Why I Gave Up “Positive Thinking”

DSC_0057[1]

In my first teaching job, we always began the year by setting a goal.  We would write this goal on an index card and place it in an envelope.  Midway through the year, this goal would turn up in our mailbox, so that we could monitor our own progress.

This was kind of an inside joke between my aide and me, because we always had the same goal: to be more positive.

It wasn’t that we didn’t take our goal seriously or try to be positive.  It’s just that those pesky “negative” thoughts and words always crept in.

And it wasn’t only at work that this was happening.  I noticed negativity in my conversations, in my self-talk, and in my mood, in all aspects of my life.  And during my last winter living in the house in Michigan, I launched an all-out effort to change it.

How did I change it?  I got up early and recited a positive poem to begin my day.  I wrote a gratitude list.  I watched subliminal videos with positive affirmations on You Tube.  I read books about positive thinking.  I recited mantras throughout my day.  I wrote a list of everything I hated about myself and turned it all into the positive, opposite. 

I sought to bombard my mind with positive messages, multiple times a day, so that there would be no room for the negative.  And when I did have negative thoughts, I worked to replace them with positive thoughts, right away.  I worked as hard as I could to fight against that toxic negativity.

And I failed, miserably.  Changing my thoughts was never, could never be so simple. 

After I abandoned my journey toward “positive thinking,” I began a new journey–the journey toward truly understanding my mind.

I learned that in my effort to only think positive thoughts, I was rejecting my own mind.  Negative thoughts are an effort of the mind to communicate something, a cry for help.  And I was attacking my mind for its cries, because they were “negative.”

The alternative course of action is to make peace with these cries for help, and to answer them.

DSC_0064[1]

This is what I learned in my journey to pursue that course:

1.  Negative thoughts are often based on misunderstandings.  When I attacked myself with my thoughts–when I called myself fat, stupid, or a failure–I was misunderstanding myself.  There was something about me that I needed to look at more closely, a misunderstanding that I needed to clear up.  Now, when I think poorly about myself or someone else, I gently ask my mind “why.”  Why am I thinking that?  In looking at the answer and clearing up the misunderstanding, I am able to stop a lot more of those thoughts than I was through “positive thinking.”

2.  Negative thoughts can stem from neglecting our own needs.  If I’m crabby about doing something, helping somebody, or going somewhere, I’ve found that it’s usually because I need to spend some time doing something I want.  In some way, it’s because I need to spend time meeting one of my needs.  Martyrdom and overextension breed such “negative” thoughts, which are really just the mind’s cries for help.

3.  Hopelessness comes from misunderstandings and exhaustion.  “It will never get better; why do I try?” is the mind’s way of saying, “I don’t know what to do, and I need a NAP!”  Learning to relax, then think calmly about a situation has done a lot more to open up my creativity, than any positive affirmations ever did.  And learning to ask for what I need, when I need it, has worked wonders toward stopping that feeling of overwhelm.

In the end, I learned that every negative thought has a purpose, and that simply trying to override them can never work in the long-term.  By abandoning “positive thinking” and moving toward understanding, I have found my outlook to be sunnier and my mind to be calmer.

Ready, Set, Go!

We’re determined not to overbook our Jelly Bean.

We make sure she eats her meals at home, has lots of time to play, and doesn’t get overstressed.  She is at a school that doesn’t assign homework in first grade, so she has plenty of time for just being a kid.

However, we jumped at the chance to sign her up for piano lessons in the fall, and this was something she caught onto very quickly.  It seems that she takes after her mother’s side of the family:

And today, Beanie discovered a new hobby.

Daddy was very excited when the flier came home from school, about the “Stampede” race at the school carnival.  Everyone on Rob’s side of the family runs, and Rob still enters 5K’s. 

And so today was the big day…

DSC_0442

 

Time for some stretching…

DSC_0444

DSC_0445

DSC_0446

Soon it was time to line up…

DSC_0447

More stretching…

And then they’re off!  Beanie quickly pulled away from the pack (and left Daddy in the dust!)

Beanie stayed well ahead of the pack and ran most of the half mile around the school.  And she finished well ahead of the other first graders!

DSC_0452

DSC_0453

Time for some orange juice while she waited for everyone else to finish…

DSC_0454

And then the Bean received her first medal!

DSC_0455

DSC_0456

DSC_0458

It was a tiring race, but she did save some energy for jumping around…

DSC_0459

DSC_0460

And of course the day wouldn’t have been complete without getting a green star painted in her hair!

DSC_0463

DSC_0466

Beanie is very proud of herself and can’t stop talking about her medal and how she “beat most of the kids.”  She is a competitive little buddy!  We found some racing shoes for her at Goodwill, and she and Daddy are going to start training at the gym.

True Power Lies Beyond Vulnerability

DSC_0054[1]

I remember the first time I experienced a “vulnerability hangover.”

I remember the exact date, to be exact.  It was January 1, 2013.

I had been blogging for nearly 2 years, sharing our adventures in sailing and minimalism.  I had quit Facebook and started corresponding with friends via e-mail.  These interactions were a huge part of my journey, and each of these friends pushed me to break away from the script given to us by society and realize the life that I actually wanted to live.

As these friends encouraged me, I began to see how the impressions I had of myself–the beliefs I had about who I was and what I was capable of–were severely limiting me.  I wrote one friend a long e-mail about what I thought to be the source of my self-doubts, and with their encouragement, turned it into my “New Year’s Eve post.

DSC_0056[1]

And it was after writing this post that the hangover came.

I was afraid of what people would say after reading my post.  How would they judge me?  I was convinced that I was secretly a head case, and if those around me agreed, wouldn’t that mean what I was?

I was afraid to go back to work, after growing and changing so much on break.  I wanted to live life differently, but that would mean taking more risks, and risking losing the security that I thought I had.

I was afraid of how much I trusted my e-mail friends.  They believed in me, and I was addicted to their attention.  If they stopped writing me, if they decided I was a headcase, if they decided I was too clingy–what would that mean about me?

DSC_0061[1]

I was vulnerable in so many ways.

It was during this time that one of my friends e-mailed me a link to Brene Brown’s TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”  I watched it and responded with, “How did this lady get inside my head?”

Brown told of her own journey through perceived unworthiness, and in the end she asserted that the way to find our own worthiness is by being willing to be vulnerable.  And, to be true, vulnerability was an important part of my journey at that time.  I stopped hiding in the shadows, and made some bold choices to share, to risk judgement, and to break free from the seemingly “secure” life I had been living for 10 years.

Like Brown, my journey involved two years of therapy (and counting!  Because I want to continue to grow).  But rather than learning to embrace my vulnerability, I learned to grow beyond it, to see that I was only vulnerable BECAUSE I did not understand my own worth.  The reality is that nobody can hurt us, even if they do “judge.”  Judgements show truth about the judge and their insecurities, not about us.  When we perceive ourselves as lacking, then we use other people’s words as evidence to support our limiting beliefs.    Everything is interpreted as being about us.  This is what causes us to think that we are vulnerable at all.

DSC_0062[1]

As my journey continued, I saw that I was not vulnerable.  That even actions that seemed to be about me, were not.

  • Nobody acted any differently toward me.  But if they had, that wouldn’t mean there was something wrong with me, or that I was a headcase.  It would mean that sometime from my experience triggered a fear in the other person, that they were misunderstanding.
  • There has been a natural ebb and flow in my online friendships, just like there is with friendships in “real life.”  And some of this has even been initiated by me, because I’m not needing that constant positive feedback anymore.  I rejoined Facebook, so we could stay in touch without spending time writing lengthy e-mails.  All of that is fine, and I understand that if people are choosing to spend more time doing other activities, it means nothing about me.
  • Some friends have chosen not to stay in touch.  In fact, some of the people I confided the most to, who gave me the most support during the most difficult times, have drifted away.  And yet, I understand that this means nothing about me.  They are on their own journey and always have been.
  • In not “needing” anything from those around me, I also do not “need” them to be a certain way or choose to do or say anything in particular.  They are free to be as they are, and I no longer try manipulate my relationships in an effort to meet my own needs.
  • I am slowly working my way away from the illusion of security.  I am learning that I don’t need my life to be a certain way either.  As I have discovered my own worth, I am learning that everyone and everything can be how it is.

So what does this all mean?  It means that you should embrace your vulnerability.  Be willing to step out there and take risks.

But then, look around and start to see that you are not taking a risk at all.

DSC_0065[1]

Why Do We Judge?

Shortly after we got married, one of my friends had a baby.

While I enjoyed watching her parenting journey, I was pretty certain I could do better.  She was lucky her child had a good temperament, because she wasn’t strict enough.  Her child wasn’t talking super early, because she was clearly doing something wrong.  Maybe she wasn’t reading to her?  Talking to her enough?  Whatever the reason, I would definitely do better when I had my kid.

Then, my other best friend had her baby.  And–lo and behold–she wasn’t fast to talk.  Obviously because they were doing *something* that I wasn’t seeing.  Pushing her too much?  Too much television?  Nothing I would do, for sure.

There were more.  The relative’s child with autism?  The school system and labeling.  The friend whose kid had behavior problems?  Not enough attachment parenting.

And then along came the Bean.

I breastfed her 22 months.  She co-slept.  I read to her from the beginning, sang to her.  No television until age 2.  We did everything “right.”

And she crawled at 12 months.  She didn’t speak in complete sentences until age 6.  And she potty trained the same year.

So was this a slice of humble pie?  Not really, because I don’t think that my “judging” was due to a character flaw of any sort.  However, I do think that my judging had nothing to do with the people being judged–it had everything to do with my own fears.

Recently, I’ve seen this story shared on Facebook.  Again, although I don’t know the whole story, I think that the mother doing the “judging” had her own issues.  I’ve learned a lot about the judging and “advice” we give other people, whether it involves parenting, minimalism, or something else.

Beanie

What have I learned?

  • I learned that I judged others to assuage my own fears.  This is what I was doing when I judged my friends.  I was terrified, after years of teaching special education, of having a child with a disability.  I wanted to believe that it was possible to avoid having a child with a delay.  Autism, especially, was my biggest fear.  If there were some magic techniques I could use to avoid this, I would.  So, of course, I was given a child with autism, and a severe language delay, so that I could learn and understand.  I judged out of my greatest fear, which in the end was nothing, meaningless.

Beanie 2

  • I learned that I judged because I doubted myself.  It goes back to elementary school.  We criticize those who are making the mistakes in the areas where we have the most doubt.  Will I read to my child enough?  Will I discipline properly?  I don’t know the answer now, and I certainly did not back then.

 Beanie 5

  • I learned that I judged because I was trying to find my identity.  Parenting–like junior high–is made up of cliques.  Will you be a sleep trainer?  A natural parent?  I wanted to be “crunchy,” in order to define myself and find support.  So I became fiercely critical of those who were not.  Who would dare use formula?  Eat fast food?  For shame!

Beanie 6

So when you find yourself judging, understand that it is not a character flaw, but a doubt you have within yourself.  Be curious with your own mind.  What fears do you have?  How are you doubting yourself?  How are you trying to define yourself?  Because your “judgements” are all about you, not about the other person.

And what about the times you feel judged?  What about the times when people make comments to you?  First off, understand that those comments are all about the commentor, not about you.  And second, why do they upset you?  They would not, if you did not have doubts.  What doubt did that person “step” on?

Look deeply, and you will see that judgement, as a concept, is just a fancy name for misunderstanding.

February–Full Circle

Those of you who have been here a long time might remember that back in the summer of 2011, a couple we met in Harrisville, Michigan captured our imagination:

(Me back then).

(Beanie and Megan back then).

That summer, Megan and Corey–both recent college graduates at the time–lived aboard for more than 4 months and sailed the Lakes, before ending the summer with a wedding aboard on Grand Traverse Bay.  While we ended that season early after running aground, we followed their adventures for a number of years.  After proceeding to a honeymoon in Thailand, their adventures were followed by a newlywed settling-down time, followed by another summer of cruising, followed by a new baby, followed by…wait for it…a motor home and a move from Michigan to Texas!

They moved to Austin, which is a few hour away from Houston, but we have been following their blog and waiting for the time to be right for a meet-up.  And that happened this weekend.  We spent our Valentine’s day having a lovely get-together with Megan, Corey, and their 6-month-0ld son, Danforth.  

Beanie by our new table.

Beanie by our new table.

Picnic on the island!

Picnic on the island!

DSC_0302

Us, now!

Us, now!

DSC_0308

Tall bike ride!

Tall bike ride!

I hope you spent this wonderful February weekend in the company of friends and family as well!

Putting an End to the Hate!

love

As many of you know, I have a lot of experience trying to lose weight.  I’ve tried every fad diet imaginable.  I’ve failed to lose weight on Slim Fast, Weight Watchers, calorie counting, low-fat, low-carb, South Beach, paleo, and the Perfect Health Diet.  I’ve binged after starving myself, and I’ve failed at “intuitive eating.”

I overate when I was stressed, and I overate when I was happy.  I’ve overeaten after skipping meals to make up for a binge the day before.  I’ve overeaten and made numerous trips to Goodwill to buy larger clothes.  I’ve looked in the mirror and hated what I’ve seen, which contributed to my not joining a gym the first 6 months we lived here.  I rung in the new year weighing 6 pounds less than my full-term pregnancy weight.

So when I made a New Year’s Resolution to lose 35 pounds, I knew I had to do something different.  All of my efforts at using willpower and muscling myself had failed, so I needed to move beyond the “tough self-love” mentality.  And I would have to invent a program myself, because there is nothing out there that takes this approach.

What is out there?  After my friend, Lois, referred to an “expert” recommending punishing yourself by eating a can of dog food, if you don’t stick to your diet, I did some research.  Sadly, I found that punishment is strongly recommended by the diet gurus.  Here is an example of the thinking behind the “willpower and discipline” approach.

Of course, this self-hate based mentality has had a backlash.  Many people advocate loving your body as it is, and not worrying about diet and exercise.  The Healthy at Any Size movement does make some excellent points.

By now, you’ve probably figured out that I disagree with both of these approaches.  First off, why would willpower ever be necessary?  Just using muscle ignores the reasons that I have for overeating.  And self-hatred and beating up on yourself triggers the fight-or-flight response, which drowns your brain in stress hormones.  And guess what those stress hormones do?  Yup, they make you want to eat more.  Here is an article about stress and weight gain.

But I also wasn’t ready to just eat whatever I wanted.  I know there are health risks involved with being overweight.  Heart disease and diabetes run in my  family, and I do know that my blood sugar already runs high when I don’t stay on top of it.  I know that my energy level is lower when I am overweight, and I experience a lot more muscle and joint soreness when I am carrying extra weight.  Loving my body as it is means that giving it the care it needs to return to health.

So, based on that premise, I have invented my own diet plan, which I will share with you now.  It’s a completely different approach, based on self-love and understanding.  Of course, I am not a registered nutritionist or doctor, and this is not meant as a substitute for medical advice from one of these professionals.

My weight-loss approach is based on the following ideas:

1.  Weight gain is a symptom and not the cause. Being at an unhealthy weight is not natural for my body.  It is a sign that things are out of balance.  In my case, it is likely the result of years of being bathed in stress hormones.

2.  For that reason, my focus is healing rather than punishment.  Rather than just cutting calories and watching the numbers on the scale, I am focusing on healing my body from those years of stress.  And so I eat a nutrient-rich diet full of protein, fruits, and vegetables.  My focus is on loving and restoring.  I make sure I eat enough calories, and I determined the amount I need using numerous calorie calculators found on Google.

3.  I treat exercise like physical therapy.  I did a great job sticking with an exercise regimen when I went to PT for a shoulder injury.   And that was because the focus of my routine was healing, not punishment.  I took it easy when I experienced pain, I rested when I needed to, and I measured progress in months, not days.  I am taking the same approach at the gym.  I am no longer ashamed of modifying when I need to, taking short rests, and really listening to my body.  With this approach, motivation has followed–I am easily able to go 6 days a week.

4.  I eat for my mind.  Eating a high-protein diet with some healthy carbs and lots of water helps to stabilize my mind.  And when my mind is calm, I overeat less.  I make sure that my protein amounts are in the double-digits everytime I eat–and that means breakfast, one or two snacks, lunch, dinner, and possibly a bedtime snack.  I only drink coffee in the morning, then switch to chamomile tea if I need a warm beverage, and I consume very little alcohol.  Listen to your body and mind, and feed them what they need.

5.  I focus inwardly when I want to overeat.  There is a reason I’m wanting that snack, so I’m curious with my mind about it.  What need is unfulfilled, that I am trying to meet with that candy bar?  This is a time when I am gently curious with my mind, and compassionate.

6.  I use relaxation strategies.  Yoga is a major part of my workout routine, as well as mini-breaks throughout the day.  Keeping the body calm helps prevent stress hormones from being released.

7.  I avoid all approaches based on rewards and punishments.  This is difficult, because it is so ingrained in our culture.  I am not using “accountability” as a strategy, for example.  Having someone else tell me to keep going, is just enlisting help to muscle myself.  I used to participate in the “Greatest Loser Challenge” at work, but I can see how this was just a way of muscling and punishing myself.

So this is my strategy, which I have implemented for one week so far.  And the results?  I will eventually stop weighing in, because weight is no longer my focus.   But for now, the scale is a useful tool, because I will naturally lose weight if I am truly healing.  If I gain weight, that means I am not meeting my body’s needs for healing in some fashion.  And so far that is not the case, as I have already lost 3 pounds.

Time for Some Resolutions!

DSC_0058[1]

That’s right.  I’m rocking it old school this year and making resolutions.

For the past two years, I’ve chosen a one-word theme, in lieu of resolutions.  Two years ago, it was “love.”  At that time I was just learning to accept love from those around me, and my mind was beginning to entertain the notion that I might be deserving of it. 2013 turned out to be a year of big changes, and I learned about love in so many different ways.  In fact, love has continued to be my guiding light, and it really could be my one-word theme every year.

My word for 2014 was “surrender,” and this was also very appropriate for the year.  In accepting myself as I am and in accepting life as it is, I’ve been able to grow more than I ever knew I could.  Surrender is really just an extension of love.

And so love will be my focus once again, but I will be making some concrete goals to guide me through this journey to love.  In 2012 I made 5 resolutions.  While I wasn’t perfect in meeting these goals, they did lead us closer to creating the lifestyle we wanted.

At that time, my goals were to eat less poison, get off the grid completely, generate one plastic shopping bag of garbage per month, put together a 12-piece wardrobe for myself, and have Christmas shopping done by January 1.  Some of these goals can be elaborated upon to help me meet my goals now, some of them are not irrelevant, and some are things I will work on later.

These are my resolutions for 2015:

1.  Lose 35 pounds.  Weight-loss had eluded me for years, but this will be the year I make it happen.  I’ve learned that willpower is a limited tool that can be counter-productive in the end, so I will be relying on other strategies.  I will work on staying organized with my meal planning and food preparation–and this includes delegating and using convenience foods (such as pre-made salads) when life gets in the way.  I will also look deeply when I am wanting to snack, so that I can learn to address the emotional need that is leading me to overeat.   I will join the gym that is walking distance from the marina, and begin attending classes there 3 times a week, eventually moving up to 5.

2.  Amass $10,000 in savings.  Living on Breaking Tradition is great, but we will eventually want something with a more comfortable layout.  Our plan is to save up for a center cockpit boat, which we will live on until we are ready to cruise full-time.  Then we will need something faster and more practical for long runs (our dream is to get a cruising catamaran!).  I don’t have a great history with money management, due to disorganization, feeling mentally overwhelmed, and fear of knowing our true financial situation.  There is less pressure now, so I am going to take baby-steps to get more comfortable in this area.

3.  Develop small income sources outside of my job.  If we’re going to cruise full time, we will need income.  We won’t need as much money as I make now, but we will need something.  So I will be experimenting with ways to make money through my writing.  I’m piloting an e-course and will try self-publishing, simplicity coaching, and other creative ideas.

4.  Spend structured time with Beanie.  My happiest memories have been of outings and art projects with her.  I actually joined Pinterest, so that I can find more potential activities!  My ultimate goal is to do an activity with her everyday, but we’ll start with 3 times a week.

5.  Do something social once a month.  I’ve always felt like establishing community was important, but the truth is that I’m kind of shy about actually getting together with people IRL.  So this year, I’m going to do something with a friend–have them over for dinner, go out or coffee, etc. once a month, at the very least.

January is an excellent time to start new habits, and I will be updating you on my progress on each of these goals, at least once a month.

May this be a new year where we all learn to love ourselves better!