emotions

Are you purposefully problem-solving?

Life is HARD! It includes many problems to solve, especially when you’re living it fully and deeply and not skating around the rim, floating along on a cloud of privilege, denial or delusion (which many people are).

Everyone who is aware of the natural ups and downs of life needs a good healthy vent now and then. It’s a strategy mental health professionals advocate we all strive to practice to purposefully problem-solve daily frustrations in our lives.

Venting allows us to express the natural ebb and flow of human emotions which indicate an appropriate level of awareness and ability to deal with reality. If you aren’t riding the rocky waves of feeling, you probably aren’t really dealing with reality at all! Even Buddhist masters feel a wide range of feelings, they just have great tools to manage the highs and lows. I’ve been practicing for 20 years and only finally feel like I know what I’m doing most of the time.

So it’s ok to feel lots of feelings, I just gave you permission. But how we deal with those feelings determines how we feel on a day-to-day basis and how we impact the lives of other people.

Because there’s venting and then there’s flat-out complaining. And behavior change experts (like me) will tell you (and myself) that complaining is just disempowerment, plain and simple. Complaining rarely if ever helps us feel better whereas processing helps us purposefully problem-solve which helps us feel more confident and happy!

So how do you know when you’re venting to purposefully process or problem-solve and when you’re complaining in circles?

I’m happy to share my personal experience and perspective on this, because it’s way more relatable and fun since I’m a real person. People who meet me and know I’m a coach often get a little disillusioned by their own projections of what they think a coach is or should be. When they meet me and realize I have struggles and challenges and fears and limitations, and even (GASP!) complain from time to time, they sometimes think I can’t really help them or other people. Even though I’ve helped thousands of people in the ten years I’ve been a coach and for years before I ever became certified.

But the truth is, I’m just a normal human being who happens to know a lot about behavior change and healthy habits, but it certainly doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I don’t need to be perfect to help people. I just need to know tools and encourage and support others in their process. The best way I do that is to walk my own path, make mistakes, learn from them and keep going. And share what I learn!

So here’s how I have learned to know when I am complaining and not doing healthy processing or venting.

Both feel and sound similar. Both include insights about interactions with other people. Both include sharing painful feelings or frustrations about circumstances or realizations. Both (maybe) include some snarky comments.

But complaining sounds more like, “I can’t believe this happened to me. It’s so unfair. Poor me. This is just my situation and there’s nothing I can do.”

Complaining is merely recounting the details of what happened, over and over, without any desire to transform the situation.

Processing or healthy venting for problem-solving sounds more like, “wow! That was really frustrating or disappointing. I really didn’t listen to my gut and probably should have. I didn’t realize this earlier but can see clearly now. It sure doesn’t feel good, but I learned a good lesson from it.”

OR

“I clearly expressed what I wanted and needed but we weren’t on the same page. I tried several times to make it work and finally gave up. I feel sad and disappointed but can see why it happened like that.”

OR

“I keep expecting someone to be different or have a different reaction. I’m really setting myself up to be disappointed over and over. I should probably change my approach.”

Get it? It really involves some important self-awareness and self-reflection to make it purposeful problem-solving and not ranting and complaining about how much people suck.

Complaining usually focuses on the behavior or actions of other people. It indicates where we had unrealistic expectations or projections and failed to express them clearly. Complaining lacks any statement of personal responsibility or attitude that contributed or led to the frustration.

Processing to purposefully problem-solve includes, first and foremost, what we expected or how we could have contributed to something that didn’t work out or was unsatisfying.

It’s important to remember that it’s ok to be annoyed or sad or frustrated, especially when we have worked hard to express ourselves and it falls on deaf ears. Or when people seem unwilling or unable to change to make working or living together feel easier and more fun.

So why bother focusing on healthy venting when we could just complain our guts out?

Well, I remember things really changed for me in my life when I stopped complaining because it just got exhausting. I felt like a broken record and I started hearing how I sounded to other people and started to cringe.

When I started learning new ways to express myself and think about my own behavior, I started processing more and trying to trouble-shoot solutions to change myself or a situation. It doesn’t mean that people HEARD it as processing. In fact, when I talk I often think many people think I’m complaining, because that’s what they’re used to hearing from other people in their lives. It’s hard to know the difference until you really think about it. But when you listen well, you can spot it!

I engage in healthy venting and processing because my life isn’t easy. No one has it easy, really, but some certainly have it easier than others. The more challenges I’ve taken on and chosen, the harder my life becomes. But it’s up to me to speak to how those challenges feel and how to solve them, which includes healthy processing of what feels painful, frustrating or hard. Merely complaining about something doesn’t change it, in fact it only makes what felt hard feel more horrible because it doesn’t transform or go anywhere.

Take politics. We see lots of people complaining about a person, or people, but not really processing how they keep expecting someone to change (who shows no sign of changing anytime soon). See how complaining just goes in circles whereas processing, which would include changing one’s personal perspective, actually trouble-shoots the same problem? Even if the situation doesn’t change, YOUR FEELINGS about it do change!

Or think about your own life and a problematic situation. Why are you complaining about it? What’s the story you keep telling yourself or another person over and over? Can you see where you could transform it by adding in details about your own part of what happened?

Sit on this. Think about it. Consider what you’re doing each day and if it qualifies as processing or complaining. And if I can help you sort through this or shift it, let me know.

How I Quit Smoking

stub of cigarette

I smoked my first cigarette when I was 12 or 13 years old. I've been a social smoker ever since--usually when I'm REALLY stressed or bored or I smoke with people who smoke at parties, mostly. This happens less than once a month and one or two or five smokes in 48 hours won't kill me. Or maybe it will, who knows.

A few times in my life I've gone through a period of a few months where I bought several packs in a row and became reliant on the cigarette for comfort. Like last summer, when I left a relationship of almost five years with someone I knew for ten years. It took a lot of time, courage and strength to actually pick up and leave. Initially, I left to sort things out from a distance but the other person wasn't willing or able to do that. I found myself in a precarious limbo between living situations as I struggled to manage my own mental health, my coaching business, my graduate school program and everyday things like cooking and my laundry.

I was eating really well, of course, and exercising daily and sleeping well (thank goodness). The sun was out, the weather was great and I kept doing what I knew was important to stay strong and healthy.

But there were parts of me that felt very angry and sad, confused, disoriented and horribly abandoned. The years of details of what I had just come from played over in my mind and I battled very complex feelings from minute to minute, as I tried to keep my ship afloat.

The day I bought a pack of cigarettes, I told myself it would be one pack and then I would be done. I smoked one a day or maybe two and soon the pack was gone. On autopilot, I bought another and then another, rationalizing that I had no other vices and was doing so many healthy things, I was allowed this "one bad thing."

I can count on one hand how many times I've used drugs. I drink less than once a week. I eat greens a few times a day and even in the height of summer, I eat ice cream maybe once a week. I cultivate healthy relationships. I do work I LOVE. I go to therapy once a week and seek out personal development classes, forums, books and events. I run.

I pick things up and put them down, literally and metaphorically. Was I not allowed one damn vice?

I was allowed. That was the decision I made. I had just worked up the courage to make a major change in my life, a change for the better but by no means easy or fun, and I deserved a break. But every time I lit another cigarette, I was still with the grief. I still felt the guilt of undervaluing myself. I felt the frustration of being disrespected. I felt the abandonment and rejection of someone I trusted for many years. I felt the longing to be loved.

The substance or the act of smoking didn't make these difficult feelings go away. I'm too self-aware and mindful to be distracted that easily. My Buddhist practice has penetrated too deeply and I know I can't check out of life because it feels difficult sometimes. Duh, it's life. I also know the truth about cigarettes and I know what they do--I can't be ignorant about something so toxic.

Probably more profound than any of these was this realization: I loved myself and my new body too much to continue. I had spent a lot of time, energy and resources to evolve into the person I am, inside and out, and I couldn't pretend that cigarettes weren't undoing all the positive stuff I was doing. I couldn't pretend that the vice was going to help me.

Hurting myself by acting out was only prolonging the time it would take to heal.

I tossed however much was left of the last pack and haven't had one since. While I can't say I won't have one or two from time to time, it will be a long time before I do and I doubt I'll ever do again what I did this past summer. There's just no need for it now---my life feels so good. I'm healing. And I don't need or want to check out or hide or avoid or take a break from feeling anything but the complexity of human feelings that happen as part of life--beecause I have a lot left to live!

 

 

Image courtesy of this site.

The Wizard of Pos(itivity)

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What is to give light must endure burning.

-Viktor E. Frankl Man's Search for Meaning

Very recently, I was invited to share a story of my life in a public setting. When I solicited suggestions from my Facebook followers and friends, one person said this:

"You're just such a positive person. I admire that about you. Was there ever a time in which you struggled with loving and accepting yourself? I just feel like someone else who may be struggling with that would be inspired by you."

It's really beautiful and very important to me that people experience me as a positive person now, especially if it inspires them to transform their own perspective on life. But I realized there is an important story to tell about my path to positivity. My journey reminded me of a similar story, so I'll call this The Wizard of Pos(itivity).

When I was in college, I had the Midas touch. Do you know that story of King Midas? Everything he touched turned to gold. That's how I felt in college and into my early young adulthood. I'd say I wanted to have or do something and it would literally materialize before my eyes. On the first day of college, I squinted at the people moving us into our dorms and said, "that will be me, someday." Indeed, two years later, I became a hall/resident advisor. It was also that year that I was granted the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa. I needed to raise a lot of money, but I applied myself that summer and raised $3500 to fly myself across the Atlantic and made my 10-year dream to go to South Africa come true.

Things like that kept happening for me well into and throughout my young adulthood.

And then, a few years ago, something happened. I fell into some kind of rut where things worked decently but not the way they had for many years. It got worse with each month and then things sort of bottomed out for me. It didn't look like that to a lot of people, but it FELT that way to me. My business was suffering and my mental and emotional health had plummeted. I grew increasingly discouraged and disheartened with each passing month until last year, I heard myself say, "I lost my Midas touch. I can't make things happen like I used to."

My light had almost gone completely out. I was growing increasingly negative and fearful. I had become spiteful and often complained and compared myself to other people and their perceived success. Despite achieving so much, other success or accomplishments seemed elusive. The infamous Gemini tendency toward duplicity sort of ran the joint on a daily basis.

I hardly recognized myself. Despite my awareness of my behavior, I felt unable to turn things around.

I was desperate to understand what was happening and what I could do to change it.

I started digging deep, really deep. I came to fully embrace that was raised in a family that tolerated my existence but rarely celebrated it.  To overcome that neglect, as a child, teen and younger adult, I sought out a lot of loving and wonderful people once I realized what love could feel like. From the time I was young, I was always gregarious and loving so I always seemed to find these people, even if they were sometimes hidden among the weeds of a toxic or dysfunctional environment or community.

But the part of me that knew neglect, abandonment and the feeling of not being cherished or adored, still sought out people and places that would reinforce that experience for me. It was familiar, after all, if not all that comfortable.

Despite making some really great decisions to remove myself from situations or relationships like that during the past few years, I was still subconsciously doing it in other areas or with other people. Since I had made great progress and so much WAS working, I couldn't see these blind spots. But they were there, and eroding the confidence and strength I strived to build in other areas. They were counteracting the progress I'd make and set me back for days or weeks.

But I began to see it. Ever so slowly. I started experiencing the same patterns in every aspect of my life--a person here or there would be a clone of another. I heard these people complain about others, compare themselves or speak in ways that revealed a lack of self-awareness of their actions. They all seemed, in varying degrees, unwilling or unable to see or be responsible for the impact of their choices and behavior. They were resistant to the actual hard work of personal growth and appreciation of themselves and their own gifts, despite evidence to the contrary. From the outside, they presented the image of being "put-together" or "the pinnacle of positivity" but were actually very different if triggered or shaken or confronted in some way. These were very different relationships from my old friends, those people I had found earlier in my life, who had lit my path with the light of self-awareness and a passion for growth and healing. These people in my life now seemed to be showing me one face and the world another, and it confused me so much--particularly when I confronted them and suddenly became the focus or target of their projections. I went from trusted confidante to Enemy #1 sometimes overnight.

And then I realized why: I was acting as a mirror for them and vice versa. As I spent more and more time around people who were resisting their own vulnerability, authenticity and inner demons, I took on their secret negativity and insecurity. As I surrounded myself with people who focused their energy more on putting up appearances and avoiding the painful complexity of life than confronting it, I did too. I complained. I gossiped. I hid. In this environment, my gender transition, an already delicate and vulnerable process, became increasingly less of a celebration and more of a prison as I rejected and resented people more each day. I saw threats at every turn and doubted myself and my abilities. It wasn't who I had ever been, but I absorbed it and sent it back out into the world.  And, just like these people, I managed to develop two versions of myself: the one I was "behind the curtain" and the one I showed the world.

I had become the Wizard of Positivity--pulling off the feat of impressing the world with my strength and courage but also feeling like a fraud as I feverishly manipulated controls and switches to keep up the illusion of happiness, confidence and inner peace.

The more I did this, the more I experienced rejection and reprisals. My own behavior was literally creating the alienation I experienced from people and opportunities. All the healthy food and personal development trainings in the world weren't filling the void of not feeling appreciated, valued or cherished for who I was.  It felt like a sinkhole and the more I tried to grasp at a solution or a person, the more I felt them slip through my fingers. The way out was elusive and I knew a despair deeper and darker than any that Anne Shirley could ever imagine.

But I knew why I was experiencing all of it. It was my creation. I had allowed the parts of me that didn't believe I deserved love, recognition, support or success take over and I had put myself into environments or among people who weren't truly thriving themselves, despite their illusion to the contrary. I had fallen for those illusions, just as others were, and now had to reconcile with the truth. A lot of things look and feel a lot like love. But where there is a question, there is no love. And where there is real love, there is no question.

I had chosen to settle for less because it resonated with a part of me that felt it was all I deserved. And conflicts that came up were from a different part that knew I deserved better. Despite the pain and fear of changing, I knew I had to remove myself from anything or anyone that wasn't real love--in work, relationships and anything else.

And that's exactly what I did. Hand over hand, I climbed out and through and away from identities, behaviors, habits, situations and people that kept me from being fully expressed or fully seen and appreciated. The more I did, the better I felt and it gave me confidence to keep going.

The pain of whatever was lost wasn't stronger than my will to overcome that dark, negative place I had been in for so long. I began to see everything come into relief--everything made sense as my life improved over three months and then six and then nine. Positive and encouraging oppportunities seemed to serendipitously find me again, effortlessly. When I found myself chasing something or someone like I had before, I instantly saw the dead-end sign and would turn back.

And that's where I am now. I'm experiencing relationships and business/life opportunities like the ones I knew before and also the ones I dreamed about. I'm rather feeling like I've been raised from the dead. Things are happening in my life that make no logical sense and are mind-boggling for me, but they are the things I used to want so much---so I won't second-guess the Universe and look a gift-horse in the mouth. It seems I've definitely got my Midas touch back!!

The work keeps expanding in front of me, because the old habits are strong and deeply rooted in that part of me that needs to heal fully and completely. It couldn't heal in environments that reinforced it--it is healing in atmospheres of abundant love and reciprocity.

It would be great to say my transition made this all possible, that it inspired the change I needed to make. But the truth is, I've never felt more like the "old me" than I do right now. I just sound a little different and have bigger muscles.

Perhaps it was the courage to transition that allowed me to finally overcome whatever held the "old me" back. It was the genesis of finally exposing what hadn't ever really been given room to breathe.

And being alive feels great--especially since I've known what not living feels like. I've known all that fear, shame, rejection and neglect. I remember how it felt to be around it and who I became as a result and how hard I had to work to keep up the dual identities. I don't want to experience that again so all I can do now is be love and feel love and share it.

And the most important part of all is now when people call me positive, I can agree with them.