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March 2009

it's not about what's waiting on the other side

focus on the present

There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb

 

Yes, I'm slightly embarrassed to admit it, those lyrics are from a Miley Cyrus song, "The Climb". I heard the song for the first time about a week ago and it surprised me when it really resonated with me. As the words came through my car's stereo, I was reminded of how important it is to focus on today, the now, and not to worry so much about the future, goals, or achievements. Of course we can plan and prepare and work towards the future, but we're never really going to know what mountains will lie ahead. All we know for sure is that we're here, now, climbing.

The theme depicted in this song ties in with yesterday's post about the dash. Whether you call life a dash or a climb, it's really about the same idea -- that life is action, life is now, life is this moment. The now is the only guarantee we have, but it is so easy for me to get caught up in what will (or might) be. Hearing a song like this triggers one of the key attitudes I am striving for on a daily basis: live in the moment.

When I first heard the song, the lyrics "always gonna be an uphill battle" stuck me as very negative. After giving it some thought, I realized that there is truth in this. There is always going to be struggle and pain. There is always going to be another bad day or another letdown. The hardest -- and most important -- thing to do in life is to realize this and to still be positive. Life, as we all know, isn't paradise. It's not a dream or a fantasy. It's real. And reality can definitely bite. If we realize and accept this and continue to strive towards a positive present anyway, I really believe we can make a difference not only in our own lives but in the lives of those around us.

Perception is so important. If we spend more time thinking about the climb and looking for the positive in everything (good or bad), we may find that every mountain that rises in the distance will be a little easier to scale.


what's in your dash?

Tumblr_l49f3hCVto1qbgqelo1_500

 

"The dash between the dates of our birth to the last day of our life contains a personal history of who we were, how we lived, who we knew and what we did with our lives," wrote Diane Dutchin on The Positivity Blog. I spend a great deal of time thinking about the daily, the now, the present, so reading this widened my eyes and my perspective. Certainly similar statements have been made before, but Diane's choice of words -- the image of the dash between two dates which jumps out so vividly at me from the computer screen -- made me realize two things:

 

  1. Our lives -- happy or unhappy, positive or negative -- will eventually be reduced to a tiny dash between two dates.

  2. It is up to us to decide what we want our tiny dash to contain.

 

Because I spend a lot of time reading, thinking, and writing about happiness in the present moment,I often forget about the brevity of my life and how little my own personal happiness will matter in the future. "I want to be happy now" is a statement I often make, disregarding the irrelevance of my own personal satisfaction. Life, even my own small life, is bigger than my emotional state (though, at times, this is seriously difficult to come to terms with).

I believe, of course, that happiness and positivity are important. Living in the moment is important. But what about the future? What about the positivity and happiness of those around us? Certainly by being positive and present we can bring joy to those around us, but there is a bigger picture, one that Diane brought to my attention quite surprisingly this afternoon. It is important not to forget this. Life is all of the moments between the first date and the last. Life is the dash.

The question then becomes, what is in your dash? I suppose there are different ways to look at this. We could think about the day-to-day stuff, the little interactions, the smiles, the emotions. Or we could think about the big stuff, what you can say you gave back to the world around you, how you impacted society. The dash is everything -- the tiny and the huge. That's why it's so important to remember to be present, but to keep it in perspective. The daily ins-and-outs of life can be overwhelming, tiring, draining, but this is only a very small part of the dash.

Reading Diane's quote has really made me think, raising questions in my mind. If how we feel now, in the present, is considered so important, does that diminish the importance of the always-present dash? And if we ignore the dash -- the whole entity of our life -- does it help or hurt a quest for happiness? As with most things, I believe that balance is key. See the big picture. Think about the dash. But don't lose sight of the little moments, living in the present, in the life you have right now.

Another very interesting quote I came across today, stated by Søren Kierkegaard, is: "Life can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards." I think this one pretty much sums up the point I was trying to make. We may not understand what's in our dash until that second date is put in place so we have to keep moving forward, thinking positively, and striving to make our world the most positive place it can be -- today and always.


how to be more mindful

 

be present


One of the simplest ways to find happiness on a daily basis, in any situation, is through mindfulness. The first time I recall consciously practicing mindfulness was probably about five years or so ago when my cousin introduced me to the concept. She didn't label it mindfulness; she was simply trying to give me some advice on how to fall asleep. (This was a point in my life when I was constantly stressed and was taking quite a bit of Benedryl every night to get myself to sleep.Not healthy.) For whatever reason, I'm not the best at recalling details, but for some reason this memory sticks in my mind so vividly. My cousin and I were lying in her childhood bed at her parents house and she was explaining this amazing sleep-inducing tactic to me. It was simple enough, but it had never occurred to me before and I found it so enlightening. To this day, I still use it to fall asleep.

It goes like this: Instead of focusing on all of those thoughts rushing and racing through your mind at bedtime, focus on your five senses. As you're lying in bed, ask yourself, "What do I hear? What do I see (hopefully blackness because your eyes are closed)? What do i feel? What do I smell?" Perhaps this wouldn't work for everyone, but I swear, every time I try this technique I fall asleep. Now, it's important to think about these things in detail (which may be why it's a great exercise for me and wouldn't be so great for others -- my writer's brain loves details!). I often listen to the rush of cars driving by my apartment building and try to think of them as oceanic sounds. Or I spend a good five minutes thinking about the softness of my pillow, the way my cheek presses into it, and how grateful I am to be sleeping on such a soft, cloud-like bed. This tactic may not work for everyone, but it's certainly worth a shot.

And, of course, that lovely little intro leads us into today's topic: mindfulness. According to Wikipedia (a quite credible source if I do say so myself!), mindfulness is "a mental state, characterized by concentrated awareness of one's thoughts, actions or motivations." Mindfulness is the idea of being aware of what is going on around you (and inside you). So often we go through life just going, going, going -- and we don't stop to look, touch, smell, listen, think. When you start becoming mindful of the world around you (and, trust me, this is not easy and in no way am I able to practice mindfulness as often as I would like), you begin to see things different. You understand, and appreciate, the world around you more. For example, I hate rain. HATE it. I also hate the cold. Today I woke to a cold, cloudy, rainy day (which is less than exciting now that I've moved to a new cubicle with a big window to remind me constantly of the gloom!). I was unhappy. I was irritated. I was feeling that glum, gloom-ridden Eeyore attitude with every bone in my body. But then I reminded myself to be mindful. I started looking at the rain as it splattered on my car as I drove to work and I thought about lucky I was not to be out in the rain. I thought about how much the rain looked like tears rolling down the windowpane; this was a sad thought, but it was a beautiful one as well. Sure, I still hate the rain and I long for the next sunny day, but being mindful of it made it a bit more bearable.

Being mindful is especially important when it involves -- surprise! surprise! -- your mind. It is so easy to have thoughts and to act and react without really thinking. You have to think about your thoughts in order to make them productive. Say, for example, you feel angry at your spouse. You choose to embrace that anger and yell at a coworker, who really has done nothing seriously wrong. Bad situation, right? Well, if you had chosen to take your anger and, instead of acting on it, thought about it, you may have reacted differently. It's easy to let a thought or emotion take over. It's easy to just say to yourself, "I'm angry." What's hard is being mindful of that feeling or thought. It's much more difficult to say to yourself, "I'm angry because..." or, harder still, to ask yourself, "What's really bothering me? What's really at the heart of this feeling?" Being mindful of our minds is difficult. It causes us to think about topics and emotions we may not want to think about. But, in my experience, it only makes things easier in the end. I'm not always mindful of my thoughts and feelings (though I hope some day I will be able to be), but when I am I find that my actions are much more appropriate and, overall, I'm much happier. When I stop to think about what I'm feeling or thinking, I realize that it's not usually what it seems. There's usually more. It's usually complicated. And, yes, sometimes it's a pain in the ass to think about situations or feelings I don't feel like dealing with. But finding out what my feelings mean or thinking about why I'm thinking about a certain topic usually leads me to a greater understanding of myself, which only brings about more happiness in my life. Knowing me better means knowing the world better, something we often take for granted.

Mindfulness is not easy, but it's worth trying out -- even on the small things. It's important to be present, to be in the moment, and mindfulness is a tactic that makes this not only easier, but more interesting. Sitting in a boring meeting? Try being mindful of the people around you, things in the room, or the thoughts you're having. Stuck in traffic? Take the time to think about a strong emotion you had recently and why you felt the way you did. Productivity is very important to me, and mindfulness is not only a way to better connect with yourself and the world, but it's also a way to make use of time that otherwise seems wasted.

For some more info on mindfulness, check out:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness

http://www.mindfulness.com/

http://mentalhealth.about.com/cs/mindandbody/a/harvardmind.htm


look where you want to be going

 

bepositive

 

A few months ago I was driving to work and I noticed an old, beat up car on the side of the road. As I was looking in the direction of that beat up old car, I realized that my own car was drifting in that direction. It was then that I realized: I tend to go in the direction I am looking. Now, this may seem obvious, but it wasn't to me at the time and it really hit me hard.

It occurred to me that, in general, if I focus on something negative -- such as a break-up, a bad day at work, or a fight with a friend -- my thoughts will drift in that negative direction. I will go towards the sad side of the emotional spectrum, and everything will seem painful, sad, worthless. I find myself looking more and more at the sad things, the hard things, asking myself self-pitying questions like, "Why does this always happen to me? Why do I always fuck things up? Why don't I know where my life is going?"

However, as you may have guessed, if I focus on something positive -- such as a job done well, a story I'm particularly proud of writing, or a new love -- I find that all of my thoughts tend to drift in that direction. I start to think about what's great in my life. Cliche as it sounds, I notice all of the beautiful things around me -- a bright blue sky, a blossoming bush, or the smile in someone's voice when they answer my call. Of course, the more positivity I project, the more I get in response. When I'm focusing on the good, I see the good. I move towards it. I seek it. Likewise, when I'm focusing on the bad, it shows up everywhere.

The point I'm trying to make is this: don't look where you're going; look where you want to be going. Of course this is far from easy -- especially when negative things that are out of your control are happening around you -- but it's important to remember: we can control how we feel. Sure, this is very difficult (especially for someone like me who is constantly drawn to an Eeyore-like mentality), but it's do-able. It's all about where we choose to focus our attention. Don't look at what's around you (unless, of course, your life is completely idyllic and filled with nothing but happiness). Instead, look at where you want to be going.


positive and present

 

positively present()

 

At the beginning of 2009 I decided to create a Life Improvement Plan, an idea I got from a blog Think Simple Now that I frequent quite often. Part One of the plan was summing up what I wanted to feel this year in two words. After creating a lengthy list and then paring it down, I came up with two words: Positive Present. After years of being the "Eeyore," living under a dark cloud of woe-is-me, I decided this will be the year I focus on the positive. This will be the year I live in the present, turning all of my attention toward making my life, and the lives of those around me, more positively aware. Now, this isn't any small feat when you've been living under a rain cloud for twenty-five years. I will need some help -- from the friends and family in my life, from my therapist, from the books and blogs I read on a daily basis -- but I am determined to live this year as positive and as present as I possibly can.

You may be asking yourself, "What does it mean to be positive and present?" To me, this means living in the moment and searching for the positive in every situation. While I know this screams of a Pollyanna-like attitude (something that the old me would have despised), I also know that I have spent years (twenty-five of them, to be exact) living unhappily in two places -- the past and the future -- and that has caused me nothing but sorrow and stress. I'm no expert on happiness (check out The Happiness Project blog for someone who is), but I do know that I've spent a quarter of a century living in a sad, dark place where happiness constantly alluded me. Over the past six months I've been striving to live in the moment and do it positively and I've noticed that happiness is not as hard to come by as I once thought.

Let's get back to the concept of living in the present because, to me, this is hard. Every single day I try to focus on this, but my mind is a tricky fellow who enjoys long walks in the past and hours and hours of daydreaming about the future. Remembering the past and planning for the future are, of course, important, but they should not be more important than living in the now. Two very important things I have to remind myself on a daily basis are:

 

The past is over and gone. You're not going to get it back. Ever.

This is a particularly hard one for me (and many other people) to master. I find myself playing and replaying things that have happened over and over and over again. Whether it's a conversation I had with someone that didn't go well or a situation that caused months and months of heartache, recalling this incident over and over again does absolutely nothing to change it. I am a firm believer in learning from our mistakes (and even, if you can, learning from the mistakes of others), but there is a line that must be drawn between the analysis needed to learn from a mistake and the obsessive tape-loop of replaying a moment over and over again. I tend to drown out my positive thoughts with negative statements such as, "If only I hadn't said that!" or "If I'd only done that instead!" However, this does nothing good for me -- or the situation that is over and done with. The only thing to do here is take what I can from the past and move on.

 

The future may never come. There is no point in worrying about what might be.

This one is also hard to overcome at times. On a daily (or is it hourly?) basis, I find myself worrying about both small and big things -- many of which never actually happen. I worry, worry, worry. Like so many creative types, I think of situations in my head that will never actually happen. I used to think these kinds of mind games had a point -- they were preparing me for situations so I would always be ready -- but now I realize that, more often than not, things I worry about never actually happen. The only thing that definitely happens when I worry about the future is stress, and that is not a positive feeling. Of course there are certain things in the future I must think about and plan for, but I must constantly remind myself not to stress about it because, as scary as it might seem at times, the future is unknown.

 

Now that I've written a bit about the "present," let's focus for awhile on the "positive," shall we? Positivity is probably the most unnatural attitude for me to embody. I have survived for twenty-five years on sadness, sassiness, and sarcasm. Being positive does not come easily for me, but I've realized that it's very, very important. When I'm thinking positively -- or even when I'm pretending to think positively -- my whole world changes. Trust me; I know how cliche and ridiculous this might sound, but it is 100% true. I have noticed no change more profound in my short lifetime than when I choose to think about something (myself, the world, my life, others) positively. Certainly I am not the first one to notice this as I've read dozens and dozens of quotes on how thinking positively can change one's life, but it is such an amazing assertion of my own ability to cause change in my world. I am irritatingly impatient (and somewhat of a control freak) so for me to realize that all I have to do to change my situation is to change the way I think about it is a huge relief.

Of course, it's not always that easy (okay, it's never easy) for me to be positive. But you know what's easier than I thought it would be? Faking it. Yes, there are many situations where faking is not the answer (such as, say, when you're in the bedroom), but when it comes to being positive, I am all about putting on that fake smile and oh-so-cheery voice and mumbling to myself through those clenched pearly whites, "Fake it 'til you make it." Countless times I've read that just looking at yourself in a mirror and smiling can make you happier and, you know what? It's true. And the same thing goes with faking it. The more you act like you feel positive, that you're happy, that the world around you is a wonderful, perfect, joyful place, the more it actually becomes true. Okay, I know, it sounds cheesy and outdated and hopelessly unexciting, but try it. Trust me, it works.