Archive for critical

Remember That We’re All Doing the Best We Can

mirando el horizonteNovember 13, 2014

I’m sometimes amazed and embarrassed by how critical I can be – both of other people and of myself.  Even though I both teach and practice the power of appreciation (as well as acceptance, compassion, authenticity, and more) when I find myself feeling scared, threatened, or insecure (which happens more often than I’d like it to), I notice that I can be quite judgmental.  Sadly, as I’ve learned throughout my life, being critical and judgmental never works, feels good, or leads me to what I truly want in my relationships and in my life.  Maybe you can you relate to this yourself?

I’ve recently been challenged by a few situations and relationships that have triggered an intense critical response – both towards myself and those involved.  As I’ve been noticing this, working through it, and looking for alternative ways to respond, I’m reminded of something I heard Louise Hay say a number of years ago.  She said, “It’s important to remember that people are always doing the best they can, including you.”

The power of this statement resonated with me deeply when I heard it and continues to have an impact on me to this day.  And, although I sometimes forget this, when I do remember that we’re all doing the best we can given whatever tools and resources we have (and given the circumstances and situations we’re experiencing), it usually calms me down and creates a sense of compassion for the people I’m dealing with and for myself.

Unfortunately, too often we take things personally that aren’t, look for what’s wrong, and critically judge the people around us and ourselves, instead of bringing a sense of love, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, and appreciation to the most important (and often most challenging) situations and relationships in our lives.

When we take a step back and remember that most of the time people aren’t “out to get us,” purposefully doing things to upset or annoy us, or consciously trying to make mistakes, disappoint us, or create difficulty (they’re simply doing the best they can and what they think makes the most sense) – we can save ourselves from unnecessary overreactions and stress.  And, when we’re able to have this same awareness and compassion in how we relate to ourselves, we can dramatically alter our lives and relationships in a positive way.

Here are some things you can do and remember in this regard:

  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time people have good intentions.  Many of us, myself included, have been trained to be cautious and suspicious of others, even seeing this as an important and effective skill in life and business.  However, we almost always get what we expect from people, so the more often we give people the benefit of the doubt, the more often they will prove us “right,” and the less often we will waste our precious time and energy on cynicism, suspicion, and judgment.
  • Don’t take things personally. One of my favorite sayings is, “You wouldn’t worry about what other people think about you so much, if you realized how little they actually did.”  The truth is that most people are focused on themselves much more than on us.  Too often in life we take things personally that have nothing to do with us.  This doesn’t mean we let people walk all over us or treat us in disrespectful or hurtful ways (it can be important for us to speak up and push back at times in life).  However, when we stop taking things so personally, we liberate ourselves from needless upset, defensiveness, and conflict.
  • Look for the good. Another way to say what I mentioned above about getting what we expect from other people is that we almost always find what we look for.  If you want to find some things about me that you don’t like, consider obnoxious, or get on your nerves – just look for them, I’m sure you’ll come up with some.  On the flip side, if you want to find some of my best qualities and things you appreciate about me, just look for those – they are there too.  As Werner Erhard said, “In every human being there is both garbage and gold, it’s up to us to choose what we pay attention to.” Looking for the good in others (as well as in life and in ourselves), is one of the best ways to find things to appreciate and be grateful for.
  • Seek first to understand. Often when we’re frustrated, annoyed, or in conflict with another person (or group of people), we don’t feel seen, heard, or understood.  As challenging and painful as this can be, one of the best things we can do is to shift our attention from trying to get other people to understand us (or being irritated that it seems like they don’t), is to seek to understand the other person (or people) involved in an authentic way. This can be difficult, especially when the situation or conflict is very personal and emotional to us. However, seeking to understand is one of the best ways for us to liberate ourselves from the grip of criticism and judgment, and often helps shift the dynamic of the entire thing. Being curious, understanding, and even empathetic of another person and their perspective or feelings doesn’t mean we agree with them, it simply allows us to get into their world and see where they’re coming from – which is essential to letting go of judgment, connecting with them, and ultimately resolving the conflict.
  • Be gentle with others (and especially with yourself). Being gentle is the opposite of being critical. When we’re gentle, we’re compassionate, kind, and loving. We may not like, agree with, or totally understand what someone has done (or why), but we can be gentle in how we respond and engage with them. Being gentle isn’t about condoning or appeasing anyone or anything, it’s about having a true sense of empathy and perspective. And, the most important place for us to bring a sense of gentleness is to ourselves. Many of us have a tendency to be hyper self-critical. Sadly, some of the harshest criticism we dole out in life is aimed right at us. Another great saying I love is, “We don’t see people as they are, we see them as we are.” As we alter how we relate to ourselves, our relationship to everyone else and to the world around us is altered in a fundamental way.

As the Dalai Lama so brilliantly says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Everyone around us – our friends, co-workers, significant other, family members, children, service people, clients, and even people we don’t know or care for – are doing the best they can, given the resources they have. When we remember this and come from a truly compassionate perspective (with others and with ourselves), we’re able to tap into a deeper level of peace, appreciation, and fulfillment.

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Make Peace with Your Body and Appearance

86610e3598568673abca1bfa55e976d0May 5, 2014

This is an excerpt from my new book Nothing Changes Until You Do, posted with permission.  Published by Hay House and available online or in bookstores.

I was in the bathroom one morning a number of years ago getting ready for my day. As I was shaving and taking care of my morning routine, my gremlin was actively and negatively commenting about a number of specific things related to my appearance. That nasty and critical voice in my head said, Look at you, you look awful! Your hair is thinning, you’re gaining weight, you have dark circles under your eyes, and those worry lines on your forehead keep getting deeper. You’re clearly not taking good care of yourself.

I was doing my best to ignore my gremlin, finish up in the bathroom, and get on with my day. As I was in the midst of this process, there was a series of loud bangs on the door—boom, boom, boom!

“Daddy!” said my then two-year-old Samantha. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy—open up!”

Samantha, who has always been quite passionate, was going through a phase where she was barging into rooms, particularly the bathroom, all the time—so I’d been well trained to lock the door whenever I went in there.

“In a minute, honey. Daddy’s shaving,” I said.

Samantha continued to bang on the door and said, “Daddy, open the door! I have to tell you something important.”

“I’ll be out in a minute, sweetheart,” I said, hoping she would just go away (although I knew there was little to no chance that would actually happen).

“Daddy,” said Samantha, “it’s really important.”

I let out a big sigh, and with a towel wrapped around my waist, shaving cream on half my face, and a pretty bad attitude, I begrudgingly opened the door. “Yes, honey, what is it?” I asked, impatiently.

I looked down and saw Samantha standing there completely naked with a huge grin on her face. She looked up at me, spun around with a little twirl, and, with her arms outstretched, said, “Daddy, look how cute I am!” Then, quite pleased with herself, she gave me a big hug and ran off.

The irony of the situation was not lost on me. Although I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry, it hit me in a profound way that Samantha’s relationship to her own body and appearance was quite different and more empowering than mine.

Being hypercritical of my appearance, unfortunately, is a somewhat common experience for me and is something that I’ve struggled with significantly at times in my life. Some of the deepest pain and self-loathing I’ve ever felt has had to do with my feeling ugly and not good enough physically. I’m sure there are a variety of external factors that have contributed to this to some degree—growing up with parents who didn’t feel good about themselves physically and who both talked about that quite a bit; being focused so intensely on the shape, size, and function of my physical body as a competitive athlete for almost 18 of my first 25 years on the planet; and being impacted by our media and culture, which seem to have an insatiable obsession with appearance, beauty, and body perfection. However, at the root of these issues for me (which I think is true for most of us who struggle with this) is a deep sense of feeling fundamentally flawed.

A couple of things have added to the complexity and confusion of this particular issue for me over the years. First is that I’ve gotten mostly positive feedback about my appearance. I’ve never really been significantly overweight. Nothing is physically “wrong” with me, but I still feel unattractive. Which leads to the second bit of added confusion: I’m a man. Body image stuff, as we often read about, is portrayed mostly as a “women’s issue.” However, it has been a major issue in my life. At times I’m not sure what’s worse, feeling bad about my body and appearance, or feeling embarrassed that I feel bad about my body and appearance—both of these experiences have produced feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, anger, and conflict within me. And I know I’m not alone. This isn’t something that only affects teens, celebrities, or women—it’s something that people of all ages, body types, races, genders, backgrounds, and professions struggle with.

Most people I know have complaints about their bodies and how they look—whether they admit to them or not. There’s nothing wrong with us wanting to look our best, take care of ourselves, and be fit. However, billions of dollars are spent each year by advertisers telling us we don’t look good enough and need improvement. In return, we spend billions of our own dollars collectively on various products that are supposed to reverse our aging process, regrow our hair, smooth out our wrinkles, whiten our teeth, help us lose weight, make us look and feel better, and so much more. All in all, it sets up an unhealthy dynamic that is based on fear and scarcity. We buy into the idea that we have to do anything and everything we can to keep up, fight the natural aging process, and stay young, fit, and beautiful for as long as humanly possible. It can be exhausting and scary.

Over the past few years, I’ve started to get more real about my own struggles with my appearance and my deeper feelings about my body. Thanks to some great support, inner work, and healing, I’ve made good progress in this arena—although it still ebbs and flows for me and there is more work to be done. I had what felt like a pretty big breakthrough in 2012 when I decided I was finally ready, after a number of years of avoidance, to update the photos and videos on my website. My last photo shoot, which was in 2008, had been so upsetting and traumatic that I hadn’t been interested in doing it again. But by 2012 the images and videos on my website were dated and it was becoming problematic.

My hair started thinning when I was in my late 20s. For someone who was already hypercritical of his appearance, this was a scary and painful development. In addition to my own body issues, hair loss had been a big thing in my family, as my father had lost his hair quite young and it caused him a great deal of pain and suffering. So in both my family and our culture at large, hair loss for men is seen as a very bad thing. Even though it’s quite common, it’s something people (especially other men) often comment on and make fun of. Losing your hair isn’t really something you can hide or cover up all that well—it’s out there for the whole world to see. By my early to mid-30s, it was becoming pretty obvious, and it was a source of deep pain, shame, and embarrassment for me. Most of the reason I hadn’t gotten new photos taken had to do with my hair and my lack of acceptance about it. Although I’d been consistently shaving my head since mid-2011, something about getting these new photos and videos done made me feel vulnerable and scared in a way I wasn’t sure I could handle.

I reached out to some of the people closest to me to ask for their support, and I found some good professionals to help with the photos and videos. Although I was pretty freaked out, I scheduled a photo shoot and also planned to take a look at some video footage of some speeches I’d recently given. The process of getting the photos taken and the videos filmed wasn’t the hard part for me; it was looking at them afterward. Going into both the photo shoot and the speeches I knew were being filmed, I focused my attention on how I wanted to feel, not on how I wanted to look. I also did whatever I could to be kind and loving to myself, even though I was feeling self-conscious.

I had Michelle and also Melanie, who works with me, look at the photos before I did—so they could send me the ones they liked best (and hopefully get rid of some of the bad ones). That helped and I was actually quite pleasantly surprised by how they turned out. The videos, on the other hand, were more difficult, as I had to watch myself speaking for hours on end in order to pull out the clips for my speaking demo video and for various pages within my website. My gremlin had a field day with me at first, but after talking to my counselor Eleanor about it, she suggested that I focus on how I wanted to feel while I was watching the videos, which helped shift my perspective and made the viewing/editing process a little easier.

Although it wasn’t my favorite thing in the world, the whole process ended up being a lot less painful than I expected and the net result was that I was able to launch a new website with updated photos and videos of myself, that fall—which was a huge deal for me on many levels.

As I contemplate future photo and video shoots, I still feel a bit scared and daunted. However, these feelings are less intense based not only on this past experience, but also on my personal commitment to making peace with my body and appearance. When I come from that place of peace, things are much different and more enjoyable than when I come from a place of criticism and judgment (i.e., the world of my gremlin).

What if we could befriend our bodies and not treat them like enemies we’re trying to beat, conquer, or at least keep at bay? What if we could remember how accepting and celebratory we were about our bodies as young children? The key to all of this is not about losing more weight, finding the right workout program, getting the best products, or buying better clothes. It’s really about us making peace with our bodies, and, on a deeper level, making peace with ourselves.

It’s essential for us to forgive ourselves and to also forgive our bodies. In many cases, we have done, said, and thought really negative and damaging things to and about our bodies over the years. With a sense of healthy remorse and a deep sense of empathy, we can begin to forgive ourselves for how we’ve treated ourselves in the past. At the same time, we can practice forgiving our bodies for not being “perfect,” which no body ever is or will be. 

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