In Unpredictable Times, Our Greatest Enemy Is Our Need for Certainty

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It’s understandable why many of us reached an extreme level of fear and anxiety about Donald Trump becoming President of the United States. Donald Trump made comments during the campaign that scared us, including comments we thought were racist, misogynist, xenophobic and anti-environmental. His rhetoric was so frightening that many people came to believe that in order for everything to be okay, Hillary Clinton needed to win.  We told that story to ourselves, to our children and to anyone else who would listen. Pre-election, Hillary Clinton’s win became the only possible outcome we could imagine in order to feel safe and secure. Now here we are one week after the election, and the one thing we thought we needed for our survival, security and well-being did not happen.

At any given time, much of our suffering comes not from the moment we are in, but instead from our projection of what will happen in the future.  In reality, we have no idea what will happen next. We never have and never will.  Don’t get me wrong, based on many things that were said during the campaign, it is very clear that people need to act today to fight for what they believe in, whether it be women’s rights, the rights of minorities, or clean energy. But beyond this moment, we really have no idea what will happen tomorrow, next week or next year.

The good news is that uncertainty about the future can actually be our best friend and our liberator.  Not knowing what will happen next leaves us open not solely to doom and gloom, but to other possibilities as well. For example, MAYBE more people will join political organizations and be more active in government and in their communities. MAYBE more people will run for office. MAYBE things will get worse and then get better. MAYBE a Trump presidency will be a mixed bag of good and bad. MAYBE everything will still be okay. And MAYBE this is the result we needed to unite and make the changes we want to see. The point is that we don’t know and our not knowing is the basis for our hope.  It is the foundation for us to resist clinging to our sorrow and fear of tomorrow, and instead to place our feet firmly on the ground today. It is a call to action based on what we know in the present as opposed to projecting our worst fears and anxieties. Negative projections about the future just make us sick. Projections of our fear and worry make it possible that we will not find the strength and resilience needed in the coming months and years ahead.

Part of living in the open space of “not knowing”, is also not grasping at certainty. It was very interesting to witness people’s reactions to the stock market increases since the election and Donald Trump’s meeting with President Obama at the White House.  It made some people feel safer and more certain about the stability of the market and prospects for a Trump presidency, but safety and certainty are feelings that can make us complacent. Sure, it was nice the two had a friendly and professional meeting, which may have even brought some hope for the future, but we should not confuse HOPE with our need for CERTAINTY. When we feel we’ve achieved our goal of certainty, we tend to want to stay home and watch television instead of helping our neighbors, fighting for new gun legislation, advocating for equal pay or working toward other important goals. Often, when we feel certain, we aren’t active and don’t vote.  When we feel certain, we don’t fight for the things that are important because we think they will always be there or that things are good enough so we don’t need to get involved.  Well, if this election has taught us anything, it’s that there is no certainty. We may be lucky to come to this realization today because if we truly want the world to change we will need new ideas and new leaders.  Our complete openness to the unknown future is the path where these new possibilities exist.

So hang on to the Maybe.  Stay present and take action regarding the issues that are important to you. Don’t get sidetracked by encouraging speeches and don’t get wiped out by new legislation you oppose. Carry on with the knowledge that nothing is certain, everything changes and MAYBE everything can still be okay and MAYBE even get better in time!

 

The Day After the Election, Will We Still Be Friends?  

Russia October. 10, 2016. Debates on election. Two speaker on tribunes. Vote for me. Concept of voting, ellection and balloting. Election campaign. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

Now that the Presidential debates are over, we can start to think about what life will be like after the election on November 8th.  This election season has not only been tough for our country, but also has wreaked havoc on many of our personal relationships. Friends and acquaintances have argued for months on Facebook regarding positions the candidates have taken regarding crime and foreign policy, and both sides have contemplated hitting the UNFRIEND button.   Siblings have fought about immigration policies and the meaning of what constitutes a sexual assault and are left wondering if they can still have Thanksgiving dinner together.  Best friends who have spoken daily for decades have stopped calling each other because of differing opinions about who is best for the Supreme Court and the truth of the latest allegations against each candidate. There is a little girl at my niece’s school who refuses to have a play date with anyone who supports a particular nominee. I, myself, have gotten into a few arguments this campaign season with people in my life whom I have loved for a long time.  I began to judge their hearts and values based on their political positions, taking me to a dark place.  I wondered how I could ever enjoy their company or even speak to them again if I truly believe they have assumed harmful, hateful views, supporting someone I believe to be untrustworthy and unfit to be the leader of the free world.

I sat with my feelings for many months, and I came to the realization that how we vote does not represent the entirety of who we are as people.  Now some may argue with me based on what has been said or done by both Presidential candidates this season, but if we all think about it, my statement is true.  I have seen friends who have argued on Facebook about gun control and nonetheless are devoted parents, or charitable people and amazing friends. Siblings fighting over immigration policies have stood by each other through divorces, illnesses and the passing of their parents.  Best friends who are now hardly speaking have previously taken each other’s kids to after-school programs, attended charity events together to feed the homeless and even helped clean up parks on weekends.  All of these wonderful qualities in each of these people make up the fabric of this country, and these qualities are arguably as important as their vote in this presidential election.  Yes, who we vote for says a lot about who we are, but it does not define everything in our hearts.  People are complicated and why they vote a certain way or see the world the way they do is based on a lifetime of successes, failures, hopes, and fears, and dreams for what they see as a better tomorrow.

This country will need to heal in the days, weeks and months following the election. In my opinion, the only way to do so is to look for the good in each person in your life and try to repair these relationships and our communities. Lead by example by getting involved with the issues brought up during this campaign season that matter to you. Most of all, choose kindness to everyone, even those who do not agree with how you see the world, while continuing to stay truthful to who you are and what you believe.

The most amazing thing about this country is the infinite ability for all of us each day to find common ground and begin again.   So on November 9th, let’s start over and invite our siblings and anyone else we have disagreed with this election season back for Thanksgiving dinner. Just MAYBE the divide will seem a little smaller when we focus on how important we are to each other and how important community, family and friendship is in all of our lives.

Originally Published in Psychology Today

 

 

Letting Go Of The Past: Always Look At What You Have Left

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Always look at what you have left. Never look at what you have lost.
Robert H. Schuller

When I was young I had big hair.  My hair was curly, black and frizzy and it caused me to stand out in a crowd.  People were always saying to me, “Allison you have to do something about that hair!”  I became a bit insecure about my hair and tried everything to make it straight and not frizzy.  My hair became something that always bothered me.  Over the last ten years, I have noticed that my hair is a little thinner than it was and I am often battling new grey hairs.  I look back on my childhood hair and miss it.  I miss the fullness and the shine.  Yet when I had that hair I did not appreciate it and I was struggling with my hair again for different reasons.  Then a few months ago, I was out on the street and I saw an older woman with some bald spots.  In that moment, I was struck by the thought that I could be that woman one day (it could be any of us).  I realized that in thirty years I might be thinking about my hair as it is today and missing it; possibly missing the grey hairs that might have fallen out and left some bald patches.

Longing for the hair of my youth is not the most painful or significant thing in my life.  However, it is a simple example of how we hold on to the past.  Some of us long for our twenty-something bodies, our carefree childhoods or the opportunities we had when we were younger.  We also obsess about relationships that ended years ago, a former job that we really enjoyed or money lost in the stock market.  There is nothing wrong with remembering these things we once had in our lives, but sometimes these memories are the source of our pain. The reason it can be so painful is that often we cannot recreate the past and we compare it to what we have in the present. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have great things come into our lives in the future, sometimes even better things. If we lose a great job, we can get another terrific job. We can set goals and do our best to achieve them.  Yet everything changes and, for better or worse, the past is no longer with us.  Everything in this moment is different from yesterday and the day before.

So we have a choice. We can continue to long for what was and live with pain in this moment or find another way.  There are ways to get the most out of this moment, even if it is not what we hoped for, dreamed of or expected.  Here are three steps to help you try to let go of yesterday and embrace today with less pain. This can be a slow process and certain things we hold onto can be tougher to let go.  But try these steps and see if you feel a little lighter.

1.      Acceptance.  When we refuse to accept where we are in our lives, it causes pain.  Arguing with “what is” is like banging your head against the wall.  It hurts! Acceptance does not mean we won’t try to improve our circumstances, but we need to be able to remember yesterday without holding on to it so tight.  It is not an easy task to let go of youth, a relationship or something that was very important, but the pain of clinging to something that can no longer be is excruciating.  I don’t write this lightly, and understand the struggle of acceptance.  We are asking ourselves to let go of a very meaningful past as we try to accept “what is.”  But if we don’t let go we are shouldering a burden and limiting ourselves from finding new ways to live and new hopes and dreams to pursue. Take a moment and think about a few aspects of your life that you are not accepting. How would it feel not to struggle with it anymore? Can you accept this circumstance and relax into the moment? You can accept your situation and still try to improve your position in the future.  Try the mantra, “I did not expect this, but I accept this. Maybe everything is still okay.”  I use this mantra often and find it gives me a foundation for finding acceptance. It helps me feel hopeful that I can live with my present circumstance and find a way to move forward.

2.      Appreciation.   When I saw the woman with bald spots, I was not judging her appearance but was realizing how everything changes whether or not I am holding on to the past.  Allowing myself to appreciate what I have in this moment brought me more peace and acceptance with my current circumstances.  Sure, I was just thinking about hair and not an illness or the loss of a job, but the same mindset can apply to most aspects of our lives.  Appreciating what we have in any moment, from good health to a good meal, from a friendship or our memories of friendships, helps us to be more content with what is today. We can also appreciate how lucky we are to have had those cherished experiences from our past!

3.      Something new. Sometimes we need to try something new to create some distance from the past.  Take a class, apply for a new job, volunteer, take up a sport or a new hobby.  It will help your mind get busy with the present instead of thinking about yesterday. When we allow ourselves to engage in new activities, we inspire new thoughts, and we often meet new people. Our new activities might not be what they used to be or even what we expected at this point in our lives, but action can move us forward with joy and open us up to wonderful opportunities.  We start to see that life was always moving forward and only we were hanging on to the pain of yesterday.

Acceptance, appreciation and finding something new: a good recipe for reducing our daily pain of longing for yesterday. Today has its own gifts if we are willing to be present enough to open them.  MAYBE the best is yet to come!

Are You Too Focused On The Things That Bother You?

New York City - Historic buildings on Gay Street in Manhattan

Last summer, one of my friends invited me to her house for the weekend. As soon as we pulled up to her house, she started to yell about the weeds that were growing by her porch. She spent the first thirty minutes of our arrival in a bad mood, complaining about the gardener not doing a proper job and how her husband should have taken care of the matter. Interestingly, as we stepped out of the car I was admiring the beautiful setting in which we’d be spending the weekend. Just getting out of the city and smelling the fresh air was a treat. Also, the house and yard were charming and had me thinking how lucky my friend was to have such blessings in her life. I don’t mean to say that my friend should not be upset about the weeds, but her reaction overshadowed all that was wonderful in that moment.

I returned home two days later. As I walked around the city on that very hot day, I noticed I was walking around thinking about everything that was wrong and bothered me. I had thoughts like, “the city is really too smelly on a hot day,” “this restaurant should have better air conditioning,” “that store has a distasteful display” and “green is an ugly color for that car.” I had walked by beautiful buildings, lovely shops, neighbors, and so much more but I was only thinking about the stuff that bothered me or that did not fit how I like things to be. All of a sudden I realized I am no different than my friend. I was hot and bothered and searching for all the things that were not right. These thoughts were not the big issues in my life, but were creating some negativity and keeping me focused on being hot and cranky. At that moment, I caught myself and decided to actively search for beautiful things for the next few minutes. I saw a mother walking with her adorable child, I smelled the fresh juices from a raw foods restaurant, I admired the colorful apples in a bin outside a grocery store and noticed all the beautiful flowers in front of an Italian restaurant at which I had never eaten. I immediately felt more joyous. Sure I was still hot, but I just kept looking for the beautiful block after block. After a while I expanded my mindset to include things I saw that I wasn’t sure about or that might normally bother me. I decided to see it all as interesting and to be more curious. I noticed that when it is really hot outside an iced coffee tastes like heaven, people are more likely to speak to you in Washington Square Park in the heat than in the cold and the architecture of the hotel across the street is stunning. I even took a peek in the “ugly” window display of that store and noticed some lovely original art work with vibrant colors. It made me smile.

This simple exercise really changed the quality of my moment and created a better mindset for the day. You can try it while at home, with your friends, at work or just walking down the street. Here are some examples:

1. Home. If you are sitting at home or doing chores, focus on everything that is clean or is working well. This way the little mishaps or messes won’t bother you as much and you can enjoy everything else. If something is broken, try to see it as interesting or try being curious. My dishwasher was leaking two times in six months. When the repairman came the second time, I decided to be curious instead of upset about my resulting slightly warped floor. I learned about the different parts of the machine and found new ways to load and care for it. Sure I would rather have had a working dishwasher but I tried my best and did get something out of it.

2. Relationships. If you are with a friend who says something at lunch that hurts you, try to remember the rest of your conversation as well. Sometimes we get stuck on the one thing a person said that caused hurt and forget everything they said that was positive. You can also do this with your children or your spouse. We can harp on things about them that upset or aggravate us or search for the good stuff too. Often we forget that people around us have some beautiful qualities and we stop enjoying them because we don’t look beyond the stuff that bothers us.

3. Work. Instead of focusing on how annoying or rude your co-worker is, look for her/his good qualities. Try to see the benefits of a project you are working on instead of dreading the long hours it will take to complete. Try to create new ways to approach routine tasks. Maybe being more curious will enable you to see something interesting that you never noticed before. Work can sometimes be a tough environment for a new perspective, but keep at it. You might even find you become more productive when you are willing to see everything with a different state of mind.

4. Walking or Shopping. As for our walks or time shopping, look for what is pleasing, different or fascinating I sometime walk around and say to myself, “that is beautiful,” “that is interesting” or “I wonder how that works.” It makes my walk intriguing and more joyous. The quality of my time out in the world greatly improves when I remain open minded and curious, trying new foods and meeting more people. I also tend not to think about my daily stress and worry because I am busy experiencing the moment from a better vantage point.

It is truly amazing how much joy and possibility you can add to your life when you shift your mindset to see all that is beautiful or interesting. MAYBE give it a try and let me know how you do!

Originally Posted in Psychology Today