Only You Can Cause Yourself to Feel the Way You Do…

Everyone has opinions. Everyone has thoughts about what is okay or not okay. Even if you disagree with this, you are entertaining an opinion.

Each day, many times a day, I meet with people in my office. It took me a while to realize that there are as many opinions of me as there are people I meet each day. It took a little longer to realize that what other people think of me doesn’t define me. Their thoughts, opinions and feelings belong to them and are not mine to try and control. I don’t have to take those thoughts personally. Those opinions, thoughts and feelings belong to them.

It may happen that one of my patients might come in and start to tell me what a great doctor I am. They might say that I helped them turn their life around. They sing my praises to their family and friends. Wow! Who doesn’t like being complimented? I may get absorbed with the praise and approval. Good feelings course through me. Good for me!

The next patient might come in and tell me that I am not helping at all. All of my suggestions and recommendations have not been helpful. In fact, things might be worse. They cross their arms and look at me with a sour expression. They don’t say it, but the subtext is that I am a failing doctor. I may begin to notice a sinking feeling pulling me down. I might feel the discomfort of defensiveness or the rising of resistance flooding my mind and body. Who likes being criticized or demeaned? I might then start to worry that someone has finally found out that I am not that good at what I do! Bad for me!

Other people make me feel they way I do…or do they?

What a surprise it can be to start to see that only you can cause you to feel the way you do. The way you feel is a function of whatever kind of thinking is in your mind at that moment. No more, no less.

You can easily prove this to yourself. Start thinking some angry thoughts for a few minutes…go ahead…really get into the way that the world has been cruel towards you, how people have been disrespectful or mean, or how undervalued or disrespected you are from people whose approval you wanted. Now, notice how you are feeling. It’s pretty hard to feel okay when we are really focusing on and connected to difficult thoughts, isn’t it?

It’s hard to be upset if we are connecting to wonderful thoughts (in the form or memories or images, for example) Try it for yourself. Take a moment to remember some people you really love and care about. Allow yourself to really get into some of the beauty, and awesomeness of your life. It might be a memory of being in nature with an incredible sunset, or looking into the vastness of space and getting a sense of what infinity might be. Remember some of the experiences you have had that were a highpoint in your life. Nice. Now notice how you are feeling. It would be pretty hard to feel upset right now, wouldn’t it?

It is common in the world we live in to hear or say, “You made me angry,” or “that situation really stressed me out.” As proof, we review the seemingly logical pathway, “I was feeling okay and then you came along and started talking at me and now I am feeling angry. Thus, you definitely made me feel angry.” Or, “I was feeling fine, but then I came into work and started feeling really stressed out. This workplace is what is making me feel stressed me out.”

But what is really going on here? A more reality-based account would look something like this: “I was feeling okay, and then you came along and started talking, and then I started having some difficult thoughts about you, and that is what is causing me to feel the way I do.”

Similarly, “I was feeling fine, but then I came into work and I started having a lot stressful thoughts about what was going on or about what might happen, and that is what is causing me to feel the way I do.”

Seen this way, we come to understand that other people are just being the way they are being. Other situations are just as they are. They don’t have the power to cause us to feel the way we do, but rather it is our evaluation (or thinking in the moment) about the person or the situation that is the direct cause of what we are feeling.

Our old friend Epictetus, the Stoic, reminded us, “it is not external events themselves that cause us distress, but the way in which we think about them, our interpretation of their significance. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”

Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist imprisoned in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, survived against all odds, having been stripped of everything and brutally treated in ways that most of us could not even begin to imagine. Listen to what he has to say, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

What a helpful reminder we are given from Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior with your consent.” When we begin to see that we are not mandated to go along with a difficult thought, we experience the freedom of being.

We can start to understand that who we are and what we are thinking/feeling are two different things. We have thoughts and feelings, but we are not our thoughts and feelings.

I can sit in my office during the day and listen to someone extol my virtues, and while that is nice, it is not going to change the way I go about doing what I do in support of them, because what I do is based on freely chosen values about what I want to stand for and how I want to behave in my life in all its various domains.  

Likewise, if someone comes in full of invective and negativity, I can notice that, and I can recognize that what they are saying doesn’t define me at all. It might define them as someone who is carrying around a lot of difficult thoughts and feelings.

This is not an invitation for me to become reactive, angry or stressed out, but rather an opportunity to extend compassion and understanding. Have I not also gotten caught up in difficult thoughts and feelings in the past? Sure I have. Seen in this way, it is something that we have in common, something that connects us. It’s called the human condition.

Only you can cause you to feel the way you do.

As you go through your day today, with all its demands and obligations, see if you can hold onto the awareness that what you are feeling in the moment is a function of what thinking you are attaching to in the moment. It is not a result of what other people are thinking, saying or doing And then, practice detaching from those difficult thoughts. Notice what happens next…

See if you can spot the judgements and evaluations that you are innocently and unwittingly connecting to, based on years and years of habitual thought patterns, beliefs, attitudes and perceptions that you have carried around with you whole life. Some of it learned, some of it modeled around you during your childhood and carried through into adulthood, some of it culturally ingrained.

It really doesn’t matter where it came from. It is enough to see that the thoughts and feelings that arrive in any given situation are not facts, and not truth, but just thoughts and feelings.

When we detach from the thoughts and feelings, we have our own personal experience of realizing that who I am and what I’m thinking/feeling are two different things.

The lungs breathe. The heart beats. The brain thinks. No one has ever been able to stop the brain from filling the mind with thoughts.

You have lungs, but you are not your lungs. You have a heart, but you are not your heart. You have a brain, but you are not your brain.

When we see for ourselves the value of looking at our thoughts rather than through them, we give ourselves the gift of freedom. When we notice that we are having the experience of a feeling and are not that feeling, we create some space to go through the world with more psychological flexibility.

We begin to realize that we are never at the mercy of other people’s opinions as the cause of why we feel the way we do.

Only you can cause you to feel the way you do.

How might you see this working in your life? What have you noticed as you begin to make a distinction between who you are and what thoughts and feelings are filling the screen of your awareness?

How might you share this with someone to help them live a better quality experience of life?

Feel free to leave your thoughts, reactions or observations in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

Creating Vitality in Your Life

When it comes to actively engaging in your positive aging, how are you doing?

How strong are you? An important part of leading a vital and engaged life involves improving your lean fitness. This means building muscle. Challenge your body a few times a week with resistance or bodyweight training that asks your muscles to do more. The improvement in strength and stability is something that will serve you well throughout each day in the weeks, months and years to come. You will be more able to actively engage in life, doing things that are fun and life-enhancing when you are stronger and mobile. Sitting in a chair all day, or living a sedentary life comes at a great cost to your health and well-being. The alternative to building your strength and improving your mobility is to neglect your body passively allow it to fall into disrepair, experiencing increasing limitation and more frequent aches and pain with each passing day. You want to be able to live your life rather than feel buffeted by and at the mercy of life, stuck on the sidelines, while other people are out doing things that are interesting and rewarding.

How fit are you? Take time each day to improve your overall aerobic health. This means dedicating time each day to moving your body. Take walks, go for a run, play some golf (without a cart), do some yoga, or find an activity where you can be moving around and exploring. Getting the heart rate up, (but not too high) is a great way to encourage your heart and muscles to become more efficient in what they can do. When doing any activity, get to the level of intensity where you can still hold a conversation without gasping. Do this for 30-60 minutes each day, rain or shine. Open your eyes and see what is happening out in the world. Instead of sitting around and casting about for diversionary activities such as watching TV, scrolling through social media or taking frequent naps, get up and get out. There is much healing and health promotion in simply getting out of the house and into the world.

How mindful are you? When doing those activities that are in support of improving your health, pay attention to what you are doing as you are doing it. Don’t go so hard or so long that you injure yourself. Especially if you are older, plan on taking the long and winding road to improve your health. Overdoing and injuring yourself takes you out of the game, and can keep you out of the game of life for some time as you recuperate. So pay attention. As you are doing an activity, be aware of what you are doing. Be mindful. It is often the case that our mind can convince us that we are younger, stronger or more capable than we are at present. Whereas we might have been able to go all out and return that cross-court tennis volley when we were younger, doing so now could represent an increase in the risk of having something unfortunate happen, something that could sideline us. Use the measuring stick of enjoyment and a slight challenge to evaluate your progress to better physical health.

Who do you love and who loves you? An important aspect of life that requires ongoing investment but that pays off many dividends is cultivating meaningful and mutually supportive relationships. When it comes down to it, the quality of our life is a direct result of the quality of our relationships. If you have cut yourself off from family, friends or have stopped interacting with others, know that the world is teeming with people. At last count, there are about 7 billion people living on the planet right now. Are you lonely? If so, take time to reflect on the cost of cutting yourself off from interaction with others. Introverts and extroverts alike can benefit from taking action and calling or texting a friend and making that effort to keep in touch with others. Read the local community newsletter and scan the activities that are going on today or this week. Show up, even when it feels burdensome to do so. Identify those activities that you value and have experienced as rewarding and invigorating and find out where those activities are happening. While you might begrudgingly have to get yourself to go to a gathering, most people will report that they feel better having gone out and connected with other people.

If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? When it comes down to it, the quality of your life is largely in your own hands. Unless or until you come to the realization that no one is coming to save the day, you will passively wait for someone else to come in and rescue you. No one is coming. Your life is your responsibility. If you choose, you can live a fuller and more vitally engaged life by greeting each day as a new opportunity to do those things that tip the scales in your favor. All of us want to live in a way where we are grateful for the experience of being alive. The decisions you make and the actions you take this very day are either leading you in the direction of living more fully, or they are leading somewhere else, somewhere most of use do not want be. Make the inner decision to be on your side. Show up.

Don’t Believe Everything You Think…

How about some good news? Your moment-to-moment thinking about what is possible or not for you is not the truth about what is possible or not!

Huh?

Our ability to think is an amazing talent, without doubt, however, have you ever stopped to consider that your ability to think and the result of that ability are two different things?

Thought content, (the end product, or result, of the process of thinking), can and does appear very real and compelling to us. 

However, consider this: is my thought about a sandwich actually a sandwich? Is my thought about another person actually that other person? Is my thought about a situation from the past or a worried thought about the future actually that situation?

Upon closer inspection, we can start to get a sense that our thoughts cannot, by definition, be true for they are a representation for something, just as the word ‘lamp,’ is not actually a lamp. And yet, if I am caught up in my thinking, it can feel as if my thought is actually the thing itself. 

For example, if I am caught up in thinking about how someone important in my life has been insensitive towards me, that they were not valuing me, what happens?  Generally, I start to feel angry, or hurt, or victimized or any number of difficult feelings. 

It starts to look a lot like that other person has caused me to feel the way I do, which is often an invitation for me to think even more about that, and build up even more resentment or reactivity. 

These feelings, which have been flamed through my overthinking, then tend to impact my behavior. I might become withdrawn, or behave rudely when I am in the presence of that person. Or maybe I end up gossiping or ‘throwing the person under the bus’ when I am talking with other people, prosecuting my case about the poor behavior of the other person towards me.

Is my thinking about the person actually the truth about that person? Is my thinking about their insensitivity even accurate? How would I know?

Perhaps they were struggling with their own difficult thinking and weren’t even aware of the way in which they behaved n my presence. Perhaps they were feeling aches and pains or had constipation. Maybe they were caught up in worries about finances.

There could be any number of other reasons that they would not be completely available, interested or attentive to me in that moment. Yet, I have concluded that the person is insensitive and that they don’t value me and then I go on to pay the consequences of that thinking, (some form of suffering) certain that my thinking is true and accurate.

Even more interesting is that I have concluded that my well-being is actually dependent on the good opinion of other people. But is that true?

Imagine knowing that the core of your being is one of wholeness, and that other people literally do not have the power to make you think, feel, say or do anything. How might that change the way in which you go through life? Take a moment to get in touch with that…you’ve got time, go ahead and try that on…

What would it be like to have the insight that other people can not make you feel better and they can’t make you feel worse?

Could you imagine how your life might be if you really understood that other peoples’ opinions and behaviors did not define you, limit you or cause you to feel the way you do? 

Could you imagine living with the realization that other peoples’ thoughts and opinions and behaviors belonged to them and not to you?

The only thing that gets in the way of us realizing and experiencing our own invulnerability is our thinking in the present moment. When we take insecure thinking seriously, and do not see that our experience is created moment-to-moment via our current stream of thought, we will always feel off-balance and will be constantly engaged in blaming others and attributing how we feel and what we do, or fail to do, to other people and other situations outside of us.

You can practice taking your thoughts less seriously…really, you can. Look for opportunities each day to notice what thoughts are competing for your attention. 

Could you take this moment and simply notice what thoughts are vying for your attention?

If you notice that you have been grinding away with difficult thoughts or worries, notice what happens when you relate to those thoughts differently. 

What happens if you simply disengage from those thoughts? Just see what happens if you leave them alone, best you can…

You can see they are there. The thoughts are still on offer. What could be more true than the thoughts that are in your mind right now are there right now? It’s not helpful, (nor effective!) to try and get rid of thoughts, as that is yet another way of interacting with the very thing you don’t want.

“What you resist not only persists but will grow in size.Carl Jung

By seeing thoughts as just thoughts and feelings as just feelings, you begin to realize that you are the experiencer of those thoughts and feelings. With willingness, you can make room for those inevitable negative, difficult or insecure thoughts. They are going to show up, but how you show up for them is a choice that is available to you in this moment and in every moment that is to come. 

Those thoughts and feelings that arise do not define you nor do they represent a real obstacle to you continuing to move forward in the direction of things that matter to you. 

Our thoughts are about as solid as a cloud, but until we realize that, we tend to accept them as fact, as truth and we tend to get fused with them and they seem as solid as steel.

Much of our daily life is actually spent in our mind, interacting with our thoughts about other people or situations, and not actually interacting with the people or situations out in the external world. 

Would you rather be thinking about your life, or living your life as it is happening? Interacting with a narrative or being engaged in moment to moment experiencing of this one precious life you have?

“I am not a victim of the world I see.’ A Course in Miracles

What this points to is that the world out there is not causing us to suffer, but rather the suffering we are experiencing is a function of us taking those difficult thoughts that arise, unbidden and unwelcome, seriously and experiencing the result of those thoughts.

There is no other possibility than to feel victimized if we are unaware that the cause of our experience comes from within and is projected out into the world.

“Perception is projection.‘ A Course in Miracles

We think we are seeing the world as it is, but we are always experiencing the world as we have created it with our moment-to-moment thinking.

If I am taking seriously the thought that I am no good and that it is highly unlikely that things are going to change or be different, I will have the experience of those thoughts being true and will feel dispirited enough that I will likely take the action of non-action.

I will find (invent) evidence for my lack of worthiness or agency. I will find a way to twist the words of people or skew the meaning of the events around me to support my conclusion, and then feel vindicated that my thoughts about not being good enough are true.

And the cycle will repeat over and over, ‘proving’ to me that I was right.

If I am willing to take those thoughts less seriously and allow my mind to settle, more often than not, helpful and insightful thoughts will begin to arise in that cleared space.

The insights that we need are always available, but if we are not available for them, it will seem that they are not available to us.

Clearing the mental busy-ness of our minds is the first step to being available for fresh, insightful and inspiring thoughts that will allow us to regain our bearings and get into action. 

It can often come as a surprise to realize that our mind wants to settle and be more clear. There is nothing to do in order to have a quieter mind. You can’t force your mind to settle and become clear, you can only step back and allow. The innate correcting ability of our mind wants to go in the direction of peace of mind and clarity and will do so if we loosen our grip on overthinking and over-analyzing.

Our penchant is to overthink things. See if this is true for you. I know that I have had many commutes on a congested highway into the office that were filled with contention, arguments, proving my points, justifying my words and actions, until I awoke to the realization that I was the only one in the car and that I had innocently been taking my thinking very seriously.

In coming to my senses, the world around me actually starts to open up. As I continue to drive, I see the beautiful shapes of trees, the birds flying around gracefully, and see the interesting landscapes and other people maneuvering their cars towards their destinations. I have a sense that I am back in the flow of life, moving through it at the speed of life. 

My mind settles down and a sense of peace and stability appears.

Our propensity to over-analyze. We incessantly think about our thinking and engage in difficult thought content and this is largely a function of having practiced doing it for as many years as we have been alive. We are so accustomed to doing it that we think doing so is the norm. 

Analytical thinking is not wrong nor bad, and in fact, it is very helpful if we have discrete things to work out and have the variables at hand. For example, using the analytical mode of thinking is very helpful when planning a vacation, or estimating materials needed for a remodel of a house. But analytical thinking applied to many areas of life is not only unhelpful, it’s harmful.

We overthink and evaluate other people and situations all day long. It can be helpful to see that there is actually a positive intent behind that activity. We are all trying to get a sense of control and safety in what can appear to be a chaotic and uncertain world.

A helpful question to ask, though, is how is that working for you?

Does your worrying or overanalyzing result in more safety and more control? In other words, does the activity of entertaining difficult thoughts deliver on its’ promise? If so, there is nothing to change! However, if not, might there be another way to navigate through life?

Here is a shortcut…do not take your thinking so personally. See your thoughts for what they are, words and images and nothing more.

You are free to dismiss thoughts, disregard thoughts or engage in thoughts. It’s your mind, and you can use it any way you want to use it! Instead of having your mind use you, what happens when you use your mind?

Give yourself the gift of realizing that you are the thinker and not the thoughts.

You experience moment-to-moment whatever thoughts are in your mind. 

Start getting good at practicing thought recognition today. Find fluency in deciding whether a thought is helpful or harmful. If the former, proceed. If the latter, let go.

You don’t have to believe everything you think!

Knowledge Is Not Power…

As a young child, I remember being enchanted by my aunt, as she looked directly into my eyes and said with some drama and mystery, “Knowledge is power.” I recall being captivated by that pithy little quote and would say it silently to myself from time to time, eliciting that same sense of mystery each time I did so.

As I have grown older, it seems more accurate to say that knowledge is important, but taking action based on knowledge is where the real power for change is found.

‘Knowing’ is not the same as ‘doing’.

It is not the lack of knowledge that keeps us back in life, but rather it is the lack of action that keeps us stuck. Until knowledge is integrated and put into practice, it is powerless.

We all ‘know’ that exercise and good nutrition are important for our physical well-being. We agreeably nod when hearing someone talk about the psychological benefits of meditation. Every one of us could probably give a pretty good impromptu speech about the importance of getting enough sleep.

Most of us have a pretty good idea of how we want to change our life for the better, and yet, without action the chances of change remain quite small.

When it comes to change in some aspect of our life, the agent of change is going to be some kind of action or behavior that is done on a daily basis.
Our hopes, dreams, and aspirations are important, but until there is some kind of action, those hopes and dreams remain just that…ideas. If you want to make a change in your life, it can be helpful to reflect upon what really matters to you.

What is it that you want your life to be about?

What is the underlying value of the change you desire?

If you value ‘vitality’ in physical and emotional health, there are actions that you can do this very day in support of living out that value. If you value love or connection, there are discrete behaviors that you can do today that will increase the likelihood of having more love and connection.

Once you are clear about the underlying reasons (values) for the change you seek, you realize that you care about doing something about it. This caring is the fuel for taking action, which is the agent of the changes you desire.

It can be helpful to create a statement about the new behavior you are about to take based on what really matters to you.

Example: “Today, in support of vitality, I will walk for 30 minutes and eat moderate portions of healthy food.”

Once you have identified the behavior that would be in support of what matters to you, ask yourself, “on a scale of 1-5, what is the likelihood I will follow through on taking this action?”

If you are at a 1, (meaning a low likelihood), then that is where you are. If you are at a 5, (meaning that you are ready to go) then that is where you are. Just accept that for the moment.

If you are in the range of 1-3, ask yourself, “How could I increase the likelihood that I will follow through on this chosen behavior?” (Hint: this will be some kind of action).

Could you chunk your goal down, and set smaller goals that would be in support of the larger goal?

Do you need to be more specific about the intention to change? General intentions, such as, “I want to be more fit,” are less effective than, “I will exercise 30 minutes a day, three times a week, rotating between walking, biking and lifting weights.”

If there are actions you already take as part of your daily routine, could you connect the new behavior with something you already do? For example, “I will drink coffee when I get up and then go outside for a 30” walk.”

Could you find additional support from other people? Could you hire a personal trainer? How could you enlist the help of others to increase your accountability to yourself? The other person/people can’t take the actions for you, but they may increase the likelihood that you will get into action.

There are countless other possibilities and the challenge/opportunity for you this very day is to allow yourself to come up with ways to increase your willingness to get into action.

Today, this very moment, you can turn up the radar of recognizing that there are a crossroads in every new moment. Each hour of the day, we can check in with ourselves and ask, “Will I take the path of action or non-action?” If we find ourselves stalling, we have another opportunity to cycle through the same process, asking and answering questions about the change, the underlying values and the degree of willingness to get into action.

Knowing is not power. Taking action in a committed way is the power to change your life.

Our minds have a funny way of sending up objections about the changes we have decided upon. Messages of doubt, insecurity, apathy, and fear will undoubtedly arise prior to taking any new action. No one in the history of humanity has ever found the ‘Off’ switch for these kinds of insecure thoughts.

A thought is not a mandate. You are not obligated to obey insecure, doubtful or fearful thoughts. Trying to get rid of those thoughts tends to increase their presence.

With practice, we can notice those insecure thoughts as they arise and decide if we want to be obedient to them.

Once we discover that these thoughts and feelings cannot stop us from getting into action, we are on the path to experiencing the life we really want for ourselves, first and foremost because we are dedicated to taking action in support of what really matters to us rather than taking those insecure thoughts seriously.

Does taking action mean that you will always be successful? No way. But slipping up can be seen as an invitation to re-commit to taking action in the direction of the life you want.

“Every day we are born anew.” -Buddha

When we wake up in the morning, we are given a fresh new slate upon which to write the story about our life which will serve as the blueprint for taking action that very day.

Taking action is power. Taking action is the key to transformation.

Change in any area of our life is a result of showing up and taking action based on what really matters to us.

How will you spend this day?

I just can’t get myself motivated..

When it comes to goals, desires and dreams, you can take it to the bank that motivation will not be there when you need it most. Willpower will be on a distant walkabout when you require it as an antecedent to taking action to start living the life you really want for yourself.

Having the right thoughts or feelings prior to taking action is not required.

Be grateful when everything lines up perfectly in terms of your thoughts, feelings and actions, but recognize that more often than not, (especially if you demand that it happen), it won’t. That’s life. When we resist being in alignment with how life works, we suffer. When we align ourselves with how life works, we increasingly experience more vitality and engagement and put ourselves on the path today of experiencing the life we really want.

Don’t rely on your state of mind to be right before you do the right things.

If you are feeling stuck, you are simply experiencing a feeling of being stuck, but you yourself are not stuck. You are, after all, able to move about independently of what you are currently thinking or feeling, aren’t you?

What’s that, you say?

Check it out for yourself right now if you don’t believe me! Tell yourself that you cannot move. Really think it with conviction. Go ahead. Be as serious as death. Tell yourself right now that you absolutely cannot move and say it with the commanding voice of authority. Establish a very strong sense about the absolute truth that you cannot move…

Now, start to wiggle your fingers or toes, or cough, or sing Happy Birthday. Go ahead…try it! Even if you don’t try it, make sure that you don’t notice that you have successfully taken the action of refusing to try something out…cool, right? Decisions and actions are happening nonstop all day long!

What can we learn from this little experiment? You are able to take action independently of how you feel! Frankly, we have more control over our present behavior than we do the thoughts and feelings that enter our minds from moment to moment.

If you don’t know your rights, then you don’t have them. -Susan Dwoskin

Each one of us have an individual bill of rights. You have the right to your own opinions. You have the right to be with who you want to be. You have the right to be wrong, and the right to join in any conversation you want to be in and share your thoughts and ideas. You also have the right to leave conversations that hold no interest for you. Did you know that you also have the right to pay no attention to the unhelpful thoughts that arise in your mind throughout the day, also?

You were born with the innate capacity and ability to disregard the negative chattering that is running through your mind. You already have built into you the ability to make room for the emotions and sensations that are flowing through you as your experience right now. As you begin realizing this and putting it into practice, you will discover that you also have the ability to get into action and invite the fussy, negative chattering to come along with you for the ride!

You are never stuck. You may be noticing or experiencing stuck thoughts or stuck feelings right now, but who you are is never stuck. It is not possible for the you who you are to be stuck, (are you starting to get a sense of why this is true?)

It makes me quietly laugh at myself when I catch myself stress-thinking about needing to work on myself or start some kind of improvement plan in the coming weeks, even though I have done it a million times. The internal dialogue goes something like this, “I really need to take care of myself. I need to change my diet and get more exercise. Man, I need to stretch more, or do some yoga, or pray or meditate…”

Laughing is very helpful in this situation. What?! Why is laughing at my difficult circumstances and my pressured plans to remedy those things in the coming weeks helpful?

Because ‘the coming weeks’ are not here yet, and there is no way I can take action in a time that is not here yet. Would you agree? How much control do I have over a time that is not here yet? Choices are: 1) Total control or 2). No control.

Only right now is here. Only right now am I able to do some kind of action or behavior that is in alignment with what really matters to me in this life. And if I don’t use this now, today, then what makes me think I could access a superpower that would enable me to take action during a time that isn’t even here yet?!

The stories we tell ourselves about life are not reality, but they sure seem like it if we are not aware that they are only stories. Stories are composed of the thinnest of gossamer we call ‘thoughts’.

These habitual thoughts have poured into our minds more mornings than we have been pouring coffee into our cups. The sun rises, we awaken, and instantly, the flow of thoughts begins. No one in the history of humanity has ever found the off-switch to the thought machine that gears up each morning and that runs nonstop throughout the day and into the night, even in our dreams, the thought machine is plugging away!

Trying to control our thoughts is a hopeless activity…it can’t be done.

You don’t need to get rid of the negative thoughts that show up, but rather it is helpful to see them for exactly what they are…thoughts and nothing more. Freedom is found in getting better at noticing them, seeing them as passing story, and then in this very present moment turning toward what really matters to you during this brief time you have on the planet.

If we have been taking shoddy stories about ourselves seriously up until now, so be it. I’m not going to recommend wrestling or fighting with something that is not worthy of your time and attention. The only thing any of us have to do about a shoddy story is absolutely nothing! If we just just leave our thinking alone, and see it for what it is, a shoddy story, we will find out through our own experience that the story moves on.

If you don’t feed it, it withers and slithers away.

It is estimated that we have some 70,000 thoughts a day. It is the nature of thoughts to be constantly arriving and departing, unless we grab a hold of them and keep them in place by arguing with them, or ruminating about why we are having such negative thoughts or exhausting ourselves with trying to get rid of them.

The way to get a story to loosen its grip is to loosen your grip on the story.

You’re Not All That…

You are not your story. You are not a narrative. You are not your thoughts, beliefs, opinions, attitudes or rules. You aren’t your circumstances. You aren’t your reputation, recognition, education, degrees nor awards. You aren’t your financial condition presently, or in the past or in the future. You aren’t the things you own and you’re not defined by what you currently lack. You aren’t your physical body and you’re not the state your body is in right now. You aren’t your looks or your perceived lack of them. You aren’t your traits or your personality, either!

You’re not all that…and this is the best news you could ever hear!

You are alive right now! You are aware! You have this very moment free and clear to use in whatever way you wish!

The pathway to the life you really want begins quite simply, and starts where you are right now: only step back a moment and allow your mind to clear. See if you can loosen your grip on the suspect stories you have been taking so seriously up until this moment. Allow the feverish churning of thoughts, memories, images, and fears all to simply settle down, as best you can. It might happen in this moment, or it might take a little more time. It doesn’t matter. Your mind is designed to self-correct and will do so if given half a chance. Your mind wants to return to peace. It will go there if you leave your thoughts alone. See if this isn’t true for you…

Working on ourselves doesn’t work.

We think that we have to work on ourselves to improve the quality of our experience of life. We painfully reflect on our seemingly deep need to work on our self-esteem. We feel an incessant drive to polish up our persona to secure the praise of others, or hope we won’t be rejected. We try to force ourselves to improve our discipline, and we pressure ourselves to be more mindful, or more compassionate with ourselves or others. We hassle ourselves to no end, and it can feel dispiriting and even downright debilitating at times. We repeat this cycle over and over, day after day, forgetting to stop for a moment, this moment, and simply become curious about what happens when we simply leave all of this inner tension and struggle alone…

Ouch, that hurts!

Imagine this scenario. You are sitting in your kitchen, and you suddenly reach over and grab a nearby cast-iron skillet and start hitting your forehead with it as hard and fast as you can. Ouch! That really hurts! In between skillet strikes, you start wondering if it would hurt less if you slowed down a little bit, or perhaps struck less forcefully. You try this, but it still doesn’t feel very good. It’s hardly an improvement, at all. You desperately look around between skillet strikes to see if you have a smaller pan, and you’re in luck! On top of the stove is a smaller pan, so you grab that one and start hitting your head with the smaller pan, breathing a momentary sigh of relief that you figured out a way to drop the bigger, heavier skillet. But it quickly dawns upon you that you are still experiencing significant pain as the smaller pan repeatedly impacts your head. If you wanted to feel less pain in this scenario, what’s the answer here? Right…the answer is to put the pan down and immediately you start to feel better.

When we mistakenly accept and demand that we need to work on ourselves, we are saying that we believe some degree of pan-striking is required. Sometimes we fear that a heavy skillet is needed, and at other times a lighter one is likely to do the job. Sometimes, we imagine the pain that the skillet/pan will cause, and we give up, wandering over to the TV, or amble over to the cabinet to pour a drink, or simply lie down in bed, hoping to turn off the world by going to sleep . As we engage in some kind of avoidance behavior, we fail to notice that we just picked up another skillet and have started hitting our head with that as we struggle with negative, critical thoughts about ourselves and feel the descending sense of despair about the very real defects we must have that we are unable to even get started improving ourselves.

Just as putting the pan down is the answer to relief from pain, so is putting down our difficult thoughts. The moment we stop taking our pressured thinking so seriously, we will notice relief. Do not take my word for it. Your own experience is what we are looking for here.

When we feel relief, our innate well-being begins to well up effortlessly. We begin to have more perspective, clarity, insights and thoughts that are likely to be quite quite helpful for the situation at hand. Notice that I said the situation at hand, not ‘for situations that are going to happen a week from now’, (let’s all sing together now: “a week from now isn’t here, so how could I possibly know what to do or realistically take action a week from now, in this present moment?”).

I am not recommending inaction as the key to a better life, far from it. If all we are doing is resisting gravity, the likelihood of a full and rich life is quite low. However, what am I saying is that we can only live our life right now. Life is a moment-to-moment process. Sometimes we have the right thoughts and state of mind to get into action and sometimes we don’t. If we do feel a surge of motivation, then go ahead and ride the wave! Get busy and have a blast doing it. If not, we learn to recognize that lower quality thoughts and feelings are temporary and have no power to stop us from taking action, even when they insist they do.

If you have realized that there is something you want to do that is important to you, waiting on something like motivation is a making a decision to to continue feeling stuck. Motivation is not required to take action…taking action is available right now, and only right now, independent of what you are thinking or feeling. Again, test it out for yourself, or this will simply sound like something you might read in a nicely decorated greeting card.

If your mind is full of difficult and dispiriting thoughts, beliefs or images right now, there is nothing to do about them, literally. Doing nothing in this domain, in the psychological domain, is the best thing you could do. The thoughts and feelings will move on, to be replaced by more thoughts and feelings. It is the human condition that we all have thoughts and feelings that arise and move on all day long. When we see that, we can also start to see that we are not obligated to take any of those thoughts or feelings seriously.

You are not your thoughts and neither are you your feelings in any given moment. Sometimes you will feel great, and other times you won’t. However, in any given moment, you have the capacity and ability to take some kind of action in support of what really matters to you.

Today, you can prove this to yourself. You may forget tomorrow, but once you have an understanding that you have the ability to think, and you have the product of that thinking ability that we call ‘thoughts’, you will realize that not every thought or feeling merits your attention, and that realization will be with you as long as you live.

Being grounded in this present moment, having clarity about what matters and taking action whether you feel like it or not are ultimately the keys to a richer and fuller experience of life.

Do not wait. Begin now and prove it to yourself.