Saturday, August 23, 2008

Emotional Energy: Mobilizing for Change

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anais Nin

The chapter on emotional energy in Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s book, The Power of Full Engagement (The Free Press, 2003), is subtitled “Transforming Threat Into Challenge.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately.

Remember our discussion last month about facing fear? If not, it's in the July postings here on the Life Turned On™ blog. Fear provides information that something needs our attention. It’s like those lights and gauges on the dashboard of your car.

When I’m facing difficulties sometimes I begin to feel overwhelmed and stall out, finding ways to ignore, deny, or procrastinate about what the fear is telling me rather than experience the discomfort and move forward. Then it’s like I have unplugged the sensors connected to the gauges or put a piece of tape over the lights so I won’t see them. “Out of sight, out of mind,” right?

Meanwhile, the cluttered closet, the unresolved relationship conflict, the persistent ache in the belly, the worry about finances, the nagging feeling that life is more than just survival are consuming life energy that could be used to address them. Like an overdue bill, the interest continues to mount as the principal goes unpaid.

I will neglect things that need attention and repair (including/especially my own body!) rather than face the fear that I’m inadequate to deal with them. Am I really incapable of solving these problems? The evidence is no. I have taken on many challenges and worked through them. Maybe not always gracefully, maybe with hindsight thinking I could have done it better—but I’m still here, my spirit today is stronger than it has ever been, and my life has become a fascinating—and sometimes scary—adventure.

When I was a therapist, clients would sometimes ask me if I could guarantee that if they faced the fears that limited them and did the hard work of changing lifetime habits would they get the outcomes they wanted? And I had to say, “No, I can’t promise if you take this on and face your pain that you’re going to have everything you want. What I can promise is that if you don’t try, the odds of things changing are about zero. And I can guarantee you’re going to have a different experience starting right now if you accept the challenge and ride out to meet the dragon than you will if you hide in your cave and wait for it come get you.”

Even if it kicks your butt, go show the dragon what you’re made of. It’s not your enemy, it’s your training partner.

Practice exercise: moving from anxiety to action

What have you been putting off dealing with? What are some steps, however small, you could take this week to come to grips with it? Be specific about what you’re going to do, write in your calendar when you’re going to do it, and tell a supportive friend or family member beforehand what you intend to do and afterwards report on how it went.

We’re looking for progress here, not perfection. Recognize and reward your efforts to change. Don’t believe the voices of blame and shame. Simply by facing the dragon you have become a hero.

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mental Energy: Attention & Intention

3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the full or the empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity? — from Tal Ben-Shahar's Six Tips for Happiness, as presented on NPR

“We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.” — Anais Nin

When I have a migraine, it usually means I'm going to cycle between hot baths and lying in bed, doing my best to stay quiet until it passes, often in about 24 hours. My energy is drained, I'm in pain, and I can't concentrate. Bright lights, strong odors, and loud sounds can seem intolerable. It's not much fun and it takes days to rebuild my stamina after it’s over.

On Thursday, I found myself slipping into an habitual pattern of thinking that it was my fault that I had a headache and that I'm broken, weak and hopeless. That added a huge weight of suffering on top of the pain I was already experiencing. In addition, I was anxious about all the things that weren’t getting done and feeling overwhelmed at all I was going to need to do to catch up when I felt better (including writing this post). Whew!

Lucky for me, I have a lot of practice paying attention to what's going on in my head and heart. After getting thrashed around for a while in the whirlpool of negativity, I regain my perspective and then my power. It helps that I'm blessed to have friends who are skilled at providing a reality check when I need one.

And so after a little while I woke up to the effects of the negative thoughts I was having and decided instead to acknowledge what a good job I was doing taking care of myself in very trying circumstances. I also recognized that by making my immediate needs a priority I was speeding my recovery so I could get back to work sooner. Even though I still felt bad physically, emotionally I was much more at peace. It felt like I had gone from being in the presence of someone who was selfish and spiteful to one who was loving and supportive, from being assaulted by my critic to being cheered on by my coach.

Over the following days I have made rest, mild, exercise and eating well a priority. When I have stopped to take inventory, I have seen that I actually am getting a fair amount accomplished, even though my "do list" is stretching into next week. Though I'm still tired, my confidence and optimism have returned. I'm thinking about possibilities instead of feeling burdened. While talking to a friend recently, she remarked that I was a different person from the one she spoke with at the end of last week. Choosing the most skillful way to interpret my experience made all the difference. It's good to be back.

Practice exercise:

What is your explanatory style? That is, when you explain to yourself the events, situations and experiences in your life, do you tend to:
1) take them personally (“It’s my fault that happened.”)
2) see them as permanent (“I always lose my keys.”)
3) believe they are pervasive, i.e., see the situation as affecting every area of your life (“I can’t do anything right.”)

Pay attention to how your thoughts are shaping your experiences (which make up your life!). Are there equally valid and more empowering, more energizing explanations for what is going on?

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Physical Energy: Foundation of Fulfillment

This week, we're exploring the physical aspects of energy and how to manage it in the service of what matters most. Join us for the Sunday workshops in Asheville and Hendersonville, NC, if you can. It promises to be a lively discussion!

We all know the reciprocal relationship between our physical condition and our mental and emotional states. When we’re tired or sick, we tend to be more irritable, more reactive, less patient—more negative. It’s harder to sustain concentration, think creatively, be fully present to what’s going on inside us and around us—we’re less productive. I have come to recognize that the state of my physical energy is reflected in every aspect of my life, including the quality of my relationships, how clean my house is, and even in how much money I have in the bank.

And yet, I often hear myself and others say we want to get more exercise, eat more nourishing food, get more rest, maybe make space for quiet reflection, but there just isn’t enough time. I’ll get to it when I finish this project, when the kids are grown and on their own, when I retire.… What if it’s not about having enough time, but about priorities? Are we running so fast to get somewhere—or we really running AWAY from something? Hmmm.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “Sleep is for the weak.” I think that kind of macho disdain for our physical selves is part of why so many are sleep-deprived in this country, with its attendant toll on our health and productivity. The same goes for poor diet, lack of exercise, and chronic stress. Why do we think it’s a virtue to see how little we can get by with?

I have come to recognize how I have treated even minor necessary maintenance like brushing my teeth with a degree of impatience and irritation. I have begun to notice how I delay responding to my body’s signals for rest, food, and even going to the bathroom with a slightly exasperated “Not now. I’ll get to you when I finish this.”

And when I get sick I feel betrayed. I don’t trust my body, in fact I’m probably afraid of it—yet it is my mind that is truly untrustworthy. Woody Allen said, “It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens.”

I forget to be grateful that I have this body (and parts that need care and will eventually wear out). This body does wonderful things for me every day. Because of it I can communicate with the world, manipulate my environment, and use it as a vehicle to express the loving spirit that shines through me. My body grounds me in the present even as my mind swings from past to future. “Now is the moment of power,” in the words of the Huna tradition of Hawaii. What an amazing gift!

My mind is so used to bossing my body that I decided I would let them change places for a few days and see what happened. For instance, even though I felt a strong pull when I first got out of bed to check my voicemail and e-mail, instead I listened to my body and did what it asked—fed it or peed or did some stretching. Only after I had had breakfast and cleared the dishes away and was ready to give them my full attention did I make myself accessible to other tasks. If I started to lose concentration or felt tired in the afternoon, I took a nap or went for a walk, depending on what I thought I needed.

At first it was very uncomfortable. I felt tense and agitated when I didn’t give in to my mind’s sense of urgency to be engaged and/or distracted. And that sensation still comes up. More and more, though, I feel an enhanced sense of spaciousness, of possibility, of connection with myself and with the world around me. I’m more at peace, more “together,” more alive. What a marvelous way to be!

Practice exercise: Let the body lead

For the next week, listen to what your body is telling you moment to moment and then, as best you can, respond immediately to its needs. What happens when you do this? What happens when you don’t? What gets in the way?

If you’re willing, please add a comment to the blog about your experiences and insights.

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Spiritual Energy: Aligning to Power

“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”
— Joseph Campbell

Dear Friends,

Here begins our four-week exploration of the conscious use of energy. This week, we’ll look at spiritual energy—how a sense of purpose beyond personal pleasure and survival can provide both fuel for our life journeys and a means of focusing that energy in the service of an "experience of being alive.” In the following weeks we’ll look at the physical, mental and emotional aspects of energy.

As I write this, I’m feeling tension because there are other things I feel I am neglecting in order to sit and compose this newsletter. I have chosen to turn my phone off, delay checking my e-mail, and ignore some household chores that await my attention. In addition to coaching I have a business writing and editing and providing marketing support for several businesses. There are projects I want to finish today for my clients and there’s a strong urge to attend to them NOW. Fear is whispering in my ear, “If you don’t do these other things first you’re going to lose your livelihood and be out on the street.”

And yet the reason this newsletter is going out today instead of earlier in the week is because I kept putting other projects ahead of this one and then running out of steam at the end of the day before I had done more than write a note here and there as part of drafting this. Does this sound familiar to you or am I the only being on this planet who feels torn apart by competing priorities and then finds himself running farther and farther behind?

Have you ever watched a bird bringing food to a clutch of hungry nestlings? The babies are insatiable and competing loudly to “Feed me, FEED ME!” I know I’m projecting, but the mama or papa bird always seems so harried and exhausted to me. That’s probably because I feel that way myself much more often than I want to.

All of these tasks are important and I intend to perform them. How do I choose what to focus on in this moment? How can I be more intentional instead of reactive? For that I need a map and a compass. The map is my guiding “big picture” vision of what my life looks like when I’m at my best. The compass is the clear awareness that I use to evaluate my choices so I can pick the right one in this moment that will keep me in alignment with that vision. We started talking about this a few weeks ago in our session on “Living from the Inside Out.”

I am choosing to write this newsletter right now because I remembered the joy and sense of meaning I get from doing this work and sharing it with you and the way it feeds my spirit. When I finish, I’ll take a few breaths, look at the map, and choose the next thing I’m going to do. The fears will arise and I’ll remember the joy and turn to face it. Again and again and again.

Practice exercise

Here’s another opportunity to work on creating your map. Pick three personal qualities you value. For this week, I’m choosing courage, kindness, and creativity.

How will you apply these qualities to the next decision you make? How will you remind yourself to come back to them when the busyness of your life and its competing demands distract you?

Set aside some time to reflect on this and write down your intentions. As the week unfolds be sure to give yourself credit each time you remember and each time you notice that you have forgotten. Reward the behavior you want to reinforce; don’t punish yourself for what doing you don’t want.

Who you are is important! Remember that!

Copyright 2008 Eugene Y. Smith, III. All rights reserved.