The Happiness Contingencies Are Making You Unhappy

The Happiness Contingencies Are Making You Unhappy

“Then I’ll be happy.”

Nervously I stood in front the bathroom scale. Would today be the day? I’d been working to hit my weight goal. This could be the day.

Left foot. Then the right foot. The LED numbers spinning like a slot machine as the scale calculated my weight.

The numbers stopped.

Bingo!

I did it.

And, honestly, it was rather disappointing.

I finally decided (for at least the third time!) that I was going to shed a few pounds. The goal was to shed 40 of them. Through a rather unhealthy process of excessive exercise and excessively limiting total caloric intake, slowly the pounds came off. Over a period of a few months there was a bit less of me each week. And on the day I lost the last of those 40 pounds I was both happy and almost immediately not so happy.

I expected it to feel different.

Expectations have a way of doing that.

Sure, I had hit my goal. But my expectations were more than just hitting a number on the scale. I was expecting this accomplishment to make me happy. Like, acheiving this goal would somehow cure my nagging and ever-present feeling of unhappiness and emptiness. Like, this was supposed to change far more than the size of my jeans. But instead, I was the same unhappy and empty me that I’d always been, now just 40 pounds lighter.

For most of my life I was quite good at creating happiness contingencies. Those “I’ll be happy when…” parameters. Once the goal or a desired outcome was achieved, only then would I allow myself to be happy. The reality, though, even with the goal attained, I never really did allow myself to be happy.

There was still more work to do.

Sure, I won a battle but I still needed to finish the war. No matter how well I performed in my work life or personal life there would be very little space for joy celebrating my success. There was simply more work to do. No time to rest, Peter. No time to be happy. The war continued on.

Maybe you can relate?

“I’ll be happy when…” is ever elusive. Because you never quite get to happy. It’s a never ending cycle. I didn’t enjoy my weight loss progress. Instead of being happy when I lost the first 10 pounds, my focus was on the 30 pounds still to go.

There was still more work to do.

What happiness contingencies do set in your life? What are you waiting for to happen before you’ll allow yourself to be happy?

My journey has taught me that happiness doesn’t need to be contingent upon an outcome. It can simply be a decision to find joy in the process, a decision to celebrate the individual steps of the journey. It doesn’t mean life is always happy, but removing such restrictive parameters on happiness has allowed me to experience far more of it.

Life gives us many reasons to simply celebrate life itself. And when you learn to celebrate the magnificence of your own existence, you’ll allow yourself to find an endless reservoir of things to be happy about right now.

No contingencies need.

I’ll be happy when…

I decide to be.

Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash

Emotional Baggage and The Habit Of Self Compassion

Emotional Baggage and The Habit Of Self Compassion

Off come the shoes. And then the belt. Wallet, keys, phone, coins placed in a little tray on the conveyor belt and through the machine they go. I get to walk, shoeless, through my own machine, being scanned just like my personal belongings are. Just to make sure I’m not bringing anything dangerous with me on my journey.

Welcome to the airport.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have such a machine at home? A machine that would scan you as you left the house to start the new day. Scanning you to see if you’re carrying anything dangerous with you into the new day.

Not like a knife, or a gun, or a concealed explosive.

I’m talking about thoughts and emotions.

Which, at times, can also be rather dangerous.

Emotional baggage. The unfortunate carry-on. Often we don’t even know we’re carrying it. Probably because we’ve been carrying it for so long it just feels natural. The anger, the frustration, the narrative. Usually we just mindlessly take it with us as we start the journey of each new day.

For many years I was too angry and too frustrated to notice how angry and frustrated I was. A combination of anger, frustration, fear, doubt, and worry were readily present to some degree. The “feedback” of others was never welcomed, it was simply dismissed because I was the only one who understood my journey which somehow validated the baggage I was carrying.

Until I got past that “logic”, the baggage was never going to be put down. Until I was able to see and understand what was going on inside of me I was never going to own it. Until you own it, you’re never going to try and fix it. Because you don’t think it’s you who is broken.

One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever given myself has been the gift of compassionate self-awareness. The ability to compassionately look into myself and actually notice what I’m carrying with me. Good or bad. And not judging myself for carrying it. Self-awareness is in many ways just like the security screening at the airport. It’s allows me to see the concealed stuff I’m carrying with me, the stuff that could be emotionally dangerous.

Self-awareness isn’t always easy. It’s a process. An intentional process. Often, though, our self discovery is met with a non-compassionate response. How often do we habitually get mad at ourselves for feeling the way that we do? How often does our inner voice simply beat us down for somehow not being better, for us not being able to deal with what we are dealing with?

A more compassionate response? That took me some time to learn, and I’m still learning. It doesn’t change what is, but it changed how I dealt with what is. I now attempt to respond to myself in the same manor I would respond to a good friend. It sounds simple, yet we are often much harder on ourselves than we ever are on our friends.

I can assure you I still at times get caught up in the moments of anger, frustration, fear, doubt, and worry. I’m just now better being able to respond to them when they do arise.

How do you respond to you when life is getting the better of you? Have you ever simply stepped back and noticed how you respond? Is the anger met with more anger? Does the frustration make you more frustrated? Once we know how we respond we can decide how we can choose to respond going forward.

It’s not always easy, this compassionate self-awareness. Changing habits is never easy.

But creating new habits, habits of compassion which serve us instead of hurt us, is something worth working towards.

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

The Environment of Growth

The Environment of Growth

“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” – Mark Ambrose

It’s been about a year now since I joined a gym. Not from a desire to become a body builder; rather, to regain some of the muscle mass we all lose as we age. Preventative maintenance of sorts.

I’d never been in a gym environment before. Certainly, I had heard of the gym being a place full of performance enhancing substances and people looking to hook up with each other. That’s not something I had any interest in, nor have I seen any evidence of either.

Mostly the gym is full of individuals who pretty much keep to themselves, there to take care of their own fitness goals and then they just leave.

I have had plenty of false starts attempting to gym at home. Weights, dumbbells, exercise bike, treadmill. For some reason, though, I never was able to stick with my home routine. I’d dabble, watch the DVD’s I bought on how to transform myself in 90 days, yet I never quite got transformed. I never stuck with it long enough for that to happen.

I guess the living room wasn’t such a great environment.

As I’ve observed the gym life for the past year, what I’ve seen is a great many of people just trying to get better. Better at their physical conditioning, whatever their individual goals may be.

Me? I’m there taking care of me.

And the environment has been a key component in me taking care of me.

Fitness doesn’t happen by itself. It takes a great deal of work, consistency, and commitment. In the gym, you can easily see those who’ve made the commitment. An environment of committed growth is quite infectious. The energy is different. It collectively breeds more growth. That’s what I’ve found at the gym. No one is judging, they’re busy doing. Big bodies, small bodies, young bodies, and old bodies. Everyone silently goes about their business of working toward their own personal targets, surrounded by others driven to do the same.

All of our environments influence us. The productive ones as well as the stagnant ones. This is true for friendships and relationships as well. Our circle matters. Our community matters. Seldom will we ever outperform the collective expectations of our circle or community. Surrounding yourself with others who share a common goal, outcome, or vision greatly increases the probability that you’ll hit your own goal, outcome or vision.

If you want to grow, place yourself in an environment populated with people who are actually growing, who are doing the work, who are actually in a position to support your growth, who actively encourage your growth.

Growth isn’t always easy, especially when surrounded by those driven by, well, nothing.

Does your environment support who it is you desire to be?

Perhaps it’s time to find a better circle?

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

There Is No Need To Struggle Alone

There Is No Need To Struggle Alone

“Just suck it up.”

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. I had no idea until just recently. One of the goals of NMHA Month is to hopefully provide a safe space for uncomfortable conversations around mental and emotional health. The unfortunate stigmas surrounding mental health often prevent any conversations from even getting started. That silence keeps us suffering…alone. Alone with the pain and the hurt and the anxiety and isolation we may be experiencing.

That silence, at times, can even even end lives.

As a man, I was taught to keep my emotions to myself. I think most men have been told or shown the same. Expressing emotions is a sign of weakness, they’d say. “Real” men simply “suck it up” or “deal with it” or are told to “man up”. Manhood and emotions don’t mix, I was told. That generational stigma often keeps us from even admitting that we are struggling, let alone actually seek some help and guidance. That stigma is not gender specific.

That stigma needs to end.

I have a rather small number of people I consider friends. The benefit of that is I actually know them some quite well. I’ve gotten to know their stories. And not just the happy stuff. I’ve gotten to know many of their pains, their struggles, and their challenges.

There are friends currently dealing with the heaviness life sometimes forces us to carry…the anxiety, the uncertainty, the unhealed traumas, the emotional scars, the pressure, the unmet expectations, the feelings of doubt and unworthiness, of being in accepted as they are. Often hidden behind the facades of some beautiful smiles or jovial laughter.

Life teaches us many things, but learning to deal with the weight of life is something we’re forced to figure out on our own.

Often we will try and minimize the pain we feel. Others, we tell ourselves, have it much worse than we do. But our pains and hurts and traumas need never be justified. They exist. If we feel them then they are real, regardless of what else is going on in the world. If we minimize them, all we are doing is suppressing them, and the suppressed pains always find a way back to the surface eventually. They seldom simply go away by themselves.

I see Mental Health Awareness Month as a great opportunity for me to proactively begin a dialog with those closest to me. It’s an opportunity to remind me to simply check in and touch base, to simply call or text and let them know I’m thinking about them. To remind them I’m here for them, to support them. Because you just don’t know what others are going through. You just don’t know what may be weighing them down.

Maybe checking in is something we can all do for each other?

Check in with the “strong” ones. Often the “strong” ones are strong because they feel they have to be, sort of their way of attempting to rise above the weight of their pain. Check in with the “quiet” ones, the ones who’ve been less available and less accessible than usual. And those who tell you they’re “fine” are usually anything but. “I’m fine” is a way to answer the “How are you doing?” question without having to actually answer it.

And don’t forget to check in on the most important person in your life. You. How are you doing? How does your life feel? Perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, or simply not feeling like your usual self. Is there someone you could reach out to, a friend or colleague, and let them know how you’ve been feeling?

Struggle, at times, feels inevitable.

But there is no need to struggle alone.

Let’s take care of each other, shall we?

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

“Quotes Have Never Changed A Thing”

“Quotes Have Never Changed A Thing”

I mean, who doesn’t love quotes?

Who doesn’t love seeing them pop up in our social media feeds several times per day?

A lot of great people have said a lot of great things. Life lessons learned and then shared. Inspirational. Motivational. Even beautiful.

I’ve got a couple of favorite quotes. They always make me think, always give me something to believe in. At least for a little while.

No matter how prophetically wise or inspirational they seem to be. No matter how much they resonate with us. No matter how true we believe them to be.

Quotes can’t change anything.

Only we get to change things.

And changing things takes action.

To quote Tony Robbins: “the path to success is to take massive, determined action.”

Whatever your definition of success is.

Whatever you’re working towards.

The Promise

The Promise

I probably won’t have the answer.

(Questions sometimes don’t have answers.)

I probably won’t fully understand, either.

And, no, I won’t know exactly how you feel.

What I can give you?

My presence.

Compassionate presence.

My full attention.

My open ears.

My open arms.

My open heart.

My infinite patience.

My silence if that’s what is needed.

I will never minimize the burden you carry.

I just won’t let you carry it alone.

Photo by Brent Ninaber on Unsplash

The Momentum Of Accomplishment

The Momentum Of Accomplishment

“An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion.” Isaac Newton’s 1st Law of Motion.

While Newton was referring to the world of physics, he could have also been speaking about the world of human behavior.

Momentum has always played a role in my life. Perhaps in yours as well? Be it accomplishment or stagnation, I will usually continue to produce more of whatever I’m producing. For better or worse, I’ve experienced extended periods of both unparalleled success and indifferent mediocrity.

The challenge has been learning how to use momentum for my own growth and well being. For me, that starts with the self awareness of knowing if I’ve fallen into a place of indifferent mediocrity. If I have, I’ll unknowingly continue to produce more of the same.

Unless I choose not to.

Compassionate self awareness allows me to simply notice where I am without beating myself up for being in a less than optimal place that I know I really don’t want to be in. No matter how many times I find myself there.

Noticing allows me the opportunity to change my stagnant state into one of motion, one of me moving forward, one of me becoming more of what I have been created to become.

Unlike physical objects, I get to shift my momentum in any direction I like.

Sometimes a little shift is all you need to create the momentum to propel you forward.

Life is full of forces which at times can feel like they are actively working against you.

Don’t be one of those forces.

Photo by Fitsum Admasu on Unsplash

Is It Worth The Fight?

Is It Worth The Fight?

It always seems to happen this way.

March is often a month of weather extremes here in New England. This month we’ve seen temps in the low 70’s and this morning we reached back down into the teens. Opposing forces in the form of changing seasons can create epic battles as they both attempt to assert themselves. Spring is ready to take over but Winter isn’t ready to let go.

The battle between Spring and Winter reminds me a great deal about personal growth. When the new version of you wants to rise up, the old version of you often would rather have you stay exactly as you are. It can create its own epic inner battle, the vision of who you are not quite ready to accept the vision of who you tell yourself you want to be.

With the laws of nature, seasonality lets us know that Spring will eventually prevail no matter how much Winter doesn’t want to let go. For us humans, though, there is no specific seasonality to the inner battles between who we are and who we tell ourselves we want to be. There is no pre-determined outcome. Change, especially when it comes to changing long-held ideas of who it is we believe ourselves to be, is always met with some level of inner resistance. This resistance is strong, quite convincing, and thinks it has your best interest at heart.

Get ready for an epic battle.

Get ready for the fight for your life.

The life you want is worth fighting for.

Photo by Nick Scheerbart on Unsplash

Getting In Tune With The Present Moment

Getting In Tune With The Present Moment

“Toys In The Attic.”

Aerosmith.

1975.

Going through some things in my home office, I stumbled across my old record collection. Good old fashioned vinyl LP’s. 100’s of them on a solid 2×4 and plywood cabinet I built many years ago to keep them dry and in good condition. Over the years the cabinet has been slowly covered with other stuff, the albums becoming very much out of sight and out of mind.

Music has always been an important part of my life, and back in the day vinyl was media of choice. Vinyl really wasn’t very portable, so for me to listen to the music it required me to also be less portable.

Back in the day we used to actual sit around and listen to music. Friends would gather and we’d bring our favorite albums and spend hours listening. Music was the focal point, not just something we had playing in the background as we did something else.

There was an intentionality and with that intentionality we sat fully present, just listening, discovering, and enjoying, listening fully in the moment.

Fast forward to the age of streaming. Of music seemingly everywhere on demand. Streaming has made music extremely portable, something you can take with you everywhere. As I thumbed through some of my favorite albums, I realized that streaming has changed my relationship with music. Even though I now have instant access to any song which pops into my head, listening has lost much of its intentionality. The intimacy is gone. The music has become something in the background as I do other things. I’m no longer fully in the moment.

I often feel relationships have also lost much of their intimacy. Like, they feel less intentional. In an ever-connected world, relationships are ever-accessible and yet they can often feel like background noise as we are busy doing other things, often at the expense of what really matters. Ever have to compete for a child’s attention when you’re talking with them with their phone in their hand? And it’s not just the kids. The battle to be fully present can be a struggle for me at times, and with the pace of life and the digital distractions I’m thinking I’m not the only one struggling.

It’s been said that the present moment is all we really have, yet how much of our present moment time is spent focused on trying to understand the moments we’ve had and trying to control the moments we’re going to have, at the expense of the present moment?

The present moment doesn’t care what we do with it.

Perhaps we should?

Photo by Skylar Sahakian on Unsplash

Story Time and The Voices In My Head

Story Time and The Voices In My Head

It was the “long run” day. I’ve been training to run my first ever half-marathon and the training hasn’t been that good. Issues with knees, heels, and backs have slowed the process. But the race doesn’t really care about my ailments so I’m on the streets as often as I can. I’ve been running shorter runs a few times a week, saving the long runs for the weekend.

To keep me company on these runs is my running playlist, especially curated by me for me, songs that would serve as the perfect soundtrack for my trips around the neighborhood streets.

Unfortunately someone forgot to re-charge his EarPods overnight, so today’s nine miles would be done in silence.

Well, not total silence.

My mind would fill the musical void, and sometimes my mind just doesn’t stop.

Thanks to some mindfulness training I’ve gotten quite good at just listen to my mind. Just stepping back and observing what it says and trying to understand why it says it. Sometimes that’s far more interesting than listening to my playlist.

The physical nature of running invites some compelling inner narratives, especially the longer the run. It’s always fascinating to listen to how my mind processes the pain and soreness which accompany me on every run. Sometimes the mind recognizes the pain as no big deal, while at other times it shifts to a very protective mode imploring me to stop before it gets worse. As I approach a hill or an extended incline, the mind is sometimes quite supportive and at other times it’s already looking for places to stop as I begin my climb up the hill.

I’m not sure which voice to listen to half the time.

I just know I’m supposed to keep running.

Sometimes the voices in our heads are quite convincing. Like, why would they not be telling us the truth? Often, though, what they are telling us is a story, a story we’ve told ourselves so many times before. Sometimes they are stories of abundance and expansion or possibilities, or quite often stories of lack, regression, fear, and unworthiness.

The thing about stories? Stories aren’t always true.

What makes them true is our willingness to see them as true.

I always respectfully listen to those stories I tell myself, even if the stories are at times confusing or conflicting. And on my best days, after getting an earful from myself, I remember I decide if the stories are actually true. It all starts with simply observing what’s going on in your head without judging any of it.

Notice the stories you tell yourself when things are going well. Notice the stories you tell yourself during times of disappointment and frustration. You know they are present but are they true?

Most of the responses we have are automatic in nature. Because we’ve told ourselves the same stories for so long we are biased to believe that they must be true. But just because they are old doesn’t mean they are true.

If you’re going to tell yourself stories about you, why not tell yourself the stories which support the vision of the life you want for you? Why not create a narrative which reminds you of your inherent abundant nature, of your inherent resilience, of your inherent worthiness to become all you want to create for yourself?

The stories about ourselves we are willing to accept as true directly how we will experience life.

Choose wisely.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash