Rise to the Challenge

I have met tons of people that identify themselves as competitive. I’ve been told that is a natural part of human nature, and I suppose all living things must have a certain competitive drive in order to survive. I, myself, however, have never considered myself competitive. I’ve never been very interested in sports or even playing cards or board games. There is nothing inside of me that drives me to win. Winning a game or a sport means little to nothing to me. Yet losing still makes me feel badly about myself. Therefore there is really no benefit to me participating in competitive activities.

I’ve wondered about this aspect of myself since I became aware of it. I do think a lot of it stems from social anxiety, but there is another aspect I think might be relevant. Growing up as the youngest sibling, you learn pretty fast that the chances of you winning anything or outperforming your older sibling are slim to none. I got used to always losing every single game we would play growing up. One particular incident stands out where I was playing “Mouse Trap” with my sister and grandmother. When I lost I was so distraught and unwilling to surrender my cheese game piece that I cried and shut myself up in my room. From all of these experiences, I think I have internalized the idea that challenge and competition inevitably means failure and disappointment. This has become so ingrained in me that I feel no more likely to win games of chance than I do ones that involve skill.

To this day, I still don’t enjoy playing games at parties (drinking games are a bit more acceptable) and even the video games I play are much more about casual, steady progress and creativity than winning and losing or being challenged. Until recently this was all the further I really thought about this mindset of mine. So I don’t like games very much, that’s no big deal. I dug no deeper into the matter.

The other day, however, I realized just how much this aversion to challenge has skewed my entire worldview. After all, competition and challenge is something that we all encounter each and every day in our careers, in our relationships, and even within ourselves. How you choose to perceive and respond to these challenges has a huge impact on your self-perception and your overall quality of life. Only very recently did it occur to me that not only do I anticipate failure in games, but in the challenges I face in life as well. I’ve come to view any type of challenging situation as inherently negative, foreshadowing only failure and embarrassment, never as an opportunity for self discovery or personal growth.

I think one of the ways I can start to change this mindset, is by allowing myself space to fail. There was a wonderful example of this practice in the yoga class I did yesterday. Vrikshasana or tree pose, as well as all the other balancing poses in yoga, are a great place to start playing with this. Once a balancing posture becomes second nature and relatively easy to hold, it’s time to start pushing the limits of our balancing ability. Often a cue is given to try closing your eyes. If you’ve never tried this, it is exceptionally difficult to maintain your balance with the eyes closed. Normally, I ignore this option. I inevitably fall out of the pose and get upset with myself.

Yesterday the cue was given in a slightly different way though. Because of this, I was able to let go of the expectation or even the goal of maintaining my balance perfectly and staying in the pose for any length of time with my eyes shut. It wasn’t about how long I could manage to stay still, but simply what it would feel like to try. Once I released the pressure of perfecting the pose, I actually was able to do better at this challenge than I ever have been in the past. Not only that, but I didn’t feel any irritation or disappointment when I did fall out of the pose.

Whether you enjoy challenges or not, the fact is that you are going to be faced with them regularly. It’s not an option to avoid all challenge for the rest of you life. Rather than trying to avoid challenges, perhaps we can try to look at them in a different, healthier way. Sometimes it even helps me to imagine what it would feel like to be someone that is competitive or excited by the idea of being challenged. Despite my initial reaction, I do admit that there is a certain pleasure and even peace in being challenged. When I’m doing something new or difficult, I am usually more focused than usual. And the only thing I really have to fear is my own self criticism.

In order to let go of the outcome and my expectations for myself, I find it helpful to start off by viewing failure as a likely and acceptable option. It’s almost more pleasurable if I assume I am going to fail from the beginning. Success or failure was never the point most of the time anyway. The point of life isn’t to do everything perfectly all of the time or even most of the time. Life is about trying new things, being curious, and growing through adversity. Failure is a natural part of these things and what’s most likely holding us back from them. Once we realize that we have the choice to live happily with our mistakes and failures we can finally be free to explore and blossom as we were meant to.

How to do Vrikshasana | The Tree Pose | Learn Yogasanas Online | Yoga and  Kerala

An Attitude of Abundance

The heart that gives, gathers.

Lao Tzu

From the first memories of having my own money as a child, I remember being anxious about spending it on anything. I was even praised by my parents for always saving nearly the entire amount of Christmas and birthday money I would get. Especially because my sister was the exact opposite and would spend all of hers almost immediately. Even as a child there was a sense of safety knowing that I had this money tucked away.

That mindset of prudence and frugal spending has stayed with me into adulthood. Any time I spend more than $20, I get extremely nervous about it. You can imagine how hard the holiday season is for me. I do prefer to spend money on other people more than myself, but still I get anxious about this annual splurge every year. For some reason, this financial anxiety has been particularly pronounced this past week. However, when I hear my friends and coworkers talk about money, it makes me realize just how fortunate of a position I am in.

Even though I am still straddling the poverty line, I am doing much better than the majority of the people in my area. Part of that is due to the fact that other than a recent car loan, I have absolutely no debt. I don’t even own a credit card. My education was completely covered by a full academic scholarship, while my other college expenses were taken out of investments my uncle made for my sister and I when we were born. I even have some left over that I seldom think about. Since graduating I have had steady work, although always at an extremely low wage. I only had to pay for housing for a year or two before being given the option to move into my grandmother’s old house after she passed. Besides utilities, I really don’t have many fixed expenses, so I have been able to save a good bit. I have also always been extremely fortunate to not have any major medical expenses.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, despite constant money worries, I am doing incredibly well for myself comparatively. Even my middle aged coworkers all seem to be living paycheck to paycheck. I’ll hear them joke about only have $50 left until payday, hoping they’ll have enough money to fill up their car, or having to pay overdraft fees at their bank when their account was empty. Not once have I ever had to worry about these things. Not only that, I haven’t had to pay much attention when it comes to finances. I’ve always had the privilege of spending far less than I’m bringing in. I have my bills set to autopay and never have to worry that they will overdraw my account. I’ve never had to check my balance before making a purchase. Whenever I say I “can’t afford to do or buy something” it’s usually just that I can’t justify spending the money on whatever it is, not that I literally don’t have enough money. I hadn’t realized that wasn’t the case when other people say that.

With all of this in mind, I am trying to hold onto the energy of abundance that has always been a part of my life. I want to treat the holidays as an opportunity to celebrate that abundance and good fortune. I want to share this gift of abundance with everyone else in my life, especially those that are struggling. I truly believe the way to hold on to it is to spread it around. Happiness and generosity are far more important to me than some abstract number in a checking account. Besides, what’s the point of having a thousand dollars more if it brings me no sense of peace or security anyway?

Instead of continuing to anxiously look over my shoulder at all the big purchases I’ve made, I want those purchases to be a symbol of my many blessings. What a joy it is to be able to give to those I love! What a beautiful way to thank the universe for all that I have been given! The smiles and tender moments I will share with my friends and family are worth far more than what I’ve spent. I may not be able to afford a new house, grad school, or expensive furniture, jewelry, etc., but I can afford all of the things I need, most of the things I want, and the ability to be extremely generous towards the people that make my life worth living. And that’s more than I could have asked for. The more you give, the more you receive, undoubtedly.

If You're Struggling with Abundance, Try This Instead | Jordan Harbinger

It’s Okay

You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.

Nightbirde

The other day my friend at work showed me this video from America’s Got Talent. At first, I was just watching to be polite. I didn’t have much interest until this small, beautiful woman began to sing. Immediately her voice struck a cord in me. I got chills all over my body. I nearly began to cry, her voice and her words were so beautiful. Then just when I thought I couldn’t be any more moved she said the words I quoted above. Absolutely perfect. I felt like it was a sign from the universe that I just so happened to hear her words and her heartfelt song that day at work.

Then just as the power behind those words began to fade from my mind, they were reinforced by a video I watched earlier today. I was learning about Fyodor Dostoevsky, since I love to read classic authors. Somehow I haven’t read any of his novels yet. The video talked about the morals of a lot of his stories. A reoccurring theme was the idea that suffering is something that follows us, no matter how “advanced” our civilization becomes, no matter how many ways we seem to overcome suffering in society as time goes on. A new type of suffering will always emerge to take it’s place.

This is quite easy to see all around us. Compared to most of human history, we are living in a magical age of ecstasy and abundance. We have found the cure or at least treatment for most of the diseases and ailments that have plagued humanity throughout our existence. We have technology to make every aspect of life more convenient. Advancements that wouldn’t have been thought possible even just a few decades ago. Yet somehow we seem to be suffering as much as ever. Now instead of physical illnesses, we suffer from mental illnesses. Rather than hunger pains, we moan about social injustice. No matter how many problems we solve, new ones arise to take their place. The more we try to “fix” things, the more clear it becomes that suffering is an inevitable part of existence.

The point of Dostoevsky’s stories isn’t that we should despair at this fact. Quite the contrary, in fact. Just like Nightbirde so eloquently stated, the point is that we can’t keep waiting for life to stop being hard before we allow ourselves to be happy. We are so easily distracted by the little issues that pop up along our journey. We delude ourselves into thinking, if it wasn’t for this, or if only that, then we could really be happy. We toil away in an effort to solve all our problems and finally reach that perfect life where we will be happy forever. But we shouldn’t fall for that intoxicating delusion.

There is nothing that can stop us from being happy. Happiness and joy are our birthrights. They are a part of us. They are as much a part of existence as the suffering we keep trying to avoid. Suffering does not disqualify us from also experiencing moments of bliss. In fact we can be joyous despite our suffering. And doesn’t that just make our joy all the more potent and delicious? We are so incredibly powerful in that ability to defy all that stands against us. Just as we can always find something to be upset about no matter how great our circumstances in life, we can also find happiness no matter how destitute we may find ourselves.

Nightbirde’s song, “It’s Okay” is a testament to that inspiring truth. Our joy, as well as our suffering, comes from within. In this way we are all truly free. External circumstances cannot dictate our internal experience. I find one of the greatest challenges in life to be remembering that. No matter how many times we are taught that lesson throughout the course of our lives, we always seem to revert back to blaming the world around us for how we feel. In doing that, we are giving away our greatest power, our power to choose in each moment. It’s time for us to take our power back. We can choose happiness or we can choose suffering. It’s not always an easy choice, but it’s always there for us if we’re willing to look for it.

Changing Adversity Into Opportunity

No one enjoys facing hardships in their lives. Whether that hardship is losing a loved one, a breakup, or even something more harrowing like losing your home to a natural disaster, we all have our own hurdles to overcome. Through most of my life I had that “woe is me” attitude. It felt like my life was so difficult. I was the stereotypical dramatic teenage girl. I never really took the time to wonder if there might be a different way I could view the challenges in my life. It’s especially hard in the moment.

It can be helpful to prep ourselves for the inevitable hard days ahead of us. One way I like to do this is to look back on past negative experiences. Usually once we’ve put some time and space between ourselves and the event, it is much easier to put it in a new context. A lot of things that once seemed like they’d be the end of me have become moments I look back on with pride. Without a lot of the negative experiences I’ve had, I wouldn’t be nearly as strong and resilient as I am today. In hindsight, they were blessings rather than burdens.

Using this mind-frame, try to practice viewing even current dilemmas through the same lens. Surely it will be a bit harder, but it’s worth the effort. When you find yourself facing difficult moments, notice where your thoughts go. Mine usually revert back to that tried and true narrative of, “no surprise, this always happens to me, I can never catch a break,” or “why me?” Rather than allowing yourself to get swept away by these unhelpful thoughts and the emotions attached to them, get curious instead.

Try asking yourself some pre-prepared questions. It can be good to keep these questions written down somewhere easy to access when you need them. When a situation arises, we will likely be too emotional/upset/frustrated to think clearly and come up with ways to spark our curiosity on the spot. A few go to questions may be:

  • Why is this particular circumstance uncomfortable for me?
  • What is this experience/person trying to teach me?
  • How might I someday be stronger because of this?
  • In what ways can I see this as an opportunity?
  • What aspects of my personality does this scenario emphasize?
  • Do I like these aspects of myself? Why or why not?
  • How might I use this moment as a way to strengthen/lessen these parts of myself?

By staying curious, we cancel out a lot of the immediate anger or dismay that we normally experience when faced with something unpleasant. It’s almost as though our interest has the power to short circuit our outrage. When we look at these struggles through a less emotional lens, there is a lot we can learn about ourselves, others, and this beautiful world we live in.

Sometimes the most important lesson we can learn from our issues is that it’s okay to feel upset, angry, sad, anxious, etc. While these things may be unpleasant, they are just feelings, and we are on this earth to experience the full scope of them. When we make a big deal out of the feelings in general, we end up making our suffering even worse than it has to be. If you find yourself unable to get curious about how this situation may teach you something useful or give you an opportunity for self-growth, at the very least remind yourself that it’s okay to feel upset. All things pass, and so will whatever you may be facing in your life right now.

Types of Adversity: Six Examples & How to Overcome Them • Andrew Roche

I Choose

The longer I live, the more I realize just how much about our lives and the way we experience reality is a personal choice. Our upbringing, our genetics, and our environment definitely contribute to how easily we are able to choose one thing over another, but we all have a choice. Some people may be naturally inclined to view things more negatively than others. For these people, it will always take more effort and practice to see the good in other people and situations. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort.

I think I was born a with a friendly, happy, and positive disposition. Even so, as I grew older I began to lose touch with that lighthearted, open nature. Encounters with heartache, pain, and rejection caused me to close my heart little by little in an attempt to protect myself, to shield myself from the world. I started to view myself as a pessimist. I was the stereotypical “emo” kid throughout high school. The longer I stayed in that “woe-is-me” mindset, the more I started to identify with it. Suffering became an essential part of me. For years now I have been working to redirect myself back down a more positive path, a path that feels more true to who I was meant to be, and who I want to be. (I plan to keep that emo aesthetic though. I love me some black clothing.)

Currently, I am at a stage where I am able to clearly see both sides of that coin. I can see the negatives, the pessimistic viewpoint I would have once had, but I can also see the positives, the option I have to view things in a different way. I used to think one way was more true or honest than the other, but now I see that reality is all about perception. There is no right or wrong way to experience the world. It is always a choice. At times this can lead me to feel frustrated as I struggle against that doom and gloom voice I spent so many years feeding and building up inside my own head. It can be easy to get stuck feeling hopeless, feeling unable to change, a lost cause.

When these doubts begin to bubble up I try to remind myself just how far I have come. I never could have imagined that I would be able to become the person I am today. All I can do is keep moving forward and trust in myself. It may be a slow and arduous process, but it’s worthwhile. Truly, it is the only kind of self-improvement that matters. You can tell yourself you will be happy once you get a promotion, make more money, lose more weight, build more muscle, move somewhere else, but even after reaching all of your goals, you are still the one you have to face at the end of the day. It is easy to think that changing external circumstances will change the way we think and feel inside. That inner voice loves to complain and blame this or that for all of our problems. However, those upsetting and limiting thoughts are the real problem. This is always where we must start our journey, inside ourselves.

Even after seeing so many people achieve the things I want to achieve in life and continuing to be miserable, I find myself thinking those same accomplishments will bring me happiness even if it didn’t for them. We always think we are the exception. But those things we desire are ultimately just distractions. They are excuses for why we aren’t able to be happy right now. It can be difficult to admit that we are the only reason we aren’t happy. Happiness comes from within. It has been ours since the day we gained consciousness and it will be available to us in each and every moment until the day we die. Even when it feels impossible for you to allow yourself to be happy, just know that it’s because you haven’t spent enough time practicing. Sometimes I even think of this practice like a game. When I find myself facing something exceptionally upsetting or challenging, I ask myself: are there any positives I can find in this situation? Just like the hag stones I scan the riverbank for, the more time you spend searching for certain things, the easier it becomes to spot them. When I first tried to find those special stones, I felt like I would never find one. I wasn’t even sure if there were any to find. Yet now I am easily able to pick up two or three as I walk along the shore without even trying. At first it might feel like there is really nothing good about different parts of your life, but the more you practice looking for the good in things, the easier it will become and the more abundant those good things will seem.

It can be hard work, training ourselves to be happy, but it is possible. Don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Keep trying. I say these words for myself as much as for anyone who happens to be reading this. We are capable. We are powerful. We have everything we need inside of us. Don’t be afraid. You are safe. You are loved. You are enough. Even if at first you don’t believe it, keep repeating these uplifting, empowering words to yourself. Eventually they will become as true and real to you as that negative inner dialogue that many of us have become accustomed to. It may not be easy, it may take a very long time, but I promise you, it will work. And it will be worth it.

The Story We Write

Once again, it’s the beginning of a new month. Even though time is just an illusion, I always feel inspired to try new things around times like this. Especially with spring lingering just on the horizon. This month I’d like to start trying to work on my inner dialogue. I really believe it’s important the way we talk to ourselves. We are actively creating our own reality each moment with the words we use to describe it. Language is such an interesting and powerful thing. Even though I know this to be true, it has still always been hard for me to implement a plan to change my own narrative.

I am a very stubborn person when it comes to my beliefs and ideas about things. I am quick to anger when challenged, even by myself. It is hard for me to accept that the way I have been interpreting the world around me isn’t necessarily the only way it can be interpreted. Whenever I try to speak to myself more kindly, that harsh inner critic is repelled. Why are you lying to yourself? It says irritated. Even though I know if I keep trying the words will feel more true to me eventually. It’s hard to overcome the initial feeling of being fake.

This month, instead of going straight for self-talk like I usually do, I want to try to change my inner dialogue in general. I think that might be an easier place to start. For example, I often feel stressed when I am “forced” to do something, whether that be by someone else or myself. I am always reciting the phrase, “I have to…” fill in the blank. I know I don’t really have to but that’s just what I’ve always said. I’d like to start there. Instead of repeating to my friends, family, and myself, “I have to go to work everyday this week” I want to say “I GET to go to work everyday this week.”

It doesn’t seem like a huge change, but I’m willing to bet switching out those two words will lead to so much more happiness and gratitude in my life. “Have to” makes me feel rushed and forced. “Get to” is a reminder that I am ultimately grateful for the opportunity to do the things I do everyday. I am grateful for my wonderful job. I am grateful for my strong healthy body that lets me workout everyday. I am grateful to have coffee to make in the morning and sweet baby angels that need me.

It will be interesting to start being more mindful of the ways I say things to myself and to others. I probably say “have to” even more than I realize. I’m sure it will be nice to remind myself more often that I don’t have to do anything really. I am doing the things I do because I want to and I want to spend more time focusing on how grateful I am that I get to, that I am able to. I am the one writing this story. And the character I play is not a poor servant of others, the universe, or even that voice inside my head. I am free. I am happy. I am so fortunate. I get to live this amazing, wonderful, fascinating, exciting life. It’s about time I started reminding myself of that.

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