Archive: Balance

Standing up for Yourself

If you don’t stand up for yourself, how can you stand up for anybody else.

-Mrs. Green, a marcher in the 1963 Civil Rights Movement on Washington

Gloria Steinem related this in her latest book My Life on the Road. Mrs. Green happened to be marching beside Gloria on that day, and Gloria was telling her about all the efforts she and her friends took to get a man of influence to listen to them and take up their cause. That’s when Mrs. Green shook her head and said: You white women! If you don’t stand up for yourself, how can you stand up for anybody else?

I’m a life coach and therapist. My job is to help people re-empower themselves. And yet there are times when I come up against something that scares me, and all I want to do is hide in a corner rather than deal with it, hoping it will be taken care of by someone else. But, paraphrasing Mrs. Green, if I don’t stand up for myself, then how can I facilitate that in my clients and those I care about?

Here’s how I help others, and can use as a reminder for myself frequently:

  • Choose your battles. Not every event I disagree with is one I need to fight. But the ones I engage in are important to me spiritually. I speak up for equal rights of all races, because I don’t want to live in a world that doesn’t have equal rights. I actively fight against all animal cruelty, and increasingly, the equal rights of wild nature to live freely in their own habitat.

There are many things I don’t agree with that I won’t take the time to fight against right now. For instance, I disagree with using salt on winter roads, but I’m not willing to take the time to fight for a less eroding alternative.  That’s going to have to be someone else’s fight.

I’m sure you have a lot of things in your life that you don’t like or want to change. Which of those are personally important to you, that you’re willing to spend your energy on? Not that’s important to your spouse or loved one, unless they are that important to you; but that deeply moves you, so that you can sustain the effort it will take to stand up for.

  • Be clear on what you want to gain. Is it something that can happen this year with effort? Or in a few years’ time? Or something that can only get started in this lifetime? Gloria Steinem didn’t have a clear idea in 1967 of what she was ultimately fighting for; all she knew then was that she wanted to empower more women. So she decided to walk in the Civil Rights march (after having almost talked herself out of it).
  • Take action. All of us has more power than we know. We have the power to influence the course of our lives and of others’ lives. Ms. Steinem showed up in 1967 and walked. That’s all she did that day. And that led to other things that ultimately culminated in a world-wide women’s rights movement. Every step she took was scary and required a huge stretch on her part. That’s true for you and me.

What is important to you right now, and what can you do to make it a reality?  How can you stand up for yourself today?

Now I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences, knowledge, opinions.  In the comments below, share one thing that you experienced as a mirror moment that changed your day, or even your life.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

3 Lessons on success from an Arab business woman

Standing up for Yourself

Quote of the Week
How many more of us are faking the facade? How many more of us are pretending to be something we’re not? Even better, how many of us will have the courage to be ourselves regardless of what others think?
― Katie McGarry, Dare You To

Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

Start this year with joy

joy

If there is one thing that we all have in common, it’s that we all want to be happy.  It’s something you know about me, and I know about you.  And according to Brother David Steindl-Rast, the way to happiness is through gratitude.

Brother Steindl-Rast is a Benedictine monk, living in a priory in Austria, in his 90’s, and known the world over for his views on gratitude.  You can listen to him talk about gratitude in his Ted Talk on happiness.

When I think of happiness, I think of people and places that make me happy – places and people I love and have wonderful memories of.  But when I think of living happy, I think of living in joy.

Joy, for Steindl-Rast, is the kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.  We can experience this joy even in the midst of great sadness. When we lose a dear friend, under normal rather than catastrophic circumstances, there is a joy as we are present with the event at the same time that there is deep sadness.

This kind of happiness – this joy – is the kind of happiness that lasts, and is with us every day.

And it comes from gratitude, or in Steindl-Rast’s terms, gratefulness.  When he speaks of gratitude, he’s really speaking of connection through being present with what is. He sees gratitude as part of belonging; that there can be no gratitude without belonging, and no belonging without gratitude.

A simple example – when we eat, we’re eating earth, the products of earth. Salt, vegetables that are nourished and come almost directly from earth, animals who ultimately ingest vegetable matter. This is all connected to earth.  Then there are all the people who cultivated the land, growing, collecting and processing those vegetables, and the animals that go into the making of the food. Even the table you eat on, the bowl and utensils you use to eat, the chair you sit on while you eat. All of this and much more go into the food you might be eating this moment.

Everything we do we have this direct connection to, and he calls this The Great Mystery.

There is a daily practice that you can do anywhere and at any time to experience this gratefulness. To fill yourself with joy.  He calls it Stop! Look! Go!

Stop! Listen, attend –  Stop and see what the present moment has for you. It is whatever this moment presents in a split second. The sound of the heater, for instance.

Look! Behold – look at the unique opportunity this moment has for you. The warmth the heater sends into the room; the sound it makes that becomes a background of a strange kind of stillness.  The materials it’s made of; where those materials came from, and the many hands that went into digging the raw materials and shaping them into the parts of the heater.  The animals and plants that were displaced by the process, and the way they adjusted. What I must do to adjust to the limitations of my own world?

Go!   – avail yourself of this opportunity. My appreciation of that heater, and my connection to it, everyone who had a hand in making it, all the animals whose lives have been impacted by it, and how I can gain strength in facing my own daily challenges of adjustment.

Doing this simple exercise will give you an immediate feedback of joy.

 

If you’re interested in knowing about your natural character traits, you might be interested in Discover Your Natural Character [link to https://thejoyofliving.co/events/ ]

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

How to be relaxed instead of a wound-up mess during holiday season

We’re getting close to the most stressful time of the year, where people’s fuses are short and everyone’s wound up.  There’s even something called the Holiday Heart Syndrome.

holiday season

This kind of time is when you might find yourself reacting to something you’re usually cool about, regretting what you say the minute it’s out of your mouth. This reaction is automatic and is part of our stress-response system.

When we feel stressed, at the end of our rope, overwhelmed … in other words, when we are stretched to our limit – like now during the holiday season – reacting is our body’s way of dealing as fast as possible to whatever it is that’s stressing us.  The thing is that this is hard-wired and completely automatic – and it doesn’t differentiate between real and perceived threats.  If you think about it, this makes sense: if it were a real physical threat, we wouldn’t have time to do anything but react as fast as possible.  There is no rom for deliberation, considering our options.  By the time we did that, we’d probably be dead or maimed.

Some call this our lizard brain, or inner lizard – because it’s probably the oldest part of our brain system. And one we share will all other creatures with brains. But in our everyday lives, it’s rare to be faced with something truly dangerous to our physical well-being. Our lizard-brain simply interprets it that way. So, the big question is: How can we stop this automated descent into raw aggression and deal with the situation with something else? How can we turn a reaction into a response?

The key to doing this is to make sure our inner lizard is content.  It doesn’t take much. The thing that will get our lizard going is continued stress, especially if we’re already at the point of no more resources. Because at this point, anything can set us off.

It’s so different when we aren’t stressed. You’ve experienced the difference yourself. Remember those times when you felt happy and relaxed; energized and present.  When things went wrong then, how well did you handle them? Were they that big a deal? Probably not!

If you want to avoid reacting this holiday season, and be ready to respond instead, the most critical thing you can do for yourself is to avoid stress.  If you find yourself with a long list of to do’s, you can try what Martha Beck calls the 3 B’s: bag it, barter it, or better it.

  • Bag it: do you really need to do it, or can it fall off your immediate list of things to get done? Sometimes, we have things we want to get done, but don’t absolutely have to get them done.  Be ruthless and delete them.  At least for now.
  • Barter it: can you give this to someone else to get done? Or is it something only you can do? If it’s the latter, are there parts that are essential, and can you bag the rest?  In reality, there isn’t much we must do ourselves, or minimize so that it can actually get done.  Really, the only person who will likely notice the difference is you. And if minimizing also means peace of mind, then it’s worth it!
  • Better it: this means connecting the task to something that makes it feel good for you instead of something that stresses you out. If it’s spending hours getting gifts for everyone coming to your party, how can you make it fun? How can you reward yourself afterwards in a way that relaxes you? Again, are there parts that aren’t really necessary? Are there parts that can be delegated to others – or traded for things you can do at a later date?

The point: there are ways of making the overwhelming doable and even enjoyable.  There are ways of getting out of stress-response and into your own relaxed on-top-of-things self, even during holiday season.

 

If you’re interested in knowing more about natural character traits, you might be interested in Discover Your Natural Character.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

How to survive holiday dinners

holiday dinners

It started for those in the US at Thanksgiving, and will continue until the New Year is finally here – family gatherings, family dinners, where everyone we don’t see for the rest of the year is together for a long while.  Sometimes, it seems, a really long while.  There’s a reason you haven’t seen them for a year or more, and that may be because every time you’re together, bad feelings result.  Your brother is hard right and you’re hard left; your sister is born-again and you’re an atheist.  There are so many things people can strongly disagree on, that we end up coming to family gatherings expecting to be bored at best, and boiling at worst.  But never actually enjoying ourselves.

Well, you know your family best, but it may be possible to change that dynamic. There’s a Native American tradition that many have heard of, called the talking stick.  In traditional households, the talking stick is used to deal with disputes between members.  The way it works is that whoever is holding the stick has the floor.  Of course, there are some rules: the person holding the floor, for instance, talks about their feelings and don’t use the stick to blame the other. The other person – the one who’s hearing the speaker out – is meant to take a position of openness, really hearing what is being said in an open and non-defensive way (which they can only do if they aren’t feeling attacked).

We can do something similar at those dreaded family gatherings: open a space inside us to really hear what the other is saying, looking from their point of view, attempting to see how it makes sense to them.  This can be really difficult.  If it proves too much, then you might try what a close friend does every time he’s with his brother. He remembers the countless times they had fun together and relied on one another.  When he does that, his heart opens, and he can have a close and heartfelt time with someone whose views are very opposed to his.

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

 

 

Lizard brain – how to make yours work for you

The Lizard brain is the oldest and, some argue, the most primitive part of our brain system. It’s something all vertebrates are born with; it’s our first warning system that acts up when anything we interpret as dangerous approaches us.

For all other animals with lizard brains, the danger they sense is as potentially real as they imagine.  Not so for us humans. Or at least, not for us humans who live in secure dwellings and eat at least one good meal a day. We don’t actually have a lot of things to be that afraid of, and yet, given the nature of our lizard brain, it will find something to tell us about.

When I think of mine, I do actually think of a lizard.  Often it’s tiny, albeit annoying.  Sometimes it’s a full-sized komodo dragon, and terrifying. Our lizard brain is always engaged when we’re stressed or anxious.

There are lots about this topic in books and over the internet – anything about stress is a big topic these days.  Martha Beck talks about it in Steering by Starlight.

The thing about our lizard brain is that it’s here to stay. So, we can either befriend it or not.  I don’t know about you, but when I don’t make friends with my lizard, it ends up ruling me. I’ve tried everything: from being “adult” and ignoring it because it’s non-sensical, to staying home, gorging on chips and ice cream, hoping I can mollify it. The only thing that works is if I acknowledge it, even appreciate what it does for me, then find a way to work with it.

Just like the real thing, our lizard brain is purely sensual. It’s responses are limited and automatic.  The minute we feel threatened – real or not – it jumps into action. So the only way to work with it is to see what it needs to be happy once again.

Seriously. I’ve talked about this before. For instance, let’s say I’m getting ready to speak somewhere.  This is an activity that can really get my lizard going. I start wondering if people will like my talk … whether I’ve got enough information … whether the topic is right or completely wrong.  The longer I wonder, the more wound up my lizard gets until it’s the only thing I can see.

When I see what’s happening, the first thing I do is get calm – it might be a walk, or lying down in a cool, dark place and breathing for a while.  Then in that calm place, I see what’s really bothering me, and address it directly.  And, in appreciation of my lizard for being so alert, I reward myself with something it likes – like a latte.

I’m not always so on top of things, but when I am, this works. Every time.

Now I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences, knowledge, opinions.  In the comments below, share one thing that you experienced as a mirror moment that changed your day, or even your life.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

Seth Godin – On overcoming the Lizard Brain

 Quote of the Week
The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe. ― Seth Godin

Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

The good committee – your own

The good committee

Seth Godin , in his blog Five Contributions, listed the 5 positions that make a well-functioning team: Leader, Manager, Salesperson, Craftsperson, and Contributor. Each of these players have skills and abilities that are unique and that combine to generate success.

The Leader is the pathfinder.  The person who is first to step into the unknown: an ability that is essential for forging any new path. The Manager takes responsibility for determining and managing the work needed to achieve the goals set by the Leader.  The Salesperson “turns a maybe into a yes”, showing others the value of what is being created and generating an interest in participating or purchasing.  The Craftsperson is the creative, using their abilities to actually produce the promised product in a way that attracts. And the Contributor fills in whatever blanks are left to ensure that promises are kept.

That’s an apt description of a well-functioning team.  It’s also an apt description of the autonomous person – one who lives life on their own terms. It doesn’t mean that such a person lives like a hermit, not needing or wanting anyone else in their lives. It simply means that they, on their own, are leader, manager, salesperson, craftsperson, and contributor.  They are the ones who forge new paths, determine their own goals, work out the requirements of achieving those goals, generate whatever is needed, and ultimately makes sure the job gets done – well and on time.

This kind of person isn’t rare. It’s every self-employed person who’s either achieved success or is on their way (whether they know it yet or not). It’s anyone who’s entire focus is directed towards their dream, for as long as they are so directed.

We have the potential to be autonomous. Each of these skills are also character traits that we all have, to some degree or another, and can gain mastery over.

If you’re actively pursuing your own dream, and have hit a blimp – large or small – it might be worth remembering that you have everything you need to either do what’s necessary, or negotiate for the help you need.  Either way, your dreams are real and achievable.

 

If you’re interested in knowing more about natural character traits, you might be interested in Discover Your Natural Character.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Karma

How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.
-Wayne Dyer

A few nights ago, my partner and I triggered each other, followed by 20 minutes of silence.  Why? Because neither of us wanted to say something we’d regret. So we waited until we got our big person voices back before talking about it.

Yes, that deserves a pat on the back, because it hasn’t always seemed possible to hold back the floodgates when I’m triggered.

Today was a different story – I spent it with a help desk.  From 4:30 in the afternoon till 8:30, I was on the phone with customer service. Three calls: I eventually hung up on the first call after waiting on hold for over an hour.  The second call hung up on me and didn’t call me back. On the third try I got lucky and discovered what the problem was and how to fix it. I amused myself in between calls working out how much this was costing in phone bills. If I ever hear the music that company played over and over while waiting again, I may just go to the competitor.

I don’t know how considerate and calm I was during the process.  Not very near the 2-hour mark.  But by the time I’d hit number three, I had calmed down enough to speak with care and focus on getting the issue solved. I hate to admit it, but that might have contributed to the resolution.

And then I was reminded by Mr. Dyer about karma.

Now I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences, knowledge, opinions.  In the comments below, share one thing that you experienced as a mirror moment that changed your day, or even your life.

This newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1; the third is a quote. I hope you enjoy the richness this brings to the topic of the week with all three parts.

Alan Watts – On Karma

Quote of the Week
If you’re really a mean person you’re going to come back as a fly and eat poop.
― Kurt Cobain

Announcements
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

Too fond of play, Fooled for clothing

fooled

 

I woke one morning having dreamt that title (might even be too fond of it).  It was after binge-watching Mad Men.  So appropriate, since I felt I was on a bender until it was done.

I’d resisted watching it for years – because I’d lived it – but eventually, curiosity won out.  What I felt was a gradual descent into an old hell, re-awakening the women’s libber in me, bringing back the pain of those times – and also for a brief while, my great dislike of men. I remember talking about the series to a friend, who agreed that it is an incredibly accurate portrayal of those times, and of corporate America.

After WWII, society had, en masse, chosen to give all jobs to the men returning from the war, and re-locate all women to the home and motherhood. Growing up as a female child, I saw so many women end up either drunk most of the time or in psych wards.  When I entered the corporate work force at the age of 17, I watched – spell-bound – as boys my age were speed-walked through the ranks in a few months, while women who had been there for years stayed put. I decided that I would be one of the women who would change that. And I did, only to discover the truth in that old cliché “Be careful what you wish for”.

But like everyone else reaching for that elusive prestigious position that would bestow on me respect and acceptance, I hid myself behind what I thought was acceptable. By whom? Why, by all those other people doing the same thing! And because I hid myself – even from myself  – I became a fool for clothing – for appearance over substance.

I don’t know how many of you reading this experienced something similar; even so many years after WWII, after women’s lib, and after the great leaps in civility we’ve accomplished, we live fearfully. There is so much worry and anxiety that it’s hard not to hide behind the mask of acceptability.

But there is a problem with hiding behind this mask. The problem is that it will never lead to being happy with life. I keep thinking of the 5 main regrets of the dying; one of these regrets was about not doing what they had always wanted to do. Not trying it at least. Not even tasting it.

If you feel you may be hiding, I’m not about to suggest you throw off your cloak and reveal all. If that act doesn’t give you a heart attack on the spot, it might at least put you in real peril.  After all, all your friends and associates are very used to the hidden version of you. Instead, I suggest you find some small thing that gives you a taste.  Then if that feels good to you, take another taste, then another.

Eventually, you might find yourself, one day, in a surprisingly different world; one where everything is color and sound, taste and smell; where you feel more alive than you ever remember feeling.

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Mon, Dad and the Kids – How our families help us grow

family

I sit and watch a friend agonizing over something she’s writing, moaning she’s no good at this kind of thing. She does this all the time.  She writes for a living and is really pretty good at it, but that doesn’t stop the moaning and occasional self-doubt.

It may be true that she wasn’t born with a natural talent to put words on paper. I really can’t think of anyone who is. But she’s developed that talent: encouraged by teachers and family, not only to pursue what she wanted to pursue, but also by their own power of example, showing her how to live successfully. Her accomplishment is just as real and “valid” as if she were born with it. She’s worked really hard to get to the level of competence she’s at, and I applaud her.

Seth Godin, in his recent blog titled The Musclebound Baby, reminded me that when we see a person with a lot of muscles, we don’t assume they were born that way.  Instead we assume they worked hard to develop those muscles.

Family traits are way more than what gets handed down through genes.  We all know that. How our parents raise us; how we were nurtured by them; how they modeled being an adult to us; even the family culture – all of these are major influencers in the way we develop.  There’s even some evidence that some traits are picked up at a cellular level, even if not genetically (For instance, we now know that if a mother is malnourished during pregnancy, she will carry that information in her cells to her offspring down the generations).

What I find so cool is knowing that whatever I’ve picked up from my parents, I can use to build up my strength.  Sure, I can also use them to limit myself, but I’d rather see what I can make of them to expand my capabilities and options.

Like my friend, who learnt through dogged effort (which she learned from her Mother) to write well.

 

NOTE: the photo above is from a BING screenshot.  It’s something you can get, as I did, if you have a Windows Operating System.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .

Our fickle memory

memory

True story: a man and his fiancé were going out for the evening.  As it happened, his car was like one that was driven by a man who’d just raped a woman.  He also looked a little like the aggressor.  The police spotted his car and picked him up.  The he was put in a line-up, and the victim noted that he looked “like” the perpetrator.

That was enough for the police and he was charged.  By the time the trial came along 6 months later, the victim was now saying he “was” the same guy.  This man was convicted and sent to jail. He was a fighter and managed to convince an investigative reporter to take up his story – and that reporter found the real criminal.

You might be thinking: Whew! I’m so glad he got off and was completely exonerated.  Well, he did and he was, but he couldn’t let the injustice go. It cost him his job, his fiancé and all his savings. He died in his 30’s of a stress-related heart attack.

This story was told by Elizabeth Loftus, a scientist who studies memory.  Ms. Loftus gives more examples on how our memories are faulty.  More to the point, our memories are most faulty when we are in a stressful situation, like that female victim was. She goes on to show how politicians, ad agencies, and the like, use this fact to manipulate others. What I’d like to focus on, instead, is how we can manipulate ourselves with false memories.

I have a story about my brother and father. My brother has a different story. My sister, who wasn’t actually present but heard about the incident has yet a different one.  Which is true? From my perspective, I was attempting to save a situation; my brother was trying to escape it, and my sister may have been trying to support my brother and father.  We were seeing the event from quite different perspectives, and were focused on different things.  We were all excited and even anxious, and that no doubt leant weight to how we saw it.

Which of the stories is true?  I don’t know. I believe that parts of what I remember are true and objective; so does my brother.

That’s one of my childhood stories.  Here’s another one: As a child, I wanted to get my mother a birthday gift and didn’t have any money.  It was early summer, the lilacs were coming into bloom, and I saw an opportunity.  I visited every yard in my neighborhood and cut a few lilac stems from each yard.  Then I went door to door selling back these lilacs.   At the time, I thought this idea was brilliant (and a little cheeky – my excuse being I was a kid), and I made enough to buy Mom her gift.  I like that memory, and remember it whenever I feel stumped.

I have other childhood memories that aren’t as pleasant, and that can bring up feelings of insecurity and self-doubt.  But if I can change the perspective, even a little, those stories cease to trouble me and get in my way.

Part of who we are, are our stories. Our stories provide a powerful context for how we see ourselves.  So it makes sense that if we change that context, we also change who we are. For instance, let’s say a child was hit by a stranger, and managed to crawl into something the stranger couldn’t reach.  If that child remembered the event with the man as huge and all-powerful, and him – the boy – as small and powerless, that will impact him and his life in one way.  If instead he remembered the event as the man being huge and brutish, and him – the boy – as smart and resourceful, that will impact in a completely different way.

Same story.  Which is true?

We all have childhood stories.  Some are empowering and some aren’t.  We have the power to change our perspective on the disempowering stories, and thereby improve our lives.

You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.

Toni Morrisson, Song of Solomon

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .