5 Tactics for Coping with a Meltdown

  Okay

 

Did anyone else have an existential crisis, freak-the-hell-out meltdown last week or was it just me? 

It was sure a rough week for me, personally and professionally, and, though I wanted to curl up on the couch and escape the world with a book (really loving The Animators right now!), I knew this was a perfect time to put the words I write each week into practice. I knew I had the tools to figure out a way to make the most of things, even though I was feeling pretty helpless, so decided to give them a shot. Here's what I did to cope this week. Hopefully these tips will help you if you're feeling meltdown-y, too. 

 

CRY IT OUT

Like most adults, I'm not a big crier. Crying is generally reserved for heartbreak or loss (or seeing roadkill on the side of the road -- if there's any sort of animal death/pain, I will cry), but this week I had a good ol' cry. I'm talking about the shoulder-shaking, sobbing-like-your-pet-just-died kind of cry, the snotty, ugly cry that necessitates more than one nose-blowing after you're done. It wasn't pretty, but it actually felt good.

Most of the problems I'm currently facing aren't new; I've just been avoiding them for so long that it felt good to acknowledge to myself (in the form of tears) that things aren't going well. It's unpleasant, but acknowledgment is the first a step on the path to making things better. I'm certainly not going to cry every time something goes wrong, but this week I really took note of how good to feels to physically feel your pain and release it in a way that, even though it hurts, ultimately feels good. 

 

TALK IT OUT

After I allowed myself that cry (and, yes, it was an allowance -- so many times I want to cry, but I don't because it tell myself it's a waste of time or insist to myself that I should strong), I decided to open up a bit and talk it out. Usually when things aren't going well -- especially professionally -- I tend not to talk about it with anyone else. One of the downsides of running your own business is that it's somewhat an extension of you in a way that doesn't happen with other jobs. If my business is failing, it feels like I'm failing as a person.

I'm sure others feel this way about their work, too, but there's something about running the show (and being the sole performer in the show!) that makes the professional deeply personal. So I generally keep it to myself when there's trouble, and do my best to find a way to work it out. But this week I decided to open up a bit more, sharing my struggles with friends (and now with you, in a way!). None of the talking resulted in immediate solutions or major a-ha moments, but it felt good to open up, to get feedback, and to not keep everything in my own head. 

 

DANCE IT OUT

Okay, this one might be a personal preference, but when I'm feeling low, one of my go-to moves is to put on a great, upbeat song and have a little dance party by myself in my apartment. (Putting that in writing, I'm now wondering if that's an odd thing to do, but I'm pretty sure I can't be the only one who does that, right? Also, by "dancing," I mean "awkward flailing that usually scares my pup, ha!) If you don't like dancing or listening to uplifting music, I bet there's something that instantly puts you in a positive mood, no matter how low you're feeling. 

Post-cry-session, I decided I was going to flip the mood by turning on the songs I'm loving and getting moving. (Exercising probably does the same thing, getting those endorphins going!) Of course, this doesn't solve any of my problems, but it certainly improves my mood, putting me in a more level-headed state where I can make more positive decisions. I decided to make a little playlist for you, if you're feeling like you need to dance it out. Find Dani's Dance Party here on YouTube

 

LAUGH IT OUT

Laughter, for me, really is the best medicine. Watching something hilarious has always been one my best strategies for coping with pain, and this week it served me really well. I spent a lot of time seeking out things that made me laugh -- silly YouTube videos, comedy specials on Netflix, funny friends. Like dancing, laughing doesn't really fix anything, but it does shift your mindset from pain to pleasure, and in that more positive state, I feel like my thinking is clearer. 

Apparently, laughter decreases stress hormones, increases immune cells and triggers the release of endorphins, which promote an overall sense of well-being and even temporarily relieve pain. So, even though laughing might seem frivolous, it has some major physical and psychological benefits, all of which can help a great deal when it comes to having a mental meltdown. 

 

WORK IT OUT

Once I got through some of the emotional stages of my meltdown, it was time to get to work. If things aren't going well and they're within your control (unlike, say, the loss of a loved one -- though any sort of emotional reaction to that is more about the pain of loss than it is about meltdown), it's up to you to take action to make things better. Having a meltdown is cathartic and all, but if you don't use that emotional freakout as a catalyst for change, it won't be long before you find yourself again in Meltdown Town. 

So I got out my laptop and I got to work on planning how I'm going to fix the multiple messes I've found myself in. These aren't the kinds of things that'll be fixed over night, but they'll never be fixed if I don't start trying to repair them. It felt good to admit to the problems, to feel them, and to start taking positive steps to rectifying them. There's still pain and I know it goes deep because I'm currently shaking off a horrific nightmare that was so obviously, perfectly symbolic that I woke both scared of and impressed by my own mind. But I'm ready to make progress now. And, really, isn't that what a meltdown is for, to shake us up, to get us to pay attention to what's not working so we can transform it to something that is? 

 

As I was finalizing this post, I heard Shonda Rhimes' voice coming from my TV screen. She said, "The idea that there's suddenly no plan is breathtaking in its terror." That sentence so adequately describes how I'm feeling right now. It's a terrifying place to be, but terror is freeing in a way. When nothing is determined, anything can happen. It's tempting, when plan-less, to imagine the worst, but if anything can happen, then that means amazing things can happen, too. 

  

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What Do You Really Want? (+ Worksheet!)

 

What Do You Really Want Positively Present
 

After declaring this the Year of Self-Love, I've been doing a lot of thinking about it -- like, way more than I've ever done about any topic before. When you start looking for something (or, in some cases, the lack of something), you see it everywhere. That's what's been happening to me over the past few weeks. Self-love (or lack of it) is in everywhere, connected to everything. It impacts every single aspect of life in every single person, which is pretty crazy, as far as writing topics go.

At times it can feel overwhelming, the idea of transforming (or trying to transform...) every aspect of the self. But it's also kind of liberating as well. There's a freedom that comes with knowing that, though you don't have control over so many aspects of your life, there are still things you can positively influence. 

That being said, it's still a ton of things to work on, and the only way to take on a huge project, in my opinion, is to break it down into manageable bits. So that's what I'm planning to do -- to pay attention to the parts of self-love that jump out at me each week and share them in some way here (while, of course, bringing positivity and awareness into the mix!). What's been coming to the forefront this week is wanting

The word "want" has two main definitions: (1) have a desire to possess or do something; and (2) lack or be short of something desirable or essential. 

That feeling of desire -- and of lack -- is one of the things that stands in the way of self-love. And the more I started paying attention to the idea of wanting, the more I realized how much I was doing of it all the time. I started keeping a list, writing down all of the things I thought or said I wanted over the course of a few days, and it was kind of astounding how lengthy it got. Here's a sample of some of the things I wrote:

 

  • I want a the newest iPhone.
  • I want to see wolves in the wild.
  • I wish I had this cute sweatshirt.
  • I want to declutter my apartment.
  • I want a German Shepherd.
  • I wish I had better filming equipment.
  • I want the new Ban.do products.
  • I wish I had a new book contract.
  • I want to read the book Chasing Slow
  • I want to make more money. 
  • I wish I had some Tate's cookies.  
  • I want this shirt in my size. 
  • I wish I could afford this class.  
  • I want to create a newsletter.
  • I wish I had these silver sandals.
  • I want to donate more money. 
  • I want all Adam J. Kurtz's stuff. 

 

Most of these desires were "someday" types of things -- "I want a German Shepherd one day" or "I could really use a new phone so I don't keep getting that damn 'Storage Almost Full' message" or "I'm trying to keep only healthy food in the house but I could really go for a cookie right now" -- and some aren't even inherently bad. But, even if it didn't feel as if my life was majorly lacking without those things (i.e., I wasn't really bemoaning the fact that I couldn't get a new dog at that moment), I had to wonder:

 

What is all this wanting doing to how I feel about my life and about myself? Do these thoughts -- even if they don't make me feel as if I'm lacking as a person -- have a negative impact on my sense of self? And, more importantly, would I have wanted these things had I not seen them online, by complete and utter chance? 

 

We all see so many images all day, every day, and many of them make us want something other than what we have -- whether that be a physical product (like this cute notebook!) or an abstract concept (like love, success, etc.). I know not everyone might be exposed at the level I am -- I'm a bit obsessive with social media and follow tons of brands and people who create cool things so I see a lot of stuff and ideas every day -- but I still think most of us have those "I want..." or "I wish I had..." thoughts at least once a day. 

All wanting isn't bad, but the idea that I'm wanting so much, all the time, even in subtle little ways, seems very at odds with the notion of loving one's self. Instead of celebrating all that I have, I find myself looking for new things to desire, and, while the desire itself isn't negative, it's often misdirected (and often does so in a way that negates self-love, positivity, and mindful acceptance). Desiring things absent-mindedly or by default isn't the best way to create a life you love. 

So, what do we do about this? We're obviously going to want things (and by "things" I also mean people, ideas, jobs, achievements, feelings, etc.), and I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all -- so long as we're wanting them for the right reasons and so long as they will, in fact, provide us with what it is that we desire. And that's where the solution comes in. We have to examine what we're wanting and we have to determine if it's real

 

Wanting

Click here to download the free PDF!

 

Actually figuring out what we want (and whether we'll get it from the thing we desire) isn't always the easiest, but it doesn't have to be too tricky. I made the worksheet above to help me sort through my own wants this coming week, and I'm sharing it with you so you, too, can track what you want. 

My challenge to you (and myself!) this week is to do the following, using the worksheet:

  1. Pay attention to every time you find yourself thinking or saying, "I want" (or some version of it, like "I wish I had..."). Write what you want in the first column. (If possible, try to keep the list private so that you feel free to write whatever you've been wanting without any fear of judgment.)

  2. Reflect what you wrote in column 1. What makes you want that thing? What do you think will happen if you get it? If you don't? Is it something that will have a positive impact on your life? 

  3. Dig deeper. Consider whether this is something you do, in fact, really want or if it might be a reflex or habit. (For example, if a beloved brand comes out with a new line of something, do you actually want it or do you just think you do because you always get the newest items.). Also, assess whether the desire yours or if it's based on what you think you should want or what someone else wants. And, of course, consider whether this item is, in fact, a symptom of something bigger that you want. (For example, you want a new lipstick because you want to feel pretty because you want to be confident. Could it be possible to desire -- and pursue -- confidence directly?)

  4. Contemplate whether this item is a solution to a problem. For example, let's say you want a new notebook because you think it'll be a great inspiration for keeping organized this year. The last column is where you can determine if that specific notebook is, in fact, necessary to get the result you want. Do you already have a notebook you could use? Is there a notebook that might fit your needs even better? Is this really about a notebook or is it about motivation or organization or something even deeper? 

 

Reflecting on -- and, in many cases, adjusting -- our wants is an essential aspect of self-love. What we want (even if we don't end up getting it) influences how we feel and think and act. For me, it's often a default setting. I see something cool and my first thought is, I want that! I don't always (or often...) purchase something simply because I want it (as I used to, when I was younger and hitting up the mall on an almost daily basis), but that reflex is still in place, and I honestly don't think it has a very positive impact on me. 

I thought learning to control my spending impulses was a great act of self-love and I feel proud of myself every time I don't spend frivolously. But I think I can -- and should -- take it further, to break not just the habit of mindless spending, but also the habit of mindless wanting. Hopefully this worksheet is a start of a new way of seeing my desires -- and, if you're like me and struggle with the conflict between wanting and self-loving, I hope it'll help you, too! 

  

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2017: The Year of Self-Love

 

Positively-Present-Self-Love

 

Happy 2017!

Over the past (almost) eight years of running this site, one thing has become glaringly obvious to me: it's very difficult to stay positive and present if you don't love who you are

This truth has become so vital to who I am and what this brand, Positively Present, stands for, and that's why I'm making it a priority in 2017. Though I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, the start of a new year is a pretty great time to reflect on the past year, re-evaluate where you are now, and redirect your energy to where you'd like go in the next twelve months.

It was as I was doing my personal reflection and re-evaluation toward the end of the year that I realized just how absolutely essential self-love has been to me in 2016 — and how much more I actually need of it in my life. I talk the talk, but I don't always walk the walk. 

And I know I'm not alone in this. Almost every one I know struggles with self-love in some form. We all want to love ourselves, most us claim to, but we all struggle to actually do it fully. Maybe we love our work, but hate our bodies. Or we love the way we look, but hate how we act in relationships. Self-love is hard because it's all-encompassing. To truly experience it, you can't just love parts of yourself; you have to love it all. I believe we all struggle so much with this because we don't think about it enough. Over the past couple of days, I've been putting this "Year of Self-Love" into practice by asking myself this every time I have a thought or take an action: 

 

Is this a loving thing to do for myself? 

 

Sometimes asking this question changes how I act. (For example, maybe eating the entire large bag of M&M's isn't the most self-loving act. I pour a handful and put the bag back.) Sometimes asking it doesn't. (For example, maybe I'd be loving myself a bit more if I limited the amount of negative political commentary I'm reading on Twitter. I still scroll and scroll.) But even when asking that question doesn't change my behavior, it makes me stop and think — and that pause before acting is an important first step for making better, more positive choices. Maybe if I ask myself that enough every time I open Twitter, I'll start to limit the amount of time I spend on there. Or maybe I'll unfollow some of the more negative accounts. (In fact, I'm going to go do that right now!)

The important thing about this question is that it causes you to be more conscious of what you're doing, what you're saying, and how you're thinking and feeling. So many of us (myself included!) spend so much of our time operating on autopilot, doing what we've always done because it's been okay so far. But, I don't know about you, but "okay" isn't really what I'm going for in my life. And I believe self-love is the very best way to avoid the default path, to create a life that is way better than just okay. 

I've got some really exciting things coming up in 2017, and I can't wait to dedicate this year to loving myself more —and help you do the same! To start, let's keep asking ourselves that question — "Is this a loving thing to do for myself?" — as often as we can. It might not change every action we take, but awareness is the first step to making this the best, most loving year yet! 

  

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5 Hang-in-There Holiday Tips

 

You Are Not Alone


I love the holiday season (if you couldn't tell, from all of my holiday-themed posts!), but with all of the joy, glitter, and fairy lights also comes a level of stress and pressure that's unprecedented during the rest of the year. Even if you're in a great place emotionally, financially, and mentally, the holiday season is bound to present some challenges that aren't present during the rest of the year. And, if we're honest, most of us aren't in that perfect emotional / financial / mental place so, around the holidays, whatever troubles we're currently facing are compounded by a number of factors:

 

  1. memories of past holidays (both good and bad),
  2. recollections of those no longer in our lives and a kind of re-mourning for them,
  3. increased financial expectations in the form of gifts and holiday-related obligations,
  4. stress related to trying to give (and hoping to receive) the perfect gifts, and
  5. societal pressure to suddenly have the most merry, festive, Instagrammable life ever.

 

Top all of that off with the end-of-the-year thoughts about what we did (or didn't...) do over the past year and the looming expectations to make the coming year the "best year yet!," and it's no wonder most of us have trouble staying positive during the holidays! Even for the most positively present person, these additional stressors can cause a lot of emotional challenges, and they can be even harder to cope with when it seems as if everyone around us is embracing the holiday spirit. 

The holidays can be -- and often are -- a really wonderful time of the year, but it's important to recognize the level of additional stress and pressure they bring to our lives, and make sure we're addressing it (rather than convincing ourselves that we should be enjoying every single moment). Here are some of the best ways to do just that. 

 

  1. Take note of what's working out. When it comes to the holidays, it's tempting to think everything has to be just perfect. For some, there are annual traditions to adhere to. For others, holiday parties to look picture perfect for. And, as you're probably well aware, life doesn't always go according to plan. With so many expectations around the holiday season -- buy the perfect gift! wear the most festive outfit! kiss your partner in the snow! wake up to a Lexus in your driveway! -- some of them are bound to be unmet. And that's okay. Instead of focusing on what didn't go as planned, direct your attention to what is working. Maybe you weren't able to afford a new, sparkly dress for a party, but you were able to get your nephew that hard-to-find gift he really wanted. During the holidays (and in general!), it helps to keep expectations low and to celebrate the things that are going right. 

     
  2. Know you're not alone in how you feel. The holidays -- through advertising, celebrity culture, and social media -- make us feel like we should be happy 24/7 all throughout the month of December, but it's important to remember that what you see online (and even in real life) isn't the whole story. All of us go through bouts of stress or loneliness or sadness or discontent at some point during the holiday season, and that is completely normal. We're being sold picturesque images of the perfect holiday everywhere we look, and it's no wonder that we sometimes feel disappointed that our lives don't look like the ones we see online. Remember: not everyone is falling in love, unwrapping the most fabulous gift, surrounding themselves with laughing, happy friends, or joyfully riding in a horse-drawn sleigh. 


  3. Make the holiday what you want it to be. Think, for a moment, about what a "perfect" holiday would look like. What you're picturing is probably an amalgamation of images you've seen online, watched in films, or read in books sprinkled with a bit of your own unique holiday experiences. It's important to remember that your holiday is yours. It doesn't have to look like what you see everyone else doing. Most of us (myself included!) do what we're expected to do around the holiday season because it's what's socially expected. But don't forget that you don't have to do what everyone else is doing. If you're into the traditions, the events, the decking-of-the-halls, go for it. But don't feel like you have to do all of the expected holiday things just because everyone else is doing them. 


  4. Shift your focus away from consumerism. Gift-giving is one of my favorite things to do, and always has been. There are few things that thrill me more than finding the perfect gift for someone I love. But, in case you missed it, the holidays are extremely consumeristic. From the gifts to decorations to sparkly attire to hostess gifts to festive fare and more, there are so many things to purchase around this time of year, and, even if you're super into it all, it can be a lot. One of the best ways to combat the consumerism is to make time to give back. Whether it's a donation to a charity, time spent at a soup kitchen, or simply helping a neighbor hang lights, there are countless ways you can give back. Doing so will help remind you what the holiday season is supposed to be about: love, giving, kindness, and joy. 


  5. Pay attention to what's real. With the holiday season comes a great deal of fantasy -- images of reindeer flying overhead, two people falling in love beneath the mistletoe, unwrapping an amazing gift, having the most fabulous time at a party are a few that come to mind -- but it's important to remember that, as magical as the season feels sometimes, we're still living in real life. People are going to be imperfect; situations are going to be flawed. The more we focus on the fantasy, the harder it becomes to appreciate the little joys in reality. If you're focusing on what things should be, you're missing out on what they are, and that's almost certain to cause discontentment. (Read more about this in Why You Need Lower Expectations.) When it comes to the holidays, expect less and you'll enjoy so much more. 

 

As wonderful and festive as this time of year is, it can also be such a challenge because most of us expect so much. We want every holiday to be the best ever, which is a lovely goal to have, but that goal can also cause a lot of distress (especially if it's literally impossible, such as when you're facing the first holiday after the loss of a loved one or if you're going through a very difficult time emotionally). If you're struggling, remember that you're not alone. There are many, many people who are going through difficult situations and, while you cannot necessarily remove yourself from pain, here are some things I've written in the past that might help: 

 

  

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How to Share Your Beliefs (Even with People Who Don't Agree)

  Positively-Present-Beliefs
Like this list? Download the free PDF here.

 

Since the election, I’ve been writing and writing and writing. It’s what I do when I feel overwhelmed, when I feel like I have a lot to talk about but am not sure how to speak it aloud. I’ve been writing blog posts, then re-reading them and thinking, I don’t know if I should share this. I don’t want to offend people. And, even worse, I’ve been thinking, Maybe I shouldn’t share this because they might not like me after they read it. (Ugh, that ego!)

Like many people around the country (and the world), I’ve been torn between two sides of myself the one who wants to focus on the positive, keep the peace, and maintain my loyal following of readers, and the one who wants to use my blog for change, shake things up, and finally open up about controversial topics.

For the past two weeks, there’s been a war raging in my head between these two sides. Over the past few days, there’s been a new voice piping up, a slightly more rational, less-ego-driven voice, asking things like, Is there a way to be positive and share your beliefs? Is there a way to voice your opinion and still keep the peace? Is there a way to talk to people — especially those with opposing views — and not fight?

The answers to these questions are situational. If you’re dealing with someone who is violent, judgmental, or narrow-minded, you’re going to have a hard time discussing tough topics (politics, religion, sexuality, race, etc.) with him or her. However, if you can find people who are open-minded and willing to listen and talk about contentious issues, I do believe it’s possible to share your beliefs in positive ways. Will the peace always be kept? Probably not. Will conversations be completely fight-free? I can’t guarantee it.

What I can guarantee is that you’ll feel a lot better when you speak up for what you believe in. I know it’s hard. I know it’s scary. And I know that, if you’re surrounded by a lot of people who don’t share your beliefs, it can be intimidating. But, over the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that one of the worst things you can do is be silent. You don’t have to agree with everyone  and not everyone has to agree with you but silencing yourself is an act of self-hate, shame, and fear. And you deserve better than that. We all do.

Okay, so, you’ve got some beliefs. You’re feeling brave (and safe) enough to share them. How do you go about doing it without putting other people off? How do you do it in a way that might actually make a difference? I’ve been thinking (and reading) a lot about this and practicing it my own life (many people close to me voted for the candidate I vehemently opposed and I’ve had many productive, positive conversations with them since the election) and here are some of the best ideas I’ve found for talking about your beliefs with people who don’t share them.

 

KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE.

It might sound obvious, but a lot people aren’t actually certain about what they believe. Many people flip-flop on certain issues, have beliefs based on one-off op-ed pieces (rather than real facts), or base their beliefs on those held by the people surrounding them. Before getting into any serious discussion (especially with people with opposing views), do your research  both the fact checking and the soul-searching kind. Carefully consider the issue, taking stock of what you know and what you might not know.

Just as importantly, consider how you feel really about it. It's incredibly tempting to jump onto the bandwagons, to join groups, and to identify with the labels, but remember: you are complex human being with unique experiences, insights, and ideas. We all want to belong, but think carefully about what beliefs you align yourself with. Before declaring, “I’m a _______________________,” or “I believe in _______________________,” ask yourself if that’s 100% true. It may very well be true, but it’s important to check in with yourself and make sure that you not your peers, not your family, not a portion of society you aspire to be like  do, in fact, hold these beliefs.

Also, it’s important to keep checking in with yourself periodically to see if you still hold the beliefs. We are ever evolving, changing creatures and what you believe at one point in your life will not be what you believe later. Because sometimes we get lazy, we might cling to beliefs we’ve had for a long time because we think we still believe them, not because we actually do.

 

SCRUTINIZE YOUR SOURCES.

It is so very, very important to check your sources, and then check them again. So many people hold — and speak about  beliefs not based on facts. With the incredible rise of the Internet, you’re able to read this article and countless other things that literally anyone can post online. Sometimes this is amazing — different viewpoints!  unique perspectives! — and sometimes this is just insane — fake news sites created just to get clicks, opinion pieces skewed with untrue claims, etc.

Not only is important to make sure the facts you have are, indeed, facts, but it’s important to be aware of how greatly biased the Internet is. A recent Fast Company article made me see this more clearly than ever. The Internet, as the article states, helps us take sides. We’re encouraged — by the sheer nature of how the Internet is set up — to cultivate either/or mindsets.

Every day we are given a choice to pick one thing or the other: like or dislike this post, agree or disagree with that article. Social media, while it does allow for comments and more lengthy explorations into "gray" territories, often encourages us to choose one thing over the other, usually in a yes-or-no, black-or-white dichotomy.

And here’s the scariest part: what we choose is constantly reinforced with algorithms designed to personalize our content. We are given more content that aligns with what we like, less that showcases what we don’t like. Most of us don’t actively realize this, so it starts to seem like everyone and everything supports our views.

Unlike in the old days, when people all saw the same images on TV and then disagreed or agreed with those images, we’re now shown images that support the ideas we’ve told the Internet we like. What we see online is meant to appeal to us — which can definitely be nice sometimes — but, as the Fast Company article argues, this is creating little individual bubbles where we’re all seeing the things we want to see, having our beliefs and preferences reinforced (often without even seeing information from the other side).

When you pause and think about this for a moment, it’s pretty crazy how much power the Internet has over what we see and think — and it’s pretty important to keep in mind as you’re gathering data and information to support your beliefs (or counter someone else’s). Do your best to go out of your way to find new sources, to find unbiased articles, to even reach out to those who hold opposing views and ask them for their thoughts.

Bonus Tip: When discussing tough topics (or having hard conversations in general), it’s useful to focus more on “I” than “you.” For example, “Based on what I’ve read, I believe…” or “What I’m hearing you say is…”

 

CHANNEL YOUR COURAGE.

Speaking up about the things you believe in can be extremely challenging sometimes, particularly if you’re speaking to someone who doesn’t share your perspective, but having courage is so important. It’s something I’ve personally struggled with a great deal, especially here on Positively Present. Because what I do and say must reflect my brand, I often feel restricted in what I can and cannot write about, and it pains me to have to withhold some of my beliefs and insights.

I have been afraid to talk about a lot of things because I’ve been afraid of people disliking what I have to say. I’ve been afraid of alienating readers. I’ve been afraid of, pathetic as this is to say, people being mean to me.

Here are some topics that matter a great deal to me, but that I never write about because I’m scared people will judge me, stop reading my work, or be hostile to me: feminism, agnostic atheism, sexuality, choosing not to marry or have children, money, and the list goes on. Most of these are things we're taught, from a young age, not to talk about because it's rude, which makes it more difficult to speak up about them as an adult. In addition, because what I write about is directly tied to my income, it’s even more difficult for me to write about things that might offend readers. My livelihood literally depends on the words I write. 

But here’s the thing: if you believe in something, you should talk about it.

There’s obviously a right and wrong way to do this. The initial post-election articles I wrote for myself —  filled with quite a bit of sadness, pain, and some pretty aggressive feminism that I’m pretty sure the average reader would be overwhelmed by — were not the best way to go about it. Some people might have responded well to those articles, but the negativity, anger, and in-your-face language used to evoke strong emotions would likely have shocked many people.

Now that a little time has passed, I’m able to think a bit more clearly and realize that what we need now is not more anger and negativity. What we need now is someone who is brave enough to speak her mind, but thoughtful enough to do it in a way that (hopefully) won’t offend or alienate her audience.

In the future, I do plan to tackle some of these topics that I’ve been afraid to touch —  especially those related to feminism and gender, which I studied in graduate school and feel particularly passionate aboute —  but I’m hoping to find a way to do this bravely but gently. I know longer want to place arbitrary restrictions on what topics I will or won’t tackle, but, unlike the day-after-election Dani, I know it’s not right to take this site —  a curated place of positivity, awareness, and self-love  and turn it into my personal feminist soapbox…

 

BE CLEAR AND HONEST.

…which leads me to my next point! When it comes to talking about difficult topics or beliefs, one thing most of us don’t do often enough is begin the conversation by being clear and honest. Too often, we are driven by strong emotions and triggered by the words of someone else rather that striving to be levelheaded and thoughtful in what we say and do. I know this is much easier said than done, but imagine what it would be like if you opened up a conversation like this:

“Hey, I know we have totally different views on this issue, but I’d really like to talk about it. I’m going to do my best to share my point of view calmly, and to listen and keep an open mind to what you have to say. I know neither of us will probably change our minds on this issue, but I think it’s important enough that we should talk about it.”

When starting a conversation with someone of a different political background or belief, it can be helpful to make it clear that you’re not necessarily trying to change his or her mind. One of the reasons we have such heated debates about politics is because it often feels like the opposing side is saying, “You’re wrong. Here’s why.”

Or, if you are trying to change someone’s mind, what if you were honest about it? You could say something like, “You know I feel really passionately about this topic. It’s very important to me, and I’d really love it if I could change your mind about it so that you could see it the way I do. I know that might not be possible, but would you be willing to listen to what I have to say? After I share my thoughts, I’ll be more than happy to listen to your point of view too.”

The key takeaway from this point is this: you’re never going to transform someone else’s mindset through trickery, bullying, or manipulation. (Okay, you might be able to, but is that the kind “win” you want?) You’ll get a lot farther —  and probably have a more positive conversation —  if you’re honest and clear about what you want to talk about and what your end goal for the conversation is.

 

SPEAK WITH COMPASSION.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote Campaigning for Compassion: 8 Essential Tips We Need Now, which is a must-read if you’re going to be talking about any tough topics with people who have opposing viewpoints. Compassion is a word we hear often, but its actual definition isn’t always clear. Compassion is about recognizing another's pain and desiring to alleviate it in some way (regardless of whether or not you agree with that person's beliefs).

When you’re passionate about a topic, it can be hard to channel compassion in the way you speak and react, but it’s important to do so  not only for the other person’s benefit, but for your own mental state as well.

For the most part, I see a lot of compassion from the people I follow online (and from the people who follow me), but the day after the election, I saw a lack of compassion that was, quite frankly, astounding to me. On Instagram, someone wrote to me, “Your positivity sickens me.” The person who wrote this was a young girl. It broke my heart to read that comment, to see how society taught her that, in order for progress to occur, we must be negative.

On the contrary, we need optimism. And, just as importantly, we need compassion  especially for those who display aggressive, angry, and hateful behavior. Without compassion, we’ll never be able to find our way in this shadowy, complex jungle of political discourse. Compassion is our flashlight in the dark. It, alone, is not going to get us from point A to point B, but it sure as hell is going to make the path easier to see.

As I wrote in my article on compassion, defending what you believe and having compassion for those who think differently are not mutually exclusive. You can be passionate and compassionate. Remember this when you’re speaking with someone who has completely different views and you’re struggling with compassion. (Also, try your best to go into the conversation with a compassionate mindset!)

 

LISTEN – REALLY LISTEN.

Listening isn’t just about opening your ears to the sounds coming from someone else’s mouth. It’s also about paying attention to body language, tone, facial expression. It’s also about looking past the words and considering what someone might actually mean, instead of just focusing on what they’re saying. Often, below the surface, it's clear that "I voted for ______________" really means "______________ is really important to me and that candidate really seems to represent that."

Will it be challenging to listen to other people talk passionately about what they believe in when it’s completely different from what you believe? You bet. But, if you want people to be tolerant and accepting of your views, you have to show others the same courteousness. If you want people to listen to you, you must listen to them. And when I say really listen, I mean it. It’s so tempting to assume you know what someone is going to say or to take a stand on it before it’s even been said, but don't allow yourself to make assumptions. Listen with your ears, watch with your eyes, and pay attention with your mind. 

Also, even if others' beliefs might sound crazy to you, don’t punish them for their honesty. Never forget that listening isn’t just about opening your ears — it’s about opening your mind as well. The point of talking about difficult issues with someone of differing beliefs is to open the lines of communication. 

 

RESPECT BOUNDARIES.

Not everyone is going to want to have passionate discussions with you, and that’s okay. It may be frustrating not to be able to talk to people about what you want to talk about, but it’s important to respect others’ boundaries. If someone makes it clear that s/he doesn’t want to talk to you about an issue, respect that. (Also, consider finding some people who do want to talk to you.)

Here are some other times you might want to respect boundaries — your own and those of the people around you — and not bring up, or keep talking about, tough topics:

 

  • When the other person is emotionally unready or unwilling to hear what you have to say. You’ve probably seen lots of pictures of people around the country in tears post-election. If you encounter a Hillary supporter curled in a ball sobbing, that’s probably not the time to bring up your list of reasons why Trump deserved to win. This isn’t to say you can’t talk about it at some point, but assess the emotional state of others and determine if it might be better to choose a different time to talk. Also, on a less dramatic scale, consider the general emotional state of yourself and the other person. If you (or s/he) had a terrible, long day at work, maybe it’s not the best time to get into a heated political debate.

 

  • When violent acts might be committed against you. This is not a reason for a whole group to be quiet (if it were, we’d still have horrific institutions like slavery), but in one-on-one situations where you would be in great physical or emotional danger if you were to speak your mind about a certain topic, it’s best to remain quiet until you can find a way to communicate without harm coming to you or someone else. Please be safe when it comes to speaking up.

 

  • When you’ve honestly, openly stated your beliefs with kindness and compassion, and you’re receiving only hatred, judgment, and accusations in return. Some people are just not open to listening and talking. This is sad and it can be painful, but it’s just the way it goes. Once you’ve said what you wanted to say, repeating it over and over (however nicely!) will no longer be productive.

 

  • When a large group of people is ganging up on you. Again, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t speak your mind —  I used to do it all the time in college, boldly stating my feminist thoughts in roomfuls of hyper-masculine athletes who, for the most part, had zero interest in feminism, resulting in the lovely nickname "Beliefs" — but sometimes it’s better to speak up when you either (a) have at least one person on your side or (b) can have a one-on-one with individuals of the group, instead of speaking to the group as a whole.

 

Regardless of what you’re talking about — or who you’re speaking to  it’s very important not only to respect others’ boundaries, but to take care of your own boundaries as well. If you’re unsure about whether or not to keep talking, ask, “Would you like to keep talking about this topic?” If you’ve gotten to a point where your own boundaries are being threatened, say, “I’m glad we were able to start this conversation, but I feel it is no longer productive, and I think we should stop talking about it for now.” 

 

TAKE POSITIVE ACTION.

Actions speak louder than words, they say, and it really is true. You can talk yourself blue in the face about what you believe in, but if you don’t support those words with actions, it’s going to be much less likely that people will take you, and your beliefs, seriously. Here a few ideas for how you can take positive action on your beliefs:

 

  • Donate to a cause that supports what you believe in
  • Volunteer for an organization you support
  • Share (legitimate, fact-based) information on social media
  • Offer to organize an event or fundraiser for a cause
  • Watch a film about the topic with someone who opposes it
  • Research the issue and consider new ways to offer help
  • Give (well-researched) books on issues you support to skeptics
  • Vote for the people who support what you believe
  • Call Senators / people in Congress and ask for change
  • Ask experts on the issues for ideas for how to help
  • Join local (or online) groups who share your beliefs
  • Read up on what others are saying (and gather facts!)
  • Shop at stores that uphold your beliefs (don't know? ask!)

 

It may seem like this action-taking isn’t a necessary step to talking about what you believe in, but it’s actually essential. Anyone can say they believe in anything, but to really have those beliefs heard (and have them matter), action is necessary. You might also want to see if you can have someone with opposing views take part in the action in some way. Sometimes people don’t realize what they believe until they see a situation for themselves.

 

FIND A CREATIVE OUTLET.

Finally, one of the best ways I can think of to share your beliefs is to find a creative outlet. This, of course, might not be for everyone (though I do think we all have the power to be creative and share that creativity, even if you don’t consider yourself a creative type!).

Talking about what you believe in is great, but sometimes it can be really useful to share your ideas through some other medium. Ideally, you want to share your creativity with others —  to encourage those who think the same way you do and to provide a new perspective for those who think differently —  but you can also just use this step as a way to cope with your own internal thoughts on the topic, which will ultimately make you better at sharing your beliefs with others.

For me, the creative outlet I’ve been channeling is a new Instagram account, This Uncommon Life. For weeks, I’ve been working on this little secret project —  a creative way to explore some of my thoughts around living what I consider to be a pretty uncommon life as an unmarried, child-free, sober, agnostic atheist, INTJ feminist. I know I’m not alone in living this life, but sometimes it feels lonely.

I started the Instagram account as a way to explore these feelings, to share some of my beliefs. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever actually make it public, but, for me, it’s important not just to have a creative outlet for my beliefs, but to share it as well. (Even though I'm honestly kind of scared about how people will react to it!)

If curious about what this little project is all about, go check out This Uncommon Life on Instagram. (Warning: it's not always positive and it's not always family friendly.) I basically take words I've found in old magazines and arrange them, ransom-note-like, into what I hope are thought-provoking phrases. It's been really fun, therapeutic, and inspiring for me, and, even if you don't care for that kind of thing, I hope seeing how I've channelled my beliefs into an outlet will inspire you to do the same. 

Whether you share your creativity or just keep it to yourself, Having a place to channel your thoughts and openly write, draw, paint, sculpt, etc. about your ideas and beliefs can be hugely beneficial when it comes to sharing those beliefs with others. And if you’ve found a creative outlet for your own beliefs, or plan to create on now, I’d love to see or hear about it!

 

Phew. That was quite the long post. If you’ve made it all the way down here, thanks for reading!! I hope these tips and tactics will help you feel confident in sharing your beliefs with those who don’t share them. And don't forget to download the free PDF here to keep these tips in mind as you share your beliefs. I know it’s scary, but if I can do it, you can do! Now, go out there and be brave!

  

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