When we undergo a significant inner transformational change for the better, it is often preceded by a period of duress, a sense of loss and deep pain, even a sense that things are falling apart. It seems we humans need a strong jolt to the system sometimes to get our attention so that we can become more aware and realize that change is needed to get into alignment with our higher true selves. Unfortunately we don’t get much help out in the world on how to make this transition. There is so little training in society about letting go and detaching from our false, limiting beliefs. Too many of us are also encumbered by a scarcity mindset which makes it even harder to let go of the familiar; we fear there will be nothing better to replace what we are losing. Here is where faith comes in. If you can believe that you will, in time, be highly compensated for what you are asked to give up, then you can confidently move forward in your transformational breakthroughs knowing that despite your “loss” you are on your way to higher ground.
Key Principle: When tragedy or challenging hardships befall us and shake our very foundation to the point that we think we will never be the same, that is when we are ripe for a major transformation.
Nature’s Way of Teaching Us
Nature has a wonderful way of teaching us lessons about life. Consider when a forest fire hits a stand of mature trees. It can seem like a tragic loss, but actually it is an evolutionary catalyst. Seeds that were once unable to realize their potential finally crack open under the intense heat. With the clearing of the once dense canopy, these new seedlings are able to receive critical sunlight so they can flourish and come alive.
Just like a seed needs a force to break open and grow, so too do we need challenging events, even crises, that serve as catalysts to break us open and prepare us for new growth. This understanding can shed empowering light on our heartbreaks and give us the perspective to endure the growing pains. So when you find yourself broken open, my counsel from personal experience is this: Be patient with yourself, let the growth process happen, and embrace the journey.
C.S. Lewis gave a profound explanation of this transformational process when he wrote, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but he is building up a palace.”
The rewards for taking this journey—in discovering your voice of vocation, in realizing your gift to the world, in allowing your true self to emerge—is a life full of freedom, inner peace, and deep satisfaction.
(excerpt from Thriving in Turbulent Times)
There is a natural human tendency to compare ourselves with others. Many of us habitually engage in this practice as a way of getting some feedback on how we are doing. The ego side of us likes to measure where we are in the pack—“Am I leading? Am I falling behind? Do I need to run faster? If I take a break will I fall further behind?” Our ego thinks this kind of vigilance is helpful. However, constantly comparing ourselves with others is a dangerous endeavor that can suck the joy out of life.
The comparison game is an addictive, destructive habit that eventually catches up with us. With any addiction there is usually a short-term payoff but a long-term downside. Addictions keep us scanning for our next “fix” to help us feel better, but over time we find that it takes more and more of the “drug” to make a difference. To add insult to injury, every time we make a comparison we reinforce the false belief that our true worth is based on how we stack up with others.
Another insidious aspect of the comparison trap occurs when we pick out the most attractive quality that we envy in another and then beat ourselves up for not having that same gift. It is important to realize that when we make such comparisons we are usually using an inaccurate and irrelevant measuring stick. Think about the futility of this endeavor. Take Julie for example, an introvert who feels energized after periods of alone time. Now, Julie compares how she acts at parties with Holly who is a bubbly extravert who gets bored by an hour alone with herself. There are a number of illogical conclusions Julie can come to by making this comparison such as, “Why can’t I be more outgoing like Holly? She is the life of the party. I get worn out at social gatherings whereas Holly is raring to go well into the evening. Holly is always up for a good time. I’m not much fun. I am boring.” And the downward spiral continues.
Sometimes we take the opposite tact—looking down on others who have it “worse” in an effort to make us feel better. With this approach we subtly deceive ourselves by thinking that we are just “counting our blessings,” but when we look down on others we are still playing the comparison game with all the trappings that go with it.
So, whenever and however we try to play the comparison game it is usually counterproductive and often damaging. Comparing ourselves to others is not the way to inner peace, nor does it help us find our true self-worth.
Social Media Feeds the Addiction
Unfortunately, the social media explosion is not helping the human race get over this comparison addiction. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn actually fuel our desire to compare. Some of us are so caught up in social networking that a day, or even an hour, does not go by without logging on. This pastime has a serious downside. Research studies have shown that reviewing blogs and Facebook pages can actually lead to increased levels of depression and feelings of inferiority. This condition even has a name called “Facebook Depression.”
A recent study conducted by two German universities found that one in three people felt worse and more dissatisfied with their lives after visiting Facebook. The study revealed that vacation photos were the biggest cause of resentment, with more than half of envy incidents triggered by holiday pictures on Facebook. Social interaction was the second most common cause of envy, as users would compare how many birthday greetings they received and how many “likes” or comments were made on photos and postings.
You see, what is subtly self-destructive about comparing ourselves with our friends’ Facebook pages, blog posts and Christmas letter updates is we think we are seeing the whole picture. But really we are seeing just their highlights, and we think, “Why can’t my life be like that?”
Steven Furtick (author of Greater, a New York Times Best Seller) puts it this way: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
How to Kick the Habit
How do we get out of the comparison trap? The first and most important step is realizing that the high costs of playing the comparison game far outweigh the benefits. Here are five helpful tips to consider:
1) Notice how often you are comparing throughout the day. Keep a simple journal and jot down every time you find yourself making a comparison.
2) Become more aware of the negative feelings that accompany your comparisons. Include these unpleasant thoughts and feelings in your journal.
3) Consider the stress and strife that comes from constantly checking your standing with outside measures. Consider the emotional toll you have paid.
4) Realize the insanity in the “yo-yo effect”--up one minute because your last Facebook post got a bunch of “likes,” then down the next when you hear about your neighbor’s family vacation being “better” than yours.
5) Rather than comparing outward, look inward to discover your divine, inherent self-worth and believe—really believe—that you are OK just the way you are. Realize that your true self-worth can’t be measured by the kind of car you drive or the number of toys you own.
Kicking the comparison habit can take some time. Be patient with yourself during the transition. In the meantime, since our conscious minds are conditioned to quantify, rank and file information we need to give the busy mind something to do. So, instead of looking outward for comparisons, why not look inward and redirect the comparison to a past and a present self. For example, next time you find yourself making a comparison with someone else, channel your focus inward and take stock of the growth and progress you have made. Consider a bad habit you have overcome or a self-limiting belief you have let go of. What positive trait or behavior have you allowed to flourish? What rough edges have you smoothed out in yourself? What is the next rough edge you can work on?
When Michelangelo was carving the statue of David he said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. I saw the angel in the marble and carved to set him free.” It is important to realize that we all have an angel inside us called our true self. With that realization we can choose to let go of the need to compare ourselves to others. Instead of playing the comparison game, we can channel our attention on rounding off the rough edges so our true selves can emerge.
Mark Twain famously called golf “a good walk spoiled.” If you have played the game you know how maddening it can be. It is one of the most mentally challenging sports. Sports psychologists and golf professionals consider golf to be about 90% mental, meaning that the game is mostly played with the spot between the ears—the mind. In a five hour round of golf it’s estimated it takes just a couple of minutes to execute all of the golf shots. The remaining time is spent playing the mental side of the game…just you and your thoughts.
Unlike most other sports, in golf you do not have the benefit of running or jumping which naturally stimulates a lot of oxygen intake through exertion. For these reasons professional golfers are keenly aware of the importance of breathing deeply to help keep their nerves calm, their emotions in check, and their mind quiet. Tom Watson, one of the greatest players in the history of the game, said that he didn’t learn how to win until he learned how to control his breathing.
In the final round of the 2013 British Open Golf Championship, the importance of deep breathing was center stage for millions of television viewers to witness. As Phil Mickelson was walking up to the final green with a chance to win, television commentator Paul Azinger (another great golf champion) was talking about how important breathing is in such a pressure-packed situation. He said, “The only way to slow down your heart rate while feeling this much pressure is to control your breathing.” While he was saying these words, the television camera was focused on Mickelson’s face and you could literally see him taking in deep breaths and breathing out slowly as he was getting ready to stroke the final putt for the victory. After one more deep breath, he stepped up to a difficult 12-foot breaking putt and rolled it into the center of the hole.
When I first learned this practice of breathing deeply in the belly I was amazed at how it elevated my performance on the golf course. More importantly, I’ve noticed how this practice has helped me be more patient and positive in interactions with my family, has improved my focus and ability to think more clearly, and has positively impacted so many other areas of everyday life.
Consider the following benefits that stem from deep breathing:
- Better focus
- Sharpened mental clarity
- Lower anxiety and better health
- Clearer communication
- Healthier relationships
- Improved performance on the job and at home
- Better mood
- Higher energy
- Healthier digestion
- Weight loss
- Enhanced learning ability
A pretty compelling list wouldn’t you agree? If you find that you’re spending most of your life in “hurry up” mode, then you are probably in the habit of shallow breathing. Awareness is the first step toward improvement—check in from time to time by asking yourself, “How am I breathing right now? How much tension am I feeling in my body?” And next time you’re in a highly-charged situation, or preparing for a big event, or you feel your adrenaline kicking in due to fearful thoughts, pause for a moment, place your hand on your belly and consciously move toward abdominal deep breathing. As you do so your emotions, performance, and thinking ability will improve on the spot.
(excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
Psychology research has determined that about 70% of our thoughts are negative and redundant. That is a sobering statistic! Back in 1952 a book was written by Norman Vincent Peale called the Power of Positive Thinking. Peale taught that positive thoughts can help you achieve positive results in your life. Indeed, being optimistic is a very helpful skill that can enhance your ability to achieve great things. But if thinking positively was all there was to it, why couldn’t we just learn that skill and be off to the races?
You probably have had the experience where you thought positively about a particular goal, you visualized what you wanted, tried to make it happen and yet your desired result did not manifest. How come? What is getting in our way?
There is a missing key that is critical to understand and it has to do with our beliefs at the subconscious level. While we may want a particular outcome, if deep down we think we can’t achieve it, or believe we are not deserving of it, or any other self-limiting belief along those lines, then chances are we will fall short of our desired destination. This is why so many people get disappointed with their efforts in trying to make positive thinking, or affirmations, or the “law of attraction” work in their lives.
Key Principle: If you have deeply held beliefs that are in conflict with your goals and aspirations then you will have trouble achieving the positive results that you want.
A Look into the Subconscious Mind
Dr. Bruce Lipton is a former Stanford Medical School Researcher and Cellular Biologist. In his New York Times best-selling book, The Biology of Belief, Dr. Lipton revealed an important part that was left out of the Positive Thought Movement and it is this: Our thoughts come from our mind, but there are two parts of the mind that work together and they are completely different from one another—there is our conscious mind and our subconscious mind. Our conscious mind is our thinking mind which is connected to our identity and personality, whereas the subconscious mind is the storage tank for our memories and is equivalent to a tape player that simply records experiences and plays them back.
Now, here is where it gets interesting. Scientific research has discovered that the subconscious mind as an information processor (like a computer) is a million times more powerful than the conscious mind. The conscious mind processes about 14-40 bits of information per second whereas the subconscious mind processes about 4 million bits of information per second.
Lipton points out that on a day-by-day basis the subconscious mind runs about 95-99% of our biology and heavily influences our conscious mind. So while we may be striving to have all these wonderfully positive thoughts within the conscious mind, the subconscious mind is largely running the show. This process in the mind helps explain why New Year’s resolutions or positive affirmations don’t often work. In many cases it is not because we aren’t trying or that we are weak-willed or incompetent—it is simply that we are using the wrong part of the brain to make the change.
Think of it this way—picture the mind like an iceberg with the conscious part sitting above the water while the subconscious part lies below the surface and is about 90% of the mass of the iceberg. So if you try to focus on where you want to go and say some positive affirmations without releasing your self-limiting beliefs, you will likely be sabotaged in your efforts. It’s like trying to drive your car while your other foot is still on the break. Yet, most of us don’t know why things aren’t working out as we had hoped and so we get frustrated, beat ourselves up, or blame other people. While you can try to maintain positive thoughts and have a good idea of where you would like to go, if the subconscious is playing more powerful negative tapes they will likely override your conscious positive thoughts, making it harder to reach your intended destination.
Uncovering Self-Limiting Beliefs
An essential first step toward changing our self-limiting beliefs is to become aware of the results we are experiencing in life. What you are currently creating and receiving will tell you a lot about your beliefs. For example, let’s say you have a pattern of defeat in your life. It seems every time you try to work towards a goal something gets in the way and you are unsuccessful. “Why try?” may be a belief that settled into your subconscious as a result of several discouraging experiences. So next time you set your sights on a desired outcome there is a voice deep inside that says, “I don’t want to get my hopes up. Things usually don’t work out for me. I probably will be disappointed again. Why even try?” This is an example of a self-limiting belief and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Can you see what I’m describing here is about more than just thinking positively? You can think positively, set your sights on your target, and be bound and determined, but if deep down you don’t believe it will happen, then that deeply held belief will often dictate the final outcome.
A helpful next step towards discovering if we have programs working against us is to test whether our beliefs (programs) match up with our desires and intended goals. A great way to do this is to simply ask ourselves revealing questions like, “Do I really believe that I can achieve this?” and then listen to what you hear back and give it a number on a 1-10 scale with 10 being a heartfelt YES. This question can help you see the self-doubts that you may be wrestling with. You can also ask, “Do I feel like I am deserving of this?” This question can help bring to the surface self-worth issues that may be holding you back.
(Excerpt from the book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
Most self-improvement programs are built on the belief that there is something broken inside that needs fixing. This kind of approach fosters a “deficit” mindset causing us to focus on what is wrong, rather than magnifying what is right with us. It creates a “lacking” feeling, born out of the belief that we are inadequate or not whole. It is a painful irony that all the striving to find the “problem,” and then tinkering to try to fix the “problem,” is actually exacerbating the human condition, making us feel worse and hindering our performance—this kind of approach keeps us focused on the wrong things and keeps us stuck in our “brokenness.”
The actual path to inner peace is not in trying to fix what is “wrong” with you. True inner peace comes with realizing that deep inside, at your core, is goodness, perfectness, and wholeness. Imagine living with this belief and letting go of all the stress and strife of trying to fix yourself, letting go of the kind of burden and shame that comes from thinking and believing that you’re not enough.
Just like Michelangelo’s approach to carving the statue of David, the path to true peace is about simply identifying and releasing the rough edges—such as flawed paradigms, self-limiting beliefs, and toxic emotions—so that our true self can emerge.
If you, like most of humanity, have struggled with the self-limiting belief that you are not enough and then tried to compensate by acquiring, achieving, or winning something in an effort to make you feel better about yourself, then you have probably discovered that the lift you get from those “victories” is usually short-lived. This is because our deeply held subconscious beliefs are persistent and powerful. So all the striving, trying, and thinking about how to make yourself feel better will ultimately be trumped by what you believe deep down about yourself.
With this understanding we begin to see the futility in trying to fix, change, or improve our lives from anything less than a foundational understanding of our divine worth which enables us to emphatically declare, “I am enough just as I am, I am OK, I am intrinsically whole.” Without that core belief you may achieve some successes, even a lot of successes, but still feel empty inside; you may manifest a bigger house only to feel less at home, or you may earn a bigger paycheck only to become broke at a higher income bracket because the fundamental false concept about yourself hasn’t changed. Here is the bottom line:
If you continue to try and plug the holes inside yourself with things from the outside, you will always feel at some level that it is not enough so long as you feel like you are not enough.
Many great teachers through the ages have taught that it is the consciousness of wholeness that heals. This perfect wholeness is in all of us and it came with us when we were born into this world. Even with our less desirable traits we may have inherited, we also have threads of our Divine Creator’s perfect DNA inside us. This is why I say, even with all of our challenges, there is a place inside of each of us that is whole and good and of great worth. Here’s the cool part—we don’t have to earn this inner wholeness, we don’t have to achieve it, we don’t even have to make it happen—all we have to do is make it welcome.
How do we do this? Here is the answer: To the extent that we are not experiencing our inner goodness simply means that we are not tuned into it. Think of your favorite radio station? How do you get to enjoy music on that station? You tune in to it by finding the right dial, the right frequency. You didn’t have to create the music, and you didn’t have to understand all the engineering and technology behind your radio. You simply allowed the music to play by tuning into the right station. It is the same with us—once we tune in to the right frequency we can feel the music of our soul that enables us to come alive and dance and sing with passion.
At this point you may be thinking, “How do I find this frequency?” To find the right channel, first ask yourself this question: “What would it look like if I really loved, validated and respected myself?” If you contemplate this question with sincerity in your heart you will start to get glimpses of what this would look like and feel like. Some examples of what you may hear back could include, “I would feel joy and excitement…I would be eager to see what life brought me next…I would exercise and take better care of myself…I would eat healthier foods…I would spend more quiet time with myself…I would start painting again…I would pursue my dream career…I would speak my truth more…I would spend time in nature… I would look for opportunities to help others…I would play with my children more often.” That’s Step 1.
Step 2 is actually taking some action on what you hear and letting the good feelings grow within you. When you start acting on your Inner Guidance, the radio frequency of this channel will become clearer with less static, and you will start to activate the vibration of your true self. As you continue to honor this guidance from within it will awaken the wonderful feelings associated with your higher true self, and you will be in the process of activating your own divine power…perhaps for the first time in your life.
In order to get more enjoyment out of life we need to take ourselves less seriously and laugh at ourselves more often. Life is challenging at times, there is no doubt about that. But, as we learn to lighten up and laugh more, those challenging times can become more tolerable.
While there are those more serious calamities that are clearly sad and tragic, most events in life don’t carry an overwhelming sense of either sadness or delight. They fall into the gray zone of ordinary life, giving you the choice to laugh and bring color to the gray.
Here are five techniques that can help you see the lighter side of life:
1) Attempt to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them. Look for the humor in a bad situation, and uncover the irony and absurdity of life. This will not only improve your mood and but will also lift those around you.
2) Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up. Keep a child’s toy on your desk or in your car. Put up a funny poster in your office. Choose a computer screensaver that makes you laugh. Frame photos of you and your family or friends having fun.
3) Keep things in perspective. Many things in life are beyond our control—particularly the behavior of other people. While you might think taking the weight of the world on your shoulders is admirable, in the long run it’s unrealistic, unproductive, and unhealthy.
4) Laugh at yourself. Share your embarrassing moments. The best way to take yourself less seriously is to talk about times when you took yourself too seriously…and laugh about it!
5) Pay attention to children and learn from them. They are the experts on playing and taking life lightly. There is much in them for us adults to emulate.
Humor is a magical thing. It takes you to a higher place where you can view the world from a more relaxed and balanced perspective. As laughter, humor, and play become a more integrated part of your life, you will find that your health will improve, your passion will elevate, your creativity will flourish, and your memories will be sweeter. May we all laugh often!
Stress and burnout are increasing at an alarming rate and creating havoc worldwide. Survey after survey and numerous research studies (in America, Canada, Great Britain, Australia and many other countries) have revealed the devastating effects of stress on worker morale, health and productivity. Consider this:
> The World Health Organization estimates that stress costs American businesses $300 billion dollars a year due to absenteeism, presenteeism (attending work while sick), lack of engagement and innovation, loss of talent, and stress-related health problems.
> Over 1/3 of workers are constantly thinking about problems like emotional, health, financial and job concerns. (Annual wellness report, Employee Assistance Program provider ComPsych)
> Stress was the most common cause of long-term sickness absence. (CIPD - Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development)
> 80% of workers feel stress on the job and over 50% say they need help in learning how to manage stress. (“Attitudes in The American Workplace” Gallup Poll, American Institute of Stress)
What can be done?
More and more organizations are recognizing the impact of stress is having on performance, employee morale, health, turnover, and the bottom line. So leaders are now searching for simple, effective ways to reduce stress levels for their employees so they can perform better and feel better. This is why it is becoming common place for meditation classes and “centering” exercises to be offered at many major corporations such as Medtronic, Apple, Google, Yahoo, McKinsey, IBM, and Cisco. This is where Breakthroughs Coaching comes in. Combining timeless “best practice” principles of East and West, we provide simple, yet effective “stress reducing” training and tools to help employees:
- Alleviate stress and anxiety
- Improve decision making capability
- Sharpen focus and employee engagement
- Increase emotional intelligence (E.Q.)
- Improve confidence, creativity, and performance
- Improve teamwork, elevate morale, and reduce conflict
- Improve health and wellness
A Sampling of Breakthroughs Training & Tools:
> For Mindfulness, Focus, and Inner Peace (Deep Breathing, Guided Meditation)
> For Creativity and Innovation (Visioning Exercises, Tapping into our Inner Guidance)
> For Calming and Centering (Body De-Stress Process, Emotional Freedom Technique)
> For Physical and Mental Renewal (Qi Gong Routines, Yogic Stretching, Energy Exercises)
> For Emotional Resilience (Release Writing, Jin Shin Jyutsu Technique, Gratitude Practice)
For more information, contact John Bush at 801-361-2977 or John@BreakthroughsCoaching.com
Next week the Seahawks will be trying to repeat their Super Bowl victory from last year. Four years ago, in 2011, Pete Carroll (Head Coach) introduced his team to meditation and ever since he has encouraged all the players to meditate regularly. Carroll believes that mediation has been a key reason for their consistent high performance. He is not alone. Many professional and college athletes, including scientific researchers, have found that mediation helps increase focus, decrease stress, and elevate performance.
The practice of meditation has been around for centuries and is an excellent way to reduce tension and quiet the mind. When our mind is calm we are in a better place to meet the challenges of the day, maintain a healthy perspective, and perform at our best. Conversely, when we are caught up in turmoil and our mind is flooded with disturbing thoughts, it is difficult to think clearly and take appropriate action.
So whether you're an NFL quarterback with the Super Bowl on the line or giving a presentation at work, having calm nerves and a quiet mind are crucial to performing well.
If you are experienced at meditation you already know the benefits. But if you are new to the practice and or want give meditation a try, here are five guiding steps to help you get started:
1) Find a quiet place and sit in a chair with your back comfortably straight, shoulders relaxed, and chest open—this natural position helps your breathing. Place your feet flat on the floor with your knees and feet about hip width apart. You can place your hands on your lap either apart or together with the palms facing down or up, whichever feels most comfortable. With your eyes closed begin noticing your breath. Become aware of yourself, of your presence in the chair. Notice any place on your body where you are feeling tension and release it.
2) If you happen to be feeling a lot of tension throughout the body, a good way to release it is by momentarily tightening each zone of the body. For example, after you inhale deeply to a count of 6, hold your breath and count to 3 in your mind while tightening your hands in a fist. Then, as you slowly exhale, release the tension in your hands. I like to do this tension release process through each zone of my body. I usually start with my feet by curling my toes, next flexing my legs, then tightening the stomach muscles, arms and hands, shoulders, and face (you can tighten your face muscles by scrunching your face and piercing your lips). Tighten one zone at a time as you hold your breath for a count of 3 and then release on the exhale. You will find that your body will relax more and more with each deep breath and muscle release.
3) Now just simply relax and breathe. Make sure you breathe through your belly allowing it to expand and contract with each breath. Breathing through the belly enables your lungs to fill completely with oxygen which helps you relax. While exhaling you can repeat in your mind a peaceful phrase like “I am at peace with all things,” or any other statement or word that is calming to you.
4) Notice your breath as it enters and leaves. Be present with yourself. Whatever thought that may come into your mind just notice it without judgment and simply refocus your attention on your breath. If you find you are being overly distracted with intruding thoughts, counting your breaths is a good way to quiet your mind. On the in-breath, count “one,” on the out-breath, count “two”, in-breath, “three,” and so forth. Count this way up to ten and then start again at one.
5) Stay with this meditative state for a few minutes or for as long as you like. When you are ready, take a deep breath and gently open your eyes.
Meditation does require patience, discipline, and practice but over time you will get better at it and begin to experience some of the benefits including:
- Finding inner peace
- Having a more open, vibrant heart
- Accepting life as it comes on its own terms
- Improving stress-related health issues (e.g. anxiety, depression, high blood pressure)
- Becoming more in tune with your true self
- Improving performance in all areas of your life!
When we meditate we are actually moving into Alpha and Theta brainwaves—this is when the mind is most peaceful and happy. The press of daily life gets our brainwaves out of the preferred Alpha and Theta state. Meditation is like feeding the brain the essential diet it thrives on.
(excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, taught that unexpressed feelings never die; they will eventually come forward in uglier ways. Sigmund Freud made the same declaration over a century ago. They were referring to the price we eventually pay when we stuff our feelings down deep inside rather than honestly facing our emotions and allowing them to move through us. In this post I am going to introduce you to a tool called Release Writing—a powerful process that will help you experience more peace and emotional freedom in your life.
Release Writing is an easy and effective technique to help us identify and release negative emotions and unexpressed feelings that we have buried inside ourselves. Oftentimes these buried feelings have been there for a long time, and we may not even know they exist. Which begs the question—If we don’t even know they are there, why bother looking for them? Here’s the problem: Whether we are consciously aware of them or not, these unexpressed negative emotions can surface at inopportune times, often sabotaging our goals and interactions, making life harder than it needs to be. So it is an important and worthwhile practice to take some time to find out what toxic emotions are buried so we can release them and let them go.
Burying feelings has become so second nature to many of us that we don’t even know we are doing it. In addition, most of us are unaware of the destructive consequences that result from these cultural habits. But, whether we are aware of them or not, buried feelings can take a toll on our health, our relationships, and the overall quality of our lives.
Release Writing is an excellent tool to help us uncover those toxic feelings. Sometimes the buried feeling is anger, or sorrow, or fear, or betrayal. Oftentimes it is the feeling of shame that gets buried; shame is one of the least discussable emotions and yet one of the most common. Release Writing enables these feelings to surface and release in a private and safe environment.
To practice Release Writing all you need is a notebook and pen. Then simply write continuously for at least 10-15 minutes or until you fill up at least three pages. Notice I said “write continuously.” This is necessary in order to bypass our conscious judging mind so we can tap into our subconscious where these buried feelings usually reside. This technique is particularly helpful in the moment when we get triggered by an event, an unpleasant conversation, or a painful memory that stirs up some visceral emotions. Strike while the iron is hot and take a few minutes to Release Write while your emotions are running high. As you do so, you will find the process to be very therapeutic and freeing.
Release Writing provides us the opportunity to pause and consider putting our best foot forward rather than being reactive in the moment. When you feel your emotions getting triggered, all you do is simply write about the troubling event in vivid detail and get out all the ugly emotions on paper. Turn off the judging part of the mind and don’t worry about your penmanship, grammar, punctuation, propriety or whether you can even read your handwriting. Through Release Writing you are allowing your busy mind to relax—you are no longer editing, no longer thinking critically about what you are writing. This kind of fluid writing allows access to your deepest emotions, desires, and insights.
As you go through this writing process you will find themes and key emotions begin to surface that you can then see in a clearer light. When these feelings are exposed to the light of day you are in a much better place to deal with them honestly and thoroughly.
Once you become more aware of what has been brewing below you can unhook and release these unwanted feelings once and for all. When this happens it is such a miraculous and freeing process! If you have seen the movie The Mission you may remember Robert DeNiro’s character trying to climb up the slippery face of the waterfall with a huge bag full of “junk.” Carrying this heavy pack around his neck was his own self-inflicted penance for an earlier misdeed. At one point along the journey one of his traveling companions finally cut the strap and the pack fell to the ground. The burden of carrying this huge weight was no more. In that moment relief and great emotion showed in his face as he was finally set free from his baggage.
Doing this kind of release work is like putting down a heavy backpack that you didn’t even know you had been lugging around. You will literally feel lighter as your energy moves to a higher level.
(Excerpt from my book Thriving in Turbulent Times)
In psychology circles, perfectionism is typically characterized by striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.
Perfectionism has an entirely different feel than the more pure mindset of striving to do our best. Perfectionists are motivated by a fear of failure, a deficit orientation—“What will they think?” Those with a healthy desire to do well are fueled by a more positive orientation—“How can I improve?” Healthy strivers take pleasure in the process of pursuing the task at hand whereas perfectionists are obsessed with the end result.
When perfectionists experience disapproval or failure, they usually see it as an affront to their entire self-worth. For perfectionists life feels like an endless report card. What makes this lifestyle so toxic is the “A’s” don’t provide as much of an emotional lift over time—“A’s” are expected—and yet a single “B” amidst a string of “A’s” can be devastating. Perfectionists will obsess over the one “failure” while giving themselves little if any room to celebrate their successes. This is why perfectionism is often accompanied by depression.
Perfectionism appears to have a temporary upside in that it can drive people to great accomplishments and provide the internal motivation to persevere through tough obstacles. But this kind of relentless pursuit of perfection left unchecked can have dire consequences in the form of increased stress, damaged relationships, poor health, and psychological conditions including eating disorders and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).
Fortunately there are some effective tools and techniques that can help mitigate perfectionistic tendencies. Here are five that I have found particularly helpful:
1) Become more task-oriented rather than just result-oriented. Focus on the process of doing an activity not just on the end result. Evaluate your success not only in terms of what you accomplished but also in terms of how much you enjoyed the process and what you learned along the way.
2) Confront the fears that are behind your perfectionism by asking yourself, “What am I afraid of? What is the worst thing that could happen if it does not work out perfectly…or if I fail entirely? If I am successful, what is the upside?” As you consider both sides of the ledger, you will often realize that the worst case scenario is not that bad, and the best case scenario is not that big of a deal either. This realization can help take unnecessary weight off your shoulders.
3) Set realistic, reachable goals based on your own capabilities and what you have accomplished in the past. Break the goal down into smaller bite-size tasks. How do you eat an elephant? We take one bite at a time. Remember to celebrate the progress you make along the way. Noticing and celebrating your milestones will help motivate you to reach the goal while at the same time lead to a greater sense of self-esteem.
4) Avoid “all-or-nothing” thinking. Remember, one mistake does not mean you are a total failure.
5) Embrace mistakes by recognizing that many positive things can only be learned by making mistakes. Mistakes often teach us precious, rare lessons that can’t be acquired by success. When you make a mistake ask, “What can I learn from this experience?”
These five practices will help you avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism…and make life more enjoyable!
John's passion is in helping people get unstuck so they can experience their true potential. Before starting his own practice he spent 16 years coaching, consulting, and presenting to Fortune 500 companies, teams, and individuals on how to breakthrough their barriers and magnify their talents.