self-awareness isn't change (+ a book giveaway!)

Self Awareness

 

[Hey there! Want to win a personalized, signed, advanced copy of my book The Positively Present Guide to Life? Scroll to the end of this post to enter to win!]

 

While scrolling BuzzFeed the other day, I came across this article: The Self-Awareness at This Year's Oscars Is Not a Substitute for Change. The author, Alison Willmore, made some great points about the Oscars, and she also got me thinking about self-awareness in general. In particular, she got me thinking about how self-awareness, useful as it is, isn't enough. For self-awareness to become self-improvement, it must be paired with change.

If you're reading this site, you probably have some level of self-awareness, an understanding of your character, feelings, strengths and weaknesses. This awareness is awesome; being aware of yourself can provide you with a greater understanding of how you interact with the world and with others, which is an essential first step to improving the self.

However, many of us (including me!) achieve self-awareness in some aspects of our lives and think that is enough. Self-awareness can be a difficult process so it sometimes seems as if the work is done once we identify aspects of ourselves. But awareness shouldn't always be the end goal. While there are are many aspects of ourselves that we can simply be aware of, there are also many aspects of ourselves that need to take that awareness to the next level and prompt change. In those situations, awareness shouldn't be the final achievement, but should instead be one step on the road to change. 

 

A SELF-AWARENESS STORY

This all sounds a bit abstract so let me use a personal example. I consider myself an introvert who would like to be more social. Most of the activities I love doing (reading, writing, drawing) are solitary, but I realize that, much as I claim to be antisocial, I actually receive a lot of positive benefits from interacting with others. Over the years, I've come to really identify with the notion of being an introvert who should probably socialize more. At one point, I was proud of myself for coming to the realization that I should push myself to be more social. The "I should be more social" mantra became part of my identity and I embraced it. I would make self-aware jokes about spending more time with dogs than people; I'd laugh about how I should get out more while resigning myself to the fact that I would probably end up staying in.

I was aware — and accepting — of the fact that I was an introvert-who-should-get-out-more. This acceptance felt like a badge of honor. I was recognizing that I needed to change! I was aware of my socializing preferences but was willing to concede that I should push myself out of my comfort zone! I was proud of my ability to be so self-aware, to accept myself for what I was. This acceptance was all well and good — aside from the fact that I identified with it so much that I backed myself into a solitary (and sometimes lonely) corner. I was so pleased with the fact that I was aware (and accepting) of my I-should-get-out-more mentality that I never stopped to ponder whether or not I should actually do something with this knowledge of myself.  

Being aware of some aspect of ourselves is important, but taking action (and making a change if necessary) is much more important. Awareness is a great first step, but action is where it's at. In my case, I believed awareness of my antisocial tendencies was such a breakthrough in my thinking that I allowed myself to just accept that notion of who I was without taking action. But more recently I discovered that being aware of something that needs changing isn't enough; that awareness needs to spark action. 

 

EMBRACING THE IDEA OF CHANGE

Changing is rarely easy, but it's essential for self-improvement. For example, I'll probably always lean towards introversion (and I'm okay with that), but simply laughing this off and identifying myself as an introvert who should probably get out more isn't self-improvement. I often joke about how I'm introverted and like to stay at home, knowing full well that this isn't 100% true. Yes, I do enjoy my alone time, but I don't always want to be alone. Being able to joke about it means I'm aware of it, but it's not changing the fact that I want to be more social.

Instead of questioning the statement I made frequently — "I should get out more" — I accepted it as part of myself and, as a result, it became part of who I was, a running joke with friends that I'd be unlikely to attend an event because I liked being at home, an absence of invites because everyone who knows me well knows I won't [drive that far/go out in the snow/leave my dog for long periods of time].  

My self-awareness allowed me to accept the notion that I wanted to be more social, but instead of doing anything about it, I just laughed it off, choosing to stay in over accepting invitations to get out, identifying with the notion of introvert-with-extrovert-dreams. I thought that if I was laughing about it — if I was aware enough about this aspect of myself to make fun of it — I was in some way enlightened. But that kind of enlightenment will never lead to self-improvement. 

If I wanted to be truly self-aware, I'd have to recognize that my desired level of social interaction doesn't fit in one of two boxes (introvert vs. extrovert). I'd have to come to accept that, while I might enjoy alone time a bit more than others do, I'm not content with being alone all of the time. And, most importantly, I'd have to use this deeper awareness to initiate change, to push myself out of my comfort zone and actually get out more, instead of simply saying I should. 

And so I did. I reached out to more people and initiated social activities. I accepted more invitations (even when it was cold and I would have much rather have snuggled down in my apartment with my dog). I pushed myself to drive farther, stay out later, say yes more often. I took my self-awareness and I used it to initiate change. I embraced change (albeit in small bits), and I turned my awareness into action. 

 

STEPPING PAST SELF-AWARENESS 

Choosing to step past awareness and take action wasn't a simple feat for me. It meant removing the labels I've placed on myself. It meant putting myself in situations that made me a little bit uncomfortable, but that pushed me to actually have a better understanding of myself. Making changes isn't easy, but the longer we talk about them without taking action, the more difficult the change will be.

We all have aspects of ourselves we'd like to change. Some of them we're very aware of and others we've yet to identify. The trouble is, sometimes we are so aware of — and identify so closely with — some aspect of ourselves (for better or worse!) that we don't actually think to make a change. Sometimes it's because we don't think of change as an option; sometimes it's because we keep putting it off (as I did — thinking I'd somehow magically be more social one day without trying); and sometimes it's because, deep down, we don't want to change because we're afraid of who we might be without that aspect of ourselves. 

It's important to step past self-awareness and into a place of change. Of course, some aspects of the self won't need to be changed, but for those that aren't quite right (you'll know them by the fact that they don't feel authentically, truly you), acknowledging them isn't enough. If you want to create a positive, present environment for yourself, you have to take what you know about who you are and make changes where necessary. You have to take your self-awareness and use it as a stepping stone for self-improvement. Changing the way you think about yourself is important, but changing the way you act is essential. 

A great way to be proactive about your self-awareness is to feel inspired and motivated to take action. In my new book (out next week!!!!), I share insights and inspiration for creating a positive, present life. Want a copy? See below for details on the book and how to enter to win!  

 

 

WIN A PERSONALIZED, SIGNED, ADVANCED COPY
OF THE POSITIVELY PRESENT GUIDE TO LIFE
!


I'm offering one lucky guy or gal a chance to win an advanced signed copy of my book (available for pre-order now and in stores and online March 10!), The Positively Present Guide to Life. The book is an inspirational, two-color hardcover beauty, filled with specific, action-oriented advice for embracing positive thinking in everyday life to: create a nurturing home, build a fulfilling career, develop great relationships, appreciate true love, and embrace change. To enter to win a personalized, signed copy of the book, see below! 

 

PPGTL-Sample


 

HOW TO ENTER

1. Enter by doing one (or all!) of the following. Each counts as an entry.

  • On Twitter, tweet: Enter the @positivepresent giveaway to win a free copy of The Positively Present Guide to Life http://bit.ly/1FEbJXR
  • On Facebook, share: Enter the Positively Present giveaway to win a free copy of The Positively Present Guide to Life http://bit.ly/1FEbJXR 
  • On Instagram / Pinterest, share a photo from this post, with this info: Enter the Positively Present giveaway to win a free copy of The Positively Present Guide to Life http://bit.ly/1FEbJXR 
  • Follow PositivePresent on Twitter, PositivelyPresent on Instagram, PositivelyPresent on Pinterest, or friend Dani on Facebook
  • Tell a friend or loved one about the book (honor system here!)

 

2. Leave a comment below, including:

  • Where / how you entered (every follow / like / tweet / mention / etc. counts as an entry!)
  • Your email address (in the email box, not the comment box)

 

IMPORTANT DETAILS

* Every follow / share / tweet / like, etc. counts as one entry
* Enter as many times as you'd like to increase your chances! 
* Winner will be chosen and notified via email on 3/8/15


how to create happy moments + a giveaway

Create-Happy-Moments

 

I believe there's a big difference between being positive and being happy. To me, positivity is a mindset you can have it all times — regardless of the situation — while happiness is something you experience for a set (usually brief) period of time. Happiness in the general sense is what many people strive for, but what they should be striving for instead is to cultivate a positive mindset that will lead to more happy moments. Creating a positive mindset involves a lifestyle change and a complete shift in how you see the world (something I hope I'm encouraging with each Positively Present blog post!). Happy moments, on the other hand, can be created with small acts. 

Each and every day we have the opportunity to create little bits of happiness for ourselves and for others. We might not feel happy for long periods of time (like those days when everything just seems to be going wrong), but that doesn't mean we can't have happy moments. Sometimes we don't feel we deserve happy moments and sometimes we don't feel as if we can have them (like when we're really upset or angry), but no matter how you're feeling in a general sense (positive, negative, angry, sad, joyful, excited, nervous, etc.), you can create little moments in a day when you feel a burst of happiness. 

The trick to having these moments is to be open to the possibility of having them. No matter what your mindset of the day, if you're open to a little bit of happiness, you can create it or find it. I'm not going to say this won't take some effort on your bad days — it's going to be tough — but if you're at least open to the possibility of a little bit of happiness, you'll give yourself a chance to experience it.  

You might be wondering what these little moments of happiness consist of. In my mind, they're those fleeting moments when, no matter what's going on in your life, you feel a bit of joy inside, even if it's only for a moment. This might be because of someone else's act or something you've done for yourself, but whatever the reason, you feel like smiling. Obviously we can't control when others do things that give us these little happy moments, but we can do things to create happy moments for ourselves. Here are some ideas for creating happy moments (even if you're not having a happy day!): 

 

HAPPY MOMENTS YOU CAN CREATE TODAY

  • Give a nice tip to someone serving you
  • Smile at a coworker you don't know well
  • Eat something with sprinkles on it
  • Draw a caricature of yourself or a friend
  • Watch a funny video on YouTube (like this)
  • Do an unexpected favor for a friend
  • Make a list of things you're grateful for
  • Strike up a conversation with a stranger
  • Call up a friend for a quick chat
  • Pay for someone behind you in line
  • Explore archives on a favorite site
  • Give someone an unexpected hug or kiss
  • List what you've accomplished today
  • Make shadow puppets in the dark
  • Send a handwritten letter to a friend
  • Research places you'd like to visit
  • Sign up for an online learning experience
  • Go for a short walk around the block
  • Offer to pick up the lunch/dinner tab
  • Compliment a complete stranger
  • Bake something delicious just for you
  • Lend someone your favorite book
  • Send a surprise pizza to a friend
  • Let someone in your lane while driving
  • Tell a friend why you love him/her
  • Order flowers for someone (or yourself!)
  • Donate used clothing to charity
  • Write a check to your favorite charity
  • Send a just-because thank you note
  • Tell a silly joke to a friend
  • Take a colleague out to lunch
  • Bring your boss/coworker/friend coffee
  • Post something uplifting on Facebook

 

As you can see, there are tons of little ways to bring happiness into your day (many of which, you might have noticed, involve bringing happiness to others). I'm hoping to bring a little happy moment to you today by offering you a chance to win a subscription to one of my favorite magazines, Live Happy! See below for details on how to enter.  

 

WIN A SUBSCRIPTION TO LIVE HAPPY MAGAZINE!

Live-Happy 

I'm offering one lucky guy or gal a chance to win something that definitely brings me some happy moments: a one-year subscription (six issues) to Live Happy Magazine! This magazine weaves the science of positive psychology through inspiring features, relatable stories, and sage advice to help people discover their personal journey of happiness in life, at work, and at home. Every time I read it, I feel more inspired and uplifted and I'm sure you will too! See below for details on how to enter this giveaway! 
 

HOW TO ENTER

1. Enter by doing one (or all!) of the following. Each counts as an entry.   

    * Friend PositivelyPresent on Facebook
    * Follow PositivePresent on Twitter
    * Follow PositivelyPresent on Instagram
    * Follow PositivelyPresent on Pinterest
    * Link to this post on any social media outlet

2. Leave a comment below, including:

    * Where / how you entered (every follow / like / tweet / etc. counts!)
    * Your email address (in the email box, not the comment box)

IMPORTANT DETAILS

* Every follow / share / tweet / like, etc. counts as one entry
* Enter as many times as you'd like to increase your chances! 
* Winner will be chosen and notified via email on 2/16/15


you are free: 4 lessons from meditating on forgiveness

Forgive

 

A little over a week ago, I attended an all-day meditation retreat led by Tara Brach. I'd signed up it months ago and it seemed like a fun idea, a great way to really see how mindful I could be, but as the day grew near, I started to worry. Would I be able to sit still all day? Would I be able to survive without looking at my phone? Would I be able to handle my own thoughts for hours and hours at a time? Though I strive to be positive and present in my daily life, meditation is an entirely different level of presence — and one I wasn't entirely sure I was ready to tackle for an entire day. 

I was uneasy about the experience (as I often am when I try new things), but I tried to go into it with an open heart and mind. And I'm glad I did. The day-long experience ended up being wonderful for me. It was a challenge, for sure, but one that left me feeling inspired and introspective. I took countless pages of notes, sat still for long periods at a time (something I really couldn't have imagined doing before the retreat), and looked at my phone very little. The meditation leader, Tara, touched on so many thought-provoking topics that I knew I'd have a hard time writing this post. It was such an enlightening experience that I want to share every little bit of it.

Since this probably won't be the last post I write about the experience (and it probably won't be the last time I attend a session hosted by Tara), I've decided to focus on one of the topics that resonated with me the most: forgiveness. This particular meditation session focused on emotional healing so it's no suprise that this topic came up. It's a concept I'm obviously familiar with (who isn't?), but I learned some very important lessons about forgiveness while listening to Tara speak, including...

 

FORGIVING IS UNNATURAL. 

When Tara spoke of forgiveness, she reminded us that it's not necessarily a natural thing. To paraphrase what she said, "In some way, we all feel separate from other people. We've all be hurt; we've all been wronged. In an effort to protect ourselves from pain, we put down those who have hurt us. It is a survival instinct. It's natural to want not to forgive, to aim to protect ourselves, but blaming others causes us pain and holds us back from love." It's natural to avoid things that have caused us pain, which makes it feel unnatural to forgive. But when we forgive (even if we don't forget), we open up space in our hearts and minds for love. This might sound cheesy, but it's the truth. The more you forgive, the more you love. And the more you love, the more you create a more positive, present life for yourself. To forgive you might have to resist the human instinct for protection. I like to think of it like this: when you forgive, you're choosing connection over protection. The more you can connect with others (even those who have wronged you), the more you can create a more peaceful and loving environment for yourself. (Keep in mind that the connection has to be healthy for you. If forgiving will bring you pain or put you in unhealthy situations, take a look at the next point.)

 

FORGIVING IS NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE. 

Tara said something along the lines of: "You can't will forgiveness, but you can be willing. The intention to forgive can open your heart. When you forgive, you are free." Forgiveness doesn't always come easily. Some things feel as if they are unforgivable. A great many of those things feel unforgivable because we don't even open ourselves up to the possibility of forgiving. We shut it down quickly, making it not even an option. If we at least try to be open to the notion of forgiving someone who has wronged us, we might find that forgiveness is, in fact possible. However, Tara raised a great point when she mentioned that sometimes we aren't ready for forgiveness. Sometimes, particularly in highly traumatic situations, we're not in a place where forgiveness in a healthy option for us. I like to think that, even in the most traumatic situations, forgiveness will come in time because true forgiveness is the best path to freedom from pain. However, I think it's important to be okay with not being ready for forgiveness, to know that forgiveness isn't always possible in the present moment. 

 

FORGIVING IS OPENING UP TO FEELING.

One of my favorite things that Tara said while talking about forgiveness was this: "What would you have to feel if you let go of the idea that the other person is wrong?" She asked the audience to shout out answers to this question and some of them were: powerlessness, anxiety, blame, loneliness, guilt, regret. As I sat in my chair listening to these answers, I could really relate to them. But then I also started to realize how negative these were. Yes, the idea of removing blame and then having to experience these emotions is incredibly difficult to imagine, but what about some of the more positive emotions that we might have to feel, like love and empathy? Wouldn't those be particularly difficult to feel toward someone we'd been unable to forgive? As I thought about it, I realized that, as difficult as it would be to experience these emotions, both the good and the bad, it's perhaps even more difficult to avoid experiencing them. Forgiveness is about feeling, which is maybe why it's so hard to do sometimes. But the more we feel (negative and positive), the more we learn about others and about ourselves and with that knowledge we can do so much. 

 

FORGIVING DOES NOT MEAN CONDONING. 

Toward the end of her talk on forgiveness, Tara said (to paraphrase): "We often feel as though, if we let go of blame, something bad will happen. Forgiveness is not about condoning bad behavior. Forgiveness frees your heart, but it doesn't mean you can't still protect yourself. When you forgive, you become bigger than the victimization." One of the things, I think, that holds us back from forgiving others is believing that if we forgive them, we are admitting that what they have done to us is okay. But that's not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is to stop feeling hurt about something that was done to you. It doesn't mean that what was done was right. It doesn't mean that you will ever have the same relationship you had. Forgiveness is much more about changing how you feel inside you than it is about changing what's happening outside with others. As Tara put it, "When you forgive, you are free." Forgiveness is often mistaken for something that sets someone else free, but it's actually about setting yourself free, which is one of the most positive things you can do for yourself when you've been hurt.  

 

Forgiveness can be a complex topic because the acts and people you might need to forgive can vary so widely. However, the underlying notion of freeing yourself through forgiveness — no matter how you've been wronged — is the same. As I sat meditating on forgiveness after Tara's talk, thinking about those I wanted to forgive and those I wanted to forgive me, I reached a deep and clear understanding about how important forgiving others is and how truly amazing it feels to simply forgive. It is a release unlike anything, filled only with the possibility for love and peace. 

Tara encouraged us to imagining forgiving those who have hurt us and asking for forgiveness from those we'd hurt. It was quite therapeutic to do this, to simply think the words "I forgive you," even if I knew I would never say them aloud. Give it a try if you can. Think of those you need to forgive (perhaps even yourself) and say to yourself: "I forgive you, __________ for  __________." It's a simple sentence but it can bring you a sense of peace and understanding that you might not have experienced before. This isn't to say that forgiveness will remove all pain, but I personally found attempting it to be incredibly freeing, lifting just a little bit of weight from the heaviness of the human heart. 

 

PPG-Preorder

 
Less than a month until my new book, The Positively Present Guide to Life, debuts and I'm SO excited! The book is all about how to stay positive and present in various areas of life including: at home, at work, in love, in relationships, and during change. I've turned back to it often this year as I've gone through major changes and it's been tremendously helpful. The book is filled with inspiring images that make it even easier to stay positive and present. You can learn more about the book and find out where to buy a copy here. (You can also get a sneak peek at the book, access a free download, and watch the book trailer!)


24 hours without complaining : 5 lessons I learned

Less-Complaining

 

Last week I stumbled across this post (via SwissMiss) in which the author challenges her readers to stop complaining for just one day. I don't consider myself a huge complainer, but I know I do my fair share of whining on a daily basis so I decided to challenge myself not to complain for 24 hours. It seemed easy enough. After all, for a good chunk of that time, I'd be asleep. 

 

It was not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. At all

 

It turns out that I do a lot more complaining than I realized. It wasn't until I started really paying attention to what I was saying, thinking, and typing did I start to see how much negativity I was actually putting out into the world. For the most part, these are tiny things — phrases like, "I'm freezing!" or "Ugh, why isn't it Friday yet?" — but all of those little complaints start to add up. 

Every time you complain, you're putting negative energy into the world — and into your life. And that's something you definitely don't want to be doing if you're striving to live more positively in the present. The more you complain about your life (even if it's simply in your mind), the less space you leave for positive thoughts that celebrate what you should be grateful for. 

As I made it through the 24 hours of attempting to be complaint-free, it became very clear to me that I needed to change some of my thought patterns and habits in order to create a more positive environment for myself. While struggling to avoid my whiny thoughts (I really started to annoy myself!), I thought about how I could tackle the complaints that surfaced in my mind. Here are the five tactics I used when I found myself veering toward a complaint...

 

PAY ATTENTION TO HOW YOU REALLY FEEL

The first complain I noticed myself uttering during this 24-hour challenge was when I walked outside into the cold January morning and immediately thought to myself, "Ugh. I'm freezing!" Yes, it was cold outside, but was I really freezing. Of course not. I was outside for less than five minutes in a warm jacket and boots. When I actually paid attention to how my body felt, I realized I wasn't even that cold. I'm so used to complaining about the cold (I'm not a fan) that I just complain for the sake of complaining. Not cool. As the day went on, I realize that I do a lot of that default complaining. I'm used to thinking I don't like something or I feel a certain way in a situation, but when I really allowed myself to experience it, I realized that more often than not, my complaints weren't based in any reality. They were simply a default setting. Which brings me to my next point... 

 

FOCUS ONLY ON THE PRESENT MOMENT

Another thing I was quickly made aware of when I started giving more attention to my thoughts was the amount of times I complained about something that hadn't happened yet. In my mind, I was dreading the mound of laundry I had to tackle or whining to myself about how I didn't want to deal with that conference call. These things weren't even happening and I was already complaining about them! I soon discovered when I pulled my mind back to the present moment, I had a lot less to complain about. Complaining about something that hasn't happened yet is a ridiculous waste of time and all it does it make whatever that unpleasant thing is take up more of your thoughts (and your life!).  

 

DIRECT YOUR THOUGHTS TO GRATITUDE

One of the easiest ways to counter complaints, I found, was to focus on things you have to be grateful for. Whenever I found myself complaining about something, I tried to think about what I was thankful for that related to that situation. For example, going back to the laundry I didn't want to do: when I thought about how annoying it would be to have to wash and fold my clothes, I countered that complaint with gratitude about how lucky I was to have clothes and a washing machine and an able body that could put the clothes in, take them out, and fold them. Once I started focusing on all of the positives, a simple task like laundry started to seem much more like a blessing than a curse and it became much more difficult to whine about it.

 

REFRAIN FROM USING COMPLAINTS TO BOND

It hadn't really occurred to me before, but over the 24-hour complain-free day, I realized how often I use complaining to bond with others. When I friend text me, "How's your day?" I automatically responded with, "Ugh. So busy!" First of all, I should be grateful to have work that keeps me busy (and thankful for the opportunity to do what I love for a living!) and, secondly, there are a million positive responses I could have had that didn't involve a complaint. However, it's become a default for me to complain to friends about how busy / stressed / etc. I am because we always vent to one another in this way. This isn't to say we shouldn't vent when having a tough day, but complaining shouldn't be a way to bond with others. Bonds should be formed over positive things, not negative. 

 

LEARN TO CHANGE IT OR ACCEPT IT

The most important lesson I learned about complaining is that a lot of the time the things I complain about are things I can change. Too cold while watching TV on the couch? Grab a blanket! Annoyed by an always-negative friend? Stop hanging out with her! A lot of complaints are within my control and I've realized that, if something's bothering me, whining about it is not the answer. If I want less to complain about, I have to take action. And, for those things I can't control, I learned that it's a lot less stressful if I just learn to accept them as they are. Complaining about something you can't change is a huge waste of time and all it does it create unnecessary negativity. So I've realized this: If I can change something, I should. I can change it but don't want to, I should be quiet. And if I can't change it, I should let it go. 

 

Though this challenge was only 24 hours long, it was an eye-opening experience for me. It made me much more mindful of how I think (and what I spend my time thinking about) and it shone a light on the ways I could choose to be more positive. I'd highly recommend giving it a try. The more you're aware of complaining, the more you'll be able to change it (and hopefully eliminate it). The more time you spend complaining, I've learned, the less time you have for other things, like celebrating your awesome life and all the things for which you should be thankful! 

  

 

Finding-Self-Cover

It's a lot harder to complain when you're celebrating who you are. Now is a great time to discover more about yourself and what you want most by downloading a copy of the e-book Finding Yourself: A Soul-Searching Workbook for Surprising Self Discovery. Filled with inspiration, questions, and activities to get you thinking about what it means to be you, Finding Yourself is a must for learning more about who you are and about what matters most to you. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your very own soul-searching copy here.


what stories are you telling yourself?

What-Stories

 

I've been thinking a lot lately about the stories we tell ourselves and how these stories manifest into realities. You might not consider yourself a storyteller in the conventional sense, but every day you tell yourself stories. A lot of these stories start off as facts and we add to them, creating fictional tales that we then take as truth and experience as reality. This sounds a little abstract so let's look at an example...

Let's say you have a difficult interaction with a colleague. This is a fact. You had an unpleasant interaction — let's say it was a disagreement about how to present material in a meeting. That happened and it wasn't fun. But the storytelling part comes in when you start imagining what it would be like to confront that colleague about the situation. In your mind, you imagine telling her off in detail. You imagine what you will say and how she will respond defensively. You envision your retort to her imaginary arguments. Though this interaction is happening only in your mind, you start to physically feel as if you are in that moment: your palms sweat, your heart races, your muscles tense. The story you're telling isn't real, but the way you feel is. You have turned ideas into your reality. You are mentally and physically living in a moment that doesn't exist in reality. 

We do this not only for future situations, but also past ones as well. Right now take a moment and think about the last time you were in an awkward situation. Imagine how it felt to feel socially awkward or to have just said the absolute wrong thing to the wrong person. You're probably cringing right now just recalling it, and you're probably feeling some physical reactions too — maybe tense muscles or sweaty palms. Even though that moment is in the past, if you tell the story to yourself in your mind, it starts to feel as if it's happening now. 

Pretty crazy, huh? When written out like this, it sounds like something that might make for a good mental patient case: made up stories that feel like they're really happening. But we all do this to ourselves all the time. We rehash what's happened or we create scenes that have yet to happen and they feel incredibly real. If we did this in a positive way — spent time dwelling on that amazing memory of a great day or envisioned how perfectly the nerve-wracking speech is going to go — this wouldn't be such a problem, but when was the last time you spent a lot of time thinking about how wonderful something was or how great it's going to be? 

It makes sense to reflect (a little bit) on what went wrong — after all, that's how you learn not to do it again — and it's not the worst idea to consider what might go wrong so you might prepare and avoid disastrous situations, but I think it's important that we be aware of the stories we're telling ourselves, both about the past and about the future. These stories can very often feel real and they're not. The past recollections are tainted by our memories (what now seems like the worst might not have been that bad in the situation) and the future is completely imagined. 

The thing is: these stories have power over us. When we tell them enough, we start to believe them. Regardless of what actually happened, if we've created a memory of it and we keep telling that story, we believe that's the truth. Likewise, if you imagine something enough and think it's going to happen, it might actually become a reality. (Then you'll confirm your own storytelling abilities by saying to yourself, "I was right! I knew I was going to feel so awkward on that first date and it would go terribly and it did!") We also start to tell these stories to others (particularly stories about the past), which makes them feel even more real. 

But, in truth, the only thing that's real, that's actually happening right now, is the present moment. Whatever is in your head is a story. It would be ideal if we could stop telling ourselves stories, but that's a whole lot easier said than done. What I think we need to do is start being aware of these stories. Once you're aware that what you're telling yourself is a story — and not necessarily reality — you have the option to keep telling it, change it, or let it go.

We need to start asking: What stories am I telling myself? We need to start asking: Are these stories completely based on actual reality? (Hint: almost never; our minds can't help but put a spin on things.) We need to start asking: Are these stories adding value to my life? (Hint: they're usually not.) And, perhaps most importantly, we need to start asking: If I'm the storyteller, why not tell positive stories? 

I urge you to ask yourself these questions this week and see if maybe you can counteract (or let go of) the negative stories you've been telling yourself. Become aware of your stories and decide whether or not you want to keep telling them. 

 

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Learn how you can positively transform your story in my new book, The Positively Present Guide to Life. The book is all about how to stay positive and present in various areas of life including: at home, at work, in love, in relationships, and during change. I've turned back to it often this year as I've gone through major changes and it's been tremendously helpful. As a bonus, the book is filled with inspiring images that make it even easier to stay positive and present. You can learn more about the book here. (You can also get a sneak peek at the book, access a free download, and watch the book trailer!)