Author Archive for Mike Robbins

If You’re Trying To Prove It, You Don’t Believe It

June 26, 2014

My counselor Eleanor recently said to me, “Mike, if you’re trying to prove something, it means you don’t actually believe it yet.” Her words hit me right between the eyes, as they often do. She was right and as I reflect on certain aspects of my life, I can see that where I’m overly attached to proving myself, it’s because I don’t actually believe in my own skill, talent, or value (i.e. I’m looking for outside validation to “prove” my worth)…maybe you can relate to this?

In this week’s video blog, I talk about this phenomenon and how we can move from “proving” to “believing” in an authentic way.

Check out the video below and feel free to leave a comment here on my blog about it. You can share thoughts, questions, ideas, insights, or anything else that this video inspires.

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Forgive Yourself

April 30, 2014

nothing-changes-until-you-do-pintrest38In December of 2011, I decided to head up to Calistoga for a few days. Calistoga is a small town in Napa Valley, about an hour from where we live. For the past few years, Michelle and I have each gone up there occasionally by ourselves for some personal retreat time. It’s been a great self-care practice that has benefited us both individually and as a family. It’s amazing how taking just a few days away can help me put things in perspective, recharge, and reconnect to what’s most important in my life.

That December was an emotional time for me. It was the end of what had been a tumultuous year, filled with big highs and big lows. My mom had died in June, we did the short sale on our house in August and moved, and life had changed for us in many significant ways. Even with the difficulty and intensity of the year, a lot of really good things had happened, too. It felt like life was moving in a really positive direction for us.

As I took some time to reflect and go within, I realized I was carrying around an enormous amount of resentment, most of which was directed at myself. I took with me to Calistoga some old cassette tapes of an audio program called “Forgiving Yourself,” which I’d actually never listened to when I’d purchased it many years before. The tapes talked about being hard on ourselves, and being critical and harboring resentment toward ourselves—all things that I’d done quite a bit throughout my life. Based on the suggestions of this audio program and my own insight and awareness, I spent a lot of time over the course of those few days writing in my journal and meditating, all with the specific intention of forgiving myself.

I started to write down a long list of things that I wanted to forgive myself for—being harsh and critical of some of the people closest to me, being annoyed and unkind to my girls at times, worrying about all kinds of superficial things, doing harm to my body over the years, not taking good care of myself, making mistakes in my business and with our finances, not practicing what I preached in my work, and on and on the list went.

As I wrote these things down in my journal, initially I was concerned that it was simply just my gremlin taking over and listing out all the things that were “wrong” with me and all the reasons why I was “bad.” But as I allowed myself to engage more deeply in the process, I realized that what I was doing was simply telling the truth about all the things I’d been judging myself for. This was my attempt in some way to let go of the resentment I was holding toward myself. I was trying to move into a place of forgiveness and, ultimately, freedom. And while I wasn’t sure if I knew exactly the “right” way to forgive myself, I decided to simply ask, in my writings, my prayers, and my meditations, to be forgiven. Before I went to bed at night, I would ask for the weight of this self-criticism and negativity to be lifted off of me.

By the time I left Calistoga, just a few days later, I felt 50 pounds lighter. Just a few weeks after that, I had my very first session with my counselor Eleanor. As Eleanor and I began to work together, which we’ve continued to do over the last few years with wonderful results, she began to explain to me the nature of growth and change.

“Mike, as you grow, change, and evolve, here are the basic steps involved in the process: recognize, acknowledge, forgive, and change. First,” she said, “you must recognize what’s going on and what you’re doing. This is about seeing and about authentic awareness. Then you acknowledge the impact of what you’re doing with compassion and without judgment. This is about feeling your emotions and owning the impact. Then,” she said, “the most important step in the process is forgiveness—a willingness to forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness isn’t about letting yourself off the hook, it’s about caring enough to take a deeper level of responsibility. And when you do that, you’re able to forgive yourself authentically. The fourth step,” she continued, “is change. However, if you genuinely recognize, acknowledge, and forgive, the change pretty much happens on its own, and you don’t have to—nor do you get to—control it. Change is the result of authentic forgiveness and authentic forgiveness is about releasing the past and all the stories you have associated with it.”

Then she followed up with the kicker: “Unfortunately, what you often do, Mike, and this is true for many people, is recognize, acknowledge, punish, and repeat—instead of forgive and change—which keeps certain negative patterns in place in your life and causes you a great deal of pain and suffering.”

The truth of what Eleanor taught me resonated deeply and we continue to talk about it in our sessions today. Since that initial conversation, I’ve been consciously focused on forgiving myself as well as releasing the past and all of the stories I have connected to it. Given that I’ve got many years of experience of not doing this and still have a tendency to be hypercritical of myself, as many of us do, self-forgiveness continues to be a challenge for me, although it’s getting easier. It’s a practice, and like any practice, the more we do it, the easier it is and the more effective we become.

The more willing we are to take an honest look within—to recognize and acknowledge our self-sabotaging ways and to forgive ourselves for them—the more likely we can begin to change in an authentic and powerful way. Self-forgiveness makes it possible for us to forgive others and to live our lives with a genuine sense of freedom, peace, and love.

This is an excerpt taken from Nothing Changes Until You Do, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2014) and available online or in bookstores.

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Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

April 23, 2014

nothing-changes-until-you-do-pintrest6I have a tendency to take myself a bit too seriously at times, especially when I get stressed, irritated, or scared. I’ve noticed that sometimes these feelings not only make me less effective in dealing with a difficult situation, they actually cause the difficulty itself, or at the very least exacerbate it. I also find that in these moments of taking myself too seriously, it’s easy for me to become self-important and to think that the weight of the world is on my shoulders (which is often a bit of an overreaction and almost never helpful). As my friend Theo and I like to say in jest to each other from time to time, “Do you have any idea how important I think I am?”

When we take ourselves less seriously, we’re able to see the humor in situations, find the silver lining when things don’t go the way we want them to, and navigate through the ups and downs of life a bit easier.

When I was up in Seattle for a speaking engagement a few years ago, I saw just how important finding humor is. I’d flown in the night before the event and was scheduled to speak early the next morning. When I got off the plane I was hungry, so I decided to grab a piece of pizza as I waited for my bag. A few months prior to this, I’d taken a bite out of a frozen strawberry and cracked my left front tooth, which had originally been damaged when I was playing baseball in high school. Due to the initial injury, coupled with the trauma of the frozen strawberry episode, I ended up having to get my front tooth removed, and I was in the process of having an implant (i.e., false tooth) constructed for my mouth. This process actually takes a number of months, and in the interim I was given a non-removable temporary tooth so that I wasn’t walking around with a big hole in the front of my mouth.

As you can imagine, this posed some challenges, both in terms of eating and in terms of self-confidence. I’ve long struggled with issues of insecurity related to my appearance, so all in all this tooth problem was pretty traumatic for me.

Anyway, there I was in the airport in Seattle eating my pizza and, although I’d learned how to maneuver my food around the temporary front tooth (since I couldn’t really use it to bite with), I took a normal bite without thinking about it. The next thing I knew, I looked down and the tooth had fallen out of my mouth and into my left hand. Although it was a nice catch, I immediately panicked and thought, Oh my God, it’s 7 p.m. and I have to speak at 9 a.m. I’m in Seattle and I now have a missing front tooth. What the heck am I going to do?

With the tooth in my pocket and my mouth shut tight, I got my bag and made my way to my hotel as fast as I could. I was pretty freaked out. Thankfully my dentist, Shaya, happens to be a friend of mine; we went to junior high school together and she’s really cool. I was able to call her that night and tell her what happened. She told me not to worry and to put the tooth in some water to soak. After that, I needed to find a drugstore and call her back from there. Luckily there was one just around the corner from my hotel. I called Shaya back as I walked into the store with my heart racing. She directed me to find the aisle where there was denture adhesive and told me which one to pick out. I followed the instructions on the box and did what Shaya told me to do the following morning—basically stick the false tooth back into my mouth using the denture adhesive. While it wasn’t something I’d ever done before (and never thought I’d do in my life), it seemed to work and looked okay, although it felt really weird and made me talk with a little lisp.

I took a few deep breaths, said a prayer, and made my way down to the hotel ballroom. As you can probably imagine, I was quite nervous as I stood up in front of hundreds of people to deliver my keynote speech that morning. Being nervous before and even during a speech wasn’t new for me; however, being specifically worried that my tooth might fall out of my mouth or that I might spit it on someone in the front row was definitely a new and odd experience.

As I was speaking, I could hardly pay attention because I was so preoccupied with my tooth, how I sounded, and my fear of what might happen. So after about 20 minutes, I had the audience pair up with each other to discuss something related to what I was talking about—I often do this because it allows people to relate their own experiences to some key theme of my speech; it also gives me a moment to catch my breath. On that particular morning, I really needed a moment for myself. As I was watching everyone talk, I thought, This situation is so ridiculous that it’s funny. I hope my tooth doesn’t fall out, but if it does, these people certainly won’t forget me or my speech anytime soon. Plus it would make a great story. I laughed to myself, gathered the group’s attention, and went on.

While I decided not to let the audience know what was going on inside my mouth (and my head), I was able to embrace the ridiculousness of the situation and not take it so seriously. Thankfully, my tooth stayed in my mouth and the speech went well. I was able to make it back home and then back to my dentist’s office the next day without too much humiliation. A few months later, I got my permanent implant, and, thankfully, I don’t have to worry about my tooth coming out anymore.

There are clearly times in life and certain circumstances that are genuinely serious. However, far too often we add unnecessary stress, pressure, and negativity to situations with our attitude of “seriousness.” One of the best things we can do is laugh—at ourselves, at the situation, or in general.

I got a call from Michelle a few years ago and she was laughing pretty loudly on the phone. She had a funny story about the girls she wanted to share with me, as she often does. This one was pretty good and quite poignant.

Samantha was four and a half at the time and Rosie was two. It was late summer and Michelle was just trying to run some errands and she had to take the girls along—not a big deal on the surface. But keep in mind that this involved a two-year-old. As anyone who has ever dealt with a two-year-old knows, even the simplest thing can become a major production, and that’s just what was happening with Rosie. She was going through a phase where she did not want to get into her car seat.

Michelle got the girls dressed, out the door, and to the car that morning; however, when they got into the car, Rosie threw a big-time fit—screaming, yelling, flailing her arms and legs, and throwing her body on the floor of the car—all to avoid her car seat. These types of fits can be challenging to say the least, and when they happen out in public, there’s an added level of embarrassment and helplessness that can kick in, which was happening for Michelle that morning. Even though Michelle had quite a bit of experience with this, she said she was incredibly ineffective that morning in dealing with Rosie, and she found herself getting more and more frustrated.

At that particular time, with Samantha being four and a half, we were starting to teach her certain things that were appropriate to her age. One of the things that Michelle had been talking to Samantha about just the day before was what to do in case of an emergency and how to get help if she or someone around her needed it. So Samantha was sitting there quietly in her booster seat. She had buckled herself in like a “big girl” and was waiting patiently as Mommy and Rosie struggled through this conflict. Samantha, sensing Michelle’s frustration and escalating panic, decided she wanted to intervene and help out. She calmly turned and said, “Mommy, I can go inside and call 911 if you want.” As soon as Michelle heard this, she burst out laughing. She said she could hardly control herself and thought she actually might pee her pants. In the midst of her laughter, she stopped paying attention to Rosie for a moment. Once she gathered herself and calmed down a bit, she turned around to find that Rosie had crawled into her car seat and was ready to be buckled in.

As Emily Saliers from the Indigo Girls said, “You have to laugh at yourself, because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.”

Laughter is actually important on many levels. Clearly, it helps shift our perspective and alter our mood, but research shows that it also has quite a positive impact on our physiology—relaxing our muscles, boosting our immune systems, releasing endorphins and decreasing stress hormones, and increasing blood flow to the heart.

I’m not advocating that we laugh ourselves into denial or avoid dealing with the serious aspects of our lives—as we all know, sometimes laughter can be used as a way of deflecting, or in other unhealthy and harmful ways. However, being able to bring lightness, levity, and laughter into our lives and relationships in an authentic and healthy way is one of the best things we can do to take care of ourselves and keep things in perspective. Teeth will fall out, kids will throw fits, and all kinds of frustrating things (both big and small) will occur in your life—find the humor in the situation and your outlook will change.

This is an excerpt taken from Nothing Changes Until You Do, by Mike Robbins, with permission. Published by Hay House (May 2014) and available online or in bookstores.

 

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Stop “Should-ing” On Yourself

August 30, 2012

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

A few months ago one of my mentors said to me, “Mike, it sounds like you’re ‘should-ing’ all over yourself.” I laughed when she said this, as I’ve heard this saying many times before (and have even given this same feedback to others). However, something about her saying this to me at that particular moment caught my attention and struck me deeply.

As I started to take inventory of the most important aspects of my life – my marriage, my family, my friends, my health, my work, my spiritual practice, my finances, and more – I was a bit shocked to realize that much of my motivation in these key areas comes from the perspective of what I think I “should” do, say, or feel, and not from a place of what’s authentic and true for me.

As I look more deeply at this within myself, I realize that my obsession with doing, saying, or feeling the way I think I should, is actually less about a desire to do the right thing, and more about fear, shame, and a lack of self trust. When I operate from that place of should, it’s often because I’m feeling scared, flawed, or simply not confident in my own thoughts and beliefs.  This insecurity leads me to look outside of myself for guidance, validation, and the insatiable right way something should be done; which is often stressful, anxiety-inducing, and damaging.

What if instead of asking ourselves, “What should I do?” we asked ourselves different, more empowering questions like, “What’s true for me?” or “What am I committed to?” or “What do I truly want?”  These questions, and others like them, come from a much deeper place of authenticity and truth.

This is not to say that everything we think we should do is inherently bad.  That is clearly not the case.  Thinking that we should do things like eat better, communicate with kindness, exercise, follow up with people in a timely manner, spend time with our families, take breaks, save money, have fun, work hard, be mindful of the feelings of others, push past our limits, try new things, organize our lives, take good care of ourselves, focus on what we’re grateful for, and so much more – all can be very important aspects of our success and well being (as well as those around us).

However, when we come from a place of should our motivation and underlying intention for doing whatever it is we’re doing is compromised – even if it is something we consider to be positive or healthy.  In other words, we often feel stressed, bitter, resentful, worried, or annoyed when we’re motivated by should.  This “should mentality” is based on an erroneous notion that there is some big book of rules we must follow in order to be happy and successful.

The distinction here is one of obligation versus choice, or “have to” versus “get to.”  When we stop “should-ing” on ourselves, we’re less motivated by guilt, fear, and shame and can choose to be inspired by authentic desire, commitment, and freedom.

Here are a few things you can do to stop “should-ing” on yourself:

  • Pay attention to how much “should” runs your life.  Take some inventory of your life, especially the key areas and relationships, and notice how much of your motivation is based on “should.”  You may even notice how often the word itself comes out of your mouth in relation to your own actions and your thoughts or conversations about others.  The more you’re able to notice this, without judgment, the easier it will be to alter it.
  • Play around with different words, thoughts, and motivations other than “should”. If it’s not about what you (or others) “should” do, what are others words, thoughts, or motivations you could have?  How can you relate to the most important areas and people in your life differently?  Inquire into this and see what comes up.  It’s not simply about word choice (although words do have a great deal of power), it’s about altering where you’re coming from in a fundamental way.
  • Ask yourself empowering questions. As I mentioned above, instead of asking yourself the question “What should I do?” see if you can ask yourself more empowering questions – ones that lead you to an authentic and inspired place of motivation.  Here are some as examples, “How can this be fun?” or “What would inspire me?” or “What’s in alignment with my mission?” or “How can I serve?” or “What would make me feel good about myself?”  There are so many possibilities, once we let go of “should.”

Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more.

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Your Feelings Matter

June 28, 2012

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

I sometimes find it challenging to honor my own feelings – especially if what I want or feel seems to be at odds with other people, or my emotions don’t seem to be “appropriate” to the situation.  While I’m not someone who tends to hold back sharing my honest opinions, desires, and feelings and, over the years, I’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback from people close to me about talking too much, dominating situations or conversations, and being selfish – underneath all of this is a deep fear that my feelings and desires aren’t as important as other people’s.

It has been humbling to come to this realization about myself recently.  However, it has also been incredibly liberating to see this pattern and to ask myself the question, “What would it be like to honor my real feelings and to live my life knowing that what I want and feel is just as important as anyone else?”

Honoring our feelings isn’t about being self absorbed, arrogant, or better than anyone – it’s really about being true to ourselves, honest with how we feel and what we want, and willing to engage in authentic conversations with other people – even, and especially, when we don’t feel or want the same things that they do.

So why can it be so challenging for us to honor our own feelings?  Some of the primary reasons for this are:

  • We worry that people won’t like or approve of us
  • We don’t value ourselves in an authentic way (i.e. we think we’re not good enough)
  • We’ve been taught to put other people’s needs, desires, and feelings ahead of our own
  • We’re not comfortable feeling and expressing certain emotions
  • We don’t think we “deserve” to have what we want (i.e. we think we’re not important enough)
  • We haven’t been taught healthy ways to honor our feelings
  • We worry that we’ll be seen as selfish

These and other things get in the way of truly honoring what we feel and what we want in life.  Sadly, by not honoring our feelings we both discount ourselves in a painful, and ultimately damaging way, and we create separation between us and other people, often the most important people in our lives.

Here are a few things you can do to enhance your capacity to honor your own feelings:

  • Be Real About How You Truly Feel – The first step of any process is always about being real, first and foremost with ourselves.  Even if we feel unclear or uncomfortable with a specific situation or certain set of emotions or desires, the more willing we are to be real about what we truly feel and want, the more ability we’ll have to honor ourselves and be authentic with others.  Making it a practice of getting in touch with our true feelings is essential.  A great way to do this is through journaling. It’s not about justifying how we feel to anyone else, it’s about being honest with ourselves.
  • Stop Judging Yourself – One of the biggest things that can get in our way in life, in general and specifically when it comes to feeling our feelings and expressing our desires, is self judgment.  We think to ourselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way,” or “If I share this, they will think I’m a terrible person.”  We use these self critical thoughts to suppress our true feelings, which can have significantly negative consequences on us and others. What if we just allowed ourselves to be real and to honor what’s true for us in the moment, without judging it?
  • Give Yourself Permission to Feel – Because of our self judgment, we sometimes don’t give ourselves permission to feel… especially certain emotions.  As human beings we tend to have a hierarchy of emotions – liking the “good” ones (love, joy, gratitude, peace, etc) and not liking the “bad” ones (anger, fear, hurt, powerlessness, etc).  However, at the deepest level, all human emotions have value and can benefit us if we’re willing to feel them in an authentic and healthy way.  Giving ourselves permission to feel what we’re feeling is critical to our ability to honor and move through our emotions in a way that serves us, our relationships, and our life.
  • Let Go of Your “Story” – Many of us, myself included, are attached to our “story.”  We love all of the drama and all of the details that make up the relationships, situations, and circumstances in our lives (both past and present).  While our life story, as well as the details of specific relationships and circumstances in our lives, is important at some level, too often we get caught in the story and all the drama, which actually takes us out of our emotional experience.  Where we have real power is in feeling our feelings, not talking about them, rationalizing them, or explaining them – but in simply feeling them.  Human emotions are not sustainable – especially if they are authentically felt.  It only takes about a minute or two to genuinely feel and move through an emotion.  However, when we attach an emotion to a story, we don’t allow ourselves to truly feel it and thus can keep it stuck in place.
  • Get Emotional Support – As important as our emotions are to our lives, our well being, and our relationships, sadly we don’t get a lot of emotional training in life (through school, at work, and in general) and we don’t often have built in, healthy emotional support mechanisms in our daily lives.  We live in a world that is primarily focused on action, results, and appearances – none of which has anything to do with our emotional experience (even though our emotional experience is not only one of the most important aspects of our lives, but is what drives much of what we do and produce in life).  There are, however, many ways we can find or enhance our emotional support.  Most of us have certain emotional support structures in our lives that we’ve set up for ourselves, consciously or unconsciously.  The key is for us to utilize these in a consistent and authentic way, as well as to make sure they are empowering us to honor ourselves and our emotional experience in life.

Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more.

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Embracing Powerlessness

June 7, 2012

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

In a recent session I had with my new counselor Eleanor, she said to me, “Mike, it sounds like embracing powerlessness is something that would benefit you right now.”  When she said this, a chill went down my spine and my body tightened up.  “What do you mean, ’embrace powerlessness’?'” I asked.  “Why would I want to do that?”

Powerlessness seems almost like a dirty word to me, at least to my ego for sure.  Priding myself on being a “powerful person” and in the business of “empowering” others, I couldn’t imagine what embracing powerlessness even meant, let alone see the value in doing it myself.

Even with my fear and resistance, I continued to listen to what Eleanor had to say about this.  She went on to say, “Allowing yourself to feel powerless doesn’t mean you are powerless.  In fact, the more willing you are to embrace the feeling of powerlessness when it shows up, the more authentic power you’ll be able to access.”

She then taught me a simple meditation/visualization technique to embrace the feeling of powerlessness (for specifics about this technique, click here to listen to my audio podcast where I explain it in detail).  I’ve been using this technique for the past few weeks and talking about it with people close to me.  It has been incredibly liberating.

Through this process, I’ve realized that in many of the areas of my life where I’ve struggled and suffered most, one of the key factors has been my inability to acknowledge, express, or embracemy feelings of powerlessness. Instead of embracing powerlessness, I often end up erroneously attempting to force outcomes or results in the name of being “responsible” or “powerful,” when what is usually really driving me is fear and control (hence the struggling/suffering).  Can you relate in any way?

I recently heard the author, speaker, entrepreneur Chip Conley give a presentation at the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco.  He opened with the serenity prayer, which I appreciated and heard in a new way – “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  I’ve always had a bit of a reaction to this prayer and its underlying wisdom – not wanting to fully acknowledge the idea that there are actually things I cannot change.  However, this prayer is all about consciously embracing our own powerlessness and there’s true brilliance in its simplicity and insight.

What if we stopped pushing against, resisting, and fighting with the things we think need to be changed about life, others, and ourselves – especially those things that are out of our control?  What if we were able to bring a deeper level of acceptance and serenity to the difficulties and challenges in our lives, instead of piling onto them (as well as ourselves and others) with loads of judgment, pressure, expectation, and more?

It’s incredibly liberating when we’re able to acknowledge and express our true emotions, even the ones we may not like, such as powerlessness.  We tend to have lots of stories, beliefs, and real hierarchy when it comes to emotions – deciding that some are “good” and others are “bad.”  The reality is that emotions are positive when we express them in a healthy way and negative when we suppress them, hold them back, or pretend we’re not feeling them.

We’ve all had lots of positive experiences in life when we’ve had the courage to express our fear, sadness, anger, and more (i.e. the “bad” ones).  We’ve also had negative and painful experiences when we’ve withheld or suppressed our love, excitement, passion, gratitude, and others (i.e. the “good” ones).  Maybe it’s less about the emotion itself and more about our willingness and ability to express it in a healthy and authentic way.

It’s also important to remember that human emotions aren’t sustainable.  They are meant to be felt and expressed.  Once they are felt and expressed, however, they pass through us beautifully.  This is why we often feel much better after a good cry (see my post on “The Benefit of Tears”).  The more conscious we are about our emotions and the more willing we are to express them authentically – the happier, healthier, and more alive we become.

As I’ve been allowing myself to embrace and express my own feelings of powerlessness, even though it has been a bit scary and uncomfortable, especially at first, I’ve been experiencing a deeper level of peace and power in regards to some very stressful and uncertain circumstances I’m currently facing in my life.  And, embracing powerlessness in general has started to shift my entire outlook and is liberating me from a great deal of undue pressure and expectation that I’ve been placing on myself for many years (i.e. most of my life.)

How can you start embracing powerlessness in a positive, empowering, and liberating way in your own life?

Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more.

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Just Because You’re You

April 12, 2012

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

About a year or so ago I started playing a game with my two girls, Samantha (our six year old) and Rosie (our three and a half year old). The game goes like this; I ask each one of them, “How much does daddy love you?” They respond by putting one or both of their arms up into the air as high as they can and say, “This much.” Then I say, “That’s right! And how come I love you so much?” To which they say, “Just because I’m me!”

It’s a fun, sweet, and powerful game that I love playing with each of them and something I hope to continue to do for many years. I play this game as much for them as I do for myself. For the girls, I want them to know that my love and appreciation for them is not based on what they do, how they look, how well they listen, or any other conditions or expectations.

For me, I do it for two main reasons. First of all, as a father I find it challenging at times to keep my heart open and to stay connected to my love for my girls when they do or say things that upset, disappoint, or anger me. This game serves as a reminder to me that my intention is to love them unconditionally (i.e. to love them even when I don’t like them or approve of what they do). On another level, by playing this game with my girls, I feel like I’m healing something deep within me that I’ve carried around for most of my life – the belief that my value as a human being is based on certain conditional, material, or external factors (accomplishments, appearance, approval of others, status, money, outward “success,” etc.)

How about you? How much of your own worth do you place in the hands of other people’s opinions, material success, or other outside factors or influences? If you’re anything like me and many of the people I know and work with, probably quite a bit (or at least more than is probably healthy or ideal).

This belief that many of us carry that we have to do specific things, produce certain results, look a particular way (and so on), in order to be acceptable, valuable, and lovable, causes a great deal of stress, pressure, and suffering in our lives.

From a very early age most of us have been doing whatever we can (in various ways based on our personality, background, and orientation) to gain approval and love from those around us. It starts with our parents, siblings, and family members when we’re very young. As children and adolescents, it extends out to our teachers, coaches, and especially our friends. As we move into adulthood it continues to expand to include our colleagues, clients; anyone we deem “important” to our success in life.

While there’s nothing inherently “wrong” with our desire to have the respect, admiration, and appreciation of those around us or to accomplish our most important goals, we often give away our power, consciously or unconsciously, to the people, circumstances, and results (or lack thereof) in our lives.

What if we stopped doing this so much? Our true value has nothing to do with any of these external factors. At the deepest level, we’re valuable as human beings just because we’re us – not because of what we do, how we look, what people think of us, or what we produce or accomplish. What would your life look like if you got this, embodied it, and lived from this perspective?

How can you start loving, accepting, and appreciating yourself (i.e. getting your inherent value) just because you’re you? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more.

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Are You Addicted to Struggle?

March 29, 2012

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

During a session I was having with my new coach last week it became clear to me that I’ve been addicted to struggle for much of my life. While I wasn’t super excited to admit this, it has actually been quite liberating to address my struggle addiction directly and to see how it impacts just about every aspect of my life and work. How about you… are you addicted to (or at least very familiar with) struggling in your own life?

As I’ve thought about it more over this past week, I realize that I have some real resistance to allowing things to come easy and that my attachment to struggling runs deep within me (as it does for so many people I know and work with). Here are some of the main “reasons” I’ve used and beliefs I’ve held for many years to justify my own struggling:

  • If I don’t have to struggle for something, it doesn’t really mean all that much.
  • If things come easy to me, other people will get jealous, won’t like me, and/or won’t respect me.
  • It’s not fair for things to be easy for me (i.e. I have to struggle) – especially with so many people having such a hard time these days.
  • I actually get off on struggling and suffering – I’m quite familiar with it and I’ve used it as motivation to change and “succeed” for much of my life.
  • My ability to work hard, overcome adversity, and rise above challenges are all things my ego uses to feel superior to others.
  • If I don’t struggle for something, when it happens I won’t feel like I deserve it.
  • Struggling allows me to avoid taking responsibility for certain aspects of my life and keeps me “focused” so I get to avoid uncomfortable feelings, situations, and circumstances I don’t really want to deal with.

Can you relate to any of these? Maybe you have others as well.

Getting in touch with some of these reasons and beliefs has been both painful and eye opening at the same time. As I think, talk, and write about them – I realize how ridiculous some of them are and how much of my life’s energy I’ve been giving away to them in the process.

It’s almost like I’m walking around worried that someone’s going to say me, “Mike, you have it so easy,” and I’m preparing my defensive responses, “Oh yeah, well let me tell you how hard I work, how challenging things have been for me, and how much stuff I’ve had to overcome along the way.” What’s up with this? It’s like I’m preparing for a fight that doesn’t even exist. Do you ever do that?

While working hard, overcoming challenges and adversity, and being passionately committed to important and complex things in our lives aren’t inherently bad – resisting ease and being attached to struggle causes me and so many of us a great deal of stress, worry, and pain. And, in many cases this difficulty is totally self-induced and unnecessary.

What if we allowed things to be easier? What if we started to speak about and own the aspects of our lives that are actually easy to us and started to expect things to get even easier? What if we let go of our attachment (or addiction, as it were) to struggle? Easy doesn’t mean lazy – that we aren’t willing to work in a passionate way, or that we expect a “free ride” – it means that we’re willing to have things work out, trust that all is well, and allow life to flow in a positive and elegant way for us.

Our desire and ability to embrace ease in our life isn’t selfish, arrogant, or unrealistic – it’s profoundly optimistic (in an authentic way) and can actually enhance our ability to impact others. The more energy and attention we place on surviving, getting by, or even “striving” for success – the less available we are to give, serve, and make a difference for other people. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to us, letting go of our addiction to struggle is one of the best ways we can show up for those around us – both by our example and with our freed up positive energy.

My coach suggested that I start wearing a “struggle patch,” like a nicotine patch that people wear in their process of breaking an addiction to smoking. While at first it seemed a little ridiculous, I actually took her up on the suggestion and put on a band aid as a representation of my “struggle patch.” I’m allowing the band aid to represent my own commitment to break this addiction and it actually has been altering my perception of myself and my life. Feel free to use this technique yourself!

As Richard Bach famously stated, “Argue for your limitations and they’re yours.” What if we stopped arguing on behalf of how “hard” things are, and started to allow our life to be filled with more peace and ease, instead of perpetuating the struggle? While the idea of things authentically being easy may not be, ironically, the easiest thing for you to embrace – I challenge you (as I challenge myself) to take this on in your life and become more comfortable with it… maybe it will actually be easier than you think!

Are you addicted to struggling? How does this manifest in your life? What can you do to let go of struggle and allow things to be easier? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more.

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It’s Okay to Disappoint People

March 15,2012

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

How do you feel about disappointing others? How about being disappointed yourself? I’ve recently noticed how much of my conscious and unconscious attention is focused on not disappointing others, while at the same time protecting myself against being disappointed.

As I’ve been looking at this more deeply, I’m amazed by how much stress, fear, and worry I experience in my attempts to avoid the disappointment of those around me – family, friends, clients, and others. At the same time, I can see that much of this comes from my own deeper fear of being disappointed and let down. The irony, of course, is that no matter how hard I try to avoid disappointing others or being disappointed myself, it happens anyway.

By actively avoiding disappointment (of or by others), we set ourselves up for failure and pain. And, as I’ve seen recently, this makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to speak our truth, be ourselves, and live with a real sense of authenticity and peace.

What if we embraced disappointment instead of avoiding it? It’s inevitable that we will disappoint people, especially when we live our lives in a bold, authentic, and passionate way. Speaking up, going for the things that are important to us, and taking care of ourselves are all things that at times won’t align with others and in some cases may even upset them. It is possible for us, however, to be mindful, empathetic, and aware of others, and still be true to ourselves – these things don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Asking for what we want, counting on others, and trusting people – all of which are essential for healthy, fulfilling, and real relationships – do make us vulnerable to being disappointed and even hurt by the people in our lives. So what! We end up getting more hurt and disappointed in the long run by withholding our desires and expectations. We might as well live out loud and be honest about how we feel, what we want, and what’s important to us.

As Dr. Seuss so brilliantly said, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Disappointment, as uncomfortable and even painful as it can be for me and many of us, is essential and important on our journey of growth, self discovery, authenticity, and fulfillment. Making peace with disappointing others allows us to release our erroneous demands for perfection. Letting go of our fear of being disappointed by other people gives us the ability to take more risks and ask for what we truly want.

When we’re able to embrace disappointment, we create a sense of liberation and space that frees us up to be who we truly are and let go of our attachment with other people’s opinions. This is not always easy, but is so powerful and can be transformational.

Here are a few things you can consider and do to expand your capacity to embrace disappointment in your own life:

  •  Take inventory. Take an honest look at some of the most important relationships and activities in your life. How many of your actions, thoughts, conversations, and more (or lack thereof) have to do with your avoidance of disappointing others or being disappointed? Also, take a look at your relationship to disappointment in general – how do you feel about it?
  •  Practice saying “no.” This is a great practice, especially for those of us “people pleasers” who find ourselves saying “yes” to stuff we don’t really want to do. While there is great value in being someone who is willing to say “yes” in life, there is also power in owning our “no” as well. See if you can practice saying “no” to people, even if it’s scary or uncomfortable. Be real and vulnerable about it – with yourself and others. And, see if you can expand your capacity to decline requests of things you don’t want to do, remove things from your plate or schedule that don’t serve or inspire you, and make peace with yourself about it. As author and coach Cheryl Richardson says, “If it’s not an absolute ‘yes,’ it’s a ‘no’.”
  •  Expand and express your desires. Make a list (mental or written) of some of the most important and vulnerable desires you currently have – the things you really want, but maybe have been afraid to admit (due to a fear of being disappointed). Many of us, myself included, don’t ask for things, go for things, or express things unless we’re pretty sure we can make them happen, get them, or be sure people will respond to them in a positive way. While this makes sense, it’s also quite limiting. When you allow yourself to tap into and express your authentic desires, even if what you want doesn’t seem “possible” at the moment, you give yourself the freedom to ask, dream, and create. One of my favorite sayings is, “The answer’s always ‘no’ if you don’t ask.” Start asking!

As you delve into this, be kind with yourself. This is a big one for me and so many people I know and work with. We all want to be loved, valued, and appreciated in our lives. And, most of us have had painful experiences of disappointment in the past, which have impacted us in a deep way. However, if we can alter our relationship to disappointment – we can transform our lives and our relationships in a profound way!

How do you feel about disappointing others? How about being disappointed? What can you do to make peace with and embrace disappointment in an empowering way? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more.

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It’s Okay for Things to Go Well

Feb 9, 2012

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

How do you feel when things go well for you? If you’re anything like me you may have some mixed feelings about it, as odd as that seems.  While I do love it when things go well and when I’m feeling good, I also notice that sometimes it poses certain challenges for me as well.

For the past few months, things have been going quite well in my life and with my work.  And, more important, I’ve been feeling happier, more peaceful, more grounded, and more vital than I have in quite a long time.

All of these things are wonderful, yet I find myself feeling uneasy and uncomfortable with this at some level.  Even though I wrote a book called Focus on the Good Stuff and many of the themes that I speak about and write about center around being grateful, appreciative, and fulfilled in life – it can be a little tricky for me to fully embrace and experience my life when it’s going well.  Maybe you can relate to this?

What is this about? For me and those of us who may struggle with authentic “good stuff?”  For me, there are a few main things that come up and get in my way when things start to go really well.

First of all, I hear this voice in my head that says, “It’s too good to be true, it won’t last, or you’ll mess it up.”

Second of all, I worry that people won’t like me, will judge me, or will get jealous of my success or my happiness, and thus pull away from me or withhold their love, appreciation, and approval.  Connected to this feeling of separation, I also find myself worrying that if things go too well I won’t be able to relate to, connect with, or be accepted by some of the most important people and groups in my world.

Third of all, much of my learning, growth, and evolution in life has come through my own pain and suffering (i.e. “the hard way”).  Even though I’ve heard a number of teachers and mentors in my life say that we can grow more effectively and elegantly through joy, peace, and love – I find myself worrying that if things get too good, I’ll get lazy, stop actively learning, or somehow abandon my journey of personal growth, which is one of the most important things in my life.

Finally, I tend to feel guilty for my success, well being, or good fortune – especially given that so many people I know (and even more people in the world) are suffering, in pain, or dealing with both small and big challenges.  That same voice in my head says to me, “It’s not fair that things are going well for you, look at all those people who are having a hard time.”

These and other limiting thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs have gotten in my way in the past, kept me stuck in struggle, and at the very least have limited my experience of joy and fulfillment.  It’s almost as if I’ve been more comfortable suffering than I have been when things are thriving.  When there are issues, dramas, challenges, pains, and other difficulties to deal with, address, heal, and overcome – I’m able to dig down deep, access my power, and rise up to meet them.  I’m ready to breakthrough this and alter it in a fundamental and profound way.  How about you?

Your version of this may look a little different than mine, but lots of people I know and work with, even those who have created a lot of outward “success” in their lives, seem to struggle to one degree or another allowing things to go really well in their lives and doing so with real peace, gratitude, and joy.

What if we did allow things to go well and did so more graciously, intentionally, and consciously.  My commitment to myself right now as I’m experiencing a period of expanded success, well being, and joy is to both appreciate it fully and allow it to expand and sustain at the same time.  Of course life has its inevitably ups and downs, ebbs and flows, and expansions and contractions – but, what if we stopped sabotaging ourselves, our success, and our fulfillment just as we began to experience it or because it got too good for us to handle?

Here are some things to focus on, think about, and practice to expand your capacity for things going well in your life:

  • Remember that it’s okay to shine. My dear friend and fellow author Lissa Rankin just wrote a beautiful blog post called “Is it safe to shine your light?” in which she talks about this exact phenomenon in a powerful way.  The more permission we give to ourselves (and those around us) to shine our “light,” the more we realize that it’s safe.  As Marianne Williamson says in her famous quote from her book A Return to Love, “…there’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”
  • Remind yourself that life’s not a competition.  This is a big one for me – as a former pro ball player and given the nature of my personality (I’m a 3 on the enneagram), I have a tendency to look at everything in life as a competition, even though it rarely is.  Competition is about our negative ego (thinking we are either “better than” or “less than”).  When we remember that life is not a competition, we can focus on our own unique experience and do so in a way that is real, not simply in reference to those around us – positively or negatively.
  • Take care of yourself. I’ve heard it said so many times that “happiness is an inside” job, which is true.  Oftentimes things become cliche because they are overused, but they are overused because of their universal truth.  The better job we do at taking care of ourselves and remembering that our fulfillment in life is much more about how we feel about and relate to ourselves, than it is about what others think of us or what results we produce in the world, the more likely we are to experience a true sense of joy and success.

There are a lot of things going on in the world, around us, and in our personal lives – these days and always.  Whether we’re dealing with circumstances right now that seem very challenging to us, ones that seem somewhat benign, or ones that seem overtly positive – giving ourselves permission to allow things to go well (and also to enjoy and appreciate when they do), is actually a bold and beautiful step we can take to not only enhance the quality and experience of our own lives, but that of everyone else we come into contact with as well.

How do you feel about things going well in your life?  What can you do to remind yourself and others that it’s okay for things to go well and for you to be happy? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more on my blog below.

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