A friend of mine passed recently. He died suddenly, at age 58, just 2 weeks after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. In retrospect the signs had been there for months—stomach pains, extreme fatigue, appetite changes.
He lived in Scotland, and I knew him from years ago when I lived in the UK and we trained together in NLP, hypnosis, and Time-line Therapy, in California. Those were heady days when we were both launching our respective careers in coaching and writing.
We kept in touch and spoke on Facebook Messenger regularly, comparing notes and motivating each other with suggestions and ideas. He had struggled in the past year to get productive, but his health kept interfering. He had been on a rollercoaster of ups and downs.
His death came as a shock. He had so many plans and ideas and creative projects waiting to spring to life. I tried to makes some sense of it, gain some perspective on his passing. My emotions were all over the place and I needed a coping mechanism.
I looked back over the last year and asked myself: when was he happiest during that time, and why?
For some reason this question seemed important. Urgent, almost.
It wasn’t hard to recall. Our conversations always started with, How was your week? When he had been ‘up’ and full of life it was always down to a certain activity.
Following his morning ritual.
His ritual would be to get up at a reasonably early hour, and spend his first hour or so reading something inspirational, journaling, writing his goals for the day, meditating, and exercising. He was a big fan of Hal Elrod and his Miracle Morning prescription for a productive and fulfilling day.
When he was ‘down’, he typically didn’t do any of that. He would lie around in bed until late, crawl out of bed, and rush to his office in a blur of grogginess and disarray.
But here’s the key; if he could make himself do his ritual even on his down days, the effects were tremendous. He had to force himself, but it was always worth it.
His ritual set him up for the day.
Why was this ritual so impactful? How and why did it make his day go better and make him joyful? Simply this; he was in control. The day was not controlling him; he was controlling the day, to the best of his ability. When he felt in control, he was more confident, centered, and productive. It provided an anchor. He frequently said that if he could perform his ritual in the morning, then no matter what else he did, the day hadn’t been lost, and if he didn’t do his ritual, then he struggled to make the day work.
Can you relate? Do you have a morning ritual?
There are few rules to follow. Wake up the same time every day at a reasonably early hour. Do not hit the internet, listen to radio or read emails until you have finished your ritual. It’s your choice what to do but it should be inspirational, centering, motivating. Examples are reading, meditating, exercising, journaling, goal setting.
Since my friend’s passing I have tightened up my morning ritual and made it more organized and automatic, and the positive results have been noticeable; more in control, more balanced, happier with myself.
His death made me even more aware that every day is an opportunity to develop and be of some use, somewhere, to someone. I don’t want to waste my time if I can help it. If a morning ritual can assist that, then I’m all in.
His is one of many self-help books available to encourage you. Let me know how you get on.
PS: If you would like help creating and sticking to a morning ritual, I may be your gal. You can contact me via email for a coaching session and we can get started. I’m into no-fuss, relaxed, affordable coaching, either online or here in San Miguel de Allende.
I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I’m a news junkie. There. It’s out.
I know, I know, the news is all fake, or toxic, or slanted, and designed to elicit strong emotions in us so we will get addicted and read more. Manipulative. Forcing us to form opinions.
I know all the arguments—we need to keep our minds clean and clear and we attract what we think about. And I am in total admiration of those who avoid the news entirely in order to remain unstressed and calm.
And yet I still turn to news hubs before doing anything constructive. It’s like a drug for sure. I love tuning in for the first time in the day. What’s new? What’s going on? Anything exciting?
Gives an initial high but then is unable to deliver on subsequent doses, like the first cigarette of the day. Or so I’ve been told. I don’t smoke, drink, take drugs, or even coffee; but the news? Forget it. I’m so there.
And as a result I do spend quite a bit of my time dealing with unpleasant images in my head and feeling outraged over injustices I can never do anything about.
I have a friend who has detoxed from the news completely and doesn’t know what I’m talking about half the time. On the one hand I admire her discipline, but on the other I don’t really want to be like that. It seems like escaping.
You see, I don’t really like to think it’s an addiction despite what I said earlier. I prefer seeing it as a challenge. A challenge I don’t want to run away from. You can try to live in a bubble, but eventually something will burst it and you still have to deal with all those emotions.
What I want is this—to be able to scan the headlines, dip into an article here and there and remain calm and untroubled by it all. I want to be able to handle it. To be up to date, informed, but unperturbed.
I want to be in control.
I just want to be able to observe, and avoid taking sides or reacting. In other words, not play the game the media is playing, trying to manipulate my mind and emotions. I don’t have to. Then I’m free.
I don’t HAVE to form opinions about everything I read or listen to. I can remain neutral if I so choose.
This leads me to the title of this blog, ie Two Lines That Sum up What I Believe.
The other day I was re-reading the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, and two lines grabbed my attention and literally made me gasp. It summed up perfectly what I deep down really believe about life, the news and world events, and all that other stuff that seems designed to keep me agitated. They are towards the end of the poem. Here they are:
“And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
There. That’s my opinion on all of it. I’m going to stick that line somewhere on my computer to remind me all is well and will develop in its own time without my help.
I will keep an interested eye on things, and act where I can, while remembering it’s all working itself out as it should. Unfolding.
I know that deep down, this is what I believe. This is a work in progress and I’m not there yet. But now I have a strong vision and intention of where and how I want to be.
What sums up your beliefs? Does this help you with something?
Let me hear from you. If you like this blog and would like more like it, or if there are other subjects around personal development you’d like to discuss, let me know. Please. I love getting feedback from you.
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Many of us are feeling a toxic mix of emotions right now—frustration, anger, grief, outrage, despair. That underlying feeling of unease from watching the news, which can result in stress and a feeling of helplessness. It’s not at all comfortable and quite distracting.
The anger combined with powerlessness can literally make us sick if we’re not careful. And is a huge time waster.
As a life-coach I’m always looking for solutions and reframes that can help people cope with stuff that happens. Turn it around and make it bearable, if not positive.
The best approach ever to stress
Without doubt the best teachings I have ever come across for coping with events that make us feel helpless comes from the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy called Stoicism.
I confess. I adore Stoicism and it is my go-to back-up support these days. It always has something supremely useful to give us. Practical lessons in everyday living.
Most of us have heard of Stoicism, or at least are familiar with the term to be stoical. It’s associated these days with a sort of calm, unemotional, austere type of behavior. Non-sentimental and with uncaring connotations.
This is not true to the original teachings, which I want to share.
Rather than urging us to be uncaring or unemotional, Stoicism teaches us to focus on what we can control. That which we cannot control, do not waste energy nor stress about. It’s a waste of time. Period.
Here are some quotes from the early Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus. You will be amazed how current they are.
“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.”
“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.”
This is hardly unfeeling or austere. It’s dynamic, intelligent, and realistic. And above all, sublimely practical.
Anger and stress serve no one
Each of us has a mode of action—a way we are best suited for acting as decent, responsible human beings.
Some of us are activists and the first to be out on the streets demonstrating for justice. I have a friend in Mobile, Alabama, my home town, who is like this. I admire her immensely. She works tirelessly to help people vote and is always organizing events. (You know who you are Dianne Jones!) I would last about 5 minutes marching anywhere for anything, and my organizational skills are zilch, so I don’t think that’s my best way to serve. Plus she has tons of energy. I don’t.
But I can vote. I can write letters to people in power. I can donate money or give encouragement to people who are out there working on the line to make the world a better place.
So what can you do? What can you not do?
Always focus on where you do have some influence. Take appropriate action and then let the rest go. Do what you can and do not worry about what you cannot. We are all different.
Anxiety helps no one. And realize, the calmer and more detached you are in your action, the more effective it will be.
That’s it. Simple. Wise. Evergreen advice from first century Rome. We all know it, but we still find ourselves in a lather over events totally outside our control.
It’s so simple
So if you are feeling upset or angry or frustrated, STOP, and ask yourself—is this within my sphere of influence? If yes, then what positive steps can I take to make it better? If not, then give yourself permission to let it go.
You can still care without stress. You can be concerned without stress. The Stoics call it calm indifference. The Bhagavad Gita, the book that was the central influence on Gandhi during his one man confrontationwith the British Empire, describes it as holy indifference. The only effective action is that taken with holy indifference.
Think about it. If each of us focused on what we could do, and took action in a positive, calm state, and then let go the negative emotions, would our lives and those around us improve?
The Stoics certainly thought so. Try it. It’s incredibly liberating.
My only successful attempt was back in the 90s with the Atkins diet. Remember those days? We all lost weight and then gained back twice as much.
Fasting? Even worse. My one experience sent me into semi-coma.
Nevertheless, for the past five months I’ve been following the Intermittent Fasting thing. You may have heard of it. It’s not a diet as such, but rather an eating program based on when you eat and not what you eat.
Typically it involves eating inside an 8-hour window and not eating during a 16-hour window. What you eat and when you impose those windows is your choice.
It’s surprisingly easy to follow, even for this rabid anti-dieter, and the results are interesting. Weight loss, lower blood insulin and sugar levels, improvements in chronic fatigue and type 2 diabetes, and better mental clarity are among many benefits touted.
I highly recommend it.
The Knock-on Effect of Intermittent Fasting
But the most interesting aspect to me is the one discovered by Nobel Prize winner Yoshinori Ohsumi in 2016. His research found that fasting triggers a healing process called autophagy, which means self-eating. (Charming, I know, but wait). It results in cleaning out any dysfunctional or damaged cells, renewing them and helps slow down aging. (Better?)
So, given a chance to rest from continuous face stuffing, our bodies quickly start to heal and correct imbalances in the system.
I find this astonishing.
A Fast for Mother Earth
I couldn’t help noticing the similarity of Intermittent Fasting and how it relates to the pandemic.
Mother Earth has been given a break in digesting pollution. An imposed but welcomed fast.
I’m sure you’ve read about dolphins and fish appearing in the canals of Venice only weeks after the Coronavirus lockdown.
Or about the air pollution clearing up dramatically over China. Birds singing in Chinese cities for the first time in years.
It’s as if Mother Nature is saying, just leave the rivers and air alone and watch what happens.
Leave it to me. I got this.
It’s not Pollyanna-ish to recognize that there are bound to be some good things coming out of the global shutdown. If nothing else, that perhaps we don’t need to do a lot to help the earth heal. Just like our bodies and fasting, we just need to leave it alone.
What About Psychical and Social Healing?
If our bodies heal when we give them a short break from eating, and if Mother Earth heals when left alone, can we also heal our minds in a similar way?
Every ancient religion recommends observing one day of rest a week—the Sabbath. It’s the 4th commandment in the Ten Commandments. I used to wonder how that one got ranked in there amongst killing and adultery.
We don’t observe it much anymore but it was considered crucially important for mental, spiritual, and emotional health. A one-day activity fast each week.
We used to have Sabbaticals where people would take a year off work to travel, study, think and relax, and focus on personal enrichment and development. Is that still a thing?
What about weekends? With shops and restaurants open all week and many people working from home, weekends no longer seem to be obligatory times of rest and relaxation.
My Point About the Pandemic
Here’s what I’m getting at. Of course for many the pandemic has dire consequences and I’m not making light of it. But for all of us it can be a unique opportunity to take a much-needed break from work, socializing, shopping, and a plethora of other frantic activities.
Do you miss them?
Many are reporting that once they get over the initial shock, they are learning to relax into it and do some things they haven’t done before.
Like sitting in nature and doing nothing. Or reading some good books that have been catching dust on your shelves or lurking in your Kindle.
Taking slow walks.
Or what about those online courses you’ve paid for and watched maybe one video before either giving up or forgetting all about it? I found one on my computer I had bought five years ago and never opened. It’s pretty good.
Have You Ever Wondered….
…what it would be like to take vows and join a monastery? Now you can sort of get an idea. Or what about a stint in prison? Would you survive emotionally? This isn’t that bad. We’re also not at war.
It could be worse.
I’ve often toyed with the idea of going on a longish meditation retreat with no internet, phone, TV, or conversation for a set period. (I toy for a moment or two, then think better of it and turn on Netflix.)
Retreaters report that the first few days are relaxing and peaceful—then the withdrawal sets in and many experience depression, irritability, and wanting to kill someone. If they push on through they come out the other side feeling imperturbable and blissful.
Can you make this pandemic your Sabbatical? Pretend you’re on a retreat? You may never get another chance to slow down and do nothing for long periods.
Think of it as Intermittent Fasting for your mind and spirit. Who knows what will heal?
Now, here’s the offer.
Starting April until the end of May 2020 I’m offering life-coaching sessions online for donation only.
Give what you can—it’s important that it’s a transaction. The amount doesn’t matter.
We can discuss how you can seize the day and make the most of the enforced seclusion, set some soft goals, and develop a positive view about what is happening. It IS a once in a lifetime opportunity and talking things over can help you get your head clear.
Sessions are 40 minutes long, via Facebook Messenger, or Zoom if you’re not on FB.
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Donation by PayPal.
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If you want to know more about Intermittent Fasting, drop me a line.
The other day I woke up in a melancholy mood. “The bittersweet melancholy of another new dawn”, as my poet friend Scott Hastie expresses it so nicely.
I rarely get depressed, and then not for long, and I’m usually an upbeat, positive sort, so a melancholy mood felt strange. I didn’t know what to do with it, quite literally. I felt out of sorts, kind of off balance. Why, I wondered? Nothing bad was going on in my life, and all was well.
Have you had this happen?
As I examined it more closely I realized it was due to several things, all unrelated. I had watched a disturbing film the night before, several people had unsubscribed to my list (turns out they were on the wrong list), the sales on one of my books was down, and a client had cancelled her appointment due to illness.
Big deal! None of it important or earth shattering. Each on its own something I wouldn’t even blink at. Yet I had managed to pull them all together into a rather unpleasant tale and was unconsciously sending this charming message to myself—Nobody likes me, Everybody hates me, I think I’ll go and eat worms!
As soon as I woke up to this, it all went away and I was fine. No worms were harmed in the writing of this.
It got me thinking. While I was indulging my melancholy outlook, I got nothing done. The day was blue, I was blue, and nothing was going to get accomplished in that state.
What is a mood?
A mood is a generalized emotional state, which forms your attitude, and colors how you look at the world. Your frame of mind so to speak. So we have cranky, sour, melancholy moods, as well as peaceful, optimistic, blissful moods, and oh, don’t forget that seriously general mood, the blahs.
Every mood is a narrative,
…a story we have concocted around what is happening in our lives. Frequently it’s not even current stuff, but something triggered from the past. So we can get grumpy about something that happened 20 years ago without even knowing why.
We are not conscious we are creating the tale. We only feel the mood.
Our moods are more important than most of us realize. Successful people have control of their moods. They don’t let them take over and ruin their day. They push back against the dictator and create empowering moods.
Unhappy people don’t have control over their moods, which are usually of failure, or defeat, or inadequacy.
Moods rule our lives and dictate the kind of results we get in life. Mood matters.
The good news is you can control your mood and can always choose a useful one.
I use a technique (from Michael Neill) for mood control THAT WORKS EVERY TIME! It’s only 3 steps, so I encourage you to memorize it. You never know when it will come in handy.
This is how you dig out a bad mood and drag it blinking and snarling into the light of day. Leave the good ones alone. They are working for you.
Here we go. When you have a strange mood, and you don’t know the cause, complete these 3 sentences.
1) I’m feeling…….
(List all the words you can think of to describe your mood. Get as specific as possible. Remember, moods are general so home in on it.)
(List all the possible triggers that come to mind. It’s usually more than one.)
3) Which means…..
(Aha, here is the story, the narrative. What nonsense are you telling yourself about these events?)
When you look at the narrative you have uncovered, usually a blatant and silly generalization of unlinked occurrences, you can simply spin it. Find a new story, unlink the causes, and reframe all of it.
Every mood is a narrative.
Every narrative can be rewritten, so if you don’t like the mood, change the story.
Honestly, this is deceptively powerful and effective. Please try it.
If you would like help identifying and exposing some killer moods then contact me for a session either online or in person here in San Miguel de Allende. I’d love to help you make this work. Remember, if you don’t control your moods, then your moods control you! Contact me here.
I was at the beach the other day watching a glorious sunset. Breathtaking.
The waves were gently breaking against the rocks on the beach, the water was aquamarine, there were fluffy clouds in the sky catching the pink light, and flocks of birds were flying somewhere, who knows, to sleep?
A few pelicans were still fishing and would swoop and crash dramatically into the water whenever they saw prey.
Sounds sublime, huh? And yet there I sat, melancholy, and not knowing why.
Then if occurred to me. I was feeling that I ought to be feeling all kinds of spiritual and uplifting emotions. That I was connected, enlightened, with some sort of witchy incantation to the setting sun on my lips. Or standing in some sort of yogic posture with a shamanic fire burning luminously, bidding farewell to the fading day.
No, instead, I was feeling irritated and a bit restless, and annoyed with myself for wasting this beautiful moment. That I ought to be feeling or doing something different.
Ought to. Ought. Roll it around in your head. Is that word ever welcome?
The other day a client was bemoaning the fact that she felt overwhelmed by everything she had to do and it spoilt her joy and wellbeing. She worked on her business from home and had a million ideas and responsibilities that needed to be acted on.
Ever been there?
I remarked that yes, we can be overpowered with too many things to do all at once. And too many things all at once frequently means whatever we are doing, we feel we ‘ought’ to be doing one of the other many things we need to do. We never feel we are doing what we should be doing and the result is frustration about not being good enough, or organized enough, somehow.
On the same beach holiday mentioned above, I was enjoying an afternoon alone on the balcony of our hotel room, reading my kindle, enjoying creative thoughts and making notes. Then suddenly my internal voice pitched up yapping ‘you ought to be down on the beach enjoying it while you’re here! You shouldn’t be doing this stuff when you’re in this lovely setting!’ Dang. There it was again.
Ought, ought, ought. That word trying to wriggle in and spoil my peace of mind. Telling me I’m never doing the right thing—there’s always a million other things that are better, more productive, good for me. Anything but this, Sunshine!
But I caught it this time. Drop kicked it over the balcony and into the sand.
Start noticing if the word ‘ought’ comes into your thinking. It does with me, often. I’m now noticing when I feel I ought to be cleaning the kitchen when I’m sitting on the veranda. Or I ought to be thinking about lunch when I’m working on this blog. Or I ought to be taking the dogs out for a walk instead of whatever I’m doing (now that’s probably true!).
Don’t talk to me about the treadmill. I always ought to be on that.
I’m dropping that word. Or at least taking note when it rears its ugly head. Banishing it. I invite you to join me in this experiment.
Just say no to any oughts that creep in.
Instead, give yourself permission to focus on whatever you’re doing and rebelliously give it your complete attention. Sit and bask in the sunset just for the beauty of it and lounge on the veranda with a book for as long as you like and feel good about it. Have a glass of iced tea and thumb your nose at even the slightest notion that there’s anything better to do.
The irony is you’ll become more productive, more focused, feel more peaceful and able to enjoy whatever you’re doing.