Tag Archives: choice

How I Stopped Being Negative

Ok. I’ll admit that I haven’t stopped being negative. That’s a bit of an over exaggeration and, frankly, not very realistic.

Instead, “How I Became Less Negative” is probably a more accurate title. Despite semantics, I am less negative than I once was. So, how?

I decided to be less negative

Sounds simple, right? Sounds unrealistic too, I’m sure. I’m not saying that by deciding to be less negative I automatically was. Obviously, that ideology doesn’t fit with reality.

But I made a conscious choice to actively try to be less negative. This involved really looking at how I behave and calling myself out when I notice myself acting in a negative manner (ie. complaining, whining, looking only at the cons and ignoring the pros, acting from a black/white all or nothing point of view and generally being a Debbie Downer.)

♪ You’re enjoying your day, everything’s going your way, when along comes Debbie Downer. Always there to tell you ’bout a new disease, a car accident, or killer bees. You beg her to spare you, ‘Debbie, please!’ but you can’t stop Debbie Downer! ♫

Stop publicly complaining

There’s a difference between stating that “things are hard” or that you are struggling and putting every negative aspect of your life on display without balancing it with the positive. If you want to be less negative, you have to put less negativity out there.

When I initially decided to be less negative I looked at my facebook wall and I noticed that most of my posts were negative, complaining, poor-me-nothing-ever-goes-my-way, everything sucks updates.

I posted nearly every negative thing that happened throughout my day. While I may have felt better to vent these things at the time, later looking back it only justified and proved (my perceived belief of) how shitty my life was. So I tried to stop presenting every perceived “poor me” moment.

Look at and present both the negative and the positive

I also noticed that these negative posts were almost all I posted. From the viewpoint of someone only seeing me through my facebook, nothing positive ever happened to me.

Even if every negative post I made was 100% accurate (and not skewed or exaggerated) my omission of positive updates only fed my cycle of negativity and this was only on facebook! What level of negativity did I present in my actual physical daily life!

Sometimes it isn’t easy for us to see the positives in our life. It’s certainly a lot easier to see the negatives. But only focusing on the negative encourages more negative and presents an inaccurate viewpoint to others and ourselves.

While you don’t want to be Debbie Downer and only see the negative, you also don’t want to ONLY see the positive. Any ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking leads to extremes and a disconnect from reality (I mean, look at her!, she’s YELLOW!)

Even the worst situations have something positive, despite how small it might be.

I don’t want to live in an all or nothing, black or white, negative mindset. Am I always positive and never negative? No. Like seemingly everything else in life, its finding a balance and I choose to try to see both the negative and the positive, with neither weighing greater.

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Related Posts:

Focus on Success

Even in the Pain There is Beauty

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Adjusting the Sails

There are some things in life that we have control over, that we can change, that we can influence. There are also many things that we have no ability to alter.

How very often there is difficulty distinguishing between the two.

Sometimes, we just need to go with the wind. To accept that, in this moment, this is what we have.

And make the best of it – “adusting the sails”.

We may not end up with what we were hoping for, what we imagined, what we had planned and set sail for…

But, if we stop struggling against the wind – complaining and expecting it to change – we may find that where the wind takes us is just as nice or even better than where we had imagined we would go.

Avoidance & Distraction

The act of avoiding something or distracting yourself from something can be very useful in tolerating painful events or emotions when you can’t make things better immediately. This can be a subconscious action but often works best when consciously decided.

When we’re feeling distressed, distracting ourselves with other activities, thoughts, emotions and sensations can allow our focus to shift from a negative, stressful place to a place that feels more tolerable. The same can be said for avoiding distressing events, people, tasks, etc.

However, if we constantly avoid and distract ourselves from things that cause us distress, we inadvertently give those things more power and allow them to appear bigger, scarier and more stressful than they may really be (see On Vulnerability). This can also lead to unintentional inattention in other areas of our lives (see Procrastination).

Avoidance
Noun
The act of keeping away from, keeping clear of; preventing from happening

Temporary use of avoidance and distraction as coping skills works well, but they shouldn’t become a “way of life”. If we constantly avoid and distract ourselves from things that cause us distress, we never allow ourselves the ability to work through them and, hopefully, overcome them.

We also might be missing out on some very pleasant experiences that just happen to accidentally get overlooked.

I’m not saying to be reckless. Or put yourself in the way of obvious danger. But if you constantly distract yourself from feeling negative emotions or experiencing potentially distressing events, you’re doing yourself a disfavor.

Distraction
Noun
The act of drawing away or diverting; separating or dividing (such as one’s attention)

In order to ever truly live fully, we must at some point face the things that distress us. I know you don’t want to hear that. I don’t want to either. I’d much rather go on believing that if I avoid it, if I distract myself from it, if I pretend that it doesn’t exist that it cannot effect me.

But it does.

Think about something you’re avoiding. Start with something small – a paper you need to write, a task you need to complete, a phone call you’ve been putting off…

Just thinking about it, I can feel a knot in my stomach forming. A sickish, uncomfortable feeling. It’s much easier to avoid or distract myself from thinking about it. The sickish feeling goes away. I can breathe easier and go about my day.

Until the distressful thing comes up again. Someone mentions it. My mind wanders to it. I’m confronted with it face to face. Now, the sickish feeling is worse. The know in my stomach has grown.

I can keep avoiding it seemingly forever, distracting myself to better tolerate the feelings. But it still exists. And it will keep popping up, often at horrible times, the sickish feeling constantly growing.

Avoiding something makes it easier to tolerate, but it doesn’t make the distress go away. At some point you need to face the thing(s) that causes you distress.

When you choose to do so is your choice. So is how. And how much. But as long as you avoid it and distract yourself from it, it’s still there. And it will still cause you distress.

Even in the Pain There is Beauty

There are times, so many times, when it seems like there couldn’t possibly be another thing you could handle. No possible way you could deal with anything else.

And then life hands you another lemon (or whatever vague analogy you’d prefer to use) and you’re faced with the requirement of dealing with that too.

There are people who will tell you stories about how when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Or that when one door closes, another opens.

These are cute inspirational sayings but I won’t insult you with such simplicities. Sure, sayings such as these can sometimes help to uplift us.

But sometimes, life just sucks. And there isn’t necessarily any good reason why. Or any reason at all.

I can’t tell you why some people seem to constantly have bad things happen to them. Really I can’t tell you anything.

Because I don’t know.

I think a lot… about everything. One concept I inevitably come back to is that of reality.

What is real? How do you define real? Is this the real life? Is this just fantasyyyyy? (Sorry, sometimes I can’t help but fall into lyrics).

Reality is constructed, by those around us and ourselves. And what you believe, externally and internally, to be true is what’s real for you.

As someone who helps construct reality (and so MANY things in this world), you do have some say in how you construct your beliefs and perspective.

Bad shit isn’t going to stop happening because you have this knowledge, but this knowledge can allow you to alter your perceptive of said bad shit in the context of your life.

We can’t predict the future and we can’t control it. Neither can we control the past. Whatever you focus on is what life is for you at any given moment. Focus on the negatives in your life and that’s what your life is for you. Focus on worries, that’s what your life is. Focus on gratitude and positives and, yep, that’s what your life is for you.

It’s so difficult to not solely focus on the negatives when there are so many presented to you.

Like when your kid is sick and you have to miss school to stay home with them and your car breaks down so you can’t even make the doctor’s appointment you were lucky to get — this is when life seems overwhelmingly horrible.

Or like when your relationship with someone is stressed and you’ve been trying to deal with their addiction while remaining detached enough not to get hurt, but also attached enough to still care and you just can’t save them. Because you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved and slowly you watch them change from the person you loved the most into the saddest stranger you’ve ever seen.

You start stacking all of these negative things, overlapping one another, and you’re stretching yourself out to continue at the same, or higher, level of productivity for an endless period of time. It’s difficult to see life as anything but negative.

But if you looked back at your horrible day or week or year, really look, you’ll see that there is likely positive things as well. The day your car broke down and your child was sick allowed you moments with your child that you both enjoyed and may seldom get to have. Even in the really painful moments there are spaces of positivity. If anything, there is growth and beauty in pain if we allow there to be.

So yes, shit sucks. But you do the best you can with what you have in this moment and you continue to work on improving yourself. People aren’t perfect. Life sure as hell isn’t perfect. You just keep moving forward, getting through each day. And as the Monty Python song goes, “Always look on the bright side of life…”

Needing/Getting

I love OK Go’s new video. SO much.

For one, the video is brilliant and encompasses so much more than just music. It’s, by all accounts, performance art. And it’s amazing.

And then there’s the lyrics. I posted the first verse below the video, but really listen to what they’re singing.

I was going to post about how horrible my day/week, etc has been and ponder on questions of why I can’t seem to catch a break…

but, you know what? It’s counterproductive. And exactly what this song is saying.

I have ZERO control over change in others and situations pinned to them. Continually thinking otherwise… “there ain’t much that’s dumber”.

So instead, watch this beautiful video and listen to this beautiful song.

We’re not always going to get what we need. But maybe we can rethink our needs.

I’ve been waiting for months, waiting for years, waiting for you to change.
Aw, but there ain’t much that’s dumber, there ain’t much that’s dumber
than pinning your hopes on a change in another.
And I, yeah I still need you, but what good’s that gonna do?
Needing is one thing, and getting- getting’s another.

Is There a Bigger Picture?

Recently it seems wherever I go there are people having a tough time. Having difficulty making ends meet, finding jobs, paying for all the expenses that somehow creep up at the worst possible times. Struggling with sicknesses, addictions, chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia, deep depression and other mental illnesses.

People are working their asses off at jobs they don’t enjoy, that they aren’t appreciated in or compensated for. Racking up large debts to pay for secondary educations with the foresight that there may not be careers available to them when they graduate.

Parents who are stressed out from all of these things and still need to find a way to hold it together to be the moms and dads their children not only require but also deserve. Losses of jobs and houses, and lifestyles and dreams. Losses of people, expected and unexpected, but felt just the same.

Religious arguments and politics. Social injustice. Internal feelings of inadequacy; of lacking. And an overwhelming feeling of despair and disappointment.

It all leads to, let’s be honest, feeling like shit. Feeling like the world is on your back. That bad things just keep happening and will just keep happening. That no matter what you do, it isn’t enough. It will never be enough. It might make you start questioning what the “bigger picture is.”

Is there a bigger picture? What is the point of all of this? And will it ever get any better?

I can tell you this, I don’t have the answers and I won’t try and act like I do.

Or rather, I don’t have the answers for you.

However, I have found the answers for me. Right now. In this moment.

Is there a bigger picture?

Do you want there to be? You are the captain of your life, whether you feel like it or not. In this moment, the bigger picture for me is this: Much of life has been beyond difficult, filled with trauma and tribulations and shit stacked so high against me that at many points I couldn’t see around it.

To be honest, my current life isn’t really any less difficult than it has ever been. But the bigger picture, for me, is that I can’t see having gone through all that I have and survived to just let my life be wasted. For me, the bigger picture is a trap. Looking too far in the future (or the past) blinds me from looking right here in the present, which is the only place I am truly capable of being in.

What is the point of all of this?

You know, I’ve mulled this question over since I was, at minimum, 15 years old. I haven’t ever come up with a definitive answer mainly because there isn’t one. There is no one answer to this question. The point of “all this” is whatever you want it to be.

Do you want to be the wealthiest person in the US? In the world? Do you want to discover an unknown entity or invent the world’s next innovation? Do you want to be the best parent you can be to your children? Do you want to be happy?

The meaning of life is vastly different for each person. For me, in this moment, the point of “all this” is to do the best I can. Right now. With the knowledge and resources and abilities that I have right now. And if tonight when I go to bed I realize that the day didn’t go as I had hoped or planned or even liked, well then tomorrow I will get up and try again.

Will it ever get any better?

At various times throughout my life I have been in places that, regardless of what anyone said to me, I would argue that no, it will never get better. I could point to the current place I was in (which was horrible). I could point to every past place of agony and depression and anger and despair. As if to showcase my evidence of how much everything is shit and always was shit and always will be shit. But, you know what?, complaining and arguing about how much my life sucked didn’t do anything other than allowing myself to sink down into it even more.

So, right here and right now, let’s lay it out. Life sucks. Life is hard and sometimes it seems like horrible things will never stop happening to us. Fair assessment?

Now let it go. Really. Putting the majority of your attention on all the things that are shitty, it doesn’t help you. While you’re busy getting stressed and upset about all the things that, right now in this moment, you can’t change you are missing out on all the wonderful things that are right there.

Sometimes all you can do is keep moving. Just keep waking up and doing the best you can. Just keep swimming as it were, like the fish in Finding Nemo.

Sometimes you need to change your perspective. To acknowledge the bad and let it go. To choose to focus on the positive things you do have in your life. To be grateful.

Are bad things going to keep happening? Yes. And good things too.

On Expectations & Disappointment

We all have expectations.

I expect the sun to rise each morning and set each evening. I expect that I will, in fact, wake up and be alive each morning. These kinds of expectations are generally not acknowledged as being an expectation since, it’s assumed by the majority of people that they will occur. They’re assumed events.

Then there are expectations that lessen our ability to see the choices and control in our lives. Many of these expectations we obtain through the course of our lives — through our childhoods, from influences of peers and authority figures, through exposure to situations, from the media and from familial and societal norms.

They may never be labeled as expectations. In many families there is an expectation that children will graduate highschool or go on to attend college. It’s often never verbalized directly. There may not be a direct, “You will go to college” but instead through learned behaviors and patterns, it’s understood and assumed.

There are many expectations that are “placed” upon us. Educational and career expectations, monetary expectations, and the order in which one’s life path will progress (for example: college, dating, marriage, house, kids). Other’s can have a great deal of expectations for how they wish or want us to behave, act and choose.

For me, the expectations I place upon myself are often the greatest. Not just for how I want my life to progress but also in how I view certain situations.

Holidays are a great example. For most of my life I remember believing that Christmas was supposed to be the most magical day of the year. That I would come down the stairs at my house and the tree would be the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. I’d be filled with happiness and joy and excitement. As I opened the presents that Santa brought me, I would be overwhelmed with surprise and the most amazing feeling of content at receiving THE thing I desired most. It would be a perfect day.

I honestly don’t understand where this view of Christmas came from. A television show? A movie? Did someone once tell me a story like this?

Either way, it was an extremely unrealistic expectation. Nothing is perfect. There was no possible way I would get the thing I most desired (which was a little sister). Over the years I began stripping away at my expectation of how Christmas “should be”. Eventually all that was left of my original vision was the emotional feeling. I should feel amazingly happy and joyful and content.

You might see where I’m going with this story. My expectation that Christmas should equal happiness, joy and contentment was a set-up for disappointment. I felt like I should feel those things and, by not feeling them, I began to question what I was doing wrong. What was wrong with me. Everyone else (in my extremely skewed viewpoint) felt that way on Christmas.

Of course, everyone else did not feel that way on Christmas. They felt however they felt. And there was no way Christmas should be or how I should feel. Believing that the situation should go a certain way was an expectation that was doomed to fail because it was impossible. And in failing, I looked to myself as the culprit. That I must have been the wrong variable in the equation.

What actually was happening was that my expectation was unrealistic. It was a fantasy that was unobtainable by me, or anyone else. My mistake was believing that I was the incorrect part. The incorrect part was the expectation itself.

Unrealistic expectations don’t just come in the fantasy form, of expecting that events and circumstances should turn out perfect or pretty darn close. We also have expectations that events or circumstances will turn out poorly.

Often times we have these expectations based on past experiences. In a situation where we have had a poor experience, we may give ourselves a poor expectation or even no expectation to avoid continued pain.

For example, if a person in our lives constantly lets us down – doesn’t follow through with what they say and disappoints us – we may begin to lower our expectations for them. So the next time they say they will visit or call, we don’t expect that they will. This allows us to avoid the disappointment that will follow if they do not visit or call.

However, this lowering of expectations may eventually spill over into other parts of out life. We may fear disappointment or failure, so we lower our expectations of events or situations to avoid feeling disappointment.

In doing so, we may be inadvertently setting ourselves up for failure. So many times I’ve set myself up for disappointment by believing that my expectations were not only obtainable (as in fantasy) or realistic (as in lowered expectations) but also the way things were supposed to be. That’s not to say that one shouldn’t have expectations, but we need to evaluate the validity of them.

Stress and disappointment, not to mention failure, certainly come from a disconnect between our expectations and reality. Setting realistic expectations for ourselves, and those around us, can help reduce stress and disappointment.

If everyday I expected to wake up and have a perfect morning, with two children who perfectly listened, got dressed, ate their breakfast and got themselves ready, I would be setting myself up for disappointment and stress everyday. The reality is that my girls are 3 and 7 years old and the morning I just described is not realistic. By having a realistic expectation of how my mornings will go, I can better plan and handle them.

Every day is a learning process. By examining my expectations and developing more realistic ones, I not only sidestep a lot of disappointment and pain, but I am better able to appreciate the situations and events that I do have. I try to have realistic expectations, not expectations of perfection because my life isn’t perfect, but it is real.

I Walk Down The Street

Many years ago in my life I was in a situation that I didn’t like. I was a teenager, struggling not only with being a teenager but also with some serious mental health issues. I remember at the time feeling like I was doing everything I could and being extremely frustrated that, despite my efforts, my life did not change.

At some point during this time period I was given this poem:

I think the first time I was given it, I didn’t even read it. I was given this poem on several other occasions as a teenager. Eventually I read it but, seriously?, this person is stupid! Just don’t walk into the hole, right?

Later, as an adult, still struggling with many of the same issues that plagued me as a teenager, I was again given this poem.

Reading it, I understood that the person in the poem wasn’t actually walking into a hole in the sidewalk. It was a metaphor. And it made a lot of sense.

The title of the poem, “Autobiography in Five Chapters” is aptly named. I won’t dissect the poem because, like most poetry, each person interprets it in their own way. However, I will discuss the implications to change.

Change really centers on a few things. First, we must realize that there are things that we cannot change and that we have no control over. Next, we must be aware of our own actions and behaviors and acknowledge them as our own choices and responsibility. And last, we must desire and have the courage to make different choices.

It’s obviously an over simplified description of a life-long, complex process. As a teenager I viewed my life much as the second verse in the poem. I continually made the same choices and was surprised that I was in the same place. It simply wasn’t my fault.

With time and a lot of effort to be more aware of my choices and responsibility for those choices, I shifted into a viewpoint somewhere in between the third and fourth verses in the poem. I made the same choices and ended up in the same place, but I wasn’t surprised anymore and I knew how I had gotten there. Eventually I was able to avoid the choices I had made out of habit. And by doing so avoided the outcome.

At present, I’m very much present in the fifth verse of the poem. I’m making new and more aware choices. I realize that those choices are mine to make and, if I don’t like their outcomes, I am always free to make a different choice.

There are parts of life that are out of our control, that we cannot choose and we cannot change. But the majority of our lives and things come directly from choices that we ourselves make. We are in control of those choices and any change we wish to make for ourselves. So often we lose sight of all the choices we (unconsciously) make and all the choices we can make, by focusing too greatly on the few we cannot.

Someone once told me that there are always choices, and they were right. It’s your life. It’s your choice.

Happy New Year!

The holidays were both wonderful and stressful which is, as holidays go, about average. Placing less stress on myself to have the “perfect holiday” and more focus on the things that really matter (my family, the moment), I was able to have a more enjoyable holiday than I usually have.

I know with the new year many people like to make resolutions and wishes for the new year. With that many take the time to reflect on the prior year – myself included. I do a lot of self-reflection (what seems like) almost daily.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want to feel bad anymore for doing the best I can. Or feeling like it’s not good enough. It’s what I’ve got and if it isn’t good enough for you, too bad. It’s good enough for me. 2012 is going to be the year where I stop playing the victim. I’ve been the victim, I know the role, so it’s been an easy role to fall back upon. But I’ve also played the survivor and I play it well. I haven’t survived by laying down and giving up.

I am a capable, amazing person who is working so very hard every day to navigate through this life. To try to look on the bright side and see the positive. To try to propel myself further forward towards my goals in education, parenting and personal growth. It’s ok if sometimes I feel sad or angry or frustrated because denying myself feeling those emotions only strengthens their negativity. I can allow myself to feel sad or angry or frustrated and come out the other side.

I’m not perfect. But neither is anyone else. No longer will I be trapped by others negativity and attempts to stifle my achievement and growth. I am strong. I am smart. I am capable of loving and I am capable of receiving love. Not only capable, but worthy. It starts with me. And today I tell myself, “I love you.” And I mean it.

How often do we focus on other’s happiness and well-being, neglecting our own in the process? How often do we give ourselves endlessly – our time, our resources, our love? How often do we do the same for ourselves? Give something back to yourself, everyday, even if it’s as simple as saying a little mantra — “I love you”, “You are capable”, “You are strong”, “You can do this”.

Moments

Moments.

That’s all we have. That’s all we ever had and will ever have.

Good moments. Bad moments. Moments that seems so insignificant at the time that later down the line we find ourselves replaying in our minds. Moments that make us feel something. Anything. That let us feel alive, if only in that very moment.

We’re all kidding ourselves to think otherwise. It truly isn’t about the grand picture, the sum of it all. It’s about the very little tiny times, scattered amongst the sea of monotony and sameness.

We don’t ever remember the majority of our lives. All the times spent sleeping or driving or working. We don’t keep those. We don’t keep the moments of repetition or status quo either.

And as quickly as we have them, as soon as we acknowledge their presence and grasp them with both hands, they slip away just as fast.

All we have is moments.

I know I keep writing about moments and being mindful, but  it’s because its important! And honestly, it’s easy to forget.

Building on yesterday’s post, The Myth of the Perfect Holiday, I want to continue to focus on slowing down and being mindful.

Mindfulness (or being present in the moment) is being aware without judgement — of life as it is, of yourself as you are and of other people as they are — in the present moment, here and now.

Whatever your attention is on, that’s what life is for you at any given moment. Focus on the negatives in your life and that’s what your life is for you. Focus on worries, that’s what your life is. Focus on gratitude and positives and, you guessed it, that’s what your life is for you.

deviantart: trancestor

Take just a few seconds to recall a moment you have really valued. Maybe it was a special time with a loved one. Or an experience you had in nature. Perhaps it was time spent with a child or a pet. Or a time you reached an accomplishment or supported a friend in need. Think about this time (write it down if you wish) and take the opportunity to focus on what really matters.

It’s so easy to get lost in life, swept up in the rush of emotions and movements. Take the time to be in the moment, whatever it might be, because it’s really all we have.