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True surrender is easily misunderstood as passivity, as doing nothing. It’s actually a change in stance, a change in state of being.

It’s a softening, a coming home to. It’s what we receive when we’ve made peace with life, and become its partner, arm in arm.

Before surrender, we act alone. We act because life is an emergency, out of control, vulnerable, worrisome, fear-inducing. We act to fix or control in response to that.

After surrender, we know we are held in a wise and loving embrace. We feel softness, not striving, in our relationship with life.

Bad things still happen. People and relationships deteriorate. Tragedies occur.

We feel the pain in it’s fullness, but we see all the beauty. We see the gifts. We don’t clench our fists against any of it.

From there, when we’re no longer yelling at life telling it how it should be,

when we’re no longer rebelling against what is, when we’re no longer fighting reality

then

then

we can take meaningful action. We can find our true role.

We wake up to what it’s all about, what all the circumstances are for: to reveal love, to call us into love, to stretch us to find love in new ways. We begin to see what the real story in our lives, and it’s all about this.

We begin to see how life is releasing exquisite gems to us in every moment, like water dripping from the tap.

Let all the circumstances, all your mental stories about them, all the plans of how it should be or should have been, let it all burn up

until what’s at the center of your life is love given, connection realized.

until your chest throbs daily with tenderness for the faces that grace your life

and the blue out the window is so stunning it brings tears to your eyes.

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Hi there,

Today I’m over at The BridgeMaker, writing about the topic of two-inch shifts.

If you feel (now or ever) stuck, striving, trying…but not finding flow or results or peace, this post is for you.

Sending love to you all,

Tara

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Today I’m writing about Getting Unstuck, as part of a collaboration with three remarkable bloggers who are also exploring this theme in their posts today.

I’m delighted to be a part of this collaboration, and am so thankful to Gail at A Flourishing Life for conceiving of it and making it happen.

Here are the links to their posts about Getting Unstuck. I encourage you to visit their sites and drink up their wisdom:

As an aside, I must say: just look at these women’s faces. Until we are seeing faces like these in Congress and at the helms of corporations and reading us the evening news, I  don’t want anyone to lecture me about what is and isn’t possible for our world.

And here’s my reflection about getting unstuck.

Love,

Tara

*****

It’s 10:44 a.m. and I’m sitting cross-legged, in a silent, glass-enclosed room. I’m looking out on the bay in a city I’ve never been to before. A baby squirrel is rolling around on a dirt path in front of me.

This is the last place I expected to be this morning.

Today started out as a regular work day. I had plans to write an article and coach clients from downtown San Francisco.

But something else happened.

Around 9am, my husband and I decided to squeeze in a quick run to the coffee place in the hour we had before our respective meetings got started. We joked around a lot. We laughed about a particularly hilarious abuse of grammar we had overheard that morning, about the fact that I misplaced my cell phone and found it buried deep under the covers in our bed. We laughed about something that we squabbled over a couple hours earlier.

Slowly it came over me: we were being graced with one of those perfect, casual laughing times together, one of those exquisite intervals of connection that you can’t force or plan, but that makes life feel so rich and comforting and sparkling when it arrives. I was turning from a rushed, somewhat resentful-at-my-day stress-knot to a heap of happy, caffeinated giggles.

As our little window of time came to a close, I thought, I really don’t want this to end. I want to keep going. In fact, I want to get in the car and schlep with him to his meeting so that we can continue this connection for another half an hour.

But I can’t, because…that’s silly. I have to work. I have so much that I have to get done today.

Then the miracle happened. Instead of taking the well-worn path of thinking, “Oh, I’d love for this to continue but now I have to go to work and so do you….Oh bummer, oh only if….” something else happened.

My mind took the other path. My mind said:

I really want this to continue.

Maybe that desire is important.

Life is short.

Can we work this?

It felt rebellious to consider the possibility of changing my plans spontaneously and in order to take a car ride with my husband.  I heard the fearful, chattering voice in my head rattle off a series of worried questions:

“Is it okay to chuck your plans and follow your husband to a meeting?”

Can people do things like this on a Thursday?”

The internal answer to that was something along the lines of, “who cares?”

“Could this create any kind of disaster?”

I thought about it; it seemed not.

“Am I still an independent, high-powered professional woman if I give up a productive morning to drive over a bridge with my husband?”

The answer came back, “Yes. You can have both.”

Yes, I was going with him.

Here I am, writing this while he’s in his meeting, feeling incredibly nurtured and over the moon happy. I got the time with him. And, due to the surprising location of his meeting and a cancellation from my first client, this has led to me writing in a gorgeous, glass room overlooking blue. It’s as if life was trying to show me that yes, it is a really good idea to listen to myself.

Out of the Box

Why should you care? Because this is not a post about changing one’s work schedule or about spending time with the people we love. It’s about getting out of our little boxes. It’s about getting free from the little rules that keep us stuck.

We’re all living with hundreds, if not thousands of these little, barely conscious rules: what it’s okay to do on a weekday and what can only happen on a weekend. About what it’s okay to say….or do…or buy…or wear…or eat. About how to talk to whom.  About when to do what.

The little rules, and the boxes they put us in, keep us stuck.

I got out of a few boxes today. I got out of one that says I have to follow the daily schedule as laid out for me. I got out of one that says when you have a longing to play hookie, you have to override it and push through, rather than see how you can honor that longing. I got out of a box that said ambitious professional women can’t change work plans impulsively to see a loved one’s smile for few extra minutes.

Open Top Boxes

In a 1970’s psychology experiment, dogs were caged and given unpleasant electric shocks. Some dogs could stop the shocks by pressing a lever. Some could not. In the second part of the experiment, the dogs were again given shocks, but this time, there was no lid on the cage. The dogs could escape the shocks quite easily. Here’s the kicker: dogs who could not control the shocks in round one didn’t even try to escape the pain in round two. They laid down and whimpered. They suffered instead of leaving.

Many versions of the experiment have been repeated with humans (without shocks of course, but with other unpleasant circumstances), and they show the same result – if we’ve learned from a previous situation that we are powerless to change our circumstances, we’ll later believe we are powerless victims in similar situations, even when we do have the power to change those situations. We actually develop a delusional point of view. We believe we are in a cage when we are not. We stay stuck in open top boxes.

In my case, I’d learned throughout my childhood, like most of us did, that I had to pull it together and go to school, no matter what my inner self longed for. That of course got repeated in jobs where I had to show up for work every day, no matter what. I have a lot more flexibility in my current situation, but I didn’t really see it, because of what I had been conditioned to in the past. Then, today, I saw this box had an open top.

Look for Your Have-To’s

Start looking for the “have-to’s” you carry around in your life. Good places to look are situations in which you find yourself complaining, resenting, feeling yourself a victim. Look for situations where you feel as if some sort of police-brigade (the indulgence-police, the slacker-police, the conformity-police) are going to come and get you if… Look for places where a barely detectable, happy voice in you asks with wonder, “Can I really do that?” Probably there’s a box there. Probably it has an open top.

Most likely, once upon a time, you were in a cage in these areas. There was no other way. There was no other way but this in your family. There was no other way but this if you wanted to fit in. Or, there was simply no other way you could see, or that you knew how to pursue.

Check it out. Is that still the case? Where do you have more choice and agency than you think? Where can you create new circumstances? Where can you can ask for something different? Where can you negotiate? Where can you now say no?

After my own experience today, I’m surprised by the big power of breaking the little rules. It’s our little rules, about how we need to show up in the mundane moments of everyday life, that determine so much the quality of our lives.

Start to notice: What are your little rules? Where do you hear “have-to’s rumbling around in your brain day to day?

And which of your own little rules are you willing to break today?

Love,

Tara

Don’t forget to go check out the other “Getting Unstuck” posts

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Pick the Brain is a great blog about motivation and psychology. And I’m so delighted to be guest-posting about The Goals Shortcut there today!

Read the post here http://bit.ly/949WkJ

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Over the next few days, most of us will be spending time in holiday mode – visiting family, maybe seeing old friends, and bringing in the New Year.

I want to share with you one, powerful, very simple practice that has dramatically transformed my holiday experiences: setting an intention.

What do you want for your holiday experience this year? Set that as your intention.

Ideas for Intention

Here are just a few examples of holiday intentions that have brought me delight, meaning, and a sense of peace over the past few years:

  • Communicate honestly.
  • Really share in conversations. Talk about the real stuff.
  • Take time for myself and take care of myself.
  • Keep it light. Bring humor into the room.
  • Be surprised. See something new in each person.
  • Express love.

Intentions are at the heart of our own power to create the lives we want. For me, holding an intention creates a much more alive, exciting experience. It gives me something interesting to be “up to” – no matter what else is going on. It puts me in meaningful relationship with myself, not just with those around me.

Holding an intention brings many other benefits as well. It gives me an anchor point to keep returning to. I’m not floating around, moving according to everyone else’s currents. If I’m open to it, I learn a lot about myself as I’m trying to put my intention into action: Where do I get stuck? What gets in my way? What makes it easy? Sometimes, my intention and the actions that flow from it truly begin to transform relationships. Not bad for an activity that takes less than five minutes.

Guidelines for Setting Holiday Intentions

1. Intentions are helpful only when they relate to areas in which you have power. They are not about what other people do. “Aunt Lulu and Mom will get along great” isn’t an intention. It’s a wish (or maybe a fantasy). “Aunt Lulu and I will get along great” isn’t going to be helpful either, as you aren’t in control of whether she’s getting along with you.

Something like, “My intention is to appreciate the things that are amazing about Aunt Lulu” could really open up and enrich your experience. “My intention is to not take Aunt Lulu’s comments personally” might also be a good one…depending on the situation.

2. An intention is touchstone, not a test. You might forget your intention entirely for a while. You might find yourself doing something in direct opposition to it. No big deal. This isn’t about being good or bad, doing it or not doing it. It is about having a support that serves you, especially in getting back on track in alignment with your values, your aspirations, who you really are.

3. It can be helpful to create a reminder of your intention. Write it down somewhere where you see it regularly, or send yourself and email about it and leave it in your inbox so you see it regularly. Or, let a physical object that you use regularly become a symbol of it. (This can be a piece of jewelry, a scarf, a small something you can carry in you pocket). You’ll be reminded of your intention whenever you see or touch it.

The big point here? Each of us has huge power in determining the quality of our holiday experience. In the midst of taxing travel, entrenched family dynamics, and long-standing traditions, that can be hard to remember. Our real power lies not in changing anything outside of us, but in how we live with ourselves, what we create from ourselves. It lies in what we do, through our own actions, in our own minds and hearts.

Love,

Tara

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New Year’s is coming up, and with it, all that “resolution” stuff. Most of us start out the year excited about our goals and then, somewhere along the way, we lose steam. Our goals end up unfulfilled, and we feel flakey….un-disciplined…not powerful.

I don’t want you to go through that his year. This post is about one way to keep that from happening. Listen to the results of this recent study: When conference attendants were presented with meat as the default option for a meal, only ~15% of individuals opted for the alternative vegetarian option. When presented with the vegetarian meal as the default, only 17% opted for the meat alternative. Both times, most people did not choose their meal preference. They chose the default option.

We see ourselves as rational decisions makers – making choices based on logic or preference. The truth is, we often roll along with the “default option” in our lives.

Then we try to work against the default and form new habits. Let’s say your default is stopping for a quick and unhealthy lunch at the deli across from work. You try to re-orient around cooking healthy food at home in advance. But stopping for healthy food is more work and it’s unfamiliar. Pretty soon, you are likely to run out of steam. When life gets hectic, other priorities will certainly take precedence. And now you are beating yourself up: you’ve failed, you’ve flaked etc. You’ve wasted a lot of energy: the inspiration and effort you spent as you worked toward the goal, and the energy spent thinking not so nice thoughts about your track record.

Instead, here’s my request: use the default principle to your advantage. Structure you life so that your goals are as aligned as possible with the “default settings” in your life.

How? Do the work up front, in life planning and design, so that your most important actions and commitments occur like water flowing downhill –not like water trying to find a way uphill. This is particularly vital if you have a busy, demanding, often overfull life. You won’t always have time or energy to push against the current.

What does this look like in practical terms?

  • If you want to exercise regularly, make a recurring appointment with a friend to do so. In fact if you want to do anything regularly, see how you can get social forces adding weight toward doing the new thing, not the old thing
  • If you want to save money, get the auto-deduction going.
  • If you want to eat more healthily, only keep the healthy stuff in your house.
  • If you want to have more of anything in your life, put it in your calendar on an ongoing basis. This includes things you might not think to schedule like sleep, reflection time, quality time with loved ones, or doing nothing time.
  • Wherever you can, look ways to have accountability with someone who is a powerful and loving champion for your goal.

For anything you want, ask yourself, how do I make this the default setting in my life? How do I make it like water flowing downhill?

Here’s how you know when something is the default: it’s more work/discomfort not to do it than to do it. It’s more work to cancel the exercise date than to just go.

But, you say, my goal is to become a professional sky-diver. How do I make that the default? In some cases you’ll need to identify the steps you need to take to make your goal happen and make doing those steps the default setting in your life.

We might call this approach “riding the wave of your own inertia” all the way to what you want. But at heart, I care about it not because it’s a cool “achieve your goals” kinda tip, but because it really is about being kind to yourself. I mean think about it: what if your primary responsibility with your aspirations was not to strive and throw time and effort at them but to carefully set yourself up for success without struggle?

Action: Pick one important goal and brainstorm: what is one way to make it (or the steps toward it) the “default setting” in my life? You can ask a buddy to help you think it through if you want. And leave it as a comment below if you’d like to share.

Love,

Tara

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I can give you a really easy tip for significantly increasing your level of happiness, and doing so very quickly: shrink your business.

Look at the whole of what you conceive of as “your business,” all the things you have an opinion about, work on, intervene into and are concerned with.

Reduce it by 85%. Choose the 15% that is essential to your wellbeing and to your soul’s contribution to the world and focus your attention there. If you are like most people, this will actually involve reducing your business by even more than 85%, because most of us aren’t currently doing the stuff that is essential to our wellbeing and to our contribution to the world. So, suffice to say, I am talking about dramatically shrinking what you now consider “your business-letting go of most of it.

I don’t mean tuning out the world or becoming selfish, I mean another kind of focus and carefree-ness that I’ll attempt to describe here.

I share this from personal experience. I used to have a kind of dependency on food. I turned to eating when I was stressed, afraid, uncomfortable, bored, tired, or overwhelmed. I became addicted to sugar and other refined carbohydrates.

I hit rock bottom with that dependency, thank God and  adopted a structured food plan that didn’t leave any room for turning to food for emotional comfort. Three meals a day, nothing in between, measured portions. No sugar or wheat or any of my usual comfort foods. That sounds strict to a normal eater, but for me at that time clear boundaries were really helpful.

To stick with my new food plan, I was going to have to learn how to live life without the crutch of food. I was also aware that I could easily go out and pick up a new compulsion -a shopping or caffeine addiction or go to my secondary coping mechanism, workaholism. I was careful not to let myself do that. I wanted to do life itself, without any substance as a distraction, as a companion.

When I took away the food, just my life was left.  Food had muted emotions and distracted me with a focus on my weight and dieting. Without it, the places where my life was out of whack stared at me, plain as day.

For example, the day I started my food plan was the day I started to take real breaks and rest. I suddenly could see I was going to the food for an energy rush because I was overworked and sleep deprived. More sleep and less work was an important part of my early lifestyle readjustment.

More significantly, I discovered that to live life whole and in balance, I needed to significantly shrink my business. A metaphor came strongly into mind. I saw myself at a table. “My part,” my business in life, was just about the size of a placemat, the placemat squarely in front of my seat. What was going on everyone else’s placemat really wasn’t any of my business.

The things on my placemat were:

  • My vision for my life and the work I needed to do to actualize it
  • My perspective on and conduct in response to my day to day life
  • My reaction to the needs and tragedies in my community and the world

What’s not on my placemat

  • How anything or anyone outside of me “should” be
  • Other people’s paths and choices
  • Trying to change or control other people

The primary symptoms of going outside my placemat were: 1) thinking or endeavoring to change another person 2) opining about how things should be different 3) negative, judgmental or complaining thinking about things outside of myself. Feelings of stress and loneliness usually accompany all of these.

I needed let go of the stuff outside my placemat, for a couple of pressing reasons:

1)      By being in business that wasn’t mine, I was creating a lot of stress in my life, and that stress fueled my need to overeat. (For yourself, please replace “overeat” with “abuse x other substance, lose my temper, feel anxious, get stuck in my life,” etc. – whatever it is for you)

2)      I didn’t have the time for the stuff off my placemat. Staying rested, aware, present, organized, and in touch with myself gave me plenty to do, especially in the beginning, when these were new habits I was adopting. They didn’t leave me much time for being off in other people’s business.

3)      Once I started doing those things, I found I also had big goals to pursue, areas of my past to clean up, and a full life to create and nurture. Now I really didn’t have time (or patience) for things outside of my business.

I found that a lot of trails my mind goes wandering down are better left abandoned: what’s wrong with those people at work in that other department at work, the crazy behavior of so and so in our social circle, various events in our sensationalistic news. Spending time thinking about this stuff or wanting it to be different steals my time and energy and gets in the way of my making progress on the priorities in my life. It is now a habit for me to just let those thoughts pass right out of my mind.

Of course, sometimes something was going on out there in the world really did impact me. Someone lost their temper at me and hurt me, our landlord was cheating us, or there was something going on in the political landscape that was deeply disturbing to me.

I learned that I needed to focus on my part and my choices-the stuff not about them, but about me. This means no blaming, complaining, gossiping, trying to change, trying to control, but instead, swiftly accepting the truth and asking myself, “What do I want to do in reaction to this?” (Note: since I’m not an enlightened being, I might give myself five minutes to complain to myself or someone I am close to, always protecting the subject’s  identity – no gossip, no ego defense, just catharsis. Five minutes, one time only, then move on to my part.)

My part is 1) determining how I want to react 2) taking action in line with that and 3) reflecting and learning from my results. My placemat contains my choices, boundaries, and focus, in response to everything going on around me.

So, a couple examples:

If I run into a liar or rude or emotionally unavailable person, my part is not to try and change the person, to tell him or her how she is, or even spend time thinking or talking about this.  My job is simply to determine: Do I want to work with you or not? How will I manage this relationship for myself? Given my values, goals, and commitment to my own wellbeing, how do I wish to respond to you? Then I need to try to put my answers to these questions into action.

If war is raging in the world, my job is not to judge the people perpetrating it, to squander time complaining or railing or wailing about it. My job is to swiftly accept the reality and then decide who I will be and what I will do in a world that pursues war. That part is my business, the rest is not. Which frame of mind do you think is more likely to lead to action that will create peace?

I can’t tell you the positive ripple effects that shrinking my business has had in my life. It is definitely what allows me to succeed in a complex workplace where hundreds of personalities and relationships play out. Its what allows me to accept friends and family as they are, to set boundaries, and truly enjoy my relationships. How many of us have watched co-workers or friends get caught in the swamp of blame, gossip, complaining, holding an unrealistic agenda or an unproductive grudge? We can get really stuck in other people’s business.

When I shrunk my grandiose sense of being able to change things or people that were not ready or desiring to change (or that just didn’t need to change), I remembered about all of the wonderful things I could do to impact others and the world that were on my placemat–the tangible, small actions I could take -a kind gesture, giving attention, using words to influence others. I am reminded of a wonderful quote by David Hawkins that my friend Amy shared with me, in her publication, A Resonant Note: ” We change the world not by what we say or do but as a consequence of what we have become.” That’s all about placemats.

Shrinking my business also leaves me with the time and energy to care for myself and nurture my life. It results in meaningful civic and philanthropic action. And since I always focus on where I am at choice, I don’t have many resentments, because I really don’t feel limited by other people or external events.

But most of all, life is a lot lighter, a lot more fun. That’s in part because there is enough time and attention being paid to self-care and self-nurturing. But it is not just that. Life is lighter when we stand with the truth instead of fighting against it. Shrinking your does not entail passivity or apathy, but swift and total acceptance of reality followed by focusing on one’s own part – where we are each fully empowered and at choice.

Where are you leaning across the table over onto someone else’s placemat? Your parent’s, your friend’s, your child’s, or your co-workers’? What’s waiting for you on your placemat, while you are busy elsewhere?

Love,

Tara

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