Archive for June 2010

Gratitude and Victimhood Can’t Coexist

June 30, 2010

For this week’s audio message, click here.

How often to you feel like a victim? If you’re anything like me, probably more often than you’d like to admit. Although I usually pretend to be too “evolved” to play the role of victim in my life, I do catch myself at times feeling, thinking, and talking in that old, familiar, “oh poor me” kind of way. Can you relate?

I remember one of my mentors telling me years ago, “Mike, you can’t simultaneously be grateful and victimized.”

The more I reflect on this piece of profound wisdom, the more I realize how true it is. Whenever I find myself feeling as though “It’s not fair,” or wondering “Why is this happening to me?” – I notice that I’m not at all in touch with anything I’m grateful for in those moments. On the flip side, when I take the time to focus on what I appreciate about myself, those around me, my life, and/or life in general – it’s almost impossible for me to experience victimhood at the same time.

I got a wonderful email recently which exemplified this power of gratitude over victimization. Here’s the note (with permission from the man who sent it to me):

Hey Mike,

I just finished reading your book Focus on the Good Stuff and I had a breakthrough that I wanted to share with you.

I’ve never been a good sleeper. For the past 17 years I’ve had to medicate myself to fall asleep. On a good night I wake up once; on an average night, two maybe, three times. I’ve done all the things you’re supposed to do to encourage better sleeping habits. Some nights when I wake up after 3 AM, that’s it, I’m done. I can’t will myself back to sleep – my day starts at 5 AM with a morning trip to the gym – which then makes for a very long day.

Now for the good stuff…One night several weeks ago I lay awake in the middle of the night. I tossed and turned and started to fret about not being able to get back to sleep. On my night table I saw your book which I had been reading earlier in the evening and I reflected on a couple of themes – appreciate myself and be grateful – and I started to think about what those meant to me.

I lay there and made a mental list of all the things in my life that I was grateful for, and in no time at all I was fast asleep. No longer worried about what would happen if I woke up in the middle of the night, the next night when I awoke I made a mental list of all the things I appreciated about myself. It was easier than I thought and soon I was asleep with a smile on my face.

While I’m not quite ready to give up my sleeping pills yet, I’ve been able to shift my head space when I wake in the middle of the night. So my new approach is not to stress about why I’m not sleeping but to reflect on all the things that I’m grateful for or what I appreciate about myself.

Three weeks later, it’s been working like a charm – I’m sleeping better and I feel better in the morning.

I don’t know if I will be able to stop with the sleeping aid but waking up in the middle of the night is a whole lot more pleasant.

Sleeping easier…with gratitude,

Ian

What a great email, eh? Instead of feeling like a victim for his sleeping issue, Ian has chosen to use his wake-ups as an opportunity to practice being grateful. Not only is he deepening his capacity for gratitude and appreciation, but it sounds like he’s suffering and worrying a lot less, and ultimately sleeping better…how cool! Gratitude is powerful!

Here are a few things for you to think about and do, in order to expand your own capacity for gratitude in the face of situations, relationships, and circumstances which may have you currently feeling like a victim.

– Notice where you feel victimized. Where do you feel like a victim in your life right now? Maybe you have a big issue or challenge related to your health, finances, work situation, love life, or family. Maybe there are some smaller “annoyances” in your life – sitting in traffic, waiting in line, dealing with difficult people, etc. – that leave you feeling a bit victimized. Take some honest inventory, without judgment, and notice where you go into victimhood yourself.

– Ask yourself what you’re grateful for. Asking and answering the question, “What am I grateful for?” is one of the most powerful things we can do, especially when we’re dealing with a challenging situation. Remember, appreciating something or being grateful for it doesn’t necessarily mean you “like” or “agree” with it – it simply means you recognize the value of it. When we can acknowledge the value of something, even and especially when it’s painful or difficult, we take back our power from it and tap into some of its positive influence in our lives. Choosing to be grateful for the specific things we’re challenged by is one of the best ways we can transform these situations and our lives.

– Think about, feel, and express what you’re grateful for. Gratitude is a wonderful concept and a transformative practice. Most of us know the importance of being grateful, but we can only benefit from it when we experience our gratitude. We can’t be grateful in theory (or in the past or the future), we can only be grateful NOW. Whether we choose to find the silver lining in difficult circumstances, use the situation (as Ian did) as a opportunity to focus on some of the things we appreciate about life, or simply remember to focus on what we’re grateful for at random times during the course of our day – gratitude is one of the most life-altering emotions we can tap into and experience as human beings. And, the great news is that we have access to gratitude any time we choose.

Where in your life are you feeling victimized? What can you find to be grateful for about that specific situation? How can you shift from victimization to gratitude in a way that will make a difference in your life? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Trust is Granted Not Earned

June 17, 2010

(For this week’s audio message, click here.)

How easily do you grant your trust to other people?  What factors play into your ability or inability to trust certain individuals around you?  What do people need to do to earn your trust?

As I personally reflect on these questions, I’m reminded of both the importance and complexity of trust in our lives, our work, and our relationships.  Trust is one of the most critical elements of healthy relationships, families, teams, organizations, and communities.  However, many of us have an odd or disempowered relationship to trust – we’ve been taught that people must earn our trust, when, in fact, it’s something we grant to others.

I learned early in my life that it wasn’t always safe to trust people – my folks split up when I was three, I went to tough schools and found myself in some difficult situations, and part of my “street-smart, survival kit” was to be very suspicious of just about everyone I came into contact with. While this did serve me to a certain degree as a child and adolescent (at least in terms of survival), as I got older I noticed that my resistance to trusting others created some real issues in my life and my relationships.

No matter how many “tests” I put people through in order to have them “earn” my trust, at the end of that whole process, it was ultimately up to me to grant them my trust (or not) – and then to continue to trust them (or not).

We each have our own internal process about trust – much of which is based on past, negative experiences.  In other words, we get burned, disappointed, or hurt in life and then decide, “I’m not doing that again” and we put up barriers around ourselves to keep us “safe.”

While this makes rational sense, it usually leaves us guarded, leery, and insecure – unable to easily create meaningful and fulfilling relationships with people.  The irony is that no matter how guarded we are, how thick the walls we put up, or what we do to try to keep ourselves from getting hurt and disappointed; it usually happens anyway.

One of my teachers said to me years ago, “Mike, you’re living as though you’re trying to survive life.  You have to remember, no one ever has.”

What if we granted our trust more easily?  What if we were willing to make ourselves vulnerable, to count on other people in a genuine and healthy way, and to expect the best from others authentically?  Michael Bernard Beckwith calls this being “consciously naïve,” which may seem a little oxymoronic on the surface, but at a much deeper level is very wise and profound concept.

Will be get hurt?  Yes!  Will we be let down?  Most certainly.  Will people violate our trust?  Of course.  However, this will happen anyway – it’s just part of life.  Ironically, the more we are willing to grant our trust consciously, the more likely we are to create a true sense of connection, cooperation, and collaboration in our lives, relationships, families, teams, and more – even if we feel scared to do so or it seems counter-intuitive at times.

We almost always get what we expect in life.  What if we start expecting people to be there for us, to do things that are trust-worthy, and to have our backs and our best interests in mind?  As with just about everything else in life, it’s a choice.  As Albert Einstein so brilliantly stated, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

I choose “friendly,” how about you?

How easy is it for you to trust people?  Are you willing to start granting your trust more easily? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Are You Willing to Be Uncomfortable?

June 9, 2010

(For this week’s audio message,  click here.)

How comfortable are you with being uncomfortable?  I know this may seem like a paradoxical question, but it’s not.  In fact, Michelle and I took a workshop this past weekend where they emphasized the importance of being uncomfortable – related to expanding our growth, success, fulfillment, and more.

Over the past few days I’ve been taking some real inventory of my own life and looking at how willing (or unwilling) I am to be uncomfortable myself.  I notice that in certain areas of my life, I’m quite willing to be uncomfortable; while in others, not so much.

There seems to be a direct relationship between my willingness to be uncomfortable and how much excitement, creativity, and abundance I experience in a particular area of my life (both now and in the past).  In other words, the more willing I am to be uncomfortable, the more I find myself growing, accomplishing, and transforming.  On the flip side, the less willing I am to be uncomfortable, the more stress, resignation, and suffering I experience.

Our egos are highly trained at keeping us “safe” and making sure we avoid any and all “risks.”  However, it’s difficult (if not impossible) for us to take our lives, our work, and our relationships to where we truly want them to be if we’re not willing to be uncomfortable in the process.

Being uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily mean that things have to be overly painful, dramatic, or challenging (although sometimes they will).  When we’re uncomfortable it’s usually because we’re doing or saying something new, we have something important at stake, or we’re taking an essential risk. These are all beautiful and critical aspects of life and growth.  Think of the most important areas of your life, your work, and your relationships – I bet there were and still are elements of these important things that are uncomfortable for you.

When we’re willing to be uncomfortable, we lean into our fear, try new things, and go for it in a bold and authentic way.  It doesn’t mean we know exactly what we’re doing (in many cases we won’t).  It also doesn’t mean we won’t fail (which, of course, we will at times).

We all have the capacity to be uncomfortable – we’ve been doing it our entire life (learning to walk, talk, ride a bike, drive a car, do our work, and so much more).  However, instead of trying to “survive” the uncomfortable aspects of life – what if we embraced them, acknowledged ourselves for our willingness, and even sought out new, unique, and growth-inducing ways to make ourselves uncomfortable consciously?

Here are a few things you can think about and do to enhance your own willingness to be uncomfortable.

1) Take inventory of your life. Where are you willing to be uncomfortable and where are you not?  The more honest you can be with yourself about your own willingness (or lack thereof), the more able you’ll be to make some important adjustments and changes.  Be authentic and compassionate with yourself as you make this inquiry.

2) Identify your fears. There is always a specific fear (or a set of fears) that exists underneath all of our resistance.  When we’re not willing to be uncomfortable, it’s usually because we’re scared.  If we can admit, own, and express our fears in an honest and vulnerable way, we can liberate ourselves from their negative grip.

3) Create support and accountability around you. The best way I know of to challenge ourselves and step out of our comfort zone, is to elicit the support of others and make sure we get them to hold us accountable.  There may be important things for you to do – that you know will take your life, work, and relationships to the next level – but they seem intimidating (i.e. uncomfortable).  Getting people you trust and respect to help you, coach you, and push you is one of the best ways to make it happen – even and especially if you’re not sure how, or worried you can’t do it.

Being uncomfortable is, well, uncomfortable.  But, it’s one of the most important things for us to embrace if we want to live a life of real meaning, purpose, and passion.

How willing are you to be uncomfortable?  What can you do right now to consciously step into being uncomfortable for the purpose of your growth, expansion, and fulfillment?  Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Be Your Own Cheerleader

June 2, 2010

(For this week’s audio message, click here.)

I recently saw a wonderful video on YouTube that has been making its way around the internet of a little girl passionately affirming herself and her life in the bathroom mirror (“My whole house is great, I like my hair, I can do anything, I like my family,” etc.) If you haven’t had a chance to see it, check it out – it’s adorable, funny, and a beautiful example of appreciation in action.

I showed it to my four year old daughter Samantha (who is close to the same age as the girl in the video).  Samantha loved it and asked me if she could do the same thing herself.  She ran into the bathroom, got up on the counter, and began to do her own affirmations in the mirror.  It was beautiful, hilarious, and quite heartwarming to see her cheering about herself and her life in such a positive and passionate way.

Not only was Samantha excited about doing this, there was no shame, guilt, or embarrassment on her part as she did it.  Her baby sister, Rosie (who is almost two now), is a big fan of laughing, smiling, and kissing herself in the full length mirror we have in our bedroom.  So cute!  I’m amazed and inspired by how many little ones seem to have an innate sense of appreciation for themselves, as if it’s hardwired into them at birth.

Sadly, this high regard many of us have for ourselves and our lives as babies, toddlers, and even little kids, is often “trained” out of us as we learn the ways of the “real” world.  Directly and indirectly we hear and see things that lead us to believe that we are not good enough, need to be fixed, and are fundamentally flawed.  We also learn early on that it’s not cool, socially acceptable, or even appropriate to act, think, or speak about ourselves in ways that may be perceived as overly positive or downright arrogant.

Even for those of us, like me and most of you reading this article, who understand the importance of self appreciation and self love, the act of expressing and experiencing love for ourselves can be tricky.  Once we get over the negative stigma or our fear of being judged (which is often an ongoing process), we then have to deal with our own obsession with criticizing ourselves, as well as the fact that we may not actually know how to love and appreciate ourselves in an authentic way.

However, when we truly love ourselves, most of what we worry about and even much of what we strive for in life becomes meaningless. We may still have some worries, and we’ll definitely continue to have goals, dreams and desires. However, from a place of true self appreciation and self love, the fear behind our worries and the motivation for our goals dramatically changes from something we have to avoid or produce in order to be accepted and valued to something we’re genuinely concerned about or really want to accomplish.

In other words, when we wait for other people, the accomplishment of specific goals, or the manifestation of ideal circumstances to create the excitement, joy, and inspiration for our lives – we give away our personal power and live in an insatiable way.  Cheering for ourselves with passion, and with a true sense of love and appreciation is not arrogant, it’s actually required if we’re going to live a life of fulfillment, gratitude, and meaning.

Arrogance is based on fear and insecurity.  Whenever I catch myself doing or saying anything arrogant (which I do on a pretty regular basis), it’s because I’m feeling insecure, wanting someone to like me or be impressed with me, or trying to compensate for some perceived “lack” within or about myself.  There’s nothing “evil” about us being arrogant, it’s just not all that much fun for us or others – and living our life from a place of arrogance can cause a great deal of pain, suffering, and hurt for ourselves and those around us.

Authentic self appreciation is about loving, valuing, and honoring ourselves, our gifts, and all of who we are – both light and dark.  The words, thoughts, and feelings may seem similar to arrogance, however, they’re not.  Energetically, self appreciation comes from a very different place within us than arrogance does.  The more we practice loving and appreciating ourselves, the easier it is for us to tell the difference.

Here is a list of some things you can do to practice loving, appreciating, and cheering for yourself in an authentic and powerful way:

  • Speak about yourself positively
  • When someone compliments you – breathe, let it in, and say “thank you” (don’t discount it)
  • Say affirmations to yourself in the mirror, and use your first name (i.e. “I love you, Mike”)
  • Write down things you appreciate about yourself in your journal on a regular basis
  • Send yourself an email or card of appreciation – from you, to you
  • Buy yourself flowers or some token of appreciation that makes you feel good
  • Ask for the acknowledgment you’d like
  • Make requests of others (remember that you don’t have to do it all yourself)
  • Take time for yourself and by yourself
  • Celebrate your successes (big and small) and pat yourself on the back regularly

Many of the things on this list fall into the category of “simple but not easy” for most of us.  And, there are clearly many more things each of us can do and practice as we enhance our capacity for self love and appreciation.  The key is our intention, not what we do specifically.

If we start to think of ourselves as our most important ally, friend, and, ultimately, cheerleader, we can alter our own internal relationship and begin to count on ourselves in new, inspiring, and important ways.

Being our own cheerleader is not about bragging, boasting, or being better than anyone else – it’s about honoring, appreciating, and loving ourselves in a real way.  On this journey of life we are with ourselves in every moment – the more capacity we have to love ourselves, the more ability we have in turn to love others and share our gifts with the world.

What can you do to be your own cheerleader in your life right now?  What do you appreciate and love about yourself?  Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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