A good amount of my family in generations past were involved in farming. Being farmers they seemed to have a language that us city kids found both hard to understand and at the same time rather amusing. I recall my great uncle asking me, “Why are you wasting so much time planting parking lots?” Being a teenager from the city at the time my thought was something along the lines of, “What on earth are you talking about?” Of course, back then it was filled with the colorful language of a teenager. I was never fully able to grasp exactly the point he was trying to make. Roughly thirty years later it was made clear to me.
This story comes to us from the friendly confines of the Oak Creek Post Office, which is where I can be found exchanging my time and labor for money Monday to Friday. Ever since I was hired by the United States Postal Service, I have found it a great opportunity to practice may many lessons in self-improvement and positivity. Today was such a day. While there are plenty of folks at the post office who could benefit from exploring the fields of self-improvement and positivity, there are often very few so inclined. Most words of encouragement are returned with cynical or sarcastic statements. It can seem as futile as…here it comes…planting seeds in a parking lot. Suddenly, my great uncle’s words came back to me and I understood what he meant. No matter how good your seeds (or words of encouragement in this case) are or how often you water them (share encouraging words to others, if they are laying on concrete or blacktop they will not grow.
It is, I imagine, a charming way of saying you should stop wasting your time on activities that stand very little chance of success. If you had words that could make someone’s heart take flight, it may be best to share them with someone whose heart is not weighted down with layers of cynical thinking and pessimism.
Just when I began to think of myself as having discovered a person epiphany and was giving thought to saving my kind words of encouragement for an area they may be better served, a caveat to this way of thinking was served to me. This enlightenment came from my coworker Sharon. Normally one to supply her healthy dose of cynicism, this time she brought up a very good point. “You never know when that seed might bring the smile someone needed.” she told me. I thought about that for a while. Even parking lots have cracks I suppose. If one of your seeds (words of encouragement) happens to find one of those cracks in the parking lot (the rare open-hearted soul in a sarcastic world) it might resonate even more for its rarity in the situation. Proving, even in great farming wisdom, there are two sides to every story.
These are both good lessons to carry with us through our lives. We should check to make sure we are not spending undo time planting parking lots. That is spending our time and efforts on whatever goal we are aspiring to, in a situation in which it is unlikely to succeed. That being said, however, we should remember that a small light may not seem like much in the darkness, but it stands out a lot more than it would in a well-lit room. We also must remember that a little light may be exactly what someone needs.
Wouldn’t it be great if we had treasure all around us? If you have an overflowing bank account would you leave that money in the bank or would you put it to use to make your life better and more enjoyable. If your answer is ‘yes’ you are like most of us walking around this earth. If your answer is ‘no’ feel free to place that money in my bank account I would be more than happy to give you a demonstration on how this all works.
Most people desire money so greatly because they believe it will make them happy. You may be tempted to disagree, but if you follow the trail it always ends in happiness. If you want money to ease your stress of finances, that would make you feel less stressed and happy. Perhaps you are noble and would like to make money to help feed and cloth children in poverty. Knowing that you helped those who may not be able to help themselves would make you feel like you did something good and in turn that would leave you feeling…yep, you guessed it, happy!
Some people chase happiness in more spiritual realm. They find happiness in some sort of enlightenment. In the end their accomplishments, even in the spiritual realm, will lead to happiness. Some people enjoy serving others. Some people enjoy overcoming obstacles. There are a million different things that all of us do to mine for the treasure of happiness. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a tool that would allow us to carry those fleeting moments of happiness with us? In effect, extending the duration of happiness. Good news, there is and I am going to share it with you. In fact, you may use portions of this tool unconsciously right now. Switching to doing so with a purpose will allow you to have, and be surrounded by an inner feeling of joy even in the darkest of times.
This tool was brought to my attention by a story shared from a coworker. Weekly, I am scheduled to visit our friends at the post office in the city of South Milwaukee in the state of Wisconsin where I live. On this particular day, I was greeted by an employee named Michelle. She was excited to share some recent photos of her son’s engagement. They had traveled to the romantic city of Savannah in the great state of Georgia under the premise of a family photo so that the future bride-to-be would not suspect anything. Tears of joy flooded the faces of all parties involved and you could tell that mom was quite proud of her son and excited for her future daughter-in-law. She had several pictures in her phone that she was going to have printed out and could recall all of the details of this great story. You could see the emotions flood her as she relayed it to me. I couldn’t help but feel happy for her.
In parting, I remarked how wonderful it was that in the middle of all the insanity that is occurring the world, it was great she had such a wonderful memory to carry with her. As I began to walk back to my postal truck for the trip back to the post office I normally work at, I was still struck my how much joy she had. It was if she was still in sunny Savannah despite the fact that she was clearly in the sunshine-challenged city of South Milwaukee. I note this phenomenon often telling others that “There is no law of physics that say your mind and body have to be in the same place at the same time.” Quite often while shoveling snow here in Wisconsin during the winter, my mind is on a tropical beach drinking out of a coconut.
This is something that we, like our friend Michelle, can do with the events in our life. Capture those beautiful moments with pictures, video and anything else we can think of. Put those cell phones to good use. Then share your joy with others. Maybe print out some of those pictures and keep the frame on your desk. Every so often, take but a few quick moments to travel back there in your mind. Use as many of your senses to make it real. Remember what the tropical flowers smelled like. Feel the warm sun and the cool ocean breeze on your skin. Taste the wonderful rum cocktails (remember, as tempting as this may be, we are still only doing this in our minds) Hear the birds and the rustle of the palm trees in the wind. You will be amazed at how much good a mini mental vacation will do you.
These next few posts are going to be a collection of lessons that I have learned from coworkers. Three different people, three different post offices. We begin in the sunny town of Franksville where I used to be postmaster. I was discussing self-improvement and introspective topics with the person who works there. We often have brief but intense discussions on some of our favorite people who inspire us.
On this particular day, the young lady mentioned she had been having some stressful days where she was feeling down. She was concerned that in her journey she might be taking a step back. I think any of us on a path to improving our lives and ourselves, have felt something similar. One of the most common questions I am asked at book signings, seminars and just by people I interact with is “Do you ever have a bad day?” “Are there days you are not in a good mood?” My answer is simple, of course I do. Everyone has days in their life where things just seem to go south when you would like them to go north. I actually had my day start that way today.
Does this mean we are not being successful in our self-improvement journey? Does this mean we are somehow doing it wrong? Are the amount of days we feel down indicative to our progress in life? Not at all! As the movie Forest Gump made light of, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you might get.” There are many situations that are beyond our control. Some moments it would appear we are having a run of ‘good luck’ where other times it would seem ‘the deck is stacked against us’. I am here to tell you that kind of thinking is a bunch of BS! (Belief systems).
Our success is not in eliminating every single challenge in life. We will all have days or more to the point, moments when life gets the best of us. The true test of our character is in shortening both the intensity and duration of those experiences. In fact, we grow most in times of pain and challenge. We learn the most about ourselves, those we care about and the world around us when times see the darkest. It is in putting these situations to work for us that we can take an experience that is a negative and turn it into a positive. Like finding a big hole in the ground and turning it into a mind in which we pull diamonds out of. These diamonds are better than jewels though. They can be diamonds of physical, mental and emotional strength we never knew we had. It can be the jewel of gratitude for those who help us when we are down.
How can we turn all of these negative situations in positive ones? I am going to give you a quick tool to start using by the end of our time together here today. Here it is – ask two simple questions. It would be a good idea to write these two questions down so when times get tough you don’t have to search for them on top of everything else. The first one we kind of alluded to earlier. How can I use this? Can I use it to be better prepared for a similar event in the future? Can I use it to develop a skill that I do not have at this moment in time? Can I use it to stoke the fires of motivation I have to succeed in the future?
The second question we should ask ourselves when things are bad is What is good about this? If you ask this question second it usually works a lot better. Once you found how to put your grief/pain/anger/sadness or whatever other challenging emotion to work for you, it can be a lot easier to find something positive in it. Perhaps you are experiencing the pain of regret over not spending enough time with a love one you lost. You can put that pain to work to motivate you to cherish and give 100% to those you love who are still here. The ‘positive’ that could come out of that pain is to remind you to express your feelings and take time for those who are in your life presently. I am sure you could think of examples in your own life as well.
To wrap up what turned out to be a longer post than I expected, let us remember the true measure of success. It is not to eliminate all stress and never have a bad day. We would never really grow then. It is finding ways to shorten the duration of time we spend in that negative state. We can do it by asking the two questions in the order we demonstrated above. When we go through pain and struggle we gain valuable tools that will allow us to better contribute to and serve others around us and the world at large. Next time you find yourself having a day where you are feeling down, remember that does not mean you are failing. What it does mean, is you have an opportunity to grow and develop tools you would otherwise not have.
What is the secret to an amazing life? Oatmeal. Wait. What? Oatmeal? Well, not exactly oatmeal but in my case it is. When it comes right down to it, what makes a life amazing is enjoying it. That may sound like a no brainer, but it is really the great secret of life. You may be thinking, “Doesn’t everyone know this already?” You would think so. Still, we hear of people doing anything they can for money, for power, for fame and even so someone would click the little ‘thumbs up’ button on their social media post. What they fail to realize is they do all of those things for one reason and one reason only – to feel good.
So the secret of life is just doing only things we love? Sure Bucky, and well you are at it you could find a magic unicorn to ride to the playground to eat the cotton candy that is good for you. I have seen a lot of self-improvement books and seminars telling people to focus on trying to eliminate things in their lives that are unpleasant and make them less than happy. This certainly is a logical step. The less things we have in life that we don’t like, the more we will feel good. In fact, this is part of the seminars I teach. Notice I said that it was part of living a life that feels good.
Here is a terrible news flash. We are all going to die. We are all going to have to file taxes. We, at some point in our lives are going to have the terrible situation of losing someone we love. In other words, there are going to be situations in our life that we cannot control and mitigate. Certainly, limiting these as mentioned above is one option. What happens when you have to work with that annoying boss because you really like the job and need the money? How about members of your spouse’s family you have to put up with to keep the peace at home? There are always situations that seem to require us to do things that are less than pleasant. In that case how do we manage to still feel good even when doing things that don’t feel good? That is the million dollar question. Once we look at the answer, we will discover a tool we can use to transform our entire life.
How do we enjoy doing the things that we know we must do but really do not enjoy? The first part of the answer comes in asking this question in the first place. It amazes me when I look and listen to people’s success plans, almost nobody includes ‘having fun during the process’. Try asking this question to yourself next time you embark on a goal. Ok, so how do we enjoy the process and what on earth does all of this have to do with oatmeal? So glad you asked. One thing I asked myself was how to start eating healthier with my new work hours. I have limited time to heat and consume anything. This usually pushes you toward fast food and unhealthy options. One thing that is healthy and fast is oatmeal. Although not a terribly exciting food, oatmeal has a host of health benefits.
My challenge in all of this was simple. How could I enjoy eating the not very exciting dish of oatmeal every day? The first thing I needed to do was quantify my emotional state. On a scale of 1 to 10 how excited am I about eating oatmeal? I gave it a 4. Then I asked myself the important question, “Where do I want to be?” Realistically, I decided I would like to be between an 8 to 10. Depending on the day, I could be more or less excited, but I wanted to stay in that range. Then the million dollar question – “What can I do to go from a 4 experience to a 10?”
Why is that a million dollar question? Stick with me here. I began to think of what could make eating oatmeal a more fun and exciting adventure. The first was to have a ‘cool’ oatmeal bowl. That is mine in the first picture. It was given to me by my mother and has an inspirational saying on it. Sadly, two days ago I dropped and broke the spoon. Next, I wanted to research all of the benefits that eating oatmeal bring to your health. I figured if I could picture this happening with each bite, my oatmeal consumption would become infinitelymore enjoyable. I looked online and read some great articles. I also decided to look for fun and healthy oatmeal. Why stick with the boring flavors? I found Kodiak high protein oatmeal filled me up and gave me the most energy. Better oats gave me some healthy options. All of these things increased my enjoyment of eating oatmeal. I even look forward to going to different stores to see what kinds they have. I also found fun and healthy things to add to my oatmeal.
If you stuck with me this long, here is the golden ticket this represents. You can apply this same power to anything in your life you would like to become more enjoyable. How can you deal with that annoying coworker? Maybe imagine him with a cartoon head while he is talking to you, or be grateful that he is allowing you to practice your patience skills. How can you enjoy working out more? Maybe treat yourself to a new workout outfit, or running shoes? Listen to some music that really gets you pumped up! Imagine how good you will feel when you are done. There are a million different options. Just keep asking yourself how can I go from a four experience, to say a six or a seven. Work your way up.
Here is another coo thing. This works in reverse. Why would you want to take a good experience and make it bad? Let’s say you have some unhealthy habits you enjoy. Drinking soda maybe? Eating too much candy or fast food? Try picturing that adorable gummy bear floating in anchovy juice. Picture what that greasy burger is doing to the inside of your body. In fact, get some pictures printed out. Looking at a picture of a smoker’s lung or clogged arteries can certainly achieve that emotional connection you are looking for. Use this tool for creating more joy in your life. It will help you enjoy the things that add to your life, and help you stop enjoying the things that subtract from your life.
As I write this post, it is the first day of spring here in the northern hemisphere. I like to think of it as the ‘death of winter’. My affection for cold weather is just this side of nonexistent. What does spring represent to most of us? A time of rebirth and renewal. All the the plants that had remained dormant during the long winter months begin to flower and turn green and lush. Entire woods and parks go from looking like a dead wasteland to a green garden of Eden.
I find this is a perfect time to give a renewal and rebirth to the spirit inside of ourselves. One of the best ways to do so is to remind ourselves of our major aim in life. There are far too many people who operate on the “Wake up, pay bills and die” mentality. Do you wake up with a purpose and happen to life, or do you wake up and let life happen to you? It may seem like a small difference, but it has a huge impact on how we live our lives. Deciding what it is in life that we will major in causes us to change not only our perspective in life, but our performance as well. We may spend months or years deciding what we will major in when it comes to the four years we dedicate our lives to in college, but seldom do we spend any length of time on what we will major in when it comes to our lives. What will our chief focus or aim be?
How do we decide on, and then maintain our focus on what to major in when it comes to our lives? I am going to let you in on one of my secrets, or should I say one of my strangest secrets. One piece of information that has amazing life-changing qualities is The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale. I have explained what an amazing person Earl was in previous posts. If you would like to know more about the man, and I think it would benefit you to do so, feel free to look him up in Google. You will discover what a powerful and accomplished man he was. His most famous work was titled The Strangest Secret. I will have a link at the end of this post. It is no more than 30 minutes, but will forever change your life. I have listened to this audio over 1000 times! Why would anyone listen to the same 30 minutes over and over again for over 1000 times? Simple. The information contained in this message will transform you life. Each time you listen to it you will seem to uncover something you might have missed before.
Contained in The Strangest Secret is a 30 day plan for transforming your life for the better. Really? 30 days to a completely different life? Yes indeed! It will help you discover and maintain a productive and decisive course for your life that will help you accomplish your goals in a fraction of the time it would normally take. One of the main facets of this life-changing program is developing a chief aim for your life. Earl uses an analogy of a ship leaving a harbor, which is how each of us could be described as we set out each morning. Now, if that ship has a destination and a captain and crew aboard, it has a 99.9% chance of getting where it is going. Should there be some challenges and obstacles to get it off course, as long as it has a clear destination it can adjust its course and maintain progress towards that destination. Much like our lives. Things may not always go as smoothly and easily as we like, but as long as we know where we are going (having a main purpose and goal for our lives) we can adjust our course and maintain progress.
What about those who do not wake up with a purpose or determined goal for the day? Those operating on the “wake up, pay bills and die” mentality? Well, let us go back to our ship analogy. What would happen if we had a ship with no destination, no captain or crew aboard and we just started the engines and let it go? it would not even make it out of the harbor. If it did it would likely go wherever the ocean pushed it to go and end up crashed on some distant, or not so distant, shore. That certainly sounds ridiculous, but are we not doing the same thing when we start our day without a purpose or aim? We wake up, maybe grab a cup of coffee to get the engines fired up and going and then launch ourselves in the world with no specific aim. We let the waves toss us about on the ocean of life. Then, when a major challenge happens, such as a job loss or health challenge, we crash about that shore because we could not adjust our course and stay focused on our destination.
Do not be like the second example. Do not start your engines and let yourself go. Develop a chief aim for your life. It may change and once you reach a certain destination you may discover there are other ports of call you wish to set out for. That is great! Without a purpose in life, you will find yourself at the mercy of life. Tossed about like an unmanned ship on the waves of the ocean. Just as no good fortune could come to a ship in that situation, no constructive ends can come to a life lived the same way. Start today by taking 30 minutes to listen to The Strangest Secret for yourself. Try the 30 day program to change your life. I promise you once you listen to it, your life will be changed for the better. I look forward to hearing what you think of this program and how it impacts your life!
Ah vacation. Who doesn’t love a good vacation? I have been longing to travel to a tropical destination to perfect different expressions of repose. With the current pandemic and travel restrictions, I find myself stuck in the less-than-tropical environment of Wisconsin where I live. In this post we are going to explore a different kind of vacation and how to prepare for it.
Before we get to that, let’s look at your typical vacation. 2 long years ago, Margie and I traveled to Jamaica. It was our first international vacation together and we had a blast! We met so many wonderful people and ate some delicious food.
I love the sun and the water. As you can see in the pictures above,there was plenty of both. To plan this vacation we took our time. We visited a local travel agency. We compared resorts. We looked at prices verses amenities. We organized our schedules to have time free from our many labors and Margie being Margie, we also did a lot of shopping for things we needed and even some we didn’t. All this planning and activity took longer than the actual vacation, but was certainly enjoyable.
Last post I mentioned during my employment as a telemarketer, I often listened to Bob Marley as a stress relief option. Fast forward 27 years, or so, and we find myself listening to Michael Franti for the same reason. Today I was listening to his latest release Work Hard and Be Nice to People.
There is a wonderful track called daycation that mentions taking a one daycation to get your head on right. How many of us have felt that way a time or 500? I know I have. (Did I mention I work for the Post Office?) How many of us have really acted on that thought? Not many I would venture a guess.
The question is, why not? Taking some time off can reduce stress and even increase productivity once you return. Is it a question of feeling guilty for not being at the office? Trust me they would feel no guilt in replacing you. That’s why you must take care of you first. Make sure your physical and mental health are doing great. It will help you be more productive at the office, but more importantly, it will help you enjoy your free time more and live longer to enjoy it. Don’t believe it? Look up scientific evidence for the benefits of vacation. Print one out for your boss too.
My quandary has always been how much can you really do in one day? The answer is plenty, if you plan it right. On my days off I am usually involved in a literary pursuit, doing a project at home or, like today, having my car repaired. It will not shock you to know this does not feel like a vacation.
What we should do is develop a plan for several one daycations. Whether that is a fancy dinner out followed by a trip to the spa or a day at the water park with friends followed by a nice hotel after. Maybe a picnic in the park with the one you love? The important part is to plan this. Write down your itinerary. This can be fun. Usually it helps to make it away from the house if possible. This way you will be free of the many distractions that await you there.
Taking several of these one daycations can help you unwind and recharge. It can help you return to be more productive at the office and at home!
Many of you who have read both my book and these blogs may have questions as to how some of the material comes about. Trust me when I tell you that on some days I find myself asking the same thing. With that thought in mind, I am going to share with you a personal epiphany I had the other day that shed light on how I began practicing an early version of one of my main tools of self-improvement. I began doing this years before I was in the self-improvement field, and even more years before I knew what the heck I was doing.
The year was 1993. Recently graduated from high school, I was exploring the work world as a telemarketer. You think it is annoying receiving those calls, try making them 8 hours a day, 6 days a week! The best way to prepare for a career in telemarketing is to call a friend repeatedly and have them yell obscene thinks at you and hang up. Do this over and over again for hours. That’s pretty much what it is like.
As you can imagine a day like that can be tough on the nerves and tougher on the self-confidence. Even though you know it is not personal, hearing what people hope the proctologist does to you and your family gets a little exhausting. I do suppose it was a little better for me as I tend to be a friendly sort of chap. I refused to follow the “If the potential customer says ‘no’ then you say ____” This is also why I am no longer a telemarketer.
On lunch I needed to find a way to escape. Recently, my life-long friend Kevin had introduced me to the musician Bob Marley, and therefore reggae music. For those of you unfamiliar, most of Bob’s music has a very positive and almost spiritual aspect to it.
The most popular album people know from Bob Marley is Legend, which is a greatest hits of sorts. I can tell you that I listened to this recording on repeat for my entire lunch hour. I did this nearly every day. Changing my mindset to one of a more positive and hopeful one allowed me to take the second half of the verbal onslaught that awaited me. On many occasions this required another listen when I arrived home at the end of a day.
For some reason, it took about 6 years for the thought to occur to me that creating a happy Playlist, that is a collection of songs that bring joy to your heart might be a good idea. I explain the idea in my book, A Happy Life for Busy People, and have even updated that on my new book as well. With technology, this is now even easier than ever. With MP3, YouTube and streaming services, you can have a happy Playlist in seconds! It took a conversation with my Rastafarian friend, David, for me to remember how this all began.
This is a famous line from the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. It is a phrase in Latin that when translated literally means, “And you, Brutus?” It is said in Act 3 Scene 1 of the play. At that moment in time Caesar is being assassinated. He recognizes one of his friends, Marcus Junius Brutus as one of the assassins. Struck by the fact he was betrayed by a friend he utters this famous line.
Sadly, we have all experienced betrayal by someone we considered a friend. Although it usually doesn’t result in being literally ‘stabbed in the back’, it still sucks and does not feel very good. Recently, I had the misfortune of this happening to me. There is a lady I work with whom I had fought to help her keep her job and even let her pick what she wanted to do because she likes having a routine. When there was physically difficult things to do, I did them because she mentioned it was too hard for her. I did it because I wanted to be a nice coworker, and more to the point, a nice person. This very same person went to our supervisor and sad some both unflattering and very untrue statements about me. What happens when you find yourself in that situation?
When I heard that news I was understandably not only disappointed in the young lady, but extremely upset. As good fortune would have it, I was also just about to enter the gym. That is not an actual picture of me above. The abs might look the same, but the skin tone is darker. (that too is a joke) I came in with a good deal of adrenaline due to my frustration with my coworker. I channeled that into one of the most intense and hardcore workouts I had in a long time. I also had some good conversations with it to friends and family. Margie, in her beautiful way, gave me some very encouraging words that made me fall even more in love with her. It also inspired the words that you are reading right now. I stayed at the gym for almost 2 hours and wanted to go longer, but they turned the lights off. By that time I was exhausted, but felt a lot better. I followed that up with a trip to the grocery store which usually helps lift my spirits.
The point of this post is as follows. When you are betrayed, make use of it. Especially if what is said is untrue. Take that initial anger and channel it into something useful, such as a good workout or cleaning the house. Then, follow that with something that lifts your spirits. Go for a nice walk in nature. Brew yourself a calming cup of tea. Have a great conversation with a friend. After all is said and done, make sure to be the best ‘you’ that you can be. We, unfortunately, cannot control the words and actions of others. What we do have control of is how we speak and act. If we are the best version of ourselves, it only makes those who speak ill of us look foolish. Those who know us for what we truly are will be unaffected. Those who are affected, are those who have not taken the time to get to know us. Injustice and betrayal are indeed terrible crimes, but they have their own punishment from a power higher than us.
Today we tackle the third and final strategy for coping with anxiety. Before we jump into today’s topic, I would like to take a moment to discuss the last few posts. The subject of anxiety has been front and center in the media as of late, and judging by the high level of engagement I have received in these posts (which I love) it has been front and center in your lives as well. I am honored and appreciate the responsibility of being asked to write about this subject. In speaking with many of you, it has become apparent that anxiety exists in some form in the lives of everyone. Personally, this time of year I face the highest levels of anxiety I face all year. Suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder and living in a cold climate make for a stressful situation. While writing about these coping strategies, I was reminded of some methods in which I can employ to assist me. I welcome – no I encourage – you all to continue to share your methods for coping with anxiety as well as other topics you would like to see discussed on this blog. It is you, the reader, that can take this blog to the next level.
Emotional coping strategies is our last category we are going to discuss. Anxiety, being an emotion, can make thinking of doing anything emotional as a formidable challenge. That is why we suggest you start with physical and social coping strategies. If you are like me, you start with anything and everything you can. Anxiety doesn’t play fair and neither should you when treating it. After all, this is YOUR life we are talking about here. The first suggestion I have for attempting to change your emotional state is one I use in my life-coaching and motivational speaking career. That is creating lists. This does not initially sound inherently powerful or sexy, but trust me, they work wonders. Ideally, the time to make these lists is before anxiety rears its ugly head, but if it is too late for that, there is no time like the present! There are many things that create powerful emotional reactions in our lives. Create as many lists as you can think of in regards to them. There are two types of lists to make. The first is a list of things that can trigger your anxiety. This is important to know for two reasons. First, and what should be obvious, is that it will help you avoid situations in which these may be present. Second, you can share these lists with people you regularly surround yourself with. Hopefully, these are also people who care a great deal for you. Letting them know what triggers your anxiety will help them better understand why you may not want, or be able to, do certain things. It will also better help them help you in addressing these concerns.
The second set of lists are not only very powerful, but can be fun to create. What a bonus! These are lists of things that put you in a positive mental state. One of the first I recommend creating is what I refer to as a happy playlist. Which is simply a list of songs that make you feel happy. The only caveat here is that they should be songs without negative lyrics. Seek and Destroy by Metallica may make you happy on the treadmill, but subconsciously the brain latches on to funny things when in a stressed emotional state. So for this exercise, do your best to only include songs with positive lyrics. Then when anxiety first begins to creep in, close your eyes, put on your headphones and just push play.
Begin to think of other items which have a powerful emotional reaction in your life. A list of movies that inspire you. This doesn’t only have to be comedy, although I would imagine a great deal of those would make the list. Think outside the box a little. Does watching Braveheart make you feel like you can overcome great odds? The Pursuit of Happiness may remind you that even the worst situations do not last and if you persevere great things can happen. How about foods that put you in a great mood? As we discussed in physical coping strategies, it helps if they are also healthy. At least a few of them anyway. Another list that is fun is places that make you happy. Sometimes a change of scenery can help do the trick. I, personally, like the grocery store. Parks and walking in nature have been proven scientifically, increase the positive brain chemicals we talked about in the post of physical strategies. Make as many of these lists as possible. Sometimes music may work. Sometimes you may need a movie, or a park or an ice cream cone. Have as many weapons at your disposal in the fight against anxiety.
Another great way to change your emotional state and increase the feelings of control in your life is the accomplishment of small goals. I understand if the word ‘goals’ may cause a slight feeling of anxiety in some. It sure used to in me. It is important to note the world small in front of them. Cleaning your entire kitchen may seem overwhelming and fill you with anxiety. Break this challenges down into smaller goals. It is like the old cliché, “How do you eat an entire elephant? One bite at a time.” I don’t have a personal palate for pachyderms, but you get the point. How you accomplish large goals is by doing one small goal at a time. After a few you gain momentum and find yourself closer to your large goal. This also does one other thing, it gives you a win and a feeling of accomplishment. It allows you to know you did something positive and took a step in the right direction. You may not have got that entire kitchen clean, but you organized that drawer so all of your spatulas fit with no fear of not being able to open the drawer once it is closed.
When all else fails, and quite frankly even when all else doesn’t fail, there is one thing you can do that will help you through some of the toughest and most anxiety filled periods of your life. I experienced this first hand. There was a period of my life when everything seemed to be flying south for the winter. This was made even worse by the fact that it was July. My job, relationships, money, transportation all seemed to be filled with problems that were causing a great deal of anxiety. Questions like, “Am I still going to have a job? If so, how am I going to be able to get to that job if my car is broken? If I can’t get to the job I might or might not have, how can I afford to fix the car that gets me to the job?” Those were just two of the many areas of my life that seemed upside down. There seemed to be no solution and I was getting more stressed by the minute. What did I do? Something I am going to implore that you do – find a way to help others.
Taking our focus of our own problems, even temporarily, can provide a great deal of relief. It also provides a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of value. When my life was upside down, I had the great fortune to be able to help at a meal program feeding the homeless and economically challenged. It not only gave me the feelings I mentioned prior, but did a great deal to put my problems in perspective. It also allowed me to see that we all have a great deal of problems in life, but there are always people out there who care and are willing to help. It may take a while to find them, but they are out there. While you are searching for the kind of people that may care and help you, it certainly helps to be one to others.
The last few posts we have explored the three categories for coping with anxiety. We looked at physical methods in the first post, social methods in the second and emotional methods today. We looked at many activities in the realms of these three methods. These posts have only begun to scratch the surface. Through a little research and effort on your part and the inclusion of a professional, you will discover many other options as well. Anxiety is nothing to be embarrassed of, ashamed of or feel hopeless about. We all experience to some degree in our lives and with treatment it is curable. I encourage you to share these posts with those you think may benefit. The conclusion of these posts is not the end of the discussion, but perhaps a way to begin a discussion on the topic of anxiety and how we can help ourselves and each other.