Archive for January 2012

The Benefits of Tears

January 26, 2012

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

Something extraordinary happened at Candlestick Park in San Francisco two Saturdays ago, January 14th.  Sure it was an amazing ending to an NFL playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints (which the Niners won in dramatic fashion, making all of us fans here in the Bay Area very happy); but the monumental win wasn’t was made it so remarkable to me.

As Vernon Davis, the tight end for the Niners who caught the game-winning touchdown, came running off the field, tears were streaming down his face.  He came to the sidelines and was embraced by his head coach, Jim Harbaugh, in a huge bear hug.  Coach Harbaugh hugged him for quite a while and spoke into his ear in what I can only imagine was an expression of authentic appreciation and celebration.  It was a beautiful and moving moment that transcended football and even sports – it was about courageous triumph, raw human emotion, and vulnerable self expression. (Click here to see the video).

Of course, I loved it – not just because I’m a huge sports fan and like to see my hometown teams win (especially after many years of not winning, in the Niners’ case), but because it highlighted something very important…the power of tears!  I also loved it because you don’t usually see a big, strong football player like Vernon Davis break down and cry in the arms of his coach in front of 70,000 fans in the stadium and millions of people watching on TV.  But he did, and it was a powerful scene and an important reminder of what it means to be human.

One of the many things tears can do is remind us of our humanness, our vulnerability, our connection to one another, and to things much bigger than the specific circumstances we are facing.  We cry for different reasons and based on different emotions.  Sometimes we shed tears of pain, sorrow, loss, sadness, anger, frustration, or grief.  Other times, tears show up because of love, joy, inspiration, hope, or kindness.  Regardless of the underlying emotions and even when the reason for our tears is painful, crying often makes us feel better and is one of the most authentic expressions of emotion we experience as human beings.  Current research shows that 88.8% of people feel better after crying, with only 8.4% feeling worse.

However, many of us have a great deal of fear, resistance, and judgment about tears – both ours and those of other people.  While this tends to vary based on our age, culture, gender, and the environment in which we find ourselves, I’m amazed at how often crying is seen in such a negative way in our culture, even today.

I’m someone who loves to cry myself, although as a man I was trained early in my life, like most of the men I know, that “boys don’t cry.”  Based on this and a variety of other factors, I sometimes find it challenging to access and express my own tears.  Although when they do show up and I let them flow, they often flow passionately (I scared the guy sitting next to me on an airplane a few months ago when I was sobbing intensely while watching the wonderful movie The Help).

As I look back at some of the most important, pivotal, and transformational moments of my life, both ones I considered to be “good” and ones I considered to be “bad” at the time, tears were a part of just about all of those experiences.

How do you feel about shedding tears yourself?  Is it easy for you to cry?  Is it hard?  Are you comfortable crying in front of others?  Do you judge yourself or others for doing so?  I think it’s interesting and important for us to ask ourselves these questions and notice our relationship to tears.

While I’m not advocating that we go around crying all the time just for the sake of it.  Excessive crying can sometimes point to a more serious underlying emotional issue and/or can be done as a way to manipulate others.  I’m not talking about that either.  I’m talking about our ability to express our emotions in a real and vulnerable way, some of the time resulting in the shedding of our tears.  What if we embraced crying a bit more and let go of our negative connotations about doing so?  As Charles Dickens beautifully said, “We need never be ashamed of our tears.”

Even though we may resist, fear, and avoid crying – at work, with friends or family, with members of the opposite sex, with our children, or with anyone else, we worry it wouldn’t be “appropriate” to cry in front of, there are some real positive benefits to shedding tears.  Such as:

  • Crying is good for our physical and emotional health – Medical research now suggests that tears could actually be a way of flushing negative chemicals out of the body and doing us a world of good physically. In addition to removing toxic substances from our body, crying can also have the psychological benefit of lifting our mood and helping us to deal with painful situations.
  • Shedding tears reduces stress – Crying is thought to help reduce stress, which can have a damaging effect on our health and has been linked to a number of health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes and obesity. According to a study by Dr. William H. Frey II, a biochemist at the St Paul-Ramsey Medical Center in Minnesota, crying can help to wash chemicals linked to stress out of our body, one of the reasons we feel much better after a good cry.
  • When we cry we open up, let down our guard, and connect with others in a more real and vulnerable way – Many times in my own personal life and with many of the clients I’ve worked with over the years (both individuals and groups), I’ve seen tears dramatically shift a person’s perspective, change the dynamic of an argument, and bring people together in a genuine way. Tears have a way of breaking down emotional walls and mental barriers we put up within ourselves and towards others. Crying tends to be some kind of human equalizer, because no matter the circumstance, situation, or stress we may face, our tears have a way of shifting and altering things in a beautiful, vulnerable, and humbling way.

There’s nothing wrong with our tears, even if we get a little embarrassed, uncomfortable, or even pained when they show up. As we allow them to flow through us, we not only release toxins from our body, stress from our system, and thoughts from our mind – we tap into one of the most basic and unifying experiences of being human. Crying is powerful and important – let’s have the courage to do it with pride and support each other in the healthy expression of our tears.

How often or easily are you moved to tears?  How do you feel about crying?  What can you do to empower your relationship with the tears of others and yourself? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more on my blog below.

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New Year, Be You

January 12, 2012

For this week’s audio podcast, click here.

With the New Year still in its first few weeks, the annual “new year, new you” phenomenon is all around us – in the worlds of advertising, media, self-help and more. And while this time of year can be a great catalyst for positive change in our lives, what if we made a commitment to live our lives in 2011 focused on who we are, and not so much on what we do, what we accomplish, what we look like, what we’re striving for, and more? One of best things we can do in this New Year is to focus on who we really are, instead of who we think we’re supposed to be.

Who would we be without our accomplishments (or failures), our degrees (or lack thereof), our bank accounts, our experiences, our title, our home, our status, and more? As simple of a concept as this is for us to think about and discuss, at least on the surface, it’s actually quite difficult for many of us, myself included, to genuinely separate who we are from what we do (or have done or not done). These past two years have taught many of us, in some cases quite painfully, how quickly the external circumstances of our lives can change dramatically and things can be taken away.

The deeper question for us to ponder here is really one of the big philosophical questions of life, “What makes me a valuable person?” While this is something we have all thought about to some degree, most of us don’t really engage in this inquiry on a regular basis. And, when we do, we often think that if we just got more done, lost some weight, made more money, took a vacation, accomplished a goal, had more meaningful work, made it to retirement, or whatever, then we’d be “happier” or feel more “valuable.” Sadly, as we’ve all experienced, this is not usually the case and is also one of the main reasons why most of our New Year’s “resolutions” don’t really last.

What if, in addition to having important goals, we could also expand our capacity for appreciating ourselves and being who we really are this year – having nothing to do with our external circumstances? What if just being ourselves, the way we are right now, is good enough?

Being ourselves fully, takes courage, commitment, and faith. It’s a process of letting go of many false beliefs we’ve picked up from the collective consciousness – that we have to look good, be smart, know the right people, say the right things, have the proper experience, make a certain amount of money, and more, in order to be happy and successful in life. Being ourselves can be scary and counter intuitive, difficult and even off-putting, and, at times, lonely.

However, being our authentic self is liberating, exciting, and fulfilling. When we have the courage to just be who we are, without apology or pretence, so much of our suffering, stress, and worry in life simply goes away.

Here are a few things to consider and practice as you deepen your awareness of and capacity for being who you truly are in this New Year:

  • Tell the truth to yourself. Think about and own how much of your self-worth is based on what you do, how you look, who you know, what you’ve accomplished, etc. (i.e. the external stuff). The more we let go of being defined by the external, the more freedom, peace, and power we can experience. And, as we really get honest with ourselves, we may realize that outside of these external things, we don’t really know who we are. As scary as this may seem on the surface, it’s actually great news and can give us access to a deeper and more meaningful experience of who we are.
  • Appreciate who you really are. What do you appreciate about yourself that has nothing to do with anything external? In other words, what personal qualities (of being, not doing) do you value about yourself? The more we’re able to tap into what we appreciate about who we are (not what we do), the more capacity we have for real confidence, peace, and self love.
  • Practice just being you. As silly as it may sound, we all need to “practice” being ourselves. We have a great deal of experience being phony or being how we think we’re supposed to be. It actually takes conscious practice for us to be able to just show up and be who we are. We can practice alone, with people we know, and with total strangers. This is all about awareness – paying attention to how we feel, what we’re thinking, what we say, and how we show up. It’s not about getting it right or doing anything specific, it’s about letting go of our erroneous notions of how we think we’re supposed to be, and just allowing ourselves to be who and how we are in the moment.

Have fun with this, talk to others about it, and have a lot of compassion with yourself as you practice – this is big stuff for most of us. This year, instead of trying to be a “new” you, just be yourself and see what happens.

How can you accept, appreciate, and simply BE yourself in 2012? What does this mean to you? What support do you need in your life this year to step more fully into who you really are? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more on my blog below.

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Consciously Create 2012

January 4, 2012

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

As we embark on another new year of life, I find myself experiencing a mixture of emotions about 2012. I’m excited about the possibilities of this New Year and inspired by the energy of creation that exists at this special time of year.

At the same time, especially given the nature of 2011 and all the twists and turns last year took for me personally, so many people around me, and in the world, I find myself feeling a sense of trepidation about setting new goals and jumping right back into the mix of life and work.

As it relates to New Year’s “resolutions,” most people I know and have worked with over the years, including myself, have a somewhat funny or disempowered relationship to goal-setting for the New Year. Whether you spend lots of time and energy creating your New Year’s intentions or you decided years ago that you wouldn’t bother (since in years past by mid-January most of them have gone off the rails or out of your mind anyway); I don’t know too many people who are genuinely inspired, motivated, or empowered by their New Year’s resolutions in a sustainable and real way. How about you?

Here are some of the main reasons I think we aren’t authentically inspired by our goals or truly empowered to manifest them:

  • Our “goals” are often about fixing what we think is wrong with us.
  • Once we set them, we feel a sense of pressure to make them happen.
  • We worry that we won’t accomplish what we want, and then we’ll feel like failures.
  • We don’t get the kind of support we really want and need.
  • We forget that our intentions are designed to support us, not stress us out.
  • We get too focused on the outcome and forget about the experience.
  • We allow competition and scarcity take over.
  • We get all excited about them at the beginning of the year, and then forget about them.

For these and other reasons many us either don’t set powerful intentions for the New Year or we do so out of fear in a way that creates more stress in our lives. One of the best things we can do to shift our perspective about this and create an empowering relationship to our process of setting goals for 2012 is to understand some key distinctions – intentions, goals, and actions.

Intentions – Our intentions are states of being and authentic desires. In other words, we may have an intention to be peaceful, grateful, joyous, loving, successful, healthy, wealthy, or more. Our intentions are our high ideals and are usually at the root of our motivation for any of our specific goals (i.e. “why” we want to do, accomplish, or experience something). Most of us don’t really want goals like a new relationship, more money, or a fit body simply for the sake of those things themselves – we want them (or others) because of what we believe we will experience by having them in our life. By starting with our intentions, we get right to the source of what we truly want. Intentions are the core and the magic of all of our goals and desires.

Goals – Effective and powerful goals are ones that are specific and measurable. We want to be able to track our progress and know for sure if we are reaching our goals or not. This doesn’t have to be a competition (with others or ourselves) and doesn’t have to be filled with stress, pressure, shame, or guilt (which is sadly how we often relate to our results). Having our goals as specific and measurable just makes them clear and more likely to manifest. And, the paradox we have to always remember when setting and working on our goals is that we can’t be attached to the outcome – which will make us crazy and can take us off course with our real intentions. Our goals simply take our intentions and focus them on tangible outcomes in the world.

Actions – Creating action-oriented practices that support us in manifesting our goals and intentions is an essential daily, weekly, and monthly process of our success and fulfillment. Coming up with action plans that inspire us, connect to the goals we’re working on, and fulfill our intentions is vital to all of this. This is where the rubber meets the road, and is often the place where things break down for us. The breakdown with actions usually has more to do with a lack of support and accountability (which then allows us to let circumstances take over and causes us to lose focus) than it does with any “failure” or “weakness” on our part. Having practices that support us and help us take the baby steps needed to manifest our goals and intentions is such an important piece of puzzle.

Here is an example of how this could look in a specific area of life. Let’s say you have a desire to make more money (which is a very common one that many of us have, especially these days). Start with your intention. For example, “My intention is to experience a real sense of abundance, peace, and freedom with money and to easily manifest income.” Then create a specific measurable result-oriented goal. “I will generate $100,000 by 12/31/2011.” The next step is to come up with a few related actions/practices. “I will read three or more books this year on manifesting money. I will set up two or more meetings per month to talk to people about new money-making ideas. I will make a plan each month for specific things I can do to increase my income.”

The final piece of the process is creating some kind of regular accountability and support structure for this. You can hire a coach, join a mastermind group, create a success/ accountability partnership with a friend, and more. Having someone or a group of people you make commitments to and whom you empower to hold you accountable will make all the difference in the world.

Have fun with this. Don’t take it or yourself too seriously…it’s just life, you’re allowed to make mistakes, screw things up, and fall down (which we all do and always will). Be kind to yourself in this process and in this New Year. And, when we remember that our intentions (those states of being and authentic desires) are what we are truly after (not the specific outcomes or actions), it can allow us to take the pressure off of ourselves, have more fun, and trust that things will manifest as they are meant to – especially if we open up and let them show up!

What are your most important intentions for 2012? How can you create empowering support and accountability for your goals and actions in this New Year so that you can manifest what you truly want in 2012? Share your ideas, commitments, thoughts, dreams, and more on my blog below.

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