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Gloomy looking womanHave you ever heard of the term, “Debbie Downer”?  This term, based upon a fictional “Saturday Night Live” character, refers to a person who is frequently negative and complaining, thus bringing down the mood of everyone around her.  Sadly, I have to admit that I can be this person at times, and since my name is Debbie, that makes it even worse!

I don’t mean to complain a lot, but there are times when I catch myself spouting out all kinds of negativity.  At least I catch myself more often these days, but I am still dismayed when I realize I am whining and complaining.  My husband gets the worst of it, and this normally very tolerant man has been known to lose his patience with me on occasion.  Yesterday was one of those times, which is what has prompted me to write this post.   I will look at why we complain, when it’s okay, and how to reform our tendency to gripe and moan.

Why We Complain

Why do we complain?  Often it stems from a need to vent our frustration and feel “heard” by others.  We want to be validated for our pain and aggravation, and sometimes we feel better after we get things off our chests.  We’ve all heard the saying, “misery loves company,” and when we complain to others, we often find people jumping on the bandwagon to add their own grievances to the mix.  But do we really feel better when others share in our disgruntled state?

Sometimes we complain because we’re looking for solutions.  In my opinion, that may be the only time when complaining is really okay.  If the person to whom we’re complaining is in a position of power to change the situation, that’s a best-case scenario.  Unfortunately, however, the people to whom we gripe often have no influence over our circumstances and can do little more than helplessly listen to our complaints.  I’ve known some wise souls who have cut habitual whiners off at the pass by simply suggesting, “Why don’t you tell this to someone who can actually do something about it.”  At the very least, that sentiment might make the whiner think twice before complaining to that person the next time around.

People Want to Help

The people who are closest to us want to help us.  They want to see us happy and doing well in life.  If we come to them with a legitimate problem and ask for their help in solving it, they will generally do their best to help us find tangible and reasonable solutions.  However, if we don’t heed their advice and keep coming back to them with the same problem over and over again, they may lose patience with us. We may wear out our welcome with them, no matter how much they love us.

We need to temper our impulse to go to our friends and family with problems on a regular basis.  Our close relationships should be based upon much more than a friendly ear and a shoulder to cry on, although those elements are both desirable and important.   We need to strive for balance in our relationships and ensure that the enjoyable experiences outnumber the trying times as much as possible.  If you think back to your last five encounters with a given loved one and remember complaining to them on more than two occasions, perhaps it’s time to inject a bit more fun into that relationship!  Resolve to either cry on someone else’s shoulder or heed some of the advice you received from a prior confidante.

Taking Advantage?

I often complain too much to my husband because I don’t have many other people in whom to confide.  When I go to him with problems, I feel that I am genuinely looking for solutions, but I have to admit that I often don’t take the good advice he gives me.  I go back to him hoping for different answers instead of first giving one of his useful tips a try.  When I do this, I’m not being fair to him.  I’m taking advantage of his good nature and his love and concern for me. Doesn’t he deserve to have a happy wife instead of one who whines and complains about the same things ad nauseum?

Moral Obligation to Act Happy

Radio talk show host Dennis Prager would say so.  For close to fifteen years, he’s dedicated one of his fifteen weekly broadcast hours to the topic of happiness (he has also written an excellent book on the topic called “Happiness is a Serious Problem”).  Prager asserts that we have a moral obligation to act happy, even when we don’t feel happy.  He believes that happy people make the world a better place while unhappy people contribute to the ills of society.

While one may assume that Prager is advocating inauthenticity with his prescription to act happy, that is far from the truth.  Rather, he values honesty and clarity in interpersonal relationships and believes that we should be open with our intimates about our life challenges.  However, those topics should not dominate our interactions with loved ones by any means.  We owe it to the people who love us to work on cultivating a happy disposition and to overcome our tendency to focus on the negative aspects of life. We should always endeavor to act as happy as possible and we will often be pleasantly surprised to find ourselves feeling more upbeat as a result.

Breaking the Complaining Habit

So how do we break the habit of complaining?  It is helpful to consider the distinction between actions and reactions here.  Often we simply react to situations in our lives without any consideration.  This is the proverbial stimulus-response chain which is cultivated through social conditioning, much like the salivation of Pavlov’s dog upon hearing a bell ring.   But there is another way!

As human beings, we can and should involve our powerful intellect instead of merely acting upon instinct.  It is helpful to take a breath and pause before responding.  During this brief time-out, it is helpful to consider the following related to complaining:

  • Is the person to whom I’m speaking in a position of power to change the situation?
  • Is what I’m about to say constructive?
  • What type of response am I looking for here?  Do I want advice, or am I merely looking to get something off my chest?
  • What is the ultimate result I’m wanting in this situation?

If you simply want to “vent,” I suggest that you either write in a journal about your feelings or set a time limit for your complaining (e.g. “I can vent for 5 minutes, and then I will work on solutions”).  If what you are considering saying will not be constructive, perhaps you should consider not verbalizing it at all.  It’s entirely possible that both you and your companion would be better served by conversing on a more pleasant topic!

Remember the “Law of Attraction”

In closing, it is helpful to remember the Law of Attraction in regards to complaining.  Simply stated, this “law” states that like attracts like.  In other words, when we focus upon something, we attract more of it into our lives.  Focusing on the negative will only serve to attract more negative, and none of us want that!  Instead of looking at what’s wrong or lacking, I suggest you heed the advice given by Michael Losier in “Law of Attraction.”  Ask yourself, “So what do I want?” Then focus on what you need to do to create that result.  Easier said than done, it’s true, but much more productive and sanity-producing than complaining!

Related Posts:

  • Key Principles – Part 1: This post summarizes some of the key philosophies of Louise Hay, author of “You Can Heal Your Life,” the book which is the foundation for The Healing Project.   Among the principles examined is “we are each responsible for our own experiences” and “every thought we think is creating our future.”
  • 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.
  • The Decision: This post outlines a life-changing decision I made in August 2009.  Prior to that decision, I had become increasingly fearful, negative, and pessimistic.  I wrestled with many issues and was worrying my life away.  What I decided was something I knew before, but not “in my bones.”  I get to choose how to approach my life and how things will affect me.  I set the powerful intention to live in the moment and face life with a positive attitude.
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Angry woman on the phoneAre you a critical person?  Do you have a tendency to look at others – and life – with a “glass half empty” attitude?  Are you someone who is never happy because you always find things to fault about the people and situations in your life, including yourself?

How do you feel about anger?  Are you someone who readily expresses your anger and sometimes has a hard time controlling it?  Or are you a person who is very uncomfortable with anger, such that you can’t really remember being angry at anyone?  Do you confine your angry feelings only toward yourself because that feels more safe and comfortable?

Our Critical Thoughts…

I recently completed the exercises in Chapter 5 of the “You Can Heal Your Life Companion Book.”  This chapter is titled, “Critical Thinking” and explores the tendency we all have to be judgmental and critical toward others and ourselves.  The exercises focus on our beliefs and practices related to critical thoughts and the acknowledgment and expression of emotions, including the often controversial feeling of anger.

I’ve decided to focus this week’s post on the topics of criticism and anger.  I will share some of Louise Hay’s thoughts on these topics, as well as my reactions and insights from the Chapter 5 exercises.

Louise Hay on Criticism

Most of us have such a strong tendency to judge and criticize that we often don’t even realize when we’re doing it. Louise Hay believes that we will never be able to really love ourselves until we go beyond the need to make others, ourselves and life itself wrong.  Since loving ourselves is the key to overcoming all of the problems in our lives according to Louise’s philosophy, releasing the need to criticize is a very important step in the healing process.

Criticism breaks down the inner spirit and never changes a thing!  In contrast, praise builds up the spirit and can help to bring about positive change.

I Criticize Myself For…

One of the Chapter 5 exercises directs us to write down two ways in which we criticize ourselves related to the area of love and intimacy.  Below is what I wrote…

I criticize myself for _____ :

  1. …Attracting narcissistic and needy people for whom it’s “all about them.”  In these relationships, I feel like I am there for them, but they are not there for me.
  2. …Not being able to express myself the way I’d like to in relationships.  I want to foster increased intimacy with people, but I find myself unable to communicate in the right way to do this.

I Praise Myself For…

We are then directed to write about two things for which we can praise ourselves in the area of love and intimacy.  My examples were:

I praise myself for ____ :

  1. …Being able to attract a wonderful partner and grow together over the years.  We have a great relationship and I am very proud of that.
  2. …Not settling for sub-par friendships and relationships just so I’m not alone.  While I wish I had more connections in my life, I am glad that I haven’t held on to the needy and narcissistic friendships.

The purpose of the above exercise was to break the habit of criticism and learn to praise ourselves.  Through this simple example, I could definitely see that self-praise was infinitely more empowering than self-criticism. With the criticism, I backed myself into a corner of negativity.  With praise, I created more possibility and power in the present moment and for the future.  I also learned that when you look for something, you can find it.  While my natural tendency has been to look for things to criticize, it is just as easy to find things to praise when that is your focus.  Try it and you’ll see that it’s true!

Louise Hay on Anger

Anger is a natural and normal emotion, yet many of us have learned that it’s not nice, polite, or acceptable to be angry. Consequently, we learn to “swallow” our angry feelings.  These feelings then settle into our bodies and, over time, they can mount into the type of resentment which contributes to aches and pains and even serious diseases.   Some of the conditions which Louise Hay believes stem from anger include bursitis, carpal-tunnel syndrome, cellulite, cold sores, depression, jaw problems, kidney stones, and sore throats.  Long-term unexpressed anger can even lead to illnesses as serious as cancer!

We need to learn to acknowledge and express all of our feelings, including anger, in positive and healthy ways. But first it’s helpful to explore our family patterns around anger and our own history of dealing with angry feelings.  In many families, anger is frowned upon.  Many people either suppress their angry feelings completely or deal with them through addictive or avoidant behaviors.   Some people only express their anger when it builds up to a crescendo and then they explode in an unproductive manner.   They are like a pressure cooker in that they only show their anger when it builds up to the point where they can no longer stand it.

What Me, Angry?

I have never been comfortable with anger, either my own or that of others.  For most of my life, I denied even having any angry feelings toward anyone besides myself.  I often felt angry toward myself, mostly because I was unable to live up to my own high standards, and I expressed that anger by starving myself, binging and purging, and engaging in other destructive behaviors.  I also suffered from depression for much of my life, a condition which has frequently been termed “anger turned inward.”

In recent years, I have become more comfortable with having feelings of anger, yet I continue to struggle with appropriately expressing those feelings.  I now acknowledge that I have a right to be angry, but it still doesn’t feel safe to reveal that emotion to most of the people in my life.  This is an area of growth for me.  I want to increase the level of closeness in my current relationships, as well as develop empowering new connections.  Being “real” and communicating honestly are keys to our experiencing true intimacy in our relationships.

Anger – Not the Bogeyman!

The ability to express all emotions in a direct and mature way can help us to become closer to our loved ones.  Anger is not the bogeyman that many of us have believed it to be.  It is in our best interest to make peace with anger.  To aid in that effort, here are a few closing affirmations from Louise Hay:

Anger is normal and natural.”

I am safe with all of my emotions.”

I allow myself freedom with all my emotions, including anger.”

Healthy expressions of anger keep me healthy.”

Related Posts

  • Key Principles – Part 3: This post explores Louise Hay’s thoughts on the topics of criticism, guilt, resentment and forgiveness. Louise believes that the most damaging thought patterns in which we can be engaged are resentment, criticism, and guilt.  In contrast, the ability to release the past and any associated resentment is highly empowering and increases freedom, health, and happiness.  I provide some powerful examples related to these concepts, including an account of a woman who was raped and found peace through forgiveness and letting go.
  • Key Principles – Part 4: Louise Hay asserts that when we really love ourselves, everything in life works. When we treat ourselves with loving kindness, we experience a number of life benefits, including decrease anxiety, increased inner peace, improved relationships, and enhanced health and well-being.  This post explores the topic of self-love and how it is integral to healing ourselves and our lives.
  • Fear… Only a Thought: Louise Hay states that “fears are merely thoughts, and thoughts can be released.”  Chapter 4 of “You Can Heal Your Life” focuses on fearful emotions.  This post highlights some of the most impactful exercises from that chapter and the insights I derived from completing these exercises.

Don’t Worry!

Troubled woman with head in handsThis message is a cautionary tale from a longtime “worrywart” (or as my father-in-law used to say, “worryhorse”).  I have wasted many hours and sacrificed endless enjoyment by worrying about all sorts of things, most of which never came to pass.  It is my hope that my insights today will help other worriers to reform their ways and increase their happiness in life.

Reasons Not to Worry

I recently listened to an episode of the Happiness Hour from radio talk show host, Dennis Prager.  The focus of this hour was on worrying, so I knew I needed to listen carefully.   Unlike many people who have “blind spots” in terms of their weaknesses, I knew full well how much of a detriment my habitual worrying was to my life and my happiness.

Dennis Prager stated that there are two powerful reasons to break the habit of worrying:

  1. Most of what we worry about never comes to pass.
  2. When one is worrying about what might happen, it is impossible for him to be happy in that moment.

Freakish Accidents and Ailments

Let me explore both of these reasons and relate some personal experiences.  In the past few years, there have been some high-profile celebrity illnesses and deaths, some of them from rare or “freakish” accidents or ailments.  Two which come to mind are the death of actress Natasha Richardson from a seemingly minor skiing accident and the near-death of singer Bret Michaels from a rare type of brain hemorrhage which strikes without warning.

After I read about the death of Natasha Richardson, I started to become terrified after even a minor head bump which would occur around my house.  I worried that I would suffer a fatal brain bleed like that of Ms. Richardson.  I was so fearful that I even went to the emergency room after bumping my head on an open cabinet door back in April 2009.  While I did feel dizzy and lightheaded, I learned that most dangerous head injuries are coupled with unconsciousness or severe symptoms within a short time period after the injury.

Many Worrywarts Out There…

During my ER visit, I was given a CAT scan which revealed no hemorrhaging and was sent home shortly thereafter with instructions to rest in order to recover from the slight concussion I had experienced.  I was also told that the incidence of ER visits for head injuries had increased exponentially since the death of Natasha Richardson.  Evidently, I’m not the only worrywart out there…

It is common for people to worry about being struck with a life-threatening ailment, but what we have to realize is that the worrying doesn’t do anything to prevent such illnesses from occurring.  Yes, we can modify our lifestyles to minimize the risk of certain accidents and diseases and we should endeavor to do what we can to prevent ourselves from becoming ill.  However, there is only so much we can do to mitigate our risk.  After all, even a person who never leaves his or her house could be victim to earthquakes, tornadoes, break-ins, or errant plane crashes!

Wasted Worries…

A caller to Dennis Prager’s show related a powerful experience.  She was hit by a truck and was lying on the ground waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  As many thoughts went through her head, including the fact that her injuries might prove fatal, she had one thought that was especially poignant to me as a lifelong worrier.  She said that she wished she hadn’t wasted so much time worrying about breast cancer.

When we are in a state of worry, it is impossible for us to enjoy what we’re doing.  Worry is almost always future-focused.  We concern ourselves with what could happen and what might happen, and in the process we are not present to where we are and what we’re doing in the moment.

Personal Experience With Worry

My husband and I periodically travel and leave our two cats in the care of a very caring and competent pet-sitter.  The pet-sitter comes to our house twice a day to feed our cats and give them love and attention.  I know my cats are in good hands, but that doesn’t stop me from spending quite a bit of time and energy in worrying about them.

I noticed myself doing this on our recent trip to the San Francisco Bay Area and was able to stop myself.  There I was on vacation and spending time with my mom and my husband at one of my favorite art festivals, yet my mind was at home in my apartment with my cats.  Fortunately, I was able to alleviate much of my worry by checking in with the pet-sitter a couple of times and then using self-talk to shut off the automatic “worry machine” which seems to continually operate inside my head.

Gay Hendricks on Worry

Gay Hendricks provides some useful tips for eliminating worry in his excellent book, “The Big Leap.”  He correctly asserts that “worry is useful only if it concerns a topic we can actually do something about, and if it leads to our taking positive action right away.”  He suggests that when we find ourselves in the midst of worry, we ask ourselves the following two questions:

  1. Is it a real possibility?
  2. Is there any action I can take right now to make a positive difference?

If the answer to the first question is no, that should be a cue to stop worrying!  If the answer to both questions is yes, you should take the action you’ve identified as soon as possible and then stop worrying.  If the answer to question one is yes, but the answer to question two is no, then you should also cease your worry because it is counterproductive to your enjoyment of your one and only precious life.

Those Cancer Worries…

Let’s take the example of breast cancer.  According to the American Cancer Society’s website, the chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman’s life is slightly less than 1 in 8 (12%).  So developing breast cancer is indeed a real possibility for women.   However, there may not be any action many women could take to reduce their chances of developing the disease.  While an overweight smoker with a poor diet could make lifestyle changes which could help, many healthy women can do little to affect their chances of developing breast cancer (although regular screening is definitely recommended).

Powerful Words to Remember

Fortunately, I spend very little time worrying about breast cancer, but it would serve me well to remember the words of both Dennis Prager and Gay Hendricks when I find myself immersed in other worries.  Some additional insights can be found in the Serenity Prayer, something which I’ve posted previously but bears repeating:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I vow to face my worrywart tendencies head on.  Eliminating needless worry (and much of it is that!) is integral to my journey toward healing my life and becoming a happier and more peaceful person.  If like me, you also suffer from consistent worrying, I invite you to join me in becoming an ex-worrier.

Related Posts

  • Serenity, Courage, Wisdom…:  This post explores the meaning of the Serenity Prayer and how it can help us to live a more peaceful and happy life.  The Serenity Prayer is also applied to a personal struggle involving the self-destructive behavior of someone in my life and my inability to help or save that person.
  • Facing Fears: Fear is a normal emotion and a natural part of life.  Fear can help us to steer clear of dangerous situations and 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.
  • Fear… Only a Thought: Louise Hay states that “fears are merely thoughts, and thoughts can be released.”  Chapter 4 of “You Can Heal Your Life” focuses on fearful emotions.  This post highlights some of the most impactful exercises from that chapter and the insights I derived from completing these exercises.

tonight-showLast Friday, my husband and I went to see a taping of “The Tonight Show.”  This was something we’d wanted to do for a long time but kept putting off.  We are so glad we finally made it happen, as we had a wonderful time!  It was very interesting to see how a show like this evolves behind the scenes.  I recommend it to anyone who is curious and finds themselves in the Los Angeles area.

There are Lessons Everywhere…

While we were at the taping, I had an experience that is worth writing about in this blog, as it relates to an ongoing issue that is one of the focus areas in my journey to heal my life.  This experience shows that there are lessons inherent in all life experiences, even those we thought would be purely fun and entertaining.  We should always be open to lessons and gifts in everything we do.

All it Took Was a Smile

When we got to the NBC studio where “The Tonight Show” is taped, we were given numbers and asked to line up in an audience holding area.   As we were waiting, I noticed a few staffers pulling people out of line to interview them.  My curiosity was piqued, so I decided to smile at one of the staffers and use the power of my thoughts to manifest my becoming one of the interviewees.  It worked and I was pulled out of line a few minutes later!

My 15 Minutes of Fame?

I was asked to participate in a segment of the show called “Q & A with T & J,” in which audience members ask questions of Jay Leno and his guest, Terry Bradshaw.  I was handed my question to ask and was shocked at what it was… “How do you know you’ve reached success in life?”  As a person who is constantly focused on the issue of success and my associated self-doubt, I found it very interesting and perhaps more than coincidental that I would be given this question to ask on national television!

Cutting Room Floor

The taping was done and I asked Jay and Terry my question at the appointed time.  It was fun to interact with both of them and to get their humorous take on such a serious question.   Although I was excited to appear on television and posted about it on Facebook, I was disappointed to see that my question ended up on the proverbial “cutting room floor.”   However, I did get to bring my group (which also included my father and stepmother) to sit in great seats in the studio, plus I was given a Tonight Show t-shirt, so all was not lost.

How Do You Know…?

All in all, my Tonight Show visit was a great experience, but I continued to reflect upon the question in the days which followed.  During a walk the next day, I posed the question to my husband, “So, how do YOU know you’ve reached success in life?

His answer was a good one… He said that for him, success relates to freedom.  He knows he’s successful when he is free to spend his time as he wishes and can make empowered choices for what he wants to do in life.  Success for him doesn’t equate to a particular job title, dollar amount, or material possessions.  It is more related to how he spends his time and how much freedom he has to choose his professional and personal pursuits.

The American Dream?

We talked about how success varies from individual to individual and from society to society.  In our society, the most prevalent measure of success relates to career achievement and monetary earnings.  A person is said to be successful if he or she has a particular type of job or earns over a certain amount (which varies by region).   Home ownership is also a large factor in determining whether or not one is successful, such that the phrase “American Dream” has become synonymous with owning one’s own home.  This collapsing of concepts contributing to the mortgage crisis of recent years, but that situation is a bit off-topic for this blog…

Success and Failure Road SignThe limited definition for success in our society has many people feeling like failures because they don’t quite “measure up. “ This has been an ongoing issue for me, particularly in the years since I left my corporate job in 2003.  During the past seven years, I haven’t even come close to earning my previous corporate salary, and I’ve changed my career path several times due to acute feelings of disillusionment.   It has become habitual for me to consider myself a failure and that self-inflicted label has wreaked havoc upon my self-esteem.

Redefining Success

I haven’t really taken the time to profoundly consider my personal definition for success in a number of years.  In pondering the Tonight Show question, I remembered a quote I found long ago which deeply resonated for me.  Fortunately, I was able to rediscover this quote through the magic of the Outlook search feature.  It was published in professional coach Chris Barrow’s newsletter in March 2004:

Success is doing what you love to do, when you love to do it, with people you love working with.” – Chris Barrow

I like this definition as much today as I did six years ago!  It dovetails well with my own definition for success that I have created subsequent to last Friday’s Tonight Show visit.

My New Definition for Success

So how do I know I’ve reached success in life?  There are five key factors in my newly constructed vision.  I could write a complete post on each of these individual aspects, but I will briefly define them herein.

  1. Health – My recent health challenges have affirmed the truth of the old adage, “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”  Health serves as a powerful foundation for success in all other areas of one’s life.  If one feels healthy and vibrant, he is much more up to the various challenges he takes on and can more readily withstand stressors along the way.  Achieving good health is an accomplishment in and of itself, especially as one ages and health becomes much less of a “given” than it was in younger years.
  2. Freedom – I steadfastly agree with my husband’s assertion that freedom is an integral component of success.  The freedom to choose what type of work one does and where and when one does it is a big part of how successful one feels.  I remember when I was first able to move to Lake Tahoe (and later San Diego) and work from home.  I think that’s when I felt most successful in my work.
  3. Happiness – Success is about so much more than career and money.  I believe that a successful life involves joy and happiness each and every day.  If one can stop and ask himself at various times of the day, “Am I enjoying what I’m doing?” and answer with a resounding yes, he likely feels much more successful than a person who feels somber and uninvolved in his activities.
  4. Connection – No man or woman is an island.  As human beings, we want and need to feel a connection to those around us.  We want to experience love and affinity and to develop functional and enriching relationships with those around us.  If I feel connected to others and am able to communicate honestly and deeply with my friends and family, I feel happier and more successful in life.
  5. Growth – It is highly important to me to continue to grow and learn throughout my lifespan.  I want to always feel like I am evolving as a person and discovering new things about myself and the world around me.  I am successful if I can easily answer yes to the question, “Am I growing and learning new things every day?”

Am I Successful?

So, have I reached success based upon my own definition?  Not yet, but I am definitely on my way… What’s more, I find this new definition infinitely more inspiring and empowering than the old one to which I subscribed.  I’m not suggesting that career and money are not important in life.  Of course they are, but they are not everything.  While I still hope to achieve career success and earn a decent income, it feels good for me to know that I can still be successful in life without reaching those milestones.

A New Fresh Outlook

Who would have thought I would learn so much from a trip to see a taping of the Tonight Show?  I now move forward with my healing project with a fresh outlook and new goals.  As I proceed with the final four months of my journey (that is, if I don’t extend it beyond a year…), I am newly invigorated and feel hopeful and positive that I can and will heal my life!

Related Posts:

  • Handling Discouragement: This early post primarily deals with larger areas of discouragement such as career and health woes, but the advice given is applicable to “in the moment” obstacles as well.  In particular, the recommendations for taking a “time out” and getting into action are useful.
  • The Decision: This post outlines a life-changing decision I made in August 2009.  Prior to that decision, I had become increasingly fearful, negative, and pessimistic.  I wrestled with many issues and was worrying my life away.  What I decided was something I knew before, but not “in my bones.”  I get to choose how to approach my life and how things will affect me.  I set the powerful intention to live in the moment and face life with a positive attitude.
  • 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.

Many hands on a globe“We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

I have always wanted to make a difference in the world.  Over the years, my vision for how I would do this has shifted, but I have maintained my desire to help others.  Lately, I have questioned how much of a contribution I’ve been making and have increasingly felt that what I do is not good enough.   A recent experience vividly illustrated the powerful truth in Mother Teresa’s simple quote.   The focus of this week’s post is on that experience, what it taught me, and how I will proceed in life based upon what I learned.

An Ordinary Evening – Or Not…

One evening two weeks ago, my husband and I went to the gym to work out.  It was like any other evening, or at least that’s how it started out.  As we were walking from the parking lot into the gym, we heard a noise…  Upon repetition, it became clear to us that the sound was a cat’s meow.  Soon, a small white cat with tabby markings was at our feet, meowing loudly and nudging us.  Her friendly demeanor made it clear that she wasn’t a feral cat, but her thin appearance was characteristic of a stray and most likely abandoned feline.   The meows were likely a cry for help, a plea for food by a cat that probably hadn’t had a good meal in a long time.

The Bystander Effect

While we stood next to the meowing cat, a number of people walked by us and appeared to be indifferent to what was happening.   Like everyone seems to be these days, they were probably busy and moving on to the next item on their lengthy to-do lists.   There is something known as the “bystander effect,” a phenomenon that explains why most people don’t rush to help those in need.  When there are many others in the vicinity, it is assumed that someone else will help.

I had read about this problem in “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell just a few weeks ago, in fact.  Gladwell illustrated his point by recounting the story of the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City.  While Ms. Genovese was stabbed to death on the street, 38 witnesses watched from nearby buildings and NONE of them called the police!

Just Another Bystander?

I realize that ignoring a stray cat is not the same as idly standing by while a woman is murdered.  However, since our gym is located at the intersection of two busy streets in a high-traffic commercial area, the chance of this small cat surviving under those conditions was not very good.  I decided not to assume that someone else would help the cat.   I chose not to walk away because it was inconvenient for me to help at that time.  I decided that I would be the one to rescue the sweet little kitty from her scary plight.   In that moment, I knew that I could do a small thing with great love!

A Happy Ending

Sparky the CatMy husband and I had help in saving the little kitty we nicknamed “Sparky.”  We were able to lure her into a carrier with canned food and a local rescue group took her in and got her spayed and vaccinated.  We were pleased to learn a few days ago that Sparky was adopted immediately following her five day hold at the shelter.  She now has a new home and a new chance at a happy life.   The fact that we were willing to step in and help saved Sparky’s life, and it didn’t take much time or effort, either.

I Make a Difference

The “Sparky experience” taught me that although I had been feeling small and insignificant in the world, I do matter and I can make a difference.   While it’s true that I have not made myself a household name or achieved a seven (or even six) figure income, I mattered to Sparky and I made a powerful and significant difference in her life.  She didn’t care that I am not successful according to our society’s definition of the concept.  I allowed myself to be guided by my heart and help a small creature that really needed my help.

Moving Forward – More Small Things…

I’ve decided to commit to doing more small things with great love, both for those I know and those whom I’ve never met.  Since I feel a strong connection to animals, I have submitted an application to volunteer with the rescue group that helped us to rescue Sparky.  I also plan to pursue other volunteer opportunities for valuable causes that strike my passion and tug at my heartstrings.  I have the time and freedom to volunteer, and will find organizations which have a need for the types of services I can provide.

I will also strive to be more open and giving with the people in my life.  I have a tendency to be withdrawn and reserved and I know that leads me to feel more isolated and alone.  I plan to review my list of contacts to see who I might want to reconnect with in the coming weeks and months.  I also plan to put myself “out there” more often so I can make new personal and professional connections.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the old saying goes…

The Ripple Effect

I am often very hard on myself and make blanket judgments about my purpose and place in this world.  In truth, I have no idea how much I touch the lives of others in small but meaningful ways.  I am reminded of the movie “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing,” a film which explores how the lives of thirteen people intersect in the face of life’s cold unpredictability.   One of the characters had been standing on a street corner about to walk out into oncoming traffic to commit suicide.  As he stood there, he saw a woman (one of the other characters but a stranger to him) smile at him from across the street.  This simple act of kindness and generosity convinced the man that there was still hope for him and a reason to live. The smiling women never knew that she saved someone’s life that day…

We never know how much we impact others.  We can make a difference in large and dramatic ways, in smaller yet deliberate ways, and in random and unintentional ways.  The important thing to remember is that we can and do contribute to the lives of others.   If we choose to do so, we can make a concerted effort to positively influence others, but even those who primarily pursue self-serving ends still have a ripple effect on the world around them.  We all matter and we are all valuable to our loved ones, our communities, and the society at large.

Kindness and Contribution

Remember, we don’t need to commit grand gestures in order to make a difference.  We make a difference by being our authentic selves and acting from our hearts.

I close with a few quotes on the topics of kindness and contribution.

Every smile is a direct achievement.” – Unknown

Isn’t it amazing how often we can touch someone’s life, and enrich our own, by a very simple act? Kindness, pass it on…” – Betty, WA Community Organizer

If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” – Mother Teresa

Be kind.  It is hardly ever the wrong thing to do.” – Unknown

Related Posts

  • Deservability: We all want many things in our lives and we often wonder why we don’t get those things.  A big part of it has to do with the concept of deserving, or as Louise Hay terms it, “deservability.”  If, at the deepest core of our being, we don’t feel we deserve to have what we wish for, that belief will block those things from coming into our lives.   This post focuses upon the concept of deservability and the insights I derived from completing Louise Hay’s powerful exercise on that topic.
  • Lack of Connection: All of the technology in the world can’t change the fact that we are growing more and more socially isolated in our society.  In fact, a recent study found that 25% of Americans have no confidants at all!  Loneliness is becoming the biggest epidemic in our country, even bigger than cancer or heart disease.   In this post, I write about this troubling trend and share my personal struggle with isolation, as well as how I plan to turn it around.
  • 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.

The Decision

Open Doorway to BeautyThe following is a journal entry that I made on August 31, 2009.  I titled this passage simply, “The Decision,” and have been carrying it in my purse now for over a year.  Although I didn’t start my “healing project” until February 2010, I consider “The Decision” to have been the start of my turning my life around.  It was when I decided to change my attitude from negative to positive and to take charge of my life.

It Began with a Life-Changing Book…

I made an important decision today which I know will be life-changing.  It happened while I was reading a book  I’ve had for a year yet only recently started to read.  The book is called “The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die.”  I was so excited when I bought this book last September, but I was “too busy” to read it until now, or maybe I just wasn’t ready until now…

Fear, Negativity, and Pessimism

I turned 43 a few weeks ago, so statistically that puts me right at “mid-life.”  Of course, I have no way of knowing if I have 40 or 50 more years to live – or only a few months.  But even if I assume that I will live until 80 or 90 or more, do I want to live my life in the way I have been living it?

In recent months, I have become increasingly fearful, negative, and pessimistic.  I worry about many things and I’ve become more and more fearful of death.  It only hit me recently why I fear death so much.  It isn’t about the “what happens after we die” question as much as it is about “what has my life meant?”

Worrying My Life Away

I wrestle with many issues and worry my life away.  I think so much about the purpose of my life in terms of career and money, I lose sight of what my deeper purpose could be.  I worry and fret and get upset over minor annoyances as well as the bigger things in life.  The smallest things can set me off and get my head into a tailspin.

My poor, dear husband gets the brunt of all of this, as I don’t elect to share my thoughts and feelings with many other people.  He is a positive and affirming person and can often get me out of my negative states, but I’m sure he would rather not have to do it.  He has a lot on his plate as it is…

An Empowering Realization

What I realized this morning is something I knew before, but not “in my bones.”  I realized that I get to choose!  I can decide how I will approach my life and how things will affect me.  I can decide to be happy and positive instead of negative and depressed.

Not only can I decide to be happy and positive, I did decide that – just today.  Sure, I’ve made such proclamations in the past, but this time is different.  I don’t know if I hit “rock bottom” or if I had just had enough of my self-imposed suffering, but no more!

I am the architect of my life, the writer of my story, the director of the play of my life.

My Epiphany

I remember when my co-author and I wrote our book, “Searching for an Epiphany” (this book has not been published, but you can read excerpts here).   It was about our elusive quest for the “it job.”  I thought my epiphany would be when I knew “what I wanted to be when I grew up.”  Well, you know what?  I still don’t know, but I did have an epiphany today, and I do know some important things.

I am not a loser.  I am not a screw up.  I am not a mess, or any of the other derogatory terms by which I’ve called myself.  I am an intelligent, capable, and talented human being.  I have many interests, which is why it’s been difficult for me to settle upon just one thing.

Live With Purpose, Joy, and Courage

My many interests are a great blessing.  Maybe I will never find the “it job” and just maybe (or even probably), that will be okay.  What I will do, however, is live my life with purpose, joy, and courage instead of fear and despair.

I may never make six or seven figures per year, or I might, but who cares?  I am here, I am alive, I have my intelligence, I have my health (save the niggling problems which I WILL conquer with my new positive attitude), I have my loved ones, and I have so much more.

Today is the First Day…

This may sound trite and Pollyanna-ish, but it’s not.  I really mean this.  The saying “today is the first day of the rest of my life” is always true, but it feels more true for me today.  No matter how much time I have left, I promise these things:

  • To live my life true to myself,
  • To live without regrets,
  • To live without fear,
  • To live with purpose,
  • To embody love,
  • And to live in joy and peace!

Today, August 31, 2009, truly is the first day of the rest of my life.  Let it begin now!

Addendum – 9/23/2010

I posted the above journal entry today with the hope that my readers would find it inspirational.  I know that I am inspired and empowered each time I read it.  The past few weeks have been quite challenging for me, so it helps me to reconnect with the powerful intentions I set for myself on August 31, 2009:  to live in the moment, to face life with a positive attitude, and to courageously overcome my challenges.  Thirteen months later, I recommit to those intentions and continue “full speed ahead” with my healing project!

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Very Frustrated and Angry ManEarlier today, I had to call the phone company about an error they had made regarding changes to my service plan.  I dread making these types of calls because I invariably end up being transferred to multiple service reps before my issues are resolved.  I find myself becoming angry and frustrated at how long these calls take and how inefficiently the company handles what should be a very easy and straight-forward request.

Worse Than Usual

Today’s call was far worse than any other such call I’ve made in recent memory.  I was transferred to no fewer than five service representatives and was on the phone for close to an hour.  It didn’t take long before I felt my heart racing and my blood pressure rising.  I ended up losing my cool during this call and expressing my anger and frustration toward the person on the other end of the phone.

When I got off the phone, I felt shaky and uncomfortable.  I wasn’t proud of the way I had behaved during the call.  While it’s perfectly reasonable to get upset at inefficiencies and wasted time, I didn’t feel good at how angry I had become.  I allowed myself to get “rattled” by what had transpired and I had let these events disrupt my well-being.

What Can I Learn From This?

As I like to do, I decided to look at what I could learn from my phone company experience and how I could react differently in the future.   “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz quickly came to mind, and in particular the second agreement, “Don’t Take Anything Personally.”  In short, this agreement states that what others say and do is a projection of their own reality; it is not about us.  When we are immune to the actions and opinions of others, we won’t be the victim of needless suffering.  Although this agreement has myriad implications for all of our interactions with others, I will focus primarily on my experiences of earlier today.

I Took Things Personally…

I took the behavior of the phone company representatives personally.  When they told me that they needed to transfer my call to yet another representative, instead of merely acknowledging that the company has disorganized processes which impact all of their customers, I made it be about me.  I allowed myself to feel offended and persecuted by the failure of any given individual to help me.

As I was transferred to each successive person, I became angrier and angrier because I felt I was being treated unfairly.  I didn’t feel “heard” or understood by any of the representatives, so I spoke more loudly and injected anger and frustration into my voice.   In the process, I made things more difficult for myself instead of easier.  Instead of working on my service issue, the representatives were instead apologizing for my inconvenience and telling me they understood my frustration.  Such platitudes only served to stir up more ire in me because I doubted the sincerity of the words.  I was taking things more and more personally and becoming increasingly more upset.

How To Do Better Next Time

What could I do differently moving forward?  Here are some thoughts… First, I could set an intention for the call before making it.  My intention could be for the call to go smoothly and for me to behave calmly and kindly throughout.  This strategy definitely works!  Before a recent interaction with someone I find challenging, I set an intention for kindness to govern my behavior with this person.  Instead of acting impatient and frustrated as I had in the past, I was much more loving and kind and managed to keep my cool instead of lose my temper.

In future difficult situations, I can take a mental “time out” as needed to help re-center myself.  This can be as simple as taking a deep breath and gently reminding myself of my intention to maintain a calm disposition.  I can also reflect upon the powerful agreement to not take anything personally.  If necessary, I can pause the interaction and revisit it at a time when I am more ready to handle it.  In terms of my phone company call, I could ask for the direct number for the new department and contact them later instead of being transferred to them in the midst of my upset.  Even a few minutes of “breathing room” before speaking with the next representative could have allowed me the space and time to calm down and get into a better mental and emotional state for the call.

We Control Our Reactions

Today’s interaction reminded me of a very powerful principle.  Although we cannot control everything that happens in our lives, we are in charge of our reactions.  There will always be companies with poor customer service practices and people who treat us in an unfair or unkind manner.  We have the choice as to whether these situations cause us to come unglued and if we will react with anger or emotional upset.  Every action we take in life is a choice and it is important to remember that.  I chose today to get upset and angry during my customer service call.  Next time, I can choose to stay calm and centered while the chaos of a disorganized company unfolds around me.  Then I can get off the phone and get on with my day!  I trust that I will feel much more empowered and confident with the latter choice.

Implications for the Healing Project

How is all of this relevant to my healing project?  Healing happens on all levels – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.   The more “zen” I display in emotionally trying situations, the less my upset will impact my health and well-being.  If I can remember to not take anything personally in life, I will be a much calmer and happier person.

Don’t Take Anything Personally

I close with some words of wisdom from Don Miguel Ruiz related to his Second Agreement, “Don’t Take Anything Personally.”

You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you.  When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless comments or actions of others.  You can travel around the world with your heart completely open.  You can say, “I love you,” without fear of being rejected.  You can ask for what you need without guilt or self-judgment.  You can choose to follow your heart always, and live with inner peace and happiness.”

Related Posts:

  • Key Principles – Part 1: This post summarizes some of the key philosophies of Louise Hay, author of “You Can Heal Your Life,” the book which is the foundation for The Healing Project.   Among the principles examined is “we are each responsible for our own experiences” and “every thought we think is creating our future.”
  • Handling Discouragement: Part of what happened to me today is that I became discouraged.  This early post primarily deals with larger areas of discouragement, including career and health woes, but the advice given is applicable to more “in the moment” obstacles as well.  In particular, the recommendations for taking a “time out” and getting into action are useful.
  • Self-Acceptance: During our most trying situations, it’s likely that we aren’t treating ourselves with love and acceptance.  This post outlines a simple exercise from Louise Hay that is focused on increasing self-acceptance, as well as my experiences and insights from doing the exercise.