More Self-Limiting Beliefs

A while back I read a news blurb in The Week that talked about how the military has a gizmo that, when worn by soldiers, removes all self-doubt.  Soldiers wearing the device have an incredibly rapid learning curve – learning new languages or becoming proficient in shooting in days or weeks instead of months or years.

Like so many things, I read that and processed it cognitively and in relation to others.  I failed to look at myself to see where myself-limiting beliefs are holding me back.

In fairness to me (get ready for a justification), I have broken down many self-limiting beliefs about who I am, what my value to the world is, what my place in the world is, etc.  Yes those are important and wonderful steps to take and, in my opinion, have transformed me into a much happier and effective person.  Not only have those changes changed my life on a personal level, they also motivate me to help others do the same.

But I stopped too soon.  And if history is any indicator, which it usually is, I still probably have a long ways to go into that unexplored territory.

If you read my recent blog about my art experiment, you may have already guessed where I still have many self-limiting beliefs.  I believe myself to be pretty much devoid of artistic creativity or ability, with the possible exception of dance where I possess a modicum of ability. As a result, I have never really pursued any of the artistic or creative pursuits with any real interest or commitment.  This is confounded by my impatience for the creative process; ironically I believe it’s my intellectual creativity (vis a vis boredom) and desire to get things done that stand in the way of my trying to develop any nascent artistic creativity.   But art is about the process, not the quality of the end product, a lesson I am trying to teach others about our life’s journeys.

So who’s the hypocrite here?

I’m not proud of it.

I had an aha moment of self-awareness as I was protesting my lack of artistic ability and finally was able to hear myself talk.  That hypocrisy was all over me, like white on rice.  Not that I’m saying I’m some latent Van Gogh, but rather that my lack of talent has been an excuse for me to not explore this side of me.

An old girlfriend used to always tell me how creative I am and I’m starting to agree with her.  No, it’s not in the visual arts per se but I’m actually pretty proud of the ability to decorate my home respectably, that I’ve been a decent seamstress in the past, and I’ve taken pride in the presentation of food I’ve prepared.  I’ve enjoyed playing the piano and dancing as I’ve mentioned, and it turns out I love to write.  Whodda thunk?

Given that I am now acknowledging a fair amount of cognitive dissonance up until this point, I now wish to explore my artistic side a bit more intentionally.  Time to take up the piano and dancing again, for sure.  I have also been longing for years, for example, to learn the taiko drums (anyone know anyone around here?).  But for the other things (remember I’m still scarred by the C I made in art in middle school) I am going to recruit my girlfriends to join me in this exploration over wine and cheese.  We will take turns leading an exploration of a different side of our creative selves.  We can try stand up, singing, playing music, decorating, arranging music with other activities, physical expression, cooking, ceramics, painting, dance, sewing/quilting, creative writing, you name it.  We can be creative about being creative.  And we’ll do it together.

I have heard story after story of people in mid-life discovering their creative side and uncovering a bit of talent.  I don’t think I feel the need to be good at any of these things.  I will pursue them because they bring me pleasure and  are an outlet for creative expression.  Furthermore, doing them with friends will mean a bonding experience and fellowship.  What else could I ask for?

Authentic Purpose

Why are you here?

This is neither an existential question, nor an accusation that you’re in the wrong place.  Rather, I’m asking what unique imprint you are here to make on your corner of the world.

I think this is a tough question for most people to answer unless they have taken the time to really consider this.  If you’ve already figured this out, then you’re likely to be able to answer quickly and with conviction.    If you’ve done this exercise in a manner that reflects what you think others want you to do or believe, your response may lack passion or certainty.  At my age I wouldn’t even be able to remember what I’m supposed to say if my mission were not my own.

I’ve had the honor of working through this process with a few people now and I’ve come to the conclusion that most people have an authentic purpose, but it takes some effort to elicit it.  It’s in there somewhere.  It’s unique to that person, since everyone’s mission sounds different.  Each person, upon discovery, seemed to feel that when the mission was articulated ‘just right’, it rang true to them.   Each mission also applied to their whole life, not just their personal or professional life.  For the mission to be authentic, it must apply to that person in all their usual contexts and roles.

So far, each mission connected that person to the service of humanity in some manner.  I don’t suppose that will necessarily be true for everyone, as some people’s mission might be to save the dolphin or a rare tree, but there may still be an element of service to humanity inherent in those goals as well.

Why does the authentic purpose matter?  To have well-being and flourish, according to positive psychology, we need to live a virtuous life.  But a virtuous life with no purpose, or the wrong purpose, will not help us feel very fulfilled.  I believe our authentic purpose is essential to help guide us to life satisfaction and success.  Our authentic purpose fills our cup, energizes us, and provides direction to our lives.

My authentic purpose is to use active love (being involved and doing the right thing for people) to help others become the best possible versions of themselves.  One way I express my mission is by writing this blog each week.  My mission has given me the fuel to have continued this blog for over 200 entries over a 14 month period, and to return to school full time on top of my day job.   It’s driving my personal and professional life, and I feel like I’m finally living my life authentically and in service of what I’m here to do.

What is your authentic purpose and how do you direct that mission?  If you haven’t identified it yet, shouldn’t you?

Open for Business

The most amazing things happen when you’re open to the world. There is wonder, joy, awe, forgiveness, connection and gratitude.   Or is it more important to you to be certain?

Certainty has its benefits. It feels safer to be certain.  It’s easier to be certain because you don’t have to re-think decisions or opinions.  You don’t have to take a chance of having a bad meal or being embarrassed because you tried something you couldn’t do.  You don’t have to decide who to vote for, or what to think of yourself or someone else.

The problem with certainty, in my opinion, is that it limits growth and perspective.  Certainty is also boring.  Do you know anyone who is always certain, always right?  It’s somewhat obnoxious, isn’t it?  It’s a barrier to intimacy because if I’m not open to someone else’s authenticity (because I’ve already decided who or what they are), then I can’t ever really see them.  If I’m not open to different interpretations of my self then I can’t really know who I am either.  I also feel like I’m in a rut when I will only entertain the same routine every day. My opportunities for psychological, spiritual, emotional, intellectual or physical improvement are limited when I’m closed.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with comfort or relaxing.  But perhaps you’d like to reconsider your open/closed ratio.   Are you open to that question?  If so, answer these questions:

  • Do you stop and really listen to opinions you disagree with?  Or do you start shaking your head “No” right away?
  • Do you look strangers in the eye, or keep your gaze fixed straight ahead or down?
  • Do you strike up conversations with people you don’t know, or keep it all business?
  • When walking or driving by yourself, do you attend to your thoughts or notice your environment?
  • When some invites you to try a new activity or dish, how frequently will you choose to try it?  I mean, really try it to see if you like it?  (Trying it but immediately saying you don’t like it doesn’t count).
  • When someone compliments you (or criticizes you), are you willing to accept their statement at face value, or do you dismiss it without thinking?
  • When was the last time you challenged your conception about yourself – your talents, strengths, weaknesses, personality, beliefs – or someone else?
  • What recent experience created surprise, awe, inspiration or joy for you?
  • When someone wrongs you, how frequently do you reconsider your initial judgment or opinion and end up with a more forgiving interpretation?

What do you think?  Do you want to shift your open/closed ratio? If so, how?  How did it go?Image

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Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, Explained by Clichés

Wealth and happiness

Wealth and happiness

Don’t you love those Aha moments when something you’ve always known intuitively but couldn’t understand is finally explained?  Money (and other stuff) doesn’t buy happiness.  We all know that, but how many of us live that?  Our consumer-driven society pursues and values money as if it is the ultimate prize.  “He who has the most, wins.”  As if winning is even the most important thing.

Those that are fabulously successful are not necessarily happier than anyone else.  But why?

In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt explains that when we make a step closer to a goal, we receive a little burst of dopamine, a neurochemical that mediates pleasure.   Every time we progress, move forward on our journey, jump over yet another hurdle, we get that dopamine reward.  However, the dopamine reward is short-lived and is most effective when its release occurs right after the accomplishment.  In other words, a major accomplishment will still only provide a relatively small and transient burst of dopamine despite the magnitude of the prize because you probably worked long and hard toward that goal.  Then, after a few hours or days, you’ll be wondering, “Now what?”

So undoubtedly we’ve all experienced this anti-climactic response to a major accomplishment.  For me, tenure was the ultimate anti-climactic experience.  I think I actually became depressed, because I didn’t like the answer to the  “Now what?”   Twenty-two years of education and six years on the tenure track.  I’d call that delayed gratification to the Nth degree.  And the reward (the path to professor) was something I could not fathom pursuing.

Therefore, money, stuff, or tenure does not buy happiness. But the journey does.  Each step closer to a goal gives us that burst of dopaminergic happiness.  Maybe that means we should really just be in the present moment rather than saving our joy for the future.

I hear this notion from my students over and over.  “I’ll just be satisfied/happy/content/quit worrying when I graduate.”  Nope.  It doesn’t work that way and now I know why.

So let’s really live by the other tried and true adage, “Life is short.  Eat dessert first.”  Chocolate cake anyone?

The Blessings of a Dysfunctional Marriage

This twenty-year marriage had a happy ending: divorce.

It’s not what you think, completely.  Yes, the divorce was the right thing to do and we all felt better afterwards, or we would not have made that difficult decision.  But despite the many years of struggle and anguish, Dave and I had a good marriage.  Let me explain.

I should start by saying that Dave and I had what is probably a typical marriage.  Like most couples we were attracted to each other and fell in love because of our unidentified and unmet emotional needs.  We felt “complete” with each other because our partner reflected a chance to heal our emotional shortcomings.  Trouble begins when the euphoria wears away and you’re left primarily with the challenge of actually healing yourself.   The opportunity that is marriage is that it provides the laboratory, lab partner and the incentive to avoid an “F” to discover and heal those unmet needs.

Of course the problem is that we too often look toward others to fix our emotional voids. “I’m feeling sad, angry, inadequate, unloved, then it must be your fault.  Your unwillingness to make me feel better means you don’t love me.”

That makes perfect sense in the somewhat sterile world of the blogosphere, but in the heat of the moment, after all your hot buttons get pushed, it is extraordinarily difficult to access the objective and responsible viewpoint.

Which brings me back to my dear ex and dysfunctional marriage.   Without my marriage, I would not have had the opportunity for self-discovery and improvement that my committed husband provided.  I had a place and a partner who supported our individual and dual journeys for self-actualization for twenty whole years.  My partner put as much time and effort into his personal journey as I did mine, and in so doing, helped me along my way.  My ex helped me lift my head from my self-delusional sand to realize that it’s not only OK to imperfect, but it’s a condition that is conducive and even necessary for personal growth.

No, the marriage did not work out despite our best efforts.  Sometimes it got ugly.  But I can proudly say that we both gave it our best shot and I believe I can speak for us both when I say we are both better people now than before we met.   I feel sure our mutual commitment to each other until the very end is the reason we still fondly support and care for each other and that we have parted with little or no bitterness.   I am still proud of Dave and his journey, and wish him much happiness and growth on his next big adventure.   I know I am ready for mine.