Archive for June, 2012

June 30, 2012

Watch Where You are Going!

When you have a goal in mind, keep your thoughts and attention on the goal that you want to acquire. It is best to focus on what we want instead of all the possible obstacles. For example, when I am snowboarding or mountain biking down a mountain, I keep my eyes focused on the path that I want to take. If I see a rock or a tree, I quickly focus on the path around the obstacle and keep going down the hill. If I keep looking at the rock or tree, it is likely that I will keep moving towards the obstacle and will likely hit the tree.

It is best to keep you thoughts focused on the goal that you want. Your internal dialogue should include positive statements of what you want to acquire. For example, if I think, “don’t hit the tree”, my metal image is that of hitting a tree and I would be more likely to hit the tree.  Just that other day, I had an example of what can happen when you unintentionally envision what you do not want. I was surfing near a reef of exposed rocks and the last section of the wave was closing out on me. Knowing that there were rocks close by, I quickly thought, “I can’t let go of my board”. Instead of focusing on grasping the tail of my board, I unfortunately let the board slip through my fingers and it ended up getting pretty dinged up on the rocks.

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June 17, 2012

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

Woulda, Shoula, Coulda…. These three words seem so innocuous, but they can end up being so insidious. Just think of most of the instances that you have uttered these words to yourself. Were you reflecting on a lesson learned or just simmering in a pool of regret? I honestly admit that these words for me fall decidedly in the regret category.

Think of how you feel when others say these words to you. Are you feeling supported? Do you feel that the other person is trying to help you learn something? Or, do you tend to feel that the other person sounds “smug” or “superior”. Frankly, I do not personally recall a positive collegial conversation that involves the triad of Woulda, Shoula, Coulda.

It is my opinion that these three words have the capacity of anchoring in a past event. These words can be used to reflect on something that has the potential to be improved, but most of the time these words convey the sentiment “I screwed up” or “you totally blew it”. For our own internal dialogue, these three words can be replaced with the more powerful “I will”, “I want” and “I can”. By changing the verb tense towards the future, we change the focus from the past that we cannot change to the future that we can achieve by learning from the feedback of past events.

When interacting with others, I feel it is best to first consider if the other person wants feedback. Sometimes people will tell us stories with the hope that they will listen and validate our feelings. For the person with the hope of thoughtful validation, “Woulda, Shoula, Coulda” can generate a feeling of invalidation. If someone truly wants our feedback on a past event, it is a lot more helpful to describe the possible options and encourage them to choose the best option for themselves.

“From what you told me, you could have done this, that or the other. The consequence of this would be X, the consequence of that would be Y and the other would lead to Z. What do you think your best option would be”.

Since we cannot change the past, it is best to focus on what we can accomplish in the future. I hope you are able to leave “Woulda, Shoula, Coulda” where they belong, in the past.

June 7, 2012

Renouncing Resentment

Resentment: a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.

Personally, I have found little or no personal value benefit to the feeling of resentment. I have found that resentment is just longstanding anger that people cling to and feel justified in keeping this feeling of anger due to a perceived wrongdoing.

Imagine the last time you felt resentful towards a person or a course of action. Did you enjoy this feeling, or did you feel a great sense of dis-ease? Did your resentment lead to any positive actions? Did resentment lead to an argument?  Or does your resentment just simmer or boil inside of you?

Resentment is a feeling that is entirely related to how we chose to think and feel about a situation. There is no universal “cause and effect” since resentment is a chosen response.  For example, if someone tells you a joke and you choose to take offense or insult, you are choosing a resentful response. You could just as easily let it go. You are the one defining what “offensive” is. Even if the other person is stating the comment with the intent to offend, it is our choice to take offence.

Resentment can come out of our imagined intentions of others. We may interpret others actions as having the motive to make us feel bad. The majority of the time, other people act the way they are going to act without thinking about us. We are not the central character in their story, but since we are the central character in our own story we can view other people’s motivations as relating to our own.

Resentments can arise due to what we choose to believe about specific situations. I have the tendency to get resentful when interrupted frequently during a conversation. In my mind, I have constructed the belief that I have the right to complete a thought. When I am interrupted, I experience a feeling of “injustice” and I may start to feel “ill will” to the interjecting conversational partner. I know that I need to release this feeling of resentment. I know that the majority of the time there is no animosity from the person interrupting me and the other person is just engaging in his/her own conversational style. Even if the other person is intentionally being rude or argumentative, I can choose to avoid feelings of indignant displeasure.

Sometimes, resentment can arise based on how we define our own roles and the roles of others around us. At home, I occasionally feel resentful when my children make multiple demands regarding what I need to do for them. During these moments, I do not feel that it is fair that my children’s needs should come before my own needs. However, when I analyze this situation, I realize that my children are being developmentally appropriate by considering only their own needs. I also acknowledge that I have the choice of placing my needs, wants and desires before the needs (and requests for toys, games, fun stuff and money) from my children. Since I have composed an internal story that I am a “loving parent” that truly cares for my children, I strive to do everything possible to make sure that feel cared for. When I realize that I am the author of my own story and that I am in total control of the situation at hand, there is no reason for me to feel resentful.

 

“Anger, resentment and jealousy doesn’t change the heart of others– it only changes yours.”

Shannon L. Alder, 300 Questions to Ask Your Parents Before It’s Too Late

 

Strategies to Renounce Resentment

Forgiveness.

Forgiveness is just the act of letting it go. We can forgive the person that we feel has done us wrong and we can forgive ourselves for holding onto unproductive resentment.

A few years back, I harbored a lot of resentment towards a specific individual. I will call this person “Ire” to protect the “guilty”. I kept a long list of grievances against “Ire” that I “knew” were justified. After being miserable for a while, I realized that there was no action that I could take that would make the other person apologize or to make them offer restitution for their actions. The only thing that I had the power to do was to forgive them, and let go of all of my resentment. I still interact with this person in question. Without my emotional baggage, we can interact on a professional level. I have not forgotten the events, but I have forgiven the person for their actions.

Meditation

Meditation can be an effective strategy to let go of the internal dialogue justifying our resentments. By practicing meditation where we the focus is becoming unattached to our thoughts, it becomes easier to let go of thoughts and stories that we keep rattling around in our brains to justify our anger. Sometimes specific meditative practices are helpful as well. When I decided to forgive “Ire” for the multitudes of resentments, I found a specific Buddhist meditation helpful. For this meditation, you start your focus on the people that you love dearly. Then you reflect, “I wish ____ to be free from suffering, and the root of suffering”. After starting with the ones you love the most dearly, you repeat this intention to you close friends, then you repeat it for acquaintances, then finally you wish the people who for whom you harbor anger to be free from suffering, and the root of suffering.

Denounce your victimhood

One of the causes of our resentment is the perception that we are “victims”. In viewing ourselves as victims of the words and actions of other, we give away our personal power. Remember that you are the protagonist in your own story and that you have the power to choose how to respond to all life events.

Write your own story

Journal or write down how you want to feel in a given situation. If you are resentful about a situation where you have no control, record how you can change your emotional response or what lesson you have learned from the situation. It may also be helpful to re-write the life scenario where you are free from resentment. Imagine what it would feel like to let go of that resentment.

Affirmations

There are many affirmations already written about choosing forgiveness and letting go of resentment and anger. I have found that the podcast “My Thought Coach” by Stin has good audio affirmations on this topic. It is also very easy to write your own affirmations and review them every day. For example “I forgive all for every perceived hurt or injustice in my past. I choose to let go of anger and resentment and to learn for every life experience”.

Letters Never Sent

As symbolic exercise to release yourself from causes of resentment, you could write letters to the person that you feel has done you wrong. In these letters, the goal is to get your feelings about the situation on paper with the intent of letting these feelings go. Once you have finished with the letter, you can burn them ceremoniously or shred them into tiny pieces while thinking “I am done with this!”

 

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June 4, 2012

Anger as an Entity

ImageEckart Tolle presented the very compelling metaphor of the “Pain body”. The way Eckart describes it, the “pain body” is an entity separate from us that subsists on our negative thoughts and energy.

I feel this analogy works very well in describing anger. When I get angry, I feel like there is a part of me that continues to seek justification for my anger. My anger may just start out as mild annoyance. When I am mindful of my thoughts, I realize that I can just let the issue go and move on. But, when I start to think about the cause of my annoyance, these thoughts begin to justify my annoyance. With this validated feeling of annoyance, I find myself beginning to observe more life events as potentially annoying. The more this feeling of annoyance is given sustenance; it can then grow into a feeling of general frustration. The more my frustration is fueled by my internal dialogue, that frustration can grow into anger.

For example, the other day I was biking home and a car absent mindedly pulled out from a driveway and almost hit me. The first thought I had was “okay, that person was just not paying attention”. This thought was drown out by another voice clamoring, “forget that, I was almost knocked off my bike. I could have been killed.” The rest of the way home, I focused on every event where a car was not considering bike safety. By the time I got home, I had a general feeling of “poopy-ness.”

Our tendency to become angry is greatly influenced by a thought and physiological response feedback loop.  When we experience a perceived threat, our body is flooded with stress hormones priming us for that edgy feeling. Since we feel the physiological response to stress / anger, we begin to composes a story of what is going on that is consistent with our stressful feeling. Since our stress chemistry typically lasts longer than the stress event, we have a moment where there is a potential inconsistency between our thoughts and our feelings. If we are mindful and are well practiced at observing our thoughts, we can more towards letting it go. However, there is a chance that we will continue to compose an internal story to explain the remaining stress chemistry. Since our thoughts have the power to trigger a stress response, we can be stuck in a stress/anger cycle.

If you find yourself repeatedly becoming annoyed, frustrated or angry, remember that you can take a moment and reflect on your thoughts. You have the power to thing of something different. Stop feeding the anger within.

 

June 3, 2012

Beware the “Exception”

In life, every experience offers us a chance to learn. Even if a life experience appears to get in the way of following your chosen goals or pushes you off your desired life path, you can learn from these life experiences in order to move forward positively. In my own life, I realized that there are multiple factors that can interfere with a desired life outcome. I have learned that if I do not pay attention, I am “doomed” to repeat the same “mistake” or situation.

For me, one observable pattern that contributed to being pushed off my desired path is that of the first “exception” to a specific rule or new habit that I am trying to establish.

For example, when I started working on the goal of attaining an optimal body weight, I established a personal rule to stop eating after 8 PM. The habit of not eating after 8 PM is beneficial since one typically consumes all of the calories one needs before 8 PM. I noticed that any food that I consumed after 8 PM was just to fulfill a craving. For me, I typically crave for salty and fatty foods that contribute to elevated blood pressure as well as empty body fat building calories.

It would seem that not snacking after 8 PM would be easy to follow. Intellectually, I know that I am not truly hungry and that any snacking would get in the way of my health goals of attaining and maintaining an healthy body weight.

This easy to follow healthy habit was sabotaged by the first “exception”. The first exception happened on a challenging day where things did not appear to go as planned. I was experiencing stress due to a death in my spouse’s family. One of my children was feeling bullied by a girl at school. When I turned on the news, my feelings of unease were bolstered by stories of calamity and disaster worldwide. On this day, I choose to “treat myself” and started the first exception to my snacking rule. In my brain, I justified my behavior by telling myself that I have been working hard and I deserve some tasty snacks after the kids went to sleep. I also deserve to watch some TV, have a beer and munch on some tasty buttered popcorn. Before I knew it, I had reverted to a non-productive habit every night after the kids went to bed. I eased into the comfortable habit of snacking and watching TV instead of productive habits or activities such as writing, paying the bills, folding the laundry or attending do household responsibilities.

I understand that this is a rather tame example. However, this type of pattern exists in more significant habit change such as quitting smoking, getting away from substance abuse, or any other addictive habit pattern. An exception can break the rule. Once the rule is broken we can go back to old patterns of behavior.

The next time that you consider establishing a new habit, remember the dangers of taking that first step off the path. It is easier to just stay on the path than straying off your desired path and getting lost.

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