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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Can you tell when you’re anxious? It’s hard for me…

anxiety2Can you tell when you’re feeling anxious? Simple as it may sound, this can be tricky. Many times our anxiety hums and buzzes just below the surface. It is not strong enough to cause panic, but it exists, a backpack we carry without knowing we’re carrying it. How do we recognize this sneaky feeling of anxiety? How do we know it’s not adrenalin?

Gretchen Rubin writes about how she identified her jitters before the release of her new book, “Better Than Before.” 

I don’t feel particularly anxious, but I realized that actually I am pretty anxious — because I recognized my “tell.”

This is my tell: a while back, I realized that when I’m feeling anxious or worried, I re-read books aimed at a younger and younger audience. The more worried I am, the simpler the book. Under all circumstances, I love children’s and young-adult literature, and read it often, but when I’m reading these books as an anxiety tell, I inevitably re-read instead of reading books I’ve never read before. I want the coziness, the familiarity, the high quality of a book that I know I love.

A “tell” to tell if you’re anxious – what a wonderful idea! As we race to meet the expectations that the world has of us, and our own expectations of ourselves, we often lose touch with our emotions, or don’t sit in silence enough to sense them. So a signal would give a clue into what’s going on inside us.

These tells can be very different for each of us. The tells can also vary based on whether we’re feeling “good anxiety” (like in Gretchen’s case above) or “bad anxiety.”

Here’s how Harriet Learner describes her own tells in her wonderful book, “The Dance of Fear.”

When anxiety hits, I underfunction in the realm of practical, “real-world” skills (say, following written instructions or getting Ben to the hospital). I may have difficulty accessing more than a thin slice of my competence in terms of noticing and doing what needs to be done. On the emotional/relational scene, my tendency under stress is to overfunction, which may take the form (if I don’t curb it) of judgmentalness, a preoccupation with what someone else is doing wrong, and unsolicited advice giving.

Knowing our “tells” can help us recognize that something is wrong. That we need to slow down and listen to ourselves, to be one with our thoughts and feeling. I once saw a video in which the wonderful Danielle LaPorte spoke about how her chest would tighten on reaching the entrance of the company she’d started once she’d brought in some people to manage it. Before long, they had taken over the company – Danielle had missed the important information her body was trying to give her.

Our tells may be as different as each of us. For some, it may be going on and on and on, for others, going quiet. For some, it may be strong feelings of anxiety, for others, it may be deadening those feelings and operating as a machine, with a head but no heart. For some, anxiety may involve attacking others, for others, attacking themselves.

Spend some time thinking about YOUR tells. And when you know what they are, pay attention when they appear in your life, and think about what they’re trying to tell you.

If you liked this, do share with those who you think might find this useful. Sharing=Caring.

I’d love to hear about what your tells are, and what you do once you’ve identified that you’re anxious.

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Hoops are NOT for jumping through!

Sculpture by Elissa Farrow-Savos
Sculpture by Elissa Farrow-Savos

I read a wonderful post yesterday (see: In Others’ Words “Sorry, not sorry”) about how women are conditioned into being over-apologizers, ready to say sorry early just to end the conflict, or sorry for taking up too much space on the subway, or sorry to turn down a request. As Laura points out:

…moving through the world apologizing for taking up too much space is NOT LITTLE.  When you do that, you are conceding that you don’t have the right to stand up for yourself, or allot your time the way you want, or occupy the space you require.

If you’re a sorry over-user, you’re also likely a frequent “Yes-er.”

Being “nice” – something women are conditioned to be from the moment they are born – usually involves saying “Yes” to everyone else’s needs before their own. While generosity and looking out for others is a wonderful virtue, women (and especially Indian women) are taught to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

But how does this behavior work out for us? Not so well, it turns out, if you are last on your list.

Adam Grant’s wonderful book Give and Take tells us that “givers” come in two flavors. “Otherish givers” have a high regard for others’ interests AND their own interests. “Selfless givers” have a high regard for others’ interests but not their own interests. Adam found that “otherish” givers emerge at the top of their fields while “selfless” givers emerge at the bottom, burnt out from too much giving, and possibly resentful.

One thing we need to remember is that people expect us to take care of our own interest, so they may be unaware that our “yes” is coming at a high personal cost.  You may be giving a bit of yourself away when you say “yes,” but the person at the other end may not realize the cost, or if they knew the cost, they might be ok with hearing a “no.”

Also the more often we say “yes,” the more often expected / less remarkable it becomes. As the wise Gretchen Rubin says about shared work:

When you’re doing a job that benefits other people, it’s easy to assume that they feel conscious of the fact that you’re doing this work—that they should feel grateful, and that they should and do feel guilty about not helping you.

But no! Often, the more reliably you perform a task, the less likely it is for someone to notice that you’re doing it, and to feel grateful, and to feel any impulse to help or to take a turn.

By default, I try to jump through hoops that people put before me. As I try to become more judicious about when to say “no” and when to say “yes,” a memory from playing a video game as a kid comes to mind. We’re in a circus in which a majestic lion must jump through hoops on fire, that come to him in ones and twos and threes, faster and faster. I try to think of myself as the lion. But instead of jumping through the crazy hoops, I side-step them and saunter on. And I think,  why would a majestic lion jump through hoops? And I repeat to myself, “Hoops are NOT for jumping through…”

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Are You Listening Too Much of the Time?

communicationAs I wrote a while back, I’ve been working on my communication skills through Ramit Sethi’s “How to Talk to Anybody,” video training course. Although communication skills are so vital, it’s amazing that they’re never really “taught” at school.

With writers, a common problem is that we’re more comfortable expressing ourselves through the written word, with its backspace button that gives us comfort that we’re expressing exactly what we want to, as well as distance which helps us say what we want, without fear of how people may react. But we’re less comfortable expressing ourselves verbally. So, more often than not, we may spend more time observing and absorbing and assimilating – i.e., listening – than we do talking. The upside is that people often choose to talk to us, confide in us, and ask us for input. The downside is that we may not be heard because we’ve spent so much time listening.

As a natural listener, and (hopefully) an empathetic one, I’ve never had trouble listening to people. But Ramit Sethi’s course opened my eyes to a big issue in my communication: the fact that I was spending much more time listening that I was talking.

What happens in such a dynamic? Well, people end up leaving the conversation understanding very little about you! As I look back at years and years of conversations, I’m amazed at how I did not see the impact of this dynamic. I often asked lots of questions and listened carefully to what people had to say, so I knew a lot about them, and hence felt closer to them, than they knew about me or felt about me.

And yet, being known and being valued for our unique strengths, stories, and talents – apart from the fact that we’re good listeners! – is something that we all want.

Ramit’s solution? For every two questions you ask, make a statement.

And so I’ve started consciously to focus more on self-disclosure; to listen, but also to talk. And slowly but surely I can see the difference its making. Not only do I understand people around me, they’re beginning to understand me.

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