Posted by: Edward | July 3, 2016

Grieving our Dreams

The loss of a future we imagined or hoped for is a real loss. We must allow ourselves and each other space to grieve. Whether it is a connection you were hoping would be a relationship or a job you hoped would become a career. When a dream dies, what we lose is real to us because we invested in it emotionally.

Don’t expect that, when someone learns a dream just isn’t to be, they can or will bounce back instantly. Don’t tell someone, or yourself, to move on or just let it go. Of course, we don’t want to wallow in our misery for too long either.

I’ve found ritualizing the situation helps me a lot. When we lose someone, we gather in the communal ritual of a funeral. There’s no reason not to do something similar, if perhaps smaller, to cope with this loss. For, in a way, you have lost someone. You’ve lost who you would have been if that dream had become a reality.

Posted by: Edward | March 10, 2016

Learn to let Criticism Nourish You

No one who does anything can escape criticism, so the first thing to do is to think of it as the social equivalent of rainy weather. It’s inevitable it will happen, and not necessarily when you are prepared for it. And while rain may be be unwelcome at your picnic, there are people praying for rain to help their plants grow.

Sometimes the criticism we receive is unfair. Maybe the other person has misperceived the situation or is judging you by an unreasonable standard. You can decide whether it is worth attempting to correct their perceptions or standards of judgement, or whether to simply tolerate and forget their errors.

Often, however, there is some truth in the criticism we receive, even if it is small or distorted by emotion. Like a gold panner we must sift through some dirt, if we want to find any gold. It is well worth digging through the feedback we receive, no matter how unpleasant that can be at times, if we can find a way to improve ourselves.

The first step is to practice actually hearing the critical statements. Try not to react, defend, or fight back. This can be very difficult, but it is a skill that will pay dividends for the rest of your life. Listen and collect what they are giving you for it is a gift, even if neither you nor they realize it is. If you find it too difficult to hear without getting upset, write down what they told you and look at it again when you are calmer.

Ignore, for now, the parts you feel are unfair, untrue, and unreasonable. Look for bits that feel more like they hit a bit. Dust these off and look at them. You might have to translate these out of statements about you and into descriptions of your behaviour. You might need to translate them from always or never statements into often or sometimes or rarely statements. Take the pieces that are a little true and make them more true.

Now, once you have done this, is this statement something you could work on? Would changing this behaviour improve your performance or your ethics? If it would, and you can use this nugget to improve yourself, then it was worth digging through a little muck to get it, wasn’t it?

This is a process that is very difficult to start but that gets easier and more powerful the more you use it. Criticism can change from something that rains on your parade into something that waters your best qualities.

Posted by: Edward | February 17, 2016

Tend your Failures Well

Someone once listed my failures and asked, how dare I give advice to anyone? I told them they had just listed my qualifications. A person with no failures has only pretended to live.

Every time I have tried and failed, I have grown bravery. Every time, I have learned about myself and the world. My failures teach me to be more forgiving and compassionate towards the failings of others. My failures have helped me stay humble in the face of my successes. My failures show me it is possible to survive the things we think will destroy us.

Don’t ever let anyone make you ashamed of your failures. They are badges of a life actually lived. They are the dark and fertile earth that your strengths grow in. Claim ownership of them, water them with self-compassion, and learn from them how to do better. Tend them well and they’ll grow you the fruit of wisdom.

Posted by: Edward | December 30, 2015

Follow your Pain

Your power is on the other side of your pain. It’s natural to want to run away from pain but in this life, pain is unavoidable. To pretend otherwise is just to make ourselves brittle to it. Instead do the opposite, look the pain in your life right in the face.

Admit to yourself that it is there, see how it affects you, map out the situations that bring it to you, and pay attention to the stories you tell yourself about those situations. Even just this will make your pain a little more manageable, but you can go beyond this.

Some of those situations can and should be ended. Some can’t or shouldn’t. Examine the stories you are telling yourself. Are they true or are they just one way of looking at things? If there is a better way of thinking about your situation or your pain, try telling yourself that version of the story and see what changes for you.

Often in life we face choices with pain down both forks of the road. Fear and the real possibility of failure on one side, and the slow grind of regret and stagnation on the other. Choose the pain that will make you better. There is no growth without pain but not growing brings it’s own pain. You might as well choose the suffering that makes you stronger. There’s nobility in it.

Be the person who looks their pain in the face, that knows it as an old frenemy or a hard teacher. Be the person who chooses the pain of growth. You’ll find power there.

Posted by: Edward | November 15, 2015

The Four Parts of Compassion

I think a key thing we need to cultivate in ourselves and to encourage in the world is compassion. It is the best of us, when being human is a compliment. A literal translation of the word might be shared suffering. It is related to empathy but takes a few steps beyond it.

The root of compassion is in empathy, understanding what someone else is going through from their point of view. The willingness to try seeing things through someone else’s eyes will over time increase your ability to do so. This could be considered the intellectual aspect of compassion.

The emotional aspect is found in sharing the feeling with the other person. If, for example, you realize that the person you are talking to is feeling sad, allow yourself to feel sad with them. This isn’t that hard to do, we already come equipped with what are called mirror neurons, which allow us to feel what others feel.

If you are able to share the other person’s feelings you may find that a desire to help them arises naturally. To help them with their suffering will help you with the suffering you now share. If it does, let it bloom within you. It is a beautiful thing. This is the intentional aspect of compassion.

And the last part of compassion is to let that desire to help become a concrete action. Do something to reach out of yourself and help another person. Sure, this will help them. Additionally, studies show this will even make you a happier person. But more importantly, it’s one small way we can make the world a little better.

Posted by: Edward | November 12, 2015

The Power of Responsibility

One of the greatest and most horrible adult realizations is that no one is going to do it for you. If you want something to happen, you are going to have to work for it. And even then you might not succeed.

This is one of the core thoughts behind responsibility. Your parents are not going to do it for you, even if you are lucky enough that they are still alive. Santa Claus isn’t real. God seems to be pretty selective about what prayers he answers. So if you want something, you are going to have to figure out how to get it and put in the work.

This isn’t to say no one will help you. Sometimes they will, sometimes they won’t. You can’t just count on or expect that help. And you actually need to ask for it. Asking for help is a form of taking responsibility. You’ve identified what you want, you’ve figured out one way to achieve it, and you are actively doing something to help it happen. And if you are actively working towards something, a lot of people become more willing to help you.

One of the hardships of this realization is that it requires you to forge a new relationship with failure. When you take responsibility for what you want, you are going to need to do things you’ve never done before and this means you will experience failure. But this hardship is a power as well. Trying and failing is how we learn to do better. Our ability to fail and learn from it is one of humanity’s greatest strengths.

I’ve talked so far about taking responsibility for what you want and I want to clarify that this doesn’t have to be a purely selfish thing. I don’t know about you but I want things for others. I want people I care about to be happy and healthy. I want the world to move in directions that I think are better. Taking responsibility means taking action. Do something to help someone you care about. Do something to contribute to a cause you believe in. You’ll be glad you did. But be sure to temper this contribution with the awareness that your time and energy are limited.

Spider-man has a slogan, with great power comes great responsibility. It is a reminder for him to use his powers for good. And it’s an important thing to remember. But I think the opposite is also true. With great responsibility comes great power. The more you can allow yourself to be responsible for, the more of your cares that you can embody in concrete action, the greater your effect on the world… the greater your power.

Posted by: Edward | November 4, 2015

Rituals for Increasing Happiness

There are things you can do that science has found can increase your happiness. Give yourself the gift of making habits or, even better, daily personal rituals of those things.

The first is gratitude. Making a habit of feeling and expressing gratitude has a measurable effect on people’s happiness. Start by making a daily ritual of reviewing your day and finding one to three things that happened to feel grateful for. Try to find different things each day. If you have trouble doing this, imagine subtracting something from your life and how much that would diminish your enjoyment of life and then feel grateful that you experience that thing or person.

Next is when someone does something for which you can feel grateful, thank them. A general habit of thanking people when they help you or treat you kindly is good, but you can take it up a notch. Once a day find someone who has helped you and deliver a complete thank you. You thank them, tell them specifically what for, and how it impacted or benefited you. This practice has two benefits. First, focusing on gratitude and how people are kind to you will make you happier. and second, thanking people will make them feel appreciated and will improve your connection to them, and that will make you happier.

The next thing is kindness and compassion. Neuroscience found the people with the happiest brains were meditators. And when their brains lit up as happiest? When they were thinking compassionately. Practice thinking of others as just like you, people on this earth for a limited time with hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, doing their best to navigate uncertain challenges. Remind yourself of people who upset you that they are doing the best they can and you behave poorly at times as well. At least once a day, do something kind for someone else. Don’t look for anything in return or even for thanks, just help someone else out. Science has found it will make you feel better.

Once a day give yourself a gift. It can be as simple as having a cup of coffee or listening to a song you enjoy  or a five-minute conversation with someone you love. But treat it as special. Take a break from your worries and distractions and focus your attention on the gift you are giving yourself. Let yourself really experience and enjoy it. Practice savouring these positive experiences.

Make another daily ritual of finding one to three small things to feel proud of. How small? Single choices. A moment where you could have chosen the easier, the unhealthier, the meaner way to act but instead you chose the harder, the healthier, the kinder. When you choose the salad over the fries. When you do something towards your goals instead of watching TV. When you forgive someone who disappointed you rather than holding a grudge. These are the moments to remember and appreciate yourself for.

Keep the moments small so you can feel pride and be humble at the same time. Focusing on these moments when you’ve done well, by your own standards, will make you feel better and will make you more likely to make better choices more often, which will make you feel better. Over the long-term it’s those small choices that matter most.

Posted by: Edward | September 30, 2015

When can stress be good for you?

  1. When you frame it as good for you

The story you tell yourself about the stressful situation and stress itself can both affect how the stress affects you. Instead of stress being damaging, sometimes it can be like exercise for a muscle. It hurts but ultimately you get stronger.

  1. When you can handle its intensity

If the stress is less than an amount that you would be unable to handle, then it is less likely to be damaging to you. Extremely intense stress, such as when your life is in peril, can cause conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

  1. When you choose it

If you willingly entered into a stressful situation, or chose it as a way to work towards a goal of yours, it is more likely to have longer term positive effects for you. When you have a sense of control you are more likely to find it tolerable and even worthwhile.

  1. When its duration is short

Chronic stress is almost always damaging. But if the stressful situation is short in duration, even if it is on the higher end of moderate, most of the time it will prove harmless to you or like building a muscle. Regular low intensity and short duration stresses can be invigorating.

Posted by: Edward | September 22, 2015

Go Beyond the Surface of your Disagreements

In a disagreement, we often butt heads over specific positions or demands. And if we stay at that surface of the disagreement, we will stay stuck in conflict. If we can go behind the positions, we will find feelings, what people want, what they value, and how they believe the world works.

In exploring these, you will find many places where you actually agree. You may find you understand why they hold the position they do. You may find you admire their commitment to their values. Out of a respectful exploration of this shared space of meaning you may together find a way to move around the point of contention and create a flow of agreement.

By going behind the surface of a conflict, you may find a way to feel good, get what you really want, and act in alignment with your values, together. And even if you can’t find a way to agree, you might be able to simply disagree, without needing to dislike each other.

Posted by: Edward | September 17, 2015

The Challenge and Opportunity of Now

Do not ask of this moment, whatever you are experiencing, whether this is good or bad. Accept and affirm that this IS, and ask, how can I respond to this? What can I make of this moment? That is the root of our freedom and power.

What is, is. Judging it as bad does nothing to change it, it only makes us feel bad. What the moment provides, whether we find it pleasant or unpleasant, is a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is to not let that moment overwhelm us, to not get bogged down in whether it is good, bad, or ugly. Our challenge is to accept it as it is. If we can do this then the moment becomes an opportunity.

It provides an opening for us to fill with an expression of who we are, who we choose to be. In that opening we can choose how we respond, we can choose to express our values in action. In that way any moment, no matter how unpleasant, can be a triumph. We can use that challenge and its opportunity to bring out the best in us.

This being present in the moment and accepting it without judgement has a name. It’s called mindfulness and it is a skill you can develop. One method is the kind of meditation which shares its name.

A simple version of this is to sit in an upright but otherwise relaxed posture and pay attention to the sensations of your breathing. Whenever you notice that your attention has wandered, gently point it back at the physical sensations of breathing.

It is important to note that when your attention wanders you have not failed at meditation. No, instead, noticing that your attention has wandered and gently focusing it back on your breath is succeeding at meditation. That is how you build the skill of mindfulness. As little as ten minutes a day can noticeably change many things in your life.

The next thing to do is let this growing skill of mindfulness start to invade the rest of your life. You could pick a simple task and bring to it the quality of mind you’ve been training with meditation. Try setting random alarms with your watch or phone and just take a few breaths to feel what you are feeling when they go off.  Take an activity that you find boring and try to make it new in a subtle way only you would notice.

Finally, bring the accepting non-judgemental awareness to a moment you normally find difficult and see if it opens up an opportunity to behave differently than you might normally in that situation. If you find that you do, if you get that cubic centimeter of chance, make the best of it.

Older Posts »

Categories