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What’s Your Story?: Five Fables Not To Tell Yourself

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”- Virginia Woolf

For the past 18 years I have been a practicing psychotherapist and life coach. It’s a writfascinating career, and even when I tell myself I don’t want to go to work, I’m always glad that I did. I’ve learned a lot about how people think and view the world. I’ve sat with thousands of people and heard their stories. Many times the problems that they have in their lives are the product of the stories that they tell themselves. When I meet a client for the first time, I find myself silently saying to myself, “What’s your story?” The story that they tell often gives some pretty solid information about their world view, but more importantly, why they struggle with various aspects of life.

Each of us has an internal story that we tell ourselves. The story comes from our life experiences and the way that we process what happens to us-the good, the bad, and the ugly. The stories get repeated over and over again every time we mentally relive events, reflect, process, and review things that have happened to us. It’s a characteristic of human thought that once we attach thoughts and a story to an event or experience that experience changes for us. Each time we tell ourselves our story, the story becomes ingrained in us and becomes our reality. The stories that we tell are not real in and of themselves, they are as real as we make them. As a therapist and coach, sometimes my job is pretty simple-get my client to tell themselves a better story.

Getting the client to tell a better story can be incredibly difficult or incredibly simple, depending upon the life experience that they have had. Abuse victims, trauma survivors, and kids raised in horrible family situations do have a difficult story to overcome. The process, however always remains the same-getting them to work through, and eventually change the internal representation, the story that they tell themselves. Other clients tell themselves stories that are not helpful for less traumatic reasons. Regardless of the issue, getting to the meat of the story and allowing the client to process it in a different way, shape, or form is necessary.

There are general categories of stories that emerge. All of us, regardless of emotional wellness tell our own stories. Here are a few types of stories that we tell ourselves that are often counterproductive:
The “Victim Story”
People who identify themselves as the victim in the story of their lives often set themselves up for more of the same. Because they identify subconsciously as a victim, they often put themselves in situations where they cannot possibly succeed. Many of the messages they tell themselves begin with internal statements like, “why me,” and “everything always happens to me.” Quite often these are people who believe that they are victims of quality problems such as “my Lexus needs a new transmission,” “the flight to Arruba was delayed,” or “it rained two days on my vacation week.” Victims tend to see the world through the filter of an “everything always happens to me” attitude. What’s your story about being a victim? (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/cause-effect-choice/ )

The “Money Story”
Many people have a strange relationship with the concept of money. For some, there are automatic thoughts that go with it. “We’ll never have any money, “Rich people are selfish,” “We’re destined to be poor,” and “Poor people are fundamentally better than the rich,” are examples of the kinds of automatic thoughts that provide the basis for a counterproductive money story. Usually, the story that one tells themselves about money directly correlates to their economic situation. And, many who accumulate money are unable to convert it into happiness. What’s your story about money? (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/attitude-gratitude/ )

The “Terrible Toos”
This is a story that provides a great excuse for failing to take action. We don’t take action storybecause it is “too,” as in too hard, too old, too expensive, too far, too, too, too….. This story is terrible because it creates an attitude of passivity and often spills over into all kinds of other negative stories. It has the potential to put somebody on life’s sidelines for their entire life beginning in adolescence. As little children, we believe we can do virtually anything. In adolescence we begin to accept a lot of the negative feedback that we get from parents, our peers, and our teachers. The Terrible Toos often sets up a lifetime of helplessness, but it can rear its ugly head any time over the course of the lifespan. Too bad.

The “Used To Be Story”
Many of my coaching clients are middle-aged men who have lost their way. They’re going through life, apparently successfully, but they’re not happy inside. The dirty secret of mental health is that there are millions of “successful” middle aged men out there that are depressed and don’t even realize it. They are masking their depression through words like angry, pissed off, bored, and tired. When they tell their story, their affect usually brightens when they tell you who and what they “used to be.” They weren’t always like this, and listening to their story, punctuated with the phrase “used to be” inserted over and over, is pretty depressing. Usually my challenge with these clients is to get them to realize that, while they’ll never be what they used to be, they still may have a lot in the tank. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/woulda-turned-pro-myths-glory-days/ ) So, who did you “used to be?” Did you ever think that you might be able to be that person again?

The “Conspiracy Theorist”
This type of person tends to view the world as if it is a rigged card game or professional wrestling. They believe that major events in the world are orchestrated by dark forces intent on keeping people in their place. They usually get overly fascinated with the workings of the government, big business, banking interests, and major world power brokers. These people will rant and rail about “them,” “they,” and “the man,” whose major purpose and goals are to keep the rest of us down. They spend an exorbitant amount of their intellectual life verifying this world view that they have by watching, listening to, and reading biased news reporting that fits the beliefs that they already have. They don’t seek out news sources that give them new information, they seek out news sources that confirm what they already believe-that the world is a mean, cold, and nasty place and there is not a damn thing that they or anyone else can do to change it. So, what kind of stories do you tell yourself about government, big business, and major organizations? Do your thoughts contribute something positive to your worldview? (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/media-madness-media-influences-mental-health/ )

These five stories are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the negative narratives that most of us have lurking just beneath the surface. Telling your existing stories to a counselor, psychotherapist, or coach can be helpful, but you can do a lot to change the story on your own. An exercise I do with my clients is to ask them to write their life story from the third person, changing the name of the story’s main character-them-if necessary. When they read the story over, they can often find themselves in one of the five storylines that I mentioned above. Sometimes I’ll ask them to go back after some reflection and rewrite the story, focusing on resiliency factors and positive attributes that they had not included in their first narrative. These methods can create changes in the story that a client tells themselves. It’s a very simple activity, but if done thoughtfully and diligently, it can be transformative.

So, what’s your story?anthony-hopkins-john-quincy-adams--large-msg-135248381831

“Whoever tells the best story wins.”- John Quincy Adams, in the movie Amistad

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Spring Cleaning For Your Lifestyle: Six Places To Clean

“The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoiled, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your life. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose.”- Arnold Bennett

I live in Massachusetts and Spring is finally here. This winter was a record springbreaker here for snow and extreme cold. Spring, for me, has always been a season where I am most aware of the great contrasts that life and nature have for us. I’ve always thought of Spring as being the best time of the year to initiate change and make adjustments to the way that one lives their life, their health habits, spiritual habits, exercise habits, relationships, and overall lifestyle. For me, it never made sense to try to initiate these changes on January 1. If you tried to make changes on New Year’s Day, it seems that you are the only thing trying to change. If you attempt the same changes in the Spring, it seems that nature and the entire universe is changing along with you.

The term, lifestyle, developed from the Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Alfred Adler. He originally used the term, style of life, for the dynamics of a human’s personality. He believed that we all have unique, often unconscious, ways of responding to or avoiding the primary tasks of living. He generalize these tasks into the categories of friendship, love, and work. Somewhere along the line his term became shortened to the word lifestyle. Springtime might be a good time for all of us to revise, change, and consciously choose, if needed, our lifestyle.

Lifestyle is one of those words that has been bastardized and overused for some time. Many consider it to be something that applies to the rich and famous, the beautiful people, celebrities, and people to whom life comes easy. In reality we all have a style of living, a lifestyle, that whether we realize it or not, we play a major role in creating. Springtime is a great season to assess our lifestyle and examine our responsibility and role in our style of living. We all have a lifestyle – rich, poor, famous, nondescript, fulfilled, or frustrated. Springtime just might be the best time to do a little lifestyle Spring cleaning.

“You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”-Phil McGraw

The first step in initiating any kind of change is to acknowledge where you are currently. Think for a moment about the quality of your life with regard to:
Friendships. Who do you spend most of your time with? Are they supportive of your lifestyle and your goals? Are you supportive of theirs? Are they people who contribute to your energy and vitality, or are they “energy vampires,” that have the ability to suck the life right out of you?
Love. Who do you love? Do these people that you love know that you love them? If you say yes, then how can you be sure? Is your love for them reciprocated? If it is romantic love or relationship love, is it healthy or is it coming from a place of neediness on your part? Do you really “love” these people, or is it just something that you say because it is expected from either them or perhaps you yourself?
Work. Do you enjoy the work that you must do? How happy and fulfilled are you at your current job? If you’re not fulfilled, can you find a new one? If you can’t, then what can you do or change to make your current job situation a little more rewarding?

What does your lifestyle look like? If someone was viewing your life on a movie screen as a silent movie what would they see? What would they see with regard to the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of your lifestyle? Are you living a life where you are physically active, engaging in healthy activities? Are you connected to other living beings and to something larger than yourself? If you are, great. You probably have little to no major lifestyle changes that you would want to make. If not, then why be a passive victim to whatever life hands you?

 

If you don’t like the physical, emotional, or spiritual aspects of your life, then realize that you, and only you, have the power to change this. Regardless of how young or old you are, you probably have more power in these areas than you realize. Here’s a few suggestions:

famPhysical. Do you exercise regularly? If you do, do you enjoy and look forward to what you do? If you don’t enjoy your exercise, why not find something that you do enjoy? Too many people exercise for the wrong reasons. They do so to impress other people, or because they “have to.” Finding something that you look forward to is as emotionally good for you as it is physical. If you are not enthusiastic about exercise, then consider things like walking, bowling, horseshoes, gardening, anything that you can do 3 to 5 times per week. You don’t need to be Schwarzenegger at Venice Beach in 1970 to have a good exercise regimen.

Emotional. What’s the general mood, attitude, and emotional energy that you bring to your life? How frequently do you find yourself reacting to life events in ways that you are not happy about? What’s your general level of happiness, contentment, and the life satisfaction? If you find yourself lacking in any of these areas, taking a good look at your habitual thought processes, emotional triggers, and your habitual self talk is the first step towards making a change. Change your thinking and your self talk and your emotional life will begin to change immediately.

Spiritual. What should general sense of connectedness to things larger than yourself? What are your views on ultimate questions and concepts such as God, mortality, the spiritafterlife, and the universe? What does spirituality mean to you? It’s become fashionable for people to say, “I am not religious, I’m spiritual.” If you ask most people what this means, they really don’t have a clue. If you have an organized religion that you adhere to, then that’s great. A lot of the guesswork about this is eliminated for you, and your beliefs are a great gift you have. If you are one of those people that says “I’m spiritual, not religious,” then figure out what that means for you. Even an atheist or an agnostic can be spiritual. Having a general acceptance of your own spirituality is part of a more healthy and rewarding lifestyle.

Spring is a great time for new beginnings. Maybe this is the year to do some more meaningful and significant spring cleaning. Take stock of your life with regard to work, friendships, and love, as well as your physical, emotional, and spiritual lifestyle. You may find that you are quite satisfied with where you are. If not, maybe it’s time for a little spring cleaning.

“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.”- Jim Rohn

 

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Mind Management: Making The Best Of Your Natural Software

“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”- Jeffrey Eugenides10615545_983813938300371_7620079218862016568_n

The human mind is the most mysterious of our possessions. We can’t see it, quantify it, measure it, or comprehend it. Sometimes we have a pretty good idea of how to manage it, at other times it takes on a life of its own. It is a mysterious entity housing cognitive faculties such as consciousness, perception, thinking, judgment, and memory. It’s considered it to be evidence of our humanity, but other forms of life have minds as well. It has been the primary object of study of philosophy, religion, psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. Mankind has been studying this thing since Adam ate the apple, yet we still don’t know much about this mysterious thing that we call the mind.

How much control we have over our minds, and how we can learn to harness its incredible capacity, has been pondered by brilliant minds throughout human history. The primary question about the mind is its relationship to the physical brain and our nervous system, something frequently referred to as the mind-body problem. Is the mind a separate entity from the physical body, or is it a part of the physical body? Far brighter than I have been unable to answer this question. The good news is that we don’t have to know the answer to this question in order to improve this incredible piece of software which we call the human mind.

We don’t have to solve the deeper philosophical questions in order to harness and improve our mind’s capacity. Like any machine or computer, the mind needs fuel. Proper nutrition, fresh air, water, and physical and mental exercise are required. I’m not much of a computer guy, but I like to keep in mind the GIGO acronym from computer science, Garbage in, Garbage out, a reference to the fact that since computers are inherently logical they will unquestioningly process bad data and produce nonsensical results.

“You are what you eat.”-John DeCola

gigoOne of the biggest sources of garbage we take in is food, especially the kind that we grab and eat mindlessly. One of the best ways to improve our minds functioning is to start with feeding and fueling our brain. While the mind and the brain are not necessarily one in the same, they’re definitely first-degree relatives, and taking care of one definitely benefits the other. Here’s some food to include in your diet:
Wild salmon and other, fatty, cold water fish. Anything with omega 3 essential fatty acids will improve your brain and mind functioning. If you can’t tolerate or don’t like fish, supplement with omega 3 fish oil daily.
Nuts and seeds. These are good sources of vitamin E and essential fats which are necessary for brain functioning. An ounce per day of walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, sunflower seeds etc. is sufficient. If you don’t like nuts or seeds supplement with vitamin D 3.
 Avocados. These are a source of monounsaturated fats which create good blood flow to the brain. They are high in calories however, so plan accordingly.
Freshly brewed tea. Tea contains moderate amounts of caffeine and antioxidants that are beneficial for brain functioning and overall wellness. Two to three cups per day, hot or cold will do the trick, and will be better for your brain than coffee.
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”- Thích Nhất Hạnh

Breathing is the most ignored and underutilized mind-body function. Man has been doing it forever (see http://mindbodycoach.org/brief-history-breathing/ ) and has been doing it wrong for most of that time (see http://mindbodycoach.org/breathing-101-improving-lifes-basic-activity/ ). It serves the brain by oxygenating it, making it able to function efficiently. It is also the reason that we yawn, as in those moments our brains need the oxygen to fight fatigue. Next time you’re feeling tired in the early afternoon, grab a few gulps of fresh air before you grab that cup of coffee. Some deep, slow inhales and exhales will do you more good in the long run than that cup of Joe. The articles above will show you how to do it better.

Thoughtful use of the breath can also serve as a way to separate your thoughts from your actions. Quite often when we react impulsively, it is without thought. When someone is in tune with their breathing, they have an improved ability to make more careful choices with their behavior and are less impulsive. Learning to pause and take a breath before acting gives the mind clarity, improves decision making in the moment, and makes life much easier, as our choices are more thoughtful and less reactionary. You probably have times where you said or did something and later asked yourself, “Why the heck did I do that?” Learning to breathe before acting or speaking enables you to make better use of your mind and improve your decision-making.

Proper breathing also prevents anxiety. Hyperventilation is your body’s signal to your mind to get ready for something bad happening. Likewise, slowing your breathing down is a signal from your body to your mind that everything is going to be all right. Learning to control your breathing gives your mind the ability to respond appropriately to whatever stressors or challenges it is facing. A simple awareness of breath meditation, done mindfully for five minutes or so per day will give you the control you need. Again, refer to one of the links above for more instruction.

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”- Proverbs 23:7:

One of the most important things you can do for your mind is to consciously be aware of your day to day, automatic, thoughts. Cognitive science has shown that the thoughts that we focus upon become our reality. In other words, we view the world as we think that it is, rather than how it actually is. (See http://mindbodycoach.org/whatever-the-thinker-thinks/ ) The best way to assess your thinking patterns is to examine your patterns of self talk. Self talk = Your Thinking. If you fill your mind with negative thoughts, words, and images, you will be viewing the world far differently than you otherwise would. You will also be more stressed, anxious, depressed, and feeling powerless than you perhaps need to. Become aware of what type of media you consume on a regular basis. You need to be informed about what’s going on in the world, but maybe watching the news two or three times a day is creating more anxiety than you realize. It could be shaping your reality and your view of the world more than you’re aware of.

Learn to change what you focus on in order to regulate your mood. The mind is the biggest factor in what kind of mood you are in at any given time. Too often we find ourselves in a bad mood and tell ourselves that we will just have to put up with it and wait for it to go away on its own. We often decide, sometimes first thing in the morning, that the entire day is going to be a disaster. And guess what happens? Yeah, you know the answer. That thought sets off a chain reaction, and like The Great Karnak you have predicted your own future.

The reality is that we all have the power to change our moods in a matter of moments. Changing the focus of your thoughts, a little light exercise in the form of a brief walk or some stretching, followed by some deep breathing can get you back in control of how you are feeling about your day. You can’t control the events of that day, but you can control your reactions to them and your perceptions of them. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/best-state-live/ )

Persistent practice of some of the principles mentioned here can give you control of thatguy mysterious aspect of your personality that we call your mind. Over time, your attitude, outlook, and over all sense of well-being, will be noticeably improved.

“Every facet, every compartment of your mind is to be programmed by you and unless you begin to take your rightful responsibility and program your own mind, the world will do it for you.”- Gregg Swanson

John
P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Applied Math For Life Improvement

As a kid growing up, perhaps my least favorite part of the school day was math class. I bored-kidsremember sitting in math, the world would slow down, my eyes and brain would kind of glaze over, and I would be semi-comatose until it ended. I remember being told by numerous well-intentioned and hard-working math instructors that, “This stuff is important. You’re going to need to know this in the real world.” Eventually, I figured out how to use real math in the real world, at least for what I needed it for. There are, however, some real simple mathematical equations worth thinking about and following as success principles to use in the real-world.

“Anything that can be done in two minutes must be done immediately.”-David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity

If you’re at all like me, you probably start your day and your work projects with the best of intentions. What starts as a linear process very often becomes quite circular, and often results in backtracking, repeating, and duplication of effort. Often, there’s so much paper on my desk that if someone were to drop a match on it it would ignite a bonfire. David Allen, who probably knows more about productivity than anybody on the planet, has what he calls “The 2 Minute Rule.” Anything that can be done within 2 minutes is tackled immediately. This applies during periods of overwhelm, those moments that can result in frustration, indecision, and mentally shutting down.

desksOne of the fallacies of time management is the belief in multitasking. Study after study indicates that multitasking is ineffective and counterproductive. Successful people think their multitasking, but actually they are not. People who think that they multitask are just good at attending to one thing at a time, then another, and then another, and so on. We never are able to really do two things at once. Apply the 2 Minute Rule next time you feel overwhelmed. Regardless of what task you have on your desk, at least you are doing something. This builds momentum, prevents you from mentally shutting down, and keeps you moving forward, which is where you need to go in these moments. I often find it helpful to utilize the 2 Minute Rule in conjunction with this riddle:
Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time.

“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”-Benjamin Mee, character in the movie We Bought a Zoo

If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I a the huge proponent of the benefits of positive, yet realistic self talk. Positive self talk, followed by appropriate action, is the way to get results in almost any area of our lives. As humans, however, we are wired for safety and security. As a result, taking risks of almost any type result in ambivalence and an ability to talk ourselves out of doing things that we would do if we were emotionally and mentally capable of doing them.

With a little introspection, I’m sure you can find a lot of lost opportunities from your past where you didn’t do something and have wondered about it ever since. Take a stroll downMalaysian skydiver Aziz Ahmad leaps from memory lane and see if you can think of two or three times when your life might have been dramatically different had you apply the 20 Seconds of Insane Courage Rule. Maybe you would have ended up married to someone else, in a better job, feeling more self-confident, and be doing more with your life. This mathematical principle is a momentum builder. Once you get through that initial, dreaded, 20 seconds, things begin to happen. Next time you are ambivalent about something, take a deep breath and ask yourself if this is a moment where the 20 Second Rule might apply. Unless you are absolutely certain that it is not, do it anyway. Maybe, just maybe, something great will come of it. You can be sure of one thing. If you don’t, it won’t.

“You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with.”- Jim Rohn

This one tends to be a little more philosophical than the previous two mathematical rules. Jim Rohn was an American entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker. He said that if you did a mental survey of the five people that you spend the most time with on a consistent basis, you’ll find that you are approximately 80% of what they are with regard to lifestyle, quality of life, health, wealth, and overall state of happiness. Many informal studies have been done on this principle, but it’s probably a good idea to do your own study and see if it applies to you.

Identify the five people, excluding your immediate family i.e. husband/wife, kids etc. and  take a good look. Chances are you are very similar to them. Now comes the interesting part, are you similar to them because you freely choose to be that way, or are you similar because they are holding you back? Do they prevent you, on a subconscious level, from being, doing, and having what you want out of your life? Is part of your relationship with them based on the idea that misery loves company? Would you still be friends with them if your salary suddenly tripled? Would you be involved in different hobbies, recreational activities, and different relationships if they weren’t your five closest friends?

Some psychologists believe in what is called the “mirror effect,” where we subconsciously imitate people that we are very close to because it lets us know that we are ok. If the people we are close to accept us, then we feel emotionally safe and secure. On many levels, we act as they do so as to be accepted by them on an ongoing basis. This is part of our basic human survival instincts. Act like the tribe, be accepted by the tribe, and survive. To break loose from the tribe is threatening to our sense of self/survival. This is one of the deepest mathematical principles for success. Yeah, I struggle with it too, but interesting concept isn’t it? Think about it. It’s a great way to examine your beliefs about yourself, your values, and your personal responsibility for your own success.

These are three, basic, mathematical principles that you never learned in school that could the capable of making your life a little easier, rewarding, and more meaningful.

“If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.”- John von Neumann

John

P. S. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Death And Taxes: What To Do Before You File

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes”- Benjamin Franklin

It’s that time a year once again, tax season. We gather a bunch of papers and numbers, ben_franklinbring them to our tax expert or accountant, hold our breath, and hope for the best. It is one of the most anxiety provoking events of the year, one of the prices that we pay for living in this great nation. I dread that sitting next to a complete stranger every year, bearing my financial soul, and sitting back anticipating the outcome. At that moment I feel like a Native American chief signing a treaty with the American government. I don’t have a clue about what I am signing, and have to fight the urge to ask, as many Native American chiefs did, “What do the leaves say?”

Tax season can also be a time to assess a lot of things, and gain a different perspective on what we have that we often do not focus on. Tax season coincides with the end of winter and the middle of spring. If you live in the Northeast, I live in Massachusetts, it is a great time of the year, one of great beauty and contrast, a time to reassess and reconsider the tremendous things that sometimes get hidden during the dead on a New England winter. It’s also a great time to take an inventory of the positive things going on in your life. If you do so, you’ll learn that, despite what Benjamin Franklin said, there’s a lot of good stuff going on somewhere between death and taxes.

“Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”- Cree Indian prophecy

We all know intuitively that there are more important things the money. Contemporary life is such that we find ourselves getting so caught up in trying to get by that we can lose focus on those little things that make life worth living. One of the best examples of this is a story that I have used in the past on this website to illustrate the point. It bears repeating here:
One summer, many years ago, a banker was vacationing in a small village on the coast. fishingHe saw a fisherman in a small boat by the pier with a handful of fish that he just caught. The businessman asked him how long it took him to catch the fish, and the man said he was fishing for only a couple of hours.
“So why didn’t you stay out there longer to catch more fish?”
The fisherman said he catches just enough to feed his family every day, and then comes back.
“But it’s only 2pm!” said the banker, “What do you do with the rest of your time?”
The fisherman smiled and said, “Well, I sleep late everyday, then fish a little, go home, play with my children, take a nap in the afternoon, then stroll into the village each evening with my wife, relax, play the guitar with our friends, laugh and sing late into the night. I have a full and wonderful life.”
The banker scoffed at the young man, “Well, I’m a businessman from New York! Let me tell you what you should do instead of wasting your life like this! You should catch more fish to sell to others, and then buy a bigger boat with the money you make so you can catch even more fish!”
“And then what?” asked the fisherman. The banker’s eyes got all big as he enthusiastically explained, “You can then buy a whole fleet of fishing boats, run a business, and make a ton of money!”
“And then what?” asked the fisherman again, and the banker threw his hands in the air and said, “You’d be worth a million! You can then leave this small town, move to the city, and manage your enterprise from there!”
“How long would all this take?” asked the fisherman. “15 to 20 years!” replied the banker.
“And then what?”
The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. You can then sell your business, move to a small village, sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take afternoon naps, go for an evening stroll with your wife after dinner, relax, sing, and play the guitar with your friends. You would have a full and wonderful life!”
The fisherman smiled at the banker, quietly gathered his catch, and walked away.

As part of your tax season assessment, it would be a good idea to make a list of things that money cannot purchase or influence. Your list should be uniquely your own. If you’ve got a little Ebenezer Scrooge in you, it’s a good idea to do this with somebody else of significance in your life-wife, husband, children, or good friend. Once the two of you get rolling, you’ll be surprised at how long this exercise can go. You also be surprised at how it provides in instant attitude adjustment and puts a smile on your face. Here’s a short list of things that are likely to come to mind:
· Health. “If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything,”is perhaps one of the truest statements ever spoken.
· Relationships. If you’ve got family and friends that you can count on, you’ve got something beyond any measurable value. If you have a wife, husband, or partner that is there through thick and thin, you have perhaps the greatest thing that money can’t buy. And, if you have those tax deductions called children, then you are truly a rich person.
· Meaningful work. Work is one of life’s paradoxes, particularly in the 21st century. We gripe and complain about it, dread doing it, and we get bored when we don’t have enough of it. It is so important that Sigmund Freud identified it as one of two core needs that all humans must satisfy, the other being love.
· Laughter. This is truly life’s best medicine. If you still have reason to laugh, even if for an instant, then you have the ability to experience joy. Next time you have a good, healthy, laugh about something, pause and savor it. Notice the feeling it gives you, and try to duplicate it at least three times per day.
· Your body and your mind. Each one of us has been blessed at birth with an incredible kissingfamilymachine. Yeah, neither one works perfect all the time, but a lot of that is on us. As we go through life we all too often focus on what doesn’t work with this wonderful machine, rather than focusing on what does and what this machine can do. The human mind and body is, undoubtedly, nature’s masterpiece. Granted, other living things have incredible gifts too, but man is the only living creature that has the ability to consciously choose its own actions and thoughts. Take control of the powerful machine that is the body, and learn to run that incredible software program that is the human mind. We often complain about both mind and our bodies, but how can we? We got it for free.

During this time of the year, assessing all the positive things that we have that money cannot buy is perhaps the most important spring cleaning that one can do. The human mind is designed so that what we focus on becomes our reality. By focusing on what we have, rather than what we have not, we are the best way to make sure that we are not losing sight of what’s important.

Good luck on that 1040 form!

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?”- from Tao and Zen

John

P. S. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org.

The Other Power Of Now: Why Today Is The Second Most Important Day Of Your Life.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”- Chinese Proverb

As a coach, counselor, and educator, I’ve had the privilege of delving into the psyche of planting-a-treehundreds of people over the past 30 years. I’ve learned that almost every one of us needs to think about the power of this simple Chinese proverb now and again. It’s almost universal that once a person leaves school they get this feeling that their life is a race against time. They begin to feel that, as time passes, certain doors close for them. They spend a number of years rationalizing why they didn’t become a lot of the things that they dreamed about being when they were in school. They get caught up in the day-to-day existence of life, going with life’s flow, adjusting to life as it comes. Most of us live reactive, as opposed to proactive, lives. There comes a time for many of these same people, usually around their 40th birthday, where they begin to have second thoughts such as, “Maybe it’s not too late to…” and they come back to some dream that they had in their late teens. Most pass it off as folly, a fleeting thought, and let it go. Too bad. They have wasted the second most important day of their life.

In recent years many strategies for physical and mental wellness have embraced the ideas espoused by Eckhart Tolle in his 1997 book called The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. The book has become one of the most influential books of the past 20 years, going virtually viral when Oprah Winfrey recommended it as one of the books that changed her life. (Oprah, I hope you’re reading this… I should be so lucky.) Even if you’ve never read the book, you are probably familiar with Tolle, or are at least familiar with the phrase “living in the Now.” Tolle’s ideas, which he borrows from many great spiritual traditions, stress that we are not our thoughts, that our ego and sense of self cause us pain, and that one of the most important things for happiness is focus on the present moment, life’s journey rather than the destination. Undoubtedly, these ideas are some of the most sound and practical advice for us to embrace to enjoy a life of fulfillment. The idea of “living in the Now,” has permeated contemporary consciousness, psychotherapy, coaching, wellness and all the helping professions.

As a coach, I see all too many people given up on dreams and goals that they once had because they believe that it is “too late.” Most people view things in categories such as black or white, all or nothing, possible or impossible. It becomes very easily around that 40th birthday to become a victim of life’s second phase of the “terrible toos,”- as in too old, too late, and too difficult. My job in the psychotherapist part of my life is to explore the feelings, emotions, and sense of lost opportunity that they have around this. My job in the coach part of my life is to help them get there. As a former athletic coach, parent, and high school educator, I find myself far more comfortable helping someone get there. The Chinese proverb above is quite often a part of our discussion.

nowThe reality is that, although we live in the Now, we are going to have future. We often hesitate, fall victim to analysis paralysis, and overthink things. We want to “get more information” about what we are trying to accomplish, do “a little more research,” and think that we are increasing our chances of succeeding. Too often, the days pass, we stop kicking those tires, and end up not taking action. We miss the opportunity of the second most important day of our life.

With coaching clients, I often asked the question “Where do you see yourself in one, three, five, and 10 years from now?” This gets clients future oriented and opens their eyes to a world of possibilities. At some point along the way toward achieving the target goals to get them there, it’s going to get tough. It has to. That’s the way of the world and nature. When it gets tough, I try to remind the client that one year, three years, five years, and 10 years are going to come WHETHER YOU DO THIS OR NOT. Getting them to process this is critical to continued efforts, and continued effort is critical to success. Although we all live in the Now, the future will come regardless.

When you’re reflecting on this Chinese proverb, consider some of the regrets that youbanks_2477590b have about lost opportunities in your life. Consider jobs, career choices, relationships, business, and recreational activities that you woulda, coulda, and shoulda. Don’t fall victim to the terrible toos. While you may not get the same result that you might have gotten had you started 20 years ago, you just may be planting something beautiful and rewarding, allowing you to live a life with less regrets.

 

John

P. S. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Zen And The Art Of Resilience

“We know that where there is no contention, there is neither defeat nor victory. The supple willow does not contend against the storm, yet it survives.” -Master Kan

Resilience is a quality that too few humans have or seek to cultivate. In the world of positive psychology, resilience is a characteristic that is identified in each person and built upon. The dictionary defines it as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, toughness.” Unfortunately, not many of us consider resilience to be a character trait, and some consider it to be a sign of weakness.
In the Western world and in Western culture we tend to think in extremes when it comes to character traits and almost anything else. We tend to see things in either or, black or white, us or them, weak or strong, and polar opposites. Contemporary Western culture, particularly that of the United States also tends to lean towards overkill and extremes. It seems that almost everything is overhyped, overblown, exaggerated, and magnified. River landscape willow and bambooBigger virtually always means better in 2015, just drive anywhere in the United States and notice the number of SUVs that have taken over the roads. Bigger is better, if it doesn’t work force it, hold your ground, don’t take sh*t from anyone, stand up for yourself and be heard. Granted, some of these characteristics and ideas have been the things that have made the United States great. They are also values that make many of us suffer far more than life perhaps requires.

Eastern culture, as opposed to Western, values ideas of balance, minimalism, and understatement. The above quote is an adaptation of the Zen ideal of hidden strength lying within apparent weakness. There’s an often told Zen parable that goes something like this: A young student asks his teacher “Master, give me something to work on that will improve my life and make me fulfilled.” The master says, “Go out and find the strongest plant in the forest. That will teach you how to be fulfilled and happy.” The student, although puzzled, does exactly what he is told. He travels hundreds of miles, studies many different kinds of trees, but is not sure which is the strongest plant in the forest. He does exhaustive research, and returns to the master many times with the incorrect answer. Finally, he gives up and begs the master to give him the answer that will lead to a life of happiness. The master, having compassion for the student, decides to give him the answer. “The tall grass is the strongest plant in the forest, because when storms arise it bends.”

So, what’s the lesson for us humans here? I think on a number of levels we know what it is. Many of us even use the lingo associated with it. We often say to ourselves that we are going to “take it easy, go with the flow, kickback, and just chill.” For most of life’s little things we can. Life’s biggest challenge is that we need to be able to actually do these things with the bigger difficulties that life is bound to throw at us.

If you’re wondering why the tale of the Zen master and the eager student which opened oldthis article comes from Eastern philosophy, there is a good reason. Eastern culture is steeped in the religious and philosophical traditions of Buddhism and Taoism. The philosophical positions of both stress the idea of acceptance, control, and minimalism. These traditions challenge people to accept the obvious difficulties and suffering that life is bound to throw us if we are fortunate to live long enough. Buddha’s First Noble Truth is this: Life is suffering.

By no means, however, is resilience unique to the Eastern world and Eastern religious and philosophical traditions. It does seem they do certainly cut right to the chase on a fundamental reality of the human condition. If one can accept Buddha’s First Noble Truth as a reality of life, then that person is on their way towards being truly resilient.

I’m sure you know people in your own life who are stellar examples of resilience. They are often not who or what you would initially expect. As people living in a highly sophisticated and technologically savvy society, we become conditioned to believe that strength is child_racingphysical, explosive, public, and powerful. We can get fooled into thinking that strength is in an event, rather than a process. If you examine what strength is, true strength, you’ll find that it often comes from highly unlikely sources. Elderly parents caring for each other lovingly in their senior years, the single mom working 40 hours a week to raise her children alone, and that child who is struggling with a terminal illness without complaint, are examples of what true strength is.

Popular culture has thousands of examples of people who are considered strong and powerful and it isn’t too hard for you to find these. Open your eyes to the true strength that comes from resilience, seeking to find individuals who are examples of the real deal. Seek to emulate their strength, attitude, and persistence. True strength, and resilience will never decline with age and infirmity. Understanding the truth of this Zen parable can be one of the most important truths we can ever grasp.

“Notice that the stiffest tree is the most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending the wind.”- Lee Jun Fan

Notice.

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

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