I remember the day my first dog died. Her name was ‘Lady’, of course. She had wandered onto our property when I was about one year old and despite our efforts to find her owner, no one ever claimed her. I can’t recall my childhood without including her because she was with me for the first 14 years of my life. On that day when we finally put her to sleep, I remember shutting down in an effort to avoid the pain.
Everyone has a recurring thought… or two… or thousands. Similar thoughts bind together after being laid one on top of the other over the years to form a strong belief system. The incredible thing about belief systems is that they serve as a map to interpret the world around us, including our place in the world, and have the incredible power to shape our decisions in life. The power of a strongly held belief has exponential implications for the life of an individual and a community. Take Vera for example. She is in her late twenties and has come to believe that… “I’m just not that smart.” Why does she believe this? Why does she choose to see herself this way? If you asked her she would tell you that it’s mere fact. She never excelled in academics and was always in the middle to lower end of her class in terms of performance. She would tell you that there are certain books she just shouldn’t waste her time reading because there are some concepts that are ‘beyond’ her scope. With this belief entrenched in Vera’s mind, emotions and body, she limits her potential career opportunities, relationship dynamics, and possibility for growth in almost every area of her life. Exponential implications.
But if you press the question ‘why do you believe this’, there are all sorts of alternative possibilities to the opinion that she holds to so firmly.
Is it possible that Vera had an incredibly negative experience with an educator at an early age and always associated emotionally negative feelings with school, in turn tainting her desire to study or learn in that environment? Is it possible that one or both of her parents sent her the message that ‘no one in our family is all that smart and that’s just fine with us because no one likes a know-it-all.’ Could it be that different people learn and grow intellectually in various ways and the particular methods in which Vera is challenged intellectually were never afforded her along her educational path? Is it possible that the structure of western education is so focused on conformity to specific methods of education that often those who don’t conform as well to these methods are improperly labeled or mistakenly diagnosed with a disability? How many times would a young, impressionable mind have to be told this by an authority figure before they owned it as truth?
There are so many variations of these restricting views of ourselves that we tend to accept as fact, when in all likelihood, they are just opinions formed over time. Thoughts that we bought into enough times that they grew into a belief system, which we now whole-heartedly subscribe to.
I’m no good at math.
I can’t write to save my life.
I just can’t stop myself from eating.
I am not very coordinated.
My brother is the creative one.
I’m incapable of getting organized.
I can’t follow through on things.
I don’t have what it takes.
I’m not a good communicator.
I’m terrible at relationships and always will be.
Today I just want to call to your attention that there may be some beliefs you hold as truth about yourself and they are limiting you. Further, these beliefs aren’t based on reality, but are based on the collection of some data you’ve incorrectly extrapolated from some recurring experiences in your past. I would like you to list 3 beliefs you’ve held onto for almost as long as you can remember that you know limit you. And ask this question about each of of the beliefs you’ve listed… “Is it possible that it isn’t true?”
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____________________________________________________________________________ "Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives."
"What we can or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of our true capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are." - Anthony Robbins
"Truth lives, in fact, for the most part on a credit system. Our thoughts and beliefs pass, so long as nothing challenges them, just as bank-notes pass so long as nobody refuses them." - William James
“Never limit your view of life by any past experience” - Ernest Holmes
Sometimes people say that “youth is wasted on the young.” I don’t know that I agree with that, but I can tell you that youth is wasted on the drugged-up young: I was one of them. I lived a very different life when I was in my mid twenties. I blinded my heart and dulled my emotions with substance abuse on a daily basis. Getting high wasn’t about the high. The only place I sought to find my value and worth was with validation from women. Cocaine gave me the energy I needed to be at the party, no matter how long the party lasted. I believed that if somebody wanted to be with me, even if for only a night, it was better than not being wanted at all. And if I could say "at least she wants to be with me right now" (whoever she was that I ended up with that night)... well that meant something. A lot of people don’t realize how much money you can make dealing drugs. Managing that money well, however, is a completely different story. I did work in several bars, which enabled me to sell more drugs and hang out with my friends at the same time.
Believe it or not, I was working on my Masters of Divinity at the time. I was the rare combination… Drug Dealer and Seminary Student. You don’t see a lot of people selling coke and working on a Masters of Divinity together, and for good reason. It doesn’t work. Even as I studied scripture and theology, I lied, cheated and stole. This powerful hypocrisy lead me to hurt the people I cared about most in my life.
I was completely disconnected from my God, I had no sense of worth or value, and I was as lost in depression as I could ever possibly be. And the shame that came along with knowing that I was where I was in life because of the choices I made was like walking around with the rotting carcass of a two ton elephant strapped to my back.
Interestingly enough, this behavior is not uncommon. It’s almost cliché, except for the fact that it was my life and for the most part, I felt like I could not escape. I don't tell you this to glamorize my life story, far from it. I believed I was a loser, that I deserved that life, and that I would be dead by thirty. One afternoon while I was taking a shower I collapsed to the bottom of my bathtub, weeping and crying out to my God for help. When I emerged from the water and steam filled bathroom, I was determined to come up with a plan and execute it at any cost. Four months later I sold everything, except what I could fit into my Toyota Camry, and drove across the country to crash at my parents house for about a year.
What I wasn’t aware of at the time was that I had the choice to change my life, every moment of every day. Even though I was in a living hell, the fear of change was more powerful than the pain that I had created… until it wasn’t. However, even after months of the brilliant clarity that came with sobriety, there were days that I wanted to return to that lifestyle because it was comfortable. I may have been messed up and completely self-destructive, but at least I knew how to handle life in that mode. As a sober person, everything was new and brought with it a sense of intense fear. The simplest of tasks, like scheduling appointments on a calendar seemed like it took the energy of escaping the Earth’s gravitational pull.
Every day was a choice. Connect with my God, get centered, and choose a new way, or return to where I had come from. Sixteen years later and I don’t know how to express in writing how rewarding it is to have stayed the course. The only thing that comes to mind is to say the names of my two little girls and maybe you might be able to recognize what is wrapped up in this imagery. Life.
Today I value myself; connect with the Divine hourly; have deep and meaningful relationships with the most rewarding friends a guy could have; and know my purpose, as my life and income are wed to helping others make their own changes, discover work that matters and learn to love themselves. I still make mistakes, but I’ve learned how to process through them in a healthy manner. Living an extraordinary life isn’t a one time decision. It’s a choice that’s made every single morning followed by action steps that back up that choice like powerful punches landing on the jaw of ‘the comfortable’.
Maybe you want someone else to make you feel better about yourself. Maybe you are at the end of your rope and feel like you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. You do. Today you have the most power you will ever have… the power of a choice. Maybe you begin exercising the power of that choice with a simple prayer asking for help.
It could be that you’ve never been to those depths, but at some point you decided that you wanted a better life for yourself, one with purpose and meaning that energizes and compels you. Now you’re wondering why things haven’t changed yet. Is it possible that you’ve forgotten that living a meaningful life is a choice one must make everyday? It doesn’t take a new year to make changes, just a choice.
When you woke up this morning, what did you choose? If it wasn’t clear, concise, and followed by actions, chances are high that it wasn’t an empowering choice. Here’s another cliché for you… thinking you’re not making a choice is most certainly a choice.
If you are interested in subscribing to the mailing list and receiving these via email, simply click under ‘subscribe to the mailing list’. _______________________________________________________________________________________ "The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time." - Abraham Lincoln
"This is as true in everyday life as it is in battle: we are given one life and the decision is ours whether to wait for circumstances to make up our mind, or whether to act, and in acting, to live." - Omar Bradley
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." - Viktor Frankl
Special thanks to Mike McHargue for an open conversation and help in refining this piece
People wear the badge of ‘perfectionist’ with pride. They believe that if they call themselves a perfectionist they have already attained a sense of worth. This is crap thinking. Just plain crap. The only thing being a perfectionist will guarantee you is that you will never have the kind of freedom you want and you will be stuck with a tremendous amount of shame. Every perfectionist that I’ve worked with has wanted to attain a certain amount of freedom. Financial freedom. Freedom from the expectations of others. Freedom to travel. Freedom from their scheduling. Freedom from _________. Freedom has actually been a goal for these people. The irony here is that they have chosen perfectionism as a path to freedom. You cannot get to freedom by trying to be perfect. It’s like trying to hate your way to love. Or like trying to mitigate your way to success. It just can’t be done.
Where does the shame come in? Well first of all, can we all just admit there is no such thing as perfection, in the traditional sense? No one is perfect. No one can be perfect. Aiming for perfection so that you might land on something good is also a trap. In trying to be perfect we say no to a ton of opportunities because all the stars aren’t ‘aligned’ perfectly. And when we do say yes to a few opportunities we end up disappointed that things didn’t turn out ‘perfectly’. At that point we find ourselves holding a bag full of shame for how we failed in this way or that.
The real kicker is that calling yourself a perfectionist brings about a certain sense of pride because we get to project a certain persona of elitism. “I want to do things perfectly because that’s what I demand of myself. I have high standards.” But you can have high standards and not be a perfectionist. This false sense of pride allows you to be ok with never accomplishing what you want because you can always throw out your project and declare… “It just wasn’t perfect.” Being a perfectionist affords the perfect opportunity to make excuses and partner with resistance without being aware of it.
Perfection NEVER equals freedom.
But if your intention is truly to experience freedom, why not substitute the word ‘adventure’ for ‘perfection’? Adventure certainly leads to freedom. Adventure allows you to take calculated risks. And while these risks are loaded with the potential to make mistakes or even fail, it’s totally acceptable because some of our most adventurous moments come from failures. Not the kind that end our lives, but the kind of failures that allow us to learn incredible lessons and move beyond our comfort zones. When you aren’t afraid to make mistakes you not only find yourself ready to move forward in a project with more boldness and zeal, you will also find yourself succeeding where you thought it wasn’t previously possible.
Substituting adventure for perfection allows you to take a risk. And the only way to really succeed is to find a way to become comfortable with risk.
Substituting adventure for perfection will release you from the paralysis that comes from over-analyzing every single decision. If you’re an over-analyzer, and you find yourself in the paralysis trap often, I can almost guarantee that you consider yourself a perfectionist.
Substituting adventure for perfection will immediately help you to live into the feeling of freedom. Why? Because you will actually be free from the shame, second guessing, and potential excuses that might have previously been created.
So let me ask you. What sounds better to you? What sounds like more fun? What sounds like a healthier way to live your life? Being an adventurer, or being a perfectionist. If you still think being a perfectionist is a badge of honor, maybe you need to find a new stylist. Choose adventure. It makes for a much better story.
I subscribe to very few email lists. Sure I get my Groupon on… who doesn’t love a deal? But for the most part, I only receive regular emails from 4 groups. Mostly it’s because I believe these 4 people have some incredible content and I don’t want to miss it. One of them in particular I receive every single day. I look forward to the wisdom and insight that’s packed into this one particular daily newsletter. It’s powerful. A few weeks ago I realized that it had been over a week since I had received an email from my friend and mentor. I was used to getting them daily and thought that he must have been out of town, or super busy. In fact, as I thought about it, I couldn’t remember a single day where he hadn’t sent his encouraging note. It was not just something he took pride in; it was his work to make sure he connects with his hundreds of thousands of peeps every day. So I went to his website to see if he had indeed been posting his regular thoughts. Sure enough, there were some incredible insights posted for each day that I had not received an email. Then it hit me. Like a left hook that I never see coming. I must have done something to make him mad or disappoint him and so he took me off his newsletter email list. When I felt that knuckle sandwich it totally through me for a loop. The skin on it’s knuckles was coarse and pulled taut over those jagged bones, and made quite a connection with my jawbone. After the punch had landed it left the taste of sulfur in my nostrils and palate. A putrid punch that cold-cocked me. I frantically began to wonder what I had done that disappointed him so much that he no longer wanted me to be on his mailing list. I immediately created at least 5 different stories in my internal narrative of how I must have done something wrong to offend him.
Ridiculous isn’t it? That’s the first place I went and I sat with it for a while? Here is a guy who has thousands of people on his newsletter list. And yet somehow I thought he would single me out and remove me. And this is someone I’ve spent hours upon hours connecting with on a personal level, who has done more for me as a writer and mentor by lovingly pushing me and encouraging me than any other single person. On top of that, it usually takes an act of congress to be removed from a newsletter.
It’s crazy isn’t it? No matter how far down the path of self-acceptance and love that we travel, we can still be blindsided by the most ridiculous thoughts. And that’s OK. It is completely acceptable to be struck out of the blue by absurd negative thoughts. We constantly have them running through our minds, ponging back and forth, even taking both sides of an argument! It’s ok to allow these thoughts to come and go. It’s when we grab on to one of them and take it for a prolonged spin on the dance floor that we end up being sidetracked from the good stuff in life.
I couldn’t shake the possibility that I had somehow done something to make my friend mad at me. I tried several practices that normally shake me loose of random thoughts of destructiveness, but to no avail. So I went in for the kill. I reached out and asked him if there was a reason I hadn’t been receiving his daily emails. Within seconds I received a quick reply that let me know that indeed they had been sent from the company he used to send his newsletters, along with links to show they had been sent, and a few suggestions as to possible problems with my IP server. To boot, there was a nice personal note of encouragement as well.
The music stopped and my dance with inferiority and the absurd ended. No sooner had those feelings dissipated than another immediately tried to take its place. Shame. “How could you allow this to happen? I thought you were past these farcical feelings and thoughts of inferiority and insecurity. How could you let this happen?”
This time, I immediately declined the request to hit the dance floor with shame. I walked away.
Have you found yourself listening to the plethora of voices that are trying to hijack your internal narrative, the story of your life? Is there a way you can go for the jugular and step off the dance floor? Is there a TRUSTED friend or mentor you can call and say, “I have this thought that won’t let go, can you tell me if this is true?” Go for it. Now. Don’t spend another moment dancing with the partner you have a hard time saying no to… especially when there are so many lovely partners that are just waiting for you to ask, “Can I have this next dance?”
There is so much to be said and written about concerning having the courage to be honest with ourselves. Navigating the path of being present with our own feelings and owning them. There is so much more to be explored on the topic of staring fear and pain directly in the eye of our own soul and not flinching or closing off to it. For some this is much easier than for others. Some of us have been formed and trained from the time we were tiny babies to face reality and to be present with all emotions. But most of us, if we are honest, would rather not face our fears and pain head on. We have learned over time to close ourselves off from pain and fear. We text, we skype, we chat, we drink, we smoke, we enter relationships, we exit relationships, we shop, we consume, we eat, we facebook, we do anything we can do in order to stop feeling pain as soon as we recognize it in our life (yes I recognize a run-on sentence when I see one too). This is what addiction is all about. Avoiding pain and fear. Unfortunately, when we minimize the pain in our lives we also minimize the joy and elation as well. As researcher Brene Brown has so eloquently and poignantly expressed in ‘The Gift of Imperfection’, we cannot mitigate some emotions and stay open to others. We are either suppressing all of our emotions/feelings or we are embracing all of emotions/feelings.
It is not possible to hide from pain and fear and yet at the same time embrace Joy and Love. It cannot be done because it doesn’t work that way. If we want to be filled with Joy and Love, we must be willing to go to our pain and to our fears. We must beg for the courage to look our pains and fears directly in the eye and not blink. We must be willing to sit with that pain and fear and grow comfortable with it.
This is not easy. If you try this and you aren’t used to it, you will quickly feel overwhelmed and have the sensation of a hot white fire rising up deep from within your chest. You will probably believe that you’re going to have a meltdown. Maybe you should back off at that point… just for a little while. Maybe you need to find a good friend or professional to help you through this process. But we must return to those things that we have shut ourselves off from for so long or they will forever be embedded in us. We’ll wonder why we do the things that we don’t want to do. Why we hurt the people we don’t want to hurt.
Acknowledging our pain, sitting with it, and then working through and past the pain is the only way to move forward. And if this thought makes you sick to your stomach or seems ridiculous to you… you probably have some pain to acknowledge.
“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”
"Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy--the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”