Posted by: Edward | April 20, 2021

Temporal Collaboration

When past me works with current me or current me works with future me to support mutually beneficial outcomes.

Eg. “Boy I’m glad yesterday me decided not to drink.”

How can you cultivate this temporal collaboration?

With a practice of looking forward and looking back.

Looking forward and asking what would future me wish I had done here or what would future me appreciate me doing in this moment? Asking yourself this question will shift you towards the bigger picture view.

Then on the other side, a practice of looking back and recognizing things past you has done that you appreciate and are grateful for. This practice could be done at different timescales. You could reflect every night or every week, every season or every year.

And when visualizing future you, you could vary the time scale as well. Visualize end of the week you. Visualize end of the season you. Visualize end of the year you. 5 years from now you. 10 years from now you. 20 years from now you. End of your life you.

Each of these will have different concerns and priorities reflecting how you evolve and the different stages of your life. But also they will have some common concerns and priorities. What might these be?

Part of this idea is to motivate you to take actions that will benefit you the most over the widest scope of your life. But it could also help you cultivate compassionate and grateful self-love.

You could extend this reflection backwards at many timescales as well. What did you do as a child, or as a teenager, or as a young adult that current you is grateful for? Even in the bad times, even in the hard times, there are choices you made that you can be grateful for. If nothing else, you can be grateful that past you did what was necessary to survive so that current you get to experience life.

Let us befriend and become allies with all of our selves.

Posted by: Edward | May 30, 2019

Is your approach to life active or passive?

Probably the most important decision you can make in your life is whether you’re going to take an active approach or passive one. A passive approach is when you look at life as if it happens TO you. An active approach is when you look for what you can DO to have the experiences you want to have.

Taking an active approach doesn’t mean that everything is magically going to go your way, most things are still out of your control. What it means is you’ve taken the time to figure out what it is you actually want and you’ve made a plan and take actions to try and make that happen.

And when things inevitably do not go according to your plan, you don’t stop and say woe is me. Okay, you can say woe is me a little. But then you adapt, adjust, or make a new plan to move towards what you want.

This works best if you are open, flexible, and persistent.

Be open to whatever is happening, even the obstacles in your way, but also be open about what you really want out of life, with yourself and with others. Flexibility is required because if what you try doesn’t work you need for it to look for different ways to approach the situation. Persistence is necessary to just keep trying even if you start to feel discouraged.

There is a zigzaginess to this approach to life but it gives you far better odds of having the experiences you want to have.

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.

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