The Most Important Decision You’ll Make Each Day

The Most Important Decision You’ll Make Each Day

If I make any noise I’m in trouble.

It’s 4:30 in the morning. The dogs are sleeping on the floor next to me. The intent is to quietly get out of bed and out of the room without waking them from their deep slumber.

It almost never works.

Within seconds of them realizing I’m no longer sleeping, I feel a cold nose on my arm and a tongue on my ankle as the two dogs, now instantly awake, spring to life, their tails acting like drum sticks beating on the bedroom door.

Often, when I’m still silently resting comfortably before I physically move I’ll be greeted by a different type of animal. 

My thoughts.

Unlike the dogs, my thoughts come to life more slowly. It’s as if they are giving me time to gain some focus and clarity before they attempt to take that focus and clarity away from me.

I’ve gotten quite good at just listening to the chatter in my head. Honestly, I’m amazed at what goes on in there. I’ve become a curious witness, just observing without getting involved in what’s being said. Just noticing.

My thoughts like to review what lies ahead for the day, any specific tasks or obligations that I need to tend to. My thoughts also have a propensity to provide me with a list of things I should worry about. It likes to tell me what could go wrong by painting vivid images of exactly what that would look like. It’s quite the artist, it’s imagery taking me to places I don’t want to visit.

Maybe it’s the years of subtle yet consistent programming which is responsible for the negative twist the mind likes to put on things. How we look at things is far more habitual than we realize. We don’t even notice. How often do we think about what we are thinking about and why we are thinking the way that we are?

As I’ve gotten deeper into my mindfulness practice I’ve learned a great deal about self awareness. I’m better able to step outside of me and listen to what is going on within me, without beating myself up if I didn’t like what I was hearing. It’s through this self awareness that I’ve been able to pick up any consistent patterns of thoughts, including the negative ones.

Only when you know what those patterns of thoughts are can you ever hope to change them, especially when those thought patterns are working against you.

I can’t seem to stop these thoughts completely. Maybe I never will. They appear much less frequent than they once were. But what I do get to decide is if these thoughts are valid concerns or just my mind doing what I’ve spent most of my life training it to do. I’m fully aware that those thoughts are there, but I don’t have to actually believe them.

The most important decision I make each day is deciding what kind of day I’m going to have. Do I listen to the fear, or do I pivot towards the thoughts which empower me and move me closer to the day I really want my day to be? It’s a choice, but only if you allow yourself to see it as such. 

Unchallenged, the dominant thought will always win. 

What about you? Do you ever just sit still for a moment and listen to the thoughts in your head? What are you saying about yourself to yourself? Are those thoughts consistent with how you want your days to be? With how you want your life to be?

Habits of thought can be difficult to change, but they can be changed.

First, you just need to know what to change.

What Is It That You Need To Hear From You?

What Is It That You Need To Hear From You?

It’s a tough conversation. Because you know they’re the one responsible for how things turned out. They’re the one who fell short of what could have been. It’s a tough conversation because of who this person actually is.

You.

We hold ourselves to such alarmingly high standards, don’t we? We can be relentless at times, honestly. And when we get caught in a cycle of disappointment or regret we can poison ourselves with the venom of blame and anger. 

What is it that you need to hear from you? Are you able to release yourself from the heaviness of the burdens you’ve placed upon yourself? Because their weight is something you’ve no need to carry. Are you able to look at your younger self and understand that you did the best you could at the time? Because you did. Are you able to forgive yourself for falling short of the unrealistic expectations you’ve often set for yourself? Because forgiveness changes your relationship with you.

Only you can make peace with you. Only you can move you past your past and onto some solid emotional footing to move you forward and into who you now know you really are.

A tough conversation.

But it could be one which sets you free.

What is it that you need to hear from you?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The Inconvenient Nature Of Sunrises

The Inconvenient Nature Of Sunrises

More people would enjoy sunrises if they simply scheduled them later in the day.

It just doesn’t work that way.

The alarm on my phone reminded me it’s 4:30 AM. It’s unseasonably cold, it’s dark, and I’m very tired. But I told myself I wanted to see the sunrise and the sun tends to get up early. 

My trek to meet the sun isn’t very convenient. The best view is over the bay, and that’s about a 30 minute drive from home. But that’s the price I must pay if I want to experience an ideal sunrise. Because the sun isn’t going to wait for me to rise.

On this particular morning, the cloud cover on the horizon did not produce the spectacular sunrise I had hoped for. But none the less, I showed up for it, and if you don’t show up in life you’re guaranteed to miss far more than spectacular sunrises.

Experiencing things out of the ordinary requires me to do things I wouldn’t ordinarily do. The blast of frigid air on my face as I walked to the car reminded me that quite often the road to accomplishment is seldom comfortable. Comfort, actually, is often the greatest obstacle to accomplishment.

So much of the personal growth I’ve experienced in my life started with me doing something uncomfortable. Inconvenient. Out of my ordinary. Even deciding to do something new can be met with a wave of discomfort. Change is never easy. It complicates things and who needs more complications in their life?

It’s only when the reward is greater than the discomfort are we willing to create the new habits and rituals needed to claim our reward. Be it witnessing a sunrise or anything else we hope to experience or accomplish in life.

So what’s your reward? What are you striving for? Is it greater than the level of comfort you already enjoy? Because if it isn’t, at some point you’ll simply choose comfort over accomplishment, what is over what could be.

Goals and dreams require us to work with them under their terms and conditions, not ours. Often inconvenient. Often worth it.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are

You’re Stronger Than You Think You Are

We did it.

We got through the year we never could have expected to have happened.

So much loss on so many different levels.

But we made it through. We are still here.

If this past year has taught us anything it’s that we are far more resilient than we probably expected we were. If we were told last January what we’d be facing in the coming year I’d suggest many of us would have questioned our ability to get through it.

But we did.

Resiliency is a painful life lesson only life gets to teach us. When going through the wall isn’t ideal but it’s the only option you have. This past year has been quite a wall.

There are still walls in front of us, some pandemic related and others not. A new year doesn’t simply reset the challenges of life. Perhaps, though, we’d serve ourselves well in reflecting upon exactly what we’ve been through and see that yes, we are far more resilient than we may have given ourselves credit for.

Perhaps a small victory, but a rather important one.

Perhaps The Greatest Gift You’ll Ever Give Yourself

Perhaps The Greatest Gift You’ll Ever Give Yourself

“Dad, there’s something wrong with the lights.”

My daughter came to me in a panic. The bathroom lights suddenly shut off. Couldn’t turn them back on either. After some investigating, apparently the wind driven rain was getting into one of the plugs on the Christmas lights outside causing the GFCI to engage. 

GFCI is a Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor used primarily in wet areas in and around the home. You probably have these in your home, too. Should any moisture be detected within the electrical outlet the GFCI responds in 1/40th of a second and disables the outlet immediately preventing any damage from being done.

Once we fixed the problem outside I hit the reset on the GFCI and the bathroom lights went back on.

The whole key to the GFCI is awareness. Once it knows of the potential danger involved it’s able to prevent a potential catastrophe.

I wish I had one of those in my mind. An emotional circuit breaker which could sense any negative and disempowering thoughts I may have and disable them before doing any damage.

How life changing would that be?

Our thoughts and words are powerful. Often when we are triggered by outside forces we can habitually react in ways which harm us, either by what we may say to others, or equally as important, by what we may say to ourselves. Specifically, it’s the negative self talk and those habitual responses reinforcing limiting beliefs which damage us more than we realize. 

But how do we train ourselves to respond differently?

It all starts with self-awareness.

Unfortunately for me, I’ve never been very good at self-awareness.

With no emotional safety valve in place, challenging situations were always allowed to run their course. For better or worse. And it was usually for the worse. I didn’t know I had the choice to respond any differently than I always had. I just automatically harshly reacted to the difficult and uncomfortable events in my life which simply perpetuated more of what I’ve always done.

My lack of self-awareness meant nothing would change. I wasn’t even aware there was anything to change.

At some point on my life’s path I had heard about the concept of being an observer of your life. Sort of like stepping outside of your physical self and just noticing what life really looked and sounded like. Without judging what was noticed. Just observing.

Eventually, and with very low expectations, I gave it a try. Mostly out of curiosity. As I stepped outside of me I began to notice how I would habitually respond to what showed up in my life. Especially the difficulties. I remember what I saw. The anger and the frustration. The intense bitterness of disappointment. Even, at times, a tendency to blame. Maybe I actually was what people had told me I was. As I was able to develop some sense of self-awareness, the real challenge for me was doing so while not judging or punishing myself for the things I discovered I didn’t like about myself.

We all have the ability to be cruel and unforgiving towards our self, don’t we? I was quite good at that.

Noticing how I was judging and treating myself, though, was in itself an extension of my own self-awareness. I was now aware of my habitual responses and also aware of how I felt about myself for having such responses.

We can only hope to fix the things we know are broken. In my lack of self-awareness world, I was never the one who was broken. But at some point I realized that, in fact, I was, and a more self-aware version of me has done a great deal of work to address it. There is still more work to be done. But subtle changes have lead to anything but subtle positive results.

Simply put, self-awareness has made me better at being me…kinder, gentler, more compassionate, especially when dealing with myself.

Self-awareness has become a vitally important part of who I am these days. It’s become my emotional GFCI allowing me to observe what is going on within me, enabling me to disable and negate the reactions and responses which no longer serve me and replace them with ones which do. I may not respond in 1/40th of a second, but being able to monitor my own emotional state has allowed me to better deal with challenging situations I often find myself in.

What about you? When life squeezes you just a little too tight, how do you habitually respond? Have you ever taken the time to just step back and observe? To simply notice? 

It could be the greatest gift you’ll ever give to yourself.

It’s a great day to be you.

Thank You, Unselfish Veggies

Thank You, Unselfish Veggies

And that was it. The last cherry tomato had been picked and all of the weathered vines were now finally stripped bare. It was unusually late in the season to have a fresh tomato, but this year has been anything but usual.

As I walked back from the garden and into the kitchen I started thinking about that little just-picked tomato now nestled in my hand.

It’s entire journey was never about itself. From seed to harvest, it was never about ego or accomplishment. It simply grew fully into what it was created to become and gave itself away for the benefit of others, to feed and nourish and yet asking nothing in return.

Maybe the little tomato was trying to tell me something about life. That maybe I, too, should focus on my own growth, to become all I was created to become, not for ego or accomplishment, but for the benefit of others, to help feed and nourish their lives and asking for nothing in return.

The natural world has so many lessons to teach us.

What Are You Allowing Your Life To Become?

What Are You Allowing Your Life To Become?

I was THIS close.

Many years ago I found myself in position to do something rather unlikely. I was about to beat Russ Lavoie in a tennis match. Unlikely, because, well, I sucked at playing tennis. Russ didn’t suck at tennis. Russ was very good at tennis. He took lessons. He had a coach. He had great equipment. He even had the proper tennis clothing. But there I was, with a borrowed racket, an Aerosmith T-shirt, and a pair of Converse All-Stars, on the cusp of beating the best tennis player I knew.

But then I didn’t.

It started as us just lobbing the ball back and forth. Russ’ dad was there, a rather intense man, and he wanted to make it more meaningful. “Let’s make this a real match.” Right from the start I was outperforming Russ. I don’t even think I knew how to keep score in tennis. But Russ’ dad did, and boy did he enjoy reminding his son that the kid in the Converse All-Stars was getting the best of him. Sort of his way of motivating Russ. And demotivating me at the same time.

To say I was playing way over my head would be an understatement. With no training or coaching somehow I was holding my own and winning far more games than I though possible for me. I was actually up two sets to none, needing just one more set to win the match. As Russ’ dad would remind him he was getting beat by me, as in the me who should never be able to beat a trained and well-coached tennis player, it got me to thinking that maybe I really shouldn’t be able to do what I was doing after all. Maybe dad was right. And eventually I proved him to be so, dropping the last three sets of the match and saving Russ from certain parental humiliation. 

Yes, Russ beat me, but on some level I had actually beaten myself.

I thought of this experience when I was reviewing the past year of my life. It’s become a tradition of sorts in the weeks just before my birthday. I conduct a review of the past 12 months. The highlights as well as the lowlights. How did I spend my time? Intentionally or reactionary? Of the things I told myself I wanted to do during the year, what did I actually accomplish and what didn’t I get done?

Overall, it was a very good year of personal growth. But I always have a question for the items on the What Didn’t Get Done list. “Why not?” Why didn’t I get this done? Sometimes there are external factors involved. Sometimes in hindsight I realize I actually didn’t want to accomplish what I told myself I did. Sometimes, though, the painfully honest reason things didn’t get accomplished is I simply didn’t allow myself to.

We can set very specific goals with the absolute most perfect of intentions and develop and implement a consistent action plan to achieve them. But unless we allow ourselves to achieve them we never will.

In my mind, even though I was just a few points away from beating Russ, on some level I knew I wasn’t supposed to. The image and expectations I held for me was inconsistent with what I was accomplishing. At some point the inner voice always wins and we adjust our actions and behaviors accordingly. I told myself I wasn’t supposed to win. And I didn’t.

I found in this year’s annual review some of the things I didn’t accomplish were, in fact, because I didn’t allow myself to accomplish them. The person I would have been had I actually accomplished my goals was different from the person I accepted myself to be. Even with clarity of purpose and actionable intentions, I was unable to sustain the momentum needed to meet my objective. It wasn’t a lack of opportunity or tools or information which did me in. It never is. I wasn’t going to allow certain things to happen. 

I’ve become quite comfortable having uncomfortable conversations with myself. Those deep, honest, introspective conversations, free of judgment or blame. Because until I am willing to get to know the deepest me I will never be able to get to the places I know I tell myself I want to go. These conversations uncover the psychological and emotional roadblocks to me moving ever forward. They show me the self-imposed limitations, the walls and fences I’ve subconsciously built to keep myself tethered to what is and keeping me from what could be.

We will never become more than we are willing to allow ourselves to become.

In an unlimited world we all have our own degree of limitations. It doesn’t matter how they got there, what is important is acknowledging that they are actually there. Knowing you have accepted some level of limitation is often very uncomfortable. It requires a level of responsibility and accountability. Who readily accepts the blame that they aren’t where they could have possibly been in their lives?

Knowing you have accepted some level of limitation, though, is also very empowering. Because that’s the starting point to moving past them. If you don’t know you’re stuck, how will you ever unstuck yourself? How will you ever grow forward?

Most of the limits we have are silent, stealthily working behind the scenes keeping us aligned with who it is we tell ourselves we really are. They show up in our habits and behaviors, regulated by the expectations we have set for ourselves. It’s the reason why I’ve never kept off those last 10 pounds, or taken full advantage of certain opportunities I’ve had in my life. 

I never allowed myself to do so.

When you look at the highest vision of your life, what’s preventing you from being all that you envision your life could be? Is it the stuff outside of you or is there a little voice telling you that no matter how clear your vision is you’re simply never going to allow yourself to become it?

It’s not an easy conversation to have with yourself. But it’s the only way to move closer to becoming all you were created to become.

And I’m moving closer.

It’s a great day to be you.

photo credit: Aaron Clinard via Unsplash

Mona Lisa and the Defective Twinkies

Mona Lisa and the Defective Twinkies

All my life they’ve been perfect. Every single one of them. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened the package and I saw something I had never seen before.

A defective Twinkie.

Yup.

It was still a Twinkie, but it was a bit misshaped, as if something happened during the baking process and wasn’t noticed by the quality control people. 

How did I know it was defective? Because I know what Twinkies are supposed to look like. I’ve been eating them all my life. This basis of comparison told me this one just wasn’t what it was supposed to be.

Flawed.

Comparison is a necessary component providing a standard by which all others will be judged. It works perfectly well for Twinkies. 

But not so much for humans.

Us humans tend to be surrounded by countless opportunities to compare ourselves to everyone around us, aren’t we? And what we see or think we see has the ability to impact us greatly if we decide to let it.

We are not Twinkies.

Each year over 400 million perfect Twinkies are produced, but there is and will only ever be just one of each of us. Since there is only one of us, each divinely unique, there can’t be another “perfect” version of us out there to compare ourselves to. With that, there is no legitimate basis of comparison between humans simply because another one of us could never exist. Each of us are a singular once-in-forever expression of our Creation. Defects and flaws, logically, can’t ever exist in a human since each of us are the original masterpiece, the one and the only you. There are no defects or flaws in da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” simply because there is only one Mona Lisa. Only one. 

Just like you.

Perfect exactly as you were created to be.

Sure, we all have things we’d like to improve about ourselves. I have quite the list of things I am working on. That doesn’t make us defective or flawed; it simply means we’re evolving and growing.

Growing more into who only we were created to become.

Perfectly.

My Mom Has A Message For You

My Mom Has A Message For You

With all the discomfort and uncertainty we’ve suddenly been thrust into, I wanted to share some words from the person who’s words have always been of great comfort to me.

My Mom.

Mom just turned 90 a few weeks ago. In 90 years she’s seen more than her share of challenges and painful obstacles that she’s been able to overcome. She was the second youngest of eight children born smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression. She’s been widowed now longer than she was married. She has experienced the unbearable loss of a son, has witnessed the loss of almost all of her siblings, as well as many close friends. She has survived countless numbers of economic downturns wondering how the bills will get paid and the family will be fed. But no matter the pain life has ever thrown at her, her refrain has always remained the same…

“This, too, shall pass.”

The older I get the more I understand and appreciate her wisdom, faith, and resolve. Underneath it all is a rock solid spiritual belief system with gives her both the resolve to endure and the wisdom to trust that this, too, shall pass, that we will, in fact, get through whatever we may find ourselves stuck in. Her prayers aren’t prayers asking for strength; rather, they are prayers reminding God that while she may not understand why she is being tested, she understands that testing is all part of the process of being human.

If you were able to call my Mom today and share your fears, worries, troubles, and concerns with her, she would at some point embrace you and remind you of perhaps the greatest lesson she has ever learned in her 90 years…

“This, too, shall pass.”

photo credit: Chelsea Shapouri via Unsplash

Gaining Control In Time Of Crisis

Gaining Control In Time Of Crisis

So here we are.

When I mapped out my vision for 2020 it never included the words “global pandemic”. Life has an interesting way of throwing the unexpected at you, doesn’t it? And while we often can’t control what happens in life, we always get to control how we respond to what happens.

Including global pandemics.

While none of us knows the exact impact COVID-19 will ultimately have, there is one thing I do know for certain…

I need the very best version of me to show up. And at a time of vast uncertainty, the one certainty is I get to decide how I will respond.

And so do you.

In times of crisis and uncertainty some of the first things to change are structure and routine. With an unexpected upheaval we initially are trying to simply understand what just happened. Often we shift into a defensive posture, retreating and playing small until things get back to what we would consider to be normal.

For me, structure and routine are essential right now. Having structure and routine and the discipline to maintain them provides me with a sense of control at a time where so much is outside of my control. It creates a sense of stability, creates positive momentum, it changes my energy, and it empowers me emotionally.

There are several key areas of my life I habitually focus on, and they are especially important at this time. These areas are the ones I know need to remain structured if I Continue reading “Gaining Control In Time Of Crisis”