This week’s Saturday Share goes to the blog at Elizabeth Dickinson’s website, Pursue Your Path.
Full disclosure. I have already read Elizabeth’s recently released book, The Concise Coaching Handbook: How to Coach Yourself and Others to Get Business Results. I posted my review on Amazon if you are interested in the topic, well worth the read. I also plan to do some coaching with her over the next few months as I launch my consulting venture. I have really been impressed with her career and accomplishments over the years that I have known her.
Elizabeth writes about many topics of interest to me, such as developing leadership on your team, and the fact that you are your own expert on your life. I really like her premise and her approach. If self-coaching or coaching others is of interest to you as well, I encourage you to check out her work.
I need to come clean on another addiction that I have. I am a recovering “food” addict. I no longer use food (very often) to buffer uncomfortable feelings. Occasionally, ice cream is my gateway drug though…
My other addiction? Self development books, self-help literature and courses from Udemy and Skillshare…and podcasts where I learn new things.
I have talked before about how some of us use “buffers” to avoid certain things in our lives, or to avoid feeling what we feel, dealing with reality. Terry Real, (a psychotherapist who has some wonderful books including The New Rules of Marriage) calls substances like alcohol or drugs “misery stabilizers.”
He explains that they can keep people miserable instead of turning to each other, staying engaged, and facing their issues. He explains ways that men and women typically avoid their lives or issues in a relationship and I want to directly quote his words here, because I saw myself in them.
“Men tend to use workaholism, substance abuse, risk taking, gambling, food, exercise, television, the Internet, and sexual compulsivity. Women tend toward love dependence through over-involvement with their children, food, prescription drug abuse, spending, exercise, “busy-ness addiction” and love dependence on a romantic adult.” ( bold emphasis mine)
When I first read about this, and considered my relationship to food, I realized I had been using food (and sometimes wine) as a misery stabilizer in my life and in my relationship. I was using it to avoid what I did not want to face, my truth about not living aligned with my purpose. At various times I have used the others I highlighted as well.
As I started seeing the ways I was avoiding uncomfortable conversations, I began to examine ways in which I inadvertently “learned” this behavior when I was young. My family is squeamish about conflict, to put it mildly. Well, we live in Minnesota… directness is not something we do well.
Do you know the expression “Minnesota nice“? It is not a compliment when someone uses this term. What it means is that someone is nice to your face, but they are actually thinking “You’re full of shit.” Or they will be nice in person, and then go gossip about you behind your back. Yikes.
We all have buffers, or misery stabilizers, that can keep us from diving right into an issue, facing our truth. They can keep us from having a difficult conversation, working on our budget, tracking our finances, dealing with the reality of our situation. We avoid and distract ourselves rather than “go there.”
I was doing it this for the last couple days with some of my “homework” for my WomenVenture class on Getting Ready. It is a pre-requisite for the Small Business Essentials class I will begin in September. We were asked to track all of our household expenses for 2 weeks. I was supposed to start last week, but I was on vacation with my sister, and I self-justified not doing it: “it’s an unusual week, and vacations are not a household expense.”
But really I was avoiding it because looking at the reality my spending habits can feel uncomfortable and annoying. I have saved for this sabbatical, and planned for this time off, but I don’t want to face the day-to-day “chore” of looking at my daily money habits. It feels “graspy” and stingy to me. I have an abundance mindset, and I know I can generate more where that came from… “Why should I have to track the “little” stuff?” my inner brat whines.
Anything we do not want to examine in our lives, however, is probably something worth studying. While I would rather watch Skillshare videos and read self-development books all day, the action of getting clear on my finances and on our money habits is something that will serve us in the long run.
I will put my self-development courses on pause, and start working on my 2-week budget tracking exercise. I resist committing to “Financial Fridays” but it may be good for me for a month or two… Ugh, not there yet. But let me know if you think airing my “dirty laundry” in this area would be helpful to you. I might be able to motivate myself to write about this if own misery is in service to a larger community. Lol.
Are there any things you “binge” on when you are avoiding an important task or conversation? What are your misery stabilizers?
P.S. If you are also a course addict and you want to try 2 months free of Skillshare, you can use this link to get started. I claim no responsibility for enabling your addiction if you suffer the same affliction. 😉
Once in a while I find myself tempted to tell other people how they should live. I get all “judgy” about what they should do, or what I would do in their situation. You don’t do that, do you?
Oh, who am I kidding? Many of us spend our lives judging other people. This is human, perhaps. I must extend myself compassion for the tendency to insert my opinion into other people’s business. One of my favorite wise teachers, Brené Brown, talks about how good it can feel to judge other people. It’s like a pig rolling in mud, she explains in one of her audio books. “Doesn’t it just feel so good?”
Our need to judge and criticize other people comes from our desire to mask some type of shame about the way we feel about ourselves. If we feel bad about our inability to keep our space clean at home, it is SO easy to become judgmental about some other person’s difficulty. We think: “Sheesh, how can they live like that? Do they have a hoarding disorder? Narcissism? (insert criticism here)” We may be bad, but at least we feel we are better than someone else.
While I feel embarrassed to admit how often I judge people, I want to come clean here for the sake of exploring this tendency and understanding what this judgment says about me.
When I first learned to meditate, I was astonished at the thoughts that seemed to flow rather continuously through my fevered brain. Now I react with more curiosity rather than with admonishment or shame. Thoughts appear. Then we react to them, or just observe them and let them go. It takes a lot of practice not to judge ourselves, or judge and evaluate our thoughts, but just to observe them with curiosity instead. I am far from perfect at this, and I’ve been practicing for 556 days in a row.
I realize that holding space for people, particularly those that you love, or those who can easily push your buttons, can be a sacred act of mindfulness as well. It is difficult to withhold judgment and just meet people where they are. It requires great compassion and self-awareness of our own internal critic and the ways in which we constantly compare ourselves to others.
In the case of family, friends or people we care about, sometimes we long to give advice to “help”. But often our best option is to listen, to care and to ask if we can be of service, rather than to offer unsolicited advice how to solve the problem.
If we simply tell people what to do, they often sense our judgment and discomfort. If our advice comes from a place of love and compassion, they may be able to hear it. If not, I think it is best for us to “clean up” our thoughts before launching into our opinions about the issue. Often we gossip to others about what these people should do instead of confronting the issue directly. That is not a good idea either.
Adults can behave however they wish, and we cannot control them. This is a radical idea for some of us. But we can only control our own thoughts and emotions. Trying to control other people is typically a recipe for disaster. While we can sometimes have a positive influence, typically we must lead by example rather than judging, condemning and shaming.
This is a lesson I write to remind myself. I have learned and re-learned it many times. When I focus on things I can control, my own actions and results (and generally the preceding thoughts and emotions), I have more peace, freedom and equanimity.
Okay, this blog is somewhat self-promoting, because Julie de Rohan mentions me in her post. But the topic is so relevant and I agree so strongly with the the concept that I want to share it with my readers as well.
Julie is a psychotherapist in the U.K. who works with clients who struggle with overeating issues. As this is a struggle I have faced (and also probably 70% of the women I know) I always find her writing and insights to be right on target.
I have recently re-listened to a favorite resource on this topic, an Audible book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food and God. Every time I explore another layer of this issue, I realize how much relationship with food is a microcosm of my beliefs about the world. But not until I excavated this issue in my writing and my meditations did I start feeling peace toward it.
Thanks so much for exploring this issue, Julie. You write about it (and many other topics we share in common) in such an accessible way.
This Thursday I am re-posting an edited piece from January 2018 and is dedicated to Ruth Silva, a favorite yoga teacher who helped me practice the principle of noticing.
I learned about a beautiful approach to the skill of mindfulness that does not involve meditation through an On Being conversation with Ellen Langer. She is a social psychologist who defines mindfulness as “the simple act of actively noticing things.”
I really like this concept of mindfulness because it does not require any special training or meditation practice. It is something that is accessible to all of us. It also helps us understand what it means to “be in the moment” when so many of us have practiced being in our heads rather than truly noticing.
Last March I was on a trip for work in which I accidentally packed my phone in my carry-on luggage. Leaving from the airport at MSP, I had my coat on, but once I was in airport, I packed the coat in order to keep my hands more free. Immediately through security I realized I was missing a phone, and I searched frantically for it, fearing the disconnection of not having it with me for a trip to Mexico.
I typically use my phone to consume podcasts, read emails and occupy myself. One of my fears has always been getting bored. On long car trips with my family I used to pack a bag full of books, confident that would get me through the hours of travel.
This time though, I had no distractions to take with me on the trip. It seemed like the universe’s way to show me what I typically miss while I travel: interactions with actual people, and the many things I can learn when I notice, when I pay attention.
What I first noticed was that so few people make eye contact with one another while they are rushing through the airport. So many are looking down at the phones rather than engaging with people around them. I get this. I am an introvert, and contact with all these people can be a little overwhelming.
I sat myself down for a little people-watching, something I always enjoyed when young. It is a wonderful practice of noticing. One flight had just arrived, people were departing the gate, looking determined and hurrying along. An older gentleman in an old-fashioned cap was moving a little more slowly than some of the passengers. He looked around, feeling a bit lost perhaps, overwhelmed at the number of people all gathered around the terminal, the passengers rushing to their next destination.
As I noticed his bright blue eyes we made eye contact. I allowed my eyes to stay with his for a couple of moments, instead of averting them as we Minnesotans are taught to do. Of course I could not resist a smile for him, as I felt empathy for his search for connection, for people to simply notice he was there. I was rewarded by a smile from him. Other people looking down at their phones or preoccupied by other things on their travel had not noticed him, but I did, and he returned the acknowledgement.
During that flight I ended up having a marvelous conversation with a woman who was an author, just returning from a speaking tour. She told me she rarely talks with people on a plane. But she decided not to put her headphones on (as usual) but to have a conversation instead. As it turns out, I found out she had been a speaker for an event attended by my massage therapist. Small world.
After that incident, where I ended up feeling so peaceful and present without my phone, I resolved to spend more time like this. Instead of looking down and disengaging with the people around me, I take time to make eye contact, to smile, to be present. Many people find it startling when I make sustained eye contact. I notice many of them look away at first, and then look back. When they realize I am still looking at them and give them a smile, they often return the smile.
It is a small gesture, to notice the people around us. But we have a deep hunger for connection as humans. We may think we get this by staying connected, by having our phone in hand and instant communication at the push of a button. What is sacrificed by disconnecting with the people around us and directly in front of us?
I encourage you to do little experiments in noticing at home, in the halls at work, in the airports when you travel. See what you discover. I promise you, it will be fascinating.
How easily do you forgive yourself when you make a mistake or do something wrong?
I just finished reading Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life, and I found the premise fascinating. She believes that what we think about ourselves becomes the truth for us. What we give out, we get back. The only thing we are ever dealing with is a thought, and thoughts can be changed. We can change our attitude toward the past. To release the past, we must be willing to forgive. Also, she claims that “all dis-ease” comes from a state of unforgiveness.
She goes on to explain that forgiveness is not about condoning the behavior. It is just letting the whole things go. I agree that there are few advantages to holding resentment against someone for past actions. The past is over, and the more we time we spend on holding onto that resentment, the worse our health seems to be.
An article from Hopkins Medicine explains that unresolved conflict or chronic anger can put you in fight-or-flight mode, which results in changes in heart rate, blood pressure and the immune system. These changes increase risks of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions.
Forgiveness is an active process in which we make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not. Karen Swartz, M.D. director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, says forgiveness is a choice. “You are choosing to offer compassion and empathy to the person who wronged you.”
Even if the person never apologizes, and you simply resolve this by journaling or through your own reflection, by letting go of expectations, you will not feel disappointed. When you start to acknowledge the fact that nobody is perfect, and that the action probably had nothing to do with you, and rather is a reflection of the other person’s capacity (or lack thereof) for love, you can move on.
While it is not easy, forgiveness will help you heal and move on with your life. Sometimes talking with a therapist or a trusted friend to receive a “caring witness” to your pain can help. But at some point, then it is time to let the past go. Remember: you are not hurting the other person in refusing to forgive, you are only hurting yourself by carrying that negative energy into your future.
Love is always the answer to healing of any sort. And the pathway to love is forgiveness.
Give it a try and watch your overall health improve as you develop a regular practice of forgiveness. Check out “You Can Heal Your Life” if you want exercises and affirmations to support this process of letting go.
I have recently taken on some new challenges, started learning some new things.
Dance! – I made a pledge to myself back in January, took a foundations class, and then I also followed on with another Zumba class. I will do more of this, especially now that my schedule will be more flexible for the next couple of months.
Massage – My massage therapist gave me a 90-minute lesson on how to give a massage to my hubby. I’ve been wanting to learn, and to have a non-sexual way to connect through physical touch. I wanted to learn how to properly do this without giving myself carpal tunnel or hurting my back over the massage table.
Motorcycling – I took an intro class to ‘Cycling and Scootering. I did a lot better than I thought for only a 4-hour class. I am now more motivated to study for my permit and take the longer “Basic Rider Course” sometime in August or September.
What do these three activities have in common? All of the teachers spoke of the practices as building up “muscle memory” over time in order to make certain parts automatic. While learning new skills, we often have to think and focus intensely. This is all new and our minds and bodies need to make the connections necessary to master the skills. Then they take practice, repetition and time in order to build up the muscle memory that allows for less conscious effort, a more fluid and easy feel.
I started considering the muscle memory that drives many of our daily habits. Have you ever gone out to do an errand and ended up driving somewhere automatically even though you did not consciously want to go there? Your mind was somewhere else, but your body knew where you usually go (work, the grocery store, etc).
I thought about the muscle memory of playing the flute (started in middle school) or the saxophone (started in high school). My teacher told me that it was a good thing I started on the flute and then moved to saxophone because the movements are more precise and delicate. Apparently it is more difficult to go the other way. Hours and hours of practice on the flute helped me “convert” the muscle memory of the similar fingerings on the saxophone.
When we embark on a new chapter in our lives, there is no muscle memory yet for how to do our daily work. We need to suspend judgement and be kind to ourselves while we are learning. All of our efforts are part of the feedback loop of mastery, even if they fail, even if we shift too quickly and cut the engine while not allowing enough throttle to create momentum.
There are ways to visualize and help to create muscle memory even more quickly. One motorcycle instructor told us that even practicing our hand and foot motions in the evening for 10 minutes while sitting in a chair watching t.v. could help us master the skill more quickly. The memory is formed not just in our muscles, but with the help of our brain, and this is what world-class athletes do before their routines.
As I visualize my next chapter, I associate feelings of ease and excitement. I see myself learning new things, and having my back, giving myself encouragement if I make mistakes. I build up these muscle memories and know that in time, the practice pays off, and the learning accumulates. Confidence increases, and satisfaction as well.
What kinds of muscle memory do you access regularly?