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

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

This Day Doesn’t Owe Me Shit

This Day Doesn’t Owe Me Shit

Maybe you’ve had days like this?

Waiting. Waiting for the day to motivate you, to inspire you, to give you a reason to feel good and excited about the day.

I’ve had my share of those days. Too many, actually. Days when I’m sort of just going through the motions of being alive. Waiting to receive, willing to accept, but not quite willing to create.

Does this feel familiar?

It’s easy when the external world ignites you, fills you with energy, lifts you higher. Everything flows, everything feels possible, and time moves substantially faster. But what if the day doesn’t give us that spark?

Most days, it’s up to us to create our own spark, ignite our own fires, and lift our own self higher.

Funny thing about new days. They’re indifferent. They don’t care what we do with them. Their job is to simply show up. But since we only get a finite number of them in our lifetime, is it wise for us to be equally indifferent as to how we spend them? To wait and hope that something outside of us is enough to inspire something inside of us?

The great day we’re hoping to have today? The great life?

It’s just not going to show up.

It requires us to create it.

What can you create for you today?

Photo by lucas Favre on Unsplash

Thanking The Hammer For The Beating

Thanking The Hammer For The Beating

It’s rather paradoxical. And perhaps can only be done from a detached sense of self awareness.

But it’s an important part of the process.

Life often uses rather unconventional teaching methods to get us to learn what we need to learn. Many of those lessons unfortunately involve a degree of pain, quite often repeated until the lesson is eventually learned.

Like heated steel is reshaped between the anvil and the force of the blacksmith’s hammer, life, too, can heat us and beat us and reshape us through its own hammering process. The people and situations which at times can confusingly hurt us will often reshape us, change us, but if we look deeper we will often see there was a purpose to the pain.

It’s not a pleasant process. Even with a detached sense of self awareness. And usually it’s not something we express gratitude for.

Perhaps we should.

It’s not easy to thank those who’ve hammered us. But that hammering is what has changed us, often against our will, but often for the better.

And for that I’ve learned to be grateful.

Maybe Groundhog Thinking Is Holding You Back?

Maybe Groundhog Thinking Is Holding You Back?

Like that 1993 movie where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over?

How much of our own life is just a repetition of our yesterdays? Where Wednesday is nothing more than another Tuesday and Thursday will be nothing more than another Wednesday?

It can feel like an infinite loop. Never ending. We just get another day older reliving days that don’t feel much like we’re living them.

And even if we tell ourselves we want a different outcome, we habitually recreate more of what we tell ourselves we don’t want.

Our own personal version of Punxsutawney, PA.

Habitual and unconscious actions, thought patterns, emotions, beliefs, expectations, energy, and intentions simply create more of what already is. Each new day becomes the exact same day just with a different date attached to it.

At many points in my life, the outcomes I told myself I wanted for my life were quite inconsistent with how I was actually living my life. Mindset is a critically important component of growth and the creation of new outcomes. Without a change in my mindset, my desired new outcomes were really just wishes marinating in hope. Nothing was ever going to change because, actually, nothing ever changed with me.

Have you ever stepped back and witnessed what your thoughts and emotions and beliefs and actions have been creating? Will those same thoughts and emotions and beliefs and actions allow you to create any new desired outcomes you tell yourself you want for you?

There are many aspects of life which may be out of our immediate control. But our thoughts and emotions and our beliefs and actions are always under our control. They can work for us or against us, but they are always working. Either moving us forward, or keeping us in place.

Life is too short to relive the yesterdays which will ultimately hold us back from our desired tomorrows.

Embracing The Power Of Clarity

Embracing The Power Of Clarity

With a blizzard on the way, I was able to get my electrician neighbor to finally hook up my generator. Finally, because I was the one who had been putting it off, often forgetting I even had a generator which needed to be hooked up.

In the community where we live, good size storms have usually meant a loss of power. Trees vs. overhead power lines, and the trees usually win. No power means no heat, no water, and no light. Of all the things I take for granted in my life, electricity has to be in the Top 3. Does anyone ever marvel at flicking a switch on the wall and the lights magically turning on?

Now, should we lose power, with a few flicks of a few switches, heat, water, and light will be restored. The generator serving as a back up reserve fuel source to get me through the storms which arrive outside of my control.

Sometimes life gives us different types of storms to endure, where there aren’t a few simple switches to flick on and get our lives back to where we want them to be. These are the emotional storms, equally as unwanted as the ones nature brings upon us, but often far more damaging and painful.

It would be really cool if you could buy some sort of emergency emotional generator to get you through such storms.

I guess the only option is to create one.

When life knocks your power out, what reserves do you have available to keep you moving forward? Faith? Hope? Trust? For me, having the clarity of a vision as to what I want to create in my life has proven to be quite a powerful emotional resource, and understanding “why” that vision matters.

That hasn’t always been the case.

For much of my life I meandered about without a particularly clear and defined destination. Ever searching and seeking, I was no match for the storms of life which would show up, much like overhead power lines are no match for the weight of the snow and ice covered branches of the trees above them. My searching and seeking did eventually get me to a place where what I want and why I want it have become quite clear. That destination shapes every step of my journey. In that clarity is a strength, a resolve, and when the unexpected storms arise and knock me over, and they still do, it’s the conviction of clarity which serves as the fuel source to help me rise yet again and to keep myself moving forward.

“Pain pushes until vision pulls” as Michael Bernard Beckwith has often said. Four words which perfectly define the process of my own evolution.

Perhaps of yours as well?

Where is your vision taking you?

Silencing Our Own Voice

Silencing Our Own Voice

I remember when I brought her home for the first time.

Betsy, I called her. I’m still not sure why. But, Betsy would be her name going forward.

She was beautiful, perfect in my eyes. She being my first electric guitar.

Me? I was gonna be a rock star. I already had the hair.

There was only one problem.

I had always wanted an electric guitar, and I had heard that Mr. Britto on Smith Street had one he was willing to sell. My enthusiasm convinced my Mom that she should let me spend the money I had saved and buy it. It was $40 back when $40 was a lot more than what $40 is today.

I didn’t know how to play guitar when I bought it, but I assured Mom that I’d learn. Taking music lessons didn’t quite excite me, no matter how good I was at playing scales or “Mary Had A Little Lamb”. I had a few friends who played guitar, and I was able to learn a bit from them. Ultimately, I sort of just dabbled with it, occasionally made some noise, and eventually Betsy ended up under my bed in the case I first brought her home in.

That one problem?

I never really thought of myself as a guitarist.

A few years back I found the guitar while cleaning out a closet. Immediately my mind went back to that 14 year old wide-eyed, long haired version of me. Eventually, though, I started thinking about what I hadn’t done with that guitar, about the music I didn’t make with that guitar. Like, why didn’t I?

Because I never allowed myself to do so.

What holds us back from being all we were created to be is our belief system. How we see ourselves pretty much determines what we are willing to allow ourselves to be. In music. And in life. Our identity of who we accept ourselves to be regulates everything. If our beliefs are limited, so, too, will be what we are willing to allow ourselves to become. In music. And in life. I never really saw myself as someone who could confidently play the guitar, and I met those expectations with precision.

I used to regret lots of things, things far more significant than not learning to play the guitar. But the root cause of all of those regrets was the same. A belief system limiting what I accepted as possible for me. Even if I told myself I wanted to be more, I was never going to let me do or accomplish anything more than my belief system would let me.

Regrets can crush you or they can be the fuel that moves you forward. I’ve opted for the fuel route.

The good thing about any limiting belief is it can be changed. First you need to be open to the reality that you actually have them and self-aware to compassionately notice them. Not everything we think is true. We just think it is. But when you identify or suspect thoughts which are limiting in nature, you have the right, ability, and obligation to change them.

But that’s on you. Nothing on the outside can change what we are unwilling to change on the inside.

Is there something on the inside that needs to change in order for you to fully express who you were created to become?

Challenging what I think has been such a critical tool in my overall growth, especially what I think about me and what’s possible for me. The mind which can create limitations can also destroy them.

It works both ways.

The guitar? It now hangs on my office wall. I have no desire to learn to play it. Rather, it’s there to remind me of what self-imposed limitations can look like. In music. And in life.

What’s holding you back?

What music are you not allowing yourself to make?

Your music, your voice, is far too important not to be fully expressed.

Santa, I Never Should Have Doubted You

Santa, I Never Should Have Doubted You

It was a special week.

I met Santa.

Twice!

My kids didn’t understand my enthusiasm. They’re at the age where they’ve long outgrown the Santa-down-the-chimney narrative. This “Santa guy” was just some guy wearing a red suit and a fake beard. For me, though, that didn’t matter. I’ve gained a new understanding of the Santa story.

It’s about believing.

It’s about the magic.

I remember many a Christmas morning hearing the kids run down the stairs to see if Santa had, in fact, left lots of toys. I remember their wide-eyed enthusiasm as they ran back up the stairs and into our bedroom to tell us that Santa had indeed showed up during the night. Magic. Pure magic.

And then at some point they figure it out.

The magic was over.

I guess that’s what “growing up” does to us all. It tends to suck the magic out of almost everything.

Over the years, yup, I’d lost my sense of magic. And not just about Christmas. I’d lost the magic of life. Adulting sort of got the best of me. Life became ordinary, often repetitively mundane. That’s what I chose to accept. That’s what I chose to believe.

What if I chose to believe something else?

It’s not so much about Santa. It’s more about what we are willing to believe about life and our own self and our own experience. How much magic do we simply not allow ourselves to see or experience? How often do we let “logic” steal our joy, draining the magic out of the magical moments of each new day? Of the magic in the things we routinely take for granted?

Even the magic of a new day itself?

As a child all I needed to do was believe. I was open to the possibilities of what I didn’t fully understand. Why can’t I again choose to see the magic in the things the adult me learned to see as just ordinary, to embrace that childlike wide-eyed wonder toward life itself and the gifts that life provides each of us if we simply choose to see them as gifts?

Maybe that’s what Santa has been trying to teach us all along?

The Surprising Benefits of Thinking Like A Sunflower

The Surprising Benefits of Thinking Like A Sunflower

It was the strangest thing.

A sunflower growing in the gutter.

My gutter.

I’m not exactly sure how it got there but there it was. Growing tall, fully in bloom, oblivious to the fact that flowers simply don’t grow in the gutter.

This flower just didn’t know any better. It never questioned why it was in the gutter. It never once questioned if it would ever be able to grow there.

It just grew.

Where it was.

I don’t know much about flowers, but I do know about us humans. And for many of us we simply find ways not to grow.

We think. We analyze. We overthink. We overanalyze. So much thinking and we can actually think ourselves out of growing. We use our ability to rationalize to find ways for us to stay in a state of waiting for a better environment, a better time, a better system of support. Guilty, I’ve been, an experienced “justifier” of staying stuck and waiting for things to be “right” before moving ahead.

Meanwhile, in my gutter grows a beautiful sunflower…

Often our stagnation is simply a reflection of our belief system, of what we honestly feel is – or isn’t – possible for us. And rather than confront any limitations in our internal belief system it’s much easier to focus on external conditions and factors as reasons why we’re still where we tell ourselves we no longer wish to be.

What if we were to think like that flower in my gutter and just grew, grew into all we were created to be? Never questioning our ability, our environment, the timing, nor our inherent worthiness to simply allow ourselves to grow into who we were created to become? Right here. Right now.

If we can think of ways to hold ourselves stagnant, why can’t we change that thinking to support our divine evolution?

Could it be that simple?

Just something to not overthink about.

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.