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3 steps for achieving sophrosyne

Sophrosyne

 

I'm a bit of a word nerd, and when I came across this image on Pinterest last week it really got me thinking about this word I'd never heard before (a word that doesn't really even translate into English): sophrosyne. According to the photo on Pinterest, it's "a healthy state of mind, characterized by self-control, moderation, and a deep awareness of one's true self, resulting in true happiness." On Wikipedia, I found it described as "a Greek philosophical term etymologically meaning healthy-mindedness and from there self-control or moderation guided by knowledge and balance."  

Usually when I pin something, I don't think too much about it, but for some reason, I found myself coming back to the pin again and again, contemplating the meaning of the word. For me, it seems to mean the adoption of moderation leading to a greater state of well-being. It means knowing when your needs are met and choosing enough over excess

I hate to admit it, but moderation is not my strong suit. If I enjoy something—whether it be a person, an activity, a color (orange!), a food, a TV show, etc.—I want it constantly and I want to know all I can about it. I become a little...well...obsessive. This obsessiveness has been made so much easier by the ever-expanding internet, where I can search endlessly for anything and everything relating to my latest interest. This isn't such a big deal in some cases (such as my recent infatuation with the TV show The Big Bang Theory), but in others (such as alcohol consumption), my inability to moderate has been a problem (to say the least!).

In the past, after failing miserably at moderating, I came to the understanding that I'm an abstainer; I have to completely stop doing something if I don't want to do it excessively. (Hooray for 3.5 years sober!) As St. Augustine so wisely said, "To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation." I always related so much to that quote, thinking moderation was just not in my nature, but learning about the concept sophrosyne has made me think a bit differently about what moderation might mean, and how embracing it might lead to a more positive, more present life. 

Rather than focusing on moderation as an absence of full-on indulgence in something, sophrosyne seems to consider moderation as the act of knowing one's true needs, recognizing when those have been met, and choosing not move forward in excess in order to achieve a better sense of well-being and happiness. While that might sound a bit complex, the more I think about it, the more I realize it's actually quite simple: avoid excess, achieve balance. Simple as it sounds in writing, it's not always easy for me to achieve in reality (which is why I often go the abstinence route when needed!), but after spending some time contemplating this concept, I think it's really worth embracing, and here are some of the best ways I've thought of to start incorporating sophrosyne into my life:  

 

KNOW WHAT YOU NEED TO MODERATE. 

Most important is knowing what needs moderation. Most of us have a few things we tend to over-indulge in, either because we love them so much or because they provide us with some sort of emotional outlet. While it's okay to do these things (unless they are detrimental to your well-being or the well-being of others), it's not okay to do them in excess, to the point where you feel as if you are no longer in control or you feel negative emotions associated with your choices. We all could do with a little moderation in life (unless you're one of the lucky ones who is already super good at moderating, lucky duck!), but it's important to first pinpoint the areas that really need moderation. For example, I could really do with moderating my sugar intake (I love sweets!), turning off the TV a little more often, and putting a little distance between me and Pinterest. Knowing where I really need to moderate is key to getting started on actually moderating things. For me, this seems a bit overwhelming (I could stand to moderate a lot of things!) so I'm choosing to focus on one thing at a time, with the hope that the more I master moderation in one area, the more easily it will be to master in other areas. 

 

MAKE ONLY ONE CHOICE AT A TIME. 

This is where I feel I've struggled in the past. Instead of choosing to turn off the TV for a few hours, I've thought to myself, I have to turn the TV off every night starting at 6pm. Setting these extreme moderation limitations for myself made me a lot less likely to do it (also, I tend to be a bit of a rule-breaker so if I set rules for myself, I have a really hard time not wanting to break them). Instead of thinking, I'm going to moderate my TV watching every single day for the rest of my life, I think it helps to think more specifically about individual choices, such as moderating my TV watching today. For some reason, I tend to act like whatever I'm obsessing over is going to disappear the moment I stop engaging with it, so I try to absorb as much as I can for as long as I can. But this isn't reality. In reality, the TV's still going to be there tomorrow. The candy I want to eat a whole bag of is still going to be in the cabinet tomorrow. There's no need to obsessively do everything immediately. Instead thinking everything should be done/eaten/watched/etc. today, moderation is about making wise choices in the moment without fretting about what will happen in the future. 

 

TRANSFORM YOUR MINDSET. 

Part of the problem I have had with moderation in the past has to do with the way I think about it. I've always thought of it as a bad thing, something you do because you have to, not because you want to. Having always been the type to enjoy excess, it's a bit of a foreign concept to think that people actually choose—and enjoy choosing!—moderation. Of course, the more I think about sophrosyne and using moderation as a tool to create a more positive, more present life, the more I realize that moderation doesn't have to be a negative thing. It doesn't have to be about giving up something. It can be about gaining something—wisdom, patience, time. A shift in thinking can be so transformative and I've really started to shift the way I think about moderation, realizing that it doesn't have to be a negative experience. Yes, at times it might be a challenge, but ultimately I think embracing moderation helps to create better knowledge of oneself, which can only lead to better, more fulfilling experiences (which I think is what sophrosyne is all about!). 

 

On the surface, sophrosyne might seem as if it's simply another word for moderation, for avoiding extremes, but it's much more than that. It's about understanding yourself, knowing when you've had enough (something that can actually be hard to know sometimes), and maintaining a sense of balance between extremes. Achieving sophrosyne means striving for a life of balance and well-being, knowing the difference between need and want, and making choices that will strengthen your understanding of self. That's quite a lot packed into one little word, but it's a word worth learning, a concept worth considering. I know it won't be easy for me to embrace it, but I think it's just the kind of thing that helps to create a more positively present life. 

 


preserving your perimeter: 4 steps to set boundaries

Positively-Present-Boundaries

 

A friend of mine has been struggling with one of her coworkers—a well-meaning but overly time-consuming character that adds a great deal of stress to her workday—and she jokingly said to me, "You should write an article about how to deal with him!" I laughed and brushed off the thought until I sat down to write this week's post and found that her situation kept coming back to me. I've written before about how to stay positive around negativity, how to handle criticism, and how detaching can improve relationships, but this situation is a bit different. The coworker my friend is struggling with isn't negative or critical. In this case, it's not about removing the negative, but about tweaking the interactions my friend and the coworker have in order to work more productively with less stress. It's about setting boundaries.

My friend's situation is just one example, but setting boundaries is so important in all relationships—with coworkers, with friends, with family, and even with complete strangers. (And, come to think of it, sometimes you even need to set boundaries with yourself!) Setting boundaries is an essential aspect of living a positive and present life. When you set boundaries, you not only reinforce love and respect for yourself, but you also create perimeters for keeping negativity, stress, and anxiety out of your relationships. 

The value of setting boundaries is easy to see, but, for many of us, actually setting (and sticking to) them isn't always so easy. Here are four steps you can take to implement boundaries in your life: 

 

STEP 1 : IDENTIFY WHERE YOU NEED BOUNDARIES.

The first step is knowing where (and with whom) you need to set boundaries. Consider the situations in which you feel the most stressed and anxious These are the places where you need to set boundaries, either by transforming the way you engage in these situations or by limiting the amount of time you spend in them. Be sure to tune into why they cause anxiety or stress. Is it the time commitment? The environment? The people? Likewise, identify the people with whom you would like to have more clear boundaries. The boundaries you might need to set up may be physical, mental, or emotional. The boundaries you desire need not make sense to others; they need to be perimeters that allow you to feel comfortable and at ease.   

 

STEP 2 : MARK YOUR BORDERS VERY CLEARLY.  

Once you figure out where you need boundaries—the situations or people that cause you stress—it's time to clearly mark the borders both for yourself and for others. In the example of my friend and her coworker, one way to set clear boundaries would be determining a set amount of time (that's manageable for my friend) when the two will meet and not allowing the meeting to last longer than the designated time. Another example might be stating to someone who has a temper: "I will not conduct a discussion while you are yelling at me. When you have calmed down, we can continue talking." The most important thing is to make the boundaries clear to others. If they don't know what they are, they can't very well stay within them. But keep in mind that there's no need to defend or explain your set boundaries; they are there to protect your emotional well-being and that is reason enough.   

 

STEP 3 : CLEAR YOUR SPACE OF GUILT + ANXIETY. 

One of the hardest things about setting boundaries is not feeling guilty or anxious about them. For example, if you set a boundary with always-tardy friend (such as stating that you will not wait around for him or her if s/he is more than 15 minutes late), you might start to feel anxious that s/he won't want to spend time with you if you won't wait around, or you might feel guilty about valuing your time so much, attempting to validate the other's lateness by listing potential reasons for the tardiness. It can be tough not to feel some anxiety or guilt related to setting boundaries, but keep in mind that (1) boundaries will help you live a more positive, present life and (2) those who don't respect your boundaries aren't the kind of people you want in your life. 

 

STEP 4 : KEEP DEFENDING YOUR PERIMETER. 

After you have identified and clearly determined what your boundaries will be, it's crucial to maintain those boundaries by not allowing others to bulldoze them or by not allowing yourself to discredit them. Once boundaries have been established, don't give in and allow people to cross lines you don't want to have crossed. You've set these boundaries for a reason and they should be honored by those around you (and by yourself!). Sometimes staying strong will be tough, but doing so is essential for keeping your boundaries in place and creating environments in which you feel positive, respected, and empowered. No matter what other people say, no matter what the world throws at you, always do your best to defend your boundaries. 


positively present's turning 5!

PP-Turns-5
 

On Friday, February 14, PositivelyPresent.com will be turning five! When I first started blogging—half a decade ago!—I had no idea how this little website would change my life. From helping me be more positive and present to creating connections with people around the world to launching a full-time career, it's transformed my world in so many ways. Though I'm always striving to stay as much in the moment as possible, I think Positively Present's fifth birthday is a good time to look back on how it all began, what I know now, and where Positively Present is going in the future. But before I do that, I want to say a big THANK YOU to all those who've been reading since the beginning, those who've been popping by for awhile, and even those who just found the site today. Without my amazing readers—YOU!—this positive and present journey might not have continued the way it has, changing my life and the lives of so many others, so thank youthank youthank you for reading!

 

THE PAST : HOW IT ALL BEGAN


It was February 2009, and I was unhappy in so many aspects of my life—my relationships, my career, my choices, my inner emotional state. I'd tried everything I could think of to be happier and when those things didn't work, I decided to search online for an antidote for my unhappy state. While scrolling through happiness-boosting tips and tricks, I came across an article about “how to design an ideal life.” An ideal life sounded great to me (who wouldn’t want an idyllic existence?) and, after a quick skim, I saw that the exercises suggested in the article sounded easy enough. One exercise suggested listing everything you wanted in life and choosing just two of the words to focus on. For a long time, I perused the list I’d made and finally circled two words: positive and present. The more I thought about those two words, squinting at them in my notebook, trying to really understand them, the more it began to seem as if I could achieve almost everything else on my list if I could simply be more positive and more present.

It was then that the way I thought about life shifted. Instead of trying to be happy, which clearly hadn’t been working for me, I decided I would try to be positive and present. I knew I needed a way to keep the words in mind easily so I came up with the phrase positively present. The phrase symbolized what I'd been longing to experience in my life—not a fleeting state I had to wait for, but an active choice I could make daily. I was so excited about my realization that I didn’t want to keep it to myself. All afternoon I’d been perusing blogs and websites filled with advice and inspiration, and it dawned on me that I, too, could create a website to share what I was experiencing and learning.

So I decided to set up a site, PositivelyPresent.com. It was the first time I’d ever even considered sharing my writing online, but for some reason it felt right. I’d been reading website after website about how to be happier and nothing had really worked for me—until I was prompted to look inside myself for an answer. I didn’t know if this was the answer for everyone, but it was my answer, and I wanted to share it in the hope that it might make the same sort of sense to someone else. It started as whim, just a way to track my experiences with living more positively in the present, but that's how PositivelyPresent.com came to be. And now, here we are, five exciting, crazy years later . . . 

 

THE PRESENT : WHAT I KNOW NOW


1. BELIEVING YOU CAN IS THE FIRST STEP.

Decades before I had my Positively Present a-ha! moment, my mom had been urging me to have a positive attitude. For years and years, she'd been reminding me that I could change a situation just by changing my mind about it—but her words had fallen on deaf ears. Before February 2009, I might have wanted to be positive, but I didn't think I could be. I thought I was wired to have a negative mind, and there was nothing I could do about it. I didn't believe I could change so I didn't even think to try.

That's the thing about belief. It's powerful. It might sound incredibly cliche, but if only I had believed in myself sooner—in my ability to take control of my life in some way with my attitude and choices—I could have wasted a lot less time dwelling in the past, worrying about the future, and indulging in a negative attitudes and behaviors. Over the past five years, I've discovered how important it really is to believe in myself, to know that, though I don't have control over everything in my life, I do have a say over how I think, act, and react. 


2. CHANGING IS CHALLENGING (BUT SO WORTH IT). 

To create a positively present life for myself, I've had to do a lot of changing over the past five years. I've had to give up activities, people, and mindsets that brought negativity into my life and kept me from truly being positive in the present. It sounds like simple advice—"Just stop doing the things that are bad for you and stop spending time with people who make you feel bad!"—but, man, is it hard. When I started focusing on being more positive and more present, it became clear that some major aspects in my life had to go, but actually letting go of (or distancing myself in cases when it was impossible to completely remove myself) was so much easier said than done. 

Over the past five years, I've learned how incredibly difficult it is to make major life changes—like letting go of negative relationships, quitting drinking, and resigning from a job I didn't love to do what inspires me—but I've also learned how incredibly rewarding it is to have made those changes and to see what it's like on the other side, from a place where I am now free to focus my attention on the things that matter most to me. 


3. DOING WHAT YOU LOVE IS AMAZING . . .

This site began as a little personal blog, just a way for me track my progress as I embarked on a more positive and present life. I can remember the day after I first started it, checking the number of unique visitors and seeing the number 7. I'd been stunned and a little bit proud. Seven people were reading what I wrote! Seven! I'll never forget what it first felt like to know that there were other people reading my work, that my words were floating out there onto others' computer screens. Now, five years later, it's not just a little site, but a career. It's what I do every day. 

It's an amazing gift that I've been given, this chance to do what I love, writing and creating and sharing with other people about a topic that means so much to me. I often think of my childhood self and what she would think of this life I'm living (not very present minded of me, I know!), and I'm pretty sure she'd be thrilled to know how things have turned out. I've always wanted to write, to create, and to share, and here I am, doing just that, all because of PositivelyPresent.com. It's a pretty amazing feeling, and I hope my words and choices can help others go after their dreams, to find a way to do what they love to do.  


4. . . . BUT IT'S ALSO REALLY HARD WORK. 

I can honestly say I'm living the dream. I'm doing what I always wanted to do—to write and create—and I'm doing it for my job. (Sometimes it still amazes me!) But, if I'm completely honest, living the dream isn't always so dreamy. It's hard work, especially since I work for (and by) myself, which means I'm responsible for every aspect of my career (including the not-so-fun bits like taxes). It means I have to keep myself on task (no boss to keep me in line!). It means I have to keep track of my personal and professional finances (math is not my favorite). And, perhaps hardest of all, it means a shift in how I think about what I love to do. Positively Present still something I enjoy doing, but it's also my job

The hard work is well worth it. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining because I'm so thankful to be doing what I love for a living, but one of the lessons I've learned over the past five years is what you imagine in your head—that dream job of writing and creating all day, each day bursting with ideas and excitement—isn't exactly the same as reality. I guess the general lesson is this: don't ever be afraid to go after your dreams, but keep in mind that a lot happens after the dream comes true. (Kind of like the happily-ever-after in a movie. It's so amazing when the couple rides off into the sunset and you're so happy they're together and in love that you might not think about what comes after that dream-come-true moment, the daily effort required to keep a love alive.)


5. BEING GRATEFUL IS EVERYTHING. 

One of the things I love most about what I do is knowing that I'm helping other people to make their lives more positive and more present. The more I hear from readers about how something I've written has made them think or act differently, the more I'm motivated to keep doing what I do (even when it's sometimes hard to do!). I'm so thankful to have such wonderful readers, people who care about what I'm saying and who care about making their lives more positive and present. I said it at the beginning of this post, but I'll say it again: Thank you so much for reading

And, just as important as the loyal readers, are those people in my life who supported me when the site first launched, who helped me transition it into a career, and who continue to support me day in and day out as I keep striving to make my life a more positive and present place. I'm so thankful for opportunities I've been given, many of which wouldn't have been possible without the wonderful, supportive, encouraging people in my life.  

 

THE FUTURE : WHERE IT'S GOING

Positively Present started as a blog, but now it's so much more than that. It's a resource for those seeking to live a positive and present life, it's a place to pick up workbooks and books on living more positively in the present, and it's a place where you can shop for inspiring downloads or positive-minded products. Through Positively Present, I've been so fortunate to be able to write for a living and also to explore other creative avenues, particularly in some of my more recent graphic design ventures. The site has remained true to its roots while continuing to grow, and I'm so happy it's become a place where I can share positive and present inspiration in a variety of different ways. 

In the year ahead (and the years to come!), even more exciting things are in the works for Positively Present. Soon I'll be able to share more with you about my new book (I've been working so hard and am so excited to share it with you!) and about some exciting new products (like a diary/planner that will keep you positive and present all year long!). I've have more info for you soon, but just know good things are coming for Positively Present—and you!—in the years to come.