What Do We Mean by “Moving on”?

We recently announced a new feature at A Shift of Mind called the Question of the Week. The following is my response to Louise, who wrote:

People say “move on” but how can you when the toxic job is the last on your resume and their comments (or lack) are a plague to you; or the spouse refuses to finalize the divorce, or the parent refuses to understand that his lack of emotional support and outright favoritism of the sibling has resulted in pain and suffering (physical attempts and cheated of inheritance) to you? How not to feel a failure? or inept? How to “deal” with Life?

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What Is a Mistake?

My previous post, “The Problem with Perfection,” unraveled some of the mythology and beliefs about notions of perfection that limit and impede many people’s lives. They come from misinformed beliefs that detour, if not ruin lives. The concept of mistakes is the next step in our consideration of a life well lived.

The anxiety about making mistakes is very much rooted in the old paradigm of being as opposed to becoming. This worldview has us see ourselves as fixed and static, not as flowing and changing. This perspective roots us in the fear of making mistakes. The process of becoming is forgiving. In the flow of becoming we are no longer mired in the hardship of fear, insecurity or the notions of mistakes.

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The Problem with Perfection

In recent years, I’ve treated increasing numbers of individuals who are driven to distraction through their pursuit of perfection.  The desire to be perfect traps and burdens many people and imprisons them with unrelenting stress, often creating havoc in their lives. This is a very curious thing, given that these same people believe that seeking perfection is desirable. Like many operating beliefs and assumptions, when we take a deeper look, they may appear nonsensical.

Perfection suggests a state of flawlessness, without any defects. To be perfect implies a condition whereby your action or performance attains a level of excellence that cannot be exceeded. Seeking perfection at a particular task might be achievable, and certainly a student can strive to attain a perfect grade or you can try to accomplish a perfect execution of something. You can hope to bowl 300 or produce a perfect report at work. You certainly hope your surgeon does a perfect job on your operation.

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What Informs Your Belief?

While I was in the midst of delivering a somewhat provocative talk on the subject of change, a gentleman in the audience indicated that he had a question. As he began to speak, it was evident from both his tone and his question that he was challenging the material that I was sharing. Simply stated, his core belief was that people don’t change, and he suggested that I was being an idealist. Little could he have imagined that I welcome the charge of idealism, for this is what inspires us to higher levels – and so I caught him by surprise when I thanked him for the compliment.

Nevertheless, his tone remained quite charged as he continued to assert his position. My presentation was evidently offending his beliefs. I noticed my reaction arising and felt a surging desire to prove him wrong and reveal the flaw in his thinking. Thankfully, I didn’t attach to my reaction. I witnessed the emotion and came into a space that permitted a more authentic response. In the space of a few nanoseconds I quieted myself and felt a question arising from within. It emerged from a deeper place and it took form in the words, “May I ask what informs your belief?”

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Getting Past the Right or Wrong Impasse

In the previous post we looked at how dominant the motif of seeking to be right is in our culture. It is one of the most singular influences on our behavior and our relations. Now we’ll turn our attention to understanding just how this prevailing compulsion to be correct came into being.

The way that we see reality is very influenced by what is known as Aristotelian thinking. Aristotle’s philosophy held that things were or were not, is or is not. This duality very much filters how we picture reality operating. This is known as either/or thinking. It structures our beliefs into a very simple posture. We therefore know of something only by including its opposite.

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Why Is it so Important to Be Right?

One of the most prevalent – and damaging – themes in our culture is the need to be right. It’s one of those essential memes that we take for granted. It is so deeply embedded in our belief system and in our collective psyche that we never even pause to consider it. It would really serve us to inquire why it is so compelling. Before we begin to look at that, let’s just reflect on how it impacts our lives.

From the more personal and mundane battle over who said what in the midst of an argument to the larger issues of politics, religion, abortion, health care, gun control or climate change, being right is mandated. It quickens our pulse, causes us to shout and can sever relationships. It is the raison d’etre for most acts of hatred, violence and warfare. Read more

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The Paradox of Confidence

As with many goals that we struggle to attain, we tend to go after them in a way that blocks our success. Quite often I find that individuals who quest for more self-esteem — more internal security and confidence — actually get in their own way. Typically, they are prone to measuring and judging themselves against others.

Such individuals attribute more confidence to others and arrange to always fall short in their comparisons. They see their vulnerability as a weakness and try to mask it. That is the source of the problem. We are all vulnerable and insecure in one way or another. When we accept that vulnerability and no longer seek to hide it, we are actually strong! Read more

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Coming into Balance

A few summers ago I broke my foot, the fracture occurring as I missed a step on my front porch. The break occurred on the outside part of my foot — the fifth metatarsal. My doctor provided some good news in that I wouldn’t need a cast, and I proceeded to adjust to my broken foot. Or so I thought. In deference to the pain on the outer perimeter of my foot I shifted my weight toward my other side, compensating for the break.

By the following week I had developed a new and more painful problem. I had stressed the unbroken part of my foot by placing an excessive amount of pressure on it. I actually experienced more acute pain in that area than in the break itself. A month later the broken bone had essentially healed — but the damage I caused to the inner part of my foot still lingered. This is an issue of compensation. I had come out of balance, quite literally. And nowhere does this tendency provoke more havoc than in our emotional and psychological lives. Read more

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Who Am I?

who am I?who am I?This question — asked so often — suggests that there is actually a plausible answer. Almost as if our identity were a fixed thing. People who ask this sort of question are typically struggling with their being and are searching for a core sense of themselves. The irony is that the more you seek to identify who you are, the more fragile you are likely to feel about yourself. There may be an inverse correlation between the question being asked and the ease with which you experience your life. The emphasis shouldn’t be on discovering who you are (what is buried beneath) but on facilitating the emergence of what you’d like to experience.

Our identity should be seen as an ongoing process. Rather than a static snapshot, we should embrace a flowing sense of self, whereby we are perpetually re-framing, re-organizing, re-thinking and re-considering ourselves. How different would life be if rather than asking who am I, we contemplated how we’d like to engage life?
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Can Your Feelings Be Wrong?

This question comes up so often in my therapy sessions. The greatest source of invalidation comes from denying our feelings — whether we do it ourselves or others do it to us. People really struggle with the question of whether their feelings or right or wrong. Wrong question! Feelings are neither — they just are. Imagine saying that you feel hot. Can someone tell you that you’re wrong? That you’re not feeling hot? Of course not. They might argue that it isn’t hot, particularly if you’re sharing a bed together. But indeed if you feel hot, you feel hot.

Now if you’re overdressed  or the thermostat is set too high you might make an adjustment and no longer feel hot. In that case what your feeling changes. Similarly, if you feel angry, unloved or disrespected, some meaningful communication might assist you to reconsider what you’re feeling. Learning not to be reactive also helps in re-framing what we’re feeling. But this doesn’t suggest that you weren’t feeling what you were.
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