Category

Self-Worth

Re-Wiring My Relationship with Life

By Life, Self-WorthOne Comment

This is essentially a cut-and-paste from a journal entry. It was a thread I began to pull based on re-examining and/or re-wiring some relationships. These relationships include with God, my life partner, money, my body. And my relationship with life. I am posting this because I feel called to show my work rather than deliver some polished and refined post. As I post it, I acknowledge a sense of terror — that I will be rejected, judged, mis-understood. Which are all signs to do it anyway.

Old system: Appointed time with God (going to church) to cope with my human-ness and conditions. Ritualistic prayer and reading of Bible. Followed this system because it was the only guaranteed system I knew.
New practice: Talk with God every day, multiple times per day. Time in nature. Connections. Reading spiritual texts. Meditating.

Old system: Seeing God as a dispenser of correction and punishment for being the way I am. Seeing Jesus as model that I found very difficult to follow and who I did not understand. Seeing the Spirit as something that is given/taken based off of my behavior. Tying failure and struggle to my indulgent behavior and my perceived lack of faith.
New practice: seeing God as a loving Father, seeing the Christ within, seeing the Spirit in everything — including myself.

Old practice: Lynna as a rescuer, soother, subsidizer and safe harbor to cope with my human-ness and emotional damage.
New practice: Loving her unconditionally as she is, not what I project her to be. Unfiltered truth. Freely together. Not looking to her (or anyone else) for affirmation of my worth.

Old system: Identifying with groups (church, Republican party, being an entrepreneur) to have a sense of belonging and meaning — although I felt like an outsider in all three.
New practice: Completely unaffiliated; belong to no groups. Focusing on connections, freedom, creativity.

Fitness (working out and eating) as an ego-fueled coping tool for confidence, acceptance, affirmation. All body disconnect issues.
New practice: Investing in my body because it’s worth of it. Includes clean eating and intentional movement — hiking, Hapkido, stretching, yoga (this is a new practice that hasn’t yet become a habit.)

Speaking, coaching, mentoring as ego-boosters; increasing my sense of worth and value.
New practice: sharing wisdom, asking questions, holding space from a place of abundance and service — most of the time.

Triggers

  • Misfortune, failure, losing
  • Physical conditions: pain, hunger, fatigue, sexual desire
  • Emotional conditions: lonely, depressed, desperate
  • Situational conditions: waiting, too hot, too cold, crowds
  • Relationship conflicts

Emotional Reactions

  • Anger, resentment, jealousy
  • Shame, guilt
  • Insecurity, unease
  • Fear, terror
  • Loneliness, isolation
  • Hyper-vigilance, sensitive
  • Over-thinking; obsession
  • Scorn, judgement
  • Hero worship

Old Coping Behaviors

  • Going to gym
  • Work harder, longer
  • Driving, travel
  • Binge watching
  • Avoidance — especially with those closest to me
  • Indulgence, impulsiveness — self-abuse
  • Over-planning, control, manipulation
  • Lying, telling false stories
  • Sleeping / staying up all night

Old Stories:

  • God is punishing me; bad things happen to me because of who I am
  • I am damaged beyond repair; something is wrong with me
  • I am unworthy of anyone’s love
  • My body has failed me yet again
  • I’m terrible with money
  • I don’t go to things
  • I don’t belong anywhere

What I accomplished despite all this:

  • Lynna and I still together after 30 years
  • Great dad and co-parent; great relationship with Logan (and Sarah) and Caden
  • Been self-employed since 2003
  • Been to all 50 states
  • Authored two books
  • Created a following of people that I inspire
  • Discovered my personal mission
  • Went on a journey inward; burnt down everything, questioned everything
  • Gave Lynna space to become her true self
  • Created an amazing creative partnership, business and team with Emily.
  • Took dozens of great risks; tried many new things.
  • Moved to Austin
  • New circle of great friends; but still a few old friends that love me unconditionally and I them.
  • A real relationship with my mom
  • Witness to more miracles and magic than I knew was possible.

THE PRESENT

Reminders / new stories

  • God neither punishes nor rewards based on who I am
  • Physical pain doesn’t mean failure
  • More control doesn’t reduce anxiety
  • Shift perspective/response to “What will happen today?” from negative (doom) to positive (mystery)
  • Discomfort (hunger, temperature, pain) is not a threat
  • I don’t need an enemy to feel important
  • My old life is gone but the coping mechanisms, triggers remain.
  • I’ve matured from a victim/follower to creator/mentor

I don’t need coping mechanisms anymore. When living in joy and acceptance, there is very little to cope with.

I don’t need coping mechanisms but I do need life practices:

  • Rest
  • Nourishment
  • Movement
  • Connection
  • Awareness
  • Creativity

What I want out of all my relationships …

  • Connection
  • Vitality
  • Abundance
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Adventure

Mystery Me

By Leadership, Life, Self-Worth2 Comments

I was recently asked what I write the most about here. My response was that if Tim Ferriss does productivity hacking and Dave Asprey does bio-hacking, then I guess I’m a self-hacker. A DIY self-improver.

After many years of being externally focused, obsessive about the future and resentful about the past, I began a journey inward about 5 years ago. I hacked my self. My ego. My personality. My soul. I learned the power of awareness. I learned how to observe my thoughts and feelings with minimal judgment. I learned healthy non-attachment.

I’ve come a long way. I’m happier, more whole than I’ve ever been. But as I turn 48 in a few weeks, I’m very aware of a few of my idiosyncrasies and dichotomies.

In the spirit of self-hacking, here are a few mysteries of me that befuddle and bemuse …

  • After 10+ years of being committed to working out intensely and regularly, I’ve lost my passion for it. I literally get tired on the way to the gym. I have some sort of mental block in this area that I can’t seem to move. Yet, I feel that my desire for healthy, fit, energetic body is sincere. But I can’t seem to: a) recover that same drive and b) link behavior to desired results.
  • I remain a control freak, over-planner. This is not uncommon for survivors of trauma. We obsess over environmental details and conditions — especially related to time and plans. This produces a series of odd behaviors. I can’t go to a concert and have people behind me. So I either stand in the back of the room or find a pillar to put my back against. I argue with Google Maps on best routes. Then obsessively watch the progress. When arriving at a coffee shop or restaurant, I worry — every single time — that I won’t find a place to sit. My faith is strong. My belief is deep. Yet I can’t let these little, trivial things go.
  • The closer I am to you, the less likely I am to tell you how I really feel — or ask for what I really want. While I’m getting better about this, my first reaction to most emotions directed at someone I care about is “Will they still love me if I share what I’m feeling with them?” I know that I believe in truth and that it should be expressed at all times. Yet, I still hedge my bets, protect my emotional flank, with those closest to me. I still try gauge and sometimes even control their responses.
  • I still have a strong tendency to compare myself to others. This is a pretty basic and old feature of the ego, so it’s extra difficult to re-wire this one. I compare up (they’re better than me) and down (I’m better than them). The comparison doesn’t last long, because I’m disciplined about being aware of it. Yet it’s still the first reaction many times. I know I believe in loving more (literally tattooed on my body!) and loving unconditionally. Yet comparison is all about conditional love — of others and myself.

To be clear, perfection is a myth and imperfections make life interesting. So this isn’t about perfection, but it is about improvement. About owning that which I have control (supposedly!) over. About continuing to work on the ultimate fixer-upper … me.

Two questions …

Any tips or insights on working through any of the above?

What are your dichotomies and dissonances?

Lessons in the Non-Transferrable

By Coaching, Leadership, Self-WorthNo Comments

Socrates. Asking questions. Not giving advice.

If I have 100,000 hours into anything other than just life, it’s in coaching others. Countless hours of crafting curriculum, learning techniques, expanding my skills. Then countless more hours in coaching sessions — cajoling, encouraging, challenging.

Coaching, like any practice, is accepting a state of continual learning. (I jokingly say that when a coach stops learning is when they become a consultant. I’m only half kidding.) What shifts the most over time is where the learning comes from. For me, about 10% of my learning now comes from formal study, structured programs, etc. The other 90% is what I learn in an actual coaching session. The students (client) have become my teachers. Which, in turn, the next student benefits from and contributes to.

I have learned enough about and from coaching to fill a book. But this is what I’ve learned the most …

Most important things are non-transferrable.

Here are just a few …

Belief

Faith

Motivation

Action

Wisdom

Perspective

I could list a dozen more …

In each case, I can’t transfer these to another person. I can’t make you have belief. I can’t give my faith to you. I can’t motivate you. I can’t make you take any action. I can’t transfer wisdom. I can’t transfer my perspective.

In this, I’ve discovered the hallmark of being a true coach. A true coach does not give advice, nor provide a formula to follow. Advice and formulas are strongly biased towards the assumption that all or some of the above are actually transferable. I think this creates disservice to the client. It encourages co-dependency. It keeps the client a victim of their circumstances rather than a creator of their future. It perpetuates the problem they hired you to help them solve.

So where does that leave me as a coach? What can I do? What is transferrable?

I can ask good questions. Questions that challenge assumptions, challenge the bullshit we all tell ourselves, hold up a mirror of examination. This is an ancient principle that is easily forgotten because we are awash in information, books, podcasts, e-courses, systems, formulas. None of which are more efficient — and more integrous – than asking good questions.

One of our mantras at Root + River is “love ’em where they’re at”. This means extending to a person unconditional love and acceptance in whatever state they come in. This why true coaching requires the coach to see the soul, not the role. The role(s) a person plays is an important part of their identity but they are not the soul of a person. And it’s the soul that needs to be loved where it’s at.

I can distill. I can take an idea, a fear, a hope, a vision and begin to extract and analyze it’s meaning in a collaborative way with the client. I can hold it up, let them examine it and decide whether or not to accept it.

I can give voice to what I am hearing from their soul or observing from the sub-conscious. But I might be wrong. Because I’m human and I have my own biases, assumptions and need to be right. So giving voice is never done without permission from the client.

I can encourage. Or a better word is “edification” (which) is an under-used word these days). My definition of edification is to remind people of the truth they already know. In this reminder, there’s a return to the two main powers that every human has: 1) The power to choose and 2) The power to create.

I can co-create with the client a path forward. Not a formula for them to follow and then judge them against. But a co-created plan that contains milestones, accountability, reward that we mutually agree to.

So I have no answers, no prescriptions, no judgement, no pre-conceived outcomes, no pre-determined solutions. I just have a heart, a mind, ears, intuition, words — and 100,000 hours of learning from you.

Ego, What is it Good For?

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

“War (What is it Good For?)” was a famous anti-war song during the Vietnam War era. Originally written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for The Temptations, it was first a hit for Edwin Starr. It was made even for famous when it was covered by Country Joe McDonald at Woodstock in 1969 (image above).

The first verse …

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all

This song and these lyrics came to mind recently after I expressed to a friend that it seems as if there’s a daily war between Ego and Soul — both internally and externally. This got me thinking about Ego and it’s purpose.

What is the Ego good for? Well not “absolutely nothing”. Ego has a specific purpose. As I posted the other day in one of my musings, the Ego wants us to be safe, not happy. It is an extension of the evolution of humans and our remarkable tenacity. It is designed to protect us. It craves form, identity, a role. I often refer to my Ego as a “herd dog” because it just needs something to do, something to protect, something to give it purpose.

It appears that the Ego has at least four specific purposes in helping us function and survive as humans.

  • Cataloging — The Ego has an enormous database and details-obsessed memory. The Ego helps our brain catalog experiences, sensory input, interactions. We quickly refer to these files in unexpected moments or dangerous (perceived or otherwise) situations. As an evolutionary tool, the Ego helped catalog what to eat, where to find food, what animals and plants are dangerous, where to find shelter — and most importantly to survival of the species, who to reproduce with. The main issue we have today with the cataloging feature of the Ego is our strong tendency to mis-remember things — that manifest in over 300 biases. We have also over-saturated and over-stimulated the cataloging function which causes our mind to go in to reactive state (another survival mechanism). In short, cataloging makes us stop thinking and only react — i.e. road rage.
  • Compartmentalization — The Ego is excellent at shutting down, walling off and otherwise protecting the core self from outside danger. Compartmentalization is a feature designed to help us survive severe trauma and protects us through horrific situations and condition. It makes us efficient and deadly fighters, productive workers and even contributes to the role of parenting. The main issue with this feature for many of us is that most compartmentalizing is unnecessary. For example, “leave work at work and home at home”. It most certainly doesn’t work that way unless in a truly high pressure, dangerous job. Yet many people build these false walls between their professional and personal lives. This split life can cause a deep disconnect from meaning; leading to depression, anxiety, addiction.
  • Comparison — All comparison is of the Ego — something to remember the next time you hear “should / shouldn’t” chatter in your head. As the only creatures with true Free Will, comparison is a necessary element for maintaining and using our power of choice. We can’t remember everything and we can’t choose everything. So we have to create a decision-making hierarchy — which runs on comparison. In addition, comparison was a necessary element for survival — for ourselves, our families and our communities. If you had more than me (food, weapons, status), the comparison drove me to achieve and acquire. Often by going to war with you! The issue with comparison today is that it is hugely manipulated by social pressure — especially in advertising and marketing. It is an extension of the “Keep up with the Jones’s” syndrome that grew out of the post-World War II expansion of the middle class and suburbia. Unless you are in a true survival situation, comparison will just make you work hard for things you really don’t need or want.
  • Competition — This one is essentially a composite of the above three but bears mentioning separately. The Ego wants to win. Its in its programming. Winning is an evolutionary trait that gives the Ego a sense of achievement and the identity of “winner”. People will say “I’m not very competitive”. If you have an Ego, you are competitive — just in different ways. Competition permeates all hierarchal systems — which pretty much includes every living thing. The hierarchy creates status, opportunities for power and wealth, tribal dominance and clear difference between “winners” and “losers”. As a libertarian-in-all-things and a free speech, free market advocate, I have no issue with competition. I do have an issue with the Ego’s tendency to use competition to hurt others, mis-use authority and fuel a if-you-are-not-cheating-you-are-not-trying culture in business and sports. My reminder to myself is: compete for what matters.

Ultimately, our Ego and Soul are intended to live in harmony. One needs the other. The Ego is needed for survival and the Soul is needed for happiness.But for similar reasons as to why we have a civilian commander-in-chief, the Ego makes a great employee but a terrible boss (unless you are in an actual life-threatening situation, then let the Ego do it’s thing so you don’t die!).

 

Things I No Longer Do

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

This is tofu disguised as bacon. What’s more pretentious than that?!

The past 4+ years have all been about change. Massive changes. Tiny changes. Entering this new era of me has been a painful and mighty challenge. Each change turned the wheel of evolution; revealing new things and leaving some things behind. And there’s been so much new that I haven’t spent much time on thinking, habits, etc that I used to have; things I used to do.

After some examination, I found a few things I no longer do. All of which defined- in many ways — the last era of me. Some were personality based or motivating forces. Others were about survival and a craving for identity. Whatever the reason, I simple don’t do them any more. I’ve outgrown them — emotionally and spiritually.

  • Posturing — I had a boss in the early 2000s that once told me, “Justin, you’re always working an angle.” That was true. I did want something from most people. Whether it was making a sale, validating my existence, affirming my value. I didn’t have the confidence to just be — I had to go get these things from other people. My posturing was a combination of flattery, insincere sincerity, self-deprecation and outright lying. I called it being “relatable” — when really it was about survival-based manipulation. I was using my God-given ability to connect with people for my own gain.
    No more. Sure, the old triggers and responses are still there. But each time I feel that urge to posture, I remind myself that I don’t have to be anything for anyone. And also, you can’t love people and also use them.
  • Pretense — I had a vivid and lively imagination as a child. One that got me through violence, boredom, loneliness. But it wasn’t until I was in my mid teens that I learned to pretend. I pretended to be confident. I pretended like I had my life in order. And back to posturing, I would pretend like I liked you if I thought you could do something for me. The more I pretended, the larger my imposter syndrome would grow. Because I was an imposter. I was pretending to be happy. Pretending to be successful. I was good at pretending — especially when social media came around. I had a good sense of image and perception — and how to pretend in order to build the image I wanted everyone to see. No more. I am me. No acting. No pretending. Which, deliciously, has brought back my childhood ability to imagine and think creatively. I will extend a few minutes of grace to a situation — but if it’s not for me, I give myself permission to simply leave rather than pretend to be there. This includes many social settings, small talk, closed society gossip.
  • Primal Dominance — I was a dichotomy. In many ways, I was a wuss. In other ways, I wanted to drink from the skulls of my enemies. Especially intellectually. I wanted to intellectually dominate you. To show you who was smarter. The same boss told me “You are way too quick to show people how smart you are.” I was always insecure about my not having a college education, so if I came across someone with a lot of schooling — especially from a prestigious university- I would preen and proclaim that my “street” education was much more useful. I was also insecure about my perceived lack of athletic ability. So I would show off how smart I was on sports, working out, physical challenges to overcompensate for my lack of worth in these areas. No more. Sure, there’s a time for decisive leadership. I still consider myself an Alpha but a secure, awake, contemplative one.

When these three things fell away, I noticed additional changes. I no longer give advice. This is a fairly new epiphany, but most advice I was giving was related to one, some or all three of the above. My advice was all of the ego — even if well intentioned and typically factually correct. Secondly, I no longer identify with any groups. I am a human man, that by citizenship, is an American. That’s it. When I removed posturing, pretense and primal dominance from my behavior, I no longer NEEDED to be in a group. Finally, I have learned joy. The joy of genuineness. The joy of discipline. The joy of suffering. The joy of empathy. I have learned that when you connect to the soul and its creator, your primary emotion is joy. And joy doesn’t need to posture, pretend or dominate. Joy just is.

80% of Freedom is Internal

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Nelson Mandela’s cell

I believe the natural state of all humans is freedom. Anything less than freedom is on the spectrum of tyranny. I also have come to learn that 80% of freedom is internal. Whether it be a person, a family, a business, a community, a state, a nation, a global movement. Which leaves 20% as external conditions or circumstances.

While there are certainly more free societies, the government does not extend freedom. Because it can’t give what’s not its to give. It can protect the structure of freedom but is far more inclined to restrict freedom.

Religious doctrine also doesn’t extend freedom. It too is far more likely to restrict freedom. The freedom that Jesus (and others) spoke of was not a dispensation. It was a re-awakening of understanding the freedom we already contain within us.

A career rarely leads to freedom. The term “wage slaves” is painfully true. Consumerism and comparison also saddle us with soul crushing obligations and attachments. Which makes sense … you can’t purchase freedom.

I arrive at this 80/20 ratio through my own experiences but also studying the lives of others — especially those that have endured great suffering. Many survivors of suffering report a deep sense of freedom. A sense of meaning that extends far beyond the mind’s coping mechanisms. Noted psychiatrist, author and Nazi concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl said, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”

In any situation, no matter how dire, we control our behavior, our language (inner and outer) and our responses. The level of sovereignty in these three areas is essential to re-claim inner freedom. To achieve inner freedom (which is actually re-discovering what’s already there) takes a series of courageous and often sacrificial acts.

  • Re-claim your identity. Our ego’s need for identity and form creates deeply unhealthy attachments. Most common is an attachment to the identity of “victim”. As I shared recently, victimhood is the easiest cult to join and the most difficult to want to leave. Martyrdom is also an identity that our egos love to attach to. But you are not your circumstances, your conditions, your experiences. You are you. You are the you in you that infinitely powerful.
  • Change your narrative. Our words form our realities. If we are using negative language, then our reality will become bleak. This doesn’t mean to be delusional or naive. It means that we must measure every word we use — first in our heads, then out of our mouths. When you begin to speak encouraging, positive, affirming words, the narrative changes. This may have zero impact on outside conditions, but you will still re-awaken freedom within.
  • Listen to the right voices. The voice of the soul is never wrong. It can’t be killed, squelched, muted. But it can be drowned out by darker voices. Our ego contains a dark shadow of self-loathing, blame, self-accusation. This same voice also breeds resentment. Which inevitably leads to violence. Nelson Mandela on his long awaited release from prison: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
  • Practice radical acceptance. There is a freedom and clarity that comes from fully accepting current circumstances or conditions. Without this acceptance, we remain in a comparative, should/shouldn’t mindset that creates false hope, expectations and assumptions. Freedom and truth go hand in hand. So lying to yourself about the reality of the circumstances actually contributes to your suffering. It’s also important to radically accept our feelings about a negative situation. It’s a fine line. We want to acknowledge these feelings as a form of truth — but we don’t want the negative ones to define our mindset and behavior. A common phrase in the military is “embrace the suck”. This exemplifies the radical acceptance of both conditions and the feelings we have about them.

I will close with this thought …

The best and highest another person can do for you is to change the 20% — liberate you from circumstances. No other human can give you the 80% of freedom that is inward. Only you can do that.

You Are Here to Create

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthOne Comment

We all start out as followers. Out of necessity for our survival and then for our identity, religious and political beliefs, career and to participate in society. Many of us stay in the role of follower — just with a different rank or slot on the hierarchy. Think a CEO is all powerful? Unless a CEO is the majority shareholder, even he/she is a follower.

I am more convinced than ever that being a follower was intended to be a temporary state of being. Books like “Iron John”“Wild at Heart” and “12 Rules for Life” emphasize the psychology and mythology behind the evolution of being; of the rites of passage of maturity.

Many a grown up hasn’t actually grown up. They are just aging followers — or as I say in my book “Human Bacon” about many Gen X and Boomer men, “they got old without every growing up”. I have some compassion for why this is. When you apply hard work with a clear role, you produce a lifestyle. This lifestyle is funded and sustained by being a good follower. Rocking the boat, speaking the truth, asking for what you want, etc are all a threat to the follower’s life. Thoreau said it more eloquently … “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”.

Here’s the truth, however …

You are here to create.

The timing of moving from follower to creator is different for everyone. I have seen toddlers that are all about creation and have little interest in following. But I’ve also seen the transition from follower to creator happen with the elderly. The point is the same: there will come a time in life when you will be called to move from follower to creator. This calling could come in many forms. It could be a whisper in your soul. It could be a catastrophic event. It could be a spiritual awakening.

Most ignore this call. Repeatedly. And maybe it goes away and you remain a follower the rest of your life. Again, I have compassion for those that choose (and it is a choice) to ignore the calling. It’s terrifying. It often requires a massive change in how you do things. Answering the call to create can separate you from family. It can end marriages. It can end careers. Being called to create threatens everything your ego created around your identity, value and status.

If you choose to answer the call, know this: your way of creating will be unique and different from anyone else. All creative endeavors advance humanity and put a dent in the universe. But yours will be especially yours and no one else’s.

What you are here to create can be found at the convergence of three things:

  1. Your Mission. The thing you are here to do that only you can do.
  2. Your Beliefs. Not your adopted beliefs but the intrinsic beliefs that are part of your being.
  3. Your Talents. The combination of your natural gifts and learned skills.

Where these converge an artisan will be found. The artisan in you may not be recognized by others. But you recognize it. It was you as a young child. Before you became a full-time follower. When you lived by imagination. When you made art without fear of rejection. When you ran with the wind in your hair.

The (re)emergence and (re)acceptance of this artisan will bring with it fresh eyes. It will make your soul more nuanced. You will be sensitive about wasting time, shallow conversations, pretense, the trivial. You will see people differently — including even seeing their hidden artist that’s dormant and trapped beneath their follower persona. It will help you re-discover your inherent human super powers: choice, perspective, action, intuition, awareness — and creative energy.

When you embrace your becoming a creator, you will find that your creative purpose becomes an organizing principle in the chaos of the world. It will change your relationship with time and resources. It will become the most important and sacred part of being. And many of those that saw you as merely a follower will fall away. As will every aspect of the follower’s life you once led.

If you are still at the following stage, that’s ok. I encourage you to listen to the voice of your soul. It is never wrong.

If you are now a creator, what are you creating? I truly want to know.

What the Hell does “Let Go” Mean?

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Credit: Ronald Binge

You know if a phrase starts to appear on Instagram feeds, casual conversations and as coffee shop/Christian bookstore/strip mall yoga studio chotchkies, it’s become a cliche. Such is the the case with the now reduced-to-pablum phrase of “let go”. “Let go” has joined the ranks of “everything happens for a reason”, “YOLO!” and “follow your arrow”.

“Let go” is often well intended but poor advice (as most advice is) that encourages the recipient to suppress emotions and experiences — all in the name of “moving forward”. But you can’t let go of memories. Our brain doesn’t work that way. You can’t let go of feelings. Our heart doesn’t work that way.

Of course, I get the intention of “letting go”. We shouldn’t hold on to things. It’s part of being human. But “letting go” has also contributed to the mis-understood concept of non-attachment. Non-attachment is also humanly impossible. Like wearing wool socks through a sticker patch and not picking up stickers. We attach to people, ideas, things, beliefs, symbols. (The solution is aware attachment — but that’s a different post).

So what the hell does “let go” actually mean?

Let’s introduce a metaphor that will help explain a healthy, realistic type of letting go …

The physical world is made up of solids, gases and liquids. Metaphorically, universal truths are solids. Everything produced by the ego is gaseous. And feelings are fluid. In their liquid state, feelings follow the same laws of fluidity as in nature. When held on to, water becomes first still, then stagnant, then toxic. Feelings are the same way. They are meant to pass through; to flow. But we hold on to them (that whole attachment thing, again).

Let’s examine this further with common emotions and feelings …

When suppressed or contained:

  • Anger becomes resentment. And by my observations and internal wars, resentment is the most destructive of human emotions.
  • Desire becomes destruction which becomes shame or regret.
  • Hate becomes apathy which becomes violence.
  • Pride becomes loathing which becomes arrogance.
  • Envy, fueled by comparison, becomes greed.
  • Worry starts off as control and becomes anxiety.
  • Loneliness begets isolation which begets madness (and extremism).
  • Boredom produces numbness which then leads to the death of joy.

Even positive feelings are meant to pass on through …

  • Happiness trapped in a holding tank becomes lost expectations.
  • Reverence retained becomes idol worship (and when given a business model becomes a literal or figurative religion).
  • Gratefulness gathered becomes unworthiness.
  • And love (not Love, that’s different) can become obsession.

So a much more accurate use of “letting go” is this …

Feel it all.

But don’t hold on to the feeling.

Let go of the holding on to the feeling.

If it’s a negative feeling, it will pass. If it’s a positive feeling, another one will soon come.

Thoughts on Anxiety

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

The title of this post is intentionally ironic. Considering that thinking is exactly what causes anxiety. None the less, this is an important topic because anxiety effects roughly 40 million Americans over 18.

I am one of them. I didn’t know what to call it until later in life, but I’ve dealt with anxiety as far back as I can remember. Varying from gripping panic to the constant hum of unease, anxiety has been a frequent visitor. I remember having panic attacks so severe that I would pass out. I’m certain that my anxiety comes from being born into a situation that constantly immersed me in hyper-threat alert mode.

So I don’t arrive at these thoughts on anxiety lightly and without experience. I have been my own lab, my own research project, my own source of empirical data. To be clear, these thoughts are what have been of help to me and those I coach and mentor. They may not work for you. I am not a therapist, psychologist or any other sort of mental health professional.

  • Anxiety is yours. You own it. And if you begin thinking it’s someone else’s responsibility to fix it, you become its slave.
  • No one or no thing actually causes anxiety. Anxiety is entirely an inside game; a construct of the mind/ego. As I overheard recently, “the ego believes all of its stories”.
  • Anxiety is trying to protect you. It comes from thousands (maybe millions) of years of evolutionary biology to protect, to survive. But it doesn’t mean something is actually wrong. True danger triggers several responses, but anxiety isn’t one of them.
  • You are not your anxiety. In Internal Family System (IFS) behavioral theory, anxiety is a “part” that your psyche created to protect your core self. As I mentioned above, this is why it is trying to protect you. I call this part of me “The Parameter Dog”. On occasion, it still barks at perceived threats — but mostly he just works (once understood, anxiety becomes a fairly decent motivator) or rests like any herding animal.
  • Anxiety’s only cure is action. You can’t think your way out of anxiety. That’s why when dealing with anxiety or apanic attack, you’ve got to move. This includes sitting/standing up straight with your shoulders back and your breath even. Or push ups. Or a punching bag. Just move.
  • Anxiety comes from the same part of the brain as addiction. So anxiety can fairly easily trigger addictive behavior — especially an addiction to coping mechanisms. This could be relatively benign coping mechanisms like NetFlix binging. Or highly destructive and corrosive mechanisms like drug abuse, excessive consumption of pornography, excessive shopping, excessive eating… to name just a few business models that rely on anxiety.
  • Anxiety is heavily influenced by our attachment style. This includes the spiritual aspects of attachment that were taught by Jesus and Buddha as well as the emerging psychological science of attachment. In essence, we have a pre-disposition to either anxious, avoidant or healthy attachment styles. Anxiety plays a major role in the lives of anxious and avoidant attachment styles. If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend this book.
  • Remember this mantra: Ownership > Anxiety. This loops back to my first thought I shared. You don’t choose anxiety but you do choose how you react to it. Own that you have anxiety. Own your current reaction to it. Own the action you want to take. Own the search for the root cause. Own how it effects how others interact with you.

If you deal with anxiety or love someone that does, I hope these thoughts are helpful. And if you have your own tips and hacks for anxiety, please share them in the comments.

Being in a Doing World

By Leadership, Life, Self-Worth, UncategorizedNo Comments

For me, the gravitational pull of the extrinsic and external is my greatest source of anxiety. This sense of detachment from my inner self produces a sense of untetheredness. It makes me overly-sensitive, over-reactive. In this state, I tend to modify myself in order to get acceptance. I pursue what I think will make me happy — forgetting that I’m already happy.

In simple but true terms, “doing” is extrinsic and “being” is intrinsic. Doing is an external activity. Being is an internal state of consciousness.

Similar to the war on self-worth (a future topic), the pull of the extrinsic manifests in several ways in my life. Maybe some of these will resonate with your own experience.

  • I often find myself trying to see how others see me. This puts me in the doing mode of creating an image. I want others to see me as successful, attractive, confident, enlightened. So my energy is focused on doing whatever is necessary to create this image. To be intrinsic is to be your true self in any situation or any condition. There is no doing here. Just a sense of being; of connectedness to your own self-worth. This intrinsic place is fleeting for me.
  • I frequently attach way too much value to to my to-do list. It literally has the word “do” in it! While certainly things need to get done, I must be cautious of the highly addictive solidity of task. The mind loves the sense of meaning and value of getting things done. This is the essence of what it means to be a workaholic. There will always be something on the to-do list. But to combat it’s narcotic effect, I also need a “To-Be” list. This would include things like being connected to God, being compassionate towards others, being open to adventure. The list is endless.
  • I know I’m in a high state of extrinsic doing when I am worrying about what other people are doing. The irony is rich. I am making my doing about what other people are doing. In this place lies obsession, lust, resentment, judgement. It is a detachment from the humanity of others because doing detaches me from my own humanity. There is a place for being when it comes to others. This would include observation, curiosity, connecting. Being is looking beneath the surface of the behavior of others to understand and listen to their souls.

Like almost everything in life, the solution is awareness. And awareness comes from asking good questions. Like …

Am I grounded in my soul or grasping for attention?

Am I loving people where they are or judging them from afar?

Am I seeking the root or chasing the fruit?

Can I look into someones eyes — including my own?

Doing is ultimately self-absorption. This is sometimes necessary at a survival level. That’s why its gravitational pull is so strong. But there’s no growth here. The to-do list just changes.

Being is ultimately self-worthiness. It’s the surety of knowing that you are connected to permanent things like love, truth, goodness, creativity. Our soul is wired to need these things. And this is most certainly where growth is. The to-be list just expands.