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Archive for July, 2015

“Self Acceptance”

Posted on: July 22nd, 2015

“Nature cannot be amended; it has to be accepted. There is no way to be otherwise. Whosoever you are, whatsoever you are, that’s how you are — that’s what you are. It is a great acceptance.” – Osho

It seems that much of life is spent trying to justify itself. There exists the ever present promise that life will be better after some goal, event or accomplishment has been obtained. The good life is sold as something other than what we have now and often requires hard work or the purchase of some good, service, program, etc. Rarely are we told that our current state contains more than enough to be happy.

Much of my own life has been striving towards some ever drifting ideal self. There seems to be an ongoing conflict between my own desires and the perceived expectations of the world. This creates a double-bind as each step taken in one direction is one step further from the other. Each choice made to be authentic, in some way, is a sacrifice to the desires of others and vice versa.

I find this intriguing, especially when applied to the study of mental health. For example, when I was younger I suffered from a great deal of insecurity and anxiety. My insecurity was founded on the belief that the world was never quite right and I with it. However, this was more than just a belief held in my mind. It was also twisting in the pit of my stomach, tightness in my chest and became a way of living. This belief grew into a worldview and infected even the happiest of moments with the sting of guilt.

Many clients I have worked with experience a similar set of feelings and beliefs. In response, counseling offers a way to foster acceptance through compassion, relationship building and the application of therapeutic techniques. However, therapists are working against a world and culture that sells discontentment at wholesale.

What is Self Acceptance?

Self acceptance is a sort of boundary setting. It is an awareness of and comfort with our limits. At the same time, acceptance is an openness to what we are not. Though the two ideas appear to conflict, they are not mutually exclusive, but rather imply one another. We cannot understand what is without understanding what it is not. Much like there can be no inside without an outside, wrong without right, and up without down. Therefore, accepting who we are is also accepting all the things we are not.

I am of the belief that each person is fundamentally perfect just as they are in the same way as a sunset or mountain is flawless in all its complexity. One of my favorite quotes by philosopher Alan Watts illustrates this point quite elegantly:

Things are as they are. Looking out into it the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.

Yet, human beings are always intent on improving the world, which is to say, the world is never good enough for us. Likewise, when we turn this gaze inwards, it is understandable how our sense of self falls victim to the same discontentment.

However, there is a certain wisdom to the person who can look on a scene with total contentment. Who can accept the world, and themselves within it, just as it is. We have all had moments like this, moments of clarity in the midst of life’s fog. We become lost in a beautiful view, a song, story or work of art. Sometimes we look on our loved ones and the world seems to stand still. During these moments we are in a state of acceptance.

Like all experiences, these moments are fleeting and arise without trying to replicate them. It seems the more we try to do so, the less likely they are to happen. Likewise, our needs, dreams, and expectations change with time. This can cause us to feel insecure and flawed. We then seek stability through self improvement by purchasing new gadgets, starting a diet, changing our style, moving across the world and so on. Ironically, we change our whole life in order to accept it.

The Irony of Change

Unfortunately, acceptance does not stop change. Rather, to accept ourselves is to accept change. The irony of change is that it is the only constant we have. Therefore, accepting yourself is accepting your insecurity. Self improvement, then, is the acceptance of change in a desirable direction. However, even that direction cannot remain constant forever. Instead, value life as it is. Focus on gratitude, try minimalism, cultivate deeper relationships, practice mindfulness, and cut yourself some slack. It will save you a great deal of time, money and headache.

5 Ways to Overcome Failure

Posted on: July 1st, 2015

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius

One of the most common phrases that I hear from clients is “I am a failure.” These words are usually followed by a heavy sigh before slouching into their chair. The word “failure” is like a leech, robbing them of their sense of worth and dignity. Often, this phrase follows some (comparatively) minor event such as sleeping in too late, forgetting a session, or letting down a loved one. These experiences carry such a heavy weight because many of us feel as if we should be perfect or that the world expects us to be flawless.

No Peaks Without Valleys

There is a lot of emphasis on achievement in our society. This, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. Accomplishment feels good, it keeps the world moving and provides us with a sense of self worth. However, the story of accomplishment is often half told. We hear about the ascent to the mountain top, while the previous failed attempts and setbacks become footnotes sprinkled in to make the accomplishment seem that much bigger. Failure is taboo.

In my experience, there can be no learning, no accomplishment and no goal without failure. If we succeed all the time, there is no need for setting goals. Just as there is no up without down, no inside without outside, there can be no success without failure. This is hardly a novel idea. However, as we strive towards a goal (losing weight, learning a new language, meeting new people, etc.) each stumble feels like a failure rather than a necessary part of the process.

Here are 5 Ways To Overcome Failure:

1.Create a routine and track it. One of the best ways to stay on track after faltering on a goal is to literally track it. Keeping a daily log of what has been accomplished is a tangible reminder of your progress. This softens the blow of failure by providing a reference to look back on as well.

Within this log you can track moods, activities and thoughts that help or hinder your cause. These play an important role in how we behave.

  1. Identify the triggers. Usually, when we deviate from our goal, there is some situation, thought, or condition that deters us. Likewise, there are situations, thoughts and conditions that keep us on track and lead to rewards. These are called triggers or activating events and influence our behavior even when we are unaware of them.

For example, if you are trying to lose weight or save money, watching a cooking show on great local restaurants could possibly trigger the desire to eat. On the other hand, keeping a stocked fridge of fresh food and watching shows on weight loss can promote healthy eating. Triggers are specific to each person and situation. Monitoring this can help us avoid slip ups.

  1. Identify your motivation. Along with triggers, motivators play a key role in how we behave. Hunger, for example, motivates us to eat. There are motivators that can keep us working towards our goal and those that deter us. An invite out with friends can be a motivator, but can also keep us from saving money or eating healthy.

Identify what motivators are relevant to your goal as well as those competing with it. If your desire to lose weight is competing with hunger, it may be difficult to win the battle. However, being mindful of the specific reasons you’re working towards a goal (as well as a small snack) can help keep you on track.

4.Forgive yourself and start again. Of course, we can do an excellent job sticking to our routine, remaining mindful of our triggers and motivators and still fall short of our expectations. Sometimes, we cannot resist that chocolate cake/night out with our friends/fancy new restaurant and this is perfectly acceptable. We are human and humans make mistakes.

If we beat ourselves up every time we fail, we are losing out on an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Look over what triggers contributed to the slip, identify the motivators at work and jump back on track. You have only gained a greater awareness of what causes the behaviors you are trying to change!

  1. Break it down and reward yourself. Forgiving our mistakes can be difficult, while rewarding our success is much easier. If a goal appears to be too much to handle, break it down into smaller steps. If you want to lose weight, start by buying healthier food, or eating a healthy meal once a week. After accomplishing each step, reward yourself with something you enjoy.

These rewards work as motivators to reinforce the behaviors we’re working to adopt. After a while, the behavior will become rewarding in itself and won’t require an artificial reward.

Failure Is Not A Trait

Failing is part of life, and an important one at that. Keep in mind that a failure is an act, not an atribute. Everyone fails at some point in their life, but that does not make them failures. When we label ourselves as a failure, we negate the progress we have made. It is impossible to fail all the time, and as the old saying goes, “a fool who persists in his own folly will become wise.” Be mindful of how you label a failure; make it a verb not a noun.