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Sometimes when I meet my own stuck places, I find that the mantra that comforts me the most when I’m still right here in the messy, yet-to-be-transformed place but I wish I was over there in the nice, happy, transformed place, is this: “When something is ready to transform, it transforms.”
This is about acceptance. We have all of these choices coming at us, moment to moment to moment as for how we’re going to hold something. I’ve wrung my hands any number of times, thinking, “If I know better, then why aren’t I doing better? Why aren’t I doing things differently?”
Answer: When we know better but don’t do better, it’s because we don’t really truly know better, yet. When something is ready to transform, it simply does. It’s that basic and elemental. Things that are still resistant to transforming aren’t yet ready.
Can we all just have some love and acceptance now, for the places in our hearts that are still not ready to transform, that are still waiting? Will we risk loving ourselves anyway?
I loved this from Pema Chodron (from the classic, When Things Fall Apart):
“Perhaps nothing ever really attacks us except our own confusion. Perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. Maybe the only enemy is that we don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast. But what we find as practitioners is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. If we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent to get away from an obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. It just keeps returning with new names, forms, and manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.”
Transformation is a process.
To whatever degree we can open up some spaciousness for ourselves around our process, the better we’ll be able to get a wider picture, a clearer view, and a more informed perspective.
Often we think the thing to do is clamp down and work harder on “getting it right.” I know that I go there, thinking that I can grit my teeth and work harder to self-help myself out of a tough time. We’ve all done this.
But that’s contracting. That’s running a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent to hope that we won’t have to go through the messy middle part.
Let’s open something up, here. Let’s claim the places where we still haven’t transformed something, where we still want to hide, and just sit in that. “Hi, my name’s __________. I still want to hide in the areas of ________, __________, ________.”
When I claim those places, I notice that it feels much the way I feel after finally making an apology. Sure, I might feel embarrassed about something I’ve done, but it is such a relief to just apologize, to do my best to clean up my part and create connection.
Take out a sheet of paper, a journal (or feel free to use the comments). Write out the areas where you still want to let yourself hide. Then ask yourself: “If I know that nothing ever goes away until it has taught me what it needs me to know, what is this messy stuff that I wish I could avoid actually teaching me?”
Are you willing to have some love and acceptance in your heart for the places that are not yet willing to transform?
Truth? I care about what others think and it’s my preference to be liked.
I don’t need that approval to validate who I am, nor do I need it 100% of the time, but if I’m honest (and we might as well be) I like to be liked, and guess what?
So do you.
Why don’t we all just admit this, giving up the goat that makes for such popular internet blog posts, all about “giving no fucks” and “not caring what others think.”
You care, at least a little bit.
You want to be liked, at least a little bit.
Who wouldn’t? Being liked is comfortable and being disliked is profoundly uncomfortable.
I find incredible relief in just being honest about this business of being a human: Ah, yes, no more exhaustion in trying to not care what others think. I’ll just admit that I do care.
But even as I admit that I care what others think—that judgements and criticisms sting—it is equally as true that I do not let those things dictate my behavior.
You can acknowledge that it hurts when others don’t like you, while refusing to live under the illusion that pandering to what they expect will get you anywhere.
Critical people are critical people. They’re wounded, and they deserve our compassion, but they do not deserve our obedience.
The Courage Habit
For some time now, I’ve been geeking out on research about habit-formation, and if you’re interested in not letting what others think control you, I’ve got something for you.
Habits run on a loop of three parts: Cue, routine, reward. For instance, you smell warm brownies coming out of the oven, and you eat them, and experience the reward of a flush of opiate receptors in your body saying, “Yummmm!” If you get the cue of smelling warm brownies often enough, this might become a habit for you, nom-nom-noming on those brownies.
Habits control our actions more often than we like to admit, and it’s my hypothesis that when it comes to fear, we operate on a different cue-routine-reward system:
We feel the cue of fear and “I’m not good enough,” such as at those times when someone dislikes or criticizes our behavior.
We execute a routine—people-pleasing, for instance, or any other manner of fear patterns such as being a workaholic, alcoholic, lashing out in anger, procrastinating, and more.
We execute those routines to get to a reward—the temporary reward of alleviating the anxiety felt when that first cue was executed.
We form a habit when we keep responding to fear in the same way, over and over, in search of that decreased anxiety. Most habits run on auto-pilot, without our consciously thinking about them.
The problem is that executing a fear-based routine such as people-pleasing only gets temporary results. It’s only a temporary alleviation of the anxiety that you feel when someone is criticizing you.
What does the research indicate is a more permanent, effective way of working with fear? I’ve been thinking of it as “The Courage Habit.” There are four parts:
1. Access the body.
2. Listen without attachment.
3. Reframe limiting Stories.
4. Take action.
You access the body so that you can slow down in those moments when you’re caring what others think and you know that you don’t want to just default to, say, people-pleasing or perfectionism.
You listen without attachment—to them, to your inner critic. You just listen to what is being said, but without being attached to the idea that you have to respond in a certain way.
You reframe limiting Stories—as soon as something feels like a “have to,” or you realize that there’s a message of limitation such as “You can’t do this,” you start questioning the fallacy of it. Because no, you don’t ‘have to’ do anything, and actually, you can do something, if you really want to.
You take action—something small, simple, do-able.
Cue, (New) Routine, Reward
Habits form when there is a relatively chronic loop of cue-routine-reward.
The cue of feeling fear or judgement when someone doesn’t like what you do? That probably won’t go away. It’s the thing you have the least control over. You can’t insulate yourself from other people’s criticism or from the very natural feelings of hurt that arise from it.
The reward of feeling less anxiety? You’re only human. Who wouldn’t want to feel some relief when the feelings of “you’re not enough” as a result of someone else’s criticism are arising.
It’s the part in the middle—the routine—that you do have some control over. You could run the old fear pattern (people-pleasing, perfectionism, lashing out, etc.) or you could decide that you want to run a different routine, a courage habit routine, that consists of working with things differently when they arise.
What Others Think
We’ve heard it before: What others think of you is none of your business.
True. What is your business is how you react and respond.
It’ll always be a losing game to either pretend not to care or to pander to what others think.
It’ll always be a winning game to decide that you’ve got options beyond running an old fear pattern.
That’s just what I think. How about you?
Y’all. I got a book deal. The day that my editor called and said, “We want to buy your book!” I was feeling like this:
And then, quite suddenly, things were moving quickly. – Contract for my attorney to review and for me to sign. – First few chapters due (already? Yes. Already). – New author packet arrived in the mail, going over the entire trajectory of what the publishing process is like.
Meanwhile, I was also training for a half-Ironman and still working with the trainees in the Courageous Living Coach Certification, and I was developing the curriculum for Facilitate With Impact. My daughter had her birthday party coming up, my husband was planning for a hiking trip which meant I’d be doing solo parenting, my entire family would be visiting in a few weeks, the to-do list was mounting.
These were all good things—the things that you want to have happening in your life—and yet I was feeling stress and overwhelm and couldn’t even take my own advice about getting things off of my plate. Everything was a competing priority.
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #1: Lifestyle, or temporary
When I facilitate a Breathing Space circle, I’m very clear that there is no way to time-hack your way out of feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelm happens, and that’s fine, so long as we have realistic ways of dealing with it when it arises. It frequently happens because we pile way too much on our plates, and we aren’t willing to put anything on the Stop Doing list. You can’t live joyfully while also choosing burn out.
At the same time, I needed to reconcile something: the choice to do a lot during this season of my life? It wasn’t a lifestyle. It was temporary. There’s a difference between the kind of stress that comes from your chronic lifestyle choices and the kind that is only temporary.
Naming the difference? Hugely beneficial.
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #2: Access the body
It simply doesn’t work, to try to pretend as though heart and head are separate. We live in a culture that has conditioned us to at best prioritize logic over feeling, and at worst to disregard feelings altogether. You might find yourself at any place along that spectrum.
Stop. Breathe. (Try taking a deep breath, right now). I realize that self-help types are always telling people to stop and breathe, but they’re only doing that because it genuinely works as a way to deal with stress. It relieves stress, gets you thinking more clearly, and can even provide insight into a problem you’ve long struggled with (I call that somatic awareness).
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #3: Shift Your Mentality
I’ve interviewed a number of highly successful entrepreneurs. Here’s what they have in common: they don’t view the challenges of their lives in the same way.
When they get really busy? They don’t obsessively think, “I’m so overwhelmed with all of these clients; what will I do?”
Instead, they think, “Hell yeah, I worked for this! I am absolutely booked with clients, and it rocks. Excited for my vacay, too.”
Mentality is everything. You can be completely overwhelmed by the requirements of the training program that you’re enrolled in—or you can feel proud of yourself for putting some skin in the game and excited about how it will feel to reach the finish line.
You can be flat-lined by the demands of the book contract, or you can feel like it’s the best opportunity you’ve been handed and you’re going to run that ball to the end zone (I’m not usually into football metaphors, but this works).
If shifting your mentality about something you’re doing feels like such a monumental task that you just can’t do it, no matter how hard you try? You probably shouldn’t be doing it.
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #4
Know when to quit.
People often talk about how to be courageous as an either-or equation and use platitudes such as “Quitting isn’t an option.” I vote that quitting is a great option when you have tried everything your power to shift your mentality about something, and it’s still a miserable endeavour.
Let’s be real: fear is very, very convincing. Understand the difference between fear telling you to give up, versus the writing on the wall that is clear: This just isn’t you; it’s not your soul’s path; that’s how it goes, sometimes.
When the writing is on the wall, heed what it says.
Quitting is a privilege that few people who have it seem to exercise. In ten years, you’ll be ten years older. You can be a decade older having maintained the status quo of something that grinds you down a little more each day, or you can be a decade older having decided to start making sane, sustainable shifts towards what you really desire.