6 tips for tackling tough conversations

Speak-Now-Taylor-Swift
Image via Big Machine Records

 

Have you ever been in a position where you really wanted to talk to someone about something but the topic of conversation was really awkward / emotional / sensitive and so you put it off for ages hoping that it would somehow be resolved or disappear but, without talking about it, there was obviously going to be no miraculous solution so you had to actually get the courage to bring it up and you were so scared to do it and it had been on your mind for so long that you didn't even know where to begin? 

If you answered yes, I feel you. That was me a couple of weeks ago. There was a big scary conversation I wanted to have, and I'd been wanting to have it for months and months and months but every time I was about to bring it up, I got way too scared and chickened out. This happened over and over and over again. 

Until, one day, I realized that, if I didn't say what I needed to say, I'd always be wondering what would have happened if I had. When the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve, it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks: if I wanted to talk about something (and I wanted change in the New Year), I was going to have to open my mouth and speak. No one was going to do it for me. I had to stop second guessing myself, worrying about the conversation not going the way I wanted it to go, and just do it

Also, on NYE, I was deeply inspired by this. It might sound silly for a grown woman to be motivated by a music video, but for years I'd been feeling so much anxiety and uncertainty. And, scared as I was to let go of those feelings, I desperately wanted to be "out of the woods," to be in a place of stability and clarity. After watching the video (over and over again!), I knew the only way I'd ever be the version of the girl at the end of the video would be to open my mouth and speak the words constantly circling in my mind. 

In a way, the video is very much a metaphor for what it feels like when you're scared to have an important conversation -- you're overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety, wondering what could be, scared of where you are but just as scared of what will happen when you eventually are brave enough to speak your mind. Whether you're having a relationship-based conversation, a salary negotiation, a serious talk with a boss or client, or a heart-to-heart with a friend, the point leading up to the actual speaking is a scary time indeed. 

But the only way to get out of the woods -- out of that place of anxiety and uncertainty -- is to use your words. As someone who put doing this off for months, I know just how hard this can be. I finally had the courage to say what I needed to, and I know you can too. Here are some of the best pieces of advice I can offer for anyone struggling to have a tough conversation: 

 

KNOW THE OUTCOME YOU WANT

Get specific about what you really want before you launch into a tough conversation. It's not enough to think "I want to make more money" or "I want her to be more affectionate." You need to have concrete desires in place, like "I want a 10% raise" or "I want her to hold my hand in public and spend more time cuddling with me." If you don't know (and say) specifically what you want, how is someone else supposed to give it to you? Imagine (in detail!) what it will be like to have the exact outcome you want. Also, ask yourself why you want this. Understanding the why will show you what you're really looking for. Do you want more money because you feel unappreciated at work? Will money make you feel more valued? Do you want a committed relationship because you truly love this specific person? Or do you just want a relationship in general? Getting to the heart of why you want what you do will help you have a much more productive conversation (or it show you that you don't need to have the conversation at all!). 

 

THINK ABOUT THE OTHER PERSON

When it comes to big scary conversations, it's important to consider not only your own needs and desires, but also those of the person (or people) you're communicating with. Before conversing, spend some time thinking about what outcomes they might be hoping for, how they might perceive what you have to say, and how they generally prefer to communicate. Try vividly imagining the conversation from the other person's point of view. How might your boss perceive your resignation? How might your partner take the news that you'd like to spend some time apart? What would it be like to be the friend with whom you've had a disagreement that you're trying resolve? Considering how the other person might feel and what s/he might experience is important for having a meaningful interaction. Just as important is considering how this person prefers to communicate. For the most part, big important conversations should happen in person, but that's not always possible, so consider the best method of communication -- not only for you, but for the other party as well. And, last but not least, take into account how this conversation will impact your relationship, not just from your perspective, but from theirs as well. 

 

PONDER THE POSITIVE POSSIBILITIES

Going into an important conversation, it's useful to ponder what would happen if the best possible outcome occurred. What is the absolute best-case, most amazing scenario? What other positive possibilities might you not be considering? (For example, what if you boss isn't able to give you a raise, but is able to offer you a different position that you know will be more enjoyable?) Before you talk, try thinking outside the box and imagine the craziest (best!) possible scenarios. For example, if you're asking for a raise, imagine being offered not only the amount you're asking for, but also a better title and a corner office. Consider how these best-case scenarios would play out. What are the upsides and the downsides of getting exactly what you ask for? What if, for example, you ask your boyfriend to spend more time with you and he suggests moving in together? How would you handle a scenario in which you're given way more than what you asked for? Pondering the positive possibilities will help you feel more prepared as you go into the conversation and may help you identify aspects of the situation you might not have considered. 

 

TAKE NOTE OF WORST-CASE SCENARIOS

On the flip side, it's also important to consider worst-case scenarios. Overthinking what could go wrong or worrying about the future isn't very useful when it comes to living a positively present life, but there's something to be said for considering a worst-case scenario and investigating how you might overcome it if it were to happen. When you imagine what could go wrong, you're likely to come up with solutions and you'll realize that, even if the worst thing were to happen, you'd be okay. If, for example, you were fired for asking for a raise (unlikely to happen, but just consider it), you'd most likely find another job and probably be thankful you were no longer working for a company that fires employees for asking for better compensation! It's important not to dwell on worst-case outcomes (or best-case either), but allowing yourself to consider them will help remove some of the fear you're feeling. Once you've considered what could go wrong (and how you'd cope), you'll feel braver when beginning your conversation. Also, keep in mind some of my favorite lyrics from "Out of the Woods": the monsters turned out to be just trees. Sometimes the worst thing is in your mind and the reality isn't all that scary. 

 

CHOOSE A GOOD TIME TO TALK

There's never a perfect time to have a challenging conversation, but there are some really bad times to have a tough talk. Some examples: when you've had no sleep the night before; when you're really hangry; when you're super stressed -- or when the other person is any of these. First, identify when an ideal time to talk would be for you. If you could choose any situation / time / place, what would it be? Are more articulate and alert in the mornings? Or do you define yourself as a night owl? Would you rather talk in private or in pubic? Do you communicate best right after you've eaten a good meal or had your first cup of coffee? You can't always conduct the conversation exactly when you want to, but you can try to do it at the best possible time and in the best possible conditions. After identifying what would be best for you, consider what would be the best time to talk with someone else. Is there a time when your boss seems more relaxed? Does your partner seem more at ease on the weekends? You're much more likely to get the results you'd like if you conduct the conversation when the other person is in a positive mindset. Not sure when the best time is for someone else? Ask!

 

BE BRAVE + GO FOR IT! 

This is, of course, the most important piece of advice: just do it. The longer you wait, the harder it gets (believe me, I know this first hand!) and the more it seems like a bigger and bigger deal in your mind. If you keep waiting to speak your mind, what once seemed like something you should bring up turns into a big, huge, scary conversation that you'll be dreading on a regular basis. Don't let this happen to you. Find a time that feels right (even if it's not perfect) and start talking. You don't even have to come to a conclusion right away -- just get the dialogue flowing and let the other person know where you're coming from. People can't read your mind and they might have no idea what you want if you don't tell them! I know it's hard and I know it's scary, but if you don't initiate it, it might never happen and you'll always be filled with the unpleasant "what if..." sensation. So go on -- set a date, schedule a meeting, make the call -- do whatever you have to do to start talking. 

 

BONUS! 
LISTEN VERY CAREFULLY. 

Here's an additional piece of advice: once you've bravely initiated the conversation (yay, you!), it's so important to listen closely. I cannot stress this enough: listen. If you've prepared a lot for the conversation, it's tempting to focus on what you have to say and what you want the outcome to be, but try your absolute hardest to listen carefully to what the other person is saying. The best way to have a productive conversation of any kind is to be a good listener and respond to what someone else is actually saying. As you probably know, it can be difficult sometimes to accurately interpret others' words, and nothing screws up an important conversation more than assumptions and miscommunications. These can be minimized if you listen fully to what others are saying -- not what you want them to say, not what you think they might say, not to how you read into the words they're saying. Listen to the actual words being spoken and, if you're not sure about the meaning, don't guess. Ask! 

 

 

 

Loving-Your-Self

Having the courage to have tough conversations is an act of self-love. Want to empower yourself with some more serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.


reader request: how to protect your heart

Protect-Your-Heart

 

Happy 2016, Positively Present readers! I'm so excited to kick off this new year with you. There are so many exciting projects in the works for the coming months -- new books, new products, new projects, and more -- and I can't wait to share them with you! To begin the new year, I'm starting off with a new type of post: Reader Request. I often receive emails, Instagram comments, blog post comments, etc. from readers asking if I'd write about a specific topic. I love when I receive requests because it tells me what you want to read and it inspires me to explore topics I might not have considered. If you have a request, contact me and I may just write about it for you! 

 

The first Reader's Request is a great one because it's a topic I've struggled with it a lot over the past year or so, but one I've avoided writing about (for a number of reasons): protecting your heart. ('Bet you guessed it from the title, didn't you?) A few weeks ago, I posted an image on Instagram featuring the words "Protect Your [Heart]," and one of my followers asked me if I'd write an article about how to actually do that. As soon as I read her comment, I knew it would be a great topic to write about -- especially because it's something I've struggled with personally. 

I'll be honest: I'm not the best at protecting my heart. I love love so much that sometimes I don't always make the best heart-related choices. For example, I cling to romantic notions of what I think something could be and ignore what it is. I'm often so hopeful things will work out someday that I often avoid dealing with what's happening now. (Healthy, I know...) When it comes to love, hopefulness isn't always a bad thing, but sometimes I'm so frantically hopeful that I swing the door to my heart wide open when it might be better slammed shut. 

Because, you see, a wide open door can lead to some negative consequences. A door left constantly ajar allows others to come and go as they please. When you don't push the door closed, others can (and will) call the shots. When you don't remember to lock the door, sometimes the wrong kinds of people can walk right on in. A lot of us have a hard time turning the lock because we fear missing out on a possibility of love (even if we know, deep down, that it's not right); or we think if we wait a little longer or try a little harder, something will change; or we believe if we close the door on someone, no one else will ever come along; or we assume if we let a lot of people through the door, one is bound to end in happily-ever-after. 

Whatever the reason (and all of us open-heart-door types have them!), keeping the door to your heart wide open at all times can result in a lot of unnecessary pain and heartache. On the flip side, so can closing off your heart completely, but for the sake of this article, we're going to focus on how to protect your heart. (If you struggle with letting love in, check out Let Go & Let It In: How to Stop Being Afraid of Love.) Even though, admittedly, I'm not the best at protecting my own heart, here are some of the ways I've learned to keep watch over my heart...

 

KNOW WHEN TO OPEN THE DOOR

Knowing when to open the door to your heart is the absolute best way to protect it. It's much easier to stop someone from coming in in the first place than it is to ask them to leave later. It's not always easy to know when you should or shouldn't open the door, but usually you have a gut instinct about someone -- and you should listen to it. Whether you want to admit it or not, you know, deep down, whether or not someone deserves to be invited into your world. Pay attention to what your initial reaction to someone tells you. 

 

PAY ATTENTION TO HOW YOU FEEL

After you've let someone have access to your heart, pay attention to how you feel when you're with that person. Really take note of how you feel when you think about him or her. And, in particular, pay attention to how you feel after you spend time with that person. Sometimes, when you're caught up in a romance, you'll feel great with the person, but when you're not with him/her, you feel anxious or uncertain or even unhappy. Paying close attention to your feelings will give you instant access to insights that will tell you whether or not someone is worthy of your time and effort. 

 

COMMUNICATE YOUR FEELINGS

Communication, in any kind of relationship, is so important. If you don't talk about how you feel with someone else, you're bound to have all sorts of problems and misunderstandings. (Full disclosure: I am literally terrible at this. I have gone years without talking about how I feel, which, I know, is absurd, and, as you might imagine, hasn't work out too well for me. Because I'm so bad at it, I know just how important it is.) The more open, honest, and communicative you are with someone else, the more you'll learn about him/her, and the more you know, the better you'll be at making decisions regarding your heart. 

 

LET GO OF ATTACHMENT

This is probably one of the best heart-protection tips -- and tips for generally living a positive life. The only reason we have pain in our lives is because we're too attached to people, things, situations, or ideas. Detaching from people, in particular, is really hard. I recently read this article "Letting Go of Attachment: From A to Zen" and I found it super eye-opening and helpful. When you're not clinging to someone (or the idea of someone), you're able to have a clearer vision of who someone really is. The more clarity you have, the more you'll know whether or not someone is really good for you or not. 

 

WATCH WHAT PEOPLE DO (NOT SAY)

You've probably heard this type of advice before, but it's vital when it comes to protecting your heart. People can say absolutely anything they want at any time, and it's easy to believe that words are enough. But they're not. What matters, when it comes to matters of the heart, is action. To protect your heart, pay attention not to what people say, but to what they do. For example, saying "I love you" means nothing if they don't treat you in a loving way. It's easy to get swept away with what's being said, but actions are the only thing that matters when it comes to protecting your heart. 

 

DON'T FEAR BEING ALONE

A lot of us fail to protect our hearts because we're afraid of being alone, and we'd rather tolerate being treated badly than be faced with solitude. This is very bad for the protection of the heart because it can cause you to stay in situations that make you feel unhappy for much longer than you need to. One of the very best ways to protect your heart is to be okay with being alone. If you're comfortable with solitude, you won't stay in bad situations longer than necessary, and you won't settle for less than you deserve simply because you're lonely. 

 

Protecting your heart is hard work, and I definitely struggle with it myself, but I hope these tips help you if you're struggling to find what's best for you. Most of us value our relationships so highly, but we don't always pay attention to how we really, truly feel when we're in (or out of) them. Protecting your heart doesn't mean closing the door to possibilities or love; it means making sure that the people and experiences you let in are worthy of your love.  

 

 

Loving-Your-Self

Protecting your heart goes hand-in-hand with self-love. Want to empower yourself with some serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.


happy is not a choice: the difference between happiness + positivity

Positivity
 

 

You've probably heard quotes like "happiness is a choice" or "if you want to be happy, be" or "people are as happy as they make up their minds to be." (I'm probably guilty of using these words. Scroll through my Instagram feed and I bet you'll find "choose happy" or something along those lines amidst my many quote-themed photos.) In theory, these quotes come from a good place. They're meant to highlight the notion that, though you don't always have control of your circumstances, you have control over how you feel. 

Except... that's not true.  

Quotes like "choose happiness" or "think happy thoughts" aim to convey the idea that, no matter what happens, you have control over what you think, but what they actually convey is that you have control over what you feel. But there's a big difference between what you think and how you feel, and the idea that thoughts and feelings are interchangeable is potentially very damaging because, much as you might want to, you can't control how you feel. And you can't control happiness because happiness is a feeling. You can't just choose to be happy when your dog just died or your wife just left or you're suffering from depression. You can't choose to be happy when you just found out your child has cancer or your parents are abusive or your doctor just diagnosed you with a chronic illness. 

If you've ever experienced any of these things (or any other heart-breaking, painful, or sad situation), you know this is the truth. No matter how much you want to be happy, sometimes you just cannot be. This is normal and to be expected because happiness is a way of feeling, not a way of thinking.  

While feeling isn't something you can control, thinking is. The literal definition of to feel is "to experience an emotion." To think is defined as "to direct one's mind toward someone or something." Experiencing an emotion just happens. You feel sad when something saddens you. You feel happy when something (or someone!) makes you happy. You can (sometimes) decide whether or not you get carried away with your emotions, but you can't control whether you have them in the first place.  

You feel how you feel when you feel it, and feelings can't be changed by words like "be happy!" or "think happy thoughts!" As anyone who's faced serious trauma or heartbreak knows, in the midst of true pain and loss, happy thoughts are not an option. But what is an option is thinking positively. Happiness is not always an option, but positive thinking always is. Let's take a closer look at how they're different... 

 

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN POSITIVITY + HAPPINESS 

You might be saying to yourself right about now, Aren't positivity and happiness basically the same thing? Aren't "positive thoughts" and "happy thoughts" the same?  No, they are not the same, and the difference between them is very, very important (especially for anyone striving to live a positively present life!). 

Fleeting Emotion vs. Logical Choice

As I said before, happiness is an emotion. Emotions, as a rule, are fleeting. Some last longer than others, but there are very rarely entire days when you are happy. Even when things are going incredibly well and you're having an amazing day, you're not actually experiencing true happiness and joy that entire day. (Same goes for negative emotions too — no matter how difficult the situation, you usually experience a range of emotions, not just "sad," and even in the most challenging of times, positive feelings like hope and even happiness can be experienced.) 

On the other hand, positive thinking is an active choice — the decision to focus on the possibility of good results or seek out the goodness in any situation or person (good or bad). Positive thinking is logical, not emotional. It's more about using your head than it is about using your heart. It's about taking whatever you experience (and feel) and trying your best to make the most of the situation (even if the situation is terrible). 

Experiencing vs. Learning

Happiness must be experienced. Positivity, on the other hand, is something that can be learned and practiced by everyone. No matter what's going on in your life, you can strive for a positive attitude. You can also practice it (and get better at it!), which is something you can't do with happiness. You can fake happiness, but that's not the same as practicing it. You're either happy or you're not. You can't learn to be happier, and you certainly can't force yourself to feel (truly) happy when you just don't feel that way.

A lot of people struggle because of the notion that you can somehow become happier overall by doing something external (getting a better job, falling in love, buying the newest gadget) but those kinds of things only provide a burst of happiness that will eventually fade until we find that next "happiness high." Happiness can be gained from external things, but it won't last because it's merely an emotion. Instead of focusing on experiences, it's much more useful to spend time and energy learning how to find the good in any situation (rather that striving for short bursts of happiness). 

Unique Feeling vs. Similar Thinking

Another major difference between happiness and positivity is this: happiness is incredibly unique. (This is why it's such a hard topic to study and deeply comprehend.) What fills your heart with joy might not even register on my happiness radar. It's kind of like love in a way (except it usually doesn't last as long): it's something we all experience at some point, but it's hard to put it into words because we all experience it so differently and for such different reasons.

Also, because happiness is a feeling, it's experienced in unique ways too. If you and I were both to think of a time when we were incredibly happy, we might have very different reactions to that memory even if we both labeled it as a "happy" time. From a mental and a physical standpoint, we all experience happiness differently. However, when it comes to positive thinking, we can all practice similar techniques. We all know what it means to try to find the good in a situation (even if we find different kinds of goodness). Positive thinking is a logical, thought-driven experience. It's something we can all understand and, most of the time, experience in a similar way. For this reason, it's much easier to share and teach to others. (And, as an added bonus, the more someone practices positive thinking, the more happiness s/he is likely to experience.) 

Big Picture vs. Present Moment

Whatever you experience (good and bad) can impact your happiness levels. It's hard to be happy if aspects of your life (some of which might be out of your control) aren't going well. For example, let's say you're having a really great day at work and you receive an unexpected promotion. This should make you really happy, right? It might — but it might not make you happy for very long if something really unhappy is happening in another area of life. You can't experience true happiness when certain areas of your life are negative, uncertain, or unhappy. Happiness focuses on the big picture. This isn't a bad thing, but it's an important difference from positivity, which isn't at all concerned with (or impacted by) the big picture.

Positive thinking focuses on the current moment and determining what you can gain from that experience or interaction. It's about making the most of whatever is happening to you right now. It should not tainted by what has already happened or what could happen (unless you're recalling a time in which you struggled with a difficult situation and overcame it, reminding yourself that you're strong enough to survive whatever you're currently going through). Positivity is about taking whatever's happening and trying to make it as good as it can possibly be, regardless of what's going on in other areas of your life or what might happen in the future. 

There are some major differences between happiness and positivity, but making the differentiation between happiness and positivity isn't meant to make "positive" seem better than "happy," or to put down happiness in anyway. It's only meant to show that there is a big difference. Here's why this difference matters...

 

WHY THE DIFFERENCE MATTERS

After reading about the differences between happiness and positivity you might be thinking, So what? Why does this matter? It matters because so many people use these very different terms as if they are interchangeable, and this can lead to damaging beliefs in those who read/hear phrases like "if you want to be happy, be happy!" or "choose to be happy!" 

Because happiness is not a choice, when people are told to be happy and they're unable to achieve a happy state (because they're in a bad situation, because they have a chemical imbalance that doesn't allow them to be happy often, or for any other reason), they feel like failures. If happiness is promoted as something that can just be chosen, like pulling an item off a store's shelf, those who cannot seem to "choose" it feel as though there is something wrong with them. On the other hand, if you were to suggest to someone who is struggling that s/he "think positively" (accompanied by suggestions for how to actually do it), those words might actually be useful and encouraging. Happiness is not an action that can simply be chosen, and suggesting it is can actually cause feelings of frustration, confusion, and even self-loathing. 

And speaking of self-loathing, one of the other reasons using happiness and positive thinking are used interchangeably is: it causes a lot of people (most of us, in fact!) to strive for something that is unattainable: a lasting, permanent state of happiness. Due to many popular culture messages about happiness, many of us believe we should strive for happiness most of the time, even when we're sad or struggling, even when we're stressed or heartbroken. 

As Dan Harris writes in 10% Happier, the “pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.” If you're striving for a constant state of happiness — a fleeting emotion that rarely lasts for an extended period of time and that sometimes comes from negative sources, like abused substances, the approval of negative people, unhealthy activities, etc. — you're bound to be, at the very least, disappointed a good deal of the time. You might feel guilty when you don't feel happy when everything is going well or confused when you experience happiness during difficult times.

Making an emotion (happiness) a life-long goal is a pretty great way to set yourself up for a lot of disappointment and stress. While there will (hopefully!) be many, many moments of happiness in your life, no one is happy every single moment of every single day, and striving for that is like spending your life hoping to find an actual pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. This isn't meant to leave you feeling as if happiness is some crazy dream that'll never be made real; it's only meant to show how the pursuit of happiness isn't what leads to true fulfillment. Happiness comes in amazing, fleeting moments that we're all lucky to experience from time to time. And the best way to keep an eye out for these moments (and make the most of them when they happen!) is to focus on positive thinking, on seeking out the good in your life, no matter where you find yourself. 

Rather that focusing on choosing happiness, what we should be focusing on is thinking positively. Remember: we can't choose how we feel, but we can choose how we think about those feelings (and whatever it was that caused us to feel that way). Instead of focusing so much being happy, what we should be focusing on is how we can make the most of our lives (both the happy and the sad parts). 

When we see something that tells us to simply "be happy," we should question that request and think about how the notion of happiness-as-a-choice is actually impacting our lives. Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with thinking happy thoughts or gravitating toward things that make you happy, but it's important to keep in mind that happiness (no matter how great!) is fleeting. If you're looking for lasting contentment, learning the art of positive thinking is the best place to put your time and energy. 

 

 

Loving-Your-Self

Positive thinking can be tough when it comes to self-contemplation, which is why it's so important to focus on self-love. Want to empower yourself with some serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.


a christmas carol starring... you!

Christmas

 

One of my favorite Christmas tales is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It's such a thought-provoking story, filled with concepts like forgiveness and compassion and taking control of the present that we should try to apply to our lives all year long. (If you haven't read the story before, I highly recommend it. You can read the full text here for free. Or watch this version that I used to watch as a kid!) For those of you who haven't read it / watched a film version / don't remember it, here's the gist: 

A mean, miserly, lonely old man called Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve -- the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Each ghost shows him what his life was / is / will be. The Past ghost reminds him of how he's changed (and not necessarily for the better). The Present ghost shows Scrooge how the current Christmas Day will play out, particularly for those who has treated poorly. And the Yet to Come ghost shows Scrooge mysterious scenes leading up to a man's death -- a man that Scrooge soon releases is him. After the third ghost's visit, Scrooge begs for a chance to go back to the present and right his wrongs, to embrace Christmas in his heart. Scrooge suddenly wakes in his bed and is thrilled with the chance to transform Christmas Present. He shares his newfound Christmas spirit with those he's treated badly and continues to act with kindness and generosity for the rest of his life. 

I've always felt I could relate with A Christmas Carol, probably because it's a tale of transformation, a story of how someone who is "bad" can become "good." We all can probably relate in some way to being flawed, to finding flaws we want to (or do!) change. As someone who often defaults to negative thinking and who must strive again and again to master the arts of staying positive and present, I relate, in some ways, to the character of Scrooge. I know what it's like to not always have been the most positive person, to have a wake-up call (though mine wasn't in the form of three ghosts!), and to want to make the present as positive as possible because I've envisioned what the future would be like if I didn't choose to walk down a positive path. 

Whether or not you've ever had some sort of Scrooge-like, a-ha moment in which your flaws were made clear, I don't think we have to wait for some big moment to think about how we're living our lives. We don't need three ghosts to come to us (or to have some sort of mind-shattering breakthrough or breakdown). In fact, I think we could learn a lot from simply pausing to ponder the question: 

What if YOU were starring in A Christmas Carol

This question popped into my head the other day and I couldn't shake it. It's one of those great questions that prompts you to ask more questions, like:  

What would the Ghost of Christmas Past show me if I were to be visited by such a spirit? What would I see if I were led around by the Ghost of Christmas Present? And what would I see if I were to travel with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come into the future? 

Plus, it's always kind of fun to imagine yourself starring in a familiar story! Of course, I'm sure this was the whole point of Dickens' book -- to inspire people to think about the past / present / future and consider how the past and the present will impact the future. I'm sure Dickens would love it if every reader put him or herself in Scrooge's shoes. But most people just read the book or watch the film, view Scrooge objectively, and feel happy when he learns his lesson. But what about our own lessons? 

This time of year is often a time of reflection. As the year draws to a close, we recall what's happened over the past twelve months and think about what we want to happen in the year ahead. But I suggest taking it a little bit further and ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. What would the Ghost of Christmas Past show you? 
  2. Who would the main characters in your past be? 
  3. What are the important moments / transitions in your past? 
  4. How did the past (good and bad) impact today? 
  5. What would the Ghost of Christmas Present show you? 
  6. Who would the main characters in your life be now? 
  7. How would you interact with these characters? 
  8. What's happening in the present that might change the future? 
  9. What would the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come show you? 
  10. Who from your present will be in your future? 
  11. What will your future self be doing / feeling / thinking?
  12. How did the past / present influence future Christmases?
  13. What might you want to change to create a future you want? 

I don't know about you, but reflecting on these really made me think! These question made me question what I'm doing now, recall what I've done before (what's worked / what hasn't), and think hard about what I want in the future. I hope these questions encouraged you to think about how the past, present, and future are all connected. What we do today impacts our lives tomorrow. What we've done before is influencing what's happening now. Sometimes, with striving to live in the moment, I forget how much the present impacts the future. What you do now matters, not only to your present self, but also to the future you.

And, now, for some additional inspiration from Dickens, I've rounded-up some of my favorite quotes from the book. Hopefully they'll positively influence you now -- and keep you feeling inspired in the future too. 

"No space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused."

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!"

"I have always thought of Christmastime, when it has come round...as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

"It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humor."

"Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him."

 

 

Loving-Your-Self

Self-love is an important aspect of self-discovery. Want to empower yourself with some serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.


10 tactics i use to cope with anxiety

Anxiety
Source / Alex Jones
 

Anxiety is a perfectly normal reaction to stress (and in some cases very useful to our survival!), but when you're in the midst of experiencing it, it doesn't feel all that normal. As someone with an always-racing mind, anxiety has always been a part of my life. I was an anxious kid, always worried about getting my schoolwork done well before it was due, trying as best I could to plan my day so I'd always be on schedule. (Today friends from childhood still tease me about always having to be at home at 7pm so I could take my nightly shower!) I've gotten better at managing my anxiety as I've gotten older, but I still have moments where I really struggle with it. For me, anxiety comes in waves. There are times in my life where I don't experience it much and there are times (like right now...) where it feels as if I'm constantly anxious. As you can imagine, this does not pair well with striving to live a positively present life. 

Whether or not you suffer from anxiety on a regular basis, this time of year can spark anxious feelings in even the most at-peace individuals. Adding holiday tasks (gifts...cards...parties...baking...etc.) to your already long to-do list can feel overwhelming, as can all of the events and family time (which, for some, can be a major stressor even if they really love their family members). Anxiety always seems to ramp up for me at the end of the year because, not only do I have all of the new holiday tasks to contend with, but my workload always seems to be the heaviest this time of year. (And don't get me started on the whole being-single-during-the-holidays-stress!) A lot of you might be in the same boat so I thought, Why not write a blog post about some of the ways I combat my anxiety? 

Over the years, I've tried a lot of different anti-anxiety remedies and I know there are still more I could put into my stay-calm toolkit (essential oils and regular meditation being some), but here are some of the tools I've been using to combat the end-of-the-year anxiety that seems to always come knocking at my door around early November... 

 

 1. TALK ABOUT IT WITH OTHERS. 

Talking about anxiety can be tough, and it's especially tricky if you're in some sort of position where you're supposed to have everything together (like, for example, someone who writes about staying positive and present for a living...). It can be awkward to talk about any mental health issues, but, believe me, it really helps to share what you're going through with someone else. I'm lucky to have a close friend that also struggles with anxiety and she's one of my go-to people to talk when I'm struggling because she knows exactly what it feels like. But people don't have to have experienced anxiety to be empathetic. And, to be honest, most people have experienced some level of anxiety in their lives — whether it's a slight bout of anxiety before a big test or a full-blown panic attack — and they should be able to somewhat relate to what you're going through. And if you can't find a close friend or relative to share your feelings with, seek out the help of a good therapist. A good therapist can work wonders with an anxious mind. (If you're not sure about the idea of therapy, check out my 10 Reasons to Sit on the Couch post.)

 

2. MAKE TIME FOR A TIME-OUT. 

Sometimes, when my anxiety gets to be too much for me, I just have to press pause on what's going on in my life and take a time-out. This "time-out" can be anything from a half hour break from work spent reading on the balcony in the sun (my favorite relaxing activity!) to realizing I need to take an entire day off of work to recharge my batteries and get into a healthier mental state. Working for myself, it's relatively easy for me to take a day-long time-out, but I know that's not the case for most people. However, if you're feeling so overwhelmed and anxious that you're no longer being productive, it makes sense for you to take a mental health day. You can actually do more harm than good if you continue working when you're anxious, as anxiety can negatively impact your career. Even if it's hard and you have to ask others for help with your job (or kids or schoolwork), being okay with taking a time-out can be a game-changer when it comes to anxiety. Those moments (or days) spent relaxing can be just what you need to create a more positive mindset. 

 

3. ENGAGE YOUR MIND FULLY. 

One of the best ways I've found to combat anxiety is to do something so stimulating to my mind that I don't have room for all of the anxious thoughts, something that 100% gets me into the flow mindset. When your thoughts are racing, it can be a challenge to get them to focus on anything other than worrying, but there are certain activities that can really bring you fully into the moment, which is essential for combatting all of those stress-driven thoughts. There are tons of activities that prompt people to get in the flow — drawing, painting, running, etc. — but my personal favorites are: coloring, doing puzzles, and playing Boggle on my phone. (Yes, I know, I sound like a 90-year-old lady.) Whenever I do these three things, I find it hard to keep my mind on what's causing my anxiety because I'm so completely focused on what I'm doing. In particular, I like using the Boggle app because: (1) it's a set amount of time (three minutes) so I have to focus on the game and I can't let my mind wander, (2) I can play it almost anywhere so it's a great on-the-go anxiety tool, and (3) I really like words and searching for things so it's kind of the perfect mix of a game for me. I only recently discovered that an app/game could work so well for my anxiety, but it's something that fully engages me and I think that's the most helpful aspect of it. 

  

4. CREATE A SOOTHING ROUTINE. 

"Soothing" isn't really my forte. I tend to walk fast, talk fast, move through my day quickly, and the high pace I generally like to keep (which exists even when I'm resting on the couch since I'm usually scrolling through a million different apps, trying to watch a show, and reading all at the same time!) isn't very good for my anxiety. However, one thing I've found to really work for me is sticking to some sort of routine. Not every day can be exactly the same, but I try as much as I can to have a routine during the day and especially at night (when my anxious mind really kicks into high gear!). Crazy as it sounds, one thing that really helps to soothe me is watching the same show every night before bed. For some (most) people, this might sound like a waste of time (or something that a lunatic would do), but I find it very soothing to turn on a show (30 Rock) that I've seen countless times. Even though, by now, I know almost every line, for some reason it soothes me and helps me feel a bit more at ease at the end of the day. This is my go-to routine, but yours can be anything — a special kind of tea before bed, a relaxing bubble bath, a walk around the block — that helps to soothe your mind. 

 

5. CHALLENGE IT WITH GRATITUDE. 

One of the best quotes I discovered last year was Danielle LaPorte's "Interrupt anxiety with gratitude." When I read this I thought to myself: Wow. That is so, so wise. As soon as you start thinking about all of the things you have to be grateful for (health, family, friends, a roof over your head, food, clean drinking water, a job, your unique talents, every possession you own, the experiences you've had, your personal strengths, etc.), it becomes much more difficult to be anxious. I'll admit that I don't always remember to do this one. Sometimes I'm so caught up in the craziness of my mind that I forget to focus on what I have. But when I do remember (and I really try to!) this tactic of replace anxious thoughts with grateful ones works every single time. Gratitude is a really powerful force, which is one of the reasons I continue to do the 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge every year. Each year it's a great reminder of how important it is to be thankful and I try to keep that reminder with me all year long — especially during the times I'm struggling with anxiety. 

 

6. AVOID (STRESSFUL) PEOPLE. 

During anxious times, one of the worst things you can do for yourself is be around people who cause you to feel more anxious. I bet if you think for just a minute you can identify the people in your life that make you feel more stressed, overwhelmed, or unhappy. Some of these people might be bad people in general, but more often it's just that they're bad for you. For whatever reason (a past experience, a weird vibe, a personality difference, an underlying issue we haven't dealt with) some people are just tougher to be around than others. A lot of the time this is okay and you can cope with it, but when you're struggling with anxiety, this is not the time to try to tough it out. During stressful times, it's very important to stay away from stressful people (or limit your interactions with them if you can't avoid them all together). And, as a bonus tip: try to spend even more time with people who make you feel at ease! 

 

7. MASTER THE ART OF DISTRACTION. 

When you're feeling super anxious, one of the best things you can do for yourself is distract your mind from negative, racing thoughts. This might sound kind of counter-intuitive coming from someone who strives to live in the present moment, but when it comes to anxiety, sometimes you need a little distance from the present state of your mind. Oddly enough, some of the best ways to take a step away from current anxious thoughts involves engaging in activities that bring you back to the present. I recently found this amazing round-up of distraction ideas on Tumblr, and I've gotten in the habit of referring back to it whenever I'm in need of an anti-anxiety activity. I'm sure there are tons of other ideas online for distracting yourself when things can really tough so if you ever need ideas, just search for some. This tip might seem like you're avoiding your emotions (something I don't recommend!) but, as anyone who has suffered from anxiety knows, sometimes you have to step away from your thoughts in order to stay sane. 

 

8. SET A DATE WITH WORRY. 

Anxiety often stems from ruminating about a situation that made/makes/could make you unhappy. As humans, we try to protect ourselves from harm by assessing what hasn't worked in the past and what might not work in the future, but sometimes we take all this analyzing too far and that's where anxiety comes from. One way to combat the obsessive rumination of a situation is to set up a date with your worry. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and write down every single thing you're worried about. Don't hold back — just let it all out. Doing this gives you a opportunity to think things through, which you can then refer back to when you feel as if you might need to rethink a situation. Honestly, this trick doesn't always work for me. Sometimes it's so liberating to write down my worries and I feel almost completely free of them after I do so, but other times, I find myself still drawn back to worrying, even when the clock has stopped. That being said, the times it's worked, it's worked so well that I definitely think it's worth giving a try! 

 

9. MAKE A PHYSICAL CHANGE. 

I've only discovered this tactic more recently, but I find it to be really useful. When the mind is stuck in anxious-mode, one way to break the cycle can be to make a physical change. This can be changing location (get off the couch and go for a walk), changing position (if you're lying down, sit up), or, my personal favorite, making a temperature-related change. What's a temperature-related change, you ask? It involves engaging with something really warm or really cold. Some examples: taking a hot bath, holding an ice cube, putting a cool cloth on your forehead, sticking a blanket in the dryer and covering up with it, taking a cold shower, stepping outside when it's really cold, drinking hot tea, drinking really cold water, etc. It might seem odd that these things help with anxiety, but they really do. I don't know exactly why (I'm pretty sure there's a scientific reason, though I'm not certain about this), but the change in temperature is like the rational part of you giving your brain a nice, firm "wake up!" jolt that seems to send the anxiety running. 

 

10. SEPARATE FROM YOUR THOUGHTS. 

Last, but definitely not least, is learning to separate yourself from your thoughts. In case you weren't aware: you are not your thoughts. Let me write it again (in case you missed it): YOU. ARE. NOT. YOUR. THOUGHTS. If this sounds odd to you, read this. It might seem as if what you think is reality and absolute truth, but in actuality, your thoughts are only going on inside your head. They are not part of the real, actual world. And, as a result, you don't have to accept them as 100% truth. For example, thinking anxious thoughts doesn't mean you are anxious. Just because you feel anxiety doesn't mean you are anxiety. The more you can learn to see your thoughts as separate from yourself, the easier it becomes to gain control over them. It can be really hard to take note of your anxiety and say, "Hey, I see you. I don't like you being here and I need you to leave." Identifying anxious thoughts can be hard because sometimes they are so dominate that they feel as if they are the only thought option. But they are not. You might not completely eliminate anxiety by remembering "I am not my thoughts," but you'll definitely help it from spiraling out of control and taking over your mind. 

 

An important reminder before you use any of these tips on your own: I am not a doctor or a psychologist or a therapist. I don't know if these tips work for everyone or even why they work for me. What I do know is that they work (most of the time) when I need them, and they've helped me when I've really been struggling, which is why I wanted to share them with you. You have to try things out and you have to figure out what works specifically for you. 

Speaking of things that work (or don't), you might notice that a very common anti-anxiety tip is missing from this list: taking deep breaths. That one can be useful for some, but not long ago I had a really bad experience with deep-breath-taking. I was in the situation that produces the most anxiety for me (getting an IV put in at the hospital) and I decided to give deep breathing a try. It started off okay, but pretty soon I'd worked myself up so much that I was hyperventilating and I even passed out for a little bit. Yikes. Clearly this did not help with my anxiety. Deep breaths don't work well for me (though sometimes counting my breaths does), but they might be a miracle-cure for you. The point is this: try things out. If you suffer from anxiety or racing thoughts, give the things I've written about a try, and try other things too. You just never know what kinds of weird things (Boggle! 30 Rock! A warm blanket!) might work for you. 

  

 

Loving-Your-Self

Self-love is another important anti-anxiety tool. Want to empower yourself with some serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.