A Survival Guide For Uncertain Times Week #3: Give up Positive Thinking

American optimism and positive economic sentiment in the United States of America as a national government hope metaphor as a wiper clearing the gray dark wet clouds with 3D illustration elements.

It is the end of week three of Donald Trump’s presidential term, and this week my Survival Guide will address the pitfalls of positive thinking. I have spoken to many people who didn’t vote for Donald Trump and are now struggling with his daily tweets, executive orders and Cabinet appointments. I find that many of the people I spoke to are either completely negative about Trump’s Presidency or are trying to stay positive and failing miserably.

When you are completely comfortable with uncertainty, a positive outlook comes naturally. You are not rattled by new events or tweets and can sustain faith that life will work out one way or another. It doesn’t mean you are not concerned or active in your community, you just tend not to worry so much about the future. Most people, though, have some degree of fear of the unknown, and turn either to negative or to positive thinking to help themselves feel certain, while deep down they are really afraid. The problem is that the certainty we seek doesn’t exist. The more we try to lock into any perspective, the more pain and chaos we feel.

A person feeling negativity towards the Trump administration will feel pain most of the time because they are always projecting that whatever is occurring today cannot get better or that bad things are sure to happen in the future. The person Continue reading…

A Survivor Guide To The Trump Era: Embrace Uncertainty

PHOTOART fantastic adventure in a storm

A week before the inauguration of Donald Trump, I was on an airplane going to Florida. There was a tremendous amount of turbulence on the trip so I gripped both of my armrests tightly. As I braced myself, my body got very tense and I started feeling stressed and worried. It occurred to me after several minutes as my shoulders became tenser that it was ridiculous to hold my armrests for security—I was 30,000 feet in the air!  I released my hands and placed them in my lap. I started just to breathe deeply. I slowly became calmer as I sought to let go of my fear. The turbulence lasted for most but not all of the flight. When we landed in Florida, it was 80 degrees, sunny and very pleasant.

I imagine many people can relate. The turbulence on the plane made me uncomfortable because it triggered feelings of uncertainty about my safety. In everyday life, many of us feel emotional turbulence when life is uncertain.  We try to avoid these feelings by making careful decisions about our jobs, relationships and our kids.  Even though intellectually we know certainty does not exist, we strive for it, trying to play it safe and taking solace in our decisions. But life is filled with unexpected events, and the minute something unforeseen happens, the uncertainty of the situation can activate fear and negativity about what might happen in the future.

This is one of the reasons why Donald Trump makes so many people uncomfortable.  He brings our fear of uncertainty right in front of our noses every day.  He brings us turbulence.  Whether you like Donald Trump or not, he reminds Continue reading…

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!

 

Do You Need a Particular Outcome to Be Happy?

Your new house

Although I rarely practice law anymore, these past months I’ve been trying to help my cousin purchase his family’s dream home in New York.  My cousin and his wife have one child and another on the way.  Because of my emotional attachment, it has been difficult dealing with the many bumps and challenges of this transaction.  Yet I believed that I could get this deal done for them.  It became so important to me in part because my cousin had been very sick at one time and the opportunity to buy this home seemed like a new beginning for him.  In my mind, I actually started to believe that my cousin needed this particular deal to happen for his happiness and well-being.  My cousin does not have a lot of money and this house would be stretching it but affordable.  It was located near his job and in a good school district.  Yesterday we got word that the bank wouldn’t lend them enough money to get the deal done.  I was so upset and feeling very down last night about the news and I was only able to sleep a few hours.  As I woke up this morning, I realized that I was feeling down not because they didn’t get the house; I was down because I had slipped out of Maybe.

The minute I started to believe my cousin needed this particular home for his happiness and well being, I had doomed myself to stress, fear and disappointment.  No matter what had happened, the house did not hold his happiness.  I fell out of Maybe because the bank’s rejection destroyed my high hopes and I interpreted that to mean my cousin’s dream of owning a nice home was no longer possible and what I wanted for him and his family could no longer be attained.  In reality, however, all that really happened is that life was not fitting into my plan, or my story for my cousin’s life. Once I opened my heart to Maybe again, I realized that there are always many more possibilities than the one we envision.

Just like I did with my cousin’s scenario, it is easy to slip out of Maybe on a daily basis.  How often, for instance, do we believe that we need to get a particular job or promotion for our lives to be going in the right direction? Or that a particular stock must go up for us to be financially secure, or that we need to land a particular client to further our careers?  How often have we yearned for a certain person to like us so we can be happy?  Story after story we tell ourselves, reinforcing the belief that life must unfold in certain ways to guarantee our well-being and success.  Logically, most of us would agree that there are many ways to achieve a particular goal, but emotionally we fail to live with this knowledge in our daily lives. When the emotional attachment to our stories defies logic, we fall into a trap. And stay there, and stay there.

For me, when I returned to Maybe, I realized that Maybe there are other homes to buy and other choices my cousin can make for him and his family.  As my cousin and I sat with all these possibilities today, our inner wisdom began to guide us to other ideas to qualify for the mortgage or to find another home.  In fact, there is a cheaper home down the same block that he had not considered because he thought it was too small.  We figured out today that Maybe it’s not too small after all.  We know we don’t have all the answers to help his situation, but we are open and hopeful that we will find his family an affordable home, good schools for his children and ways to reduce my cousin’s stress. In the land of Maybe, his options have no limits.

So today, try to list all the inner stories that you keep thinking what must occur in the future for your happiness and well being.  Do these stories about what needs to happen next in your life make you stressed or unhappy and are you losing sleep?  Now think to yourself: Maybe. Maybe this event will happen, or Maybe there is another way to achieve your goals or Maybe there is something else out there for you that you can’t see right now.  Let Maybe allow you the room to breathe and stretch and open up to all that is possible.

Let Maybe give you ground to stay hopeful until you find your way!