“No matter how dark the moment, love and hope are always possible.”
— George Chakiris
“Our coaching calls are really fun and valuable. I love them! I don’t LOVE talking on the phone but it turns out that I LOVE LOVE listening to interesting phone calls!”
“I’m feeling less stressed, and more like I’m living my priorities.”
“I believe all the changes I have made will be lasting and that the insights I’ve gained will be a foundation for further growth.”
If you’re intrigued, now’s the time to join us, as you’ll get two themes for the price of one. September’s class materials and three call recordings will remain online until the end of October. (October is dedicated to integrating the concepts we learned on our September calls.)
The November theme, “Being Brave Over Perfect,” will dig a little deeper into the perils of perfectionism and people pleasing. Call topics:
- Tapping into Your Intuitive Wisdom
- What to do When Things Feel Uncertain
- How to Deal with Difficult People
We’ll talk about how we often need to muster considerable courage to lead our most authentic lives—and work together on just how to do that.
Yesterday, a friend asked me if she could borrow my car to run a long-distance errand because my little car gets better mileage than her big one. I wanted to say “no”; switching cars on an already busy day felt like a hassle to me. But I didn’t say no. Instead, I hemmed and hawed and hesitated, hoping she’d get the hint.
It can be really hard to say no. Despite my best attempts not to care what other people think of me, I still find myself wanting to be liked. I don’t want people to think I’m selfish. More than that, I don’t want to be selfish. And I never want to miss easy opportunities to help someone out.
But we human beings will often choose what is most satisfying in the present rather than what will make us happiest in the future—and pleasing others (and thinking of ourselves as generous) by saying “yes” tends to be far more pleasant in the present than saying “no.” But saying yes when we want to say no tends to bite us later, in the form of resentment and exhaustion.
We can make better decisions by picturing ourselves moments before the event in question. Would we be relieved if it were canceled? If so, we’ve gotta say no now so that we don’t find ourselves trying to weasel out of it later. Here’s how.
- Rehearse Saying No.
When we are stressed and tired, we tend to act habitually. Knowing this, we can train our brain to habitually say no rather than yes to requests by rehearsing a go-to response when people ask us for favors. Research shows that when we make a specific plan before we are confronted with a request, we are far more likely later to act in a way that’s consistent with our original intentions.
Something simple—like, “That doesn’t work for me this time”—is almost always sufficient. (See this post for 21 more ways to say no.) Pick a default way to respond when you don’t want to do something, and practice saying it before you need it.
- Be clear about your priorities and truthful in your refusal.
Saying no is easier when we’re clear about our priorities; it’s even harder to decline a request when our reasons for doing so seem unimportant.
I could see that if I had to switch cars with my friend it was going to screw up my whole morning, and it would mean that while I could make it to my meeting in time, I would not be able to take the dog for a morning walk. “I won’t be able to walk the dog,” would have felt like a weak explanation. But walking the dog is my favorite part of my morning, and I count on it to get centered for the day. So, it was also true for me to say, “I have plans in the morning which would make it hard for me to switch cars with you tomorrow.”
Note that even though I was being vague about my plans, I was telling the truth. Untrue excuses and white-lies lead to further entanglements and greater stress. Lying sends your unconscious the message that there’s something wrong with saying no—but there’s not.
Be honest, but don’t be afraid to be vague. Telling the truth is not the same as sharing more details than are necessary, even if someone asks why you can’t help them out or come to their party. Detailed explanations imply that the other person can’t handle a simple no—and they often lead to people solving your conflicts for you, when you don’t really want them to.
If your “no” isn’t accepted with grace, persist. Repeat your point calmly, using the same words. This will help the other person see that you are sticking to your no, and that their pestering isn’t changing your answer. If that doesn’t work and you need something else to say, express empathy. For example, say, “I understand that you are in a tough spot here,” or, “I know this is hard for you to accept.”
If they still won’t back down, tell them the truth about how you are feeling. For example: “I feel uncomfortable and a little angry when you continue to ask me even though I’ve declined.” Focus on your emotions—how their refusal to accept your honest answer is making you feel—and not the logistical details or logic for your refusal.
- Make your decision final.
Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert has famously shown that when we can change our mind, we tend to be a lot less happy with our decisions. So, once we decline an invitation, we need to make an effort to focus on the good that will come from saying no, not the regret or guilt we might feel. Perhaps we will be better rested because we didn’t go to a party, or we’ll feel less resentful because we let someone else help out. Maybe saying no to one thing frees up time for another (more joyful) activity.
Say you are thinking of missing your monthly book club because you aren’t interested in the book. Send your RSVP as a definitive no, not a “maybe.” And then immediately turn your attention to all the time you just freed up for yourself. What do you get to do now instead?
This strategy can be a great tool for offsetting the fear of missing out. The brain reacts to potentially missing out on something in the same way it would with an actual loss. By focusing on what we gain by saying no, we keep our brain from perceiving loss.
If you are feeling nervous about saying no, take a moment to call up the respect for yourself that you’d like others to feel for you. It takes courage to consider your own needs and priorities along with the needs of others. But it’s worth it. In the long run, the ability to say no is a little-known key to happiness.
Need more help saying no? I hope you’ll join my Brave Over Perfect Coaching group, where we practice the skills we need to say “no” strategically, so that we can say “yes” with joy and abandon. Learn more here.
Dinnertime conversation, I’ve found, goes really well when it’s structured. I’ve posed planned questions for my kids at dinnertime since they were in preschool, starting with “What are you grateful for”? and “What’s one good thing that happened today?” They are all teenagers now, and much better at conversation, but I’ve still found that they talk more openly when we start with a single question that everyone answers.
Conversations like the ones that ensue from the questions below help kids experience themselves as a part of something larger than themselves. This, in turn, is likely to make them more resilient, better adjusted, and more successful in school (as I wrote about here). So here’s an extra challenge: See if you can weave your own answers to the questions below into a narrative demonstrating that your family members have been through both good and bad times together, but through it all, you’ve stuck together.
- What are you especially grateful for right now?
- What is one kind thing that you did for someone else today?
- What is one kind thing that someone else did for you today?
- What are your favorite stories that grandpa/grandma told (or still tells)?
- For an adult: What did you have as a child that kids today don’t have? How was your life better? How was it worse?
- For a kid: What do you have that previous generations didn’t have? How would your life be better without it? How would it be worse?
- Who has taught you something important about life? What did they teach you?
- For adult: What was your favorite movie or book when you were my age?
- For kid: What was your favorite movie or book last year, and what is your favorite now?
- What was the hardest thing you went through/have gone through as a child? How did you overcome it?
- If you could know anything about our family history or about a relative who has passed away, what would you want to know?
- What is the most embarrassing thing your mother or father ever did to you?
- What three adjectives would your grandparents use to describe you?
- What is the best thing that your grandparents ever cooked? What about your parents?
- How are you most different from your parents and grandparents? How are you the same?
Brave Over Perfect Coaching is an effective and affordable way to learn how to live–and parent–with more courage, acceptance, joy, presence, self-compassion, gratitude, and authenticity. It’s only $20 for three coaching calls, two months of online support, and tons of online resources. We would love to have you join us!
Life is hectic and uncertain. You don’t have to be.
Some of these questions were adapted from the “Family Gathering” edition of Table Topics.
Help your kids change their behavior, so that they can reach their goals.
As the summer break wrapped up, I started asking my kids about their hopes for the coming school year. The conversation that ensued reminded me a little of New Year’s Eve with adults – lots of optimism, but no plans concrete enough to justify faith in their intentions.
Here’s the thing: Intentions are never enough. Even full-blown goal-setting isn’t worth much if you don’t do it right.
It’s a mistake not to set goals in a way that’s proven effective; just vaguely wanting to do well in school, make the team, or be class president will not get kids where they want to go. But kids don’t know this; we parents need to teach them how to change their behavior in a way that helps them reach their goals.
Enter behavioral psychologist Sean Young, who knows more about behavior change than anyone. Using Sean’s framework – as well as the research I wrote about in my book “The Sweet Spot” – I’ve freshened up my plan for how my kids and I set our goals (and inspire behavior change). While here I’ll use my daughter Macie’s desire to be well-rested this school year, this framework can obviously be applied to many different types of goals. I’ve created a goal-setting worksheet to make it all easy here.
1. First, state the big goal. What would you like to accomplish in the next three months or so?
Macie is a high school senior applying to colleges this fall. She knows she needs sleep to be mentally and physically healthy – and to do well academically and athletically. Specifically, she hopes that she won’t get caught in a cycle of exhaustion this year, where she oversleeps and then has to rush out the door in the morning, skipping breakfast and generally not starting the day well. Her dream is to get eight to nine hours of sleep each night and get out of bed as soon as her alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. on weekday mornings.
2. Next, break this larger idea down into long-term goals. Long-term goals take up to three months to accomplish. Macie’s long-term goal is to have a 30-day “streak” of getting eight to nine hours of sleep each night and getting out of bed within five minutes of her alarm going off in the morning.
3. Break it down again into short-term goals. These goals should take one to three weeks to accomplish. Macie’s first short-term goal was to outline for herself specific morning and evening routines in 10-minute time increments. Those specific plans helped her see what she needed to do to get to bed by 10:30 p.m. and wake up by 6:30 a.m.
4. Now break goals down into very specific, ridiculously easy baby steps. What can you do today? Tomorrow? Here are the baby steps Macie took:
- Get an alarm that doesn’t bug her (that she won’t resist setting).
- Ask a parent to enforce the family rule that phones are charged outside of bedrooms. (We let that slip with her over the summer.)
- Set her alarm for 6:30 a.m.
5. Set up the environment to make things easier. Our environment dramatically influences our behavior. We like to think our behavior is all our personality and preferences, or that it’s the strength of our ironclad will that determines our success. But actually, we are hugely influenced by the people, places and technology that happen to be in close physical proximity to us.
This means that to be successful in reaching our goals, it’s very helpful to set up our environment to make things easier, to create what are called structural solutions. This usually means removing temptations. For Macie, it meant getting her phone out of her bedroom at night (where it would keep her up) and while she was studying (where it would distract her so much she couldn’t finish her homework by bedtime).
6. Involve other people. Kids often do things they might otherwise resist if it makes them feel more of a sense of belonging, or if it deepens or increases their social connections. (This is why we call chores “contributions” in our household.) Involving other people can provide added motivation, getting them to do stuff they’d rather blow off.
I make sure Macie is out of bed in the morning. She is too old for this, and it bugs the heck out of her to have me hovering in this way; not to mention, I annoyingly sing “rise and shine.” This is sufficient motivation for her to get out of bed before I arrive.
7. Identify why the goal is important. Help kids think less about what they want to achieve and instead focus on how they want to feel. Identify a “why” for the goal that will motivate them over the long haul.
We do better when we let go of our logical reasons for why we want to do something. Why? Because research shows that good, solid, logical reasons for doing something – like exercising because we want to lower our blood pressure or ward off cancer – don’t actually provide lasting motivation. It turns out that emotions are far more motivating than achievement goals in the long run.
So help kids shoot instead for a feeling a certain way. For example, maybe they want more confidence or calm. Macie wants to get out of bed on time because she wants to feel “on it,” “well-rested” and “disciplined.”
8. Make the new behavior a part of their identity. Macie wants to be able to say, “I am a person who is well-rested and self-disciplined.” She’s tracking the days she gets into and out of bed on time, so she can look back and see, “Yup, I’m on it!” Collect evidence that your kids are the type of people who do whatever it is that they are trying to do.
9. Make the behavior more enticing. We human beings pursue rewards: a pretty little cupcake, attention from a mentor, a sense of accomplishment. When our brains identify a potential reward, they release dopamine, a feel-good chemical messenger. Dopamine motivates us to pursue the reward, creating a real sense of craving, wanting or desire for the carrot that is being dangled in front of us.
Rewards need to be immediate or, even better, built into our routine when possible. Macie loves her bed; getting into it is its own reward. In the morning, I praise Macie enthusiastically when she gets out of bed on her own.
10. Make the behavior more habitual. Once we do something on autopilot, everything is easier – we don’t need much willpower to enact our habitual behaviors. Can you help kids make the behaviors related to accomplishing their goals habitual in any way? Do this by anchoring behaviors in existing habits or routines, or even a schedule, using a when/then statement: “When I do x, then I will y.” For Macie, it starts at 7 p.m.: “When it’s 7 p.m., I will put my phone in the charging station while I study.”
What are your kids’ goals for this new school year? What are your goals? Now that you have a framework for how you and your children can achieve those goals, you can lead by example to turn talk into something more.
If you need support setting and achieving your goals, I hope you’ll check out our new Brave Over Perfect group coaching program! At only $20 for 3 coaching calls and two months of online support, it’s a no-brainer. Learn more or enroll now here.
Originally posted on US News & World Report, September 2017
Busy women tend to struggle with similar challenges. We get overwhelmed. We take care of others before we take care of ourselves. We question our careers, our parenting, our marriages, and our priorities. We feel like we aren’t good enough.
But we know what we want. We want to be seen by people who “get” us. We want to do meaningful work. We want amazing relationships with our spouses, our friends, and our children. We want the peace that comes with acceptance and self-compassion and self-care. We want to enjoy the small moments. We want to focus on what’s important. Most of all, we want to enjoy this life that we’ve worked so hard to create.
We want all this even though life is hectic and uncertain, even though we are not always (or ever) in control. Here’s the thing: It isn’t enough to know what we want.
We also need to know how to get what we want. Enter Brave Over Perfect Group Coaching, where we practice specific strategies for feeling less overwhelmed and more fulfilled. Using behavioral psychologist Sean Young’s framework, below are 10 steps for getting better at reaching our goals — I hope you find them practical and useful in helping you get more of what you want in your life. While here I use my desire to exercise more as a model, this can obviously be applied to many things. (I’ve created a goal-setting worksheet here in the hopes that will make it easier, too.)
1. First, state the big goal. What would you like to accomplish in the next three months or so? My hope is that I’ll get back to an efficient, but well-rounded exercise routine that includes a little stretching, strength training, and aerobic exercise in about 20 minutes, six days per week.
This isn’t a ton of exercise, but because I can do it in so little time, it is realistic. (Six days a week seems ambitious, but I have given myself the option of combining days, for three longer workouts if, say, I’m traveling or something.) One thing I’ve learned a million times, over and over: realistic is better than sexy. I’ll take a small success over an ambitious failure any day. Small successes show us that we really can change our behavior in a lasting way.
2. Next, break this larger idea down into long-term goals. Long-term goals take up to three months to accomplish. My long-term goal is that by the end of the year, I’d like to have had 10 “streaks,” or weeks in which I have completed my exercise plan.
3. Break it down again, into short-term goals, which take one to three weeks to accomplish. I have three short-term goals:
- Work with a trainer to set up my workouts (the specific exercises and stretches).
- Memorize the circuits and learn to do them properly.
- Have two “streaks” (entire weeks where I complete my plan) in a row.
4. Now break your goals down into very specific, ridiculously easy baby steps. What can you do today? Tomorrow? My first step was to call my friend Aaron, a trainer, who put together the exercises for me. Today, a baby step is to learn the warm-up stretches he gave me. Try to break your baby steps down until they are so easy you feel little or no resistance to them.
5. Set up your environment to make things easier. Our environment dramatically influences our behavior. We like to think our behavior is all our personality and preferences, or that it’s the strength of our iron-clad will that determines our success, but actually, we are hugely influenced by the people, places, and technology that happen to be in close physical proximity to us. This means that to be successful in reaching our goals, it’s very helpful to set up our environment to make things easier, to create what are called structural solutions. This usually means removing temptations—if your goal is to stop checking your phone while you drive, keep the phone in the trunk. And make sure that what you need is easy and convenient—if your goal is to eat more kale, keep a lot of kale in the fridge, and a list of restaurants that serve it.
I made exercising even easier for myself by moving my yoga mat and other equipment into my office. I workout at four in the afternoon, when my attention at work is starting to flag and I’d rather exercise than work…and everything I need is right behind me!
6. Involve other people, even if you are an introvert. We humans can often get ourselves to do something we might otherwise resist if it makes us feel more a part of a tribe or a clan—if it deepens or increases our social connections in some way. Other people can also work as a bit of external willpower, getting us to do something we’d rather blow off.
I scheduled a series of Skype calls with Aaron, both so he can make sure that I’m doing the exercises correctly and because I look forward to talking to him. I can tell you that if I didn’t have a call with him today, I’d be very tempted to push my workout time out a little bit, so that I can finish this post. For me, changing the routine is a very slippery slope—10 more minutes at work can easily become 20 and then 40…until it’s time to make dinner and there is no time for exercise.
7. Identify why your goal is important to you. Think less about what you want to achieve and focus in on how you want to feel. Identify a “why” for your goal that will motivate you over the long haul.
We do better when we let go of our logical reasons for why we want to do something. Why? Because research shows that good, solid, logical reasons for doing something—like exercising because we want to lower our blood pressure or ward off cancer—don’t actually motivate us over the long haul. It turns out that emotions are far more motivating than achieving goals in the long run.
So shoot instead for a feeling-state that you want more of (for example, maybe you want more happiness, confidence, or calm). I want to establish this exercise routine because I know it will increase my energy. Feeling awake and energetic is very important to me.
8. Make it a part of your identity. As in: I am a person who exercises. I’ll be tracking the days I exercise, so that I can look back and see: Yup, I’m an exerciser. Collect evidence that you are the type of person who does whatever it is that you are trying to do.
9. Make the behavior more enticing. We human beings pursue rewards: a pretty little cupcake, attention from a mentor, a sense of accomplishment. When our brains identify a potential reward, they release dopamine, a feel-good chemical messenger. Dopamine motivates us toward the reward, creating a real sense of craving, wanting, or desire for the carrot that is being dangled in front of us.
Rewards need to be immediate or, even better, built into the routine when possible. This is why I listen to audiobooks while I exercise; when I look forward to listening, I make exercise more enticing.
10. Make the behavior more habitual. Once a behavior is on autopilot, everything is easier—we don’t need much willpower to enact our habitual behaviors. Can you make your behaviors related to accomplishing your goal habitual in any way? Do this by anchoring behaviors in existing habits or routines, or even a schedule, using a When/Then statement: “When I do X, then I will Y.” For me, it’s “When it’s 4pm and the reminder pops up from my calendar, then I will exercise.”
What are your goals? What behaviors will you need to change in order to reach your goals? Leave them in the comments below. And if you’d like help setting your goals and reaching them, I hope you’ll join our new Brave Over Perfect Coaching Group!
Brave Over Perfect Coaching is an effective and affordable way to learn how to live with more courage, acceptance, joy, presence, self-compassion, gratitude, and authenticity. It’s only $20 for three coaching calls, two months of online support, and tons of online resources. We would love to have you join us!
Life is hectic and uncertain. You don’t have to be.
We have four teenagers headed to high school — two of them 9th graders at new schools this week. Remember how nerve-wracking it can be starting high school? I can never resist offering a little advice at an occasion like this!
I’ve made a lot of happiness mistakes. I know you will make some of those same mistakes. But there are certain things I’ve finally learned that I hope you learn earlier than I did.
For starters, the best way to be happy is to make kindness the central theme in your life. Usually we think that happiness comes from getting what we want. But what I know now is that happiness comes not so much from getting, but from GIVING. It turns out that happiness usually doesn’t come when we’re thinking about ourselves, or about what we want.
So when you are feeling down, or disappointed, the best way to get your happiness mojo back is by helping someone else.
The second thing is that to be happy, we need to let ourselves feel what we feel. We live in an age of anxiety, and when we feel stressed out (or sad, or disappointed) our world offers us a host of ways to numb those negative feelings, to not really feel them. We can spend hours on Facebook avoiding our feelings. Or we can have a cocktail to “take the edge off” our fears. Or we can eat that whole pan of brownies. The problem is that when we numb unpleasant feelings, we numb everything that we are feeling.
So to honestly feel the positive things in life — to truly feel love, or joy, or profound gratitude — we must also let ourselves feel fear, and grief, and frustration. Your emotions are how your heart talks to you, how it tells you what choices to make. If you want to be happy, you need to practice feeling, to practice listening to your heart. This is the way to know who you are and what you want.
Finally, to be happy we need to forget about achieving, and instead focus on the journey. Many of your peers will spend their time striving for more: more money, more stuff, a bigger house, a faster car, more popular or important friends, more prestigious jobs. But when they arrive wherever they have been working so hard to get to, odds are, they’ll feel let down. (And, to be honest, it’s usually worse than just feeling let down. They may find, after working 12 hour days year after year, that despite their awards and achievements, they wake up one morning to see in the mirror an exhausted and unhappy person fast-tracking it to old age and loneliness.)
I know from experience how easy it is to think thoughts like, “If I could just earn more money…” or, “If I could just live in that city…” or, “If I could just get into that school…THEN I could be happy.” But when we think things like that, we’re almost always wrong about what will make us happier. Instead of wishing you were somewhere else, enjoy where you are. Right now. You are always already right where you need to be.
As Katherine Center once said: “You are writing the story of your only life, every single minute of every day.”
My greatest hope for you is that you are writing a story in which you can experience great gratitude, and profound compassion. I hope you are writing a story in which you are happy.
Join our NEW group coaching!
Together we’re leading our most joyful, intelligent, productive, and stress-free lives. Learn more or enroll now here.
Special thanks to Marielle and Macie, who put together this video; to Blake Farrington who got it started; and to Gonzalo Brito, who played the guitar piece in the background.
The other night, I did something that I am not proud of.
We have four teenagers, so dinnertime is never dull, but this particular evening it was full chaos. One of our kids had not eaten much. My husband, Mark, really wanted this kid to eat more, and so he offered a bribe/threat: You can’t go hang out with your friends until you finish everything on your plate.
A power struggle unfolded, complete with sibling cheering sections. I tried to shut it all down using dramatic non-verbal cues. This was not what we agreed to do when a kid doesn’t eat well, I screamed silently with my supercharged glares.
I was not successful. The picky eater ate what was required in order to go hang out in the neighborhood.
Although I was obviously right (chuckle) in my frustration–because bribing kids can work in the short run, but research clearly demonstrates that it backfires in the long run–this post is actually about what I did next, and why I did it.
The next night, I intended to calmly raise the issue so that we could prevent similar dinnertime spectacles in the future. I knew that I couldn’t make accusations or do anything that might make Mark defensive, because people don’t learn well when they are being criticized.
Let the record show that I was not even remotely uncritical.
I opened with something like “How could you have been so stupid?”
And then I started to rant.
“Haven’t we talked about that situation a million times? We have a freaking PLAN for this!! We’ve AGREED what we will do about picky eating!! Why can’t you follow through with the plan? Why can’t you understand how important it is to be consistent?” He responded calmly. I rolled my eyes with contempt and superiority.
I was such. an. ass.
I do not know of any parent, myself included, who has not at some point threatened, bribed, or otherwise manipulated a child into doing what they wanted the kid to do. I actually do possess a huge capacity to empathize with my husband’s intentions and behavior, but it was a capacity I failed entirely to draw on.
Why? Why was this so emotional for me? Why was I so critical and punishing?
Because I was projecting.
We project, psychologically speaking, when we unconsciously and unknowingly attribute our judgments about ourselves to other people.
See, the thing that drives me most crazy about myself is that I often make big elaborate behavioral plans for myself and then I don’t follow through on them. For example, I’ve recently stopped meditating (again) after making a plan to meditate more over the summer. The perfectionist in me has been a mess of guilt and anxiety over this, something I didn’t consciously realize until I found myself dressing Mark down for not following through on our picky eater protocol.
We humans have blind spots. It is often hard for us to see our own failings, but it can be very easy for us to see what’s wrong with other people. The people around us, particularly our spouses, are like mirrors. We see clearly what we don’t like, but we get it backwards.
It’s not them, it’s us.
Martha Beck cleverly calls this charming human propensity “You spot it, you got it.”
Psychological projection (in its many forms) is a defense mechanism first conceptualized by Sigmund Freud. His daughter, Anna Freud, later developed the theory. The Freuds posited that we often deal with the thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings that are hard for us to accept in ourselves by attributing them to someone else.
Although many Freudian theories have not stood the test of time, projection is still considered a textbook human behavior.[i] I see projection at work all around me, in myself, in my friends and children, and in my clients.
That doesn’t mean that we are always projecting when we see other people’s flaws, or when we see the ways that others can learn and improve. But when we feel particularly emotional about a situation? When we feel hooked and irrational or harshly judgmental about someone else’s shortcomings, rather than empathetic or compassionate? We are probably projecting.
Projection is an undeniable human tendency, and I think it is pretty wonderful, actually, because it allows us to see ourselves more clearly, to better understand what is causing us anxiety and stress.
The greatest thing about projection, to me, is that it comes with a set of instructions for our own growth and happiness. We’ll usually do well to do whatever it is we wish other people would do (or stop doing).
The greatest thing about projection, to me, is that it comes with a set of instructions for our own growth and happiness. We’ll usually do well to do whatever it is we wish other people would do (or stop doing).
In other words, when we notice that we are projecting, we have the opportunity to take our own advice.
For example, I wanted Mark to stop asking me to make parenting plans that he couldn’t follow through on. Instead, I wanted him to accept easier, good-enough, plans. So the opportunity for me (to take my own advice) was to stop forcing myself to follow-through on all my best-made plans.
In this instance, the solution was not to try to be more perfect. The follow-my-own-advice solution that emerged from my projection was to stop making plans that weren’t realistic given the lovely, messy world—of teenagers and a career that has me traversing time zones—that I live in. My fight with Mark showed me that I don’t always have to model the very best practices; it’s good enough to be strategic, realistic, and skillful.
What are your projections telling you? What advice for others would you do well to take yourself?
For us and our picky eater, it has meant being less controlling about food. For me and my meditation, it has meant letting it go until school starts again.
Join our NEW group coaching!
Together we’re leading our most joyful, intelligent, productive, and stress-free lives. Learn more or enroll now here.
[i] Wade, Tavris “Psychology,” Sixth Edition, Prentice Hall, 2000.
Friends! I want you to meet Susie! She and I have been friends since 1995, when we were both hired out of college to mentor teenagers at The Thacher School in Ojai, California. Susie claims that we have been on similar life adventures ever since, but I need to be straight with you: Susie’s life has been a lot more outwardly adventurous than mine. Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Susie has lived in Cameroon, France, and Mexico. A beloved teacher and school leader for over two decades, she has directed an education organization whose classrooms included the steppes of Mongolia and the Amazon river. She’s also a champion ultrarunner–which means she’s run, and often won, several acclaimed 50 km races.
At age 45, Susie discovered she had an enormous tumor growing around her brain stem that could kill her in as soon as three months. Needless to say, her running and world travel was put on hold. The idea that she might die young and without a voice focused her writing. Now, Susie writes about her inward travels to face fear and set herself free:
“I’ve spent too much time in life trying to be good, to get it right, to please others, and to keep pain and struggle at bay. Could I live differently, and parent differently, if I let go of my perception of control? If I could see that I already have everything I need?”
You’ll see, on this blog, that her writing is a powerful meditation about what it means to face discomfort and the unknown.
Good news: After two massive craniotomies, and months of daily, proton-beam radiation therapy, Susie’s tumor is now inactive and she is thriving. She is living her dream of being a full time writer. Susie lives with her husband, Kurt, a wildlife biologist, and her two adorable and amazing children in Boulder, CO.
What will this mean for ChristineCarter.com and SusieRinehart.com?
Our websites both have a new name: Brave Over Perfect — this is also the working title for Susie’s forthcoming book. Susie will be posting her blog here. We know that you don’t want yet another email, so I am actually going to reduce the amount of email I send you. If you’re signed up to get email updates, which I hope you are, you’ll now just get one monthly email with links to all our posts (instead of the biweekly “Tuesday Tips”).
Collectively, Susie and I have devoted more than 48 years to coaching people in the art and science of a meaningful life. We are thrilled to be working together again, and we hope you find joy and inspiration here for your Brave Over Perfect life.
Lots of love,
Authenticity is popular these days. Celebrity media campaigns encourage marginalized youth to be themselves. Even my kids’ summer camp has “Be You” listed as a core value–not just for campers, but also for counselors and camp staff.
But what does it even mean to “be you”?
The fabulous Jeffrey Marsh, of #NoTimeToHateMyself fame and author of How to Be You, has a lot to say about authenticity. I love this clip of Marsh schooling conservative TV host Dennis Michael Lynch. Marsh ends the interview with this:
“How to be you involves accepting, loving, and discovering who you are.”
(It’s worth noting, I think, that Marsh has more than a quarter BILLION social media views.)
Authenticity’s appeal is obvious. Who would you be if you could just “be you”? What if you didn’t have to worry about what other people think of you? Does your body sigh with relief at the thought of all the freed up time and energy you’d have? Or do you seize up with fear or resistance to the idea?
How does a person even go about being fully authentic, anyway? Here are 5 tips to get started.
How to be you involves accepting, loving, and discovering who you are. --J. Marsh #BeYou Click To Tweet
1. Live your truth.
Being authentic is, of course, at it’s core about being in total integrity with what is true for us. But most of us were not raised to be truth tellers, really — we were raised to people please. We were taught that white lies are totally okay. We were taught to pretend and perform and make nice.
But pretending — even if it is relatively meaningless, even if it is meant to protect someone else — is a form of lying.
And lying, even if we do it a lot, or are good at it, is very stressful to our brains and our body. The polygraph test depends on this: “Lie Detectors” don’t actually detect lies, but rather they detect the subconscious stress and fear that lying causes. These tests sense changes in our skin electricity, pulse rate, vocal pitch and breathing that the stress of lying causes. It’s as if all sorts of alerts go off when we lie, as if the body is howling for us to stop.
Fortunately, we become happier and healthier when we live our truth. It is also the only way to be authentic.
2. But don’t always speak your truth.
There is an enormous difference between living your truth and always saying what’s on your mind. In a great many instances it is not necessary, or even a good idea, to speak your truth.
Sometimes it’s just not the kindest thing to say what you are thinking. But that doesn’t mean that you get to lie. You can still “Be You” while keeping your mouth shut.
If a friend asks you if you like her dress, for example, and you hate it, instead of wrinkling your nose and telling her it it looks like a mumu, you can ask her instead what she thinks about it, whether she likes how feels. You can invite her to tell you her truth, and then listen carefully and compassionately.
But sometimes this tactic, or just staying silent, won’t work. Often a part of living your truth in a given instance does mean speaking your truth. If that is the case, and you know what you are about to say might hurt or confuse someone, be sure that you are speaking your truth instead of your judgment, or what you imagine to be true for other people. Our feelings are always true; but our criticisms rarely represent objective facts.
For example, if someone is doing something that feels wrong to you, you needn’t stay silent. But you also don’t need to slap down a judgement. Don’t, for example, say “What you are doing is terrible and wrong and I think you should read this book so that you can see the error in your ways.”
Instead, tell them your truth: “I feel nervous and upset when you are doing that. It isn’t the right thing for me, and I don’t feel right about staying silent in this situation.”
3. Let your body point you towards what is true for you.
Sometimes it feels really hard to know who we are and what we want. But fortunately, our body always already knows what we are feeling, even when we aren’t conscious of it.
Try listening to the feedback that your body is giving you right now. Say something really untrue out loud, preferably to someone else. Try something like “I love it when my boss humiliates me in front of my team,” or “I adore having the stomach flu.” Then notice: how does your body react? The response will likely be ever so slight: a minuscule pulling back; or tensing of your jaw; or a tiny shoulder raise. When I say something that my unconscious mind hates, my body tries to tell me through a little heaviness in my stomach. If I spend too long doing something that feels wrong for me, I end up with a stomachache.
Now try saying something out loud that is true for you, and notice your body’s reaction. Try something like “I love the ocean,” or “I love the feel of my baby’s head on my cheek.” How does your body respond? When I say something that is very true for me, or when someone else says it to me, I get “chills of truth”—the hair literally stands up on my arms. And if I’m grappling with something hard, but the right answer comes up for me, I get “tears of truth.” Tears that tell me that something is profoundly true feel qualitatively different than the tears that come from grief or hurt.
What is true for us tends to make us feel stronger and more free. And lies tend to feel like constraint and constriction — our shoulders ache, our back hurts, or our stomach churns.
4. Stay in your own truth — and out of other people’s business.
Byron Katie teaches that there are only three kinds of business: Mine, Yours, and God’s. (Anything that is out of human control she considers God’s business.) She writes:
Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business. When I think, “You need to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need to take better care of yourself,” I am in your business. When I’m worried about earthquakes, floods, war, or when I will die, I am in God’s business…
Being mentally in your business keeps me from being present in my own…To think that I know what’s best for anyone else is to be out of my business. Even in the name of love, it is pure arrogance, and the result is tension, anxiety, and fear. Do I know what’s right for me? That is my only business. Let me work with that before I try to solve your problems for you. If you understand the three kinds of business enough to stay in your own business, it could free your life in a way that you can’t even imagine.
Authenticity is always about being ourselves, rather than about helping other people be something other than they actually are: That is their business.
5. Accept the “ugly” bits of yourself, including the difficult emotions.
“Being You” is massively different from being perfect, or being the best possible version of yourself. We are all human, and by definition that means that we are often messy and raw and wrong.
When we love only the parts of ourselves that we deem to be good or strong or smart, we reject the parts of ourselves that make us real. This sets us up for inauthenticity. We start hiding what is real and showing off what is sparkly, but our seeming perfection is fake.
The only thing to do with all our imperfections is to accept them with forgiveness and compassion. And also to accept how we feel about our flaws, which is probably not so good. This does not mean that we are resigned to never growing or overcoming our weaknesses. It just means that we can be our true selves on this path. As Leonard Cohen sings in “Anthem:”
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack, in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
Loving and accepting ourselves–and all our flaws, including our anger and fear and sadness and our pettiness—is, in the end, the only thing that enables us to be authentic. It is also the greatest gift that we can give ourselves. It is the reason that authenticity makes us happier and healthier and more connected to those around us.
Photo by Be You Campaign