Posted by: Edward | September 4, 2014

What I can do

I am tired and in a shitty mood. I don’t want to think of anything to write. I don’t want to go to work or see friends. I just want to stay in bed and sulk. But I don’t. I get myself together and go to the coffeeshop to write. And when it’s time I’ll go to work and I’ll smile and do my job.

Some days are going to suck. Sometimes you aren’t going to feel good. The truth is, you don’t have to let that stop you. You can look the shitty right in the face and say, “yup that sucks,” and then go do what you choose to do.

I wasn’t always able to do this. Or maybe I just didn’t know that I could. I’ve spent a few years making myself into a different sort of person. I’ve collected tools that help me. Some are ideas from Stoic philosophy and another is simple mindfulness meditation.

The two ideas from Stoicism I use the most are: that somethings are under our control, while most things aren’t and what disturbs us are not our experiences but rather our thinking about those experiences.

That last one is not always true. I was physically assaulted last night. There was pain and a heightened response from adrenalin. I would argue this disturbance came straight from the experience.

However, when I got up this morning, I was still upset. Here it was not the experience but my thinking upsetting me, because if I was paying attention, I would notice I was no longer being assaulted and that all the extra adrenalin had already left my system.

Here I make use of that other idea from Stoicism. Some things are up to us and some things aren’t. I can’t go back in time and make that person not attack me but I can choose what I do now. And what I chose to do was to meditate.

I practice a deceptively simple form of meditation. I sit with my spine straight, my eyes open, and everything else relaxed. Then I pay attention to how it feels to be breathing now. I don’t try to stop or fight my thoughts. But if I notice some thought carrying my attention away so that I forget the feeling of my breathing then I give it a little mental tap, label it thinking, and return my attention to the experience of breathing.

It’s very important that you understand letting a thought carry your attention away isn’t failing at mediation, rather noticing that this has happened is success. As you let go of each of those sticky thoughts you are letting go of what disturbs you. The more you pay attention to what you are presently experiencing, the less you will find that disturbs.

And maybe I can’t shake the bad mood entirely but I can focus on what I can do. Maybe I can’t feel like writing but I can put my shoes on. I can’t change the past but I can go to the coffeeshop. I can’t make a violent person into a nice guy but I can move my pen.

Posted by: Edward | September 1, 2014

What are you waiting for?

Your ship isn’t going to come in. The life you want won’t be handed to you like a gift. The gift has already been given. It is the brief candle flame in the dark that is our life. Our wax may last a hundred years but a wind could come at any moment and blow us out. Don’t waste it.

No, the life you want won’t find you. You have to build it, brick by brick. Make sure your foundations are good because if you don’t, the house will collapse and you’ll have to start over again. But don’t cry if it does. Every time you start again you can make it better. You get better at building, your plans get clearer, you learn to select better materials.

The foundations are your habits. Habits of action and habits of thought. Those little barely noticed things you do every day, those are what the rest of the life you build rests on. Measure those little thoughts and actions against your building plan, your vision of the life you want. Do the things you think and do every day move you towards or away from those goals?

If they move you towards them, then enshrine that. Build around it. Make it habit. Make it ritual.

If they move you away, discard it. Pull it out like you would a weed from your garden. You will need to be severe. It doesn’t matter if it is a belief handed down to you over the generations. It doesn’t matter if the habit has given you great comfort. If it moves you away from your best self and life, pull it up by the roots.

You can mourn its passing. Have a little memorial for the you, you used to be. Then move on and put a better stone in its place. Build the life you want, brick by brick, stone by stone. Stop waiting. Start now.

Posted by: Edward | August 14, 2014

You are not as alone as you sometimes feel

We are all more similar than we are different. Whatever you are feeling someone else has felt it. Someone else is probably feeling it right now. I want you to imagine that all those other people right now, in the past, and in the future, are with you right now. All of those people who feel what you feel are with you right now to help you lift your burden. Lean on them, the brothers and sisters of your suffering, and feel your burden ease because you are not alone.

Out of imagination and into the world now, I want you to reach out to others. Out there are people who will understand and want to help you. Out there are people you can help with your understanding and care. Their burdens may not be exactly the same as yours but reach out and let them know, you are not as alone as you sometimes feel.

Posted by: Edward | July 27, 2014

How To

1. Know what behaviour you want to change.

2. Know why you haven’t changed it yet.

3. Know why you want to change it now.

4. Commit to making the necessary changes now and over the long term.

5. Set things up to make it easier to do what you want and harder to do what you don’t want.

6. When you notice yourself wanting to do what you’ve chosen not to do, or not wanting to do what you’ve chosen to do, push through and make the better choice.

7. Regularly recognize and reward yourself for following through on your goals.

8. If you fall short of your goals, don’t berate yourself, instead figure out why it happened, make changes to your plan of action, and recommit to your goals.

Posted by: Edward | July 13, 2014

Faith in Imperfection

The only faith you need is faith in yourself. I know that this is a hard thing to ask as there are entire industries devoted to convincing us that we are not good enough. But they are trying to trick us by pretending we have to be perfect when we only have to be ourselves.

You can’t be perfect, and wouldn’t want to be anyways. Perfect things can’t grow, they can’t change. Perfection is a kind of death, while imperfection is life. Without error we could not learn. Perfect DNA would not evolve. Cherish your ability to err, to fail, for from it comes everything you’ve ever learned and everything you’ve achieved.

Cherish your stumbles and you are free to act. You can meet whatever comes and have faith that you will do the best you can. Act and whatever comes enriches you. It is information you can learn from. It is an opportunity to grow and a challenge that you can use to strengthen yourself.

We are the fool stepping off the cliff into the unknown. Fear, our loyal companion, tries to pull us back from the edge. We will face that unknown no matter what we choose, it comes even if we cower and hesitate. How much better then, to listen to the tune that calls us, and simply leap?

Posted by: Edward | July 9, 2014

The Soul of Compassion

The key ability needed in order to help someone is the ability to accept pain. You build this up by facing your own pain. Engage in a mindfulness practice where you can learn to accept and be with whatever is present for you and have a willingness to delve into your own feelings and experiences and accept and breathe with whatever comes up.

When you have some comfort with this process you can extend it to others. Listen to their story, be open to the feelings and pain revealed by it, and accept whatever they share with you as a gift. You don’t need to fix it for them. You don’t need to advise them about it. Those are just ways of running away from your own discomfort. Accept your own uncomfortable feelings and share their pain with them. This will help them, even if nothing gets fixed.

A wound needs to be aired out if it ever going to heal. When you listen to their pain without judging or running away, you teach them an important lesson. You teach them that, while their pain remains painful, they don’t need to heap shame on top of it. Shame, the fear that their weakness or pain makes them bad or unlovable, is like infection that gets into a wound. Often the infection is more dangerous than the wound itself.

So this is the gift you give them, when they gift you with their story and their pain, you accept it and so show them that despite their pain they are acceptable, even lovable. This is the soul of compassion.

Posted by: Edward | June 23, 2014

Celebrate the Small Wins

This morning I remembered to take out the recycling, which I’d neglected for the last week. I celebrated this achievement with a nice cup of yorkshire tea. Giggle if you want, but I recommend you do something very similar. Celebrate your small wins. Every time you complete a task you’ve been putting off or take a small step toward your goals, take a moment to congratulate yourself. Take a moment to feel good about yourself for doing it. This may feel silly but that’s ok, you are an adult, you can be silly if you want to.

When you congratulate yourself for those small steps you build up the association in your brain between doing what needs to be done and feeling good. Over time that will make it easier for you choose to do the next task and take the step. It will increase your intrinsic motivation. If you only celebrate the big wins, you won’t build up the positive motivation driving you to do the work. And make no mistake, it’s doing the work that matters. Success is only a side effect of doing the necessary work.

Another side effect of what I’m proposing is you’ll be happier. If you only reward the big successes, you will give yourself that emotional boost too rarely. When you celebrate the small wins you give yourself that boost much more frequently. The good feelings will spread into the next task and much more of your days will be spent feeling good about yourself and what you do.

Now, some of you may be asking yourselves if you really deserve to celebrate those small wins. I get that, I think like that sometimes too, but you do, you really do. Those small things, whatever they are for you, are exactly what you deserve to congratulate yourselves for. You are doing them even though no one else is going to reward you for them. Maybe no one is even going to notice, but you do it anyways. And you didn’t have to do it. I could have let the recycling sit there another day… but I didn’t, and that’s why it deserves celebrating.

Your celebration doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to throw a party every time you take out the garbage. Just stop for a moment, smile, and tell yourself, “good job, I’m glad you did that.” It doesn’t have to be big but try to do it every time. And every once in a while, do something nice for yourself, like my cup of tea.

So, when you’ve done some little task that moves you towards your goals, take a moment to celebrate it, feel good about doing it, and then move on to the next step. After I enjoyed my cup of tea, I sat down and meditated, which is something else I’d been neglecting this week. And you know what? I feel pretty good about that too.

Posted by: Edward | June 18, 2014

Be the Decider

Power is a very simple thing to have: be the one who makes the decisions. Every day I hear people giving away what power they have. “I can’t,” they say. “I have to,” they claim. I understand that these lies are socially useful, they are often ways to avoid upsetting people by obscuring our responsibility for our choices. I’m not going to tell you to never tell these lies, just stop telling them to yourself.

When you hear yourself say, “I have to go to work,” remind yourself that you are choosing to go to work and why you are choosing that. Practice taking responsibility for your choices and examining your motivations. Over time this will increase your sense of your own power and clarify why you do what you do. When you consistently frame the choices you make as choices you will realize how much of your life is up to you and you may even decide to change some of those choices.

Some of the choices that seem like have to’s were made a long time ago and the values and goals they serve are no longer ones that matter to you. When you find one of these, ask yourself what values and goals would you rather work towards now? Take time to really explore and reflect about what it is you really want and who you want to be.

When you are clear about what you want, ask yourself what are all of the ways you could work towards these goals or express these values? Ideally at this stage you should throw out as many ideas as possible, no matter how crazy. In fact, try to get some wild and crazy ideas out there to make sure you aren’t looking in too small of a box.

Now that you have a list of things you could do to work towards your goals, try to imagine a person successful at what you want to achieve. What from your list would that person choose to do? If you have trouble with this step, go read about people who achieved the sorts of things you want to. Star all of the activities that successful person would choose. Put two stars beside the one most vitally connected with succeeding at your goals.

Ask yourself, has ending the old choice freed up enough time and energy to choose this new activity? If so, start immediately. If not, you have a choice to make. You can choose one of the other starred activities that take less time and energy or you can look for another old choice to stop wasting time and energy on. It’s up to you.

Posted by: Edward | June 1, 2014

We All Have Issues

I’ve noticed that when I talk about smaller scale things as mental health issues, I get push back. A lot of people have a very black and white view of mental health, someone is either mentally ill or they are not. I don’t see the world that way. I see those people that everyone agrees are mentally ill as the extreme end of a scale that all of us are on.

Some habits of thought and action are more mentally ill than others. Some, over time, will make you more mentally ill. Just like bad habits such as overeating or smoking can make you physically ill and other like eating vegetables and exercising regularly can help keep you physically healthy.

Part of the process of destigmatizing mental health issues is to realize that they aren’t black and white, all or nothing, and that we all have them. We all have mental health issues exactly like we all have physical health issues, because we are all human.

Posted by: Edward | December 19, 2013

Tell the Rest of the Story

Many people, like me, have difficulty with a voice, a voice that tells a very unflattering story about ourselves. It tells us a story of all our failures, all the ways that we don’t measure up, all the ways we are not good enough. A common name for this is the inner critic. In many ways this voice isn’t fair. It has appointed itself prosecutor and judge. It lays out the evidence against you and condemns you for it. But it only tells half of the story, it only selects experiences that supports its conclusion and it interprets all that in the most negative light.

So, what you need to do is tell the other side of the story. Collect all of your victories, all of your successes, your good experiences, and the times you made good choices. This may be difficult for you, at least at first. This is because, if you are like me, your inner critic has been telling you the bad story over and over again for a very long time. So, it’s going to take you some time to find and collect your victories. And you are going to have to tell yourself that story regularly in order to build up it’s value in comparison to the inner critic’s story.

The next thing you want to do is start making the other case. Like a good defense attorney, you need to yell “Objection!” when your prosecutor is making unfair generalizations or interpretations. If your critic says that you always do something but your victory story includes a counterexample? Then present the evidence and adjust the general statement, the judgment, to be an honest and fair representation. If your critic is making an unfair or overly cruel interpretation or prediction? Challenge it, give an alternative version and support it with evidence, experiences in line with a more positive view of yourself and your possibilities. This too will take time. Be gentle with yourself, if you forget, and look for ways to remind yourself to keep doing it.

This may also feel uncomfortable, unfamiliar, or even fake. That’s understandable, natural even. Learning a new skill often feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar. And as for the feeling of being fake or phoney, you are challenging your established sense of your self. Your sense of who you are is largely based on the story you’ve been telling yourself about who you are. So when you begin telling a new story, it’s going to feel like it isn’t you. But remember this new story is based on things you have done and experienced, things you’ve been forgetting or ignoring. So be fair to yourself… tell the rest of the story.

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