Don’t Hit Snooze on a Wake Up Call

It is often a sudden realization that we are not having “fun” anymore that sparks an awareness that something needs to change. We reach a point where we just stop in our tracks and acknowledge that for all the effort we are putting in, we aren’t really getting back what we thought we would.

This is a recurring theme in the books I am reading, the documentaries and TV series I watch, the pivotal stories of the people who inspire me. Brene Brown called hers a “mid-life unraveling”; Dax Sheppard talks about hitting “rock bottom” multiple times; my new friend, Joe Stone, had a revelation after failing to accomplish a physically taxing triathlon challenge he’d set for himself.

These moments are “wake up calls” for our life. Truth be told, we most likely have many of them throughout our lifetime. Sometimes we just need to make an adjustment. Other times it is a full stop, transformational shift in how we are actually engaging with our one precious life.

In a recent interview with Ed Mylett, successful country musician, Brett Eldredge, shared that his pivotal moment came when anxiety and panic attacks were more prevalent than the joy he thought he would be having, even as he was living his big dream life. At age 36, he was feeling the heavy demands that came with success. He shared with Ed in his interview that he struggled with imposter syndrome and being a longtime perfectionist.

He hid it well – at least to the outside world. His social media posts were upbeat, frequent and playful. He kept the hectic pace — giving engaging interviews and dynamic live concert performances fueled by his perfectionist ways and others’ expectations.

Brett’s wake up call came when he finally said to himself — “This is not a way to live. I’m supposed to love this thing.” He confided that he was playing a lot of “what if” games in his mind, and was totally self-doubting. He was destroying himself mentally.

It’s moments like this, when we really ask the question– “what is going on?” When we are doing what we love but it is not loving us back. When we are not feeling the joy, the good energy, the deeper fulfillment. Moments like this are the wake-up calls.

Ed Mylett asked Brett what he did after this realization. His response – “I had to get out of my head and into my life!”

Brett’s first instinct was to get outdoors. He started to create a new routine for himself. One that would help him get grounded, more in touch with the present moment. He started taking morning hikes.

The Greater Good Science Center has long promoted getting out in nature as one of the best resources to restore peace of mind and boost our creativity. Brett was heeding his natural instincts when he implemented morning hikes as a part of his new daily routine.

Brett was born and raised in Paris, Illinois – “a great place to be from,” he says. He had a great childhood for which he is very grateful. He also acknowledges that he may have taken on some of his parent’s patterns. His mom was a “worrier” and his dad had a tenacious work ethic with high standards for practice to ensure success.

Ed Mylett interjected that he too had a great childhood and a dad who not only loved him but really wanted to keep him safe. Ed is pretty sure he heard “be careful” at least 5,000 times over his father’s lifetime. One day at age 45, Ed asked himself if that message held him back a bit.

Ed firmly believes that “patterns, beliefs and even limiting beliefs were installed in us as children, by loving, well-intentioned people.” He points out that our emotions are neither negative or positive, but too much emotion can paralyze us. He coined a catchy phrase about this childhood installation of patterns and beliefs. Ed says they are “caught not taught”.

Brett could relate — he recognized that his perfectionism, his high anxiety that led to imposter syndrome and panic attacks might have been rooted in what he picked up as a kid. With therapy, and a lot of digging in, he cultivated greater self-awareness.

Personal development work gets a big jumpstart by identifying behavioral patterns and recognizing how emotions can derail us, especially if they get a full head of steam. We can’t fix what we are unaware of — which is why becoming more self-aware is so important.

Brett supported his personal growth efforts by listening to people who inspired and educated him. He wanted to learn and grow. He started listening to motivational podcasts, including Ed Mylett’s. He discovered books that supported his journey. I confess I smiled when I heard that he had recently read “Breath” by James Nestor (and yes, it is in my personal library).

One of the most powerful change agents for personal growth is finding good role models and surrounding ourselves with people who are on a similar path. As Ed Mylett pointed out in his conversation with Brett, “The more you learn about people who are successful, the more you will begin to believe you can be successful too — because they are not much different from you.”

Brett shared that he seeks out the people who have a message he can believe in and who have a willingness to keep growing, readily admitting that they don’t have it all figured out either.

Finding resources that are relatable and authentic helps us build our personalized toolkit to support our healing, learning and growing. There is an abundance of motivational and educational podcasts. Often those podcasts will be the springboard for discovering other motivators, authors, specialists – and tools. The more you know, the more you grow.

As Brett was becoming more aware of how he could be distracted by thoughts, the “what if” game, and mind travel, he also realized just how much time he spent on his phone. What started out as checking email or texts turned into a boatload of wasted time needlessly scrolling. He realized that the scrolling was driving his anxiety through the roof; the continual dopamine rush was unhealthy.

Ed Mylett chimed in and said our phones and social media are “presence stealers“.

Since Brett was committed to being more present, he took a drastic measure and got a flip phone. He just wanted to disrupt the cycle, the old habitual pattern of reaching for the phone, and getting lost in it. Eventually he did return to an iPhone, but he has a timer for his social media use — and has someone else set the passcode so that he can’t override it. Now that’s commitment to a new habit.

All we have to do is a take a look at our daily screen time to realize that our devices are getting far more attention than we’d like if we were being honest with ourselves.

If you think you don’t have time to invest in a walk, mindfulness practice, exercise, read a book or have a face to face conversation, take a look at that screen time usage –and then reclaim control of your time and attention.

Discovering just how much of our attention we waste every day is such an important topic. Not only are we not fully present for about 50% of our daily life, we are often mentally foggy and overwhelmed. It’s not just our devices, though they are a big component of the larger problem.

We need to gain a better understanding of how our amazing brain works and we need to train our attention so we can operate at an optimum level. The book, Peak Mind, by Dr. Amishi Jha is a premier resource for anyone who wants to master their skill of focus and mindfulness.

Our attention has become a valuable commodity. Advertisers and news media are voraciously vying for it. Think of your attention like your money — where are you spending it?

Brett Eldredge has made a committed shift for his mental health. To help him get out of his head and into his life, he established a structured routine to “armor” himself up for the day. Like all of us, he starts with ordinary things like making his bed and brushing his teeth. Then he amps up his mindfulness — He gets natural light for his eyes, does a 10 minute meditation, journals (the good, the bad, whatever he is feeling) and he sets an intention for the day.

Brett’s morning routine sets him up for navigating his day, centered and calm. He is more aware, more attuned and intentional. Having a daily mindfulness practice is like charting your course for the day. Brett calls this his “armor”. It is his compass that keeps him on the right trajectory no matter what life throws at him throughout the day.

Mindfulness practices provide us with a strong foundation– and scaffolding — to keep us grounded, in alignment with our values, and emotionally regulated as we go through our daily life. Setting an intention reminds us of how we want to be showing up in life, for ourselves and others. Paying attention to our attention unhooks us from wasting this valuable resource, and reduces mind travel, anxiety and distractions.

We feed our bodies so we have the energy to get through the day. We exercise so we are strong and fit physically. Imagine how much more we would gain with each day if we tapped into our amazing brains and supported it as diligently.

Dr. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind

Brett shared with Ed that as he was struggling to gain some traction with these changes he needed in his life, he’d have these moments where he remembered how complete strangers pulled him through tough things in his life. He’d think about some of the most random conversations he’d had at tough points in life. Those little moments that just turn things around a bit – – kindness, a word of encouragement, a nugget of hope, a fresh perspective. He knew that these folks probably had no idea that they offered him a foothold — just by showing up.

He is learning to both “reach out for help and to reach out to help”. Brett offers this insightful wisdom: “Be open to that connection. That’s everything.

Their conversation turned to how Brett’s music is a form of storytelling — and how his songs help others get through some of their tough times. Brett humbly acknowledges that he is aware of this. “There is always somebody that needs to hear the message you are about to say. I look for that person in the crowd – the one that is broken or in a tough spot.”

When we lean into our vulnerability, we do open to connection. We get to know ourselves better and what we need the most when we are facing hard times. This gets to the heart of common humanity and deepens our empathy for each other. Pema Chodrun teaches that when we do our own personal growth work, we become a source of inspiration to others and we become helpmates to them. We connect with each other through our stories, where we see our own experiences and emotions reflected back to us.

This interview with Brett Eldredge and Ed Mylett was intended to help others. Both Brett and Ed were fearless about going “deep” with honesty and vulnerability. They also laughed a lot, acknowledged and celebrated each other’s contributions to making the world a better place. We need to have and hear more of these kinds of stories, especially from men. These stories about our “wake up calls” in life urge us to stop hitting the snooze button. Instead, hit the pause button — do some reflection and dig a little deeper to discover what you stand for and who you really are.

“We are all put on this earth to connect with one another.” — Brett Eldredge

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Brett Eldredge Has Imposter Syndrome? How does a COUNTRY SUPER STAR work on his Mental Health? Ed Mylett Youtube Podcast with Brett Eldredge, May 17, 2022 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFFhkhJwfOI

A Mindfulness Community

Sitting comfortably in my cozy chair in front of the warm glow of my crackling fireplace, I was curled up with a cup of tea and my newest favorite book, Peak Mind. Each page revealed such fascinating stories to support the research on mindfulness that neuroscientist Dr. Amishi Jha wrote about.

I knew from personal experience that mindfulness and meditation were game-changers for my own life over the past 5 years. Yet reading these compelling stories about the dynamic impact mindfulness practices had on military leaders, as well as medical and business professionals had fully captivated my attention.

My mind drifted (with my permission) to another book, The Four Pivots; Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves by Dr. Shawn Ginwright. The four transformative pivots are: Awareness, Connection, Vision and Presence. His book is grounded in cutting-edge research and Dr. Ginwright’s insight and lived experiences. He addresses the power of doing our own mirror work to help us uncover hidden biases and discover new perspectives. He stresses the importance of our need for connection with each other.

These same attributes are found in mindfulness – they are the very premise of Peak Mind. It was becoming more evident with each page of Peak Mind that “owning our attention” through mindfulness practices could bring about dramatic results not only in our personal lives, but also in our communities. Dr. Ginwright’s book and Dr. Jha’s book fit together like puzzle pieces for what is possible — and what is so urgently needed.

I allowed myself to “mind wander” imagining communities where skillful practitioners of mindfulness were woven into the fabric of our neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, businesses, law enforcement, etc.

I returned my full attention back to my book to make a most surprising discovery.

At the bottom of page 251 of Peak Mind, Dr. Jha begins to unfold the story of Sara Flitner, a strategy and communication consultant who decided to run for mayor in 2012 — in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. For those of you reading this who are not aware, I live on the other side of Jackson Hole, across the Grand Teton Pass, in Victor Idaho.

My curiosity went on high alert — what is Sara Flitner’s story? If she is featured in Dr. Jha’s book, mindfulness must be a key component of her story. Is it possible that someone running for mayor in a neighboring community had a transformational mindfulness experience embedded in her story? My full attention was captured. I read on.

Here’s the excerpt from Peak Mind that begins Sara’s story:

Sara Flitner enjoyed running her own company, and she loved applying her skills, like critical thinking and empathy, to solving complex problems. She saw a lot of issues in her community –Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is adjacent to the tourist meccas of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Jackson had one of the highest socioeconomic divides in the nation, and with that came issues of high rates of depression and substance abuse, homelessness, high stress and more. Sara thought she might be able to make a difference through her leadership and by influencing policy. She felt passionate about trying to move the needle from inside the system. Her goal, she says now, was to “infiltrate positions of power with compassion, civility, and basic decency and regard for fellow humans.” (Excerpted from Peak Mind)

I stopped reading to let all that wash over me. I allowed myself a little “mind wandering”…..

In my creative imagination, I conjured Sara Flitner calling Brene Brown at some point in the past and over coffee and a few hearty laughs, they brainstormed a new kind of leadership. While Brene Brown didn’t publish Dare to Lead; Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts until 2018, it certainly seems as though both Sara and Brene were on a similar wavelength about a growing need for a daring new approach to leadership.

Sara Flitner decided to test the waters with her mindfulness-based approach to leadership — and she won the Jackson Hole mayoral election in 2012.

When Dr. Jha was researching Sara’s story, she asked the pointed question — “how did it go?” Sarah laughed, “I walked right into the eye of the storm.” She discovered the reality of just how divisive politics are, even on a local level.

It seems evident that the community (the voters) wanted the same things that Sara offered in her platform. Perhaps they were using their own imaginations to envision something better for their community, their neighbors, their children. Maybe they did have a deeper realization of the interconnectedness of everyone that contributes to making Jackson Hole and Yellowstone a “bucket list” destination for the millions of tourists who visit every year. There may have been a growing awareness that socioeconomic disparities could no longer be ignored.

I’ll interject that when you live here, you come to personally know the young people who comprise a large percentage of those that make our successful tourism sector run so smoothly. These enthusiastic hard workers operate ski lifts, provide childcare, give ski and snowboard lessons, are the clerks, wait staff, maintenance and cleaning staff of stores, restaurants, hotels and more. In the summer months, they are outdoor activities guides and national park employees. We know from conversations that these young adults struggle with limited affordable housing, rising gas and food prices. Our interactions expand the awareness of the disparities right in front of our eyes within our communities.

In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown urges us to move closer to each other and says that “people are hard to hate close up”. I’d add that people are hard to “ignore” close up. I’d like to think that this was happening organically here in Jackson Hole when Sara Flitner ran for mayor. That there was a growing awareness of how interdependent the entirety of the population was and how it was possible, even necessary, to do better.

Yet a big roadblock to implementing change was the impediment of politics. Does a loyalty to party and resistance to change create blindspots to common ground and civility? Or could it be that not using our incredible brains to their fullest potential is the real roadblock?

“It’s heartbreaking to see the kind of suffering we’ll lay on each other when we act like there’s some kind of budget for compassion or empathy. We have this attitude of “I’ll save my compassion for the people I like, not for you. It’s primitive brain reasoning, when we have — right here in our own heads — much more advanced technology available to us.” — Sara Flitner

Throughout her two year term as mayor, Sara relied heavily on her mindfulness practice to help her navigate through painful, difficult and disillusioning times. She shared with Dr. Jha that “her mindfulness practice threw her a “lifeline” because of the way that it helped her connect with others and get things done – especially when those interactions were adversarial and fraught with conflict.”

Sara Flitner was on to something big when she recognized that “primitive brain reasoning” was a major roadblock. This is profoundly true not only for the community challenges we face, it is emphatically true for us as individuals. We are often unconsciously “stuck” on the default mode of our most incredible brains.

To fully unpack the default mode of our brain and how our implicit biases get embedded in long term memory — and how quickly they get retrieved when we are in high stress situations — I urge you to read Peak Mind. Here are some key takeaways:

The brain is in “simulation mode” at all times. Simulation mode gives us the mental models that guide our thinking, decision making and actions. The key ingredients of simulation mode are memories of events of our past, fragments of those memories, plus everything else we have learned and remembered. Then we add our capacity to think, reason and forecast! All of this happens fast — in the moment as events are unfolding.

Dr. Jha explains that part of the reason our simulations (i.e stories) are so powerful is that they become a kind of shorthand for framing a current situation or problem. This shorthand efficiency frees up cognitive resources to do other things. BUT these simulations/stories constrain information processing. They capture and keep our attention locked onto a subset of data. The result? Our perceptions, our thinking and even our decisions are constrained.

Why does this matter? When our simulations/stories are wrong, then our resulting actions and decisions can be skewed wrong too — because of the way our simulations/stories interacts with our attention.

One final caveat — our simulations are so effective that we get fused and persuaded by them. If a key ingredient of our simulation is a stressful memory, our brains and bodies react as if it is a real and current event — and we will experience the release of stress hormones. We will actually begin to “feel” we are currently experiencing the simulated event.

If you let all of this sink in, you can comprehend how crucial it is for first responders, law enforcement, surgeons, military personnel, firefighters and others in high stress jobs to not get caught in “simulations.” The life-saving and life altering real life stories of these very types of professionals will have you on the edge of your seat when you read Peak Mind. One bad decision made because it is based on a wrong simulation can have devastating results.

It should be easy to comprehend how using our brains to their fullest potential — as the highly advanced technological operating system it actually is — would be a game-changer for our individual lives and for our collective problem solving.

The two biggest roadblocks to tapping into all the functions and features of our brains is (1) Being unconsciously stuck in default mode and (2) being unaware of how we are wasting our attention. It would be like having dynamic safety and navigational components in your new car and never using them.

The reality is that many of us are going through life on an outdated auto-pilot. Lots of tiny dysregulated emotional responses can erode our most valued relationship. They also spill out into our workplaces and communities.

As humans, we are hard-wired to co-regulate each other — and we are wired for connection. The key to getting us to operate at a higher and more rewarding efficiency level is to “upgrade” our most amazing brain. Neuroscience is providing us with the knowledge and the tools to install the upgrade. Mindfulness practices are the foundational core.

Over a year ago I blogged about how so many invaluable diversified resources were intersecting in the personal growth arena. It is becoming evident that those same resources are melding together to forge an evolving infrastructure for socioeconomic change as well.

I see this unfolding organically with my friends who are committed to personal growth, self-awareness and mindfulness. I’ve seen the positive impacts their inner work has had within their families, their careers, circles of friends and their community involvement.

It is also evident in the books and podcasts that feel like pieces of a bigger puzzle — each subject offering insights and knowledge that fit together with an improved framework for coming together to address complex, nuanced issues with clarity, compassion and creativity.

Right here, in my own community, there is yet another meaningful example of this positive change. Sara Flitner, former mayor of Jackson Hole, continues her mindfulness influence and outreach:

Sara founded Becoming Jackson Whole, an organization dedicated to training leaders across all arenas — community service, health, education, business, law enforcement and more – in the kinds of evidence-based mindfulness skills that help build resilience and enable people to thrive personally and accomplish more professionally. (excerpted from the book, Peak Mind)

The Becoming Jackson Whole website has a blue banner across the top that reads “We’re on a mission to make mindfulness second nature in Jackson Hole.”

A coordinating banner on the About Page shares this: “Helping our community respond to the challenges of our times with focus, compassion and resilience. Empowering leaders to create change.”

Guess who provided the training for these local community leaders? Dr. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind. I’ve come full circle with my story of how I discovered that a subject near and dear to me — mindfulness — was actually making a difference in my own community. It might explain why I’ve discovered so many people at the local book store and coffee shops who are reading similar books and who readily engage in the deeper conversations I thrive on. What I know for sure is that the more people become discerning about where they are placing their attention, and the more skilled they become at tapping into the full potential of their brains, the better for all of us.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Peak Mind will open your eyes to how you utilize your ATTENTION and how to take control of it.

The best primer I have found for revealing the incredible benefits of mindfulness and mindfulness practices.

The Four Pivots connects the dots between the personal growth work we do for ourselves and how it shifts our awareness and perspectives when thinking about — and engaging in — meaningful social changes

For anyone transitioning into a new chapter of their live, this insightful book will help you discover how purpose can be both a source of groundedness and fulfillment.

THIS IS PART OF MY LOCAL COMMUNITY — THE GRAND TETONS

Visit this Website – Becoming Jackson Whole https://becomingjacksonwhole.org/about-nav

The Magic of a “Good Enough” Parent

When I was a little girl, a guidance counselor once asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. My answer — “A good mother”.

A better goal might have been to be a “a good enough” mother. Not only is this a great bar to reach for, it is grounded in the reality that we will make mistakes and that learning never stops. I wish I had known just how much my children were going to teach me — about myself, about their uniqueness, and about human nature.

Like most of my friends, I went into motherhood striving for perfection. But parents are messy, babies are messier and life doesn’t go on pause during child-rearing years. This reality is precisely why I find Dr. Dan Siegel’s research so reassuring.

What a relief to know that there is no such thing as “perfect parenting”. It is a figment of our imaginations! Dr. Siegel tells us that the emphasis should be on “showing up”, being present for our children, making them feel seen and safe.

In The Power of Showing Up, Dr. Siegel explains how parental presence shapes who our kids become and how their brains get wired.

My book club friends and I had a good laugh about the truth of his findings. We could all relate to “old school” parenting styles that explained how we got “wired”. And why it’s taken us so long to unravel the resulting consequences.

We are so grateful for all that we are unlearning and relearning — about how a child’s brain develops, how emotions show up in our bodies and the importance of providing supportive resources for children to process their experiences and emotions. Even (and especially) if their emotions and experiences are much bigger than our own in any given moment.

As grandmothers, we are now showing up for our adult kids and our young grandchildren in much better ways. We often lament that we wish we had known then what we know now. We are having a lot of “aha” moments as we attend to our own personal development; especially when we share our childhood stories with each other.

This morning, I came across Nedra Tawwab’s post about motherhood and it touched my heart in a big way. Nedra is a beautiful soul, a noted expert in setting boundaries and a “lead-by-example” therapist.

Nedra’s insight that “parenting others is re-parenting yourself” resonated deeply with me. I do believe that we often treat our children with greater sensitivity around the very parts of ourselves that are most fragile. In that way, we are offering them protection and a safe place while also taking comfort in our awareness that this is what we’d hoped for — and what we needed when we were young.

As we become more attuned to the needs of our children, we begin to better understand ourselves and how events of our childhood impacted us. This introspection comes when we look at the world through our children’s eyes.

Self-awareness and self-compassion go hand in hand when we are “walking beside a younger version of ourselves” and reparenting ourselves to heal and grow from the insights.

It is an invaluable opportunity to discover more about ourselves and a launchpad for showing up for our children in healthier ways. Often this inner work makes our parenting job a lot less stressful. We can let go of our own fears or misconceptions which gives us more space and clarity for addressing what our child’s unique needs are.

This is an exciting time to be a parent – we know so much more now than we ever did about a child’s brain development, about their limitations for emotional regulation when they are young, and about healthy attachment styles.

Based on the latest brain and attachment research, The Power of Showing Up, shares stories, scripts, simple strategies, illustrations and tips for honoring the 4 S’s effectively in all kinds of situations – when our kids are struggling or when they are enjoying success; when we are consoling, disciplining or arguing with them; and even when we are apologizing for the times we don’t show up for them. Demonstrating that mistakes and missteps are repairable and that it’s never too late to mend broken trust this book is a powerful guide to cultivating your child’s healthy emotional landscape. –– Amazon Books

Now we know — the goal is not to be perfect — The goal is to be present, to offer a quality of presence that makes a child feel safe, seen, soothed and secure. That is the definition of an outstanding “good enough” parent.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

HOW A DEEPER SELF-UNDERSTANDING CAN HELP YOU RAISE CHILDREN WHO THRIVE – Dr. Dan Seigel shares that knowing your own attachment style created in your childhood can help you be a better parent for your kids.

Parenting isn’t easy. Showing up is! One of the best scientific predictors for how any child turns out in terms of happiness, academic success, leadership skills and meaningful relationships is whether at least one adult in their life has consistently shown up for them. This book is parenting magic.

Try Some Self-Compassion

We are flooded today with confusing messages about toxic positivity, memes of self care that look more life self-indulgence, and labels of all kinds that limit not only how others see us, but how we view ourselves. We spend a lot of time trying to live up to expectations, curating a persona that looks good on social media, and checking off the boxes of what we believe equals a successful life.

What we are learning is that the demands for our time and attention are greater than ever — and that we have unwittingly succumbed to a new age “peer pressure”.

It’s increasingly hard to be our “authentic selves” — and what does that even mean?

I think it means “being comfortable in your own skin” — intimately knowing yourself — and meeting the moments of your life in a wholehearted, genuine way. It’s hard to do that when outside influences are so strong.

We get little inklings throughout the day that we are a bit untethered from ourselves, when we realize we are wasting time on things that don’t matter much (like doom scrolling or hopscotching from one website to another), losing our patience over something minor, and feel like we are treading water rather than making forward progress on a legitimate goal. We say “yes” when we want to say “no”. We walk on eggshells or white knuckle our way around people and situations.

Then we let our inner critic chime in, reminding us that we are falling short;

This ramps up our anxiety levels;

And to counter it all — we try harder.

We push through all of it without a moment’s thought to one compelling question: Is this working?

It turns out that “trying harder” and “focusing on the positives” may be doing more harm than good. Powering through our states of exhaustion and hard emotions is not the answer. All that accomplishes is a stockpiling of unresolved issues that contribute to the stress cycle. Our bodies keep score and we get further away from being our authentic selves.

There is an ever-evolving body of scientific evidence that is coinciding with the practices of mindfulness revealing some hard truths. Stuffing our emotions, not processing adversities, and numbing our pains are clearly detrimental to our overall well-being. Trying harder and pushing through does not make us stronger, more resilient and fearless. It makes us sick, clouds our thinking and keeps us stuck in old narratives.

It turns out that self-compassion is the rudder we need.

I can almost see the eye-rolls now… Self-compassion probably sounds like a bubble bath, being alone with a book on a sunny beach, or indulging guilt-free in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

Actually, self compassion requires really getting to know ourselves. It is hard work AND the benefits are game-changing for improved quality of life. Kristin Neff, renowned resource for self-compassion, offers the three elements that comprise self-compassion practice:

  • Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgment
  • Common Humanity vs. Isolation
  • Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification

It becomes very evident as you take in this list, that a different lens shifts our perspective. Self-judgment, isolation and over-identification take us down a very narrow path; one that often creates blind spots, insecurities and disconnection from our true selves.

Why is it that other people often see us much differently than we see ourselves. Those who see our potential or know our true hearts are using much different lenses than the limited ones we use.

I’m discovering that the mentors, coaches and guides I am drawn to are incredibly skilled at self-compassion, and in turn they are then more compassionate and empathic toward others.

Those people who impact my life in positive ways inspire and encourage me because they have overcome hard things, and yet they grew softer, wiser and kinder from those adversities.

Self-compassionate and self-aware mentors are the best teachers because they don’t give us the answers — they encourage us to find our own.

Each of us has a vast array of different experiences and emotions — and an even more complex menagerie of how we’ve coped with them. Our lives may not be exactly the same, but we do see parts of ourselves and our experiences reflected back to us in the stories that others share with us. This is the strong foundation we need when we are undertaking self-compassion work. We get the support, education and encouragement we need from others who have done, or are doing, the work.

The many experiences and emotions we have accumulated over our lives shapes the narrative of who we are. It is the “narrative” of who we are that limits our self view.

In a recent interview on the Typology podcast, author Aundi Kolber asks an insightful question to help us dive in to the current story we are telling ourselves that has roots in our childhood: “What type of accommodations did you need to make in order to get your needs met?”

Think back to your childhood environment. How did you make sense of your world as a small child?

While many people had relatively good childhood experiences with loving parents and fond memories, a lot of people did not. Some grew up with uncertainty and chaos due to alcoholism, mental health issues, financial instability, grief, emotional and physical abuse. It’s really hard for little children to make sense of their world when there is no co-regulation, no consistency and no return to safety. As a result, those children grow up being hyper-vigilant, people pleasers, harmonizers or bullies.

Even kids who grow up in stable home environments are not immune to experiences that shape their narratives in profound ways; divorce, loss of a parent, grandparent or friend, changing schools, big injuries or serious illnesses. Every single one of us has dealt with the inevitable realities of life. Some of those realities are super hard. If we did not have the resources we needed as kids to process our emotions and the events, they get lodged in us.

They get lodged in two distinct ways: In our nervous system — and in our memory.

Remember that this is happening unconsciously when we are young, with a brain that is not fully developed and an equally limited ability to regulate our emotions. This is the birthplace of emotional triggers and behavioral patterns.

So when author Aundi Kolber asks what type of accommodations we needed to make in order to get our needs met in childhood, she is also asking us to become aware if we continue to make those accommodations as adults.

What we are learning now thanks to neuroscience, psychology and neurobiology is that we can do a lot better job at supporting our bodies, our brains – and each other — by processing these hard emotions and experiences as they are happening to us. We can shift the narrative that shapes us because of these life adversities but we must be proactive.

Now that we know better, we can do better. Start with experiences and emotions that are unfolding right now. Help yourself, and your children, to acknowledge and accept reality, to honor all those big emotions and to hold space to process them.

“Even though trauma is becoming more normalized to talk about, there is a BIG disconnect. Just because you go through an experience that has the POTENTIAL to become a traumatic experience, doesn’t mean it will. It is what happens AFTER that experience that will have a really big impact to the extent that it stays stuck in your body.” — Aundi Kolber, Author of Try Softer

Everyone of us needs resources to support us through the challenges of life and the emotions that accompany them. Stuffing our emotions or powering through them is no longer an acceptable way to deal with the really hard parts of life. If we have everything we need for our bodies and brains to complete a stress cycle, it does not need to become lodged as trauma in us.

This is how we develop emotional chronicity — by providing calm co-regulation and a return to emotional safety. This is how we proactively attend to those developing little brains and bodies. This strongly influences childhood narratives in a much healthier way. We can hang a “no vacancy” sign on the place we once lodged unprocessed, painful memories.

When we have a greater self-awareness AND a toolkit to resource ourselves, we become better teachers for our children. This is the path to breaking generational cycles of poor emotional regulation and unprocessed traumas.

Because kiddos don’t have a fully formed brain and their nervous system is not able to regulate through especially really overwhelming experiences, things that might not be traumatic to an adult have the potential to be highly traumatic to kids…..especially if they don’t get the support that they need.” –Aundi Kolber, Author of Try Softer

This work feels a lot like the messages we get onboard an airplane before takeoff. “Put your own oxygen mask on first, then assist your small child.”

Changing how we attend to ourselves in the face of hard, painful experiences starts with self compassion. Self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. Imagine you are parenting yourself; picture yourself as your child — and you will be transported to that place where you organically offer these very comforts to others. Give them to yourself. Put your oxygen mask on first.

Aundi Kolber says that a basic understanding of our nervous system is profoundly empowering — “it’s like having the keys to your car.” She enthusiastically explains that our bodies are “freaking amazing” and that we are designed to get through difficulties and survive. The more we understand how to tap into both our brains and our bodies to assist with its full capabilities, the smoother a ride we will have. Self-compassion is like regular maintenance. The repair work we need to do requires us to “get under the hood.”

Aundi introduces us to the Window of Tolerance: the zone of arousal in which a person is able to function most effectively. Our “window” is that range where we can feel our feelings or have an experience and are able to tolerate it.

When we are in our “window of tolerance” we are typically able to receive, process and integrate information; we can respond to the demands of everyday life without much difficulty.

It is when we move out of that window that our body takes over and sounds the “all hands on deck alarm” in order to protect us — we fly out the window and go up into Fight, Flight or Fawning. Aundi says that anytime we go outside our window of tolerance, the highest part of our brain – the executive function – goes offline and is not available any more. We no longer have full access to our brain.

It’s like a rollercoaster….we go up into the danger zone of fight or flight and if we can’t resolve things there, we head down into dissociation. This state of dissociation will be very familiar to many — it is where we feel disconnected from our body, we might feel numb and we definitely are not fully present.

It’s easy to see that a little child starts out with a small window of tolerance. Any childhood experience that took us out of our window of tolerance (without support or resources to process it), becomes stored, like all our other memories. Anytime something reminds us of that experience (a smell, a raised voice, a facial expression, a car accident, an ambulance, something breaking, etc), that sends the trigger to our body that it is happening again. Lots of little unresolved traumas, or big T trauma will cause our window of tolerance to narrow. Our bodies are on red alert all the time.

Our stories live in our bodies. Our childhood experiences that were not processed and integrated, get stored into our nervous system and memory and we created a story to go with it. In doing so, the size of our window of tolerance may be too small for all that we are dealing with as adults. There may be times when daily life stressors push us out of our window of tolerance and we find ourselves overreacting to things that shouldn’t bother us so much. We wish we had more bandwidth.

The good news is that we can expand our window of tolerance. As an added bonus, in doing the work to expand it, we can also do some serious housecleaning in the process. We can process and purge ourselves of old narratives. We can change the story we wrote as kids and enjoy one better suited for adulthood.

It all starts with self compassion and self-parenting. We gather the resources we need, including safe people who can support us – and we do the hard work. We attend to unprocessed trauma. We neutralize it, integrate it and gain more safety, more agency over how our bodies and brains respond to triggers.

Our bodies are designed to move through pain. The reason we hurt so much, get triggered by old stories and get stuck is that we haven’t let our experiences and emotions move through us. That’s how it is supposed to work. Accept, feel, process, neutralize, integrate and let go. It’s only hard work now because we have waited so long and it’s fossilized in us. When we take proactive steps to deal with our current life experiences and emotions, it actually takes less time in the long run.

Most importantly, we extract the life lessons that guide us rather than the stories that misdirect us.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Kristin Neff, one of the world’s leading experts in Self-Compassion
https://self-compassion.org
Hosted by Ian Morgan Cron, Enneagram Expert & Author of The Story of You https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2022/31/03/aundikolber

TRY SOFTER: A Fresh Approach to Move Us Out of Anxiety, Stress & Survival Mode and Into a Life of Connection and Joy, by Aundi Kolber
A compelling and relatable understanding of the positive impacts of mindfulness practices. Gain control over your attention!