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Archive for December, 2010

Happy New Year!As we move into the final hours of 2010, I thought it would be appropriate to do a “best of” post for “The Healing Project.”

I started this blog in February 2010 and have made 50 posts to date. Regular weekly posts will resume next week (and will continue at least through February 2011 – most likely longer).

Which Posts Were Tops?

I have designated the following posts as the “Top 10 Posts of 2010.” This designation was made based upon several criteria:  post popularity, comments and feedback from others (either directly on the blog or to me personally), and my personal feelings about which posts were my best of the year.   The posts are listed from most recent to least recent and a post summary is included.  To read a post in its entirety, click on the post title.

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Festive holiday wreathAs this is the holiday season, I gave some thought as to what might be an appropriate post for “The Healing Project.”  While for many people, this is a joyous time of year, for countless others, it’s a time of stress and despair.

As I am not a particularly religious person (I always call myself “spiritual but not religious”), I have had to give some consideration as to what this time of year represents to me.  In this post, I share some of my personal insights on Christmas and the holiday season and what I consider to be the greatest lesson for this time of year.

It’s the Holidays – Time to Buy!

As Christmas approaches, we start to see the holiday decorations in the stores and television and newspaper ads for gift suggestions and sales.  We are told to show our love for those in our lives by buying them the “perfect gift,” often at a premium price.  Since many people are already strapped for cash in the midst of the recession, the stress induced by the pressure to buy is higher than ever.  We wrestle with questions of who to buy for, what to buy and how much to spend.

We rush out to crowded shopping malls and comb the packed aisles and racks in search of a gift which will either serve to express our love or fulfill an obligation.  Most of us don’t stop to wonder, “Is this what Christmas is all about?”  Religious or not, we can probably all agree that Christmas has been distilled down to a shopping  and buying related event in this country for many people.   If we think about it, we may consider it a sad reality, but a reality nonetheless.

No Gifts – Bah Humbug?

In my family and circle of friends, there isn’t much gift-giving that happens anymore.  This started a few years ago with one family member opting out of giving gifts, and like a domino effect, virtually everyone else jumped on the “no gifts” bandwagon.  I now only buy gifts for a few people, although I enjoy spending time around the holidays with a number of others.  I consider it a win-win proposition, as I experience much less stress this time of year yet I still get to enjoy being around the key people in my life. However, without the hubbub of purchasing, wrapping, and sending gifts, I’ve had to give some introspection to the topic of what Christmas means to me.  More on that topic later in this post…

A Thanksgiving “About Face”

On the other hand, for many years, I dreaded Thanksgiving.  As someone with a long history of eating disorders, I didn’t like the association this holiday had with overindulging in fatty food.  I considered Thanksgiving to be a day when I would either have to veer off my Spartan eating plan or be faced with a barrage of questions as to why I wasn’t stuffing my face like everyone else.

I have since changed my perspective on Thanksgiving dramatically and now consider it to be a more authentic occasion than Christmas.  After all, the purpose of Thanksgiving is to simply reflect upon the blessings in your life and express gratitude for all that you’ve been blessed with.  If a person is religious or spiritual, showing appreciation toward God for what he has given you is a part of the occasion, but it also includes the expression of thanks to those in your life who have shown you kindness, respect, and love.

A Beautiful Thanksgiving Gesture…

I received a very touching letter (handwritten at that!) from a friend this Thanksgiving.  In this letter, my friend simply expressed her sincere and heartfelt appreciation for my friendship.  It wasn’t a long letter; in fact, it probably took her less than thirty minutes to write, address, and mail.  Yet this letter is one that I still have on my desk so I can read it every now and then, and it continues to bring tears to my eyes.  It feels so good to know that my presence in this person’s life is meaningful.  This friend doesn’t buy me Christmas presents, but I don’t care.   Her letter meant more to me than any Christmas present ever could.

The True Meaning of the Holidays

I shared the story above because I have decided that the true meaning of the holiday season for me is the message which Thanksgiving represents, gratitude and appreciation.  I’ve decided to not just take one day to reflect upon the blessings in my life, but to consider the true gifts that I’ve been given throughout the entire holiday season (Thanksgiving through New Year’s – and hopefully beyond)!   I believe that most of us don’t take enough time to pause and express thanks for the bounty that exists in our lives.  If we think about it, the majority of us have more blessings in our lives than curses.

The Glass is Half Full

I’ve decided that I’m going to adopt a “glass half full” attitude toward life.  It really is true that whatever it is you are looking for, you are sure to find it.  If you search for what’s missing in your life, a list of the things you lack will be easy to compile.  However, if you take a moment to reflect upon what’s present, you’ll create an even longer list AND you’ll feel much better for it.

Don’t Wait to Appreciate Your Life!

I don’t want to wait until I receive a dire diagnosis or lose someone dear to me to count my blessings.  I especially don’t want to list my blessings in hindsight.  I want to enjoy them in the moment, where they exist each and every day.  So instead of lamenting my lack of significant income, I am grateful for the freedom I have to pursue my interests and passions and to be able to spend the majority of my days doing what I choose to do.  And instead of cursing the wrinkles and gray hairs which now mark my middle-aged visage, I am happy for the wisdom which I’ve amassed through spending 44 years on this planet.

I will not take for granted that I will be blessed with another 44 years or more, as that may not be the case.  The countless tragic stories we hear on the news and experience in our personal circles make it all too clear that we cannot control how much time we have.  In a flash, this miracle of life can be taken away from us.

Fear Not, My Friends…

The uncertainties of life do not have to make us sad or afraid.  If we live in the moment, we can experience joy and gratitude in every breath and in each blessed day.  I am so happy to be alive and I am so grateful for my life, flaws and all!  I appreciate the blessings which I have been given and I vow to carry that appreciation with me as I move forward in life.  As this holiday season progresses, I will strive to make every day Thanksgiving.

Closing Quotes on Appreciation

I close with a few quotes which I feel punctuate my message well:

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.” – Hilary Cooper

When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.” – Anthony Robbins

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.”  – Meister Eckhart

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” – Epictetus

Related Posts

  • The Practice of Gratitude: It’s been said that the biggest key to happiness is gratitude, and I believe it’s true!  When we are present to all that is wonderful in our lives, it’s difficult to feel depressed and despondent.  In this post, I outline a few simple yet powerful practices to help us stay present to the many blessings in our lives.
  • Missing Tile Syndrome: As human beings, we have a tendency to focus on what is missing instead of on what is present.  This post focuses on a concept introduced by author Dennis Prager in his book, “Happiness is a Serious Problem.”  I present an overview of the concept of the “missing tile syndrome,” as well as the three main ways for dealing with it.
  • Staying Present: A few years ago, I became highly “accident prone.”  A primary reason for this was that my mind was always on what I had to do next, not on what I was doing in the moment. I decided to allow myself more time to get things done and to be more mindful about my actions. This one simple decision has made a significant impact on my life.  This post looks at the dangers in not living in the moment, Louise Hay’s insights on accidents, and how staying present can help us to live richer and more fulfilling lives.

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Big Question MarkDo you have trouble making decisions?  Is a decision as simple as what to eat for dinner or which movie to see enough to send your head spinning?  Do you second-guess your decisions immediately after you make them and wish you could turn back the clock and do something different?

Indecisiveness is a common problem and one I’ve suffered from tremendously over the years.  I have driven myself crazy when wrestling with all types of decisions, from the large to the seemingly insignificant.  I have wasted countless hours in weighing pros and cons and wracking my brain to make the “right decision,” and I have lost out on things I’ve wanted by taking too long to make up my mind.

Dennis Prager on Indecision

I recently listened to a broadcast of Dennis Prager’s Happiness Hour on the topic of indecision.  Both Dennis and his callers presented some powerful points on this important topic which have made a difference in the way I approach decisions in my life.  This post highlights some of these key points and I hope it will help you to combat the perils of indecision.

Dennis Prager gave an example of a man who was looking to buy a house.  He found two homes which met his basic criteria; both homes were great, but the man couldn’t make up his mind.  He had spent months trying to decide which home to buy and will very likely lose out on both options as a result of his indecisiveness.  I have had this type of thing happen to me with job offers and potential purchases.  Because I couldn’t make up my mind, the decision was made for me and I lost control of being able to decide my own fate.  I was paralyzed by my fear, so I didn’t get what I wanted.  I lost out on both door number one and door number two and was left “back at the drawing board.”

Looking for Absolute Certitude

Those who have difficulty in making decisions are looking for absolute certitude that they will make the right decision.  Unfortunately, that is something we just never get!  As Prager said during his broadcast, “Where in life do we ever get absolute certitude?”   Most of the time, we just don’t get to know what’s right beyond all shadows of doubt, so we have to proceed without knowing the outcome.

The indecisive don’t trust themselves to know or do what’s right.  They are plagued by both fear and self-doubt and are constantly looking for external validation.  It is not uncommon for such people to ask everyone they know for their opinion on a pending decision but not feel helped by the input at all.  They continue to engage in their “paralysis by analysis” and all their frenetic pondering only serves to keep them running in place and not moving forward in life!

Surprisingly Simple Advice

The advice given by Dennis Prager is surprisingly simple.  He recommends that when we are struggling to make a decision, we should ask ourselves, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I make the wrong choice?” A healthy attitude to adopt regarding decisions is to say, “So what if I make the wrong decision!” It is very rare in life that we can’t undo a decision.  Most of the time, we are able to turn things around if we find ourselves going down the wrong path.  Sure, it can take some courage and effort to course-correct, but it’s doable in most instances.

Even if a choice can’t be undone, often the gift of time will bring us perspective such that we don’t end up regretting what we’ve chosen.  For example, many divorced people do not wish they had never married in the first place.  Rather, they are grateful for the good times in their marriages, as well as the lessons they learned as a result of the dissolution of the union.

Two Good Choices, No Bad Outcome

When you think about it, many decisions are between two good choices and there are really no bad outcomes.  The man who was wrestling with his house decision had two excellent options before him.  While it’s possible that one house was a bit better than the other, neither would have been a bad place for him to live.  My struggle to settle upon a career bears strong similarities to the house example.  The options in front of me were all good and I seriously doubt I would have been miserable with any of them.  My indecision has led me to dabble in a variety of professions instead of resolutely following a singular path.  Thus, I have not achieved the level of career mastery that I would have hoped for at age 44.

My brother experienced similar career confusion for much of his life and found himself paralyzed by indecision for a number of years.  Fortunately, through the encouragement of his wife, he finally made a decision (without certitude) and became a teacher.  A decade later, he is satisfied with his choice and has made a difference in the lives of many young people.  Would he have been just as happy in one of the other professions he’d considered?  It’s very likely, as his options were based upon research and consideration, not random selection.

Set a Time Limit for Decisions

Dennis Prager recommends that we give some thought to the options before us and then make our decision!  It can be very helpful to set a time limit for rumination and consideration.  Keep the time limit short and after it has elapsed, force yourself to make a decision.  I remember a trick I learned (I forget where…) in regards to decision-making.  If you’re stuck between option A and option B, flip a coin.  On which side the coin lands is not nearly as important as your reaction.  You likely know in your gut what you want to do, but you are letting your emotions lead you astray.  The way you react to how the coin lands can tell you a lot about what you truly want to do!

Key Points on Decision-Making

I close with a recap of the salient points made by Dennis Prager:

  1. We never get to have absolute certitude regarding decisions.
  2. Ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
  3. If you wait too long to decide, you often lose out on BOTH options!
  4. Much of the time, the choice is between two (or more) good options.
  5. It is rare that a bad decision cannot be undone.
  6. Set a time limit for rumination and then make a decision!

While the points above may not immediately “cure” you of your indecisiveness, they can make a big difference in the way you approach decisions moving forward.  Setting a time limit can stop the “paralysis by analysis” phenomenon that can present a strong roadblock to your happiness.  Decision-making is a skill like any other.  With practice, it gets easier and you do a better job with it.  Won’t you join me in combating the perils of indecision?

Related Posts:

  • Facing Fears: Fear is a normal emotion and a natural part of life.  Fear can help us to steer clear of dangerous situations and it can help us to navigate safely through treacherous encounters.  While some fears can be healthy and helpful, other fears are actually detrimental to our happiness and well-being.  In this post, I write about how fear adversely affects our lives and examine one of my irrational fears and my powerful decision to face it.
  • The Tyranny of Shoulds: We all have a voice inside of our heads which tries to tell us what to do, how to act, and who to be.   Sometimes this voice is productive, such as when it moves us out of inertia and into action.  However, the voice can also be counterproductive or even destructive.  This post explores the dark side of our inner voice, the place where “should” and self-recrimination reside.    Some tips on escaping the “tyranny of shoulds” are presented to help us find a happy medium.
  • Don’t Worry!: Over the years, I have wasted many hours and sacrificed endless enjoyment by worrying about all sorts of things, most of which never came to pass.  This post examines the hazards involved in being a “worrywart” and presents some powerful insights from Dennis Prager and Gay Hendricks on the topic of worry.  You will learn some good reasons to stop worrying, as well as excellent questions to ask yourself when you find yourself engaged in this destructive and deflating habit.

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