In an age of inspirational memes, Ted Talks and all manner of leadership and self-help books, it can be easy to confuse intentional living with trying to “be happy” all the time. I’m an optimistic person by nature and I consistently choose to see the good in situations (and people), but that doesn't mean I don't get sad, confused or irritable.
I have always been a highly sensitive person, which means…I FEEL…a lot and often. I have spent most of my life cultivating practices, experiences and relationships that support me feeling more of what I choose, namely: joy, connection, creative expression and the experience of making a contribution. I am quite confident that all the work I have done and the choices I continue to make, shift my experience of life in significantly positive ways. But I have also come to respect the gifts that pain, sadness and grief have to offer me. Many of my life's biggest learnings came at the heals of my biggest hurts. In the midst of some of the most challenging moments, with swollen eyes, and a hoarse voice, I have come to know and appreciate my limits, vulnerability, courage and strength.
I know some amazingly powerful people who are incredible "rocks" and “carry-on-ers". I am in awe of their ability to boldly and independently persevere in the face of pain, devastation and loss. But I also wonder if they are receiving the full lesson that life is offering them in these moments. Pain is a master teacher - and sadness, if not allowed to move through us, finds a place to hide out.
So how do we honor these uncomfortable feelings?
If you took the time to do the above and got to the gift in it, you probably had a moment where your heart and your mind said, “Yep, that’s it!”. And along with that recognition, comes the possibility of moving through it, and transitioning back to more joy and ease. This is the space where you get to claim and own the “something more” you have just discovered for your life. Don’t be surprised if at this stage you begin to feel a sense of peace or even excitement. Crazy ride, right?
If you can have the courage to be with the pain - that is inherent to living and being engaged in life - I think you will discover how much stronger you feel on the other side.
I don’t know about you, but for pretty much my whole life I have worked hard to appear awesome, while praying my shortcomings went unnoticed. Can you relate? Exhausting, isn’t it? The frustrating thing about riding this see-saw of self-perception is that no matter how many highs we feel from our successes on the way up, we are destined to smack our butts on the way down over our imperfections. Despite our yearning to do great big amazing things in the world, we are constantly at risk of being undermined by the fear that we just aren’t the woman for the job.
How do we act in the face of fear? Some are successful (for a time anyway) at bulldozing ahead in life with a middle finger to their fear and a “succeed at any cost” approach to life. Others trudge ahead on the “fake it till you make it” track. And sadly, some of us get locked in an endless dialogue with fear – staying sidelined from even entering the game. I’ve done all of these by the way, and none of them felt completely comfortable or satisfying.
What if there is a different approach to life that doesn’t require us to be a linebacker, inauthentic, or meek in our pursuit of more? I believe there is. I believe there is a sweet spot for all of us that we too easily dismiss. A place where we can simultaneously own our value, strengths, and power – while also embracing the imperfect parts of ourselves.
I am currently obsessed with this notion of embracing my perfect imperfections. Not sure you buy it? Consider someone you adore. Really adore. Now think of all that you love and admire about them. I guarantee as you start to catalog all that is extraordinary about them, you will also embrace their humanity, their inspiring areas of growth, and those beautiful places of vulnerability. It’s so easy when looking at someone that you love! We think, “If only they could see themselves through my eyes…then they would know how fabulous they are and what is truly possible for them.”
So this is my challenge to us. See ourselves through the same loving eyes with which we view our most cherished loved ones. Don’t turn a blind eye to those things that are “not there yet.” Catalog them as part of who you are, along with the rest of you. When we do this, we can start to appreciate the gifts that come from ALL of it. I promise there are gifts and lessons to be discovered in even the most imperfect areas.
Here is a little challenge to help us with our practice. When you find yourself getting snagged by a fearful or limiting self assessment, take a moment to honor the truth of what is, while making room for more. It can be a brief “note to self” moment. You can make physical notes if you like, but a mental in-the-moment thought is just as effective.
Here are a few suggestions to help re-frame a limiting or unproductive thought.
NOTE TO SELF:
We are all just practicing.
My truth and authenticity are part of my shine.
Every graceful and/or clumsy step is moving me forward.
Today I may have triumphs and growing pains…and there is beauty in all of it.
If you would like to share your “notes to self", I would love to hear them.
Go embrace your perfect imperfections. You will feel stronger and more authentic and will set a beautiful example for others to do the same.
Choosing a New Mental Soundtrack
One of the most common issues I come across in my coaching practice is the prevalence of negative self talk. That voice in your head that is constantly working to convince you that you don’t have a chance at whatever the heck it is you might aspire to be/do/have. It’s like waking up each morning thinking you chose the “Happy” Pharrell station on iHeart radio, only to get stuck listening to a continuous play of hopeless Alanis Morissette sob songs. Isn’t it ironic?
The frustrating thing is that it doesn’t seem to matter what your upbringing was, how successful you are, what your professional status is, or how much love surrounds you. When that critical inner voice has the mic, that’s what you hear… what you often believe, and what is likely running your experience of life. It sure does sound convincing.
This “voice in our head” (*notice, it’s never referred to as the voice in your heart) is an outstanding salesperson. Its pitch is impassioned, detailed and so compelling that it is nearly impossible to argue its merits. We listen to this prosecution and quickly concede, “Your right, I’m a total failure.” And even once we concede, the voice tends to carry on, delighting in weakness and regaling us through sleepless nights with more stories of our shortcomings. Sound familiar?
What is its purpose?
Believe it or not, I believe the intention of this inner dialogue is to do good. By keeping us close to what is familiar and known (aka safe), the mind is “protecting” us from change (aka danger), even though it is less than what we truly aspire to be. Our mind can have a tricky time distinguishing between a great big exciting idea and a threat to our well being. And so, it argues for what is known, comfortable and safe in the most effective way possible, terrorizing our thoughts and “saving” us from moving on to something more.
So what is the antidote?
Unfortunately, coming to terms with this internal critic can sometimes exacerbate the problem as we become critical of the fact that we have allowed ourselves to be run by this critical mind. You can see how this can perpetuate an ongoing cycle of more of the same as we play back and forth with critic-shame-critic-shame…
Oh, and simply trying to arm wrestle the negative voice with your happy thoughts often may not be successful either. The inner critic laughs at your affirmations. It knows all too well your weak spots and how to quickly engage you in lengthy, unproductive inner dialogue about “Why?” Why me? Why not me? Why can’t I succeed? Why won’t I ever have…? These mental acrobatics can easily consume your time as well as mental and emotional resources that could have been utilized to envision life-enhancing “What” and “Where” questions like: What is possible? What do I choose now? Where can I give?
The good news is that there is hope! Awareness of the pattern of self criticism - especially in real time - is key. Being able to stand outside of yourself and say “Wow, there I go again.” is a big step. The next step is being able to interrupt the dialogue with a message of “No thank you, I don’t choose to entertain those thoughts.” As simple as it sounds, the act of interrupting and redirecting your thinking can make a profound shift in establishing a new pattern.
Here are helpful guidelines I have seen make a big difference for my clients:
Be Patient - If this has been a pattern of thinking for a while, it will likely continue to pop up regularly. Try to notice it from an outsider’s perspective, “Oh look, I’m doing it again.”
Be consistent and clear as you interrupt the dialogue that you no longer choose to entertain these thoughts, “No thanks, you (critic) are not useful, needed or welcome here.”
Be light-hearted in your observation - this will take some practice (remember, be patient). When you catch yourself listening to or bantering with the inner critic, don’t beat yourself up. Instead try to chuckle, “Oh there I go again. Wow, that was fast, I just caught myself 10 minutes ago.” Know that the more you observe and stop the thinking, the closer you are to establishing change.
Start a new practice of empowering questions. What I am excited about? What can I celebrate? How much fun can I have today while moving toward my goals?
My beloved aunt recently put it this way, “Life moves in one direction…forward”.
The thoughts you think today will likely dictate your feelings. Those feelings will influence the choices you make which ultimately create the results of your life. Choose a mental soundtrack that supports what you want to feel and where you want to go.
Whether you are a super-social woman who is constantly engaging with new people, or more of an internal gal like myself who’s inclined to quiet time; I think we all can become fatigued by our social routines and experience the need for authentic connection with women we are inspired by.
After the birth of my first child, I discovered a whole new aspect of relationships I never expected, a courtship of sorts with other new moms whom I identified with or aspired to be like. Before I even understood why, I felt drawn to connect with other new moms, women I could relate to, learn from and connect with over our common trials and discoveries as we sought to define ourselves in our new role. I was driven to seek out mommy groups and other locations/occasions where I might find candidates. Some of my efforts were the foundation of great friendships and others, well…just weren’t that into me (It happens).
I remember the rush of excitement at being asked for my phone number or to lunch. It was not unlike the butterflies I have with my husband. As we became more skilled at this game, some of my friends and I would celebrate the process as we shared “hitting on” or having been “hit on” by other moms.
As my confidence as a mother and woman grew, there was less of a need for finding women in a similar stage of life or parenthood. But that urge to feed my heart and soul through meaningful connections to women (regardless of age, or family status) has never gone away.
Women are amazing and powerful! We are great at recognizing the wonder and beauty of each other. Perhaps this aspect more than anything is what keeps us coming back. We often fail to fully grasp our own magic, but we are quick to see and celebrate it in the ones we love. It makes sense then that we would want to surround ourselves with other women so that we may see ourselves more vividly – through the loving reflection of girlfriends – while also being that loving mirror for others.
I am grateful to have a diverse mix of soul-sisters in my life. They don’t all know each other, but they all know of each other’s importance in my life. I once described a 25+ year friendship with a girlfriend as if we were two vines wrapped around the same beam, each of us taking turns lifting and supporting the other at different stages of life as we grow and continue our assent toward becoming more.
May we all continue to cultivate relationships with strong women in our life. Soul-sisters are advocates for our dreams, celebrators of our successes and consistent reminders of the extraordinary potential we all hold as women.
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