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…

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

beautiful curly hair girl vector illustration

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

Living Life To The Fullest

So much has happened in the world since the brutal killing by ISIS of American journalist, Steven Sotloff, almost eighteen months ago. I came across part of a letter that he wrote to his family before he was killed and it seems appropriate to share a blog post I wrote on September 15, 2014 about his death as a reminder to us all about how we live each day.

Azure Flowers like Butterflies / Surreal sketch
“Everyone has two lives. A second one begins when you realize you only have one…. Hug each other every day. Please know I am OK. Live your lives to the fullest and pray to be happy.”

–Steven Sotloff

My friend called me last week to discuss the brutal killing of journalist Steven Sotloff. She told me that the news of his killing, along with the murder of journalist James Foley, had her curled up into a ball in her closet sobbing at the violence of the world we live in. She felt that it was a terrible loss of two brave, good souls who were in the world to make it better.

As we both took a deep breath and long pause I read to her the above quotes from Steven Sotloff’s letters, which were secretly smuggled out of the prison camp where he was held. He left us all with a profound gift to reflect upon and possibly integrate into our lives and I wanted my friend to see that light within all of the darkness that she was feeling.

I think most of us know what Steven meant when he said, “Everyone has two lives. A second one begins when you realize you only have one.”  How many times have we lost a friend or a loved one and committed ourselves to not wasting another minute and appreciating every day of our lives?  Or were we sick and got better and said we will never take our lives for granted again?  Maybe a terribly stressful situation worked out and we vowed to have more appreciation for what we have and not worry so much.

There are people in the world, like Steven and James, who face unimaginable situations that are truly horrific. But the problems most of us that are reading this post have are less so. For most of us who have a brush with stress, danger or death and vow to appreciate our second lives, as time goes by we often forget our commitment to the preciousness of each moment. The daily stresses of our lives consume our minds and we go on automatic instead of savoring that great cup of coffee, our walk with our child to an appointment or a quiet evening at home.  We return to the first part of our lives where we think we can put off the joy and passion for another day in the future.  We think if we just put our time in now, there will be time later to enjoy the best of life.

For Steven Sotloff, I suspect his acute awareness of how precious life can be was inescapable and it propelled him to let his family know that every day must be lived to the fullest.  It seems he became very familiar with the knowledge that each day can be your last or it can change in a way that leaves you longing for the carefree days when you took it all for granted.

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