feelings

We can decide to deal or bail.

God. That feeling of wanting to just get the F out…of everything.

Isn’t it strong these days? Or maybe all the time? And now we’re just more conscious of it because it’s being mirrored back to us on social media and we realized, “wow. It’s not just me who isn’t feeling particularly content with Life. It isn’t just me who wants to leave this total bomb of a party.”

Yep.

Life ain’t great, sometimes.

Is it really worse now more than ever?

Does it get harder with age?

Is it really because of the current administration?

I don’t think so. I think it’s just the fundamental human tendency to want to avoid “bad” and experience “good”. I didn’t make it up. I learned it from 1,000s of hours studying and practicing Buddhism and other behavioral change theories. Did you know I had a master’s degree in identity and change? Yup. I do.

So that’s why I don’t think it’s worse than ever. I DO think it isn’t a necessarily FUN time to be alive, but you know what? Lots of people have shitty lives that don’t begin or end with one person being the President of the United States. You know what I mean? Some perspective helps, sometimes.

Life is unpleasant on the regular depending on who you’re talking to and about. For some of us, the unpleasant times come and go because we have enough privilege to cling to. Like Rose in Titanic. For the most part, we have these little pieces of wood that keep us afloat. Some people don’t have that. Some people are Jack.

Many people think more privilege helps make life better. People who have, “X advantage” have it easier and if you had that advantage, your life would work or feel better.

I used to think this, for sure, but then from coaching those people as my clients, I learned that even folks with money and identity privilege access than one could use in a lifetime feel the weight of struggle, grief and insecurity.

I’m not saying it doesn’t make life more comfortable but…well, I AM saying that. I think it’s a fallacy to retire. Privilege gets you access and things—but not comfort or happiness.

Money cannot buy inner peace or happiness if it doesn’t reside inside to begin with and, these days, privilege can often be more of a liability than an advantage.

And so the haves and have-nots share in common that thing that keeps us all going, that struggle to survive and make it through. To make things better. To right wrongs and resolve things and try to get a damn handhold to take a breather. To get “there” (where is that?). Basically, to make happy happen.

Despite our best efforts at this, shit just keeps happening, doesn’t it? ARGH! We try to get all our ducks in a row or be brave and try something exciting and it just doesn’t work. Things don’t go as we hoped or planned. As soon as we move this thing into place, something else slips out. Like whack-a-mole.

Then what do we do? Well, we’re all faced with the ultimate decision of LEFT or RIGHT. Well, standing still counts, too. I shouldn’t forget that. Wu wei is full of wisdom in and of itself (but I’ll write more on that later). For now, I’m just speaking to that moment we all face when we have to choose. No, when we GET to choose.

LEFT or RIGHT. Do I do this? Or that? Do I run or stand and face it?

Do I hold my seat or run for cover and check out. Do I deal or bail.

We all have that choice. We have it hundreds of times each day. Everything in our lives is a choice. And the choices we make determine how our lives go and what happens to us. And how we impact others.

BUT THIS IS HARD TO ACCEPT. So we fight it, often unconsciously, since it causes cognitive dissonance to have to face it. I’m not trying to be condescending (because, trust me, this took me way too long to understand and accept, myself, and I’m always a work in progress) but it forces us to grow up a little. And growing up, adulting as the kids call it, is unpleasant and uncomfortable in so many ways.

So it gets tempting to want to avoid it and check out. To run. To bail. To ditch. Come up with any way you want to say it.

We all want to bail. We ALL WANT to. But whether or not we do determines our character and our quality of life. Because we could bail, sure, but whatever we bail on will still be waiting for us in some way.

Like the lentils. My dad told this story all the time. He loved telling stories so I obviously inherited that gene because it sure wasn’t from growing up with him. My parents divorced when I wasn’t even a year old, but when we did have our court-appointed visits with him, he would tell this story over and over. I practically have it committed to memory, that’s how well oral tradition works!

This bowl of lentils was his dinner one night when he was a boy. His mom served it to him and he wanted no part of it so he sat and didn’t eat it. And his father warned him to eat and still he refused. You probably know where this is going.

My dad went to bed and woke up and sitting on the dining room table sat that same bowl of lentils, now cold and congealed, waiting as his breakfast.

Damn, I can’t remember the end. Sorry! Let’s pretend he had to either eat that nasty shit or go hungry for the day. Either one wouldn’t be a great option.

I remember that story, and so many others, and the amount of times in my life I just felt that feeling of not wanting what was happening in my life to be happening. I wanted to eject pilot seat and disappear. I wanted to run or refuse it. I wanted someone to swoop in and fix it. I wanted someone to come and save me!

For better or for worse, I grew up with no safety net. None. So I learned from an early age that you face the music and take responsibility. Or you can run, but wherever you go, there you are.

But I only learned this after years of bailing in all kinds of different ways. It didn’t feel like it at the time. I thought I was “fixing” things. And maybe sometimes what I did was a solution, in the short or long-term, but sometimes it wasn’t.

And after lots of hours spent reading books and sitting in therapy or Buddhist retreats and personal development trainings (I was on a search, you can tell), I learned that running only prolongs the pain. And sometimes (often) it makes things worse. I’m sure I’m not telling you something you don’t already know.

Or maybe I am! Maybe this is some insight that you didn’t have before. Or a nice reminder of that wisdom inside you that hangs out and waits for you to remember it when you’re hanging on a moment of depression or anxiety. And you’re wondering why your life is going like this.

Maybe this will help you understand it a bit better. Or see it differently.

And maybe you’ll remember when you’re feeling like crap and want to bail, that everyone feels this way. Everyone comes face to face with the feelings that they just don’t want to feel. And people make all sorts of decisions about what they do, say, eat, drink, watch or THINK to avoid those not-fun feelings.

We all want to feel good and don’t want to feel bad.

But if we can remember we aren’t alone in that, it might help. And if we remember that bowl of lentils, we can decide to swallow what isn’t pleasant in the moment so the consequence, all cold and jelly-like, isn’t sitting waiting for us.

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 To Heal a Broken Heart

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Sometimes, loving means losing.

If you aren’t waking up in partnered bliss (or something close to it) this morning, here are some words to perhaps comfort you. Whether you’re single and alone by choice, chance or due to a recent death of a beloved partner, you may find yourself catching your breath a few times today—and maybe shedding a tear or two for memories or dashed hopes.

For me, the sadness of missing a certain someone hurts more than the fear of being alone without a Valentine. I don’t want a placeholder as much as I miss the heart, mind and spirit of a beloved person I held dear.

Having loved and lost more than once in my life, here is my best advice to heal a broken heart.

1)   Grieve it

Whether it happened on purpose, by accident or because a life ended, it’s an ending. It’s a loss and losses aren’t easy for us humans. Some are more welcome than others, especially if we made the choice to end the relationship. But if you find yourself not exactly leaping for joy and dancing in the streets, I recommend you spend significant time grieving the loss you’ve experienced. Many people, if not most, often jump to the next thing: the next person, the next job, the next topic of conversation. They push down or avoid the feelings about the loss or absence or the way things ended. It’s hard, painful stuff and many people find it easier to numb out and “move on” by compartmentalizing and avoiding the grieving process. But I don’t recommend this. It catches up to you, eventually. I recommend you do and do it good. Go through the pictures. Thumb through the hand-written notes. Remind yourself of what you valued and treasured about that person. And hold it alongside the truth of what hurt or didn’t feel right and good for you. A healthy grieving process will earn you years of authentic healing and solace in the long-term. You’ll be able to make real peace with what happened, whatever it was.

2)   Consider your part

If the ending or loss happened despite your best efforts, it’s really easy to blame or shame the other person. This feels good in the short-term but rarely does anything to really help us build character. Having done this myself in relationships and jobs, I know how tempting it is to nurture the victim part of us that wants to feel wronged or hurt, abandoned or rejected. We want the other side to hurt too, dammit! This is natural because we are human, but it won’t help you truly forgive and forget. It also increases the chances that we will perpetuate our contribution, whatever it was, in the next situation. Sometimes, we do this to preserve our sense of self, and we can miss seeing something that would be good to know about ourselves. If you consider and fully contemplate whatever your part was, you’re one step closer to being part of the solution and prevention of it repeating itself again in your life. Or you might get insight you never had before and you can see the other person in a totally different light. Which is a good thing-for you and other people in your life.

3) Say what you need to say

A lot of people are really bad listeners. Don’t talk to those people. They are often too self-absorbed and caught up in their own lives to pay attention to what you’re saying. Chances are, they haven’t fully grieved losses in their own lives and they won’t bear witness to your process in a way that really helps you. Find people who don’t say cliche things like, “he/she is resting in peace” or “sorry it didn’t work out” or “it wasn’t meant to be.” You have a broken heart! It hurts! Platitudes don’t honor the deeply-rooted and real feelings you’re experiencing. Talk to a professional and/or compassionate friends who make you feel heard and supported in your process, however long it takes. If it is safe or welcomed, express anything that remains for you to the other person. Or write a letter or email and delete it. Over and over again. Until it’s all out. When you can safely process all the feelings you have about the complexity of the loss and its impact on your past, present and future, you increase your chances of healing sooner and more completely.

4)   Practice forgiveness

Whatever happened, happened for a good reason. Sometimes it takes us months or years to fully understand and appreciate this, but having experienced tremendous heartbreak numerous times, I can tell you that with every fiber of my being. If the person left or died suddenly, forgive the abrupt ending. Is it harder or easier for you to forgive someone who has passed on? Or how about someone who is still alive but out of contact? Don’t try to see the meaning right away, it may not be apparent. But you can practice forgiving yourself and the other party for whatever shortcomings or shortsightedness led to the loss. People do and say things coming from their given capacity at the time, and it is unfortunate and frustrating when the needs, interests and abilities of each partner don’t match up. Consider what you did and didn’t do or say that worked or didn’t work. Give yourself a break, because you probably did what you could—or wanted to do—at the time.

5) Practice platonic love

I’m assuming you have at least one if not MANY people in your life. And I bet you love them all a lot. Spend the day calling them or emailing them or texting heart emojis. Tell your kids, tell your parents, siblings and friends about your gratitude for them. Hug them. Make Valentine’s Day cards for your plants who selflessly receive your carbon dioxide and give out oxygen day in and day out. Send love to strangers on the street or in countries far away. Within minutes of doing this, you’ll realize that time spent mourning the loss of one person, however significant that person was, is time you can also invest in other relationships in your life. You could probably spend the day making cards for everyone you’ve ever loved in your life and not finish before it’s time to go to bed.

If you do all these things, I hope you find and feel more peace than you did when you began reading this article. Perhaps it revealed something new for you and can help you reach a different stage of your healing process.

For more information, read up on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her theory about the stages of grief. You can find where you are in your process and remember how many people share your feelings around the world. Know that time, will indeed, heal your heart if you help it along just a bit.