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!

Spring Cleaning

Spring is my favorite of the four seasons because it is so rich with fresh starts, new beginnings, awakenings and growth. As a young girl, I loved the fact that my birthday (April Fool’s) coincided with spring. Bluebells and lilies of the valley bursting through the ground felt magical to me, like anything was possible. Being able to open the windows and let fresh air fill the nooks and crannies into each stuffy room felt so revitalizing. Warm sunshine and cool, crisp air became a “hot fudge sundae” moment to be savored.

Back in the day, April signified a time for a major refresh indoors — the annual spring cleaning tradition. It meant some serious deep cleaning and purging of toys and clothes we’d outgrown. The house was infused with sunlight, more space, a lighter energy and a clean, appealing scent. A soft spring breeze would make gauzy window curtains dance. A vase of pale purple lilacs was the finishing touch. I can still smell their delicate fragrance and be transported back to the “fresh start” feeling associated with spring cleaning.

Recently I listened to Michael Singer’s podcast “Taking Care of Your Inner Environment”. His message was chock full of relatable metaphors including one that reminded me of spring cleaning.

We tidy up our homes, declutter and deep clean them. When we step back and admire our work, we find a deep sense of satisfaction and a pride in our abode. It’s like we have waved a magic wand and transformed our home into a blissful place to entertain, recharge, unwind.

Michael Singer invites us to do the same with our internal self. Why not declutter inside and create an inner self that can move with greater ease through the realities of life?

“Very few people work with themselves on the inside. If we don’t do that inside work, then what is going on inside can be a real mess. People don’t even understand what a mess it is, because they aren’t aware that it doesn’t have to be that way. They are moody, sensitive, they don’t get what they want, they are afraid. It’s an uncomfortable commotion inside. Just as it is our responsibility to keep our house clean and make our bed it, it is also our responsibility to take care of our inner environment. It’s the exact same thing.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast

We live from the inside out. Whatever is going on inside of us, consciously or unconsciously, is going to be impacted by something that happens outside of us.

“Because people are not straightening up inside, they accumulate an entire collection of stored things from the past that bothered them. This is unfinished business. As a result, events that unfold outside come in and stir up discomfort, disturbances and fears. Anything that is stuck inside of you is going to drive you crazy.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast

Picture this – we might be hoarders! We just might be hoarding old memories, past experiences, unresolved conflicts and that beat up cardboard box of insecurities our inner critic likes to rummage through. This is the unfinished business Michael is talking about — the multitude of things we’ve stuffed in the basement and attics of our inner self.

The ironic thing is that many people spend a lot of time and effort trying to keep the outside world from getting any glimpses of all that accumulated junk. As Michael points out, this strategy is not the least bit effective.

We simply cannot control outside events. The reality of life is that things will change — and some of those changes will be uncomfortable, even painful. We cannot build a life that has only good things and none of the discomforting things.

Maybe this is why I find Spring to be so meaningful. After all, Spring is fearless when it comes to pushing through once frozen ground, stretching both fragile roots down and pushing delicate leaves and buds up. Spring does the hard work. She knows it is worth it. Spring welcomes paradox — the hot fudge sundae moments of warmth and cold. Spring can hold two opposing moments and value them both. Spring rushes head first into the fullness of her season, bursting with color, textures, scents. She goes softly when it is time to hand the baton to Summer with a wink and a promise. It is this ebb and flow of nature that Spring reminds us of…take the good and the bad together — it is life. We can do hard things and we can grow.

If we had our way, we would never grow. We would build a little life that is in a box filled with all the things we are comfortable with, hop in and lock it up! Growth comes from things that are not comfortable.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast

Michael compares this inner housekeeping to physical training we might undertake. The motto at the gym is “no pain, no gain.” Yet we shy away from adopting that same motto for our emotional and mental well being. Brene Brown reminds us that people will do anything not to feel emotional pain — even causing pain to others. Offloading our pain onto others is a horrible strategy. Hoarding it is an equally bad option.

We can’t let our fear of feeling some emotional pain prevent us from doing the inner work. Taking care of our inner environment is doing the heavy lifting of accepting reality, fully experiencing what is happening and honoring the right to learn from it. No pain, no gain.

What we have been learning in recent years from Brene Brown’s research, neuroscience and psychology is that powering through big hard emotional experiences is NOT strength and it surely is not in our best interests long term. It is exactly why we end up with a basement and attic full of accumulated discomfort.

We need to fully experience and process the hardships and losses in our lives as they unfold. When we learn to do this, we grow. We only bring into our inner world the invaluable residue of what we have learned from the experience. That’s the rich compost for a grounded, meaningful, more peaceful life.

“Working on yourself means learning from the realities of life, learning from our discomfort. Honor what has happened, accept it, experience it and become a greater person because of what you learn and how you grow from the experience.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast

Michael Singer offers a powerful reframing that helps us approach emotional processing in a whole new light. Rather than thinking of how painful it is, think of it as a challenge — like training for a marathon or mountain climbing experience. Or you might approach it like a game of chess — what strategies can you employ to win?

People go out of their way to challenge themselves in other areas of their life. That’s why we love a good competition. What if we changed our mindset about life’s difficulties?

Right now I am feeling a bit like the mom that sneaks veggies into the Mac and Cheese. Is anyone shying away from a good old fashioned challenge? A chance to win? To move from victim to victor?

Michael’s reframing changes not only our mindset; it also changes our energy from resistance to receptivity. We get excited about a challenge, we get motivated. We get it and we own it. We say to ourselves, “I’ve made a mess inside and I am going to clean it up!”

Here’s another refreshing insight. Michael says we can ease into this new paradigm by dealing with the realities of life that are unfolding in the present moment. Set yourself up for success by working on the things that are causing you discomfort right now. In other words, don’t be putting more “stuff” in the basement. Step one is stop adding more clutter.

Lead with this new mantra when you are practicing genuine emotional processing as it is unfolding: “I want to be open and receptive, to be able to handle the reality that is in front of me — and finish it off.” (credit to Michael Singer)

Once you are more nimble with processing current experiences, you may want to get into that attic or basement and pull out the dusty older stuff. Learn what you can and then toss it. I have found Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart to be invaluable for this deep clean. With an expanded emotional vocabulary and a better viewing lens, I can go back and revisit old experiences in a healthier way. I keep the treasures and discard the cobwebs.

Imagine how much lighter you will feel emotionally, how much more expansive your inner world will be and how much more discerning you will be about what you keep inside.

Now…get to it! It’s time for some major spring cleaning!

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Michael Singer (author, journalist and motivational speaker) will motivate you to grab some tools and begin your inner Spring cleaning. I’m recommending this podcast episode for his wise, grandfatherly pep talk. You can skip the intro and fast forward to 2.45 minutes in to get your juices flowing https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/michael-singer-podcast/id1573483082?i=1000557932460

Under the Surface..

For quite some time, I have been thinking about all the stratifications that we each have under the surface — the ones that are hidden not only from others, but even from ourselves. These stratifications are biology, biography, behavior and backstory — and they can snag us, keep us stuck or sometimes even pull us under when the seas of life get tumultuous. If you’re curious about how to move through life more fluidly, with less drag, read on.

This image of an iceberg seems fitting for what I’ll be unpacking. The surface is where we believe we are operating each day. The reality is that the stuff below the surface is always present, either consciously or unconsciously. The more self-aware we are, the lighter the undertow of what’s below the surface.

In Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown defines these stratifications as the layers of our biology, biography, behavior and backstory. We are continually adding to these layers as we go through life. Brene implores us to to examine them so that we can become more self-aware.

If we pull back the layers and tease apart the entanglement that occurs as we drag these layers unchecked and unconsciously through life, we begin to more clearly understand the weight and the complexity of all that lies under the surface of each of us. Why wait for a mid-life unraveling as Brene calls it?

I marvel sometimes that we human beings can have a meaningful, interactive conversation with each other, let alone be in relationships, be parents, friends, co-workers and leaders. A peek under the surface at another’s stratifications would be revelational — and even daunting. The buried treasures are the very things we need to make deeper connections, build resilience and move through our lives with greater ease.

In my most recent post, I shared some of the game-changing insights about our superpower, ATTENTION. The entire time I was reading Peak Mind and writing that post, I was thinking about something very profound: If we are already losing 50% of our lives because we aren’t really “paying attention”, what happens when we numb our pain, hide our true feelings and needs, walk on eggshells, and react to false narratives and beliefs? How much of the remaining 50% do we lose with armor, addiction, baggage and unconscious patterns of behavior?

Is it any wonder that there is an urgent call to “find your authentic self?”

Picture Jacob Marley, dragging around that long and heavy chain for most of his life.

The chains are intended to represent his sins in life, accompanied by his guilt for failing to help his fellow man. His lack of compassion.

He forged the chain himself.

This image seems an appropriate metaphor for the stratifications we have under the surface. Quite honestly, some were not of our own doing, but just ways in which we learned to make sense of our world.

Other parts of our stratifications can be attributed to baggage we’ve collected over our lifetime, unprocessed emotions, insecurities and triggers. Hidden underneath all that heavy stuff are the very things we want to be more aligned with — our innate gifts, our strengths, resilience and joy.

Let’s take a deep dive under the surface and explore how biology, biography, behaviors and backstory impact us today. We operate unconsciously because we simply aren’t fully aware of how we are showing up and why. Armed with self-awareness and introspection, we can make informed choices about personal development.

BEHAVIORS:

Outgrown behavioral patterns originated in childhood when our brain development did not yet able us to operate in a “top-down” fashion. We were using immature brains to make sense of our lives. Not only that, we had limited language which hampered our ability to articulate complex emotions. All too often, as children we were told to suppress emotions or get over it. Bottled up emotions are bound to explode at some point. So, we developed both behavioral patterns and reactive responses. This hampered developing emotional agility and good coping skills.

Here’s a sampling of typical behavioral patterns: Conflict avoider, people pleaser, shape shifter and perfectionist. We may go through life withdrawn, hyper vigilant, overly anxious or temperamental. We may have a fear of abandonment or of not being worthy; or we may be confrontational or overly complacent.

The coping strategies we relied on to navigate our childhoods rarely serve us well in adulthood. In fact, these “go-to” behaviors hold us back from growing emotionally and psychologically. Very often, these behavioral patterns are some form of armor that we use to protect us from feeling vulnerable. We were most vulnerable as children, especially if the very people we relied upon to keep us safe, did not do that. So, we armored up. We found creative ways to navigate and mitigate.

While they may have worked in childhood, they do not help us function in a healthy, proactive way in adulthood. They become the “drag” that shows up as resistance, a lack of confidence or not even knowing what we really want from life.

BIOGRAPHY:

Our behavioral patterns are interconnected to our “attachment style”. Simply put, attachments styles are expectations we develop about relationships with others based on the relationship we had with our primary caregiver.

Our attachment style is a great place to start when pulling back the layers of our biography. It offers insight into how we are showing up in our most important relationships.

This chart highlights the attributes of the primary caregiver for each of the 4 attachment styles and the corresponding ways a person will respond in their adult relationships.

The huge benefit of coming to terms with both our behavioral patterns and our attachment style is that we free ourselves from things that no longer serve us. We often go into adulthood with concrete ideas about the things our parents did that we will NOT be doing. But we are unaware that unconsciously we are bringing along the patterns — both our own and those of our family. We lived in a Petri dish of family dynamics for nearly two decades. We won’t shake off old habits overnight — especially if we aren’t paying attention to them.

We can take affirmative steps to untether ourselves and find a better way to go through adulthood. This work starts with self-awareness. It is also how we break unhealthy generational cycles. Dr. Dan Siegel is a great resource for parents who want to understand their own attachment style and develop healthy, secure attachments with their children.

There’s a little more to biography than attachment styles however. Our feelings arise from an emotional experience — and we surely accumulated many emotional experiences during childhood and adolescence (and all with a brain not yet fully developed).

The study of moods and emotions helps reveal the porous boundaries between conscious and unconscious mental processes.

What gets stored consciously in our memory banks are the tangible details of our experience – the one we can articulate with clarity years later. What gets unconsciously stored is the nuanced physiological and emotional responses associated with that story. This is where we find ourselves “triggered” by a present day experience that is quite different from a past event yet feels familiar.

Did you know that our brain might not distinguish between an imagined stressful situation and one that is actually happening? Our brain will produce stress hormones — adrenalin and cortisol — in both situations unless we help it to make the distinction. As Dr. Amishi Jha explains in Peak Mind, our brains are trainable.

New brain imaging research shows that “imagining” a threat lights up similar regions as “experiencing” it does. This research confirms that imagination is a neurological reality that can impact our brains and bodies in ways that matter for our well-being.” Tor Wager, Director of the Cognitive and Affective at CU Boulder, senior co-author of Your Brain on Imagination, White Paper published December 10, 2018.

If we could take a cross-section of our accumulated emotions and experiences, we would see clearly how the layers formed – from our childhood environment, to how we made sense of it; to the behavioral patterns we adopted and the armor we used for an added safety measure; to our brain and body’s responses, and the memory banks we filled. This is also a heavy “drag” on us as we go through life. These stratifications are our own Jacob Marley chains.

BACKSTORY:

All of this brings us to backstory. Biography, Behaviors and Biology are all intertwined in the narratives we created as children to help us make sense of things; they are equally intertwined in the stories we tell ourselves today when we are feeling insecure, shamed, triggered, uncertain or vulnerable. Our inner critic often engages as a co-author in our stories, much to our detriment.

There is a shadow being cast from our backstory onto the experience we are having today. Most of the time, we are completely unaware of it.

Imbedded in the layers of our biography, behaviors and biology is our history. Brene invites us to get inquisitive, to ask “what brought this on? Because the clues we need to unravel the present moment from our entangled past, lie in this deeper exploration of our layers – the stratifications of emotions and experiences we have accumulated over our lifetime.

For decades, I have combed the shelves of the “self-help” section of libraries and bookstores. I even stumbled across Jon Kabat-Zinns book “Wherever You Go, There You” are back in February, 2000 — but I wasn’t ready to “receive” all the wisdom imbedded in his book about mindfulness and meditation. When I was reading Atlas of the Heart, I marveled that Brene Brown included his work in her own research and writing.

In fact, as I have written in prior blog posts, so many of the resources I have cultivated for my own personal growth work over the past decade are now intersecting. The tool box for self-discovery and personal development is chock full of readily accessible, integrated resources.

One inspiring difference are the game-changing breakthroughs in neuroscience that have become the foundation — and the impetus — for all of us to take self-awareness seriously.

And the serious work of cultivating greater self-awareness begins by pulling back the layers, performing a “Marie Kondo-like” purge of patterns, armors and coping skills that are not sparking joy and harnessing the power of our most phenomenal organ — our brain.

What has me so excited and energized these days is witnessing young parents leaning into all that we are learning from neuroscience, incorporating personal growth and mental well being as a part of their overall self care, and proactively teaching their children to express and process their emotions in healthy ways.

Here’s a toast to smoother sailing ahead!

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

The Enneagram Academy – Behavioral Patterns https://enneagramacademy.com/behavioural-patterns/

The Verdict is In — the Case for Attachment Theory

https://drdansiegel.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/1271-the-verdict-is-in-1.pdf

Science Daily Article: Your Brain on Imagination; It’s a lot like reality

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181210144943.htm

UNDERSTANDING STRESS: CAUSES, BIOLOGY & HOW TO BECOME RESILIENT
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsPtfBYkgeA&t=50s
RUMINATION: HOW TO DISRUPT OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2tnf8q7GMk

YouTube Video with Dr. Dan Siegel: THE IMPORTANCE OF PARENTS’ ATTACHMENT TO CHILD’S BRAIN INTEGRATION https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsGOyX9WY4k

Want a personal viewpoint? Check out this conversation with Steve Tyler, Aerosmith’s Lead Singer and what his own personal growth journey has been like. https://podtail.com/en/podcast/oprah-s-supersoul-conversations/steven-tyler-pt-1/

Nuggets of Wisdom – Insights from Others

I’m changing things up a bit for this Nuggets of Wisdom post. This time, I am sharing insights from some of my favorite inspirational resources along with my reflections on how their wisdom can show up in our daily lives. Let’s jump in:

You know that old adage that “time heals everything“…..well, it simply is not true. As yung pueblo so wisely shares in the above quote, it is not time that heals — it is the courage we muster to stop ignoring and hiding from the obvious. When we know we are not showing up as our best selves, when we keep having the same argument or miscommunication, when we lose our cool or opt to shut down — those are the little warning lights telling us that we need to pay attention to the root cause. From my experience, the pain that yung pueblo refers to has two sides — the unprocessed pain that we bottled up because of a past bad experience AND the pain of showing up now in an inauthentic way. Often we regret how we are showing up in the present moment, because we are “acting out” rather that “working through”. Stuffed emotions, ongoing resentments, and bottled up pain never go away with time alone. Heed the warning lights and lean into your courage. It’s the faster path to self awareness and supporting the better version of who you really want to be.

This quote from Fred Rogers echos the same sentiment that yung pueblo expressed, so I thought it a fitting P.S. to his nugget of wisdom.

Boundaries sometimes conjure up an image of limitations or walls, but they are actually the gateways to treating someone with respect and integrity – in a way that feels very tangible and supportive to them.

Nedra Tawwab is my go-to resource for deeper understanding of the importance of boundaries in healthy relationships of all types. In this post, Nedra provides clear cut examples of what it looks like to respect and accept another’s boundaries.

I’m working on helping my grandchildren learn the benefits of boundaries by using the word “respect” when I respond to their request for privacy, specific help, or even not helping. If my granddaughter tells me that she does not want help with something that I believe may be frustrating her, I respond by telling her that I respect her wish to do it all by herself. This may seem like a small matter yet it is planting the seed of what it feels like to be respected. Here’s an interesting twist that she’s teaching me — She prefers to work through things on her own even if they are a little daunting; then she feels good to have successfully accomplished it independently. This invaluable lesson of resourcefulness, tenacity and personal agency that comes from respecting her boundaries is not lost on me.

At the onset of 2022, I shifted the focus of my blog to helping others discover tools that would best benefit their own self-discovery and personal development journey. The concept of a toolbox really resonates with me and I like the idea each of us customizing our individual toolbox. Just like the toolbox you have for home repairs, you might have some you use often and others that are for speciality jobs. The same is true for the tools we rely on to help us build resilience and emotional agility, cultivate greater self awareness and inner peace, and those that heal and bridge us through times of great adversity.

Yet there is an important caveat that must be mentioned here. We are all better skilled at using these tools and achieving meaningful results if we take the time to understand neuroscience and how our brains operate. It is the very reason I was drawn to Dr. Hanson’s work at the onset of my own personal growth journey. Fortunately there are understandable and relatable resources to help us better understand and utilize the potential of our brains. Check out Peak Mind by Dr. Amishi Jha, Flourish by Dr. Martin Seligman, You, Happier by Dr. Daniel Amen, Hardwiring Happiness by Dr. Rick Hanson and of course, the Being Well Podcast. My recent post entitled Mindfulness: A Brain Game Changer might be a good primer if you want to dip your toes into learning more about neuroscience.

One of the phrases that Dr. Rick Hanson often uses that I find so encouraging is “how are you resourcing yourself?” This question encompasses what we do on a daily basis to support our overall mental well being and what tools we turn to when we hit a rough patch, are overwhelmed or in deep struggle. Our customized toolbox can be chock full of diverse tools to resource ourselves throughout life.

I’m wrapping this post up with yet another nugget of wisdom from yung pueblo because of an uplifting, inspirational conversation I had with my friend, Judy Chesters. It’s no secret that we have supported in each other in many ways over these past 5 years of personal growth work. Mindfulness has been a cornerstone of our inner work and that’s where we both became much more self-aware of armor and baggage that was getting in our way of living in alignment with who we really are. In our recent chat, we were both sharing how much lighter and more expansive we feel now, how we have more clarity, more resilience and inner calm. We have more energy, more fun, more creativity and deeper relationships. Because we know each other so well, it becomes very evident as we swap stories that we are most definitely showing up in much healthier ways these days — and yes we even chuckle at how the former versions of ourselves would have responded.

What got my attention in this quote of yung pueblo’s is how he emphasizes that when we “find ourselves” (and are operating with more mindfulness), we connect with people that add to our radiance (love that word), and move with bold and genuine energy. That is exactly how Judy and I are feeling these days.

In her book, Peak Mind, Dr. Amishi Jha highlights that when we are living mindfully and are more skilled at focusing our attention in the present moment, our experiences are amplified (another awesome word). Things feel brighter, louder and crisper. Judy and I have discovered that memories of our experiences have been enriched with smells, sensations, the feel of a tiny warm hand in ours, colors and textures, the twinkle in someone’s eye. You cannot capture these sensory details in a photo….but they are strongly imprinted with our experience when we have been fully present in the moment.

All these nuggets of wisdom may seem to be unrelated, but they are actually stepping stones on the personal development journey. Time doesn’t heal, doing the work is what heals. Boundaries help us show each other how we want to be treated, and serve as a reminder to ourselves of our value and what we need to flourish. We benefit from having a toolbox to resource ourselves with daily self-care and to support us through challenging times. And the light at the end of the tunnel — well that is where you find yourself living more mindfully, more present and engaged, in alignment with who you truly are. You will find friends and like-minded souls on your self discovery journey. They will scaffold you, hold space for you and celebrate your progress.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Understanding Stress: Causes, Biology, & How to Become Resilient

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsPtfBYkgeA

Dr. Daniel Amen – TEDxOrangeCoast: Change Your Brain, Change Your Life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLKj1puoWCg

Mindfulness: A Brain Game-Changer

Before I got seriously committed to personal growth, I had this growing curiosity about resilience, coping skills and an ability to sustain some level of overall satisfaction with life. Why did some people seem to have this in spades and others really struggled? Little did I know that my search for answers would end up changing my life in the most remarkable ways.

Back in 2014, I found myself in the psychology section of the book store and discovered Dr. Martin Seligman’s book, Flourish: A Visionary Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being.

Dr. Seligman offered a game-changing theory in the field of psychology about what really makes a good life — and his focus was on optimism, motivation and character. Simply put, flourishing was defined as feeling good and functioning well. That sure seemed like a great place to start for answers to my questions. Here’s what drew me in:

While certainly a part of well-being, happiness “alone” doesn’t give life its meaning. Seligman asks: “What is it that enables you to cultivate your talents, to build deep, lasting relationships with others, to feel pleasure and to contribute meaningfully to the world. In other words, what is it that allows you to “flourish”? (Kirkus Reviews)

Dr. Seligman was flipping traditional psychology upside down — rather than focusing solely on efforts to relieve human suffering, his focus was to look at what was going well in our lives. It was a straightforward, understandable way to “re-wire the brain” and provide balance for the brain’s negativity bias. I was intrigued by this because I had noticed that some of those folks struggling with sustained contentment in their lives often had a lot of things in the “plus” column. Yet that alone did not seem to be enough to have them adopt a “glass half full” perspective. A simple exercise that Dr. Seligman recommended was to identify 3 things that went well at the end of every day.

That simple exercise had a very relevant link — often the very reason that things went well was related to something that the person actively did to facilitate a positive experience.

Agency, action and positive reinforcement all wrapped up in a simple gratitude practice.

It was then that I had a “aha” moment. My brother is the poster child for resilience, strong coping skills and a contagious enthusiasm for life. Yet my brother has had more than his fair share of setbacks and adversities in his life and frankly he has a lot more “minuses” in the column than most. Could it be that his immense gratitude for the small, good things was the key to his ability to be so upbeat and resilient?

Whenever I spend time with my brother, I just bask in his effervescent reviews of the best cheeseburger he just enjoyed, the thrill of the round of golf we just played (even if he lost most of his golf balls) and the miraculous beauty of a sunset. He is the most appreciative, grateful guy I have ever known. Is this his secret sauce for living life with optimism, motivation and resilience?

About a year after I read Flourish, my friend gave me several issues of Mindfulness Magazine. It was my initial introduction to mindfulness and I was fascinated. Little did I know that mindfulness practices would become an integral part of my life. There’s no doubt in my mind that because I had read Flourish, I was extremely receptive to learning all that I could about mindfulness.

Flipping through those issues, I discovered Dr. Rick Hanson, an expert in positive neuroplasticity. I was so intrigued by this remarkable concept: Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to modify, change and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience. What I had already been learning from Flourish was that shifting the brain’s negativity bias simply by focusing on the good things in our life can have dramatic impacts on our quality of life — and on our ability to cope, build resilience and squeeze more joy out of life.

I began to see where psychology and neuroscience were complementing each other. It was through Dr. Hanson’s work that I began to find some of the answers to my earlier questions — we can get caught in the negativity bias, create deep trenches in our brain where we stay stuck…and have a very hard time overcoming — even when our life circumstances have changed dramatically for the better. Negative emotional cycles can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, rumination, apathy, anxiety and depression. It can be very difficult to break these cycles, especially if you’ve been prone to lean heavily into the negativity bias for most of your life.

About the same time that I was digging deep into neuroscience, I was also soaking up all that Brene Brown was revealing about shame, vulnerability, courage and empathy. One of her findings was that when we “numb” pain, we also “numb” joy. This insight led me to think about the ways that people numb their pain and its correlation to negativity bias. When we numb, we dial down our awareness. So, we are now operating unconsciously and before we know it, we have consumed an entire bag of potato chips, the carton of ice cream, or binged two seasons of a Netflix program. When we have slipped into auto-pilot, our brains are naturally going to default to the negativity bias if that’s our “go to” familiar place. See the connection?

When we numb pain, we numb joy. We aren’t able to see the good things right in front of us, because we are back in the negativity loop and we don’t even realize it. When the numbness wears off and we “awaken” to our consciousness, we look around but still have blind spots to the good stuff. It’s incredibly hard to sustain joy and happiness when our focus and awareness are lopsided due to the negativity bias.

The correlation I was making from all of this inter-connecting research is that mindfulness is an incredible tool because it anchors us in “awareness”. Mindfulness keeps us present so we can take in the good and stops us from slipping into unconscious auto pilot. Meditation is an interactive tool to help us break the cycle that feeds the negativity bias. Meditation helps us to avoid getting “stuck” by our thoughts and pulled into old negative cycles.

Putting the pieces of this puzzle together became the foundation for my own self-discovery and personal growth plan. While I was an upbeat person, wired much like my brother, I was having some difficulty breaking free from rumination. I realized that this was holding me back from the life I really wanted to be living. I wanted to “flourish” – feeling good and functioning well.

At the onset of both my mindfulness and meditation practices, the best I could do was small doses of each. I committed to doing the best I could and to doing it every single day. When I would find myself “living in the past” rather than being fully present in the moment, I would make a note of it — “ruminating” or “thinking”. This is a basic tool I learned from my Headspace mindfulness app. A little trick that can be used throughout the day. I also used another trick of “substitution”. If I would find myself thinking about a person or event that caused me discomfort, I would substitute a person or event that brought me joy. I recall Dr. Hanson offering a mindfulness practice of “flipping it”– which was basically the same premise that Dr. Seligman introduced — “look for the good, not the bad.”

I will readily admit that meditating was so incredibly hard in the beginning. I had these unrealistic expectations that I would sit for 5 or 10 minutes and be blissfully thought-free. Just the opposite happened — hundreds of thoughts streamed into my mind the moment I sat down and closed my eyes. After I embraced the idea that meditation was more about letting thoughts come and go, I bought into the theory that I was “breaking the cycle” of getting attached to my thoughts. My meditation practice become more productive and honestly I came to enjoy it. Maybe not in the moment if I am being honest, but when I realized that I was able to tap into these tools throughout my day, I knew I was making real progress.

Mindfulness and meditation became the foundation for my processing, my healing and personal growth. I was able to end a long cycle of rumination and curate greater self-awareness. I often wonder if my keen interest in resilience, optimism and emotional regulation was really a springboard for what I myself needed. Would I have been so drawn to neuroscience, mindfulness, mediation and Brene Brown if not for this curiosity?

I will share with you what prompted me to reflect on all of this and to make the connections I may have missed five or six years ago. It was a dynamic and insightful Dare to Lead podcast that Brene Brown recently had with neuroscientist, Dr. Amishi Jha. It is entitled Finding Focus and Owning Your Attention.

Here’s the introduction for this episode: “a game changing conversation about attention, focus, concentration and mindfulness- specifically how mindfulness can literally change our levels of attention “……Brene Brown

Naturally I was captivated the moment I read both the title and the introduction for this episode. A huge smile came across my face as Brene Brown shared Dr. Jha’s credentials before the conversation — She is the Director of contemplative neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative. Wow — contemplative neuroscience is a real thing!

This podcast episode will illuminate all the ways that mindfulness can have a profound impact on your quality of life. Yes, I chose that word illuminate on purpose because Dr. Jha is witty, light-hearted and possesses a gift for metaphors. Her flashlight metaphor will totally illuminate things you never knew about your brain and your attention.

Dr. Amishi Jha is the author of Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day and she has a Ted Talk entitled “How to Tame Your Wandering Mind”. I highly recommend both if your interest has been piqued. Imagine what a small investment like 12 minutes a day might just do to amp up how you are “flourishing” in life.

I am so grateful that neuroscience, mindfulness and meditation are becoming mainstream, relatable and user-friendly. Those of us in the everyday world who are practicing both and reaping the benefits can be so helpful and encouraging to others.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

To contend with the stress of our current world, we need to properly equip ourselves to cope. Neuroscientist Dr. Amishi Jha teaches you how to use mindfulness to train your brain to pay attention differently and provides scientifically sound alternative to panic: presence

TEDxCoconut Grove – Dr. Amishi Jha on How To Tame Your Wandering Mind

https://www.ted.com/talks/amishi_jha_how_to_tame_your_wandering_mind

Nuggets of Wisdom — Unlearning & Relearning

When I began my self-discovery and personal growth journey six years ago, I had no idea where it would be leading me — and I am extremely grateful for the path it has become. What excites and inspires me is the ground-breaking research that is shedding light on old myths that have contributed to unhealthy multi-generational family dynamics and stunted our own personal growth efforts. In this post, I will highlight some of the key shifts that are having transformational impacts in self-development, mental health and personal growth.

Many of us grew up with the belief that vulnerability was weakness. So naturally we tried our best to hide and mask our own vulnerabilities in an effort to protect ourselves. Our blind spot around vulnerability was most likely in the way we responded to others who showed us theirs — we’d recoil, dismiss or diminish what they shared with us. Weakness was to be avoided at all costs.

Brene Brown’s extensive research on vulnerability spans over two decades and volumes of data. What she reveals is that across cultures, most of us grew up with this false belief that vulnerability was weakness — and at the same time, we were told to be brave. This created a tension that made so sense. Being brave requires courage — and we can’t get to courage without leaning in, and exposing, our vulnerabilty. Hard stop.

Brene has long professed that vulnerability is the key to deep, meaningful connections with others. Author and activist, Dr. Shawn Ginwright drives this point home with a powerful image:

“Vulnerability is the portal for deep connection with another.”

I believe that vulnerability and trust go hand in hand. This heartbreaking misconception about vulnerability being weakness may be a huge contributing factor to the breakdown of trust in family dynamics. Children who do not feel safe will carry mistrust with them into adulthood along with the armor they use to hide their vulnerabilities. Brene cautions us that we often don’t believe the stories others tells us about their experiences, which leads to more disconnection, withdrawal and an innate lack of trust.

Vulnerability is not weakness – it is in fact the greatest measure of courage. On both sides of this coin, we can become more aware of this truth and drop the old, harmful belief. We can learn to respond to vulnerability — our own and others – with respect, empathy, non-judgment and a desire to learn more. We will cultivate more heroes than victims of our own stories with this one transformational shift.

Here is a thread that runs from what we are re-learning about vulnerabilty to what we also can re-learn about regret. When author Dan Pink was working on his latest book, The Power of Regret, he was rather astonished to discover that when he openly shared his heartfelt stories of his own regrets, his friends did not recoil — they actually leaned in. There was an exchange of similar stories and shared humanity. Those conversations led him to do several years of research about how we got regret all wrong. Living a life with no regrets means living a life without any reflection, without extracting the invaluable life lessons meant to help us along our path.

Dan Pink discovered that when others opened up and risked being vulnerable about their regrets, their insights revealed what they valued most in their lives. Not surprisingly, as we age, what we value most becomes crystallized. In this case, hindsight was truly 20/20 and most regrets were about thing people DIDN’T do rather than things they did — the missed opportunities and risks they didn’t take because of fear, insecurities or perceived judgments.

Vulnerability and regret are like two missing pieces of a bigger puzzle. Dr. Shawn Ginwright explains that we can’t move from transactional relationships to transformational relationships without vulnerability because there is no emotional risk, nothing is at stake. Transformational relationships help us evolve into our better selves; these are the people willing to hold up a mirror for us and encourage us to grow — especially from our life experiences.

Let me share my favorite example of a transformational relationship — being a parent. Reflect for a moment on how your role as a parent evolves as your infant moves from toddler to teen. There is no greater example of how deeply our shared vulnerabilty with our child forges a bond that cannot easily be diminished or disconnected. When our kids are teenagers, we often use regrettable moments as a tool for helping them gain some agency around their choices and a foothold on creating their personal values.

I love Angela Duckworth’s body of work around resiliency and grit — and guess what, it dovetails right into vulnerability and regret. Angela says we don’t learn well when there’s no feedback.

Feedback from others is something that often feels like a hit to our ego, so naturally we prefer to avoid or ignore it.

Yet if the feedback is coming from someone we respect and is offered as a “mirror” for personal growth, then we should be grateful — and lean in. Feedback, like regret, is another tool for learning. Those people who offer us insightful feedback may be the ones we can develop a transformational relationship with — those who will help us do our most meaningful “mirror” work.

One way to get more comfortable with feedback is to ask for it. There’s no doubt this will foster your willingness to choose courage over comfort. And, you will be setting a good example for others:

“Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better, and the world a little braver.” –Brene Brown

One of the most revelational breakthroughs has been around emotions. We are emotional beings and yet we rarely tap into the wisdom that our wide range of emotions offers to us. We may have been taught as children not to express our emotions; we may have learned to stuff them and power through hard times; we may be triggered by them and then act on them, often with poor outcomes.

While we often talked about emotional regulation, the focus was more on trying to navigate around our emotions than accepting them, feeling and honoring them, and gaining the knowledge they offered. As more research rolls out from behavioral scientists, neuroscientists, psychologists and social work experts, we are recognizing that emotions are not the problem — it is unprocessed emotions that cause lingering and long-term issues.

In Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown integrates so much research of her own and others, to open us up to a brand new way of thinking about — and learning from — our EMOTIONS.

Emotions are neither right nor wrong, good or bad. Each and every one has some intrinsic value that is a part of our full life experience.

In Atlas of the Heart, Brene gives us a resource guide for 87 emotions and experiences that are common to most of us. She shows us “where we go” emotionally with so many relatable events that happen in our lives. Best yet, she gives us an expanded emotional vocabulary to help us name them, process them and learn the lessons from them. Her research revealed that we often just dumped our emotions into one of 3 buckets — happy, sad or angry. There is no way that we were ever going to be able to untangle ourselves from the complexity of our many emotions without a bigger vocabulary and greater discernment.

Imagine the transformation that can occur in just one generation when we embrace these breakthroughs — recognizing vulnerabilty as a measure of strength and courage; gaining invaluable life lessons from regret and reflection; and accepting and honoring all our emotions, processing them in real time (rather than ignoring or stuffing). Imagine how freeing it will be for younger generations to move through life without heavy armor and emotional baggage. What if we came to see ourselves as heroes of our own stories rather than victims of an old narrative? All of these breakthroughs in how we relate to vulnerabilty, to regret and feedback, and to our vast emotional landscape are the maps we can use to grow forward.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

My recent blog post — What We Got Wrong About Vulnerability

https://inspirednewhorizons.com/2022/02/26/what-we-got-wrong-about-vulnerability/

Another recent blog post – Regret and Reflection

https://inspirednewhorizons.com/2022/02/17/regret-and-reflection/

This very recent episode touches on so much that I have shared in this post — especially about processing emotions in healthy ways and learning from failure — such relatable sound advice https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-learning-to-cope-with-failure/

What We Got Wrong about Vulnerability

I get so invigorated when a breakthrough discovery upends old paradigms and carves a brand new path for us to take on this life journey. Recently I shared how we missed the necessary life lessons embedded in regret. Today, it’s a big one — it’s vulnerability.

Just like the impassioned enthusiasm that author Dan Pink has about reframing regret for its value, this same passion and high energy exudes from author and activist, Dr. Shawn Ginwright, about the multitude of benefits gained from embracing vulnerability in a whole new way.

In his recent conversation with Brene Brown on Unlocking Us, Dr. Shawn Ginwright spoke with conviction about the role vulnerability plays in our most meaningful relationships. Especially, transformative relationships — those rare and invaluable relationships where we are lifted up and given the scaffolding we need to grow and flourish.

When Dr. Ginwright proclaimed “vulnerability is the portal for deep connection with another” I stopped the podcast and let that soak in. Then I rewound it and listened two more times.

As an ardent student of Brene’s work on courage and vulnerability, this concept of a portal gave me an unforgettable image to reframe the role that vulnerability plays in meaningful relationship connections. A portal is a doorway, a gate, an opening — sometimes, a large and impressive one.

When someone is courageous enough to be vulnerable with us, they are literally dropping their innermost drawbridge and revealing the “portal” into a deeper understanding of who they are, what matters most and what they are experiencing.

Dr. Ginwright calls our response to these moments of vulnerability “the exchange of humanity”.

If we peek through that portal and look closely, we can see, and feel, another’s anguish through our own eyes and heart.

Brene Brown explains that this “exchange of humanity” creates a connective energy between people and provides the emotional support for healing and growth.

All we really have to do is reflect on a past vulnerable moment of our own to intuitively know what we would have found comforting. This is where “meaningful connection” takes root – in our shared humanity. Our experiences may be quite different, but those deep feelings and painful emotions are similar.

Vulnerability has been a rich topic of conversation very recently in my book club and with my close friend since we are all reading and digesting Atlas of the Heart. As we shared stories with each other, we began to reframe how we think about — and respond to — vulnerability.

It made me realize that we were actually experiencing what Dr. Ginwright is teaching — our connections were deepening as we leaned in to each other’s stories where they took a leap of faith and bared their vulnerabilities to others.

Brene writes that across cultures, most of us were raised to believe that being vulnerable is being weak and that this belief sets up an unresolvable tension because we were also taught to be “brave.” But being brave implies having courage — and vulnerability is the most accurate way to measure courage.

Real courage means taking that risk, sharing our truth and who we really are, without any guarantee of the outcome.

Courage requires the willingness to lean into uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” (excerpt from Atlas of the Heart).

We are “all in” for courage when we cheer on the protagonist in our favorite book or movie. That kind of courage seems fearless and heroic.

We are far less comfortable with courage when it comes to ourselves. Our fear — of being judged, labeled, diminished or worse yet — cast out from the groups we want to belong to — keeps us armored up and silent.

And here is our conundrum — we want deeper connections in our relationships, but we mistakenly believe that by being vulnerable and opening up to others, we will be perceived as weak. There’s a lot of shame, fear and insecurity wrapped up in this old belief system. We build walls and don protective emotional armor to keep us safe — but it is a false sense of security and a major roadblock to meaningful connection.

That old belief system also set us up for failure when it comes to responding to those who take that risk and share their vulnerabilities with us. If we believe that being vulnerable is weakness, we can easily fall back on old unhealthy patterns of relating to weakness as something to avoid. Like it or not, our first unconscious responses probably are to judge, diminish, recoil and withdraw.

We’d be operating on auto pilot with a harmful belief system that predisposes us to respond to perceived weakness as undesirable.

This is where I find the work of Brene Brown, Dr. Shawn Ginwright and their peers to be game-changing. Shattering these old myths and reframing vulnerability as the portal for connection is a very profound, healthy step in the right direction. As Brene shares in Atlas of the Heart, we have been using perfectionism, people-pleasing and proving to mask vulnerability. No wonder we find it so challenging to really be our authentic selves.

It seems to me that the old belief about vulnerability being equated with weakness also contributed to an erosion of trust. Trust is the bedrock of genuine connection. If we shared our vulnerabilities with someone and their response was to treat us as “weak”, it is only natural that the trust we placed in that person would be compromised.

Brene highlights the importance of discipline and self-awareness when it comes to sharing our vulnerabilities for this very reason. Trust is an essential component of solid relationships. She advises that we mindfully chose those who have earned the right to hear our stories and experiences — those people you deem trustworthy.

On the flip side of this, remember that if someone comes to you to share their stories, you have probably earned their trust. Will you be a good steward of that earned trust?

Reflecting on my life, with this new perspective, I can more clearly see the pivotal “sliding door moments” where both vulnerability and trust were at stake — and the resulting outcomes.

There are moments when I shared my vulnerability with someone I trusted — and they chose to lean in and listen, to be kind and respectful. A warmth washes over me when I recall how it felt to be cared for in such a loving way when I was hurting. And yes, my trust in those people grew exponentially and our relationships have stood the test of time.

There are other “sliding door moments” when others dismissed, diminished or ignored me when I was most vulnerable. These reflections took me back to childhood, marriage, friendships and parenting – where those missed opportunities caused chasms in relationships. These moments feel more like doors closing, my membership card in a group being revoked, and jabs at my self-worth.

I see that now — I did not see it in those moments when it was all unfolding.

My friends and I have long wondered why others respond in ways that amplify someone’s pain, or even inflict more on to them when they are at a low point. Could it be that the old myth of vulnerability being a weakness was the main problem?

The more we are learning, reflecting and sharing, the more we are beginning to understand the root causes of disconnection. It is a complex combination of the belief that vulnerability is weakness; all the ways we employ to keep our vulnerability hidden; the lack of emotional support that we inherently need to help us work through adversities; and our own negative and hurtful responses to others’ vulnerability.

We are “unlearning” what doesn’t work and we are “relearning” a much more beneficial approach for courage, vulnerability and deeper, meaningful connections. It does require that we begin to show up more authentically and not hide our vulnerabilities, that we express our needs and boundaries and that we do our part to build trusting relationships.

Dr. Ginwright encourages us to take all of this “relearning” one giant step further by seeking “transformational” relationships. He defines these relationships as those that help us do the necessary “mirror work” to grow into our better selves. Transformational relationships will help us see where we are stuck, where old behavioral patterns could be problematic, and the hidden potential we possess.

In his newest book The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Yourself, Dr. Ginwright emphasizes that we don’t get “mirror work” without these important transformational relationships — and that we only get into these invaluable relationships by sharing our vulnerability. It is through this exchange of humanity that we become connected in ways that cannot be easily dismissed or disconnected.

When I think of a transformational relationship and “mirror work”, I think of my lifelong friend Judy. Over the past six years she has been an honest, trustworthy, truthful friend. We have forged a strong, flexible and enduring relationship bond as we peeled back the layers of our life experiences and searched for the lessons we missed along the way. Perhaps this is why Dr. Ginwright’s teachings resonated so deeply with me. I have firsthand experience of the transformational power of reframing vulnerability in this whole new light.

It is what inspires me to be a transformative “mirror” friend to others. The gift in paying it forward, is that we continue to gather more stories of humanity — those heart-expanding stories that braid the bond with more texture, more color, more fiber, more compassion.

I hope that this revelational new way to view vulnerability opens your heart and eyes to a better pathway for relationship building — and repairing. I will leave you with one compelling message: Please be gentle with those who show you their vulnerability. Even if you are unable or unwilling to be the rock they need in their hour of despair, don’t make their healing work harder. Be kind and respectful. Reflect on how much courage it took for that person to show you vulnerability.

RECOMMMENDED RESOURCES:

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/the-four-pivots-reimagining-justice-reimagining-ourselves/

http://www.shawnginwright.com