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.
A friend of mine wrote a screaming email to me the other day. Lots of caps. You know the type.
WHERE IS THAT THING YOU WROTE ON HOW TO DEAL WITH FAILURE AND SETBACK? I’m having a terrible day, everything I touch goes wrong and I CAN’T FIND THAT ADVICE!
I had to laugh. We’ve all had those days. Nothing goes right and it spoils our mood and puts us in a temper that guarantees even more things go wrong.
She wanted the ‘thing’ I’m about to share with you now. Keep it bookmarked—it might come in handy one day.
I don’t like failing
It makes me feel bad. So I will do everything I can to avoid it. If you think about it, we grow up with the message to get it right, make good grades no matter what, and that failure is definitely NOT a good thing. If you fail too much then watch out, YOU are a failure, a loser. Hang up your spurs kid, you got an F. Don’t do that again.
Maybe instead we should be encouraged to make mistakes, to take risks, fail and learn from it? Wouldn’t this help us all to be more creative? After all, every successful person will tell tales of failure on his or her way to the top, to success, creativity and fulfillment.
I recently came across an interesting take on this subject in a book by Tim Ferriss, called Tools of Titans. Tim is a kind of alternative success guru and he likes to unpack how successful people operate.
In the book Jocko Willink, Retired Navy Seal Commander, was asked how he dealt with failure. His reply—“How do I deal with setbacks, failures, delays, defeat, or other disasters? I actually have a fairly simple way of dealing with all those situations, and that is: “good.”
One word. Easy to remember, unless like my friend, you’re in meltdown.
So, in other words
—Didn’t get that job? Good. Opportunity to look for a better one.
—Got injured? Good. You needed a break.
—Unexpected problems? Good. You have the opportunity to figure out a solution and learn something awesome.
His staff ruefully relay that indeed he does give this response to every situation. And they learned that they may as well say it to themselves first before they go to him with any complaints.
And it worked brilliantly. What Willink was doing was training himself and his staff to approach every situation as a learning experience: to reframe mistakes or failures into a step on the ladder to getting it right. They were a championship team.
Now I know you may be thinking you’d like to deck him one for being so annoying, but he was a Navy Seal, so um, no.
It’s as if Willink is saying—‘It may not be great, or what we would choose, but it’s OK, good. It’s what we’ve got. We’ll make this work.’
Use this in day-to-day living
This works for everyday setbacks, irritants, or failures. Not for big disasters or tragedies. Things like:
You’ve tried something new: it didn’t work. Good. You got feedback. Try something different.
Your electricity just went out. Good. Take a break and do something different.
Your computer broke right when you were in an online business transaction? Good. Maybe it was a bad transaction. Good. Next time you’ll have some backup handy.
You got food poisoning from eating street food? Well, if you’re not dead, good. Go to bed, enjoy your rest and you might lose some weight.
Caught in a traffic jam? Good. A chance to listen to your music.
NB: Obviously it’s not recommended to use it in tragic situations, serious accidents, or death of someone or a pet. Those situations can take longer, sometimes years to see the good side, the silver lining.
A simple change in perspective can work wonders
I’ve started using this and am amazed how well it works to clear the decks and keep my balance when something goes haywire.
It shuts off my negative thinking, the story I’m building about what a bad day it is, and how I’m jinxed on technology, etc.
It’s more just observing what’s going down in a stoical way without judgment and then moving on to see how you can make the best of it.
This simple reframe takes you out of the victim mode. It implies taking action, putting things right, learning from mistakes. This didn’t work? Good. Do something different next time. Suck it up Lollipop and get on with it.
If whatever happens is ‘good’ then what have you got to lose? You’re learning all the time. You’re improving all the time.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone, take some chances, make lots of mistakes and reframe whatever happens as OK. You’ll be amazed how much progress you make in life and work.
It’s these little changes that can make the big differences in how we run our lives.
All my life I’ve heard the axiom, you can’t take it with you. And who can argue? You can’t take your money, your fabulous good looks, your home or your career—all those things you are clinging to so valiantly—with you when you die. So buck up Toots and keep your perspective.
It’s good advice. Don’t get too caught up in the things of this world which are ephemeral and will mean nothing when the end comes. Instead, focus on what matters in life—doing good deeds, love, friendship, and service. All that good stuff.
I always thought I had a handle on that. I certainly am not attached to jewelry or clothes (I buy clothes once a year from Dillard’s in one fell swoop), I’ve been busy de-cluttering my home for several years now, and I have a realistic approach to my career. I’m pretty darn detached from most stuff. I’ve got this, so I thought.
Until my computer died on me while on holiday in India. I woke up one morning and it was gone, not responding to anything, stubborn black screen staring back at me.
Up until then I had been gaily posting on Facebook about my journey, writing blogs, and generally keeping in touch with the world. Suddenly, nothing. (Before you ask, my phone was not set up for internet because I don’t like typing on it.)
So there I was, in an exciting area of India, Rishikesh, where the Beatles famously landed 51 years ago and kicked off an all things Indian/yoga/meditation craze that spread to the West, and wait, and I couldn’t share it with anyone?
The River Ganges was roaring a few feet away from my hotel balcony. Who can I tell?
Does it mean anything to me if I can’t share it? Sounds preposterous, and I’m a tad embarrassed about it, but these emotions of loss and abandonment flowed through me like the river beneath my window.
In a panicky frenzy I did manage to get my email on my husband’s computer, but little else of my entire life. Facebook and Gmail and Dropbox wouldn’t play ball. I forgot all my passwords and they were, guess where, on my computer. Doh!
Facebook was like, Northern India did you say? You want to change your password from there? Oh righty-o, we’re going to fall for that one. Go away. Ditto Gmail and Dropbox, Amazon, Kindle.
Yahoo, promiscuous as ever, let me in immediately—Sure, love, come on in, who needs a password? We believe you.
I went into withdrawal. Like coming off a drug. (So I’ve heard. Does coffee count?) The TV was not in English, my kindle needed replenishing and wouldn’t go online….and boy was this an eye opener about what I cling to!
A few heart wrenching days later, after surviving withdrawal, I began just sitting out on the balcony, doing nothing, watching the river flow. I liked it.
I became more relaxed about stuff that had been bothering me. I didn’t fret if plans had to be changed because of a monsoon spoiling that walk or making us late to some Wonder-of-the-World temple or monument.
I started to let go of a lot of ‘stuff’ that was clogging my life. Did I really need to have YouTube playing in the bathroom as I got ready to go out? No I did not.
I realized my computer had been keeping me from living in the moment.
And guess what? It belatedly dawned on me that I couldn’t take my computer with me when, well you know, that happens. Death, passing over, heading for the light.
I had a humorous moment of fantasizing about what it would be like to take it with me when I die, blogging and posting messages to everyone while it was happening.
“And … Guys, I’m in the tunnel now, yes that tunnel. Bigger than I thought it would be. Hey, you won’t believe who I saw first thing in front of the tunnel! Yes HIM. He’s very nice. It’s all a teensy bit scary but I see the light at the end and everyone has been very helpful and encouraging so far. I’m feeling OK, really, I’m fine, dealing with it. It’s happening! I’ll keep you posted. Later, folks.”
It was actually empowering to lose my computer and discover that my best friend and constant companion was a thing. A thing that breaks. And a false friend. A friend who would not be with me at the end.
I feel oddly liberated to know this.
What about you? Are you attached to something more than is recommendable? Anything you’re addicted to? Will you be OK letting go? And do you realize you can’t take it with you?
Later, folks. That’s all I’m confessing to for now.
Now, if you are looking for a life-coach who is so highly evolved she doesn’t blink when her laptop crashes, then I’m probably not your gal.
However, on the one hand, I’ve been there, done that, and survived!
On the other, who wants to work with someone that evolved?
Contact me for all issues non-computer related and for help getting your life to work. Finding purpose, finding your niche, your voice, creating a new career, surviving transitions. I can help.
Sessions available online or in person in San Miguel. Great Mexican prices too. Check it out here.
I’m just back from London where I had the happy job of helping look after my brand new granddaughter for 2 months. Amazing how one tiny person can take up the entire attention and care of three doting, (and frequently frazzled) adults!
But despite the inevitable anxiety mixed with bliss and hard work, there was something strangely de-stressing about what I was doing. I had one job—rocking a baby for hours on end. So I couldn’t, and didn’t worry about all the other stuff I should be doing. No multi-tasking allowed. There was nothing more important I needed to do. Period.
It made me realize how seldom I am that focused in my everyday life.
One of the downsides of being self–employed and semi-retired is that I have to be a self-starter. The result is a long list of things to do and nobody to make me do them. Usually I fool around awhile with several at once getting nowhere and eventually get going on some great life-changing million dollar project.
The Saboteur strikes!
This is when I inevitably sabotage myself with thinking about all the other things I could be doing. The obvious solution is to go on Facebook. Just to see what’s happening since I last looked five minutes ago, otherwise I might miss something important. I may as well make some tea while I’m at it.
There’s no one to make me prioritize, focus, or concentrate. It’s just me and the computer, and it doesn’t care. No one to answer to except my demanding dogs. Am I the only one who finds this challenging? I don’t think so. Most of my life-coaching clients complain at some point about not getting enough done, wasting much of their time on distractions, and feeling frustrated with their absence of discipline.
All of this is down to lack of focus—the ability to concentrate on one thing at a time.
Learning to relax, do one thing at a time and do it well—rock the baby so to speak— is the number one key to feeling happy, productive, and at peace.
Just aim to do one thing each day. Focus on it. Do it until it’s done and don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked. At least you will have accomplished something.
Stop multi-tasking. It’s a curse. Rock the baby.
Please contact me if you would like some life-coaching— whether in person here in San Miguel or online.
In person life coaching: 600 pesos per one hour session. Cash or Paypal. San Miguel location.
Online coaching: $50 for 40 minute session using Facebook Messenger Call or Zoom (no video so you can be in your PJs in bed). Paypal only.
I also do Hypnotherapy if it seems appropriate to your issue. Talk to me.
As a Life-Coach I like things that work, that get results and help people make useful changes in their daily lives. And I’m especially impressed by how well one practice seems to work in shifting a self-pitying or complaining attitude into a more positive one.
I’m talking about the practice of gratitude; that is, writing or focusing on what you are grateful for in your life, rather than paying attention to what is going wrong. The attitude of gratitude seems to trump all others and when you are feeling grateful you cannot simultaneously feel resentful, angry, or sorry for yourself.
Kudos to it. It is an important point to remember, and does seem to help many feel better about themselves and able to cope with whatever life throws in their path.
However, sometimes I find myself, like the proverbial stubborn mule, balking at the word itself. I just don’t like the word gratitude very much and I think I know why. I’m sorry. I know this borders on sacrilege, so if you love it and it works for you, then stop reading this bit now and skip to the next section.
Here we go. For me gratitude always seems predicated by ought and should, as in, you ought to be grateful for your health/home/good income or you should be grateful for the food on the table. There are lots of starving children in Africa—sort of thing.
I’m so blessed, gushes the movie star from her Malibu home where she does yoga and meditation on the beach each morning while she sips her smoothie. The subtext is, I am the recipient of all these wonderful things that have somehow been bestowed on me and I am so thankful I am not like others.
Sound of teeth grinding.
Yes, I guess you would be. In the next breath she is saying in her L’Oreal ad that she gets to live this life and wear this makeup because I’m worth it. How does that work? Worth it? You mean you think you deserve it? Does that mean all who don’t have this stuff aren’t worth it? Are we all entitled to a house in Malibu? And how will she feel when she loses it all in bankruptcy or her next film is a failure? Still blessed?
Caveat here. I was never very good at what I should and ought to think and feel. I’ve always been one of nature’s rebels—cantankerous and bratty. And OK, a little catty at times.
Words That Work for Me
Back to the matter at hand. I am always casting about for words or phrases that take me away from either entitlement or victimhood. Words or phrases like gratitude and I’m so blessed but without the baggage.
There are lots of them: cherish, relish, not take for granted, appreciate, to name a few.
I really like appreciate. It carries no remonstrance or guilt-trip for me. It means more or less the same thing as gratitude, but with slightly different connotations. It is more about “valuing, noticing, being conscious of, or placing a high estimate on”. I like that. It’s good to appreciate things and people in your life.
But I don’t want it to feel like I’m thankful for being privileged when the rest of the world is not. Something feels ‘off’.
I don’t deserve anything any more than anyone else—trust me on this one. I’m not especially worth it and I don’t feel I’m entitled to anything. But I can appreciate everything.
My Favorite Word
The other day I stumbled across another word that expresses similar feelings, but in a way I like even better. It made me tingle with recognition. It’s a well-known word, but not used all that often in everyday conversation.
This word was lurking in a book called Getting Stoned With Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu by J Maarten Troost. (How’s that for a title? I’m so jealous.)
It was recommended to me by my equally rebellious and curmudgeon-in-crime niece, so I couldn’t resist downloading it. (We’re in this together Sally. I won’t give you away.)
Here’s the quote. See if you can spot the word before I tell you what it is.
“For what is life, a good life, but the accumulation of small pleasures? In Washington, we lived in a place where everything was available, for a price, and yet I couldn’t recall the last time I had really savored something—a book, a sunset, a fine meal.”
There. There it is. Savored. That word just jumped off the page at me, daring me to ignore it.
Savor. That works better for me than gratitude. I want to savor life, everything about it, appreciate it, experience it, even the smallest of details.
Savor reminds me of chocolate—you put that truffle on your tongue and know you have to savor every moment of it before it disappears forever. You know it’s not a good idea to have another (well, maybe one more) or you will feel sick. But this first bite is just heaven and you want to enjoy it fully. When you savor something you totally appreciate it with all your senses.
I want to approach life like that. When I step out into my garden in the morning I want to savor the soft sunshine (unless I’m in England in which case I savor the rain and chilly breeze.) I savor looking at the trees and I savor watching my dogs playing. I know they won’t always be with me, like the chocolate, so I want to savor every tiny moment with them.
The Benefits From Nearly Dying
Eckhart Tolle, the great spiritual teacher and author, says he enjoys reading about near death experiences because it seems to be the closest any of us will come to proof of what happens when we die. Everything else is just speculation. He notes how, despite the differences in what is experienced or who people meet up with while journeying to the other side—Jesus, parents, Buddha, Yogananda, a spirit group, and a plethora of different scenes such as tunnels, beautiful palaces, brightly lit scenes from nature—everyone seems to come back with the attitude that all is well.
They also have a new perspective on life and most never again take anything for granted. They savor the life they have left. Every second. And are filled with purpose.
Ok, I guess they are grateful to be back in the land of the living, but strangely not always. Sometimes they resist being sent back, at least initially, because their experience of the afterlife is so incredibly blissful and interesting. And when they return everything is changed, different. They seem able to experience and enjoy life more than before. They’ve been given a second chance. They can accept whatever is happening. All is well.
Gary Zukav in his wonderful book, The Seat of the Soul, refers to this emotion as reverence for life. That’s another good word that resonates with me. He says,
“Reverence is simply the experience of accepting that all Life is, in and of itself, of value. If we perceived life with reverence, and understood our evolutionary process, we would stand in awe at the experience of physical Life, and walk the Earth with a very deep sense of gratitude.”
Oh, I know. He uses the G-word there. But it’s in reference to reverence. And I like the way he uses it, as acceptance. If I’m accepting life as it is, I’m not complaining or feeling sorry for myself. I’m grateful, and appreciative, and I don’t take anything for granted.
How about this idea: It always seems to be the ‘good’ things we are grateful for. How about being able to accept and flow with everything that happens to us, things we judge as both fortunate or unfortunate? We are truly blessed when we can enjoy everything in life—good and bad—and savor whatever weather greets us each day.
A Beautiful and Elegant Turn of Phrase
Not too long ago I was grousing to a friend about how the word gratitude didn’t work for me. She said, “Hold on, I heard a phrase the other day on YouTube, or a podcast, can’t remember where, and it makes a perfect mantra for you.”
“Try this; first thing when you wake up say, I am the essence of gratitude; when you step outside, say I am the essence of gratitude; when you go to sleep, say I am the essence of gratitude. At every moment in the day, when you remember, say, I am the essence of gratitude. You don’t have to say what you are grateful for, unless you feel like it, or to whom, just that you embody gratitude. See if that works for you.” (Thanks for this Sharyn. I’m eternally grateful!)
Well, it does work. It’s a powerful mantra. I recommend you say it, all day, all the time, for everything, and every experience, without judgment. It completely reframes the idea of gratitude for me. It takes it away from objects to be thankful for, like the Malibu beach home and big bank account, and expresses an appreciation for simply being alive.
So I guess the word doesn’t really matter as long as it takes you to a place that feels empowering and significant. Who cares what the word is if it is life enhancing?
I want to savor, reverence, walk the Earth with a very deep sense of gratitude, and enjoy every moment, taking the good with the bad. Just as if I had been given a new lease on life—a second chance. That seems to me to be what living my purpose and following the trail of my spirit is all about.
(Excerpt from my soon to be published book on finding life purpose, called Follow the Trail of Your Spirit—The Search for Life Purpose by Margaret Nash.)
If you find the ideas in this article interesting you may like some personal life coachingon getting your life to work the way you want it to.