How do you judge yourself?

Of all the judgments that we pass in life, none is as important as the one we pass on ourselves, for that judgment touches the very center of our existence.

–Nathaniel Branden

Do you know what you’re feeling?

feelingsSometimes our inner self is confused, or lonely, or in disrepair. But it can be hard for us to recognize that in ourselves. Like my patron saint, the wise and wonderful Gretchen Rubin quotes: Surprisingly little clues are offered to us about who we are. For some of us, surprisingly little clues are offered into how we are feeling.

I’ve had this experience myself, when anxiety has crept into me, without my realizing till its too late. The same for sadness. Little by little the weight added up, till the burden felt too heavy to bear.

How do we recognize  – and act on – these feelings while they are still manage-able, before they have snowballed into something scarier?

Gretchen Rubin suggests shining an indirect spotlight on our feelings, which can be otherwise hard to put our finger on. While we may find it hard to recognize our squishy, shape-shifting feelings by looking inside, we can do a better job by identifying trends in how we behave when we are feeling a certain way.

For instance, when Gretchen is anxious, she reads kidlit. Gretchen’s sister’s voice shakes when she speaks when she’s anxious. The psychologist Harriet Lerner says she starts under-functioning on the practical, real-world skills, those that don’t come naturally to her.

I realize I go quiet when I’m anxious. I sit on the edge of the seat, instead of sinking in, like I belong. I worry about what I will say, instead of being present in the moment. When I’m sad, I can spend time lying in bed thinking, instead of getting up and starting the day. My purse and my fridge, like my head go messy. Externally, I create an environment that mimics my internal world. And so, to feel better, I start fixing my external world and as I do I find myself being repaired.

A wonderful affirmation from Louise Hay on this idea:

I make housework fun. I begin anywhere and move through the rooms with artistic flair. I toss out the garbage. I dust and polish those things I treasure. We all have a set of beliefs. And just like a comfortable, familiar reading chair, we keep sitting in these beliefs over and over again. Our beliefs create our experiences. Some of these beliefs create wonderful experiences. And some of them can become like an uncomfortable old chair that we don’t want to throw out. I know that I really can toss out old beliefs, and I can choose new ones that significantly improve the quality of my life. It’s like housecleaning. I need to clean my physical house periodically, otherwise it gets to a point where I really can’t live in it. I don’t have to be fanatical. I do need to be clean. Physically and mentally, I fill the rooms of my house with love.

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Are you harder on yourself…or on others?

beeGretchen Rubin, one of my favorite authors and patron saints, says that there are two kinds of people: those who love to divide people into two types, and those who don’t. Gretchen does, and has some wonderful distinctions to think about, as we try and gain self-knowledge, as well as learn more about others: for instance, there are under-buyers and over-buyers, tiggers and eeyores, marathoners and sprinters. I’ve always found Gretchen’s distinctions super helpful, and on a recent walk, I thought a distinction of my own: there are people who are harder on themselves, and there are people who are harder on others.

People who are harder on themselves are likely to blame themselves for things that are either not their responsibility or those they cannot control. People who are harder on others are likely to find a scapegoat for their follies. A dangerous combination is when an other-blamer meets a self-blamer: the other-blamer is more than willing to offload his or her own-responsibility to the self-blamer, who has a tendency to take on responsibility that is not theirs to bear.

Shel Silverstein’s beautiful poem Three Stings from his collection Falling Up relates to this concept:

George got stung by a bee and said,
“I wouldn’t have got stung if I’d stayed in bed.”
Fred got stung and we heard him roar,
“What am I being punished for?”
Lew got stung and we heard him say,
“I learned somethin’ about bees today.”

What happens when you get stung by an over-blamer: do you absorb it and fear the sting so much that you hesitate to put yourself out there, like George? Do you believe that you were stung by the over-blamer because of something you did, like Fred? Or do you like Lew, learn to identify the over-blamer – the first step to protecting yourself – without absorbing the fear and the pain?

One day, may we all be Lew.

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Is your inner voice in hiding?

I recently came across this wonderful poem by the inimitable Shel Silverstein:

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you–just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.”

But if your voice has been suppressed, your inner voice may flickered and died out. In this case, how do you know what is right for you? How do you know what you need? How do you just know in your heart, and not make decisions through elaborate spreadsheet calculations?

I recently heard about this technique to help you get in touch with your wishes, your desires. It’s called an “I want” or “I wish” list. The technique requires you to carry a pen and pencil with you at all times and every time you notice something you want, write it down. Then, you actually go ahead and get some of those items on the list.

And slowly but surely the embers of your inner voice light up, and it starts whispering again, I want. I want. I want.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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Learning to listen to your intuition

trust your instinctsYesterday, I shared some advice from Danielle LaPorte on trusting your intuition by paying attention to the intuitive information we receive from a person just when we meet them. Here’s some advice from Richard Carlson’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

If you’re unfamiliar with trusting your intuition, start by setting a little quiet time to clear your mind and listen. Ignore and dismiss any habitual, self-defeating thoughts that enter your mind and pay attention only to the calm thoughts that begin to surface. If you find that unusual and loving thoughts are appearing in your mind, take note of them and take action. If, for example, you get the message to write or call someone you love, go ahead and do it. If your intuitive heart says you need to slow down or take more time to yourself, try to make it happen. If you’re reminded of a habit that needs attention, pay attention. You’ll find that when your intuition gives you messages and you respond with action, you’ll often be rewarded with positive, loving experiences. Start trusting your intuitive heart today and you’ll see a world of difference in your life.

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Respecting the information from the head AND the heart

head and heartYesterday, I wrote about how I struggle sometimes to reconcile the logical part of me with the emotional part of me, erring on the extremes some times. Here’s some useful guidance I came across recently to try and integrate information from my head and my heart.

…people who mainly think with their heads can get the benefits of thinking with their hearts by specifically reminding themselves that we are not just rational machines, and that the emotions can provide vital input into our decision-making.

Similarly, those who are ruled by their emotions can get in touch with their logical, rational side when the situation demands it.

Our minds already do this automatically to a certain extent, but by explicitly thinking separately about inputs from both heart and head, we can get better at making the most important decisions in life.

So, next time, when you (like me) are confused about what to do, stop and ask yourself, What does my head say? AND What does my heart say? You may still be confused at the end of it, but at least  you will not be blindsided later by strong thoughts or intense feelings.

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Making sense of the squishy world of feelings

blessingI have a love and hate relationship with my emotions. There have been times when I have distrusted my feelings, holding them guilty of taking me down a slippery slope. And there have been times when I have ignored my feelings and that has been my downfall. To feel, or not to feel, that is the question, one I grapple with as I seek to integrate my controlled, rational brain with my free yet sometimes tumultuous world of feelings.

One lesson that I am working on learning to listen to the message that each feeling is trying to give me, and recognizing that every feeling has a purpose. Here’s the wise Danielle LaPorte on the subject of feelings in her soulful book on creativity and living, The Fire Starter Sessions.

Imagine that you’re a team coach and you’re giving your emotions a pep talk before the game. “So how’s everyone feeling about the game?” you shout. Enthusiasm shouts back, “I am stoked! Can’t wait to get on the field!” and pumps the air with his fists, smiling, looking to everyone to smile. Anxiety is pacing at the back of the room, in his own world, and looks up briefly to say, “I’m so scared I could puke,” and keeps on pacing. Abandonment issues says, “Look, if we don’t score in the first quarter, we should take the ball and go home–end it before they do, you know. But, hey, I’m in!” As the coach, you’re nodding, listening to each player intently, and assessing which players to put in the lead for your best chances of victory.

Fear stands up. “Are y’ll crazy? If I lose this game, I’ll never play in this town again.” And then Fear starts picking on the other players. “Enthusiasm, it just ain’t natural to be that happy; you gotta get real. And Anxiety! Shit, if you get on the field and have a freeze attack, we all go down.”

Finally, you step in, “All right, Mc.Fearstein, we appreciate your point of view, and you’ve got some good points. Now, let’s listen to the others.” Just like all of your emotions, Fear just wants to be seen and heard.

Confidence, (who is also the team captain) says, “I’m feeling steady. If we stay focused, this win is ours. And when we win, the offers will start pouring in. Insecurity says, “If you want me on the bench, I, I understand, Coach.” Well, if that’s where you want to be, then that’s where you’ll be, you think to yourself.

Pragmatic shrugs and nods at the same time: “Odds are stacked in our favor. Anything could happen.” Love raises her hand. “Listen, you’re all fucking amazing! And I believe in everyone of you!” Woot.

Time to drop some truth bombs, Coach. Time to lead, not accommodate. You can’t let Fear steal more airtime. And Anxiety is hanging out on the edge distracting everyone. Here’s how it’s got to go down: “I echo what Love said. You’re all amazing. We’re contenders. Enthusiasm, you’re in the front; Confidence and Pragmatic have got your back. Abandonment Issues, your job is to trust your instincts. You will know when it’s the right time to pass the ball–we trust you. Anxiety, you’re alert and we need that on the team. You need to stay close to Confidence. The important thing for you to do is just stay in the game–keep playing.

Fear, thanks for looking out for us. Yep, we could fail, it’s possible. This is risky. But we’ll come out on top no matter what, because that’s who we are. You’ve done your job, and now you’ll be playing from the bench.”

Here’s another wonderful tool from Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves Emotional Intelligence 2.0 to help understand the squishy world of feelings. This tool is particularly helpful in picking up feelings when they’re still low in intensity, to listen to the whisper, which if ignored can become a wail or a roar.

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