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Most mornings, I take my dog, Otis for a walk in the woods. And most mornings, we start at the parking lot and walk a big loop going clockwise. This morning, I decided to change things up a bit and I followed the path in a counter clockwise direction. Wow, what a difference. I had to really think about what I was doing and where I was going. I couldn’t be on auto-pilot and just put one foot in front of the other without paying attention. The same path I have hiked hundreds of times seemed completely different. I was disoriented. Things that are usually on my left were on my right. Terrain that I’ve always experienced as uphill went downhill. At one point, I didn’t recognize my surroundings and I got a little nervous that I had gone off the path, although the trail markers were clearly visible. People who I often see along the way noticed that I was coming from a different direction than usual and wondered why.
It got me thinking that all change is like that. It requires that we know where we are going. (I had to end up where I started and where my car was parked and not go off on some side trail to who knows where.) I had to pay attention to the milestones that told me I was on the right track, in this case, the trail markers. I’d have been more comfortable if I had not been alone and had the support of others, but that was not to be today. I was relieved when I saw familiar faces along the way and found it amusing that they noticed the change and saw me differently. I had to be OK with the feeling of discomfort and uncertainty and keep going in spite of them. I had to keep in mind that my goal was for Otis and me to get exercise and be out in the fresh air. Being comfortable wasn’t necessarily part of the deal.
Every time we try something new or change how we do something we’ve done a particular way for a long time, it requires that we step out of our comfort zone. We develop our ‘change muscle’ by doing that and then change gets easier for us. Before long, we are eager to experience new things, adopt new behaviors, and make changes that enable us to be happier, healthier and more fulfilled.
If you struggle with change, try making one small change everyday. Take a different route to work. Shop at a different grocery store. Write with your non-dominant hand for a while, hold your cell phone up to the ear you don’t usually hold it to. Walk a different path in the woods. Over time, you’ll become a change champion, ready to adapt and make changes with ease.
I was at a women’s networking group meeting on Tuesday night. One woman was describing a project she was working on and she proudly told us about a couple of what sounded to me like significant accomplishments. Then, without taking a breath she said, “BUT I didn’t do…” Can you hear a sucking sound as you read this? It’s the sound of the woman sucking the positive energy right out of the room and turning what could have been a cause for celebration into a downer dwelling. Instead of leaving us with things to feel good about, she took us down the path of gloom and doom.
Another woman was sharing her accomplishments and said, “They were just little things”. JUST little things? They sounded pretty significant to me!
When we minimize our efforts and our accomplishments, we rob ourselves of the positive momentum we need to keep going. We give the impression of not valuing what we do. If we don’t value our work why should others?
Here are some typical self-defeating things I often hear women say,
“I’m sorry to bother you but could you do me a little favor?”
“This might be a stupid question but…”
“I’m sort of going to try to…”
“I could be wrong but I think…”
“I did the first three things on my to-do list but I didn’t get to the last two.”
The language that we use gives our listeners a sense of what we think of ourselves and it regulates our own personal power and energy.
Notice the difference in energy if the 5 phrases above were said this way:
“Excuse me, do you have a few minutes? I’d like to ask you something.”
“I have a question, …”
“I am going to do _____ by _(date)____.
“I’m proud that I did the first 3 things on my to-do list and I’ll do the last 2 by the end of next week.”
Notice how often you say ‘but’ or ‘just’ or otherwise use language that minimizes your accomplishments and therefore you. Kick that ‘but’ to the curb and consciously choose more empowering language.
The Patriots lost a heartbreaker on Sunday night. Superbowl aspirations were dashed, and emotions ran high. And, in the aftermath, Gisele backhandedly lashed out against her beloved Tom’s, team-mates, saying, ‘he can’t throw the [@#%#@] ball and catch the ball all at the same time.” She went on to share her disappointment about how many times the receivers dropped the ball. Didn’t we all say that? “Yes, but not to the press”, you say. But if the press were in our face, would we not have?
Does the fact that she said it make her a bad person? Of course not. It makes her human. Have you ever been emotionally highjacked and found something coming out of your mouth that you didn’t intend to say or even mean? That you were sorry for as soon as you heard yourself say it? Sure you have, we all have. It’s a stress response.
We are a balance of logic and emotion. We need both to navigate the world. When we are being overly logical, we sometimes neglect to take into account the personal impact of our actions. When we are highly emotional, it is impossible for us to think rationally. Both aspects are critical to self control, good decision making and relationship building.
To avoid the repercussions of such accidental outbursts, it is best not to respond to situations when you are feeling highly emotional but to step away for at least a few moments, take a deep breath and get yourself back on an even keel.
Begin to pay attention to the physical cues in your body that are signals that your emotions are taking over. Take a break from the conversation or a breath and CHOOSE your response thoughtfully and carefully.
I recently read an article in which a palliative care nurse shared the 5 most common regrets expressed by her patients at the end of their lives. It was sad to read because I know that each and every one of their stories was avoidable, if only they’d paid attention to the voices in their heads earlier, and had the courage to make some different choices in their lives when it mattered.
My hope is that you will read this and make some choices that result in you not having these same regrets in your final days.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. The patients had lived according to what they thought others wanted or expected of them at the expense of their own deepest desires. As they looked back, they saw that the choices they had made came with the high price of having their dreams unfulfilled.
What dreams do you have that you are pushing aside? Choose just one, right now, and take some small action toward making it a reality.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
We feel as if we have to work 50-60 hours a week to get ahead and to provide for our loved ones. But the result is, we don’t have time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We aren’t there to BE with the ones we are so devoted to.
Where can you renegotiate and set boundaries so that you have more time and energy to spend with people close to you? What tasks can you delegate? Where can you give up control and accept good enough instead of insisting on perfection? What trade-offs can you make in order to be truly fulfilled instead of constantly being on the hamster wheel of life?
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people never voiced their true feelings either positive or negative. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many became physically ill because of the negative energy they harbored throughout their lives. Others never dared to express their love for others because it was uncomfortable or they feared the reaction it might invoke.
We cannot control the reactions of others but it is important to be true to ourselves and express that truth. Often, once those difficult messages are communicated, a platform is set up to resolve differences and the relationship becomes richer and deeper, or in other situations, open honest communication causes unhealthy relationships to end, freeing you to pursue more fulfilling opportunities.
What communication have you withheld and why? Look into your heart and make a commitment to resolve unfinished business, express your true feelings, state your honest opinion, regardless of your discomfort about how it might turn out.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they did not truly realize the value of old friends until their dying weeks. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
Given our busy lifestyles, it is easy to let friendships slip through the cracks. Who have you lost touch with that you’d like to reconnect with? Reach out. Send them a letter, an email, call them on the phone. Rebuild the bond while you can.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. They lived within the confines of their comfort zone, being cautious, ‘looking good’ and playing it safe. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh fully, experience adventure, take some risks.
Life is a series of choices. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously. Choose authentically. Choose happiness.
When you ask most women the question, “How are you?”, the most common answers are, “busy”, “crazy busy”, “busy but it’s all good.” Sound familiar? And it’s not just around the holidays. It seems there’s always something that has us chasing our tails, racing frantically from one thing to the next with our feet barely touching the ground. When I get really busy, I feel like a stone skipping in the water, briefly touching the surface and then flying off to the next touch point and then the next and so on, never really digging into anything at a level that gives me any sense of satisfaction.
I think busy-ness is a way of avoiding the things we fear… feelings that might be uncomfortable, thoughts that might be unpleasant, actions that might be challenging. And we can legitimize our ‘stuck-ness’ by being too busy to do anything to move us forward in the direction of our heart’s desires.
In the words of Lily Tomlin, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”
But how do we slow down? Being busy has become a habit. We declare our busy-ness with pride. We make it sounds like the only alternative to busy-ness is death. We live in a society where doing things quickly is a part of our culture. We eat fast food, we can attend speed dating and networking events, there’s even speed yoga. There are gyms that pride themselves on offering workouts that can be done in 30 minutes so you can get it over with quickly and get on with your life. I have friends who go to a particular church because the Mass is shorter. They call it ‘drive thru Mass’. What’s up with that?
So, how do we break our busy-ness habit? My friend and author of many books on intuition, Lynn Robinson shares this insight,
“I know I can’t simply snap my fingers and have my life change. But I can make a choice, and I’m choosing right here and now to simply breathe, slow down, feel grateful for the present moment.”
To break a habit, she says, you first have to become aware of doing it. Then, you make a conscious choice about what you want versus what you don’t want (peace versus rushing) and you take action on the decision.
You won’t change your habits overnight. You’ll need to purposefully and intentionally choose your actions minute by minute until the new pace becomes you new normal and your old habits are replaced with more effective ones. Keep asking yourself, am I breathing deeply? Am I fully present and engaged in what I’m doing? What will move me in the direction I want to go?
Expect discomfort, expect set backs but keep choosing! You’ll get there… slowly perhaps but you’ll be able to enjoy the process.