Embracing Uncertainty to Manifest Your Future

The pursuit of our personal change process often results in frustration and struggle. As much as we may fantasize new visions for our life, we tend to remain anchored in the familiarity of our life script. The question arises, “Why do we fail so often in our ability to make changes in our life?” My answer may surprise you, but it’s rooted in the way we think reality operates. The 17th century scientist Sir Isaac Newton postulated that the universe was like a giant machine, comprised of separate and discrete parts. He stated that with sufficient data one could reasonably calculate future conditions. This principle came to be known as determinism. And we live out our lives impacted by this “reality.”

The more that we try to know the future in advance, the more wed we become to certainty. If we need to know what will happen — what the consequences of our actions or inactions will be — the more fearful we become about entering into the flow of life. So we hold back and become frozen with apprehension as we analyze our choices. This is where fear resides. People who become addicted to these calculations often suffer from anxiety, as their thoughts perpetually analyze future consequences. Anxiety is directly correlated to our attachment to these fearful thoughts. This freezes us out of the change process as it robs us of our ability to craft a new tomorrow. 

An Uncertain Universe

In the early 20th century, the field of quantum physics discovered that the universe and reality itself is thoroughly uncertain. It now appears that uncertainty applies to our everyday lives as much as it does to the quantum realm. Paradoxically, this uncertainty should be seen as welcome news. How do I come to make this statement? Certainty or predictability precludes new possibility. If the future is already known in advance we lose the ability to truly be present. Uncertainty is necessary for new potentials to arise. The new science informs us that reality is inexorably unfolding and flowing, creating possibility in every instant.  We can join in this life-enhancing flow, if we simply let go of the compulsion to know an unknowable future. Doing this enables us to become free of our addiction to fearful thoughts.

Picture standing by the bank of a river and imagine that the river as the metaphorical flow of life. I am coaxing you to enter the river with me to engage this flow. Hesitantly, you agree. Yet, upon moving into the river you grab a hold of a boulder and try to hold back the river. I ask you to let go and embrace the flow. You look ahead and see a bend in the river and you protest, “but I can’t see where the river will take me, I need to know.”And so you block the current of life. You’re not supposed to know where it will go but you are free to navigate your direction as you go along. But you must enter into the flow of your life and the current of change.

Being stuck in determinism blocks us from becoming the author of our own life script.Yet, most people continue to avoid uncertainty at all costs with sad results. Our relationship with others and with ourselves becomes repetitive, rather like watching the movie Groundhog Day, in which the protagonist finally breaks free. The key to change lies in altering our relationship with uncertainty. Rather than trying to ward it off, embrace it. It’s the engine of your change process.Your resistance is about coming out of your familiar zone. You can’t elicit change and new possibility and remain in the familiar at the same time. You must chose.

 

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The Wrong Reason for Staying Married

The institution of marriage should be intended to enrich our lives. Certainly we might agree that the purpose of marriage ought to be to enhance our life and further our sense of meaning, purpose and gratification. Yet this expectation meets with an incredible rate of disappointment, if not outright failure. Ironically, marriage often becomes the justification for people’s unhappiness.

The fact that more than fifty percent of marriages end in divorce is actually the lesser of the problem. The greater difficulty lies in the fact that the majority of intact marriages are far from joyful. And many people regrettably live out their lives that way.

Remaining in the discontent and lethargy of an unhappy marriage, dulled by the absence of a more hopeful vision, can be downright depressing. And yet, so many people resign themselves to such lives.

Many individuals in such relationships merely give up and don’t work on improving their relations. They stay stuck in their unhappiness due to their fears. Divorce, although tumultuous and potentially scarring, at least provides the possibility of better days. I’m not glibly promoting divorce but suggesting that we do every thing in our power to awaken our relationships and live more meaningfully. Let’s take a deeper look at this dilemma.

The Fear Factor

Fear is the greatest impediment to growth in our lives. Very often, people are literally afraid of sharing their true feelings with their partners. They go silent and angry rather than expose their more vulnerable feelings. The fear may run the gamut: the fear of divorce and its incumbent anxieties or simply the avoidance of coming to terms with a relationship that may be lacking in intimacy, passion or respect. Another poignant fear may simply be the anxiety of being alone and starting life over again..

When you stay married out of fear, the emotional paralysis that pervades further poisons the relationship. Staying together out of resignation – due to fear – results in an enigmatic dilemma. Such people won’t consider divorce, and yet they are convinced that their marriage won’t improve, so they don’t work on the relationship. This is the worst of all possible scenarios.

If you find yourself in this place, it’s essential that you address your fears. The fear of divorce paradoxically eliminates any chance of improvement in the relationship. It produces a state of inertia, and the ensuing stagnation and frustration make mediocre marriages even worse. They become imprisoning.

If we can work through the fears around separation, then we are electing to stay in the marriage not from fear but from choice. This movement begins to unburden the chronic state of unhappiness, and genuine marital therapy may begin. In other words, processing the fear of divorce is not necessarily for the purpose of divorcing; it is for the purpose of clarity. Am I staying married for the wrong reasons?

Fear filters our perceptions and participates in constructing our reality. The ways in which you see your partner are very much informed by your emotions, particularly anger. This anger may have arisen in part because you’re feeling mired in a hopeless relationship.

Getting unstuck permits you to either create a healthier relationship or to move forward. Either choice may be preferable to remaining unhappy without a glimmer of hope. Fear should not be a factor in your choice. Ultimately, the question is how much happiness you feel you deserve. It is not selfish to deserve happiness. In fact, to forgo your own contentment becomes a model of unhealthy self-sacrifice for your children – who will likely suffer in their own self-esteem by having parents who betrayed their own fulfillment.

For the Sake of the Children

One prevailing theme related to fear of divorce is that the act of divorce, in and of itself, will damage the children. People research multiple studies to substantiate this concern. By all means such an upheaval in our children’s lives should not be taken lightly. Divorce needs to be well considered, and navigating the children through this process should be undertaken with insight, reflection and empathy.

Yet, very few people consider the consequences of children growing up in unhappy yet intact homes, as they witness conflicted, unloving and uncooperative parental relations. Children tend to model what they see in their parents’ relations. Certainly, as parents we want better for our kids. Yet, the likelihood is that such children will incline toward similar marriages. Worse still, many parents claim their kids really don’t know anything is wrong with the marriage. The irony is that they will therefore normalize what may be a mediocre, disappointing or conflicted marriage. At least the kids ought to know that the marriage is indeed falling short of the mark. In that way, they can note the failure and aim higher for themselves when they come of age.

The legacy of unhappiness

Is this the legacy we want for our children? To be the best we can be as parents we need to model a level of authenticity in our lives. One in which we face our challenges and struggles and don’t succumb to fear. Isn’t that what we’d want for them? If you choose to stay married, commit to the process and model that commitment for your children. If your marriage precludes the opportunity for happiness, have the courage to face your fears. Let’s not claim that we’re protecting our children by exposing them to unhealthy relations. We need to face our fears, embrace them and choose to stay married from a healthy place of growth and hopefulness, not succumb to the deprivation of a joyless life.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

should-i-stay-or-should-i-goCountless people struggle with the answer to this most daunting question. As our relationship hangs on the precipice of making this decision, how we go about making the “right” choice is critical. Committed relationships are typically fraught with challenges and much emotional and psychological upheaval. Yet, these challenges are rife with opportunity at the same time. The opportunity is for our individual growth, and possibly, the growth of the partnership. Let’s look at what’s necessary for making an enlightened decision about the future of our relationship.
Anger
We should never make any life-altering decision from anger. Our wrath may feel justifiable and we need to appropriately express our feelings, but beneath the anger lays deeper and more authentic emotions, such as fear, sadness or pain. Try getting in touch with your more vulnerable feelings and take the risk of expressing them to your partner. Articulating what feels vulnerable is not weak; it’s just the opposite. It’s authentic. Love can flourish with vulnerable communication. Defending against our hurt feelings erects a barrier to true emotional intimacy.
When two individuals communicate their vulnerable side to each other, so much becomes revealed. It’s where our genuine self resides and it needs to be heard. If your partner is the “right” partner they’ll be listening and caring when you reveal your softer side. If they turn a deaf ear, you may have your answer.
Fear
Critical choices are often made or avoided from our fear of the consequences. I’ve seen numerous marriages remain intact due to a multitude of fears: being alone, concern for the children or financial consequences. Staying in a relationship because of fear is often ruinous for it imprisons the future vitality of the relationship. Resentment and anger are the byproducts of staying in a relationship due to fear, as both people stop hoping for a better tomorrow. And they therefore stop trying.
We often worry about the consequences of our actions. We should also contemplate the consequences of our inactions. Work through your limiting fears and you’ll be in a clearer place to come to your decision.
Am I part of the problem?
Can I say I’ve looked at my part in the relationship struggle and tried to see myself as my partner sees me? Have I moved past the right vs. wrong debate and tried to empathize with how they feel? Have I engaged in couple’s therapy and/or individual therapy? Have I tried to be the change that I’m seeking in them? If your answer is yes, then you may be ready to make your choice.
Ultimately a primary purpose of a relationship should be to enhance your life. Hopefully your union began that way. Over time the challenges that relationships stir up may cause us to feel diminished. This in turn fuels frustration and resentment and the energy of your relationship spirals downward.
To turn the tide of negativity in your relationship try to shift the energy that you’re both experiencing. In the downward spiral of negativity, our reactions and criticism of each other quicken.  When a client shares with me in therapy a positive feeling they had about their partner and I inquire if they shared that with the other person, the answer is typically no.  Criticizing and blaming each other become familiar, but ironically if we have a warm or positive feeling about the other, we resort to silence. Come out of the rut you’re stuck in and present your best self. If you partner is “right” for you, they’ll do the same.
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Beyond Sobriety – Reclaiming Your Potential

New Life“I am an alcoholic,” the central refrain of AA is pivotal in helping addicts face their reality. This statement renders a clear and precise surrender to their affliction. This represents a bold and courageous first step in the recovery process. These addictions may stretch from drugs, alcohol, sex and porn to a vast array of other disordered compulsions. The AA approach is the gold standard for helping people achieve and maintain their sobriety alongside the incalculable benefits of fellowship. Arguably, AA does this more successfully than anyone else. Yet, in helping to secure an individual’s substance and emotional sobriety, the previously stated proclamation may ironically imperil that person’s personal growth.

Who Am I?

I was working with a man in his late fifties who had been sober for three decades. He was no longer tempted by alcohol and could even sit at a bar with friends enjoying his club soda. This gentleman was clearly well past his previous battle with alcoholism. Yet, in accordance with the AA protocol, he continued to refer to himself as an alcoholic. This imprint limited how he looked at himself. He didn’t see himself as an evolving person but remained stuck, in his self-image — one that was cemented into his psyche from the age of twenty- five. His snapshot of himself was frozen in time, as was his identity. This in turn impacted not only his relationship with himself but with those close to him. He wasn’t evolving in his life, while others around him were. This is the stuff of victimhood.

Consider the difference between saying “I am an alcoholic,” as opposed to, “I suffered from alcoholism for a number of years, but I’m sober for the last 25 years.” If we’ve broken free from the grip of our addiction and no longer feel at risk, we need to differentiate between the past and the present. If I’ve been sober for thirty years and still declare, “I am an alcoholic,” the word am betrays my progress. Reiterating my addiction reduces me to still being an addict. If I’ve broken free of my addiction, why would I still choose to identify with my victimhood? If someone says, “I’m a convict,” I’d assume they are incarcerated. If they served their time and are now free, they might say, “I’m an ex-con,” as they signify the difference. Why should it be different for addiction?

Everything Flows

As quantum physics wondrously describes, reality and the universe itself – including us humans as well – appears to be inexorably flowing and evolving. From this perspective nothing remains in a fixed state of being, everything participates in the dance of becoming. Nothing is left out of this movement. This includes the recovering addict. Addiction is a horrific affliction, but one that can be overcome. Why would we want to further the punishment of the past by carrying it with us when it no longer applies?

Victim or Victor?

Overcoming addiction — in whatever form it may present – is enormously challenging, but if you’re successful it’s also incredibly noteworthy. You should feel proud of your success. You are not who you used to be. I’d encourage you to announce your victory as you fully invest in your process of becoming, as you further advance your growth. The greatest guarantor of your continued sobriety is your forward movement. It’s your choice as to see yourself as a victim — or as a victor.

Related articles:
Who Am I?
From Being to Becoming

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Living a Fear-Less Life

 

fearFear is a universal experience for virtually all of us. Perhaps there are a few exceptions to this rule, such as the Dalai Lama, but for the rest of us it’s part of life. The goal of living without any fear might be desirable, but somewhat naïve. What we should aim for is to reduce fear to its rightful place. Constant apprehension shouldn’t be a burden that we carry with us, day in and day out — moment in and moment out. So when I use the word fear-less I’m not proposing a life without fear, as that may be a stretch. But I am advocating living with less fear.

 

There are appropriate fears that are a warning signal that we are at risk and there’s something we need to pay attention to. If the road you’re driving on becomes icy, you want to be cautious. But you certainly don’t want to freeze up – as the road beneath you did. If you’re having chest pains it makes sense to seek assistance. If you’ve noticed you’ve gained weight and aren’t exercising, rather than fretting about your health, do something about it. If you’re noticing that your child isn’t thriving and feel afraid that there’s something wrong, seek help. You can choose not to let fear consume you.

 

There are some fears that go unspoken yet are common. One of three people will be eventually be diagnosed with cancer. Do many people feel apprehensive about this? Of course they do. That makes sense, but to carry a sense of dread around with you gets in your way of living well. Fears run a very wide range from apprehension about losing your job to not having enough savings to retire. From not be loved to having your lover leave you. From thinking others don’t like you to worrying about what you say and how you’ll be judged.

 

Changing your relationship with fear

For those who experience such excessive fears, there is a way out. Rather than focusing on the fear, look at your relationship with the worry. Fear, self-doubt and insecurity are not uncommon. But when you take these concerns and elevate them to the bull’s eye of your attention, you’re in trouble. You need to change your relationship with the fear. What do I mean by this curious statement?

 

Some people have a very strong affinity for fear; they actually seek it out. Their thoughts become habituated to looking for and focusing on what distresses them. So their minds develop a fixation as they paradoxically search for what causes them disharmony.When our thoughts perpetually attach to fear, it’s like carrying a lightening rod in a thunderstorm. What we look for we find. Anxiety is the consequence of our thoughts’ addictive relationship with fear.

 

 Fear doesn’t have a grip on you, but you have a grip on fear

The more you resist and try to ward off your fear, the larger it becomes. Think of it in the following way: What we resist we make more formidable. Imagine putting your arms out at full length in front of you as you try to hold back the fear. The irony is we actually embolden fear by trying to ward it off. Fear gets stronger when you resist it. Changing your relationship with fear means welcoming it in. Say to whatever is alarming you, “Come on in and let me have a look at you.” When we do this the fear tends to dissipate. Fear doesn’t have a grip on you, but you have a grip on fear. Loosen the grip. When you can see your relationship with the fear, you don’t have to become the fear.

In my next post I’ll be discussing how the need for certainty and our resistance to uncertainty contributes to our fears and anxiety.

 

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Why Acting Strong is Actually Weak

authenticityarmourA troubling theme that I come across in my work as a therapist — and in my observation of people in general — is the belief that we should always act strong and hide our insecurities and fears. The damage perpetrated by this “common wisdom” is incalculable. It decimates true self-esteem and damages our relationships.

Acting strong is acting. When we act or pretend to be different than who we truly are, we abandon our real self by putting on a mask. We do this in an attempt to control what we hope others will think of us. So we manipulate and camouflage our self as we seek the approval of others, or at the least try to avoid their disapproval. This sets up our primary betrayal of our genuine self.

Authentic self-esteem is derived from our relationship with our own self. If we contort our personality to seek recognition or approval from others we’re pursuing what I call other-esteem. This is other-esteem because it doesn’t come from within, but is sought from outside of us. We’re trying to feel better about ourselves by being disingenuous. How do you think that’s going to work out? The more we do this, the further we move from genuine self-esteem. This is the opposite of what we should be doing. We should be embracing our vulnerability.

What do I mean by vulnerable? For me the word vulnerable doesn’t elicit weakness, but openness. Don’t construe vulnerable to mean fragile. As humans we all experience vulnerable feelings like insecurity, doubt and fear. In moderation these are common emotions. But due to our misinformed cultural meta-narrative that demands the appearance of strength we decide to hide these feelings from one another. So we live out our lives falsely thinking that our shortcomings or self-doubts are unique to us. The sad irony is that those same individuals whose opinions we are so worried about are very likely doing the same thing. So the vast majority of people are disempowering themselves, thinking that others are more confident and secure. This tragic myth terribly limits our lives. On another note, the more you can embrace your insecurities, the sooner you’ll move past them. Hiding them cements them into your being whereas allowing them to surface tends to dissipate what you’ve been trying to hide.

Hiding our true self from others makes is what makes us fragile. Being yourself makes you strong. When I encourage this transition people may ask, “but what will they think of me?” How will I be seen? This is a common concern for people who grapple with revealing their genuine self. I’d offer that I want to be seen — as I truly am — as my authentic self. This is the path to a powerful self-esteem.

When we accept our vulnerability we have nothing to hide from others and this in turn makes us genuinely powerful. The key to a resilient self-esteem is found by embracing your vulnerability – your fears and insecurities. In doing so, you liberate yourself from setting up others as your judge, as you have nothing to hide. You must embrace your vulnerability to attain inner strength.

Who is my judge? Why is it more important to us what someone else thinks of us than what we think of ourselves? When we subordinate our self worth by setting up another person as our judge, we perpetuate emotional abuse on ourselves. Other people aren’t your judge so why appoint them that power? Everyone has opinions for sure, but to elevate someone’s opinions to the power of a judgment is both irrational and without merit. What you’re doing is judging yourself and then projecting that power of judgment on to someone else. I’m found of saying that the only person who has the right to literally judge me wears a long black robe and presides in a courthouse.

For relationships to thrive we must experience emotional intimacy. What I mean by this term is a transparent and safe sharing of our feelings. When we obscure feelings that we think will be criticized or scrutinized we block emotional intimacy.

We all just want to be loved, but to be loved you need to be lovable. Most of us struggle in actually being lovable. When you need to act strong you’ve erected a defensive wall that doesn’t allow others in. You become impenetrable and therefore, unlovable. Vulnerability – openness — is most often seen as lovable. In my work with couples and families, when someone expresses their softer vulnerable feelings, others not only listen, they care.

Isn’t it insane that we hide the very qualities that could have us feel validated, affirmed and loved? Embracing rather than hiding from our vulnerability makes us authentic and powerful. It suggests that we accept and value ourselves as we are, without fear of what we think others may think of us. We’ve been clearly playing from the wrong game plan.

My forthcoming book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love (Fall 2017, Sounds True) will provide more detail on this subject. Please enjoy many other similar posts on this topic found here on this blog.

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For the Sake of the Children

divorceI’ve often heard people in conflicted and unhappy marriages claim that they are staying together for the sake of the children. Their implied message is that their children will be better off being raised in an intact family, spared from the negative effect of divorce. This position really requires deeper consideration.

As with many commonly held beliefs we owe it to ourselves to really examine them to determine if they’re valid. Often, they don’t really hold up under scrutiny. This may well be the case here. Several questions come to mind: Are we really staying together for the sake of the children, or are we fearful of coming to terms with our own lives (and in that case using the children as a scapegoat)? Second, is divorce necessarily harmful to children? Last, what are the effects of remaining in an intact family in which the parents are either conflicted or simply loveless? Let’s take a look at these questions. Read more

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Falling In and Out – and Back – in Love

falling in and out of loveThe experience of falling in love is truly a thing of marvel. It’s a remarkable and incomparable feeling. Time seems altered and our senses become fervently alive. Each moment has meaning and intent. This is a peak moment in life. Yet, sadly over time we tend to fall out of love as easily as we fall in love. We may say that we still love one another but we’re not in love. Let’s explore why this occurs and what this phenomenon is that we call love. Read more

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Why I Can’t… or Why Can’t I?

YES I CANThe beliefs we carry with us carve out forks in the road of our life. They direct us down very different paths and experiences. Our primary beliefs and our ensuing thoughts direct how we engage life. Ironically, we hardly pay attention to these seismic influences upon us. If you’d like to live your live to its fullest – it’s essential that you understand and unravel these influences.

Beliefs may be subtle and fly beneath our conscious radar or altogether overt, but either way they are immensely powerful. Let’s look at two opposing beliefs and consider how they impact us.

Why Can’t I?

My parents raised me to believe in possibilities and to move toward my potential. I didn’t see limitations so much as possibilities. My instinct throughout my life has been, “Why can’t I?” When I have a vision, a thought or a goal, my gut feeling is “I can do this, why not?”

This attitude has enabled me to re-craft my sense of identity and avocation, seeing my life as perpetually evolving. This – I can do this attitude — frees me to see myself through the lens of becoming, not stuck in a state of being. I never ask myself, “Who am I?” Instead, I contemplate, “How would I like to experience my life?”
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I’ll Be Happy When…

What is the source of happiness? We tend to assume that happiness will come from a future event. It typically depends upon something else happening. The script often reads like this:

I’ll be happy when… I fall in love.

I’ll be happy when… I get married.

I’ll be happy when… we can buy our dream house.

I’ll be happy when… we can furnish the house.

Still, the anticipated happiness is elusive so we tie it to more future events.

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