The Practice of Taking Care of Yourself & Making Changes (Part 4 of the GWNI ‘Raise Yourself Up!’ series)

Raise Up 4 Sereis post dive cliff iStock_000002469616XSmall Folks, this is where the rubber meets the road.

Your rubber-soled shoes.  Your road!

In this post I’m focusing on Practice #3, the practice of taking care of yourself and making changes.  Just like Practice #1 and Practice #2, this one is meant to be integrated with the others—particularly the practice of therapeutic work.  In therapy you’ll naturally begin to identify the difference between the life you don’t want, the life you do want, and how to get there.

This practice is all about how to get there.

The Four Practices to Raise Yourself Up
#1 The Practice of Learning Who You Are & What Happened
#2 The Practice of Therapeutic Work
#3 The Practice of Taking Care of Yourself & Making Changes
#4 The Practice of Being Present in the Happiness You’re Creating

The first two practices are about digging around in who you are, what happened, and feeling the feelings and thinking the thoughts that such discovery reveals.  That’s what happened.  The past. This practice is all about what’s going to happen next. Now. Your future.

What’s going to happen next?  Remember the Aldous Huxley’s quote from Part 3?  Experience isn’t what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you. Whatever happens next is your true story.  Whatever happens next is what you do for yourself. 

I know that none of us want to live life as a reaction to what happened in our childhoods.  That means they win.  They aren’t worthy of that claim to your life—but you are.

Changing the Way You Think

Since you’re embarking on re-wiring yourself, knowing a tiny bit about a concept from psychology is going to help a lot—it’s called cognitive behavior therapy.  One aspect of cognitive behavior therapy is aimed at helping people overcome problematic, unhelpful, ways of thinking about themselves as they relate to other people and to their environment.  It involves being present (mindful), helps to build self-esteem, and requires letting go of control and worry.  (Sounds pretty worthwhile, doesn’t it?)

Here are a few examples of the problematic (thinking that cognitive behavioral therapy can address):   I avoid letting a pole or fire hydrant come between me and whoever I’m walking with down the street because I don’t want the bad luck that comes with splitting poles (seriously, a friend once pulled me to the other side of a pole because she held that belief); I must have the last word in a conversation because otherwise the other person has more power; my supposed new “friend” hasn’t invited me over for dinner even though she’s been over to my place twice—what did I do wrong?  I can never seem to finish projects on time—why do I even bother trying?!  Lights seem to turn red when I approach an intersection—does the world have it out for me or what?  I spilled beverages twice today, clearly the entire day is going to suck.  I told her I love her but she didn’t say she loves me—look at me, a sucker again!  …You get the idea.  Sometimes our problematic thinking is subtler, in that it’ll just be a feeling, not quite a fully thought-out sentence in our heads (like we just feel kind of bummed about an interaction, but don’t really know why).

Here’s the deal.  We have control over our actions.  And, we have control over how we interpret other people’s actions (or the universe’s behavior).  But, we of course don’t have any control whatsoever over the actions of others’ or the universe.  (I heard this expression recently:  “There’s my business, his business, and God’s business.”  Know the difference between that which you control and cannot—and here’s a hint:  it’s not how someone reacts or the storm that ruins your picnic.)

Forget What You Can’t Control & Shift Focus to What You CAN Control!  

Imagine a stoplight.  Green.  Yellow.  Red.  (Well except we’ll go Green, Red, then Yellow.)

Green is you—all “go, go, go.”  Action over which you have complete control.  Green:  you order a vegetable soup for lunch (or you can ask someone out on a date, you can take a test, you can start a project, you can drive a car, you can spill your coffee and then your juice, etc.)

Now, Red.  The red light is what you just don’t have any control over.  Red is untouchable.  Red is the waitress telling you, “We just ran out of vegetable soup.” (or the person who says no to the date, who scores your test, the dates on the calendar, the stoplights at intersections, the Universe…)

Then, there’s Yellow.  Yellow is tick-tock, tick-tock, the “waiting,” taking stock, thinking clearly, rationally—yellow is transitional. Yellow is where you have space to think, consider, and shape your mind.  Did they run out of soup because they hate you, they lied, because you’re that unlucky, because you’re unlikable, unlovable, you weren’t supposed to eat soup, wasn’t meant to be, etc.?  Clearly that kind of thinking is going to destroy your sense of self (after it blows it way out of proportion).   Yellow is about choosing to see things as they are—that is, knowing your business from the business of others and of the Universe.  They ran out of soup because they made 50 ounces and the customers who came in that day ordered 50 ounces.  Simple as that! Or, well, maybe the waitress spilled half of the soup before the restaurant opened. Or—any number of alternative scenarios, 100% of which have nothing to do with you. To think that it’s bad luck or some “sign,” is to suppose that you have more power and influence in the world that your beautiful but humble soul truly has.

Green – your actions

Red – theirs/Universe actions

Yellow — your mindful, humble, realistic, courageous, and loving approach to the world

A couple examples:

Green [action/what you control:  You invite me to dinner] —–> Red [what you can't control:  But I can't make it to dinner] ——-> Yellow [you control your thinking & next steps:  You consider that my schedule is busy and you learn that I need to hit the gym after work (you're getting to know me and vice-versa) and you truly believe that I want to get together with you, and that we'll eventually find a time that works]

Green [You smile at a stranger and hold the door] —-> Red [They pass through expressionless and wordlessly] —-> Yelllow [You figure that person has a lot on their mind and feel good about having shown kindness to a stranger].

Green [You've been on a gazillion job interviews] —-> Red [No one is hiring you] —–> Yellow [You ask a professional friend to look over your resume and hire a job coach to openly brainstorm your approach or a possible change direction in order to get some results...and you practice patience, knowing full well this is the toughest job market in your lifetime!]

Building The New You

Now, let’s move on to the main event:  the actions you can take to have the life you actually want.

This practice is all about figuring out how to be the person you actually really want to be.  To me, this is the step that’s often missing from information about being the child of alcoholics, narcissists, or otherwise childlike parents—the part about how we’re supposed to carve out a life that we like and that will raise us up.

There are 4 main spheres in our lives:

  • The social or community sphere (your friends, community, family, partner and kids)
  • The work or livelihood sphere (a business you’re launching, your co-collaborators, coworkers, boss, team, management, direct reports, and your corporate culture or leadership style)
  • Your body sphere (your body and what you feed it, exercise, use of your voice, your posture, touch, inner vitality)
  • Your spiritual sphere (your religion, spirituality, connectedness to something larger than yourself—meditation, quiet walks, chanting, reading about Buddhism, etc.)

Within each of those spheres (not all at once, of course—you’re leaving perfectionism behind!) you’ll want to apply these activities:

  1. Building New Skills
  2. Set Goals
  3. Feel How It Feels

Because you are a work-in-progress and because life if constantly happening, you are going to be putting these tools to use RIGHT AWAY, so don’t worry about getting it right or gearing up to start—you’ve already started.  Boom.  And, remember:  this is all just “practice.” A new approach to life, a lifestyle. No biggie :)

1.  Building New Skills

You’ve got to figure out who you are. To do that, you’ve got to take action—take classes, try out hobbies, and start thinking with your hands and body–moving differently, thinking in totally new ways.

Since our role models lived their lives in ways that we don’t want to replicate, especially not by unconscious mistake—we are tasked with doing some “homework” in order to define and construct how we want to do things.

(This is the fun kind of homework.)  Our parents might have been horrible about finances, didn’t talk about money, or maybe constantly fought about money—or, like my parents, gave mixed signals by flying between extremes of “we’re poor, we can’t go out to dinner, not even once for a long, long time” to returning to normal, like the next week, which was modest middle-class living (like renting a tent trailer rather than just doing a tent for our family summer camping vacation and buying only the clothes we absolutely needed and store brand foods).  Our parents may have disliked each other, snarling about each other’s faults, never giving us an example of love and respect between romantic partners. (What did THAT teach us?)  Our parents may have moved us around from apartment to apartment or town to town, and done so without helping us cope with that change, and done so suddenly.  Our parents may have yelled at us when we tried to reveal our deepest wishes about our life—art classes, guitar lessons, dance, a car, etc.  You know all the rest.

We’ve all got a long list of what we don’t want to repeat. Truth be told, the list is more likely one of fears than of realities. (It might not be a bad thing for you to create that list, so that you know exactly what areas you want to address in your ‘raising up’ of yourself. Then, too, you can prioritize according to what area of education (finances, relationships, etc.) is most important to you right now.

Remember All the Spheres! We need to tweak our present lives in terms of increasing our spiritual connection to the universe, our community, friends, and familial relationships–turning them into things we like–to become active, hopeful participants in our work lives, and honor and use our physical bodies.  We have to figure out how to be responsible with money, communicative about our finances, cook a healthy dinner, return phone calls, email, and treat friends well.  We need to sort out what kind of parents we want to be.  We need to sort out the kind of relationship WE WANT with our parents (not the “nice” or expected thing to do, but what feels good to us.)  We have to learn how to do good work (but keep from working obsessively (work-a-holicly) so as to avoid feelings and relationships).  We need to know how to move our bodies and feel alive in the world.  We need to connect with ourselves as beings in the universe on a spiritual level.  We need to figure out what hobbies we enjoy, what type of environment helps us thrive, and where our joys come from.

Yeah, just a couple things.

Your therapist will help you do this work, so don’t panic if you’re not sure who you are yet or what you like to do.  But, DO experiment.  Experiment as part of your finding-out about yourself process.

Some ideas to get you started:

- Adult school or specialized institute courses (personal finance 101)
- Books about managing a household (or discovering what careers best suit you)
- Cooking courses
- Nutrition education (what’s in your food? where did it come from really?
- New hobbies!

The idea is to get out there–right away–and take part in new things (not new things that you don’t like, but as a discovery of things that you do like…you’ve done enough you don’t like already in childhood).

Why not open up a new browser window, right now, and sign up for a potentially interesting course taught by your local adult school or college or some interesting private institute?

Right now as in now-now, not later-now. :)

When you enroll in a life skills course—finance, cooking, writing—you’re not just going to learn how to balance your checkbook, you’re also going to get the opportunity to practice how you conduct yourself in groups, make new friends, and become inspired by what other people are doing with their lives (because you’ll ask them about themselves, right?)

(Did you enroll?)

When you’re exploring new hobbies, try out a couple different ones.  If you don’t like those, try another couple. Writing/blogging is a hobby. Photography and online photo sharing is another idea. Or planting a garden, babysitting kittens with the humane society, or volunteering at a retirement home—the options are endless.

(If you didn’t enroll, do this:  write down a list of the obstacles in your way, real and imagined. Then write down possible antidotes or solutions to those obstacles (day care, transportation, a feeling of stress, etc) or ask a friend to help you figure out how you can make it happen. I bet you’ll see that you can make time for a class. And you’ll be so glad you did!)

Once you’ve discovered one or two hobbies that you like, stick with them in such a way that you’re learning how to integrate new interests and behaviors into your life in a manageable way—not all-or-nothing. If you pick two, make sure they’re complimentary to one another so they don’t compete for your time; choose one that requires much less time than the other, or that supports the other one (like hiking & blogging about hiking). If you take an all-or-nothing approach, you’ll burn out.  Taking on a new hobby is a great way to learn follow-through, sticking with something, which is a skill we all need a lot more practice with than we got as kids.

We were raised by people who saw themselves, whether on an obvious level or not, as victims (this goes as much for the addict as their codependent spouse).  That means that we, too, are likely to automatically relate to the world, people, opportunities, and work as…victims.  Taking courses about assertiveness, self-esteem, self-defense, negotiation, writing business letters, public speaking (Toastmasters), or how to buy a car or house are all going to help support your growth as a person who seizes what you want, rather than hesitates then regrets. The topics for self-education are endless!

Lead An Examined Life.  Above all, do this:  Think!  If you were to ask me how I saved myself from insanity and repeating the craziness I grew up within (which I continue to work at–every day), I’d say one thing:  PONDERING (just plain thinking and thoughtfully examining my motives and drivers).  But all my thinking was fueled by two things:  READING and WRITING. (I’d also say this, more recently: LOVING MYSELF every time I’m wanting to beat up on myself.)

What gets YOU there is for you to discover.  For me it was reading & writing.  For you, it may be yoga, meditation, dancing, drawing, singing, or playing music—some kind of being-in-the-present moment act.

Reading-wise, in terms of figuring out what kind of life you want to construct for yourself, Po Bronson wrote a book called, What Should I Do With My Life? which might be an interesting read for some of you.  A classic is, What Color is Your Parachute?  There are so many; if you start searching on Amazon.com, their database will reveal dozens more in this category (thanks to their programmers’ practically psychic algorithms!)  People are having way more than one little career in their lifetimes nowadays–it’s the age of personal reinvention, so you are allowed to change your mind about what you want to do!

Writing-wise, there’s also The Artist’s Way, which supports daily freewriting to get closer to who you are and where your mind’s at.  Doing ‘daily pages’ has changed a lot of lives—and shaped a lot of life paths.

2.  Set Goals

Are you starting to get a sneaking sense that this is all “just great” and “really inspiring” but that it’s just not as simple as reading a helpful blog chock full of ideas?

Are you starting to realize that if any of this is going to work its “magic” that you have to DO things? That you are going to have to take action?  Steps?  You are!  Yep, in order to get the amazing (and it will be amazing, I promise) results from any of these ideas, you’re going to have to do stuff.

(So, did you sign up for that class?)

It seems like it’s going to take a lot of effort–but, actually, it’s simple.  The idea, the dread is much, much bigger than actually doing any of this.  Keep that in mind.

Here’s a post I wrote about self-sabotage, where I talk about how to break projects into parts so that you have a roadmap to follow.  Nobody can get anyplace without a plan!

If you set goals, break them into parts, and check-in with yourself–you’ll get there.  Some of you will need to write out more steps than others.  The key is to write out all the steps that you need to in order to get the thing done.  If you get STUCK, break through the stuckness by writing more detailed steps.

Here are 2 examples of steps involved in reaching a goal — one is short, one involves more steps:

Amy’s Goal:  Sign up for a Personal Finance 101 class
1.  Go online and browse various classes
2.  Make note of cost and start times
3.  Check my calendar and see what times work
4.  Check with my spouse about timing and his schedule those nights
5.   Grab credit card and sign up

Done!

Amy’s Goal:  Sign up for a Personal Finance 101 class
1.  Go online and browse various classes
1 a. Set timer or schedule time to browse so that I don’t get distracted while online
2.  Make note of cost and start times
2a. If the interface is confusing, call the school and ask for the information verbally
2b. If the information is overwhelming stop for a while then return to making the cost list over the weekend
3.  Check my calendar and see what times work
3a.  Resist the temptation to organize my entire calendar, just focus on the task
3b.  If no times seem to be complimentary, go back to Step 1 and look at different schools or maybe look for a Cooking Basics course instead
4.  Check with my spouse about timing and his schedule those nights
4a.  Think about hiring a babysitter
4b. Think about asking a friend to sign up for the class too, so that it’ll be more fun and I’m more likely to go
5.   Grab credit card and sign up
6.   Put the class dates into my calendar every day for the whole length of the class
7.  Buy or collect any materials I will need for the class
8.  Drive/walk/bike to the class location so that I know how to get there and how long it takes
9.  Double-check the night or a couple days before that I have everything that I need, that I have the day & time right and location

I hope you can see the value–and limitlessness–of the second, longer list. There’s no reason not to break your goal down into micro-bits.  Why not?  It takes very little time, and it will ensure the best results!

For the record, I DO NOT believe in self-sabotage; I believe in poor planning that gets labeled self-sabotage (and by doing so it becomes a sad, self-defeating and power-removing phenomenon.  But, if poor planning is to blame–hey, that’s something you can improve on, take action on!  That’s much more accurate, and entirely fixable.)

3.  Feel How It Feels

Get into character. Take a look at how you stand in the mirror.  Are you standing like the person who was belittled as a child, or someone who loves herself?  Walk around the room and walk back to the mirror—like a person who cares deeply for yourself.

Practice your lines. If you’re wanting to say No to plans with your family, or tell them you don’t want to have dinner because you won’t be around them when they drink—get a friend, your partner, or your therapist, and role play. Feel how it feels to assert yourself.  Practice saying your words, then practice not backing down.  Once your body begins to feel this, it will feel less and less foreign when you actually put it into action (fake it till you make it, anyone?)

Have an Exit Plan. In the case of traumatic reactions or disassociation, you can practice role-playing around that, by talking through how you plan to react if a strong reaction or disassociation comes up (for example, if a trigger event happens, you might say, “Hey, I just got triggered by something that just happened here, and I need to go chill out—I’ll see you another time.” Keep it simple.)

Use Your Resources. Your trusted therapist is there to help you practice saying things that are hard for you to imagine saying, but you know that you need to say in order to become your better, happier, freer self.  (And when you report back to them about how you did–they will be truly psyched for you because they’ve learned who you are and where you came from!) Maybe you need to say No to your mother-in-law but have been avoiding it—ask your therapist to walk through the conversation with you.  Maybe you want to get more help from your husband around the house but want to finesse how you approach the specifics of the conversation—use your therapist and walk through the script together.  This will help you know that you can do it (you’ve already said the words), and walking through what you plan to say will help you discover the emotions that drive how you talk.

Ready?

You know what happened to you—but, what’s going to happen next?  That’s all yours.

Set!

Go!

(Be kind to yourself.)

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