10 AMAZING SECRETS TO EMOTIONAL OPENNESS

Eleanor (an alias) defines herself by what other people think. She doesn’t want to disappoint others and avoids conflict at all costs. Her boundaries are loose and thus often crossed. Eleanor experiences frustration when she doesn’t get her needs met, but continues to disregard her feelings rather than address them. If something goes awry she takes blame. Unkind self-inflicted opinions about her body and looks flood her thoughts.

Openness allows us to embrace the world as a place of possibilities.
Openness allows us to embrace the world as a place of possibilities.

When will Eleanor give herself a break? Thankfully, a good friend recommended a wellness coach. Wellness coaches offer practical solutions for anxiety, low self-worth and boundary issues.

An “Openness Practice” was the first recommendation. The first few doses of this “emotional medicine,” produced painful side effects. Eleanor quickly became uneasy. She felt overwhelmed by the suggested activities. However, once her mind and spirit adjusted to the daily Openness infusion, Eleanor became more rooted. She took greater responsibility for her feelings. Mood swings decreased. Eleanor’s spirit reemerged as she began to experience a fresh taste of true freedom. 

What is Openness? Webster’s defines openness as “the free expression of one’s true feelings and opinions.” Eleanor previously interacted with others and did self-talk which sabotaged her authenticity. She had no clue who she was, what she valued and what it takes to thrive. Openness Practice was the necessary key to unlock Eleanor’s ability to finding herself.

Are you ready for the Openness Challenge?

  1. Reveal the self. Eleanor’s coaching began with sharing the story of her childhood, major influences (negative and positive) and what she felt/thought about on a regular basis. Eleanor was able to identify the patterns, values and perspectives she embraced. Although it was not easy to realize how she set herself up repeatedly for failure, Eleanor appreciated the exercise of exposing herself in a safe and comfortable setting.
     
  2. Learn something new. Aside from the work done in coaching sessions Eleanor had to complete weekly exercises to build and sustain an Openness Practice such as:

Tuning into her gut’s intuition for cues when someone’s comment didn’t feel okay.
Writing out and rehearsing conversations to remain empowered and strong.
Committing to one act of self-care which promotes well-being.

  1. Laugh at self and our quirky world. Eleanor wore the kind of glasses which made the world look dark and gloomy. With every added dose of Openness, Eleanor’s lens change to see light and love. She soon discovered the gift of laughing at herself and the many off-the-wall ways of the world. She no longer took everything so personally. She consciously decided to approach situations from a new place of skepticism. She gained perspective and worked hard to find humor in it.
     
  2. Seek freedom from judgment. For Eleanor, self-judgment represented a monumental challenge. Could she be compassionate and understanding towards herself? Eleanor knew that moving forward meant a hard look at how she treated herself. She filled a bowl with loving written thoughts and pulled one out every day. She read them aloud with tenderness.
     
  3. Envision another perspective. Eleanor stopped shutting down or walking away when tension showed up at work or with friends. She quietly and confidently offered suggestions to help herself and others move out of conflict. Her gift became the offering of peaceful solutions.
     
  4. Choose opportunity over stress. Stress was in constant play in Eleanor’s family home.  Although the word stress wasn’t used much, she rarely experienced calm and stability. Eleanor chose to internalize stress to gain peace and quiet in the midst of chaos. But she had no understanding for managing stress. 

    Eleanor soon discovered her body gave important clues when stress was mounting. Once she recognized stress rearing its ugly head, she readjusted her mindset. She now saw stress as an opportunity. She began to focus on what she could control in the moment. She sought the support of trusted friends to get through volatile periods.
     
  5. Give yourself a break. When others’ needs came first, Eleanor led a shaky, unfulfilled existence. Eleanor drew a blank when asked what her tombstone’s words would reveal about her character. Openness techniques now allowed her to sum up her life with “Eleanor’s star will forever shine.” 
     
  6. Breathe deliberately. Eleanor was surprised to find a connection between breath work and openness. When taking outdoor walks she now imagined her lungs sucking in the fresh air. She imagined fresh air circulating throughout her body. Our powerful breath releases hang ups, fantasies and lingering misunderstandings out and away from the heart. 
     
  7. Clear out the past. Eleanor’s mental and emotional filters were clogged. She carried memories of parents who dealt with life’s hardballs using anger, fighting and power struggles. Eleanor lacked a barometer by which to measure a reasonable use of personal power. She was programmed to believe she didn’t matter. She survived in an invisible world. Read about clearing resistance from the heart.

    Once Eleanor understood that power can be used in healthy ways, she substituted past programming with intentional living. Today she is passionate about interacting with others from a place of clarity, sincerity and honesty.
     
  8. Recover. Reset. Restore. With this Openness routine in place, Eleanor has a system for coping with stress and setbacks. She values taking time to recover from negativity. During the reset period, Eleanor realized where different choices might have been made.  She now walks a path for healing and forgiveness. In this restoration phase, Eleanor returns to the world with newfound wisdom, patience and expanded awareness.

12 QUOTES TO RING IN SPRING

One of my favorite hobbies is to read and share quotes. I can’t get enough of the balance between the poetic and the profound meanings in short phrases. Often I find myself looking for a list of quotes a writer has gathered online for the world to savor and enjoy. My favorite quotes center on the topic of joy, peace and love.

Isn’t it time I shared my own list of quotes with my beloved readers? Together we will pause and soak up this exciting gathering of words. Together we will discover how our inner selves will be inspired and moved by the wisdom of sayings. Together we will collect a set of quotes to help us stretch and believe in something bigger than our inner critic.

Let’s take these bite-size quotes and plant them in your emotional garden. Post one on your phone. Use it as wallpaper on your computer screen. Print one for a friend. Send it to someone who could use a springtime lift. Remind yourself spring calls us to celebrate the joy of beginnings, the peace of quiet growth and the love of an ever expanding palette of color, sound and smell.

Which quote is your favorite?

It's time! Rise UP. Start again.
It’s time! Rise UP. Start again.
"Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." – Khalil Gibran
“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” – Khalil Gibran
“Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring.” – Lily Pulitzer
“Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring.” – Lily Pulitzer
“I'm a spring leaf trembling in anticipation.” -Maya Angelou
“I’m a spring leaf trembling in anticipation.” -Maya Angelou
“I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.” - Rumi
“I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying about who hears or what they think.”
– Rumi
“A life without love is like a year without spring.” – Octavian Paller
“A life without love is like a year without spring.” – Octavian Paller
“Happiness blooms naturally in the hearts of those who are inwardly free. It flows spontaneously, like a mountain spring after April showers, in minds that are contented with simple living.” — Paramahansa Yogananda
“Happiness blooms naturally in the hearts of those who are inwardly free. It flows spontaneously, like a mountain spring after April showers, in minds that are contented with simple living.” — Paramahansa Yogananda
"A kind word is like a Spring day." -Russian Proverb
“A kind word is like a Spring day.” -Russian Proverb
"Let your dreams bloom. - Anonymous
“Let your dreams bloom. – Anonymous
Sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself. -Zen saying
Sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself. -Zen saying
"The energy of the earth flows through the veins of springtime."-Terri Guillemets
“The energy of the earth flows through the veins of springtime.”-Terri Guillemets
“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” -Proverb
“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” -Proverb

SIGNS IN STORMY TIMES

In times of distress we sink into a sea of disconnected thoughts and a storm of unexpected twists. We seek survival against the storm’s choppy waves. Whether the storm has been lingering or it suddenly approaches our boat, we breathlessly wait for still waters.

Stormy seasons

Finding our way out of the storm can be an overwhelming experience. In our search for calm, we hang onto flickers of hope leading us to shore. Lost in the eye of the violent disturbance in the atmosphere, Belinda fell overboard without a raft and plunged into the cold and crushing water below. Staying afloat was terrifying at best. After two years of on-the-job fighting, Belinda explored the idea of working with a coach to find flow.

what-is-happiness

The job was a toxic mess. Belinda learned to shield herself from co-workers who sabotaged her every move. Her survival meant hiding her light and resisting happiness. She became hardened and numb over the constant attacks compromising her values and eroded her self-worth. Work drowned out the inner voice that could navigate past chaos. Time dragged on and she resigned herself to a dried up, soulless existence. 

Belinda’s physical and emotional statemeant she often forgot important dates. She shrugged off her misbehavior as another irresponsible act. Belinda found excuses anyways. It was easier to lie and to get past the growing discomfort others felt around her.

Internalizing anger and frustration took a toll on Belinda’s health. She was exhausted all the time. Her brain never took a break from the incessant badgering about how to quit and find another job. Sleeping did not allow her the opportunity to fully rest and recover.  

Then Belinda’s joints started to ache. A lot. Doctors couldn’t identify a cause nor help her with the persistent pain. Deep down Belinda knew the work stress weakened her core. 

Over time Belinda’s personal life took a toll. Belinda brought home the energy of unhappiness which oozed into the cracks and crevices of her space. She lacked the motivation to do anything but sit and watch TV to give herself a break. Her loving partner Joe and three teenagers noticed Belinda’s decline. Although they offered support she refused to be pitied and cared for as a problem child.

In search of dry land

Frantic for air, we begin a desperate search for anything or anyone to keep us afloat. At some point we realize that finding meaning from inadequate sources usually leave us empty and alone. Our search for meaning is successful when we reach for signals with the momentum to move forward and keep swimming. We learn to access plenty of tools to chart our way back to a steady place. 

One day Belinda asked herself a powerful question: “When is enough, enough?” At this very moment her world began to change. She decided her destiny was to live with freedom and joy not isolation and sadness.

Spiritual buoys

Belinda’s coaching goal was to find a boat that could sail and withstand any type of weather. With her trusty binoculars she turned away from the wind and rain. In the distant horizon Belinda spotted an image of a strong, resilient woman fueled by joy. 

To stay on course Belinda began to grasp how the universe rose up to greet her. Whenever she looked onward, a spiritual buoy or signal surfaced out of the water. With gratitude Belinda headed in its direction to unravel its significance. 

Here are five spiritual buoys/signals Belinda discovered on her healing journey. Recognize these treasures and the frequency of their appearances. 

Nature 

Bunnies and squirrels started to play in Belinda’s backyard. When she went outside to be with them, the animals did not run away from her. 

Birds, not native to her area, circled her car when driving to work. It seemed as if they were following Belinda and keeping company. 

Conversations

In her online search for coping with bad work environments Belinda read a compelling story about a woman in a similar situation. Do you want to know the part of the story that stopped Belinda in her tracks? The author ended up with advanced breast cancer. 

Belinda took a few deep breaths to process the writer’s story. As she closed her eyes, she experienced another wake-up call. The voice was loud and clear: stay on course and capsize again or use a map to avoid the next storm on the horizon.

Songs

Isn’t it wonderful to play music on shuffle or listen to random music on the radio? Once a day Belinda heard the same song in the car, at the store or in the office. Belinda claimed this as her victory song and smiled when its lyrics poured through the speakers.

Social media posts

Belinda knew one of her long-distance friends loved posting on Facebook. Knowing Facebook was her best chance of reaching her friend, Belinda searched for her friend’s page. Tears of gratitude began to stream down her face as she read a quote about surviving stormy weather. 

Dreams

Belinda’s dreams felt so real to her. When the struggle looked insurmountable Belinda dreamed of sharks and perils of the sea. She often fell deep into the water and woke up in the middle of the night in panic. She didn’t want to know if she drowned or withstood the power of the currents. 

The nightmares faded when Belinda had regained her strength. Instead of water dreams, deceased loved ones stopped by to impart their wisdom. She also dreamed about flying high with wings on her strong back.

Glimpses of the Shoreline

Coaching was the wind blowing Belinda’s sails on the voyage home. The homework, a combination of movement, rest, playdates and journaling assured smooth sailing. Belinda left her job and began the hard but rewarding work of mending relationships. She looked forward to family gatherings and became the life of the party. The aches and pains in Belinda’s body began to subside and even went away altogether.

HANGING ONTO VS. HEALING GRIEF

Finding our way to happiness after loss takes a lot of energy. Our mind, emotions and spirit take awkward and frustrating twists and turns. Time passes and it’s one more day without our loved one nearby. Sitting still is a demanding act involving terrifying moments of silence and loneliness. The idea of quiet and rest only regurgitates uncomfortable feelings of emptiness.

“Don’t wish me happiness – I don’t expect to be happy all the time; it’s gotten beyond that, somehow. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor – I will need them all.” – Ann Morrow Lindbergh, American author
“Don’t wish me happiness – I don’t expect to be happy all the time; it’s gotten beyond that, somehow. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor – I will need them all.” – Ann Morrow Lindbergh, American author

When Sally came to see me, she pretended on the surface to be happy. Minutes later tears rolled down her face with little effort. Her grandmother and best friend, Mabel, died a year ago. In Sally’s heart it seemed as if Mabel died yesterday. Before we started our time together Sally needed to describe the last interaction she had with her grandmother-holding her hand, exchanging final goodbyes and walking out of the room. 

During our time together Sally began to understand the differences between hanging onto grief versus healing grief. She realized she had access to more choices than the tired worn out ones constantly tossing around in her very full head. Sally awakened her heart to use these insights to chip away at and heal her grief.

The story of Sally and Mabel can continue, but in a fresh revised version. To the one who has experienced the loss of another, there is a raw and profound fear that the end of a life shuts down a story completely.  This is not entirely true. Like all of us, Sally can reedit her ongoing story about her great loss.

How?

Sally can take comfort in knowing she is not completely cutoff from Mabel. Mabel is still part of her story. Instead of missing Mabel, Sally can remind herself of Mabel’s laughter, constant complements and warm hugs. The spirit of Mabel lives on through loving touch points. It’s time for Sally to sort through favorite memories to create a story relevant to where things stand today.

Guilt and pain have impaired Sally’s ability to get past this “one-sided ending.” The way out of discomfort seems like a labyrinth with many roadblocks. She says the relentless suffering pierces her heart – especially when friends talk about visiting their grandparents. Sally also struggles with Mabel “showing up” in a movie or a book.

Grief is personal, unique and at times encompassing. Based Sally’s description of thoughts and feelings she is transitioning from grieving (acute phase) to mourning. This means she desires to move from existing in autopilot (hanging on) to living in a natural rhythm (healing). This new normal involves a series of adjustments. 

Where to begin?

Set a healing intention. Sally believes Mabel would tell her to stop being sad and start living life. Once Sally awakened to Mabel’s present time agenda for her, healing transitioned into happiness. 

Here’s Sally’s happy plan:

  • Incorporating new rituals focused on comfort, recovery and self-care. Simple activities like walking outside and planting a garden to honor the relationship felt good to Sally. Next it was time to schedule happy times to stay on track.
     
  • Traveling somewhere new. Sally wanted to make new memories so she could tell Mabel about them. She researched resorts where others could take care of her needs.
     
  • Rewriting the grief script. Healing means composing new chapters, slowly scripting and experiencing life without the company of the other. Today Sally writes these chapters daily in an organic manner. Nothing is forced. There’s no pressure to follow a timeline. This step must occur to reclaim what it means to be fully alive and present.

Sally spends time with trusted friends and skilled professionals. She no longer sits alone with sadness. Outside support and guidance facilitate Sally to tap into strength and find healing.

WORKING AT HAPPINESS TAKES WORK!

Happiness at work shows up in unexpected places….

My work career has provided abundant opportunity to learn, stretch and gain experiences and perspective – not just for the particular job, but life itself. Among my diverse professional roles, amazingly – and perhaps tellingly – only two stand out as really happy and positive experiences. As a Legal Aid Paralegal, I advocated for individuals with HIV/AIDS. The objective was to to access much needed government benefits. Despite difficulties including conflicting personal agendas, poor communication among staff and the constant threat of budget cuts, staff turnover was low and personal friendships were strong. 

My other happy experience was my role as Project Manager under a university grant. As a mighty team of six professionals, we developed a computer-based learning tool for county agencies. Our responsibilities included marketing, product development, networking – and also some fun and challenging writing and traveling assignments.

Happiness at work means you value happiness over drama, agendas and bad hair days!
Happiness at work means you value happiness over drama, agendas and bad hair days!

How did these jobs deliver happiness?  Does it matter?

Reason 1: Sense of purpose is high and constant.

The need to be of service to others represents a person’s inner driving force. For hours I poured over documents, as a paralegal,  in search of a winning way to access money and to ease a client’s dire situation. When an approval for benefits came through, it meant someone received a new lease-on-life and could better care for themselves. Although pay in this position was low, personal rewards were high. I could feel a major human impact. I knew no better way to spend my time and felt a strong sense of accomplishment. My reputation for service spread quickly in the community. My schedule filled up with people needing help. Time flew by, and I couldn’t wait to return to the office on Monday. 

Reason 2: Humor is part of the office environment.

As Project Managers we shared room space while divided into open cubicles. We shared jokes over cubicle dividers, laughed at our foibles, and shared life’s absurdities. Sometimes staff members did not get along or tension ran high in the tiny space. But because we valued laughter over drama – tense moments did not linger. Potential clients observed our humorous interactions and natural camaraderie. We attracted lucrative business because clients recognized we functioned as a cohesive whole. Laughter pushed us out of superficial conversation and facilitated authentic connection. This bonding continued beyond work time. We happily attended outside family events such as graduations and weddings. Humor allowed us to operate as a unit.

Reason 3: Freedom to use imagination and express ideas.

Thriving is a natural outcome when autonomy and growth mindset are celebrated. Close-knit university colleagues freely shared fresh ideas on optimizing client interactions and improving systems. Our thinking and creativity flourished in a culture where leaders trusted our capacity to consistently generate good results. Leadership’s encouragement promoted a willingness in us all to go above and beyond even when no one was watching. 

Reason 4: Recognition increases our esteem and value.

The gift of being valued by co-workers heightened my commitment to the organization’s mission. My actions were recognized as non-threatening or disempowering. Fellow workers perceived my motivation to genuinely contribute to the greater good. I, too, took advantage of opportunities to publicly praise and acknowledge co-workers. In jobs where I haven’t been happy, it has often been due to lack of recognition and respect. Instead of building excitement and inspiration, I felt empty and drained. Resentments build when efforts go unrecognized. Burnout and stress follow.

Reason 5: Boundaries are respected and maintained.

At Legal Aid I discovered how weak boundaries erode relationships and wound an environment’s spirit.  A toxic climate brings out everyone’s worst:  sabotage, separation, favoritism and gossip. 

On the flip side, our esteemed project director at the university held regular brainstorming meetings, met regularly with individual staff, and treated everyone with the same genuine regard for well-being. Under her care and leadership, staff felt safe to establish healthy boundaries with one other, and believed co-workers would honor them. I loved the people there because a strong service mission superseded personal dramas.

Journaling/Discussion Questions:
What job made you happy? How did you contribute? What held you back? How would you do things differently? What makes the difference? Does happiness matter?

EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS 101

What are emotions? What are feelings?

Despite the fact we experience a cocktail of emotions and feelings throughout every day, most of us struggle to explain what’s happening. Experts – neuroscientists and mental health professionals – confirm our common inability to distinguish between emotions and our feelings. We get ourselves tied up in knots. We grapple to articulate what’s going on. Sometimes we can’t even explain it to ourselves!

Say hello to Mimi! What feelings and emotions arise when you see her?
Say hello to Mimi! What feelings and emotions arise when you see her?

Experts, too, confess confusing emotions and feelings. According to a Washington Post article,  “Research confirms skills of emotional intelligence—an ability to reason with and about emotions to achieve goals—correlate with positive outcomes beginning in preschool through adulthood. Emotions affect learning, decision-making, creativity, relationships, and health. People with better-developed emotional skills enjoy more satisfying lives.”

How to distinguish emotions vs. feelings? Neuroscientist Dr. Sarah Mckay, clarifies: “Emotions play out in the theater of the body. Feelings play out in the theater of the mind.”

The ability to express ourselves is critical in all environments and during every moment of our lives. If we better understood the difference between emotions and feelings, could we live our daily lives as thrivers vs. survivors? For sure! Awareness allows us to identify how to talk to our body and mind to create harmony within ourselves and with others. 

The following description is inspired by a blog written by coach and author Debbie Hampton:

Emotions and the Theater of the Body: One-act performance

When we’re engrossed in a show, emotions take over. Emotions provide instant mental and physical responses to interpret an unfolding story. These split-second, instinctual shifts alter biochemistry and act as primal survival mechanisms. Emotions react readily to threat, reward, and everything in between. Emotions, however, are temporary. They are genetically coded, circumstantial and vary only slightly from person to person. A combination of brain power and biochemistry plays key roles in memory storage. This makes emotional memories more intense and deep-seated. Emotions are measured by body language, blood flow, facial expressions and brain activity. Highly skilled emotional interpretationis what separates the greatest stage and screen actors from street performers.

Feelings and the Theater of the Mind: Full-stage production

On center stage our brain plays the leading role for feelings. The brain is where the opening number occurs! The main actors – mental associations and emotional reactions – enter the scene and establish the production’s tone. As each character portrays their designated role, they are shaped by personal experience, beliefs and memories. Act One is Emotion and Act Two is Feeling. Feelings are mental representations of all that happens in our body in the presence of emotion. They both are natural outcomes of how the brain perceives and assigns meaning. Due to the elusive nature of feelings, professionals have not yet discovered an accurate way to measure them. 

A phenomenal resource to better understand feelings is The Emotional Atlas. Inspired by the Dali Lama, this atlas is an interactive compass which helps navigate an understanding of emotions by describing feelings.

Sorting it out

On a gorgeous sunny day I took my beloved little dog Mimi for a walk. We were mindlessly heading for the lake at a relaxed pace. While passing a rather unkept house, a large barking German Shepherd charged out of the gate and chased my Mimi in rapid circles. The Shepherd was big, fast and on pure adrenaline. He definitely startled me. My first reaction – emotion – was to yell at him to stop while I raised up my hand towards him. Despite attempts to fend him off Mimi, the big dog was persistent. Fear started to take over me over. I felt out of control and felt threatened by the dog’s swift movements.

As I feverishly untangled the leash which encircled my body, another mid-size dog decided to join the party and started to bite Mimi. Frantic, I searched for a way out of this terrifying predicament. At some point a woman showed up and rushed over to grab the dogs, but without much success. Eventually the chasing slowed down enough for me to grab Mimi with both hands and walk away. My brain was on overload. My body shook and my breathing was fast and furious. I was able to calm down by comforting Mimi in my arms, and letting her know she was okay. Weeks later, it remains a challenge to pass that house without my feelings taking over. However, each time I pass the house I deliberately initiate self-talk. I remind myself the incident is over and we are safe. A mantra helps me choose peace, love and joy in order to heal and feel safe.

Tips on emotions and feelings

Listen and look for clues:    

  1.  If your body knee-jerks to someone or something – You are in an Emotional State. If your mind replays a scene and assigns meaning to emotions – You are in a Feeling State.
  2. Re-image/re-imagine the scene. In my case, I needed to re-imagine the dog attack. I now can pass by the house without fear taking over because mantra grounds me. 
  3. Choose a value that disrupts the story. I value peace, love and joy over terror. Thriving not just surviving is my goal and how I live my life.

DECLARE YOUR FREEDOM

Isn’t it wonderful we have the opportunity to celebrate freedom? Aside from fireworks and picnics, Independence Day reminds us how a group of determined people rallied to claim their power. Tired of taxes and exploitation by the British government, American nationalists realized cooperation through peaceful means had become futile. Tensions rose and conflict ensued between Great Britain and the Americans.

The Revolutionary war ended with the Americans claiming victory and an independent identity. To proclaim this moment of liberation, Thomas Jefferson wrote the United States Declaration of Independence, a document asserting natural and legal rights. One of the most-often quoted sentences from the Declaration sets forth this moral code to the world:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

— Declaration of Independence

Let us apply the American story of freedom to our own lives. 

"Freedom is about being so truly, deeply and madly attached to your own soul that you can’t bear - if only for a moment - a life that doesn’t honor it.” —Andrea Balt
“Freedom is about being so truly, deeply and madly attached to your own soul that you can’t bear – if only for a moment – a life that doesn’t honor it.” —Andrea Balt

Jim sank into the client chair at my office with a heavy heart. He was having a hard time getting away from the nonstop family and work obligations that filled his schedule. Although he was ready to make better choices, James felt guilty spending time with me. “I want help but it’s taking time away from my kid’s soccer games and dinner with the family. If I leave work early I will have so much to do in the morning. I feel stuck in a rut.” To determine if James is truly motivated to change he has to answer some tough questions. Read more about freedom.

Are you determined to claim your power?
A full calendar to James means stress and pressure. It doesn’t matter if the event marks something important, he hasn’t the energy to enjoy it. His boundaries are loose and ill-defined. Instead of living with purpose he is flopping around like a fish out of water. Like this fish, he is lost, has a hard time finding air and doesn’t know how to roam in his own skin with ease.

What are you tired of?
Before he goes to bed James feels restless, overwhelmed and exhausted. He can’t pinpoint the source of his fatigue because of his many irons in the fire. “My other challenge,” he says to me, “is that I love to be needed. So what if I’m tired. At the end of the day I’d rather make people happy than taking a break.”

Do you feel in conflict with yourself and with others?
James tried several ways to create peace in his life. None of his options seemed effective or lasted long enough to feel steady. After he tried one more idea that didn’t work he felt like a failure. The failure turned into a rising tension between what he wanted for himself and what everyone else expected of him.

“Yes, I want to take care of others but I’m on edge all the time. My stomach is in knots. My head won’t stop running. My inner voice wants to speak out, but the words are buried under long-standing recordings of I’m not good enough.”

It was clear to James it was time to feel strong again and declare freedom. James needed to establish an independent identity asserting his rights based on a written moral code. With code in hand, he can thrive based on his truths.

Here is what James drafted as his personal declaration of independence:

During the course of life events, it becomes necessary to release the bonds of pain, struggle and strain and to create a life based on what I value most: peace, love and joy.

I am a Divinely inspired being entitled to feeling alive, enjoying myself and my family and being content.

I am no longer be held back by the constraints of judgment, guilt, time and obligations.

I separate myself from people or experiences attempting to distract me from my truths. 

As a free and independent person I have the power to live from a place of honor, make healthy choices and establish safe boundaries for myself and my relationships.

I pledge to take care of myself the same way I care for others – with love, patience, respect, gratitude and kindness.

Is it time for you to write your declaration of independence? Start by asking yourself tough questions. Your answers may be the proof you need to get out pen and paper, end the conflict and finally be free. 

WOULD YOU WORK HERE?

Readers Rise Up! Share your resolution (or some thoughtful musings) on this all-too-common workplace scenario.  

My friend Sam (an alias) recently shared his workday routine. Sam was resigned to things at work being depressing. He expressed no hope for future change.

Do you have advice to offer to Sam and his colleagues to improve conditions and promote well-being at work?
Do you have advice to offer to Sam and his colleagues to improve conditions and promote well-being at work?

Sam’s story

Upon entering headquarters, Sam trudges past familiar and dreary corridors lined with posted regulations, engineering diagrams and historical snapshots of departmental meetings. He calmly passes through a mandatory security check where every morning security guards search for suspicious items. A green light signals. Sam exhales a barely audible sigh of relief. He continues toward his office cubicle, while co-workers stare blankly – as they do day after day – at computer screens filled with rows of unanswered emails. Co-workers mumble quick and obligatory “Good Mornings” to Sam, in hopes he won’t distract them from their computer-induced zone-outs.

After several hours of desk time, Sam seeks out a friendly cohort for conversation. He heads to the coffee room where a group of colleagues engage in discussion of the latest front-page political brouhaha. One of the members, Joe, stands in the center of the group. Joe is famous for quirky one-liners. Joe imagines his comments to be as stylistic and punchy as the one-liners he’s heard on National Public Radio. The team soon-enough disbands and heads to the next meeting.

At the meeting a robust discussion of current engineering projects starts to brew. Sam’s team is looking at data generated by each project and is determining whether or not a project moves forward. Supervisor Harriet readily finds a reason to criticize staff in charge. “Oh, he’s such a moron,” or “Why did this idiot think he could get away with this faulty data?” she muses.

The meeting drones on as Harriet maintains her ongoing rants. Staff hold back comment. Why volunteer to be the next victim on her hit list?  Harriet is oblivious and interprets no interruption as a sign of respect for her years on the job.  

The New Department Head

Exhausted by this negativity, Sam sighs as he spots the new department head. 

Turns out Chris is a micro manager and a bully, not to mention aggressive, short-tempered and demeaning. His feeble attempts at humor feel forced, uncomfortable and can be borderline discriminatory. Because his demeanor is unpredictable, it’s not easy to know when he’s joking. Staff avoid him when possible. Things seemed better at work when Chris’ predecessor was around.

Sam’s Observations

Day after day, month after month the routine is the same. Today Sam find himself contemplating what is missing at work. He recognizes the following factors:

  • The only person with a sense of humor is Joe. Most of the time it’s hard to know if his jokes are truly funny.
  • Harriet loves attention and will get it at the expense of others. She doesn’t see how her harmful ways are destructive. Because of her selfish demeanor, staff prefer to laugh at her not with her. 
  • Chris’ disposition builds an air of tension at the office. 
  • Sam is showing signs of job stress such as anxiety, loss of interest in work, fatigue and stomach problems.

Despite this sobering realization, Sam doesn’t see a way out. What needs to change?

Let’s brainstorm together!

  1. Do you have advice to offer to Sam and his colleagues to improve conditions and promote well-being at work?
  2. Should Sam change jobs? Is he part of the problem? 
  3. Is the entire organization fated to languish in a negative No Joy Today zone?
  4. What do you propose to remedy a workplace grown stale and out-of-touch with the aspirations of its workers? Is there hope, or is No Way Out fated to be the headline of Sam’s story?

GUILT AND STRESS: OUR FAKE FRIENDS?

What is happening here?

Peter's guilt and stress are taking over. Is there a way out?
Peter’s guilt and stress are taking over. Is there a way out?

Peter is having a hard time enjoying his relationship with his girlfriend Cindy. He recently found out that Sue, his ex-wife and mother to his three kids, has been diagnosed with cancer. Although it was a bitter divorce, Peter struggles with his urge to fix things for Sue during this tough time. In a twisted way, Peter believes he is responsible for Sue’s illness.

What about the kids?

Peter feels responsible for preparing the kids to deal with their mom’s cancer, but refuses to ask anyone for help. The kids sense something is wrong because he is so distracted and distraught when he’s with them. Emotionally paralyzed, Peter does not realize he has emotionally abandoned them.

Eventually Peter crumbles under the mental and emotional worries he has imposed upon himself. The last thing on his mind was coping with his own distress and looking after his personal needs. He felt he didn’t deserve to take a break from his obligations. In a short time, Peter has reached crisis mode.

What about Cindy?

To Peter, Cindy’s presence appears to be another inconvenience despite their steady relationship of four years. Cindy recently expressed hurt and resentment towards Peter’s preference to tend to Sue and the kids. These days Peter pays little attention to their relationship or her needs. Cindy wasn’t sure where the relationship was heading and asked Peter for a time out. Peter lashed out at Cindy telling her she was inconsiderate and needed to stand by him. In tears, Cindy told Peter she wanted to be with him but she couldn’t carry him when he wouldn’t carry himself. 

What is guilt? How does it impact us as a society?

According to Psychologist Diana Lalor, “Guilt is an emotional state where we experience conflict for having done something which we believe we should not have done (or conversely, not having done something we believe we should have done). This can give rise to a feeling state which does not easily go away and can be difficult to endure.

Guilt feelings arise when we focus on something we have done that is embarrassing, harmful to another person, or some other behavior which has contributed to negative consequences for ourselves or someone else. Guilt feelings can sometimes become so big that we may feel overwhelmed, and are not able to manage the intensity of feelings.”

If we shift our perspective on guilt from a personal to a global level, it is obvious that society places high value on stress and guilt. Guilt-induced scenarios pop up everywhere. We live with these negative energies to the point of normalizing them. Motivated by unhealthy reasoning:

  • We feel guilty for working too much and not spending time with loved ones.
  • We feel terrible for not showing up at the party where we’re often ignored.
  • We insist it is our obligation to donate to a particular cause, or others might die and suffer.

Can Peter be helped?

We go so far as to say someone is not “right” if they don’t feel guilty and stressed according to our own misguided beliefs. After reading Peter’s story, do you think Peter looks like a struggling hero or a self-absorbed and thoughtless lowlife?  How might you act and feel if you were in his shoes?

Is Peter a lost cause?

Without inner fuel, a support system and resources, Peter is left to wither alone under the weight of heavy pressures. The likelihood of Peter making poor choices such as alcohol or drug use is high. It is easier to hide and drown in sorrow with substances than to face agony.

Fortunately a co-worker noticed Peter’s unexplainable behavioral changes and asked what was going on. At this juncture Peter suffered a meltdown. His raw emotions erupted in pain and out into the open. Because Peter valued his job and work identity, he couldn’t afford to appear unproductive or unstable. The guilt of talking to someone versus the guilt of losing his job had to be a better option. 

With the support of his co-worker Peter scheduled time with a wellness coach. The goal: Peter wants to diffuse guilt and enjoy his life and relationships. Slowly and painfully, he took the vital steps required to unravel from guilt. Peter committed to a series of exercises designed to energize his spirit, maintain his physical body and restore his mental state.

Peter’s homework   

Step 1: Recognize the type of guilt he’s carrying.

Peter knew he was driving on a one-way street with no outlet. His goal became to turn himself around and get on the right road again. His first road trip consisted of passing by the guilt road signs that read:

“I am guilty for….

  1. not being able to do enough for Sue and the kids.
  2. not being able to make Sue’s cancer go away.
  3. not being fully present for family, partner Cindy or myself
  4. not listening to Cindy and her concerns about the relationship.
  5. neglecting self-care.
  6. expecting Cindy’s rescuing.”

Step 2: Determine if the guilt motivates or suffocates him.

Sometimes guilt can reset our inner compass. If we feel guilty for offending another or for focusing on our own personal agendas instead of relationships, we have been put on notice. Guilt now offers us the choice to stay on course or make a less harmful choice. He could choose between the guilt of not fully caring for his ex-wife and kids or carving out quality time to be with them. 

In Peter’s case, he values relationships more than guilt and stress. If he ignored his suffering and continued to carry guilt he would suffocate from feelings of despair, anger and shame. With help from his coach, Peter became clear about what led to his feelings of guilt. Now it was easier to move through his negative emotions.

Peter jumped at the chance to be the fun person. He set up activities with a focus on play to lighten up their activities. Sue and the kids now looked forward to Peter’s visits. Peter and Sue created a two-hour time limit for weekly visits so they could enjoy other commitments.

Step 3: Forgive self/others.

Guilty feelings can be contained and released through forgiveness. Most people forget the most important step in moving forward: forgiving the self. He had not connected the dots between why he felt guilty about caring for himself and his lack of healthy boundaries. He believed everyone else mattered but him. 

Inspired by an article on overcoming guilt, here are Peter’s DO Not Keys to self-forgiveness and a guilt-free life:

  1. Do Not over-commit or over-promise.
  2. Do Not give in to procrastination or perfectionism.
  3. Do Not give in to self-blame.
  4. Do Not use guilt to motivate or punish.
  5. Do Not live with unrealistic expectations or standards.
  6. Do Not live according to other’s standards and expectations
  7. Do Not make people feel guilty about doing or not doing something.
  8. Do Not make life-altering decisions while feeling guilty and stressed.

Peter journaled the chain of events occurring in the last three months. As well, he highlighted how he mentally and emotionally responded to each event. Peter now realized how his guilty thoughts and stressful behaviors contributed to a downward spiral. He became emotional when he realized how poorly he had treated his beloved Cindy. Peter loved her and wanted to know how to make things better with her. They hadn’t spoken for a few weeks.

Peter called Cindy and asked if they could see each other for 15 minutes. Cindy was quiet and hesitant at first. She was unsure if Peter were going to hurt her again. Truth be told, she missed him a lot. Peter assured her his intent was simply to find healing. This behavioral change melted Cindy’s heart. She accepted his invitation to meet at the park. Peter brought out a piece of paper and read the following:

“Cindy I love you. I am sorry for disrespecting you and not honoring our relationship. These past four years have been remarkable because of you. You bring out the best in me. I am so grateful for you. I promise not to dump my guilt on you. Please forgive me.”

Step 4: Be open, honest and accountable.

Being attached to guilt and stress means we are attached to judgment and ego perfection. These energies limit our access to peace, love and joy. When we have the courage to face our thoughts, feelings and actions we step into authenticity. We become real to ourselves even if the road appears dark and lonely. The way to clear guilt is to connect to our experiences without the burden of fear and negativity. Obsessing about a situation keeps bad feelings circling. Accept and acknowledge the guilt, determine what actions will return us to a state of peace, and then move on.

Peter learned to open-up his feelings about being at fault for Sue’s cancer. It took effort, but he discovered that his guilt was sabotaging everything important to him. Peter confronted his ego which insisted upon fixing the situation. He now approached Sue from a genuine place of kindness. He let go of seeing the relationship as if they were still married.  With humility he asked Sue what role he could play in her life. 

Step 5: Find another way.

Guilt and stress grab our attention more than any other feeling. Guilt teaches us how to see possibilities, encourages us to change for the better, and to stop carrying stress.

Peter came to terms with guilt and stress no longer being his friends. He was ready to let go of these energies:

  1. Making others happy at his expense.
  2. Stressing over every action or inaction.
  3. Being overly sensitive about his words and deeds.
  4. Letting guilt confuse his ability to make good choices.
  5. Mistake guilt as leading him to be open, honest and accountable.

To get out of the guilt and stress routine, Peter awoke 30 minutes early three times a week.  He now walked outside and engaged in positive self-talk by:

  • Reminding himself he could care for both himself and others.
  • Setting an intention to carry on with his day from a place of peace, love and joy.
  • Blessing himself and his loved ones.

WHY TRUST?

To trust or not to trust

Trust is tricky. Trust is a human and spiritual subject. Books are written. Stories told. Definitions attempt to explain it. Despite our efforts in understanding the concept of trust, we are still  baffled by its expression and how we practice it on personal and global levels.

“There are no accidents; we’re all teachers – if we’re willing to pay attention to the lessons we learn, trust our positive instincts and not be afraid to take risks or wait for some miracle to come knocking at our door.” -Marla Gibbs, Actress
To test your understanding, answer the following:
  1. Is trust vital to survival?
  2. Is there a perfect way to know how to trust? How can we maintain trust?
  3. Is there a secret formula to recover when trust is broken?
  4. How do we know when trust is not present?
  5. Why are animals better at trusting than humans?

How many questions did you answer? Were your answers based on your own experiences or Google searches?

Signs of Trust

Trust is a key aspect of practicing life. Trust is part of the glue that allows us to feel safe and secure. We tend to be choosy about whom to trust. Sometimes we get through the day trusting the world has our back, then a family member’s confusing phone call triggers whether we trusted too much or too little.

We cannot grow without trust. If we wander away from trust we walk into suspicion, doubt, scrutiny and plenty of fear. When we experience trauma such as cancer or a car accident, trust may shift to strong uncertainties about where we are going or how we’ll recover.

Trust can make or break us. Apparently the act of trusting demands a lot of mental and emotional effort. An article posted by the “Trusted Advisor” shares four ways we use the word “trust,” to:

  • Interpret what people say (credibility)
  • Describe behaviors (reliability)
  • Decide if we feel comfortable sharing information (bonding)
  • Indicate whether we feel other people have our interests at heart (self/other focused)

Conversely, when trust is missing internal conflicts rise to the surface. We feel uncomfortable and unsettled. In an attempt to decipher our discomfort, we make comments like this:

“I’m not sure how I feel about this person. He only talks about himself.”
“My stomach feels squeamish and my heart races when I’m around this person.”

“She treats me like a child.”

We feel stuck when these perceptions are unresolved. We feel blame and anger. Accumulated experiences of missing trust may even lead to mental disorders such as Depression, Anxiety, Fear of Abandonment and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Turning to alcohol or drugs are unhealthy coping strategies. They delay recovery. Finding a coach or mental health professional can help us return to well-being.

Trust strengthens spiritual awareness and connection. Spiritual seekers understand the major role trust plays in their growth. Trust in a higher power gets us through tough times. Divine trust teaches us to detach from negativity and connect to the never-failing anchors of peace, love and joy. Ego takes charge without trust in the Divine. We become confused about who we are in the world. We are prone to fear and allow chance to decide our fate. We forget how to connect with our inner self, and seek temporary relief in empty places.

Trust is not

  1. Dependency. Trust is imprinted in Human Beings. At birth we arrive with a small body and a voice not yet knowing words. We depend on others to tend to our basic survival needs, including water, food, touch and shelter. At inception we are also equipped with divine tools such as trust, love, forgiveness, strength and healing. This combination of dependency and divine tools allows us to engage in relationships. If you’re a parent or have spent time around newborns, you are aware how love and trust contribute to a baby’s growth beyond their five senses.

    Dependency means something external is needed to function.The body is used to walk, talk and drive a car. Dependency in the extreme becomes addiction, habit and obsession to an outside source. It shuts us off from hearing our internal compass. In this state of illusion, we go down the wrong road. When we finally embrace recovery, trust becomes a core component of healing. We turn inward and feel ourselves whole again. Remembering the divine tools inscribed in us opens the door to find our way back home.
  2. Trust is not attached to one specific event. Our inner radar hears the word trust and translates its energy in various ways.Self trust:  Do you believe in your innate ability to take care of yourself?  Emily has spent the last nine years in therapy, retreats and in online chat rooms trying to figure out how to trust herself. Her peace of mind is constantly compromised. She walks through life on eggshells. She avoids human interactions for fear of saying the wrong thing. When she does speak up, she spends days recanting and judging her words or tone of voice.Other trust:  Do you trust those closest to you? Do you trust them a little or 100%? Robert and Bethany have been dating for a year. Overall, their time together has been fun.They are comfortable and have strong feelings for each other. However, in times of disagreement Bethany threatens to leave. Despite Robert’s assurances that he trusts Bethany and believes in their ability to resolve conflicts, she remains skeptical and continues her threats. Exasperated, Robert tells Bethany they’ve reached an impasse; she needs to value their relationship rather than running away.World trust:  Do you trust your leaders? For centuries large groups of people used trust to build and crush empires, businesses and causes. Although it’s difficult to measure, trust opens doors, inspires ideas and widens hearts. Without trust we cannot co-exist as a world community. History has revealed that the absence of trust crumbles societies and institutions. Countries endeavor to foster trust in their neighbors to maintain peace and stability. Business deals and board decisions cannot proceed without trust.Curious how countries rate according to a set of rankings leading to group trust? US News and World Report published a white paper outlining scores based on several factors and attributes.
  3. Trust is not time limited. Trust can happen in the blink-of-an-eye and last for lifetime. At Princeton University researchers asked students to look at anonymous faces and give feedback if they believed them trustworthy. To their surprise, decisions were made in milliseconds. Most of us don’t keep tabs on just how much trusts exists in all our relationships.

Exercise:

  • Close your eyes and visualize the word trust. How do you define it? Do you see people or stories? Words or images?
  • Does your trust definition need tweaking? If so what parts of it do you need to strengthen? Shed?
  • Practice your new definition on yourself. Then expand your practice to your close relationships. Is the new definition helping or hurting you?
  • Remind yourself what matters most. This Psychology Today article does a great job of pointing you in the right direction.