What Can We Do When Our Plans Don’t Work Out?

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Gratitude is the process of appreciating what is and letting go of what is not. Allison Carmen

My children will be on spring break in a few weeks, which started me thinking about the trip we took last spring to Disneyworld. The first two days were a lot of fun. We also took a detour to Universal Studios to visit the Harry Potter attractions and just enjoyed our time together as a family. On the third day, my older daughter woke up nauseous and I thought it would just pass so we headed to the amusement park. By 2 pm, we were running to the hotel room for what turned out to be a stomach virus. My husband headed back to the park with my younger daughter and there I was in my hotel room at Disneyworld with my older daughter feeling just awful.

As I squeezed myself out the door onto our small balcony overlooking the giraffes (we stayed at the Animal Kingdom), I could hear several children laughing and having a great time. I felt my mood start to drop and had the following thoughts: “It’s not fair that those children get to enjoy Disneyworld and we don’t”; “I can’t believe we spent all of this money to sit in this room”; and “This is the worst vacation ever.” As I let myself dip further and further into this mood, I started to suffer greatly. As I felt myself slipping, I actually asked myself out loud, “Do I really want to have this experience with this mindset? I am in a lot of emotional pain.” I took a deep breath and decided to accept my situation, be grateful for what I had and make the best of it. This shift in my mindset changed everything.

Many of us have read articles and posts about gratitude, acceptance and “making the best of a situation” but we find it hard to actually do it. One of the reasons it is sometimes difficult to shift our mindset is because we are disappointed that we are not getting what we want in the moment. We get stuck in traffic, someone rejects us, we have to work more than we expected, our children need help with their homework but we have something else we want or need to do, or the weather is not cooperating. Life is not going as planned and we are angry and upset.

Yet, in these moments we have a choice to shift our perspective. For me, when I made the choice to see it differently, all of a sudden I felt joy. How could I be joyous sitting in a small dark hotel room with an animal motif with my child feeling sick? I knew her stomach virus would pass and I did not want to give up another moment of life complaining that things were not working out as planned. We put on the television and watched reruns of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Castle and a few other shows that I cannot even remember. We talked and laughed in between moments of her not feeling well. The next day my younger one woke up not feeling so good and we did it all again. It was not my preference to be sitting in the hotel room, but I felt peaceful and content to be with them. They did rally back the following day and we returned to the amusement park. They whined a bit about nausea and we only went on a few rides but we had some laughs and enjoyed the fireworks.

The day we were leaving, we had some time to spare because it was raining. I took a deep sigh of relief that everyone felt okay and we would be headed home in a few hours. I then heard beeping on my phone. There was a tornado warning in our immediate area and we were directed to seek immediate shelter. Instead of thinking this is a lousy end to a difficult vacation, we took cover in a nice restaurant and ended up having a great lunch!

So today, whatever you are experiencing, ask yourself, “Is my mindset causing me emotional pain? Can I accept this situation and be grateful for what is in my life? Is there a way to ‘make the best of it’ and choose joy instead of negativity?” It’s not always easy, but often with some effort we can find the path to get the most out of each moment in life.

So What Is Resilience And Why Is It So Important To Have In Our Daily Lives?

Life and flowers stronger than stone

For most of my life when someone told me I needed to be resilient, it made me think about a football player limping back onto the field after a big hit or a marathon runner jogging that last mile in clear physical pain.  If I was to think about resilience in a business setting, I would equate it with suffering through the emotional and physical discomfort of working 18 hour days for weeks to close a transaction. However, over time I have come to see that resilience is not really about digging deep and bearing pain to accomplish a goal, because when we get there we are usually weaker and exhausted, having compromised so much to achieve our goals.

So what is resilience and why is it so important to have in our daily lives? We know life has its stresses and we won’t be able to escape certain conflicts and problems. But we have a choice to either hold on tight, stressing about each situation and holding resentments going forward, or we can cultivate resilience. These days, for me, resilience means no matter what we are experiencing we are always able to use the moment as a new beginning. It is a practice of learning from mistakes, taking responsibility for our actions, and beginning again in each moment without regret. Now that might seem like a tall order, but with this idea of resilience we can let go of all of the stress and worry and not carry it over to the next day. This way we find our way back to balance and the opportunity to approach the next experience with more joy and ease.

Here are a few tips to strengthen your inner resilience muscle and find that joy and freedom in the days to come:

1.  The most important factor in creating resilience is awareness. We must find strategies to recognize when we are stressed and exhausting our ability to carry on with a clear mind. Before you go to sleep at night, try to list the things in your life that are bothering you. If you feel you have an endless list, pick four or five issues that appear to be giving you the most emotional pain. First ask yourself if each one is an issue that can be solved by making a decision, is it a chronic issue that you need to deal with every day or is it something from the past that you can’t let go.

2.  Now try to lessen the burden of each problem with the mindset of Maybe. Here are some Maybe statements to consider: Maybe whatever you are experiencing can turn out better than you are expecting; Maybe your thoughts about the situation are not true; Maybe there is something to learn in this situation that will benefit you; Maybe the situation needs more time to resolve; Maybe you need to leave the situation to begin again or Maybe you are okay no matter how the situation resolves. Exploring these statements may help you gain a larger perspective on the situation so you don’t hold on so tight to your perception of what is happening.  Every moment can be a new beginning filled with hope and possibility if you remember that Maybe is always at play.

3.  Now that you have gained some perspective from your Maybe statements, try to revisit the issues that are bothering you. If a decision needs to be made, recognize that even if you make a “mistake” there will be more choices and opportunities again in the future. Life does not have one lane and usually does not come down to one moment.   Do the best you can to accept your decision and allow yourself the ability to experience what you have chosen while realizing that Maybe is by your side. If it is a chronic issue, there can still be joy in the moment, and possibly healing or resolution over time. Ask yourself what is left to experience in this moment and allow whatever sunlight is around to shine. Truly open to what life has to offer. If the past is holding you back, try to recognize that you have no idea where a different decision in the past would have left you today, Maybe not for the better all. All you know is that you are here in this moment with the hope and possibility that life can be better today.

If we can hold our stresses and worries without such a tight grip, we can build inner resilience and daily crises won’t knock us off our feet. We will maintain the strength through each experience so when opportunities or possibilities come our way we will be alert and ready to embrace them.

As we create more inner resilience, we will see each moment as a new beginning and recognize that Maybe everything is okay!

 

 

 

Will Regret Hold You Back From Your Next Opportunity?

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 A person is not old until their regrets take the place of their dreams. —Proverb

I can’t even count the number of times a client has come into my office reciting all of their missed opportunities as the reason their businesses are not larger, more profitable, or just more enjoyable. Interestingly many of these people have achieved some level of success to the outside world, but theirs minds are often filled with regret about “how much better” it could have been. Many of my clients’ stories revolve around a venture they did not partner in that is now very profitable, a product that they chose not to develop or didn’t think of, or that they should have expanded their technology or sales ability to be more competitive in the current market.

What is so interesting about their stories of regret is that they never have any setbacks or challenges. The story about their road not taken is smooth and flawless, while the story of their life in their current business is often filled with complaints and regrets. Often these clients believe that they missed one of their “big chances” in life, and it causes them a lot of suffering. I call this type of suffering being stuck in a Reverse Maybe. These clients are re-writing a story about what might have been if they had pursued another avenue in their businesses, but they really have no idea what their businesses or lives would have looked like if they had gone that direction.

Sure, they might have been successful, but maybe these other avenues would have been disappointing or stressful in other ways. They might have partnered in a venture and not got along with other investors making it very difficult. They may have expanded to another product line or technology and ran out of capital. We will never know. The twists and turns of that decision might have taken them to other, unexpected places and maybe not for the better at all. All they really know is that everything in their lives has brought them to this moment with the ability to expand and grow their businesses from this point on.

Here are some tips you can use to help resolve your regrets and be able to move forward with your business, work choices or personal life with less suffering and more joy and hope for new opportunities.

1. Identify a few experiences from the past that still make you feel regretful, unhappy or hopeless.

2. Ask yourself the following questions: “Am I absolutely certain that things would be better today if I had made a different decision during that experience?” “How do I know that it wouldn’t have caused me other problems or an outcome I do not want?”

3. Try to acknowledge that Maybe the decision you regret would not have turned out better had you taken a different course, may not have been better for reasons that you can’t even imagine today.

4. In this moment, call to mind the things about your life that you most enjoy and cherish. Have you accomplished things that you are proud of? Do you have personal and business relationships that are meaningful to you? Would they all be in your life today had you made another decision besides the one you are regretting? Maybe your accomplishments or the things you cherish most in your life are with you in the present because of the decisions that you have made.

5. Regardless how you think life would have turned out, repeat the following to yourself: “Within this moment I let go of my regret and embrace the hope that Maybe I can create the life/business I want from this day forward.”

Letting go of regret is like taking a thirty pound bag you are carrying everywhere off your shoulders. It allows you to accept where you are today with more peace and freedom and dream as big as you want for your future!

For all you know, Maybe the best is yet to come!

Do We Cause Our Own Emotional Suffering?

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A few years ago, I submitted an article to a large online magazine. I was friends with one of the editors and thought it would be a great piece for them to publish. Before I submitted it, I spoke to my friend and she seemed a little resistant to the idea of a self-help piece running in the magazine. I told her not to worry about it if it wasn’t a good fit. After I submitted it through my friend, I did not hear from anyone from the magazine for weeks. When I saw my friend, she did not mention it to me and seemed distant and cold. Every time I saw her after I submitted the article she continued to be aloof and I started to be anxious and worried that I had done something to offend her. I went over it in my mind again and again trying to remember what I said and what I did that could have upset her. I was left with the uncertainty of never hearing back from the magazine and my friend avoiding me.

After weeks of suffering with these thoughts I remembered the following Buddhist story:

A hunter is trying to catch a monkey that is stealing food from his town. Even after a very long time of chasing after the monkey, he still had no luck. The monkey was quite clever and would run fast, climb, and jump from tree to tree. The hunter began to feel it was nearly impossible to capture the monkey. Just as the hunter was about to give up, a wise old man gave him some instructions on how to accomplish the task. He was told to get a rope, a coconut, some sugar and some peanuts. Following the old man’s instructions, the hunter cut a portion off the top of the coconut, leaving a small hole in the center just big enough to fit a monkey’s hand. He then placed peanuts with sugar inside the hole and tied the coconut to a tree with the rope. Since it was getting late, he then called it a night and went home to get some rest. The next morning when the hunter woke up, he went to check on his coconut. Just as the old wise man had advised him, the monkey was there, still running around the tree in a circle with his hand stuck inside of the coconut. The monkey had stuck his hand in the coconut to retrieve the sugary peanuts and held them in his fist. Since his fist with the peanuts was bigger than the hole in the coconut, he could not get his hand out and was stuck. If the monkey had been willing to let go of the sweet peanuts and open his hand, then he would’ve been able to remove it from the coconut and run free. The hunter was not actually the one that caught the monkey, because he had been sleeping the whole night. In the end, it was the monkey that imprisoned himself to the tree due to his unwillingness to let go.

The minute I remembered this story I realized it was ME causing all of my suffering – not my friend. I had been feeling emotionally trapped because I never heard back from the online magazine and I perceived my friend as not acting kind and friendly to me. I had wasted hours worrying about it and not being present to the life in front of me. I realized I really could not know what happened with my friend or the magazine and I had no idea what the future had in store. As I let go of what was “in the coconut” I was able to see that Maybe this was for the best, Maybe something else would happen, and Maybe I did nothing wrong and my friend was going through a hard time or was uncomfortable about my having submitted the piece. All I knew is that I had acted professionally and the rest was out of my control.

Sure enough, some time after I let it go, I was at a function and ran into an old friend who asked me to write a piece about my work with Maybe for his online publication which had a huge readership and eventually, my book, The Gift of Maybe, was purchased by Penguin Random House. This experience really highlighted for me even more that all of my suffering had been just my mind holding on to how I thought life should unfold. I find that as I am able to let go of those kinds of pain-inducing thoughts, I open up to all that life has to offer. Interestingly, when my editor friend heard about the new book deal, she called me immediately, offering good wishes. It made me realize that Maybe she had been going through a hard time and her behavior may have had nothing to do with me at all!

So what thoughts are you holding on to that are keeping you stuck with your hand in the coconut? Are you constantly worrying about what your boss or friends thinks about you or how you will become successful in your line of work? How might it feel if you were to just loosen your grasp on whatever is the root of your suffering? It actually will really help if you are able to visualize yourself letting go of what you were grasping for and imagine you are freeing your hand from the proverbial coconut. Or if you are stuck, just say to yourself, “Let go of what is in the coconut.” Either way, the more you do this exercise or mantra, the deeper your understanding will be of the source of your suffering and how to let it go.

You will find that letting go of even one painful thought makes all the difference. Try to remember that there is always Maybe at every turn and there is more than one way to obtain the sweetness of life!