Posts tagged with ‘authenticity’

19 jan

See Beings Not Bodies

RickHansonWhat happens when you look at someone?
The Practice:
See beings, not bodies.
Why?

When we encounter someone, usually the mind automatically slots the person into a category: man, woman, your friend Tom, the kid next door, etc. Watch this happen in your own mind as you meet or talk with a co-worker, salesclerk, or family member.

In effect, the mind summarizes and simplifies tons of details into a single thing – a human thing to be sure, but one with an umbrella label that makes it easy to know how to act. For example: “Oh, that’s my boss (or mother-in-law, or boyfriend, or traffic cop, or waiter) . . . and now I know what to do. Good.”

This labeling process is fast, efficient, and gets to the essentials. As our ancestors evolved, rapid sorting of friend or foe was very useful. For example, if you’re a mouse, as soon as you smell something in the “cat” category, that’s all you need to know: freeze or run like crazy!

On the other hand, categorizing has lots of problems. It fixes attention on surface features of the person’s body, such as age, gender, attractiveness, or role. It leads to objectifying others (e.g., “pretty woman,” “authority figure”) rather than respecting their humanity. It tricks us into thinking that a person comprised of changing complexities is a static unified entity. It’s easier to feel threatened by someone you’ve labeled as this or that. And categorizing is the start of the slippery slope toward “us” and “them,” prejudice, and discrimination.

Flip it around, too: what’s it like for you when you can tell that another person has slotted you into some category? Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on January 19th, 2012 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , ,

16 jan

Step Into the Clouds

RickHansonJuggling bricks?
The Practice:
Step into the cloud.
Why?

I had a lightbulb moment recently: I was feeling stressed about all the stuff I had to do (you probably know the feeling). After this went on for a while, I stepped back and kind of watched my mind, and could see that I was thinking of these various tasks as things, like big rocks that were rolling down a hill toward me and which needed to be handled, lifted, moved, fended off, or broken into pebbles. As soon as I dealt with one thing-y boulder, another one was rolling toward me. Shades of Sisyphus.

Seen as brick-like entities, no wonder these tasks felt heavy, oppressive, burdensome. Yuch!

But then I realized that in fact the tasks I needed to do were more like clouds than things. Clouds are made up of lots of vaporous little bits, those bits come together for a time due to many swirling causes, and then they swirl away again. Meanwhile, the edge or boundary of a cloud blurs into other clouds or the sky itself. There is a kind of insubstantiality to clouds, and a softness, a yielding.

For example, take writing an email message: It has lots of little parts to it (the points you need to take into account, and the words and sentences), it is nested in a larger context – your relationship to the receiver, the needs that prompted the email – that (in a sense) calls it forth, and it emerges and passes away. This email, this task, links to other tasks, sort of blurs into them. Fundamentally, the email is a kind of process, an event, rather than a thing. It’s like you could put your hand through it.

When I considered my tasks in this way, I immediately felt better: relieved, relaxed. Tasks felt fluid, like streams or eddies I was stepping into and influencing or contributing to as best I could before they swirled on and became something else. Not so weighty or full of inertia; not so resistant, so controlling of me; not bearing down on me, but instead, something I was flowing into. Then I didn’t feel weary dealing with them. They became fun, lighter; there was more freedom in moving through them.

And it’s not just tasks that are clouds. Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on January 16th, 2012 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , ,

11 dec

We’re All Doing the Best We Can

MikeRobbinsNewI’m sometimes amazed and embarrassed by how critical I can be – both of other people and of myself. Even though I both teach and practice the power of appreciation (as well as acceptance, compassion, and more) when I find myself feeling scared, threatened, or insecure (which happens more often than I’d like it to), I notice that I can be quite judgmental. Sadly, as I’ve learned throughout my life, being critical and judgmental never works, feels good, or leads me to what I truly want in my relationships and in my life. Can you relate to this?

I’ve recently been challenged by a few situations and relationships that have triggered an intense critical response – both towards myself and some of the people around me. As I’ve been noticing this, working through it, and looking for alternative ways to respond, I’m reminded of something I heard Louise Hay say on a number of years ago. She said, “It’s important to remember that people are always doing the best they can, including you.”

The power of this statement resonated with me deeply when I heard it and continues to have an impact on me to this day. And, although I sometimes forget this, when I do remember that we’re all doing the best we can given whatever tools and resources we have, and the circumstances and situations we’re experiencing, it usually calms me down and creates a sense of empathy and compassion for the people I’m dealing with and for myself.

Unfortunately, too often we take things personally that aren’t, look for what’s wrong, and critically judge the people around us and ourselves, instead of bringing a sense of love, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, and appreciation to the most important (and often most challenging) situations and relationships in our lives.

When we take a step back and remember that most of the time people aren’t “out to get us,” purposefully doing things to upset or annoy us, or consciously trying to make mistakes, disappoint us, or create difficulty (they’re simply doing the best they can and what they think makes the most sense) – we can save ourselves from unnecessary overreactions and stress. And, when we’re able to have this same awareness and compassion in how we relate to ourselves, we can dramatically alter our lives and relationships in a positive way.

Here are some things you can do and remember in this regard:

1) Give people the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time people have good intentions. Many of us, myself included, have been trained to be cautious and suspicious of others, even seeing this as an important and effective skill in life and business. However, we almost always get what we expect from people, so the more often we give people the benefit of the doubt, the more often they will prove us “right,” and the less often we will waste our precious time and energy on cynicism, suspicion, and judgmet.

2) Don’t take things personally. One of my favorite sayings is, “You wouldn’t worry about what other people think about you so much, if you realized how little they actually did.” The truth is that most people are focused on themselves much more than on us. Too often in life we take things personally that have nothing to do with us. This doesn’t mean we let people walk all over us or treat us in disrespectful or hurtful ways (it can be important for us to speak up and push back at times in life). However, when we stop taking things so personally, we liberate ourselves from needless upset, defensiveness, and conflict.

3) Look for the good. Another way to say what I mentioned above about getting what we expect from other people, is that we almost always find what we look for. If you want to find some things about me that you don’t like, consider obnoxious, or get on your nerves – just look for them, I’m sure you’ll come up with some. On the flip side, if you want to find some of my best qualities and things you appreciate about me, just look for those – they are there too. As Werner Erhard said, “In every human being there is both garbage and gold, it’s up to us to choose what we pay attention to.” Looking for the good in others (as well as in life and in ourselves), is one of the best ways to find things to appreciate and be grateful for.

4) Seek first to understand. Often when we’re frustrated, annoyed, or in conflict with another person (or group of people), we don’t feel seen, heard, or understood. As challenging and painful as this can be, one of the best things we can do is to shift our attention from trying to get other people to understand us (or being irritated that it seems like they don’t), is to seek to understand the other person (or people) involved in an authentic way. This can be difficult, especially when the situation or conflict is very personal and emotional to us. However, seeking to understand is one of the best ways for us to liberate ourselves from the grip of criticism and judgment, and often helps shift the dynamic of the entire thing. Being curious, understanding, and even empathetic of another person and their perspective or feelings doesn’t mean we agree with them, it simply allows us to get into their world and see where they’re coming from – which is essential to letting go of judgment, connecting with them, and ultimately resolving the conflict.

5) Be gentle with others (and especially with yourself).
Being gentle is the opposite of being critical. When we’re gentle, we’re compassionate, kind, and loving. We may not like, agree with, or totally understand what someone has done (or why), but we can be gentle in how we respond and engage with them. Being gentle isn’t about condoning or appeasing anyone or anything, it’s about having a true sense of empathy and perspective. And, the most important place for us to bring a sense of gentleness is to ourselves. Many of us have a tendency to be hyper self-critical. Sadly, some of the harshest criticism we dole out in life is aimed right at us. Another great saying I love is, “We don’t see people as they are, we see them as we are.” As we alter how we relate to ourselves, our relationship to everyone else and to the world around us is altered in a fundamental way.

As the Dalai Lama so brilliantly says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Everyone around us – our friends, co-workers, significant other, family members, children, service people, clients, and even people we don’t know or care for – are doing the best they can, given the resources they have. When we remember this and come from a truly compassionate perspective (with others and with ourselves), we’re able to tap into a deeper level of peace, appreciation, and fulfillment.

Mike Robbins is a sought-after motivational keynote speaker, coach, and the bestselling author of Focus on the Good Stuff (Wiley) and Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Wiley). More info – www.Mike-Robbins.com

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Mike Robbins on December 11th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , ,

28 oct

Be Friendly

RickHansonFriend or Foe?
The Practice:
Be friendly.
Why?

Friendliness is a down-to-earth approach to others that is welcoming and positive.

Think about a time when someone was friendly to you – maybe drawing you into a gathering, saying hello on the sidewalk, or smiling from across the room. How did that make you feel? Probably more included, comfortable, and at ease; safer; more open and warm-hearted.

When you are friendly to others, you offer them these same benefits. Plus you get rewarded yourself. Being friendly feels confident and happy, with a positive take on other people, moving toward the world instead of backing away from it. And it encourages others to be less guarded or reactive with you, since you’re answering the ancient question from millions of years of evolution – friend or foe? – with an open hand and heart.

In its own quiet way, ordinary friendliness takes a stand that is almost subversive these days: Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on October 28th, 2011 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , ,

25 oct

Let Go of Negative Comparison

MikeRobbinsNewI’m heading to my 15-year class reunion at Stanford this weekend. I’m excited to see some old friends, spend time on campus, and attend the various parties, sporting events, and fun stuff planned for the weekend. At the same time, I’m feeling quite anxious about the whole experience – knowing how easy it can be for me, especially in that environment, to get caught in a pattern of negative comparison.

As I looked through our 15-year reunion class book a few weeks ago (a book where fellow classmates submit a page with an update on their lives), I got a sick feeling in my stomach as the little voice in my head started saying things to me like, “Look how much more successful he is than you,” or “That person looks exactly the same as they did in school, they haven’t aged a bit…unlike you,” or “They seem to have things figured out, you clearly don’t,” and more.

Sadly, many of us spend and waste lots of time and energy comparing ourselves to others. Often times we end up feeling inferior to people based on our own self judgment and hyper criticalness. However, we also may find ourselves feeling superior to some of the people around us, based on certain aspects of our lives and careers we think are going well and/or the specific struggles of the people in our lives. Reunions (as well as things like Facebook, holiday letters, and more) can can often highlight or intensify this phenomenon.

This comparison game is almost always a trap because whether we feel “less than” someone else or “better than” another person, we’re stuck in a negative loop. This is the same coin – heads we “win” and think we’re better and tails we “lose” and think we’re worse. In addition to comparing ourselves to other people, we also compare ourselves to ourselves from the past (something I’ve been noticing as I get ready for this weekend’s reunion). One of the most negative thoughts and biggest fears that I allow to take away my power in life is, “I’m not as good as I used to be.”

All of this is an insatiable ego game that sets us up to lose. Comparison leads to jealousy, anxiety, judgment, criticism, separation, loneliness, and more. It’s normal for us to compare ourselves to others (and to our past selves) – especially given the nature of how most of us were raised and the competitive culture in which we live. However, negative comparison can have serious consequences on our self esteem, our relationships, our work, and our overall experience of life.

The irony is that almost everyone feels inferior in certain ways, and we often erroneously think that if we just made more money, lost some weight, had more friends, got a better job, moved into a nicer place, had more outward “success”, found the “perfect” partner (or changed our partner into that “perfect” person), or whatever – than these insecure and unhealthy feelings of inferior/superior comparison would simply go away. Not true.

How we can transform our negative comparison process into an experience of growth, connection, and self acceptance (and ultimately let it go) is by dealing with it directly and going to the source – us and how we relate to ourselves.

Here are some things you can do to unhook yourself from negative comparison:

1) Have empathy and compassion for yourself. When we notice we’re comparing ourselves to other people (or to our past self) and we start feeling either inferior or superior, it’s essential to have a deep sense of compassion and empathy for ourselves. Comparison almost always comes from a place of insecurity and fear, not of deficiency or mal-intent. Judging ourselves as “less than” someone else or judging ourselves for going into comparison mode in the first place (which many of us do once we become aware of our tendency to do this), doesn’t help. In fact, this judgment causes more harm and keeps us stuck in the negative pattern.

2) Use comparison as an opportunity to accept, appreciate, and love yourself. When negative comparison shows up, there is usually a lack of acceptance, appreciation, and love for ourselves. Instead of feeling bad about what we think is wrong with us or critical of ourselves for being judgmental, what if we took this as a cue to take care of and nurture ourselves in an authentic way? Comparison is a cry for us to accept and appreciate ourselves. If we listen to this important message and heed it, we can liberate ourselves from the negative pattern of comparison.

3) Be willing to admit your own jealousy. One of the best ways to release something is to admit it (i.e. “tell on yourself”). While this can be a little scary and vulnerable to do, when we have the courage to admit our own jealousy, we can own it in a way that is liberating to both us and other people. Acknowledging the fact that we feel jealous of another person’s success, talents, accomplishments, or qualities is a great way to let go of it and to remove the barrier we may feel with that person or experience. If you find yourself jealous of someone you don’t know (like a celebrity or just someone you haven’t met personally), you can acknowledge these feelings to someone close to you or even in a meditation with an image of that actual person.

4) Acknowledge the people you compare yourself to. Another great way to break through the negative impact of comparing ourselves to others is to reach out to them with some genuine appreciation. I am planning to do this all weekend at my reunion. The more excited we’re willing to get for other people’s success, talents, qualities, and experiences – the more likely we are to manifest positive feelings and outcomes in our own lives. There is not a finite amount of success or fulfillment – and when we acknowledge people we compare ourselves to, we remind ourselves that there is more than enough to go around and that we’re capable of experiencing and manifesting wonderful things in our own life as well.

Mike Robbins is a sought-after motivational keynote speaker, coach, and the bestselling author of Focus on the Good Stuff (Wiley) and Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Wiley). More info – www.Mike-Robbins.com

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Mike Robbins on October 25th, 2011 in General, Relationships | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , , ,

23 oct

The Power of Empathy

MikeRobbinsNewI had a painful, but poignant phone conversation earlier this week with my wife Michelle. She shared some challenges with me in a vulnerable and passionate way. As I started to give her some of my “helpful advice” (as I often do – being a man, as well as an author, speaker, and coach, I’m fairly well trained at giving advice), she stopped me and said, “Can’t you just give me empathy for me? That’s what I really need right now. Once I feel your empathy, I can hear your feedback.”

Her comment stopped me in my tracks. I got defensive and began to justify myself – arguing that I did, indeed, have a lot of empathy and that she should be more open to my feedback. Needless to say, my defensiveness (and subsequent arrogance and self righteousness) didn’t help things, and the conversation got worse before it got better, which it eventually did.

Michelle’s feedback, however, registered with me at a very deep level. Although I “understand” the importance of empathy, teach it to others through my work, and have the capacity to experience and express a great deal of empathy with people around me, it’s sometimes difficult for me to have empathy for the people closest to me, including myself, especially recently. Maybe you can relate?

Empathy can be tricky, particularly when we have an emotional connection (or attachment) to the people or situation involved (which we almost always do). It’s also challenging to feel empathy when we feel threatened, stressed, or emotionally triggered (all of which we can experience a lot, especially with those who mean the most to us). And, empathy is sometimes misunderstood.

Empathy is NOT:
- Sympathy
- Pity
- Agreement
- Commiseration
- Endorsement

Simply put, empathy is getting into another person’s world and connecting with them both emotionally and compassionately. We don’t have to agree with them or fully understand them to be able to empathize. We don’t even need to be able to relate to what they are experiencing specifically (although that can help). We just need to be present, connect with them where they are, and acknowledge what they’re experiencing. Empathy for ourselves, while different contextually, actually functions the exact same way, simply turned inward.

The problem is that we often allow our egos, opinions, and judgments to get in the way of our ability to experience and express empathy. If I agree with someone completely, can totally relate to them, and see things exactly as they do, it’s quite easy for me to empathize with them.

However, if I don’t agree, can’t relate, have a very different take on the situation or actually think how they’re reacting to things is potentially harmful for them and others, it’s often very hard for me to be empathetic towards them and I also worry that my expression of empathy could come across as agreement or endorsement.

While it can be challenging, the power of empathy is essential to the health and success of our relationships and lives. It is a key element to our own emotional intelligence and well being. With the people closest to us, including ourselves, and the issues that mean the most to us, empathy is even more critical, but often more difficult for us to experience and express.

Here are a few things to remember and practice to enhance your capacity for empathy:

1) Ask yourself where empathy is missing. Take inventory of your life and relationships and notice where empathy may be wanted, needed, or simply missing. As you identify situations, relationships, and personal matters that could use an increased amount of empathy, make a commitment to yourself to bring less judgment and more compassion to them.

2) Reach out to people in your life. As you identify specific situations and relationships where you could bring more empathy, reach out to the people involved and let them know. There may be an apology to give, an acknowledgement to make, or simply an admission that you want to bring more empathy and compassion (and less judgment, advice, self righteousness, etc) to your relationship. Start working to do that with the most important people in your life.

3) Ask how people are feeling and really listen to what they say. One of the best ways we can express empathy towards others is through our curiosity and listening. When people feel heard, seen, and emotionally understood, they often relax, open up, and feel supported. Asking people how they truly feel, what’s really going on in their world, AND listening to how they respond (without judgment) are some of the best things we can do to express our empathy for the people around us.

All of these things also hold true with regard to having empathy and compassion for ourselves, which is essential in this process. Like most things in life, we can’t give away what we don’t already have ourselves. Self empathy is the foundation.

Everyone on the planet, including us, is almost always doing the very best they can in each moment. We’re all just dealing with the joy, pain, growth, challenge, and more of being human. Remembering this allows us to cut ourselves and others some loving slack, and engage in life, in our relationships, and with ourselves with a deep sense of respect, reverence, and, ultimately, empathy.

Mike Robbins is a sought-after motivational keynote speaker, coach, and the bestselling author of Focus on the Good Stuff (Wiley) and Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Wiley). More info – www.Mike-Robbins.com

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Mike Robbins on October 23rd, 2011 in Uncategorized | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , ,

22 oct

Have Compassion

RickHansonDo You Care?
The Practice:
Have compassion.
Why?

Compassion is essentially the wish that beings not suffer – from subtle physical and emotional discomfort to agony and anguish – combined with feelings of sympathetic concern.

You could have compassion for an individual (a friend in the hospital, a co-worker passed over for a promotion), groups of people (victims of crime, those displaced by a hurricane, refugee children), animals (your pet, livestock heading for the slaughterhouse), and yourself.

Compassion is not pity, agreement, or a waiving of your rights. You can have compassion for people who’ve wronged you while also insisting that they treat you better.

Compassion by itself opens your heart and nourishes people you care about. Those who receive your compassion are more likely to be patient, forgiving, and compassionate with you. Compassion reflects the wisdom that everything is related to everything else, and it naturally draws you into feeling more connected with all things. Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on October 22nd, 2011 in Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , ,

28 sep

Speak from the Heart

RickHansonWhat’s Your Heart Say?
The Practice
Speak from the heart.
Why?

One Christmas I hiked down into the Grand Canyon, whose bottom lay a vertical mile below the rim. Its walls were layered like a cake, and a foot-high stripe of red or gray rock indicated a million-plus years of erosion by the Colorado river. Think of water – so soft and gentle – gradually carving through the hardest stone to reveal great beauty. Sometimes what seems weakest is actually most powerful.

In the same way, speaking from an open heart can seem so vulnerable yet be the strongest move of all. Naming the truth – in particular the facts of one’s experience, which no one can disprove – with simplicity and sincerity, and without contentiousness or blame, has great moral force. You can see the effects writ small and large, from a child telling her parents “I feel bad when you fight” to the profound impact of people describing the atrocities they suffered in Kosovo or Rwanda.

I met recently with a man whose marriage is being smothered by the weight of everything unsaid. What’s unnamed is all normal-range stuff – like wishing his wife were less irritable with their children, and more affectionate with him – but there’s been a kind of fear about facing it, as if it could blow up the relationship. But not talking is what’s actually blowing up their relationship – and in fact, when people do communicate in a heartfelt way, it’s dignified and compelling, and it usually evokes support and open-heartedness from others.

How?

This week, look for one or more opportunities to speak from your heart. Pick a topic, a person, and a moment that’s likely to go well.

Before you talk:
· Ground yourself in good intentions. To discover and express the truth, whatever it is. To help yourself and the other person.

· Get a basic sense of what you want to say. Focus on your experience: thoughts, feelings, body sensations, wants, memories, images, the dynamic flow through awareness; it’s hard to argue with your experience, but easy to get into wrangles about situations, events, the past, or problem-solving.

· Be confident. Have faith in your sincerity, and in the truth itself. Recognize that others may not like what you have to say, but you have a right to say it without needing to justify it; and that saying it is probably good for your relationship.

When you speak:
· Take a breath and settle into your body.

· Recall being with people who care about you. (This will help deepen your sense of inner strength, and warm up the neural circuits of wholeheartedness.)

· Soften your throat, eyes, chest, and heart. Try to find a sense of goodwill, even compassion for the other person.

· Bring to mind what you want to say.

· Take another breath, and start speaking.

· Try to stay in touch with your experience as you express it. Don’t get into any sense of persuasion, justification, defensiveness, or problem-solving. (That’s for later, if at all.) Be direct and to the point; when people truly speak from the heart, they often say what needs to be said in a few minutes or less; it’s the “case” wrapped around the heart of the matter that takes all those extra words.

· Keep coming back to the essential point for you, whatever it is (especially if the other person gets reactive or tries to shift the topic). And feel free to disengage if the other person is just not ready to hear you; maybe another time would be better. “Success” here is not getting the other person to change, but you expressing yourself.

· As appropriate, open to and encourage the other person speaking from the heart, too.

And afterwards: know that whatever happened, you did a good thing. It’s brave and it’s hard (especially at first) to speak from the heart. But so necessary to make this world a better place.

* * *

Rick Hanson, PhD is a neuropsychologist and author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 21 languages) – and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s taught at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and in meditation centers in Europe, North America, and Australia. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, and U.S. News and World Report. His blog – Just One Thing – has over 25,000 subscribers and suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on September 28th, 2011 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , ,

23 sep

Will You Still Love Me If…

MikeRobbinsNewOver the past few months I’ve been looking at the phenomenon of approval seeking that exists in my life and my relationships. My mother’s death has brought up an intense mix of emotions and reflections. Like most people, my mom was a fundamental source of love for me, especially early in my life. As such, I learned various ways, from quite a young age, to gain her approval. Although this evolved over time and I outgrew certain aspects of approval seeking from my mom specifically, I realize now that I was much more attached to her approval, even as an adult, than I thought I was.

The irony is that this had very little to do with my mother herself. While she did have strong opinions, like most of us, and she and I dealt with our fair share of conflicts and challenges in our relationship, I never questioned her love, commitment, and loyalty to me. Much of the “conditionality” in our relationship (i.e. me thinking I had to be a certain way to be loved and accepted) was self imposed. As I’ve looked at this more deeply in the recent months, I realize this is also true in just about all of the relationships in my life – family, friends, clients, and more.

I read a great book a number of years ago written by my friend, mentor, and counselor of seventeen years, Chris Andersonn, called Will You Still Love Me if I Don’t Win? This book was written specifically for parents of young athletes, but has a much wider and broader message about both parenting and life – it’s really about how much pressure most of us feel as kids (and then throughout our lives) to perform for our parents and others.

This pressure to perform and to “live up to other people’s expectations” creates an enormous amount of stress in our lives. Clearly there are healthy expectations and positive forms of accountability that benefit us (i.e. when people around us expect excellence, integrity, kindness, success, and more which can, in fact, influence us in a positive way). However, more often than not, we place a great deal of pressure on ourselves to act, look, and “perform” in specific ways that we believe we “have” to in order to receive the love, acceptance, and approval we want (or sometimes feel we need) from others.

Consciously or unconsciously we tend to ask ourselves questions like, “Will you still love me if…”

- I tell you how I really feel
- I gain weight or my physical appearance changes
- I change jobs or careers
- I don’t succeed or produce specific results
- I disagree with you about important/sensitive stuff
- I don’t live up to your standards/expectations
- I want to alter or renegotiate the nature of our relationship

These and many other questions like them create an intense dynamic of pressure in our lives and relationships. And in many cases, like I’ve recently realized with my mom, we create most of this pressure ourselves. Often the place where unconditional love is lacking most significantly is within us. We have a tendency to be quite hard on ourselves and to have lots of conditions in place for our own approval. This demand for perfection is always a set up for a failure.

What if we let go of our conditions and just loved and accepted ourselves and others exactly the way we and they are right now? Acceptance isn’t about resignation, it’s about freedom, peace, and appreciation. When we practice unconditional love and acceptance it doesn’t mean that everything is “perfect” or that things can’t or won’t change in a positive way. However, love and acceptance are about appreciating the way things are and trusting that we and other people are “good enough”.

Seeking the approval of others is something most of us learn to do early in life and is actually a natural, normal, and healthy aspect of our growth as human beings. However, as we evolve, seeking approval not only becomes problematic, but can be quite damaging if we don’t consciously pay attention to it and ultimately alter it.

Here are three things you can do to loosen the grip of approval seeking:

Notice – Pay attention to your approval seeking tendencies. In what relationships and situations does this show up most often for you? Like most things in life, change starts with awareness, so noticing when, how, and what specifically it is that you do or say (in your head or out loud) in terms of seeking approval is the first step.

Share – Talk about this with the specific people in your life it impacts the most – your significant other, your family, your friends, your co-workers, your boss, your clients, and more. Because much of this stuff is self imposed, when we start talking about it we often realize that we’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves, in many cases unnecessarily. In other cases there may be some unspoken dynamics in place that can be altered by having honest and vulnerable conversations. Either way, talking about it will almost always help alter things in a positive way.

Give To Yourself – Give yourself that which you are seeking, which in most cases is love and acceptance. The source of much of our pain and suffering, as well as our joy and happiness is us. So often we’re looking for others to give to us that which we need to give to ourselves. When we love and approve of ourselves, two important things happen. First of all, we become less needy of the approval of others. Second, because we are giving it to ourselves and aren’t as needy of it from others, we often get even more love and acceptance from those around us.

While this may seem simple and straight forward, it can be tricky for many of us as our patterns of approval seeking began before we had language and at a time in our lives that we can’t even access with conscious memory. As we do this important internal work, it’s essential that we’re gentle, kind, and compassionate with ourselves. And, when we remember that the love, acceptance, and approval we’re truly seeking is our own, we’re reminded that the answer is right inside of us, like it almost always is.

Mike Robbins is a sought-after motivational keynote speaker, coach, and the bestselling author of Focus on the Good Stuff (Wiley) and Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Wiley). More info – www.Mike-Robbins.com

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Posted by Mike Robbins on September 23rd, 2011 in General, Relationships, Uncategorized | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , ,

16 sep

Focus on What Truly Matters

MikeRobbinsNewOver the past few months I’ve been thinking a lot about what truly matters. My mom’s diagnosis, illness, and death have caused me to stop, question, and look more deeply at the things and people in my life that are important. Through the pain and challenge of this experience, I’ve also been grateful for the perspective and awareness it has opened up.

What I’ve noticed is that, sadly, I don’t focus on what and who truly matters to me as much as I’d like. I tend to get distracted by fears, ego-obsessions, drama (in my own life and in the world), ambitions, and all sorts of survival instincts and emotional reactions. While I understand and have empathy for the fact that this is all part of being human, I also recognize that when I get distracted like this, I’m not able to fully engage in the most important activities, relationships, and situations in my life. Maybe you can relate?

Why do we get so distracted in our lives? Why does it sometimes take illness, crisis, injury, tragedy, or even death to wake us up and get our attention?

First of all, I think we clutter up our lives with too much “stuff.” We’re too busy, over-committed, and information obsessed. Our to-do lists are too long and we run around trying to “keep up” or be “important,” and in the process stress ourselves out to no end. Even though many of us, myself included, often complain (out loud or just in our heads) that we can’t do anything about this – based on the nature of life today, technology and communication devices, and/or the responsibilities of our lives, families, and jobs – most of us have more of a say over our schedules, how much we engage in electronic communication, and the amount of “stuff” we clutter into our lives. Much of this distracts us from what’s most important.

Second of all, it actually can be scary to focus on what truly matters. Some of the most important people, activities, and aspects of our lives are things that may seem “unimportant” to those around us. These things may or may not have anything to do with our careers, taking care of our families, and may not even be things that other people like, understand, or agree with. Even if they are, sadly, it’s often easier to just watch TV, disengage, and merely react to what’s going on around us than it is to engage in the things we value most.

Finally, we may not know what’s most important to us or at least have some internal conflict about what “should” be. Whether it’s our lack of clarity or it’s this phenomenon of “should-ing” all over ourselves (or maybe a bit of both), focusing on what truly matters to us can be more tricky than it seems on the surface. With so many conflicting beliefs, ideas, and agendas (within us and around us), it’s not always easy to know with certainty what matters most to us. And, even if we do, it can take a good deal courage, commitment, and perspective to live our life in alignment with this on a regular basis.

While these and other “reasons” make sense, not focusing on what matters most to us has a real (and often negative) impact on our life, our work, and everyone around us. We end up living our life in a way that is out of integrity with who we really are, which causes stress, dissatisfaction, and missed opportunities and experiences.

What if we did focus on what truly matters in our life all the time – not simply because we experience a wakeup call, crisis, or major life change – but because we choose to in a pro-active way? What would your life look like if you let go of some of your biggest distractions, the often meaningless worries and stresses that take your attention, and actually put more focus on the people and things that are most important to you?

Here’s an exercise you can do now (and any time in the future) to both take inventory of where you are in this process and also to get you more in alignment with what truly matters.

1) Make a list of the most important aspects of your life. You can either write this list down on a piece of paper or in your journal (ideal) or simply make a mental list. These “aspects” will vary depending on your life, interests, priorities, etc. For most people, however, they tend to be things like family, personal/spiritual growth, health, career success/fulfillment, making a difference in the world, fun, money, friends/community, travel, adventure, creativity, home, and more. While you don’t need to rank them necessarily, thinking of these things with some priority can be helpful.

2) Make a list of the things you spend most of your time doing and thinking about. Take inventory of your day today (as well as the past few days, weeks, and months) and make a list (in writing or in your head) of where you spend your time and attention. Tell the truth, even if you aren’t proud of some of the activities or thoughts that get a lot of your focus. With this list it’s important to rank them in some way – so that you’re clear about which activities, thoughts, relationships, and more get your attention specifically, and how much you devote to each of them.

3) Compare the two lists and see how you can get them even more aligned. As you compare these two lists, if you’re anything like me – you may notice that they’re quite different. Often what we say is most important to us isn’t the same as where we devote much of our time, energy, and thought. Without judging yourself, tell the truth about where there are differences in these two lists and spend some time inquiring into why this is the case. And, as you think about this, ask yourself how you can create more alignment with these two lists. In other words, be more conscious and do whatever you can to focus more on what truly matters to you!

Mike Robbins is a sought-after motivational keynote speaker, coach, and the bestselling author of Focus on the Good Stuff (Wiley) and Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Wiley). More info – www.Mike-Robbins.com

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Posted by Mike Robbins on September 16th, 2011 in New Directions, Relationships | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , , ,