Monday, February 6, 2012

How to Create a Positive Thought Maintenance Program (Read Time: 3 min.)

Ever experience a great start to your day: fully showered, fresh off of some sort of peace practice (meditation, yoga, tai chi, affirmations) only to get in the car, get on the highway and find yourself pissed off and cursing at the idiot driver who just cut you off and nearly caused an accident?

There's peace and joy in having quiet time but it's one thing to get into that space and quite another to live there. Contrary to popular belief, peace of mind, albeit our natural state, takes work to maintain.  Let's not sugarcoat this.  We live in a world that treats negativity as if it were "realistic" and holds positivity as some Pollyanna foo-foo that liberal, "spiritual" people practice.  That's why we have a media outlet whose ratings skyrocket based on the delivery of bad news.  Good news doesn't sell because good news has no drama.

But what if you'd like your world to be less filled with drama?
What if you'd like to be able to be stuck in traffic and feel as peaceful as you did early that morning in yoga class?
Is there a way to maintain your peace and presence in a world that's always demanding you go faster, higher, and harder than is optimal for you?

Yes, there is and it's called a  
Positive Thought Maintenance Program (PTMP). 

Do you have one?

Better yet, do you know how to KEEP one?  

Here's the reality:

A. Positivity won't be a mainstay of your life until you create consistent time and devote persistent energy to it.
B. A PTMP is as necessary as brushing your teeth and would be far less painful to implement if you'd CHOOSE to see it that way.
C. Most people don't have PTMPs in place because of laziness.  You have to do more than wish for positivity.  You have to actively pursue it, embrace it and be it.

Would you like to know how to develop your own PTMP?  
Here's how I developed mine:
  1. Choose your positivity practice.  Mine consists of morning prayer, bible reading, gratitude list, and mirror work (saying affirmations in the mirror).
  2. Create non-negotiable space in which to consistently fulfill your positivity practice.  I'd love to be able to tell you that I do my positivity practice at morning and at night but I tried that and what I discovered was this: I'm a morning bird and when I hit about 10 pm at night, I'm tired, ready for bed, and there's no OOMPH to any work I do in the mirror and I fall asleep when I attempt to meditate at night so I cut out the nightly affirmations/meditations and, instead, I either listen to an inspiring audiobook on my ipod, Corciolli (classical music), or read a book that inspires and teaches me.  That thirty minutes is what my body is equipped to do at that hour and it works.  But you've got to COMMIT to a timeslot, a time of day, and the number of days per week that you're going to fulfill this practice.  I fulfill my PTMP six days a week.  On Sunday, in its place, I watch church on my iPad. 
  3. Hold yourself to it.  In the words of William James, "Suffer not one exception."  Period, the end, that's all they wrote folks.  This is where the drill sergeant in me comes out.  You have to fulfill your PTMP even when you're tired, even when you have 10,000 other things to do (that's why it's called a NON-Negotiable), even when you're not in the mood and ESPECIALLY when you're not in the mood.  The moment you stop holding yourself accountable is the moment you give negativity the open door to step back into your life.  Yes, it's that stringent.  Yes, it's that diligent.  But isn't your peace and joy worth that?  Of course it is. 
  4. Notice how much MORE effective you are when you institute and hold to your PTMP.  It amazes me how much calmer, more productive, peaceful, and joyful I am when I hold to my PTMP.  I'm able to weather the storms of life in a highly empowered way.  I'm able to see opportunities I wouldn't have been able to see through negative eyes.  Life feels joyous and is joyous when I've done the most important work of my day first.  Remember: we make times for the things that are important to us.  If you say positivity is crucial to your life, show that it in how you arrange your daily schedule.

FINAL POINT: You are a soul in a body, not a body in a soul.  Do what it takes to nourish and guide that part of you which is eternal, ever-present and in need of your love and esteem.  Without your soul, your body goes no where... 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

5 Simple Steps to Keep the Past From Holding Your Life Hostage (Read Time: 3 min.)

Is the past holding your life hostage?

Do you live with the regret, bitterness, resentment, or guilt of a previous mistake?

OR do you mistake forward movement for past healing?

It's easy to point out the people who live on the extreme side of having the past hold their lives hostage.  These are the folks who are angry, bitter, resentful, and guilt-ridden.  But those people are not MOST people who actually have the past keeping their lives stuck.  More than that, what's even trickier about this particular topic is the fact that wishing for a better past is an epidemic most people don't know they're contributing to.

Your life might look absolutely normal.  You do what you have to do.  You're moving forward step by step.  Things are working out.  You feel peace most of the time.  Life is good.  But what's underneathe all of that? 

In the quiet, subtle moments of your life,
where do your thoughts take you?

The past's ability to hold your life hostage isn't measured by how much action you take.  It's extent is identified by how much the actions you take are based on the wishing for a better past.  There are ultra-successful people who think they're over a past pain who haven't even taken the time to both feel and heal it.  Until you've acknowledged your pain and grieved your loss, the past is a bedfellow you won't be able to get rid of.

So how you do you keep the past
from holding your life hostage? 

Here are 5 simple steps:
  1. Acknowledge and embrace the pain.
There is no healing what you aren't willing to feel.  If the past is going to stay there, you have to be willing to own what it was that hurt you.  You've got to call it what it is, say what you have to say, get it off your chest so it can stop running your life.  Acknowledge your pain.

2. Grieve the death of a dream.
Every person has a vision for what they wanted life to look like.  There's nothing wrong with grieving the loss of a past that wasn't what you had hoped it would be.  Give yourself the room to cry over what never was.  Own the fact that you had hoped things would've gone differently and accept the fact that they didn't.  It takes time to grieve.  This isn't a one day or one week or one month process.  You have the right to grieve so do it.

3. Forgive yourself and others.
Forgiveness doesn't begin with the other person; it starts with you.  You have to forgive yourself for what you did, didn't, should or shouldn't have done.  You have to look yourself in the eye and remind yourself that you did the best you could with with you had.  You have to be able to see the humanity of yourself so you can embrace the humanity of the other person.  Forgiveness is an inside job that leads to an outside excavation.  When you forgive yourself, you set yourself free...

4. Let it go.
The same way you can clench your first and then unclench it is exactly the way you let the past go.  Every time a thought from the past comes up, you have a choice: hold on or let go?  It may take you a thousand times in a day to let that past thought go but the more you do it, the easier it becomes to catch and release.  If you're going to usher in a future unlike the past, you have to be willing to let go that which no longer serves you.  Clench and release as much as you need to so you can let go what you have to let go of.  Let it go...

5. Take one step forward... and then another... and then another...
Once you've let it go, it's time to step forward from an empowered place.  People mistake forward movement with progress.  You can move forward in the shadow of the past and, to everyone else, it looks like you're making progress... only you aren't.  In order to make true progress, you have to let the past go and step into the place of being your most empowered self.  When you can be who you might've been (no matter what happened in the past) and live and act from that place, you are now in a position to take one powerful step at a time.  You don't worry about ten steps down the road.  You are fully present in this moment doing this action and that is enough.  Take one step forward, whole mind into present action, and then do it again and again and again...

Monday, January 30, 2012

5 Ways to Transform External Pressure Into Internal Heat (Read Time: 4 min.)

What does it take to light an internal fire when everything around you feels like it's up in flames?

Life has its tough times, moments when you feel like you're a split second away from breaking.  It's in these moments that character is born.  But what do you do when the pressure on the outside restricts the momentum and drive on the inside? 

How do you turn what feels like neverending stress into unyielding persistence?

For a long time, I thought that life was about savoring the good times, holding onto those blissful moments when everything is well with the world.  The more of life I experience, the more I see that the "blissful" moments aren't the most important ones.  In fact, rarely is a "good" time a monumental experience.  It's good, yes.  Monumental?  No.

It is when we are faced with an unexpected, trying experience that who we really are makes a grand entrance.  It is in those moments when our faith is tested and our wills are tried that we learn what we're really made of... and the victory that comes from being able to outlast even the worst of tragedies is where we realize how good the "good" in life truly is. 

So what do you do when you can't seem to catch a break and life just keeps sending you experiences that test the strength of your courage?

You figure out a way to transform external pressure into internal heat. 

Here are five ways to do that:
  1. Accept the fact that whatever situation you've been given, you've been given it due to capacity and not ineptitude AND THEN decide to do the best with the situation that you can.  There are three parts to this point: 1- you don't get anything you can't handle, 2- you can handle it in such a way that you make the situation work for you and not against you, 3- you must make a clear decision that out of this situation, ONLY good will come.  Do these three things and you'll have victory on your hands before you know it.
  2. Create your testimony in advance.  Instead of focusing on the present circumstances, imagine the victory speech that comes after you overcome this obstacle.  Begin telling your testimony now.  Experience gratitude for how far you've come now.  See the end and live from that place NOW.
  3. Ask for more, go for more.  People often make the huge mistake of getting smaller in trials and tribulations.  Remember: obstacles come to expand you, not contract you.  It's important to remember that when a situation feels like it's too much to bare, you have to step up to the plate boldly and expect even more.  It makes no sense to be on the verge of losing your home and expect to lose your home, become homeless, and envision yourself pushing around a grocery basket in tattered, dirty clothes.  Why aspire to something so below your worth?  No, when in the tough of the tough, you have to ask for more.  Asking for less got you here.  Asking for more will get you there.  Not only do you have to ask for more but you have to believe for more.  Do you have a crummy job?  Don't put your faith in keeping the crummy job you have.  Dust off your resume and put your heart and faith that there's a better opportunity out there for you and this crummy job is simply lighting a fire under you to get out in the job market and move on.  Again, this is not about pretending.  It's about intending.
  4. Find a role model who's been through what you're going through and read his/her story over and over again.  Sometimes, all it takes to rebuild momentum is to be reminded that you are not alone.  There are those who've been there, done that and have the scars to prove it.  Reading a memoire or biography of someone who's been through your hell and has lived to tell what's on the other side is just the thing you need to get yourself out of pity-party mode and into take-your-life-back action.
  5. Rewrite the story of the life you're living.  At some point, you've got to decide what your happy ending looks like... and not settle for anything less.  You are the writer of your life.  No matter what the situation, at some point, you've got to decide how to narrate the story.  Tell a powerfully different story and you'll see how what seemed like an obstacle starts to look a lot like an opportunity.  For example, a person might say "My life is horrible.  After twenty years of marriage, my husband left me to raise two kids by myself.  Now I'm 50 and I'm alone and I don't have anyone.  I never finished college.  I'm doing a job I hate and my kids don't even call me.  My life's been a real nightmare."  At 50, this woman can continue telling this story for twenty or thirty more years... OR she can rewrite the story and tell a totally different experience.  She could say the following: "In the last thirty years, I've learned so much about myself.  I spent fifteen years in a marriage that was truly unhappy and I learned that I don't have to settle for less than I deserve.  My husband left me to be with someone else and I was sad for a while.  But, one day, I figured out that his leaving taught me that I could stand on my own two feet and raise two children by myself.  Those two kids are now adults and they have wonderful families of their own.  They graduated from college and have great lives and I know that they are a legacy that I was able to help build.  Even though I don't see them as much as I'd like to, it gives me joy and peace to know that they're okay.  They're more than okay. They're happy.  Now that I'm 50, I realize that it's high time I found my happiness.  The same way I worked two jobs and raised two kids is the same way I can now find my own happiness.  I have the time.  I have some money and I now know that I don't have to compromise my life for anyone.  This is a great time to start again and you know what?  I'm finally ready to do that."  Now experience the difference.  Same life circumstances, two totally different stories.  If you were this woman, which story would you rather be telling?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How Are You Choosing to Learn Your Lessons? (Read Time: 3 min.)

How long does it take you to learn a life lesson?

I'd love to be able to say that I learn my spiritual lessons the first time around every time... but I don't.  There are some lessons I get after two experiences, some after three, and some take five hundred and ninety-three.  Needless to say, when you go through an experience only to come out saying, "Didn't I go through that the last time (different day, different person, somewhat different circumstances but the same outcome)?", there's a moment where you have to stop yourself and go:

The ONLY common denominator in ALL of these experiences is ME!

There's the light bulb moment, the epiphany, the raison d'etre... and yet most people walk buy it and go do the same thing again.

Are you ready to stop the non-sense?

Here's the thing: each of us get to choose how we learn our lessons. 

Some of us, whether we care to admit it or not, like learning the hard way.  We like all of that rebellion, chaos, drama, tears, gnashing of teeth and throwing of pity parties.  We like having other people say "I told you so."  We like not believing people when they show us who they are.  In some way, if we keep not learning what life has come to teach us, there's something in it for us, a payoff we may not be ready to acknowledge.  But, nonetheless, what you do persistently serves you.

On the other hand, if you're like me and you get out of a life experience only to realize that you've repeated yet another lesson, you don't want to keep beating the same drum.  In fact, you start to become bound and determined to "figure" this thing out.  That's equally disempowering because life isn't about figuring it out.  It's not about getting it right.  It's about becoming who you're meant to be by making empowered choices every opportunity you get.

And that's the bottom line of this post.  Choosing to learn your lessons early isn't about being smarter, wiser, or more intuitive.  It's about being willing to live your life according to a higher standard and committing to that standard to the point where you don't bend those boundaries when similar (but different) experiences arise. 

The reason people learn things the hard way isn't because they don't know better; it's oftentimes because they don't choose better.

So here's the question:

What are you choosing?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

5 Reasons You Aren't Taking Your Life to the Next Level (Read Time: 3 min.)

It's honesty time.  There are a lot of us out there who say we want to live life at a certain level.  We say that we want to experience ultimate success, ultimate love, ultimate wealth, and so on and so forth.  We talk a good game but the new years come and go and, yet, we're still the same.  There's nothing ultimate about our lives or the way we choose to live them.

What's up with that?

Your life is your choice.  When you find yourself wanting the same changes but not making those changes, you need to stop and ask yourself, "Why am I holding myself back?"  When you get real and raw on this one question, you'll find out that there are 5 reasons why you aren't taking your life to the next level:

  1. You're not ready to give up the excuse for why you haven't created the life you want up until now.  There are those of us who've been "wishing" for a better life for decades.  If we now step up to the plate, take the steering wheel of our lives and drive, we also now have to own up to the fact that the only thing that's been stopping us for the last twenty to thirty years... has been us.  That's a hard pill to swallow.
  2. Once you take your life to the next level, you can never go back to playing small.  This one truth scares the pants off of people.  When playing small is your comfort zone, the idea of never being able to return to this place is enough to keep someone in that cushy, cramped realm of living.  The moment you decide to play big in the world, you can never go back to playing small.  You might be able to trick yourself into doing so but it will always come with a feeling that says "This isn't right." 
  3. You're waiting for other people to get there first.  This is connected to #2 in the sense that we often want to bring people with us when we climb up the spiritual maturity ladder.  But it doesn't work that way.  Each person has their own unique spiritual curriculum and you can't fast forward or control anybody else's.  Your job is you.  Let other people mind their own business.
  4. You're afraid that what you find on the other side still won't make you happy.  Far too many people blame their unhappiness on outside circumstances.  They frame happiness as a treasure they can only find by altering circumstances.  It is these same people who get frightened at the idea of having the circumstances change because, deep down, they know that happiness is an inside job.  They understand that the circumstances changing has nothing to do with their attitude changing... unless they choose it.  For these people, they resist life moving to the next level because they know that once it does, the truth as to come out: their unhappiness has always been a choice that they were willing to make.
  5. Your idea of a great life is being beaten up by your perfectionist attitude about whether or not you deserve that life.  So many of us think we aren't worthy of a better life.  We put up these pre-requisites of things we have to do and be in order to deserve a great life.  Our resistance to our own good pushes that future away.  When you don't think you deserve good things, you repel great opportunities. 

At any moment, you can change your mind about your life.  At any moment, you can choose differently.  It's up to you.  Don't let these excuses hold you back from creating a life you love to look at.  Own your ability to choose and then choose differently.

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