Monthly Archives: January 2013

Looking back to move ahead

Standard

After all the bustle and festivities of the holiday season in December, January can feel a bit like a hangover.  The twinkling lights that brought so much pleasure are the source of frustration and scratches and scrapes as they have to be pulled from trees and bushes, the ornaments wrapped safely so they’ll be there next year, the garland twirled at the bottom of the box to act as a cushion.

Many people set to making resolutions; others seem equally invested in denouncing these promises to ourselves as fruitless, seeing them as an exercise in self-flagellation instead of a call to our higher selves. How and why do our resolutions turn into instruments of self-torture?  Why don’t we keep our promises to ourselves?

Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings and transitions

January takes its name from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions who is also seen as the god of doorways, thresholds and gates.  Perched at the beginning of the year, one face looks behind at the past, the next is set on the future.  In ancient times, he was invoked at the beginning of most rituals, as he held watch over heaven and all the other gods, and was an important part of harvest and marriage ceremonies.

Janus is also reported to have minted the first coins- a nod towards the importance of our invoking what he represents for all of our transactions and manifestations.  Yet how many of us cross the threshold of a new year, open the gate to a new era in our lives, or move through the doorway into a new venture or relationship and want to “never look back”?  Does it really work like that? Why don’t we want to look back? Are we afraid of something? Do we think that looking at the past will somehow suck us back in to it?

How does this approach to a new year show up in our daily lives? So often in my work with clients, I urge them to develop a Janus perspective when setting goals.  It becomes very easy to get bogged down when only focusing on all that needs to be done. When that to-do list is long, it can be incredibly easy to become disheartened and feel like we’re making no progress at all because the list never seems to get any shorter.

Its when we look behind us and recognize what we’ve accomplished and how far we’ve come that we become encouraged to keep moving forward and empowered to take the requisite steps to achieve our goals.  It cultivates gratitude, and builds self-esteem.  We’re gathering proof of what we’re capable of, writing a story where we take care of business and figure out solutions to problems that threatened to overwhelm us.

I’ve found that incorporating recognition of my achievements into my weekly goal setting session not only inspires me and builds my confidence, but helps me in setting realistic and attainable goals.  How many negative stories I’d get caught in and pull myself down with simply because I wasn’t taking the time to really look at how my time was being spent, how many components were actually involved in a project, and the reality of how I moved through my week and my life!

It’s important to examine our mindset at beginnings.  So often, we think that changing our material circumstances is the answer to our problems, not recognizing that, actually, our mindset interprets and thus creates our circumstances.  How upsetting it is to see how many people posted negatively about 2012 on Facebook, then layed out expectations for 2013 to be better…  sorry, ya’ll, but if you’re not finishing the year mining for the good to bring with you to the next, you’ll find little good to come.

There is a story about a man that was sitting on the porch of a general store at the entrance of a small town.  A family on vacation pulled in to stretch and get snacks.  The father approached the man and said “What are people like around here? We’re thinking of moving somewhere before the kids start school.”

“Well,” thought the man, “what are people like where you are now?”

“Oh, they’re terrible!  They’re cold and selfish and would just as soon kick you in the teeth than help you.”

“That’s what they’re like here,” the man replied.

The father thanked him for his insight and they moved on.

A little while later, another family pulled in to the general store.  While the mother took the daughter inside to go to the bathroom, the father wandered over to the man on the front porch.

“You from here?” he asked the man.

“Yes, I am.”

“What are folks like in these parts?  Sometimes we think we’d like to leave the city.”

“Well, what are folks like where you are?” the man asked.

“Oh, we’re in a great neighborhood.  People are friendly and look after each other.”

“That’s what they’re like here, too.” the man replied.

What stories are you telling yourself about what people are like, who you are, what you’re capable of? What stories have you bought in to about what is possible or even likely?  How does that effect what you see and how you interpret what you experience?  Pausing at the beginning to take a look back before we move forward can help us to keep what’s working and fix or leave behind what isn’t. It raises our awareness of ourselves and our lives so we don’t move forward on autopilot, then wonder why we keep finding ourselves back where we’d worked so hard to leave behind.


Advertisements

The stories we tell ourselves

Standard

The stories we tell ourselves have a phenomenal power over our lives.  They shape how we interpret events, how we experience our relationships, even what we pay attention to.

There is an reflective writing exercise that I do with my clients to close out my Success Skills Set session.  ”The problem with the mind is that it believes what it thinks” is the Byron Katie quote that lays at the top of the page.  How seldom do we challenge our thoughts? Our perceptions? Our beliefs?  Yet how we think about the world around and inside us dictates how we feel about it.  How we feel about the world inside and around us determines how we behave, and how we behave determines our future, our character, our integrity.

Examining our assumptions about ourselves and the world around us is worth some consideration.

Shortly after bringing home my new kitties, my son and I were watching them stalk, pounce upon, and wrestle with one another.  Sometimes its hard to imagine that they weren’t going to hurt one another- or that they despised each other- yet they’d be curled around one another in the blanket basket an hour later grooming one another and settling in for a nap between each others’ paws.  ”Well, that’s how you learn about the world, right? From fighting with your brothers and sisters” my only child remarked.  It struck me speechless at the time.

739842_4268643518855_1105201548_o

When they’re not shredding each other, they’re quite affectionate.

Later, I was watching the kitties going after each other again- much stronger now, their tactics much more refined.  It was clear to me that as scrabbling siblings, they would be much more able to find their way in the wilder world than if they didn’t fight as often and as fiercely as they did.  They were more nimble, more cunning, more strategic because they were being perpetually challenged in a way that a human caretaker wouldn’t be able to imitate.

Indeed, it seemed that the natural world testified that fighting with our siblings is one of the many ways the young are prepared for the world they’ll have to navigate as adults.  So where did we get the idea that there was something wrong with our families if we fought with our siblings? How did this idea that there was something wrong with us, with them, with our families because we fought–ironically enough–intensify the fighting?  Take it from the realm of playful but informative parries & thrusts to soul-wounding experiences that damaged our sense of security and self-esteem?

Mind you, I’m not advocating parents leaving children to rip each other to shreds– managing conflict and dispute and moving to forgiveness is part of the skill-set we need to be effective and productive adults.  What I am saying is that shifting our perception of the role of fighting would enable us to manage that conflict better.  Forgiveness would be almost unnecessary–do you need to forgive the people that you see as being integral to helping you develop the survival skills that have brought you this far?

How different would our lives be if we expected this to be a part of childhood? Saw it as perfectly normal and natural, and even a part of our education and preparation for adulthood?

Shifts things a bit, doesn’t it?

The stories we tell ourselves deeply effect our lives; our motivation, our sense of esteem, our confidence, our optimism.  Motivation, confidence, and optimism deeply impact our performance and outcomes.  Oftentimes, the answer to our performance issues doesn’t lie in getting more hours of contact with the information, or more organized with our schedules, but in addressing the stories we’re telling ourselves about our capacity and capabilities.  About what success means.  About what failure means.  How many “this always happens to me”s are you carrying around? Sure, getting enough contact with the information in a way that works for us is crucial, as is developing an organizational system we’ll actually use.  But if we have these things and we can’t manage to stay on track, its time to look deeper.

Do we think success will call us to leave something we cherish behind? Are we using failure to protect our self-esteem?

What stories are you living by? Are they serving you?  To find out, just start paying attention to the stories that run across your mind.  How does your body feel when you’re in these narratives? How do they impact how you see yourself? How do they impact your relationships with others?  Just watch and see what happens.

Are there other options? Is  the story you’ve been telling yourself the only interpretation of what’s going on? What could be some other interpretations?

Paying attention to what we tell ourselves is a very powerful way to put ourselves into the driver’s seat of our own lives.  Mind you, I’m talking about paying non-judgmental attention here: to judge, we’re likely telling ourselves another story. Try non-judgmental observation of your stories for a week.  What do you notice?