Speaking of Habits

tea cupHow long does it take to develop a new habit? I did a little research on Google and found quite a variety of answers. Some researchers have said it takes at least 21 days to develop a habit; others say it takes 2 – 8 months. So… I’m not going to guess which is right or how long it takes to develop a new habit. But I do know for me it is not easy to develop, break, or change habits. When things are second-nature and happen without much conscious thought, it takes what seems like Herculean effort to change them. Especially difficult habits to change can be in what we think and what we say.

Without even realizing what is happening, we can get into ugly thought patterns that develop into ugly speech. I remember years ago I made a concerted effort to stop swearing. In my 20’s I swore a fair amount, as did many of my friends. But, by getting a professional job and realizing not everyone cussed like a sailor, I focused my efforts on finding other words to express myself. It didn’t take long to be almost fully rid of cussing, and I felt more prepared to be professional.

A few other thought and speech habits I think are worth assessing in ourselves and dropping are:

Complaining – About circumstances, the weather, how you feel, or about other people, complaining doesn’t get you anywhere. Complaining is finding fault, not offering a solution. Complaining keeps us stuck in misery. Try not to complain for a day, consider thinking about being grateful for aspects of your life, and see how different you feel.

Criticizing – Pointing fingers at others and finding fault is, to me, one of the ugliest traits. I’ve definitely been guilty of it but really try not to criticize others anymore. My husband helped me realize I could tend toward criticism and cause a lot of hurt. I try to leave others to their own business and not stick my nose in where I have no responsibility.

Blaming – Looking to others or to our past as the cause of our problems and issues says that we are powerless over our lives. When we take responsibility for ourselves and circumstances we are the actor in our play; we have the power. Blaming can be manipulative and holds us in place, but accepting circumstances and our decisions allows us to move forward.

Paying attention to these habits of speech, and then thinking about their place in our minds, can really be eye opening. You may be limiting yourself by what you say, because of what you think. Giving up on these patterns offers freedom. Whether it takes 21 days or many more to drop them, you’ll feel lighter when you do.

Make it a good week!

The Big Picture

competitionI came across this quote a few weeks ago, knowing with surety it was food for a blog post. But, as is often the case, I was unsure of specifically what to say about it at that time, so let it roll around in the back of my mind for days. This message speaks to me powerfully in three ways:

We are all connected. The old adage “I am my brother’s keeper” is fitting. When we consider ourselves responsible for others, our attitude is impacted. We act differently toward those we are connected to versus those we don’t know. If we looked at others, those we bump into each day and those we just hear about, as connected to us, how would the world be impacted?

There is enough for everyone. There are resources in limited supply and specific basic needs such as water and food that are dangerously sparse in many places. But generally, when we consider our western culture, its resources, money, love, jobs, space, recognition, and possessions, there is enough for everyone. Fear and insecurity may feed our competitive ways.

Encourage others with grace. I may not yet have mine. But if you have yours, I want to be happy for you, to encourage and support you. And if I have shown a generous spirit to others, been an encourager rather than a discourager or a sabotager, the same grace of encouragement will come back to support me. Encouraging others with whom we are connected feels good.

If we considered ourselves to be part of something much bigger, and if our focus shifted to what we have in common, away from what makes us different, how differently would our culture thrive?

I really do hope we all make it. Whatever “it” is, I encourage you to continue; you’ll get there.

Make it a good week!

 

 

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Among my favorite things are inspirational quotes. I am impressed with those who can paint pictures with words and express thoughts succinctly and creatively. This past week saw the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou, a lyrical thoughtful writer, poet, teacher and faithful woman. I had the pleasure of seeing her speak at a local university several years ago and although I don’t remember what she spoke about, I do remember feeling enraptured by her words, their rhythm and strength flowing easily. She had the gift of empathy, to meet people where they were, to listen and inspire.

Two of her commonly cited quotes have spoken often to me over the years; one has always seemed like a reality check. People won’t remember what we said or did, but will remember how we made them feel. That’s a powerful notion. It’s almost intimidating isn’t it? We can touch people, often unknowingly, by how they feel after we part ways.

maya angelou 2The second quote I think of often is this: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. An analogy is the tiger showing his stripes or a person showing their true colors. I think the gist is the same: we may want to believe someone we like or love is different deep down inside, but they show us who they are by their actions. Life is so much easier if we accept others for what they show themselves to be rather than waiting around for them to change.

Mayo Angelou will be quoted for years to come. I am sad for those who won’t hear her voice or read her books. Feelings of gratitude and inspiration are what she left with me. May she rest peacefully.

Make it a good week!

Limitations

Sarah lived to celebrate 110 years. A young woman of civil war times, her destiny was to stay home safe and sound in Illinois, cooking for others. But her heart was with those fighting for basic freedoms for all. Sarah’s deeply held passion was freedom for slaves.

The country, in midst of war, had sent many of its young men to the battlefield. How could Sarah help except to be one of these young men? She cut her hair, disguised herself as a young man, and entered the army. In more than six months served, no one suspected.

President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation at that time, freeing the slaves, and ending Sarah’s time in the war. Returning home she attended college, choosing to study medicine. Given the injuries she had seen in the war she wanted to be a physician.

This story came from a writing workshop I attended over the weekend. In a session on freelance writing we divided into pairs and were given a hypothetical story to write about. One in the pair was the interviewer and the other the interviewee.

I was paired with a young woman next to me. She had rolled into the room in an electric wheelchair, arms atrophied, with a beautiful black lab service animal accompanying her.

I drew our assignment from a group of small pieces of paper. Opening it, Sarah and I read together, “You are a 110 year old civil war veteran.”

My immediate thought was, Oh, no, what would I say about this? But thankfully Sarah said she would like to be the interviewee. Her deep eyes twinkled as she looked at me saying, “Well, obviously, as a woman I couldn’t be in the war. I’ll disguise myself as a man!” Thus, the story began.

She created the story; I asked questions to fill in a few details and in just a few moments we were finished. As the interviewer, I read my version of her story aloud. Then, as the interviewee, she read hers. Each pair in the class did the same with their stories. The lesson was about perspective; two people telling the same story or retelling facts will do so from a different perspective, in a different manner.

When I first saw Sarah I had ideas about limitations. But when she opened her mouth and created this tale about being a civil war veteran, I believed her. I imagined her as a 17 year old girl cutting her hair and leaving Illinois as a boy. From her mind and voice she had no limitations.

Among the many valuable takeaways from the writing workshop, I may have learned the most from my experience with Sarah. She made me think about limitations, about what exactly they are. How do we limit ourselves? In what ways can we do amazing things and attain extraordinary goals, even given our limitations?

I have a feeling I’ll mull this over throughout the week. Happy spring, and make it a good week!

The You-est You

The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.

Michelangelo

When I was in high school I had an idealized image of being an adult. I couldn’t wait to be older, have a job, a dog, and a condo in the city. My image was a life of success, contentment, independence and maturity. I would have a job I loved and was good at, enough money for needs and a few wants, and would not settle for anything less.

I looked around at adults I knew, at how they participated in their lives. Some people worked every day and disliked what they did. Some talked about being excited for retirement, looking forward to the days when they could do what they wanted. I remember wondering how people could live like that, spending days waiting to get on to the next one. I felt this was the type of person I didn’t want to be.

When I actually matured into an adult I began to see how people could stay in a job, or in a life situation, they didn’t particularly like:

  • Money may be a factor; once we earn a certain amount of money or family members to support and bills to pay, it can be very difficult to let it go and make a financial change.
  • In general, people don’t like change and it seems that many prefer to stay in what they know rather than trying something new.
  • Inertia may set in; it feeds on itself, that feeling of sluggishness with the familiarity and monotony of every day life.
  • Lack of self-confidence; I believe many people, women especially, feel incapable of making a change, learning a new role and doing it well.

There are probably many more factors (please feel free to comment below!) and they share a similarity. The ugliness of each of these factors, real as they are, is that they hold us back from being our best selves. They change our perspective toward negativity. We may not give 100% to the job or the relationship and, therefore, we don’t receive back 100% satisfaction. It is a self-perpetuating cycle. We fall into a hole and wait for some set of circumstances to come along to get us out of the hole. Over time new goals may not be set, much less reached.

What I want to encourage you to consider, if you are in this kind of place, is you can get yourself out of the holes you are in. You are the You-est You there is and the world needs You to be your best self. Reassess your goals, remember your dreams and ideals from the past, and reconsider aiming for them.

Make it a good week!

Great Expectations

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I wonder if it is human nature in general or just part of modern culture to develop and maintain images of how life should be. This time of year for many of us is supposed to be a time of great joy and happiness. Christmastime, the holidays, brings fa-la-la-la-la, eggnog, parties and visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. Right?

Except, what about when it doesn’t?

Holidays and Christmas can foster high expectations, high anxiety, stress and sleep deprivation. For some of us, joy and happiness don’t exist but worry about being with family, or fear of being alone, takes center stage. We want to feel the positivity we’re supposed to, but we don’t.

Somehow, if we can take things as they come, be appreciative of the little positive things in each day, maybe we can create a life that doesn’t hinge on how things are supposed to be.

Our lives don’t often unfold like those of Christmas movies or storybooks. But the beauty of our lives is they are real. We can let ourselves off the hook and see what happens when we allow things to be as they are.

Passing Through

Aside

“Not everyone will make it to your future. Some people are just passing through to teach you lessons in life.” 

What a cool thought.

Leaving jobs, moving to a new city, other times we enter new chapters in life, it can be very sad to lose the day to day connections with friends, neighbors and colleagues. Often we may plan to maintain contact and continue the relationships.

We intend to maintain these friendships and, for a while, it works. We get together, catch up on each other’s lives, share stories from our past together, and then go back to our current lives. Gradually, the visits are less frequent, until eventually some of them end.

But rather than considering this a loss, we can consider this evolution a gift and consider the lessons from the people who passed through. Even if the relationship did not continue on for years and years, we can remember the impact the person had on us, the important event he or she was there for; good memories of great people who we once cared for a great deal.

Of course there are some difficult memories of bad experiences as well and perhaps some of the bad experiences have taught the most important lessons. It is in our response to some of the tough things in life that may provide for the most growth, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

I am thankful for relationships with people. For those who have passed through and for those of the future.