Letting Ourselves Off The Wrong Hook

I was uncomfortable even writing that title because so much of the personal work I’ve needed to do over the last few years was to let myself off of the hook (the perfect Mom hook, the perfect student hook, the perfect whatever hook), BUT this particular hook that was brought to my attention this weekend intrigues me.

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. day in the U.S. Tributes were plentiful. And I do indeed find it right to honor the memory of that man and his work. One tribute got me to thinking. The speaker suggested that there is a danger in making a saint of MLK, of lionizing him too much, of thinking he was so much more than a regular man.

When we make a hero of someone, they become something extraordinary, something above the rest of us, something unreachable, perhaps entirely unattainable. And as we raise them up in honor, we let ourselves off the hook in our own actions, our own goals, our own choices. We can’t possibly expect that much of ourselves for we are just regular people.

WOW. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

There really can be two reactions to our heroes. They can inspire us to action, or they can make us sure that we couldn’t possibly have that kind of impact, be that good, achieve that much. We raise people up so high that we sell ourselves short.

I’m not going to spend the time here to remind everyone that Martin Luther King Jr. was just a man, because I have hero worshipped him for so long that that position is uncomfortable for me. But I can tell you something interesting that I heard in that same tribute. MLK was away from home 90% of the time during the most active part of his organizing career. He was with his family and children 10% of the time.  I say that not to judge his work life balance, but to point to the effort required to achieve what he did, to point to his doggedness rather than his saintliness, to highlight his determination rather than his salvation. The man worked his behind off. He was not merely gifted; he did the work.

happy kid play superhero , boy power conceptWhat would happen if we made our heroes more accessible? If we stopped believing that they are unicorns and started believing that we are just as capable as they are of making change, of creating new and better ways of doing things, of helping people be better, of becoming better people ourselves? What would happen if we believed that we could be as extraordinary as our heroes? What if, as Jung suggests, the things we admire in others are just untapped potential in ourselves? What would you do first if you could be your own hero?

Get It All Out, Get It All Done

I’ve been talking a lot about our stories lately, the things we tell ourselves about ourselves, about other people, about the world. But a lot of our stories aren’t even as big as all of that. We have stories on the micro-level too. We have stories about our day, about our workload, about our priorities. Well, maybe you don’t, but I sure do.

I have one persistent story that shows up often, especially if I haven’t gotten enough sleep. In fact if I made a chart to track my bad sleep nights and mornings I have this thought, I think they’d line up pretty darn well. When I haven’t gotten enough rest, my morning mantra is “I won’t be able to get it all done.” Now when I say it’s a mantra, that makes it sound like I’m doing it on purpose, that I’m choosing it, that it might be helpful. I know it’s not. This story about my day, about my workload, about the next several hours is completely counter-productive, and that’s what makes it such a great example to demonstrate the value of getting it all out. Let me explain.

How to be more productiveThis very morning I was doing that thing. “I won’t be able to get it all done.” Once the thought happened, the anxiety increased and once the anxiety increased I got a lot less clear about my plan for the day. Once I got less clear, I began to lose track of everything I actually did or didn’t need to do and after this went on for awhile (in the background while assembling lunches and nagging 5th graders out of the door), all I really wanted to do was turn on Netflix, pop Facebook open, and drink a mug of tea – the very things that would, in fact, make my annoying thought true. I wanted to self-soothe by numbing out a little to shut that nattering voice up. But I didn’t do that, at least not today (I won’t go so far as to claim that I am completely and permanently beyond that kind of behavior).

Today I whipped out a clean piece of paper. And I wrote. I wrote it all down. I wrote down all of the anxious, nagging, self-confidence killing thoughts that were whizzing through my head. I just kept writing. I got to the end of the thread and my jacked up brain started just repeating itself, wanting to be sure I really understood that I couldn’t possibly get it all done. I kept writing my thoughts and that one repeated three times at the end of a lengthy paragraph, like a needle skipping on a record. And I laughed a little when that happened. What better sign that my brain was stuck in a loop, what Brooke Castillo calls a “thought error” than having it just repeat the same sentence over and over when it was out of other words? I don’t run out of words very often, as you may have noticed, so that kind of repetition is worth a pause. The point of this whole writing exercise was to get it all out, just let my anxious brain have its moment to say it all.

I gave voice to the fear and the anxiety and in doing so, it lost some of its power. I became the observer of my own thoughts and feelings instead of reacting and feeling like I was trapped. I began to see how allowing that set of thoughts was impacting me. I could acknowledge that the desire for a morning off was based solely on the way those thoughts made me feel, well and maybe a little lack of sleep. I got it all out, like one big verbal vomit. And, well to be honest about the analogy, just like vomit, it made me feel better.

Then I was able to look at my day and decide if that thought was true. Was it really true that I couldn’t possibly get it all done? Was there really so much on my plate? If the answer was yes, I would have a series of decisions to make (as described here), but as is so often the case when I’m stuck in this particular mental trap, I didn’t have SO much to do. I did have some important things to do that I hadn’t thought about very much. I had some items that were at risk of falling through the cracks, but had not yet done so. I made a quick list of those items and set it aside.

How to change your moodAnd then I got down to the business of choosing a new thought, one that would make me feel better, that would allow for action beyond the great escape of Netflix and Facebook (I will always drink tea), and that would give me results that DON’T prove the negative thoughts I have about myself. Instead of “I won’t be able to get it all done,” I chose the perhaps only mildly ambitious but totally believable: “I will be able to get everything important done.” It didn’t make me feel like Wonder Woman – because I’m tired and that’s just not somewhere I need to try to go today. But it DID make me feel calmer and infinitely more competent. It also reminded me that some list items CAN be let go in the interest of clear-headed productivity.

I got it all out. I checked out my thoughts. I chose a better one. And that better thought allowed me to feel capable, calm, relieved and competent. Feeling that way allowed me to sit down with my planner and figure out exactly what needed doing and when, making a schedule for myself that I could follow and get results. And you know what happened? I got it all done. I got it all out and then I got it all done.

The Path of “We” and “Me”

I went to a masquerade ball on Saturday night. Yes, that’s what I said.

I hesitated to go. My husband is away for monthlong classes at seminary. It was EXCEEDINGLY cold (not really conducive for ball-wear). And I had a great lunchtime event that I felt like called for a few hours of putting my feet up.

But my friend wisely said: “Your children are with your sister. My husband will drive us both. C’Mon Cinderella. It’s time to have some fun.” And so I did.

photo-booth-wedding-party-girls-160420And I had SO much fun. I danced like I haven’t danced for YEARS. Got all sweaty haired and disheveled. I felt the freedom of doing something that was fun and doing it exactly the way I wanted to do it. I drank champagne. I nibbled on divine snacks. My girlfriend and I tried to figure out who was who behind all of the masks. And when the songs were right, we tore it up.

People expressed some sympathy that Scot couldn’t join us.

But honestly, he’s having SO MUCH FUN doing his thing. He calls all excited about theology… I try to keep up.

Last year I saw this month long requirement of his as a huge burden. I was angry. Not necessarily at him because that felt mean, but at the school for running things this way, at the extra work I had to do, at the inconvenience of it all.

This year there’s something different happening. A coach friend shared a vision of relationships as a path, and that sometimes there are divergences on the path – like when you’re hiking and there’s a little side trail that avoids the big rock in case that’s not your jam. She said people are often afraid of those divergences – what if we grow apart? But here’s a question I’d offer instead: what if we stop growing at all? What will we miss out on if we never take that divergence – if we always stick on the “we” path and never sidestep for a “me” minute?

When I was at the ball I noticed a young woman (her gown was fabulously sparkly) who very clearly LOVED to dance. She was dancing and singing along with the music most of the night. Her partner in crime was NOT as enthusiastic. And so, she spent a good bit of that dancing in a sort of muted way next to her partner’s chair. When she couldn’t stand it anymore, when the song was just too good ,she’d rush to the dance floor without him. I also saw him graciously concede a few times and join her for a slow song.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I couldn’t help but wonder if she wouldn’t have more fun if she just followed that side path a little more often. If she wouldn’t feel more like herself, and he wouldn’t love the confidence and magic that comes with that feeling, if she could just trust that the “we” path could survive a few more minutes of unrestrained “me.”

How about you? Which path are you on? Do you like your reasons for being there? Do you feel like yourself? It’s worth a moment to consider.

I’ve done that. I’m going to go dance some more.

The Year of Yes AND No

Many of you may not know, but once upon a time, I was an environmental policy analyst. I was then a high school history and civics teacher. I am a mother of twins.

I have spent a LOT of time saying no.  

If I could calculate it, I suspect I have spent years of my life saying no in countless varied and creative ways. There are realms in which I, quite frankly, excel at saying no. Malcolm Gladwell says 10,000 hours brings mastery and I’m pretty sure I am a NO master if that is the criteria. 

But here’s the interesting thing, my capacity for saying No has always been narrow and deep. 

we say no a lotMy music partner will tell you I easily reject music and musical opportunities. My husband will tell you I readily reject movies, books and other artistic expressions that don’t interest me or suit my taste. My children, well, that’s a long list, but still somewhat focused – on their health and well-being.

By contrast, there have been huge areas in which I have, at least until recently, been completely incapable of saying no. 

  • I was incapable of saying no to demands for my time from friends, family, tradition or obligation.
  • I was unable to say no to suggestions about my professional career from people I respected.
  • I was unable to say no when credit for my work was co-opted by my male colleagues while I worked for a government contractor.
  • I was unwilling to say no to professions that drained me of my life force and made me feel terrible. 
  • I was incapable of saying no to old family stories about who I am and who I can ever be.
  • I was unable to say no to my own impossible vision of motherhood.

During this time of failing to say No to so many fundamental things, I said yes, either directly or implicitly, to far too many things.

 And my days grew full and tiring.

And my energy waned.

And my zest for life fizzled.

Years ago, a counselor I saw after a nearly fatal miscarriage asked what it would take for me to stop. What would it take for me to slow down, be more discerning about what’s necessary, put myself in the equation, take care of myself on a fundamental level? My sessions with her were short-lived. She had the right message, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. So, I didn’t. Instead:

  • I trudged on in a degree program that I didn’t want to actually complete.
  • I volunteered to be the matriarch for my in-laws.
  • I organized people, things, events.
  • I prided myself on holding impossible standards even as I felt the wound of failing to meet them so regularly.

Because that whole time, I thought I was saying YES to life.

I thought the more yes I could say, the more “good” I was being, the more “good I was doing. 

It turns out I had my yeses and my nos all mixed up, and sorting that mess out took some real soul searching.

It took taking the time to identify the old family and personal narratives about my character – calling them out: “I see you. I hear you. But I think you are lying to me. I’m saying no to you

It took getting really clear about what kinds of messages, what kinds of requests actually made my life feel fulfilling not just full. It took new tools. It took new perspectives. It took me learning to say yes to my own wisdom and to the truth of my heart and using that as my guide rather than the old storybook I had so carefully constructed. It took a lot of work, this shuffling of my responses to life.

Because I really want to say yes, a lot. But I want to say yes to the things that will nurture the best parts of me, that will help me to grow, and that will allow me to share whatever gifts that I might have with the people around me.

And so I want to show you a trick. And if you’re anything like I was, this may seem a little weird. But as a current expert on Yes and No, I’m going to ask that you bear with me.

If you are comfortable doing so, place your feel flat on the floor and close your eyes. For a moment I’d like you to just check in with your body. How do you feel physically? Any tension? Any discomfort? Just notice it but don’t linger on it. Deep breaths.

Now I want you to think about a moment in your life that was decidedly bad – don’t worry I won’t leave you here. Just think about it and then see how you feel in your body. Notice anything? Maybe upset in your stomach. Maybe tension in your throat or shoulders? Notice how it FEELS to you. Make a mental note that THIS sensation, this is NO.

Now shake your head or your hands and take a breath to clear away that memory. And now, think about one of the BEST moments you’ve ever had. Something that was truly great, with no lasting consequences or ill after-effects. Something that was clearly and unarguably good. Notice how THAT feels in your body. THIS my friends, this is yes. That scare-cited tingle in the chest, that feeling of expansion, that warmth in the belly and that relaxed open throat. THIS is yes.

THIS is what you want more of.

Maybe you’ve never noticed this information before. Maybe your yeses and nos have been distributed in a more rational way.

So, why turn to the body? 

Because our brains get caught up in the story and get distracted by shiny objects. It’s not to say that our brains can’t be trusted at all, but other data sources can only help.

What I’ve learned is that using the guidance of my heart, and my BODY, I’ve been able to say YES to the experiences that I seem to deeply require. And I’ve been able to apply my NO to things that just don’t serve me, or, at least don’t serve me anymore.

What to say yes toAs we part, I’d ask you to consider where you’re currently applying your YES and your NO. What story are you letting in? What heart evidence are you denying? Are you full but not fulfilled? Saying yes to life often means starting with a few Nos and then learning to utter a YES directly from your heart.

Concerning Resolution Bashing

I’ve seen a lot of memes out there… I could probably start many different blog posts with that same phrase… I’ve seen a lot of memes out there taking a poke at the idea of making a resolution or starting afresh in the new year. And I get it.

pexels-photo-221247I think I’ve probably been in the resolution bashing camp in the past. I’ve decided it was silly to make myself a promise of change just because the calendar says it’s time to and when I know that in the past those promises have worn out by mid-February. So I get it. I get that hearing someone declare that they’re going to be a new person in the new year makes some folks roll their eyes and maybe even utter a chuckle or a sigh. I get that we know that those kinds of promises can be hard to fulfill. I get that so many of our good intentions don’t turn out the way we want them to. I get that seeing someone rearing with enthusiasm we don’t feel can be uncomfortable. But really?

Are we really against the idea of someone deciding to try to change, even if it’s never worked before? Are we really wanting to mock someone who’s trying to improve themselves? Are we so sure that you wouldn’t succeed that we’ve decided the whole enterprise is ridiculous? I think there are lots of reasons behind this resolution bashing thing, but I can only talk about my own.

When I was a resigned resolution basher, it had everything to do with previous failures and being terrified of success. When it came to my weight I didn’t want to make a resolution because I knew my enthusiasm would wane in a few months. Why make a promise I can’t keep FOREVER? When it came to changing some of my habits, I decided that “I yam who I yam” (even if I don’t like it very much). When it came to taking some risks in my professional life, well, yeah, no resolutions there because that’s just WAY too frightening.

I’ve done some work on all of those things – without resolutions, and looking back at those moments from the other side makes me wonder if making a resolution is all about success. Maybe there are other things to be gained in that whole process. Maybe trying and failing is better than staying firmly planted exactly where we are. Maybe a resolution is an opportunity to force a little action, and sometimes a little action is all it takes.

pexels-photo-636243The truth is that this opportunity of celebrating the new year with a new goal is one that shouldn’t be missed. Maybe you’re not interested in buying a gym membership that you will only use for a month. But maybe you DO have a super secret goal, a tiny burning desire that you haven’t told anyone about. Maybe this moment in time when we get to start new things on a clean page of a fresh planner is a great time to ask yourself what you can do today to get just one step closer to that super secret goal. And then tomorrow? You can take another one. Maybe that’s all it needs to be. You don’t need to tell anyone. You don’t need to declare it on Facebook. Maybe you just need to say it to yourself so you can stop hiding it from your heart and from your amazing brilliant brain. Give that dream some energy and some air; maybe something can come of it after all.

Happy New Year Friends.

xo,

julia

Sometimes It Takes A Little Courage

Here we are, one day away from a new year.

2018. Part of me sees that number and just goes: “Wow.”

As in: “How did that happen so quickly? When did we get to 20… anything?” And there’s a little calculation of my age in there too.

But when I interrupt all of that, which is standard new year’s fare, I really can marvel.

When I interrupt all of that and think about what has changed for me in 2017, I am more in WOW than usual.

In my last post I suggested a way to do a mini year in review, and I’ve been playing along as well.

And in some ways the results are predictable. There are big parts of 2017 I will be delighted to let go of. But there are also big parts that I just kind of stare at in wonder. I’m amazed at the changes I see in myself. I amazed at the changes I see in my business. I’m amazed at the changes I see in my relationships. Wow.

chase your dreamsAnd so I enter this arbitrary restart point that is new year’s eve with the confidence and courage that really pushing yourself can bring. I’ve been doing the work (inside and out) and things are changing. And I’ve noticed that even when they don’t work out just the way I expect, they still get better. I see my own growth. I see my own progress. I can note how my learning, effort, planning, and time have changed my life for the better.

So I can come to my vision for the next year with some sense that whatever I’m dreaming up IS possible. I’m coming to this moment with a whole lot more “YES” than I’ve been willing to give in the past. I’m willing to take risks, work hard, and possibly even fail because when I do those things, my life is better. I feel better. Everything gets better.

It was not always this way for me. At some point in the not so distant past, I had to face this moment without the confidence that experience can bring. I had to face having a vision, a new idea for my life, a new hope with huge uncertainty in anything but my inability to accomplish what I imagined. I faced that moment with tremendous fear and a sinking feeling that it would never work.

If you feel that way when you look into the future, if you see no chance for change in your year to come, I want to tell you that you are wrong. And I’m going to ask you to take action anyway.

I get the impression that a lot of people think that courage is the absence of fear. We think that we need to somehow conquer our fear, banish it, overcome it. I’m going to suggest to you that courage is simply acting even though you are afraid. That’s it. That’s all it is, a decision to do it anyway.

There are lots of ways to go about this. You can imagine that your fear is a small suffering animal that needs you to be compassionate to it before you act anyway. You can imagine a chair where you can tell fear to go sit while you do the scary things. You can imagine that your fear can just exist and that you can notice it and allow it to be without doing anything at all about it. Or you can just be absolutely terrified and just proceed.

Finding courage to chase dreamsAnd then you will be acting, with courage, and creating the confidence you need to do it again simply by making that choice.

What would you do in 2018 if fear wasn’t driving the bus? What would you say yes to? What action can you take today that will give you the confidence to take another action tomorrow?

If you need some help creating courage or acting on your vision, I sure would love to help.

In the Post-Present Quiet

One big last hurrah for 2017!

Or maybe it’s not a hurrah for you.

Maybe you’re totally ready to get rid of 2017.

It’s a mixed bag for me. There are parts I would prefer to never do again and parts that make me excited and proud.

Making 2018 greatI find that the time after all of the present and food madness is a really nice time to take a few minutes to reflect on the year that has passed, well before that moment of resolution-making rears its annoying head.

I like to think about what went well this year, acknowledge my growth and my accomplishments. I like to take the time to see the changes I’ve created in my life and, by extension, in the lives of people around me. I make a note of steps I’ve taken, things I’ve done (even if terrified while doing them), and impacts I’ve had. I also like to take a tour through the precious moments that deserve a second showing.

And then, feeling pretty well-buoyed up by all of that goodness, I give some air time to the things that didn’t go so well. Mistakes I made, things I failed at, stuff that didn’t work out, plans I abandoned, battles with myself (lose-lose). I review the heartache and the sorrows. And I ask if there is anything more I need to learn from those moments. I ask the sky, the universe, anyone who might be listening if there is something more to gain from all of that, just on the off chance they might just tell me so I don’t have to sort it out myself.

My review of the past year complete, I do my best to have a vision of the next year. I picture myself on a regular day, perhaps before all of the holiday madness next year. What will I be doing? Where will I be? Who will be there? How will I feel? What parts of my day are exciting? What will have changed? And I notice.  I notice what parts of that vision feel good. I notice what parts of that vision are scary, but still good. I notice what parts of that vision I am perfectly ready to discard as impossible (and I question that thought). I notice what parts of that vision show me the work that I have yet to do.

Making next year betterAnd I use that vision. I use the feelings of the future to guide my present. I set a flag firmly where I want to be and begin to navigate a path with thought, word, and deed that will make that destination inevitable.

So when that moment comes, and someone asks me, I will answer that IF I have a resolution, it is only this: to act on my vision in 2018.

XO,

j

Let Them Be Wrong

A lesson for the holidays and everyday…

In my last post I talked about ways to rewrite our family stories. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to check it out. For many of us taking a look at those old family stories is absolutely critical to emotional adulthood, to clean functionality in the real world, and to having a shot at really creating a life we love. There are all kinds of stories that are dream life and peaceful holiday killers.

TODAY I want to talk about a particular kind of story.

TODAY I want to talk about the kind of story that involves you knowing what someone else thinks of you.

TODAY I will admit that I used to spend a lot of time in this particular kind of story.

I was pretty sure I knew what lots of people thought about me and I spent a LOT of time and energy trying to either repair/change those thoughts or prevent bad ones from emerging. It was totally exhausting AND it was really lonely because about 85% of the time in that scenario I was not being myself. I missed out on genuine connection with folks and friends, I missed myself. There is nothing quite so lonely as missing yourself.

Over the last few years I’ve stumbled into the necessity of examining what I was believing about how others felt about me. It was not pretty. And it was wrong on a lot of fronts. For example:

  1. when people judge youMany of those beliefs were based on old data. One of my old family stories revolved around me being spoiled. I was the youngest, by a bit of a stretch, and as happens with many families my parents’ financial circumstances improved over time. I was dubbed the spoiled one (and yes, it was said, often with good-humored ribbing but on more than one occasion as a character evaluation – here’s what’s wrong with you kind of thing). I’m 48 now. My parents don’t buy my stereo equipment. Old data.
  2. Many of those beliefs were based on the idea that other people’s opinions of me are static. They said it once, they must always believe that to be true. Yeah, because everything I think has stayed completely the same since I was 12…
  3. Many of those beliefs assumed that people spent a whole lot more time paying attention to and judging me than would really be reasonable. Why on earth was I under the impression that they were so interested in what I was up to?
  4. Many of those beliefs were based on the assumption that if other people thought something bad about me, I had to do something about it.

My spoiled story shows all of these things. What’s interesting about this story is not that I took that assessment in, but that I got real clear on the fact that there were family members who saw me that way and I made that their permanent opinion of me. I never worried that I WAS actually spoiled, but I hated it that they thought I was. And I thought that they thought I was spoiled on a continuous and regular basis, as though they were doctors assessing an injury for healing or further damage. I interpreted so many interactions through this lens, and I was determined to do something about it. I thought that I needed to be good, or make it right, or let them see how I really am – surely they would change their minds if they knew me better. They would feel better about me, and I would feel better about myself if I just let them see the right stuff.

when people are meanAnd then one day it dawned on me. I could choose to stop doing anything about this belief. Whether it was true that they were judging me or not became irrelevant if  I could just decide to let them be wrong. That’s it. Because what they think of me doesn’t do me any harm at all if I don’t agree and I don’t get into their business. If I don’t put time, energy, and worry into what’s going on in their hearts and heads, I can just let them be wrong. And let’s just say they ARE judging me… who loses in this scenario? Not me. Because I’m staying out of it. If they want to miss out, so be it. “Who’s opinion of you matters the most?” I ask my daughter whenever some toxic mean girl crap arises at school. “Mine Mommy, my opinion matters most.” That’s right girl. If my opinion of me is okay, then what they think or don’t think doesn’t matter. If my opinion of me is not okay then THAT’s what I should be spending my time on, not trying to figure out how other people feel about me. I can just let them be wrong.

And when I do this, when I let other people be wrong, I am freed from the tyranny of proving myself. I am freed from the push and pull of faking it the right way versus being myself. I am freed from the endless tension that getting in other people’s business inevitably creates. When I do this I am free to relax and just be, and that sounds like a pretty good recipe for a better holiday, or any day.

What would change if you could let people be wrong about you? How much time, energy, and sleep could you reclaim? Maybe it’s time to find out.

 

Rewriting Your Family Stories for the Holidays

There are so many great things about the holiday season, and for many folks that includes spending time with family. For many, that particular part of the puzzle is more complicated than just straight-up joy. There may be a variety of reasons for that complexity, but I guarantee that if there’s baggage there, there are also stories.

A friend of mine likes to say that one of the reasons that our family is so good at pushing our buttons is that they are the ones who helped sew them on in the first place. Our families of origin are co-creators in some of our worst stories. The negative things we tell ourselves are sometimes just echoes of things we were told as kids. The negative ideas we have about relatives may have been formed on the basis of one particularly bad interaction, or a pattern that held 20, 30, 40 years ago. Those stories don’t age well. Our stories get more entrenched the longer we let them stick around, and our ability to see evidence that suggests that we’re wrong diminishes over time.

have a better holiday with your familySo there’s the holiday dilemma for many people. There are still these stories about who we are, about who they are, about the way “we” do things, and then we’re all supposed to get together and have the best time we’ve had all year, which I’d like to point out, is also a story.

Here’s the thing. All of that stuff is optional. All of it, from the bottom to the top. Getting together with your family is optional  – and I hear all of you saying: “but you don’t understand, you don’t know my family. I could never get away with that because….” Yeah. Optional. You can choose not to participate. Might there be consequences? Yes, but it’s still optional. And the way those consequences impact you? Also optional. But I realize that kettle of fish might be too big to consider just this minute.

Let’s assume that you still want to get together with your family, just without so much tension or anxiety or whatever form your holiday complexity takes. You can totally choose to do that. It may take some practice, but it is totally do-able.

First you’re going to need to become a keen observer – not of what everyone else is doing wrong or saying wrong or being rude about – but of what’s going on in your own head and how it impacts your heart. You need to notice what you are thinking about these people and about yourself. You need to notice what assumptions you are making. You need to notice how you are interpreting what they say (even when you have tons of evidence from the past that points to your interpretation being absolute truth). You need to notice what you are thinking that is hurting you. Examples of family stories you might want to pay special attention to: your “role” in the family, how you’ve “always” gotten along or not gotten along with so and so, the way so and so REALLY feels about you, anything you need to prove to anyone, your level of responsibility for the happiness of others – am I hitting anything for you yet?

Here’s the secret about this first step: if this is all you do, it will still help SO MUCH. When you become an observer of your thoughts and feelings, you are far less likely to get caught up in them and react/act impulsively/co-create drama. When you become that observer (the watcher), you give yourself a little emotional distance and it becomes infinitely easier to allow multiple interpretations, to see other perspectives, and to simply allow other people to be wrong, rude, or hurtful without it having to mean anything to you personally. Watch yourself with curiosity and compassion and your family gathering will be a whole different ball game. Notice how things change. Notice the amount of personal power there is in how you respond and react (or don’t).

If you want to take it a bit further, you’ll need to acknowledge that the things that you are thinking may not be actual facts. They may be opinions and you could be wrong. They may be assumptions that you’ve been making for years. They may be someone else’s garbage that you’ve decided to lug around. If you’re like me the idea of just being wrong doesn’t really help, but it sure does when I realize that means I get to decide to think and feel something different. I’ve talked a lot about this thought changing business, but it’s rarely as transformative as it can be when we decide to take on our family stories, those carefully sewn on buttons.

 

So what can you do once you’ve decided that maybe the things you are thinking aren’t serving you? How do you think something different? You choose and practice new thoughts.

And here’s where you think I’m going to hand you a bunch of really sunshiney affirmations – no worries on that front – like, at all,. When you choose to believe something different, you don’t just decide to feed yourself a really pretty sounding lie – even though to be fair you may have been feeding yourself an ugly lie before. When you want to change how you think, you need to choose a new thought that is better than the old one, but still believable. Sometimes you need to give new thoughts a test drive – is this something that’s going to cause me to constantly argue with myself or does it bring a little relief, a sense of possibility, a little compassion to myself or others. You have to choose to actively practice a thought that will improve your situation but that maybe isn’t quite the rainbow glitter unicorn of a thought you’d really LOVE to believe if it wasn’t so incredibly outlandish.

When you feel your old story rearing up, remind yourself that it’s a choice, and actively think that new thought. Remind yourself that you aren’t responsible for everyone’s holiday or that you have no idea what they think of you. Remind yourself that you don’t have to revert to your 14 year old self. Remind yourself that you get to decide who you will be both within and outside of the family.

Reduce your family dramaAnd then notice how you feel. And notice what happens to your complex family gathering. Notice as your ability to enjoy increases and your stress level decreases. Take heart in your capacity to change yourself and, oftentimes, everything around you, just by changing your mind.

 

I Feel the Holiday Swirl

As much as I try to maintain my groove, the holiday season is catching up with me. Maybe it was the announcement by child #1 that clothes that were said to have fit for the piano recital but then were actually put on to reveal a young male gibbon in a white button down. Maybe it was the daily announcement by child #2 of exactly how many shopping days are left until Christmas. Maybe it was the realization that taking that week off means getting more done now. Maybe it was actually looking at the calendar and seeing what I’d done to myself despite having said NO several times. Maybe it was just staying up too late too many nights in a row to have a time of blessed quiet with the reverend. I’m actually willing to put a fair amount of money on that last one.

peace at the holidaysIt’s getting to me.

I’m feeling harried and disorganized.

I’m starting to feel that sense of inadequacy creep in.

I’m starting to wonder what will happen if I don’t do ALL of the things.

I’m starting to panic.

And I feel myself see that panic and immediately lash out with resistance. No! I know better! I can do this better!

And so I answer the panic with repression.

Which works internally about as well as abstinence education does externally.

So I reminded myself tonight, I remembered, that I can feel the panic.

I don’t have to be afraid to feel it because it’s just a feeling.

It’s just a vibration in my body that needs to express itself.

It’s just the scared primitive part of my brain freaking out because if I don’t do Christmas right, I’m going to get voted off the island.

Sometimes to settle that brain, we first just have to let it say its peace.

So now I’m taking a big breath. Go ahead brain. Panic. You are allowed to be here fear. I’m sorry you are so scared. I know you’re going to be okay, but I can see you don’t know that yet. And that’s alright. So just go ahead. Get it all out. I’m going to just sit here and breathe while you do that.

And then, when you’re done with this anxiety tantrum, I’m going to be in charge again. And we’re still not going to do all of the things. And we still might disappoint some people, but I will make all of those decisions consciously so you don’t have to worry that I’m just screwing it all up.

It’s okay little lizard brain.

Just breathe.

And look at the lights.

And know that you are and will be loved even if you don’t make Christmas perfect for everyone.

And know that you are okay and will be loved even if you don’t manage to work as hard this next 12 days as you thought you would.

Feeling lovedAnd know that you are okay and will be loved because you are enough no matter what you do or don’t buy, make, or create.

You are okay. You are loved. You are enough.

All is well.

Feel THAT and you will have a holy night.

In Peace,

j