A Paradigm Shift in New Year’s Resolutions

art Christmas and 2016 New year party background

Last summer, I spent a few days at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City to see Mata Amritanandamayi, known throughout the world as Amma [“Mother”], the Hugging Saint. Amma has inspired and transformed more than 34 million people through her hugs, her spiritual wisdom and her network of global charities, known as Embracing the World. In 40 countries, Amma feeds the hungry, educates children and women, builds homes and provides healthcare and disaster relief for those in need. When asked where she gets the energy to help so many people, Amma answers, “Where there is true love, anything is effortless.” I watched this woman for three days as she hugged and inspired people for free no matter who they were, what they looked like or how much money they had. She stayed up all night long just to make sure each person who came to see her received a hug and had a chance to feel loved.

During the event, Amma told a story about a woman who boarded a bus. The woman sat right behind the bus driver and as he drove she gave him some peanuts. The bus driver did not want the peanuts but ate them because he did not want to insult the lady. A few minutes later she gave him some more peanuts and he reluctantly ate them again. When she tried to give him peanuts a third time he asked her, “Why did you buy a bag of peanuts if you don’t want them?” She responded to the bus driver, “Oh no, I hate peanuts. But I love chocolate. All they had at the store was chocolate covered peanuts. So I am eating off the chocolate and giving the peanuts to you!”

Amma told this story to make us reflect on how we give to other people. She said that people often give by writing checks with some extra saved money or give something away that they no longer need. This is all wonderful, yet, she questioned how often are we willing to give up what we truly love and enjoy for the benefit of another human being? How inconvenienced are we willing to be to help our neighbor, a friend or a stranger? She said if we think about it honestly, many of us are licking off the chocolate and only giving up the peanuts just to keep our lives the way they are today. Based on the current state of the world, Amma was helping us see that this way of thinking is no longer enough.

I have been struggling with this idea in my own life and it occurred to me that a small step in the right direction could be shifting the paradigm on New Year’s Resolutions. Instead of just planning to lose weight, exercise more, earn more money, go on a great vacation and find the love of our lives, MAYBE we can add a resolution or two for the sake of someone else who needs our attention or help. Maybe we can skip Sunday brunch with friends and volunteer at a hospital or identify a literacy program and teach someone to read. Maybe we can delay our purchase of the newest iPhone and instead give some money to a food bank. Maybe we can stop less at Starbucks and instead donate that money to a children’s hospital or provide a micro loan to help someone start a business in an impoverished country. Maybe it’s okay to sleep one less hour in order to listen to a person in crisis or skip a few workouts to help clean up a community park. Maybe we can stop looking at work emails for the sake of efficiency while riding the elevator and instead have a conversation with an elderly neighbor. Maybe we can volunteer to help out at a homeless shelter instead of bingeing on a television show. Maybe we can go to a protest against gun violence or another cause we feel strongly about instead of sleeping late on the weekend.

Amma inspired me to consider that Maybe it’s okay if our usual resolutions aren’t totally achieved. Maybe our bodies will be a little less toned, we will spend less time with friends and have less cash for take-out dinners. But if we are able to be a little more giving, MAYBE, just maybe, someone other than ourselves will be better off. And MAYBE, by shifting one resolution at a time away from our own needs and towards loving someone else, we will have made the greatest New Year’s Resolution of them all.

Originally Published in Psychology Today

 

Why Is It So Difficult To Be A Positive Thinker?

A happy cartoon man with Positive thinking concept is on the paper.

I have spent most of my life trying to to be a positive thinker. Each morning, I’d wake up and try to put a positive spin on everything in front of me.  However, often times before I even got out the door, something unexpected happened and I would be thrown off course. It could have been as simple as spilling my coffee and I would start to feel the day was not going my way.  Still, I would take a deep breath and try to return to my positive thoughts; but as the day went on it became harder to hold onto this positive outlook. Sure, good things would happen to me each day, but also unexpected events would happen that I perceived as bad or “life not working out.”

As I started working as an attorney at a large law firm, life became more complicated and so did my struggle with positive thinking. I would still try to start each day with positive thoughts but it became more apparent that I couldn’t control the events around me. If a partner at the law firm did not like my legal memorandum or the firm lost a longstanding client, I projected what each event might mean for my job in the future. I worried that I might get fired or not get a raise. Sure, these were only possibilities, but these thoughts consumed me each day. My fear of the unknown and “what could happen tomorrow” seemed to have a more powerful effect over me than my positive thoughts. Ultimately, at the end of most days, I felt negative and fearful of what the future might bring.

Nevertheless, as the years passed, I persevered and continued my journey of trying to be a positive thinker. When I came across Norman Vincent Peale’s, The Power Of Positive Thinking, I was so re-inspired that I tried even harder to be a committed positive thinker. I began to hold onto my positive thinking so tightly that, instead of battling between negative and positive thoughts as I had before, I now found I could force away the negative thoughts with positive ones.

I later learned that there was a problem with my new practice. I realized that we can’t push down a negative thought completely, because it stays inside us, festers and grows. In fact, after a short while of only permitting positive thoughts, I had a horrible nightmare in which many people that I loved died.  I woke up petrified and when I fell asleep again I had the same dream.  I had never had the same dream twice in one night or a dream with so much negativity and loss. To this day, I believe these nightmares surfaced because I was not permitting my mind to be negative. I was suppressing my feelings and then the pressure became so great that my mind released a tremendous amount of negativity when I fell asleep and could not consciously control my thinking.

After decades of struggling with the pain and pressure of trying to shape my perceptions, one day I heard a simple Taoist story that introduced me to the idea of Maybe. The very minute I heard this story all the experiences in my life immediately changed.  I was struck with the realization that every situation has multiple possible outcomes and within those outcomes is always the hope that whatever is happening, Maybe it will lead to something good, Maybe circumstances will improve, or Maybe I will find a way to accept the situation and still be okay.

For me, it was the perfect combination; I could stay positive but with Maybe I could accept and dilute my negative thoughts. Once I accepted that life could unfold in infinite ways, I was no longer stuck in my negative projections of the future. I began to live with the continuous realization that Maybe something else could happen other than the thing I feared most. Since embracing Maybe I am now a much more effective positive thinker. Negative thoughts no longer hold sway over me because I know they are just a limited view of all that is possible.

As I held this mindset of Maybe and transitioned my work to become a business and life coach, I started to see how many of us struggle with positive thinking. In fact, most of us start each new endeavor with hope and a positive outlook that we will be successful. We start businesses, take new jobs, save our money for a new home, marry and much more. Then life throws us a curveball and something happens that we didn’t expect. The economy could change, we could lose a good job, our business’ profit might decrease dramatically or trouble might brew in an important relationship.

For many of us, when we don’t see the results that we had hoped for we worry and get stressed that things won’t ever work out or will get even worse. We create negative projections about what the future will bring based on what happened in the past. Because of this, some of us give up on our dreams completely or we live with tremendous stress and worry that leads to serious emotional pain and sometimes even physical illness.

With the mindset of Maybe we can hold on to our goals and just find new ways to achieve them. We can stay positive and open because we hold onto the realization that we are not “stuck” and that life can unfold in many ways. We are not “leaving things to chance” but instead we are expanding our minds to embrace all that is possible. In turn, Maybe shows us more opportunities to find the life we are seeking.

I hope you are able to embrace Maybe in your life. It is just one simple word, but MAYBE it changes everything.

 Originally Published in Rewire.Me

Soothing the Pain of Rejection When “Mother Teresa” Unfriends You on Facebook

Close up on a man and a woman holding hands at a wooden table

.that love is not what you want, it is what you are. It is very important to not get these two confused. If you think that love is what you want, you will go searching all over the place. If you think love is what you are, you will go sharing it all over the place. The second approach will cause you to find what the searching will never reveal.  —Neale Donald Walsch

As we all know, Facebook’s biggest perk is being able to keep in touch with people that we knew long ago or just met this morning. However, our interactions on Facebook can also bring the feelings of REJECTION when people you know UNFRIEND YOU. I was quite unaware of the impact of the “unfriend” button until a few days ago. A friend of mine, whom I can easily describe as one of the most giving and altruistic people I have ever met, recently won a very prestigious award for her work. While we are not best friends, we have done some nice charity events together and I thought we had a strong relationship. So the other day, I went on Facebook to share news of her award with my friends and I noticed that she is no longer my Facebook friend. What did I do to be UNFRIENDED by the closest I would ever come to someone like “Mother Teresa?”

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When Seeking Pleasure Turns Into Emotional Pain

Mother and daughter walking together at beautiful autumn day

Yesterday I was walking down the block with my daughter, a cup of tea in hand. As I sipped my tea, feeling the crisp fresh air on my face and listening to my daughter’s lovely voice, I felt joy. I experienced everything as wonderful and peaceful – here was a truly perfect moment. But as we neared home, all of a sudden my sense of being joyous in the present left me. I longed for the walk to continue. We entered our building because I had a scheduled phone conference, but I kept thinking about how I had felt just minutes earlier. I no longer felt peace or joy and was now experiencing a twinge of sadness. I wanted to continue the pleasure of the walk home with my daughter instead of going back to work.

There is nothing wrong with desires and pleasure seeking; it is perfectly normal to want wonderful things and experiences. Most of us are engaged on a daily basis in seeking pleasure one way or another. We may seek it through work, sports, hobbies, helping others, engaging in learning or other special endeavors. But longing to repeat an experience that has already happened is a type of pleasure-seeking that can leave us feeling miserable. Our minds become so focused on repeating a past experience – even one that happened just five minutes earlier – that we can’t appreciate the new moment we are in.

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