July 19, 2018

The Plant Killer

I have never had luck growing plants of any kind. I rarely plant-sit for anyone for fear of killing their beloved babies.

I shy away from growing anything of my own because (in the words of Anne Lamott), "They'd end up looking like I'd watered them with Agent Orange...you'd see it clutching its little throat, staring at you with its little Keane eyes, gasping and accusing--and I mean, who needs it?"

So recently when I walked out my front door and noticed a bloom on a bush I'd hopelessly planted last year, a scream erupted from my lips.

What was this? How had this plant survived the extremely cold winter and the water-less summer days? I knew it wasn't me because my track record is dismal, and yet, here was proof that I could actually grow something!

A little purple flower hung waving in the breeze. I ran over to make sure it was real and discovered multiple buds clustered around it. MORE?! I was growing more than one? I could hardly contain my excitement and flung myself down, pulling out weeds around it, as if I knew how this was done.

I sat admiring it and feeling all philosophical.

Isn't that just like us? I thought, we bloom in the most unexpected conditions, with very little watering and next to no attention. Yet here we are.

One day a plant-killer, the next day a bloom.

July 18, 2018

The Summer of Pretty

I'm wearing dresses again.

I think I stopped wearing them when I became a mom because I was always messy or chaotically on the go. I didn't have anything to dress up for on a regular basis and even when I did, I substituted pants with ballet slippers.

I think it was also because I'd gained weight. It started with leftover baby weight from pregnancies and continued with late night "treats" after babies were in bed. Somewhere during the transformation of my body, I let go of dressing up and feeling fancy.

But lately I've been working on loving my body. I must be making some progress because I bought a dress. It flatters my shape and swings around my knees. I love it!

Then on vacation, when we were thrifting our way through Des Moines, Iowa, I found dress after dress in those tucked away aisles.

How was I finding so many things that fit me perfectly when I'd struggled for years to find anything?! Then it hit me, it wasn't the clothes that had changed.

And now I'm living the summer of pretty, with a closet full of dresses!

July 17, 2018

The Deadly Trap of Assumptions

We all make assumptions, it's human nature to connect things and want them to make sense. When something doesn't make sense, we put our own spin on it and solve the puzzle through assumptions.

But our version of things isn't always the truth. And leaning only on our assumptions can lead to the end of relationships, jobs, or dreams.

I've been in situations where I was sure I knew what someone was thinking or what was meant by something they said. So I walked away with hurt feelings or an injured ego only to find out days later that my assumptions had been completely wrong.

It's easy to assume, it's human even. But it can lead us down roads of loss that could be avoided by one thing. One simple action solves the problem of assumptions:

Learn to ASK.

Simply asking a question to clarify the other person's actions can clear up all assumptions and give the person a chance to explain. It gives us a moment to connect and listen. It helps raise empathy between us by hearing each other's perspective.

All this, with a tiny, significant ask.

July 16, 2018

How You're Hurting Your Feelings

I grew up thinking I had the power to hurt someone else's feelings and I carried that belief into adulthood. I have always been a person to tries desperately not to step on anyone's toes and sometimes that's worked and other times it (obviously) hasn't. I think this belief happens naturally when adults tell you to be careful not to hurt your friend's feelings or Grandma's feelings. Or to mind your manners when you meet someone so you don't hurt their feelings.

I've been listening to a podcast called: The Life Coach School Podcast. And one of the recent ones I heard (episode 37) really challenged this idea.

The host, Brooke Castillo, talked about our ownership of our feelings. That we create feelings with the thoughts we think. Now, my first reaction when she said this was defensive. How could we create all our feelings? People do things to hurt us all the time!

But then she went on to explain that we, sometime in our life and often in childhood, attach a belief to something that happens to us. Maybe it's that when someone's mad at me, I'm unlikable. Or if I speak up for myself, I get consequences. Whatever those beliefs are, we carry them into our lives and live as if they are truths when they might not be. But we shape our actions around them. So when some circumstance triggers our thought, we automatically have those same feelings.

One of mine is feeling stupid. I have an emotional reaction if I ever feel like I've messed up or said something wrong. It's because my subconscious mind believes a thought automatically and it causes a reaction. That thought is, I'm stupid, and then I feel embarrassment and shame. But the same situation may happen to someone else and they won't feel stupid because they don't have that thought attached to that action.

Castillo says that we must learn to recognize the emotion and back track to the thought. Then sit with the emotion, sort through where it came from and deal with it. Only then can we move forward and begin to change our thoughts. If we change our thoughts, then we'll change our feelings. She claims that all of us are responsible for our own feelings! We must learn to direct our feelings through our thoughts.

I find this a bit mind-blowing; it might take me a while to get my head around.

July 5, 2018

The Anxiety Toolkit

I wrote quickly in my notes as the speaker explained symptoms of anxiety issues that are found in students. I remember listening to his list of symptoms thinking, but those are totally normal, everyone thinks like that! Then it hit me, do I have anxiety issues?

I drove home home feeling confused and told my family about my weird revelation. They chimed in that of course I have anxiety, they all knew that!

They knew that?! How did everyone know I had anxiety except me? I'm an introspective person, so it really bothered me that I'd been blinded to something so obvious to others. 

I'd always assumed my excessive worrying was a part of my analytical nature and possibly a side effect of mothering. But with my new awareness, I set off to learn how to better cope with my anxiety.

It wasn't long after that, I stumbled across The Anxiety Toolkit in a used bookstore. I snatched it up thinking it might give me a few solutions for my anxiety-ridden mind. It gave me more than a few solutions, the entire book was packed with insight! One of my favorite parts was the section on rumination.


"Anxiety often leads to two types of overthinking: rumination (mentally replaying events that have happened, either in the recent or distant past) and worry (fear about what may happen in the future)."

People with anxiety tend to ruminate over past or current situations, conversations, decisions and end up in a loop spiraling downward. The author, Boyes, had a few tips for stopping this process.

1. Recognize when you're ruminating.

Ruminating can begin without us realizing we're doing it. Our thoughts go over each moment reviewing the events and questioning why we did certain actions. We're often critical of ourselves, nitpicking our choices. 

It can lead to demeaning accusations of ourselves such as: 

  • Why am I so stupid? 
  • Why didn't I just do this instead? 
  • Why do I always do ____? 

But if we can recognize when we're starting down the path of rumination, we can stop ourselves from the dangerous pattern it creates. Instead of allowing ourselves to worry and focus on the bad that could/did happen, choose three ways to work towards a solution.

Shifting our mind towards three things to DO, can give us forward motion and keep us from being locked in our anxious thoughts. It actually re-directs the brain from one function to another. 

It gives us movement outside ourselves. Even if the only solution is taking a walk, or calling a friend; these steps will give us something to work towards. Movement will feel more empowering and give our thoughts a place to go.

2. Become aware of memory bias.

" . . . Don't trust your memory. You might be ruminating about something fictional or at least magnified." 

This has been a good but difficult lesson for me. I've had to learn not to make assumptions. If I feel that something is off, I need to ask the person about it instead of putting my own assumptions on them.

Letting go of trusting your own instincts can be difficult. I've had to recognize that sometimes my instincts are off because of my hyper-alert sensitivities. Sometimes my thoughts are tainted with a bias of expecting people not to like me, or that they'll be disappointed in me; so that is what I see.

Instead of assuming I'm right, I ask them to clarify. Are you upset with me? Did I disappoint you? Are you feeling I'm not a good fit for this?

It's a little more vulnerable to ask these questions, but I've found that often times my assumptions were wrong and speaking up helped restore the relationship.

Since ruminating is in the mind, it doesn't help the situation or bring a solution. 

If I interpret someone's actions as being angry at me, I might pull back and not engage as much. But stepping out of my head and asking a question gives us the opportunity to relate. We can clear the air, even if I imagined a problem where there wasn't one.

3. Accept that you often won't know why other people have acted in a particular way.

"Recognize that if someone acts strangely, there's a very high likelihood that the behavior has something to do with what's happening for that person, rather than being about you, and you're probably never going to know what the reason was. . ."
Determining what we do and do not have power over can help us let go of what is out of our control.

Trying to control people or situations doesn't usually work. The sooner we decide to let go, the easier it becomes to see what we CAN do. We have control over our own actions, relating, decisions and purpose. These should keep our thoughts busy enough.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is giving your mind a helpful focus instead of worry or rumination. It's a way to train your thoughts to go in another direction.

It doesn't have to be sitting yoga-style and chanting (although it can be) but it can be as easy as taking a few minutes to listen to your breath. It can be a mantra that calms you or builds you up, such as, "I accept myself as I am right now." It can be walking through the neighborhood and making sure to take notice of what your eye lands on.

For Me  - after realizing I had anxiety symptoms, I was able to look back over my life and recognize that I've always been an anxious person. I'm wary and careful. I'm vigilant to stay cautious and safe. 

Anxiety has its place and can be very helpful when it comes to surviving. Our forefathers had to stay alert and watch for danger to survive.

But staying alert to danger when there is no danger can lead to missing out on the beauty around us. I'm learning to balance the two and getting better at distinguishing when my anxiety is warranted and when I might be hyper-alert where there is no real danger.

Keeping thoughts centered on what I'm grateful for and what I can control is more productive. Calming myself with breathing techniques works when I sense myself spiraling towards panic.

How do you handle anxiety?