and

….drumroll……

check the e-mails on my phone!

Now if I had stopped, or even slowed down, to glance at the ever-present piece of technology, well – that would have been one thing. But of course I didn’t. I walked on in the fog.

All was well until suddenly an object reached out and grabbed both my legs and abruptly stopped their forward motion and enveloped them in a sharp, unforgiving, agonizing pain. The top of my body was well on its way to the next step – and my legs were hindered by this mysterious object.

“Holy s… I am going over – gosh this hurts

My survival instincts were in full attack mode. What on earth was happening? Did someone grab my legs with metal thongs, and next thing I know I am going to be hauled into an unmarked white van never to be heard from again?

Time slowed down, as it tends to do in these types of fight or flight experiences. All I could do was to try to balance myself somehow and not fall over. I was flailing in the air, making the most ungracious moves to remain standing. I did not want to drop the phone on the hard sidewalk concrete either.

By some amazing grace, I managed to not topple, and also to keep my phone in my hand.

It was time to assess what had “grabbed my legs”.

I looked down to see an innocent, yet very unmovable-looking fire hydrant! It was down low and I had not seen it in my phone-absorbed awareness. Well, at least I did not have to fight off the imagined guys in the white van… However, what I never realized about fire hydrants is that they have really, really sharp bolts on them. HUGE bolts, which on this one were covered in black, oily grease. And on both my legs were now big black scrapes and throbbing bruises from these contraptions.

It hurt like crazy.

Now the old me would have frozen. I would have been enveloped in pain and bent over – stopped in my tracks. My first thoughts would have been along these lines:

-“Crap, I am just so stupid! I know not to walk in fog and look at my phone at the same time- Duh!”

-“Jeez, I wonder who saw that? That must have looked ridiculous… maybe someone is having a good laugh at me?”
– “I am just such a klutz!”

-“Why does this kind of stuff always happen to me?”

I would have been petrified by the pain, and humiliated by my own thoughts. The walk would probably have ended with me limping home – or calling a cab. I would have felt like crap. Icepacks would have been applied and I would have been there in my house feeling victimized by the stupid hydrant that happened to be in my way.

What was interesting about this experience this time, was the fact that after I assessed the damage, I actually managed to just keep walking. As my legs throbbed, I seemingly moved through the pain. Words popped into my head that were very different to how I would have responded for most of my life. I felt grateful for my body’s ability to balance itself. I felt competent that I had managed to hold on to the phone and not fall. I thanked the Universe for giving me this reminder that my walks (especially in the fog and with jet lag) are for feeling connected. A connectedness that does NOT involve technology! How lucky was I that I could receive this reminder without falling off a cliff or getting run over by a car?

As I kept walking, the pain became a warm almost pleasant tingle. It was as if the blood, rushing through my body, allowed the pain to transform into this awareness of new lessons learned.

There is a saying that goes like this:

“Pain is inevitable – Suffering is optional”

And yes, we certainly cannot escape pain in our lives. It is a fact of life. From beginning to end, we will run into episodes of hurt. It is what we do with it those painful experiences that makes a difference: Pain is what the world does to us. Suffering is often brought on by what we do to ourselves by how we react to it. By how we think about the it. By what we take the pain to mean.

In coaching, when we experience pain, we often look for “what is real” about it. What is inevitable. And then we work to separate “what is” from what we take it to mean. Often we feel liberated and lighter when we free ourselves from our self-imposed interpretations and assumptions. And our suffering lessens.

What might you take the “fire hydrants” to mean in your life?

Parenting Teens – Hello Fear, Shame And Guilt

A few years ago, one of my teenage sons looked at me with contempt and blasted the following remark in my face:

“You just want me to do well, so you can brag about me to your friends. Well, I am not a piece of property you can shine up and show off!”

Ouch…. And I did not have a comeback ready.

Later I reflected on what he had said – and in all honesty, there was a part of me that would enjoy to join the clubs of moms and dads who take turns talking about the amazing achievements of the fruit of their loins. I hear it all the time: the chatter about what grade point average, what unachievable SAT scores and what amazing college scholarships their kids get.

Bragging rights. I guess parents have it.

And yet, my son’s comment went to the core of the make-up of my self-image as a parent. A hidden part of my parenting style that I needed to pull out in the sun and look at. Because on some level he was right – and I did not like to admit it.

Our children are such amazing teachers. Especially when it comes to checking out all the little parts of us that we take for granted. When our kids become teenagers, they look us over with a magnifying glass, we get weighed and measured, prodded and pushed.

My buttons definitely got pushed by the above remark!

And so, yes – there was a part of me that wanted to stand in the groups of parents and bask in the glow of being in the “good parent’s club”. The kind of parent, who thrives in the absolute knowledge that his or her kids are well-adjusted, well-prepared, well-tutored, well-dressed, well-trained, well-behaved and see them off into well-planned career paths.

I think there is a silent expectation in many of us as parents that our children need to grow up and show to the world, what a wonderful parenting job we have done. We live to see them stand on podiums and pick up awards and honors. We put our own needs aside, so we can help them get ahead. Some go as far as to live vicariously through them.

And when our children fall short of our expectations, it is easy to beat up on ourselves as parents. Even some of the parents who have the well-prepped and high-achieving kids dwell on their own imperfections even as they portray a glossy and superior parenting image to the world. Their children might all of a sudden turn anorexic or flip out on risky sexual behaviors, drugs or alcohol. Or they might have stress and high-anxiety. Ulcers that eat their stomach linings at night. What could have been done differently to avoid this?

No matter what route you take as a parent there are plenty of times where the voices of “should-have-could-have” turn up. And feelings of shame and guilt follow.

The truth of the matter is that most of us do everything in our power to be great parents. Whether we let our kids grow their hair long and stand out, or we insist they cut it and conform. Whether we want them to find their own path or we feel we must choose for them.

It is not rocket science. If only it were that simple!

As a life coach, I have learned to look at simply what is. Not to make things into what they are not. Often we parents catch ourselves in the “what are people going to think” trap. Or “she will never get anywhere with those grades/that hair color/that boyfriend…”  We imagine all sorts of the worst possible scenarios – and before we know it, we act upon our fears and not simply what is.

Our brains are wired for fearful responses. In our distant past, we constantly had to be on guard against wild animals, food scarcities, enemy tribes, etc. And it is natural that when it comes to guarding our young, we snap right back into this kind of primordial mental wiring: To protect our kids against danger. It is in our deepest instinctual blueprint for the survival of our kind.

Yet when it comes to being an effective parent to modern-day teenagers, a fearful reaction to their actions and choices might not always be appropriate. Fear of what we imagine might happen can be directly counterproductive.

As we step back from the situation and assess what is going on right now, we might want to delay a speedy comeback. Inserting a rash comment into a contentious moment with a teenager is like pouring gasoline on a fire. I do not think that, short of pulling our kids out of immediate danger, we ever miss something by avoiding a rash reaction over a more measured and later response.

“Ok, I am going to have to think about what you just said and get back to you”

This buys some time and allows us a moment to not lose our composure. It also affords our son or daughter a chance to reflect on what they just said.

Secondly you can take a look at your own involvement. What is pushing your buttons? What is it that this situation is saying about you as a parent? About your own past? About your own fears?  Often we just react, because we are triggered. Our own sense of failure as a parent on any level has been activated.

Thirdly, we can take a look at what might be going on for our son/daughter that might make them feel the way they do. Again with a focus on an unbiased “what is”. Not what it could turn into or what we think they should be feeling!

With this new more complete picture we can now choose to respond.

When I dug a bit deeper after my son fired off his remark to me, I realized that, yes – a part of me would love to brag about my kids’ achievements and therefore indirectly my own implied success as a parent. Yet the deeper issue was that I deeply and desperately wanted my son to connect to his own sense of ambition and directionality. I felt that he had so much inside of him that I valued. Things in him that, I felt, he didn’t show enough to others. I wanted him to find his wings and soar. Not to glorify me or my parenting style – but simply for him to experience lift-off on his own, and fly into the world with an authentic and self-directed  and capable motion. I was impatient for him.

It was my interpretation – and it was well-meant. It was just not usable to him at the time.

Yet, speaking from this level of awareness made a difference for me. And maybe in the long run it might have for him as well. Who knows…

When we communicate with our teenagers from a level of authenticity and honest reflection, with a willingness to also own up to our own issues, we have a chance to connect more deeply. We offer a model that gives them a chance to not feel at fault or misunderstood. They still might think we are full of doo-doo… A teenager’s main job after all is to separate from their parents. Yet, a foundation of authentic communication goes a long way for them to be able to feel emotionally supported as they find their way. And the benefit for us as parents is that we spend less time with those constant companions of modern-day parenting: Fear, Shame and Guilt.

Decision Time

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

“Better safe than sorry!”

“The higher you fly the harder you fall.”

“Bloom where you are planted.”

“Better play it safe!”

These are all quotes from our upbringing and beyond. Well-meaning parents, teachers, friends, partners have at times tried to protect us by helping us take the safe route.

And this is fine.

And then there is this inner doubt that is created from this kind of conditioning. We fear failure.

It happens to each one of us many times in our lives: we are in a situation that forces us to make a choice. A choice between the known and the unknown. The known might have grown too small and constricting, yet the unknown seem like a mountain in front of us with untold possibilities and risks at even measure. We are at a cross road!

When we face new situations and with it our fear of failure is activated, we might look to inspirational stories. We all know the one about Thomas Edison and why he hadn’t failed but knew of 10,000 ways that didn’t work, etc. And there are many others. It is useful and inspirational to read such stories, yet might not really cut to the core of what we might be feeling.

Inside we might be hearing a little voice that sounds something like this:

“You’ll fall on your face if you try that”

“Who do you think you are?”
“They will laugh at you for trying this.”

“What makes you think you can make this work now when you couldn’t before?”

And no matter how many inspirational quotes and empowering stories we read to boost our courage, this little pesky voice always seems to yell the loudest. This voice  might even feel comforting, like a friend who is trying hard to protect us from our own foolishness.

This little voice does want to protect us. And it is important to acknowledge this. It is not an enemy we need to destroy or annihilate!

The problem comes in when that little voice of caution becomes so loud that it blocks our perception of what we might miss if we only listen for the cautionary tale it tells.

Are you going to take the Opportunity Exit – or just keep going?

This kind of work is often part of coaching sessions. We work on our inner voices of caution that hold us back from stepping into our highest potential. Here is a version that you can use yourself:

  1. Express your wish for new possibilities. Write it down.
  2. What will be possible for you when you seize this new opportunity?. Write it down.
  3. Welcome the voice of caution. It is trying to protect you. Do not fight it. Write down what it says.
  4. Ask the voice of caution where it comes from (is this the voice of a well-meaning parent, is it the voice of previous defeat, is it the voice of convention, etc.) Notice which parts of this voice truly feels aligned with your highest purpose and what parts feels constricting and not really your own. Write it down.
  5. Now with both want for new opportunities and fear of failure clearly separated out in front of you, it is time for you to make a more informed decision. You now have a clearer view of which part of these voices of caution are the voices of convention and conditioning versus the voices that align more fully with your highest purpose.

Keeping in mind that we rarely get all or nothing scenarios. Every new opportunity holds within it aspects that might be difficult to deal with as well as exhilarating new possibilities – and every staying within what is known and perceived as a safer (and possibly more comfortable in the short-term) choice likewise has perceived positives and negatives.

Here is to making a more aware choice in every decision in your life!