Posted by: Edward | April 26, 2015

Fail Better

People fail. They fall short of their goals. They betray people they love. In every possible way, they screw up, disappoint themselves, and others. To err is truly human.

So what happens next? Some people, when they fail, let it destroy them. They feel like broken people, horrible, unworthy of love. In short, they feel shame. Unfortunately, shame can be a trap. If you feel shame, you can’t really move on from your mistake, you essentially live in the moment of your failure.

What is another choice? Instead of letting your failure mean you are bad, not good enough, or unworthy; you can let it be your action that was not good enough. If it is not you but your action that was bad, all you have to do is change your actions. You move on, you learn that’s not a way you want to act.

With this change of perspective, your mistakes don’t make you bad, they make you better. Each error can be an opportunity, if you accept it and commit to changing your actions and yourself. This is a process that is very rewarding but often difficult and uncomfortable.

First, you must face that you did in fact screw up. This alone can be fantastically difficult as many of us have left over ideas from childhood that we have to be perfect. We can’t be. Remind yourself that all human beings make mistakes. It doesn’t mean you are bad, it simply means you are human.

Now, look at the specific action that you feel was a mistake. Decide what of your goals and values it fell short of, select an action you would rather you had done, and commit to acting differently if you get another chance. Additionally, if someone was harmed by your error, I’d also suggest committing to an action to make amends.

It is uncomfortable to make mistakes but if we were unable to, we would never learn, never grow. Our ability to screw up is a vital part of us. So next time you use this capability, face it, accept it, and use it to become a better you.

Posted by: Edward | February 1, 2015

It’s ok to not feel ok

Let’s imagine that you have found yourself feeling bad. Maybe you are angry, maybe you are sad, maybe you are afraid. The very worst thing you could do is tell yourself, “I shouldn’t feel like this,” and make yourself feel ashamed on top of those other feelings. That just makes it twice as hard to feel better because now you have two layers of bad feelings to go through.

If you find yourself sending shame messages to yourself, here are some things you could tell yourself instead. “It’s ok to not feel ok.” “Everyone feels bad sometimes.” “This feeling will pass.”

Why does this help? Because the feeling isn’t actually caused by the event which triggered it but by the stories we tell ourselves about it, our beliefs about ourselves and the world. Often the process of moving from event to feeling seems causally connected because it happens so fast and because we don’t need to tell ourselves a story in the moment. The event bounces off a story we’ve already told ourselves, beliefs we already have, and our mind emits a feeling in response, based on what this seems to mean for us or about us.

These unpleasant feelings then aren’t actually a bad thing but rather an opportunity for us to change. They help us uncover our ideas about the world and ourselves that need changing, that hurt us, or get in our way. So the next thing to do is use these feelings to uncover the stories that drive them.

First, name the feeling. Say to yourself, “I feel ______.” It can help to develop a working vocabulary of feeling words but you can start with just the basics like happy, sad, angry, afraid, guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, and so on.

Now, follow it up with “because I think ______” and try to fill it in with the story you must be telling yourself in order to feel how you feel. This might not be easy for you, especially at first, but this is a skill like any other and it can be built over time.

Once you have your I feel because statement, ask yourself if this belief is true and helpful. Then ask yourself what would be more true or more helpful. Once you have this new and improved belief, repeat it to yourself and imagine how you would feel if you believed it. Imagine other times when it might be useful to remember this better belief.

Over time your beliefs will change, and your feelings will change with them. And it starts not with fighting your feelings but by accepting them. And remember… it’s ok to not feel ok.

Posted by: Edward | November 4, 2014

Curiousity and Compassion

Everyone you see has their own story. Each person has a unique tapestry of experience, belief, choice, and coincidence that’s lead to them being who and how they are. So from one angle we are all utterly unique. No two people could possibly come out the same. Even identical twins who spent every day together, saw the world through slightly different angles and came to slightly different conclusions about it.

On the other hand the basic frame that all of those unique narratives are hung on is essentially the same. We are all built out of the same four chemicals of DNA’s code. We all live for a time and then that time ends. We are all uncertain of when that time will end. We all want things. We all suffer. We are all thrown into this confusion and have to make sense of it for ourselves.

So hold this in your mind, we are all the same and we are all unique. There is no contradiction. These can give rise to two of the most important human attributes, compassion and curiousity. Compassion in our awareness of what we share, especially the commonality of our suffering. And curiousity to learn of and from one another’s stories. For when we learn from each other’s experiences and viewpoints it does not diminish us but rather enriches us.

When we enshrine these two attitudes as our approach to others in our day to day life, it gives us a powerful frame to cope with difficulties, help other, and enjoy our own existences. There is something very comforting in remember we are not alone in our suffering. Reaching out to others in that vein is comforting to them and deeply satisfying for us. The same can be said for listening to others’ stories, it is engaging and enriching for us and deeply validating for them.

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.

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