Six Things to Do When You Hate Your Life

Sometimes I feel like a downright hypocrite (which we all are at some point, I just hate having it so in-my-face). As a positive psychology practitioner and coach, I feel like I should have my act together and some days or months, I just don’t.

There are days that I love my life. Days that I hate my life. It’s easy if the hating part comes just for a day or two but it can be weeks or months where I feel profoundly dissatisfied with major parts of my life.

There. I feel better already.

Positive psychology says that negative emotion is adaptive and useful too. We can use our dissatisfaction, frustration, anger or disappointment to know when something is wrong or to create change. Short-term negative emotion may not elicit change as effectively as sustained negative feelings, so really, the opportunity is so much greater for those long term funks. Also, our positive emotion would not be as satisfying or meaningful without the yin to that yang.

Though useful, dealing with negative emotion day-in-and-day-out can quickly becomes counter productive and lead to real mental health and relationship risks.   Here’s Six Things To Do for when life seems to just keep on stinking:

  • Self care – Exercise, play, rest, sufficient sleep, good nutrition, and especially meditation/being present are more important than ever. Without it, your capacity to really deal with issues goes even lower.
  • Be aware of impact on others – Sometimes we don’t realize how our mood or energy impacts others. Know that your sustained negative feelings or short fuse can wear thin on others. Make sure you give them plenty of affirmation and support as you go through a prolonged grumpy phase. Also make sure they know that it’s not about them.
  • Feel, but don’t ruminate – Make time to actively acknowledge your feelings. Name them. Vent in your journal or to a trusted friend (though keep it limited) or rant out loud when you’re alone.   Then stop.
  • Reframe – After feeling your feelings, it’s time to find the silver lining else risk just going into a downward spiral. Ask: What is the best possible outcome? What lesson do I need to learn? What is their perspective?   How might my behavior or attitude appear to them? Take ownership of your part and create the world’s best outcome to this situation! Importantly: don’t judge the situation, yourself or others. Remember, all data is neutral. We assign meaning to it. Something you thought was disastrous may turn out to be a blessing. You can turn it into one.
  • Forgive – No one is perfect, nor should we be. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Reflect how everyone struggles, makes mistakes, has blind spots, are hypocrites, and are simply just doing their best. Because these things are true for ALL of us, even if it doesn’t appear that way.
  • Ask for Help – You know what? You’re not alone in this.   I guarantee a book or even dozens of books have been written about something just like this. There are friends, family and trained professionals that care about this. Don’t feel like you’re alone and don’t reinvent the wheel. There are people who want to help and you’re worth the investment.

I always learn valuable life lessons from adversity. This blog is largely about what I’ve learned during the course of my life struggles.   If nothing else, creativity and inspiration often come from struggle, which is ultimately a place where we must grow and learn, or become stuck.   When we come out the other side, the joy and laughter is all the more sweet.

The Quest for Perfection

You all know that I’m a recovering perfectionist. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made but like with any other addictive tendencies, it’s a tendency that never completely goes away.

Did I really say addictive?

Let’s face it. There’s something rewarding and dysfunctional in the belief that we can have or have achieved perfection. Creating perfection is delusional at best, yet we love to bask in the fantasy that perfection is within reach.

The challenge of creating that balance between wanting to improve versus feeling bad or inadequate becomes strikingly clear to me when I play the piano. I love the meditative, creative and generative aspects of playing an instrument. Even though I’m not a huge music fan, I also enjoy creating something melodious and hearing the beautiful tone of the keys.

Yet when I practice, it starts as a fun discovery of learning what I can still manage to play and the sounds I can create.   Eventually I get bored with that (unfortunately, a common theme for me) and so I may instead attempt the futility of perfecting how I play a piece. If I could find just the right tempo, key stroke, loudness and expression, I keep saying to myself, I can really enjoy it.

In reality, if I were able to achieve perfection, I likely cannot reproduce that perfection a second time and anything less will feel like a disappointment. If I could reproduce it, I would quickly get bored because now it lacks challenge.

Yes. That’s the delusion of perfectionism, the belief that I will be satisfied and happy when…. The truth is I’ve created a lose:lose scenario instead of enjoying the activity for its own sake.

One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned from Dad is that it’s about the journey, not the destination.  The journey itself is the source of satisfaction and joy. The fact that I have to learn that lesson repeatedly speaks to my tendency to focus on the endpoint as an excuse to not enjoying the now.

The piano teaches me that I am choosing to create frustration and dissatisfaction in both the journey and endpoint. Rather, I should play for the sake of creativity and human expression, and viewing mistakes as opportunities for discovery.  Impressionism, jazz, youngest children, and serendipity could all be considered mistakes that turned into something fantastic.   Embrace the mistakes, the noise, the messiness, the deviations as opportunities to break free from our rigid sense of right/wrong and perfection.

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

― Leonard Cohen

Range of Self-Limiting Beliefs

“I am who I am.”

Or if you’re Popeye: “I yam who I yam.”

This is the mantra of people who have a fixed mindset – the belief that we cannot change. I agree with this notion in one respect. I do think we’re capable of growth (growth mindset) to become better versions of our authentic selves but I’ve also realized I have a very limited vision of who I am. In other words, I can be described by this list of, say, 12 nouns and 18 adjectives. I can grow and be better versions of those nouns and adjectives. I’m not any of the remaining hundreds of nouns and adjectives. Thus I really have beliefs that span both the fixed and growth mindset.

That being said, I would also claim that even if I questioned my belief about those hundreds of self-descriptors that, I’m likely not some savant in those areas.

Or maybe I am.

I’ve known of people who have picked up hobbies in their mid- or late-life and have become accomplished and successful in a role that would not have ever fallen into their self-description. For example, I discovered my passion and talent for coaching and development somewhat recently. I had no clue, aside from the scores of times others told me I was good at it.

Yeah, no clue. And I still couldn’t imagine myself beyond those 12 self-described roles.

So maybe it’s not a question of whether I can grow at something, but rather a question of my ability to reconsider my self-conception: “I’m not artistic.” “I’m not crafty.” “I’m not athletic.” “I’m not good at….”

You might’ve read my blog about my Humiliating Art Escapade where I crashed into a self-limiting belief and subsequently decided to identify and challenge such beliefs, specifically in this case about my artistic ability. Fast forward to my gal-group going to Paintnite. Paintnite is this activity where you pay and show up (my favorite) and are led through a painting exercise. No pre-printed grids to guide your paintbrush. In theory, you could paint a rowboat or an alien, but you’re given instructions on how to paint the picture du jour.   Unlike my last paint-by-numbers homework assignment where I grumbled and moaned for a couple of hours, much to my delight, I really enjoyed this activity possibly in large part due to the company of my dear, and extremely supportive, friend Anne. I’m actually thinking of signing up for a class.

So the moral of the story is, regardless of whether you think we can change or not, consider rethinking your own assumptions about yourself. You may enjoy who you discover!

Exploring my artistic side

Having fun exploring my artistic side

Your Inner Light

This may not come as a surprise to you right-brain types but we left-brain types are pretty clueless. Things you take for granted that are as tangible as this keyboard are a mystery to us.   So please forgive me as I once again write about something I’m clueless about.

Honestly, I thought that inner light stuff was just a saying or a euphemism, but it’s a real thing. You know: “let your inner light shine”.   Your inner light has to do with your energy (I know. More metaphysical BS) and what you do with it. Your energy comes from your emotions and intentions. For example, if you are feeling inspired and loving to mankind, your energy and light will be obvious to others. If you are feeling resentful and vengeful, that too will be sensed. It’s not something that is seen necessarily, but rather something that is sensed.

Sensitive and empathic folk pick up on this energy in a heartbeat. You do not have to say or do a thing for them to just know. While having a conversation with two empathic people who were facing away from me, my emotions changed in response to the conversation. I did not move even a bit.  Yet they literally both stopped, turned and looked at me when that happened. My energy and emotions changed and they could just sense it.

You see, we emotional luddites are fairly clueless to this except for maybe at the ends of the spectrum. For some, this is a fine radar picking up emotional microparticulates; for me it pretty much has to smack me in the face. Thus my doddering and nerdy charm.

Emotionally-disabled though I am, I can still cultivate and share my light with others by actively feeling, expressing, and acting on positive emotions and intentions.   In other words, I may foster my light, but I can also guard it so that only the most perceptive can detect it. Or I can cultivate it, nurture it, share it with others in an active way. Actively feeling that emotion and intention and allowing it to broadcast to others permits your light to shine.

When I shine my light, I have a much more pleasant expression and body language. I am more approachable. People smile at me. Children stare. Dogs come visit. Conversation with others is easy and natural.

If I’m carrying around emotional garbage, then that light is dimmer and harder to find. Things tend to not go as smoothly and interactions tend to be stiffer.  Emotional Neanderthal that I am, I’m not always aware of that garbage lurking beneath the surface, but I’m getting better at it.

I’m really just a rookie at this, so I’d love to hear from the light-whisperers and light-seekers out there to shed more light (pardon the pun) on the subject. After all, growing light is one small way to make your corner of the world just a bit brighter.

To Plan or Not to Plan?

This is such a great time of year as so many of us are wrapping up Commencement. We just returned from Jackson’s graduation at Denison University. Those graduates had an amazing 4 years there and really have enhanced who they are as humans and world citizens.

The student delivering the senior class address was named Sterling Keiser. Her message to graduates and incoming Denisonians: Have no plan. Yep. Contrary to the practice of millions of anal compulsives and control freaks world-wide. Her rationale: Her plan went out the window at Denison, almost from the get-go.

I can just hear my Dad grinding his teeth to this message. His message to young people: Have and pursue a plan; don’t give up. His rationale: If he had given up after small and large setbacks, he would not be where he is today (and I don’t mean the senior living community he’s living in).

That’s the trouble with advice. Like a horoscope, advice is so dependent on the person and the situation, it’s almost random in it’s utility. Nonetheless, there are pearls of wisdom in both offerings.   I would wordsmith the two messages into the following combination: Be open while planning and pursuing your vision.

Dad was pursuing his vision of living and working in America. Setback after setback did not deter him. He was flexible with the implementation of his plan and would find alternative paths around obstacles. What seemed like disastrous failures turned into much better options.  His dream was strong, compelling and authentic to him but also vague enough that it left much room for flexibility and opportunity.

I know less about Sterling and the plan that went by the wayside. Perhaps her original plan was too specific and narrow or not authentic to her true passions and desires. Indeed, too narrowly defining yourself and your vision for yourself means that you may miss out on something more wonderful or authentic than what was originally constructed. Those options often appear as setbacks, deterrents, and missed opportunities. Here’s an exercise: consider every “bad” thing or “wrong turn” that happens to you and envision the best possible outcome. Consider modifying your plan accordingly. Turning a closed door into an open window takes practice, patience, optimism, hard work and creativity but it might just take you places that you’ve never dreamed.

Lessons From the Cycle of Life

We begin life as babies completely dependent and vulnerable, relying on others for our most basic needs and survival. Babies are completely present since the concerns of the future and past are nonexistent. They take nothing for granted. Even the existence of the sun, the birds, internal sensations, fingers and toes are subjects of fascination. What’s important at this stage? Nutrition. Sleep. Staying clean and dry. A little entertainment. Perhaps a little exercise. Lots of attention and love.

Necessity and human development eventually expands one’s world to include concerns beyond the necessities of basic survival: how we look, what others think of us, when and how to work or study, home or car maintenance, or our bank balance.   The more we become consumed with concerns, the more the basics get overlooked or pushed to the limits. Nutrition may become fast or junk food, alcohol or caffeine. Sleep is an afterthought and stress is a fact of life. Our relationships may be about obligation, status, or convenience and only pursued when all else is done. We’re progressive. We’re evolved. We’re wise. We’re successful. We no longer require others to care for us.

Empowering though it may seem, this stage cannot last forever.  We eventually return to the basic needs stage, a fact all too evident at my father’s senior living community. Leaving behind our lives of productivity, independence and concerns, we regress back to the place where the basics once again are paramount. For some, walking or eating feel like victories and become the basis for celebration. There, I am moved or almost moved to tears on a regular basis. Of course. Catastrophic illness or death is a fact of life as the facility also includes assisted living.

But no.   There is much more at play in this senior community than physical victories or struggles.   What touches my heart is the humanity and gratitude of the residents and staff. While my father and other residents, for example, are physically dependent on a small few in that community, the sense of mutual dependence and support extends into the community at large for both staff and residents alike. The staff takes care of the residents, but they also take care of each other. The residents take care of each other, but also nurture the staff.   Outsiders such as myself get to revel in the micro- and macro-moments of love that occur in abundance each day.

This stage of dependence may be as much about attending to the physical as the baby stage. However, it also seems to broaden the element of love and attention to the level of community that somehow seems comparatively diminished in the independent phase. I can’t help but wonder if those so-called concerns (our mortgage, our appearance, our jobs) all too easily disconnect us from our humanity and sense of community.

No. Senior living is not depressing to me at all. The seniors inspire me to live my life as if every day and every person, including myself and the most disabled or ill, count.

My likely aging cycle

My likely aging cycle

The Perfect Moment

Opening the acceptance letter. Receiving your diploma. Getting your first job offer.   Saying “I do”. The first cry of your baby.   Sitting down to relax for the first time in your new house. Receiving a promotion or professional recognition. The retirement party.

Our lives are sprinkled with events that mark the achievements and highlights of our careers or lives.   Such events are so seminal in our lives, we may have a tendency to focus on achieving that end goal (“I just want/need to….before I can….”) before giving ourselves permission to be proud of ourselves or feel that we can relax.

That perfect moment can be so elusive and so far away, spaced years apart and requiring long intervals of sacrifice and hard work.

Wow. It seems like a long time to wait to allow oneself to feel satisfied or proud.

What about these moments? A Technicolor sunset. Hearing your child laugh.   Observing a kind gesture. A moment of connection.   Holding the hand of a loved one. Snuggling with your puppy. Enjoying your coffee, just the way you like it. Observing a master at work.   Listening to your favorite song. Watching an egret fly over the river.

There are perfect moments all around us. Sometimes we have to wait for it or go get it. Sometimes that moment is right there and but we’ve grown immune or desensitized to the wonder, beauty and joy around us.

The perfection that we seem to most often take for granted is the miracle of our own life and existence. Think about the physiology that enables you to walk, talk, eat, sleep, breathe, think, love and daydream. Think about this earth that nurtures and sustains us. Think about the galaxy around us that we only have barely begun to understand. Really, every moment that we’re blessed to be on this earth is perfection.

The perfect moment is now. Really, what else do you need right at this very moment? I thought so.

Lessons from the Gym: View from the 50+ Perch

I’m officially 50+. Wow. You know, it doesn’t really bother me. I tend to have a weird perspective in that I like the things that tend to bother others (thus the name of this blog). Aging is one example. Sure, there are things about aging that aren’t great, but overall I’d much rather be where I am now than where I was when at my physical peak.

Speaking of physical peak, or in my current case, physical decline, recently I found myself once again reflecting upon exercise as a metaphor for my life. In the span of really 2 short years, I’ve gone from a pretty active and vigorous cardio program to something more low key and contemplative. The transition happened in part because I gave up self-care for my now-completed degree program. Having two full-time commitments precluded having much personal time.

Coming back into the exercise routine post-graduation, I have been unable to bounce back in the manner I have grown accustomed to. This was not my first break/return to exercise in my life, but the first time I’ve been unable to rise to my pre-break level of fitness. I can do the whole class still but the really fast routines are beyond my abilities now. I physically cannot move that fast any more.

Since this physical change is accompanied by a notable scarcity of cardio classes that I enjoy, I have instead transitioned to the more meditative classes like yoga and tai chi. Here, we focus on posture, form and breath, and the quality of the movement more than the quantity.

I can’t help but notice the parallels to my life.   Before, the focus was more on quantity: how much can we do or accomplish? How far can we go? Now, I really want to make sure that my state of being and way of being are of high quality. Can I stretch or shift instead of running or jumping? Attending to my breath is my baseline in exercise just like making sure the quality of my inner world is (or actually, should be) the foundation of my day.

I used to think the big gestures and efforts were most important. Now I know that those small shifts make the difference as to whether I’m feeding my vitality or essence or just running on adrenaline and lactic acid. I’ve also become more naturally deliberative, a quality that generally evades me.

There is a wisdom associated with moving through the world quietly and contemplatively.   The quality of your heart is more important than the quality of your hands and probably even your mind.   Where is your focus?