Archive for September 2010

The Importance of Celebrating

September 28, 2010

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

How do you feel about celebrating?  If you’re anything like me and most of the people I know, you probably enjoy it.

However, I notice that as much as I like to celebrate, I sometimes find it challenging as well. Here are some of the reasons that I use not to do it:

– I don’t have the time or money to celebrate right now, there’s work that needs to get done

– Things aren’t yet as good as they “should” be for me to stop and celebrate

– People will think I’m weird, naive, or obnoxious if I celebrate too much

– With so much suffering in the world and people having a tough time these days, it’s not appropriate for me to celebrate

– I’ll celebrate, for sure, but not until everything turns out exactly as I want it to

Can you relate to any of these?

We were recently at Disneyland with our girls. We love it there! One of the many magical aspects of Disneyland is how they fully embrace the power of celebration. Every day at Disneyland feels like your birthday, favorite holiday, and New Year’s Eve – all wrapped into one. The parade down Main Street is even called “Celebrate You.”

I was really struck by this focus on celebration when we were there most recently and realized that one of the main reasons people come to Disneyland (and keep coming back, like us) is that it’s an excuse to celebrate. And while they do an amazing job at Disneyland with the rides, the characters, the shows, the fireworks, and more – the real magic behind it all is the power of celebration.

Too often in life we think we have to have a “legitimate” reason to celebrate – a birthday, winning an award, an anniversary, the completion of a project, the accomplishment of a goal, taking a vacation, or some other “special occasion.” While all of these things can be fun to celebrate, we don’t have to wait for them to happen to feel justified in our celebration.

At Disneyland they celebrate just to celebrate – on Tuesday mornings and Thursday nights, on special occasions and holidays, and on every single day throughout the year. What if we did more of this in our lives – even and especially when things get tough?

While it may seem counter-intuitive, celebrating for “no reason” and counting our blessings when things are hard can literally transform our experience of being alive.

I was in a cab in Houston a few years ago, heading back to the airport after speaking at an event for Chevron. The cab driver and I got into an interesting conversation about life, family, and the state of our culture in America. The driver told me he was from Ethiopia originally, but had been living in the United States for about twenty years.

I asked him, “What’s your take on American culture, given that you didn’t grow up here.” He paused for a long time; then asked me, “Can I be honest with you?” I said, “Of course.” He then said, “I think most people in this culture act like spoiled brats.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked, a bit surprised by his response. “Mike,” he said, “I’m from Ethiopia…every day here is a good day. I don’t understand why people just don’t walk around here with their hands in the air saying ‘THANK YOU’.”

Regardless of what’s going on in our lives right now, we have so much to celebrate and be grateful for. We don’t have to wait until we close the deal, win the game, finish the project, get to retirement, fall in love, reach out goal, or whatever else it is we feel we need to accomplish in order to celebrate.

Sometimes the best thing for us to celebrate is the mere fact that we’ve made it to this point in life, especially if things have been challenging, which for many of us they have been recently and/or at times in our lives.

Celebrating is not only an after-the-fact phenomenon; it’s a way of being and can become a way of life if we choose to live that way. Stop for a moment right now and think of all the things (big and small) that you can celebrate about your life right now. As Oprah Winfrey says, “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

How much celebrating do you do? What can you celebrate in your life right now? How can you expand your capacity for celebration? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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What We CAN Change

September 21, 2010

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

My friend Rich came over to my office last week and we had a wonderful and authentic conversation about what’s going on in each of our lives right now.  I’m so grateful to have people in my life like Rich whom I can talk to and get real.

Authenticity creates freedom and having people around us we can truly be ourselves with is so important.

Rich and I talked vulnerably about our relationships, our challenges, the things we’re most excited about, and some stuff we’d both like to change about ourselves and our lives.

As we were talking, Rich shared a great email with me he’d recently received about change:

What I CAN Change

  • You can’t change your entire life, you can only change your next action
  • You can’t change a relationship with a loved one, you can only change your next interaction
  • You can’t change your entire job, you can only change your next task
  • You can’t change your body composition, you can only change your next meal
  • You can’t change your fitness level, you can only start moving
  • You can’t de-clutter your entire life, you can only choose to get rid of one thing right now
  • You can’t eliminate your entire debt, you can only make one payment, or buy one less unnecessary item
  • You can’t change the past, or control the future, you can only change what you are doing now
  • You can’t change everything, you can only change one, small thing…and that’s all it takes

Wow – what a great reminder of how life and change truly work.

As I reflected on the power, wisdom, and simplicity of this message, I started to realize how often I get impatient and frustrated with myself, especially in certain areas of my life, when I want to change to happen.  This email reminded me how important it is to take things step by step, moment by moment.

While I do believe in thinking big, in breakthrough results, and in miraculous change – paradoxically, the way life tends to unfold and real change happens is one-step-at-a-time.  And, when we remember this, we allow ourselves to be in the present moment, reclaim our true power, and eliminate a great deal of unnecessary worry, pain, and suffering.

As Lao-tzu taught us, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step.”  Although we all know this and have heard this saying many times, the challenge for many of us is to remember it and live it on a daily basis.

Here are a few things you can do to practice living one-step-at-a-time:

1) Make a list of some of the things you want to change, alter, or improve in your life right now.  First of all, it’s important to remember that none of these changes will, in and of themselves, make you happy (only you can do that for yourself).  That being said, positive change can be a wonderfully exciting and empowering thing for us to engage in and experience.  Identifying what you want to change specifically is an essential first step.

2) With each of these important things you want to change, think of some simple, small steps you can take (today or this week) that will move you in the direction you truly want.  If you get stuck with any of them, ask for help.  And, if you start to get overwhelmed, take a break and remember to keep things simple.  These are what my friend Susan calls “micro-movements,” don’t let your ego take over and judge them as too small.

3) Celebrate each step of the way.  As you notice yourself making different choices, having new thoughts, and taking small, positive steps towards the changes you want; celebrate.  And, if you find yourself forgetting, falling back into old patterns, or unable to take some of these simple actions, celebrate yourself for your awareness and honor your desire to change.  Either way, celebrating and appreciating yourself is essential to the process.

By remembering what we can actually change and how change truly works, we’re able to create true miracles in our lives – one-step-at-a-time!

What are you working on changing in your life right now?  How can to shift your focus to “one-step-at-a-time?” How do you think this will serve and support you?  Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Don’t Believe Everything You Think

September 14, 2010

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

Do you believe your thoughts?  If you’re anything like me, you probably do – especially the ones you think and obsess about most (i.e. the negative, critical ones).  However, what if our thoughts aren’t true?  In many cases, they’re not – they’re just stories we’ve made up over time and continue to perpetuate with our thinking, speaking, and acting.

This past weekend, my wife Michelle and I went to a day-long workshop with teacher and author Byron Katie.  The workshop blew us both away.  Katie (as she goes by) created a simple, but profound inquiry process more than twenty years ago called “The Work,” which consists of four questions and a “turnaround.”

To utilize “The Work” you identify a specific negative thought (a complaint, a judgment of another person or situation, or something you criticize about yourself) and then ask these four questions:

  • Is it true?
  • Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  • How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  • Who would you be without that thought?

After you have investigated your statement with the four questions, you’re ready to turn around the concept you’re questioning.  Each turnaround is an opportunity to experience the opposite of your original statement and see what you and the person, situation, or characteristic you’ve judged, actually have in common.

A statement can be turned around to the opposite, to the other and/or to the self.  You then find a minimum of three genuine, specific examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.

For example, let’s say you have an issue with your friend Joe.  Your statement might be, “My friend Joe is too critical of me.”  If you turn this around, it could be: “My friend Joe is accepting of me,” or “I am too critical of Joe,” or “I am too critical in general.”  Then you’d look for multiple examples of where each of these “turnarounds” are true in your life.

The idea with this process isn’t to make yourself wrong or to live in fantasy land, it is to consciously question “reality.” Most of what we deem to be “real” (especially when it causes us to suffer) is made up of negative ideas, beliefs, judgments, and thoughts that we’ve come up with as a defense or justification. By questioning our “truths,” we expand our thinking and begin to see new possibilities. In other words, by not believing everything we think, we take back the power we often give away to our mind.

As I sat in the workshop and listened to Katie work with people one-on-one about some very intense circumstances and situations (grief, abuse, mistrust, guilt, conflict, and more), I was amazed by the freedom they were able to experience by simply inquiring into their negative thoughts and questioning them with an open mind.

It made me realize how many of my own judgments, complaints, and self criticisms go unchallenged and how I let my mind simply take over and run the show in certain areas of my life (especially the most “stressful” ones).

Not everything we think is true, thank goodness!  The more willing we are to challenge our own thoughts and beliefs, the more peace and freedom we can create and experience in our work, our relationships, and our lives.

How often do you believe what you think?  Are you willing to question your thoughts?  What do you think inquiry and doing “the work” could provide for you in your life?   Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Let Go of Control

September 9, 2010

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

I had a simple, but profound experience in the swimming pool last week – I floated on my back for the first time in my life.  I do know how to swim and enjoy being in the water, but for some reason I never was able to figure out how to float on my back when I learned to swim as a kid and as an adult it hasn’t really been something that has come up as an issue in my life (although it has always been something that I wanted to learn, felt a bit embarrassed about not being able to do, and also didn’t quite understand).

Thanks to the help of my friend Steve last week, I was able to let go and allow the water to support me.  It felt scary at first, but once I figured it out, it was an incredibly liberating and relaxing experience.  As I was floating there in the pool I had many thoughts, feelings, and insights – the biggest of which had to do with my own obsession with controlling things, and my deep desire and fear about letting go.

How controlling are you?  Would you consider yourself very controlling, moderately controlling, or not controlling at all?  While each of us falls somewhere along the continuum of control and for some of us this is a bigger issue than others, for most of the people I know and work with, control is an issue that gets in our way – especially in the most important (and stressful) areas of life.

What causes us to be controlling?

There are many reasons, beliefs, and emotions that lead us to hold on tight and feel the need to control others, situations, circumstances, money, communications, food, workflow, details, our environment, and various other “important’ aspects of our lives.  However, here are three things that are usually underneath our controlling tendency:

  • Fear – We worry that things won’t turn out, we will get hurt, bad things will happen, etc.
  • Unworthiness – We don’t feel as though we deserve support, help, or for things to go our way.
  • Lack of Trust – We’re scared to let go, count on others, and to believe that things will be okay without us managing every aspect of the situation, relationship, conversation, etc.

What does being controlling cost us?

There is a huge cost associated with being controlling.  This negative impact is not only on us and our well-being, but also on those we love, the people we work with, and everyone around us.  Here are some of the biggest costs:

  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Freedom
  • Energy
  • Creativity
  • Support
  • Ease
  • Connection
  • Love

How can we expand our capacity to let go of control?

There are many things we can do to let go of control.  With compassion for ourselves, it’s important to remember that this is a process and something (especially for some of us) that may not come all that easy.  Many of us have been literally “trained” (directly or indirectly) to be controlling and in certain environments and situations (at work and at home), being controlling has been encouraged or seemed necessary for our own survival and the survival of those around us.

That being said, here are some things you can do and think about to expand your own capacity to let go of control in a positive and liberating way:

– Be honest with yourself – Make an authentic assessment about your own controlling nature.  It probably varies a bit for you (as it does for most of us), but at the same time we all have certain tendencies, especially in the most important and stressful areas of our lives.  With empathy and honesty, take a look at where, how, and why you hold on tight to control in whatever way you do.  And, be real with yourself about what this costs and how it impacts you and those around you.

– Ask yourself, “Am I willing to let go of control?” – This is an important question to ponder and to answer honestly.  In some cases and in certain situations, the answer to this question may be “no.”  It’s important to honor that if that’s the case for you.  And, at the same time, the more willing you are to ask and answer this question, the more likely you are to start letting go of control consciously (assuming it is something you’re truly interested in doing).  You may not know how to do it or what it would look like, but authentic willingness is always the first step in positive change.

– Consider who could support you – Getting support is one of the most important (and often most vulnerable) aspects of letting go of control.  Even though we sometimes feel like we’re all alone, that no one “gets it,” and/or that we couldn’t possibly make ourselves vulnerable enough to ask for help (especially in certain areas of life), it’s difficult to let go of control without the support of other people.  The irony of asking for help is that many of us don’t feel comfortable doing so and fear it makes us seem weak or needy, and on the flip side most of us love to be asked for help and really enjoy helping others.  We can’t do it alone!  And, the good news is that most of us have lots of people in our life that would jump at the chance to support us – if we were willing to ask for help more freely.

– Surrender – This is the bottom line of letting go.  Surrendering doesn’t mean giving up or not caring, it means trusting and allowing things to be taken care of by others, by the process, and by the Universal Intelligence governing life – some call this God, some call this Spirit, some don’t call it anything, but most of us have an experience of It at some level.  Surrendering is about consciously choosing to trust and have faith.  It is something that can liberate us in a profound way and is all about us choosing to let go.

When we look back on our lives in hindsight, we usually see that “things happen for a reason.”  What if we lived in the present moment with this same hindsight awareness?  As one of my mentors said to me years ago, “Mike, you’re living your life as though you’re trying to survive it.  You have to remember, no one ever has.”

Letting go of control is about loosening our grip, allowing ourselves to be supported, and trusting that things will turn out as they are meant to.  Is this easy?  Not always, although it can be.  However, as we practice this and expand our capacity to let go, we’ll be able to release and transform a good amount of unnecessary stress, worry, and anxiety from our lives, our work, and our relationships.

Where are you willing to let go of control in your life?  What support do you need?  How can letting go of control liberate you?  Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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