Changing Habits: All It Takes Is An Orange

My daughter has been learning about patterns in school this year.  It’s a topic she really seems to enjoy.  We’ve spent evenings going over homework assignments, trying to guess what the next item in a certain pattern is, and she’s getting pretty good at it.  So good at it, that when she sees a pattern on a brochure, or on the wallpaper at the store, she shouts in delight, “Mom, it’s a pattern!”.

wb051321

Patterns seem to be the topic of a lot of my discussions lately online and elsewhere.  It originally came up during a Facebook discussion about coincidences and miracles – one person mentioned that coincidences are simply a result of our inherent wiring to see patterns.  For example, when you buy a blue Ford Edge, you suddenly start seeing blue Ford Edges everywhere.  You might conclude, “Geez, a lot of people are buying blue Ford Edges lately!”, but, in fact, your brain just has a propensity to identify and assign meaning to patterns.

And, as usual, leave it to me to take a relatively simple concept, tear it into a million bloody pieces, and then duct tape it back together again.

To See Patterns is Human

According to this article, as well as other studies I’ve heard quoted, our brains are hardwired to see patterns.  It’s a simple part of our nature.  This doesn’t mean that every chain of events or objects our brains identify as a pattern actually is a pattern, it simply means our brains are constantly on the lookout for them, without our permission.  What this means is that our brains can convince us that a completely unrelated chain of events is a meaningful pattern when, in fact, it isn’t – our brain simply has a bias to conclude that.  On the other side of the coin, our brains can view a chain of events that on the surface appear to have no similarities whatsoever, and see a meaningful and realistic pattern (think any five-seconds-until-the-bomb-goes-off moment in any movie in the Die Hard series) that is truly existent and can help us solve a problem.  Seeing patterns is an incredible skill we’ve inherited.

The Reality of Pattern-Seeking

I wonder about this.  I wonder how much this actually contributes to so many major human depravities as well as mind-blowing discoveries.  I wonder how much this has to do with our racism, sexism, and stereotyping problems.  Perhaps series’ of negative experiences drive our brains to seek the common element in hopes of averting future pain. It all just comes down what pattern we decide is responsible.

  • A boy experiences abuse from his mother and concludes that parents are naturally mean
  • A woman has 2 or 3 negative encounters with a foreigner and decides to avoid people from that country as often as possible
  • A teenager is mugged at a Motel 6 and can no longer stay at that particular hotel without experiencing high levels of anxiety
  • A girl gets yelled at by a certain teacher several times and develops a fear of people with the same hair and eye color

My sense is that our brains our wired to see patterns as a means of self-preservation.  And once upon a time, that’s probably all we really needed that capability for.  Considering that every species’ first goal is to survive, and that recognizing the enemy is a key element to that end, that would explain why this tendency is so uncontrollable!  But I think in our day and age (and in our first-world country), we can use this for much, much more.

So….uh….How Does Knowing This Help Me??

I’m constantly on this strange long journey for self-actualization.  I know the day will never come, but I have found that the closer I come, the happier and more comfortable I am in my own shoes.  So putting a small amount of energy towards an awareness of the patterns I seek and attach meaning to seems like a worthwhile endeavor.  There’s so much we can learn about ourselves and change about our thoughts and behaviors if we can harness our propensity for pattern recognition.  It’s a fairly simple matter from a birds-eye view: identify the patterns our brains are attaching meaning to and determine if they are true or false, helpful or detrimental.

Luckily, we can use an age-old psychological litmus test to help determine this: If it leads you to do good or improve, it’s probably good.  I have my own RealGirls version of that: if it leads you to value and love yourself authentically, it’s probably good.  That’s pretty much it!  So let’s start looking out how to analyze your own patterns of thinking and behaving.

Take a Mental Inventory

There’s no need to walk around all day obsessively watching every word you say and every thought that crosses your mind.  In fact, that’s a really great way to drive yourself crazy (I suppose if that’s your goal…go for it!).  But it helps to make a small mental note to look out for those patterns as you experience them in daily life.  Since your brain is already wired for pattern recognition, finding the pattern of the patterns should be easy!

MH900445118

Identifying Positive Patterns

Positive patterns are the ones we’re least likely to notice and most likely to disregard.  Why?  Because they aren’t necessary for surviving another day!  They’re fluff!  But in this day and age where mental strength is paramount, recognizing positive patterns is just as important as improving negative ones.  In fact, if you’re only identifying the negative, you could easily wear yourself out.  The positive ones may be small, but they’re still important.  Here’s some examples of some positive patterns you might see in your daily life:

  • You always eat breakfast in the morning – seriously, this one has taken me ages to develop
  • When you see someone who looks sad, you automatically feel empathy for them
  • You react positively towards yourself when you accomplish something good
  • You’ve learned the kinds of people that you tend to connect with quickly and you seek them out

Figure out what these are, pat yourself on the back, remind yourself that you’ve got a really good foundation to work from, and keep it up.

Identifying Negative Patterns

Negative patterns are probably easier to recognize, but of course, hard to change.  But they need to be acknowledged without judgement to even begin the process of improving. Here are some negative patterns you may have:

  • You groan every time you think about exercising
  • When you get upset, you immediately look for candy or chocolate
  • When you talk to a friend who sounds a little down, you automatically assume it was something you did
  • When someone offers criticism you immediately take it personally

Remember, this process is all about recognizing the negative pattern without judging yourself.  That’s very important.  Put on the most objective glasses you can, look at yourself the way you would a dear friend, and give yourself a comfortable amount of space to less-than-perfect in!

Changing Your Patterns

This is the hard part, of course, but it’s probably not as hard as you think.  See, the bad news is that you have an established pattern that your brain is wired to follow.  But the good news is that once you change the pattern, your brain will shake up its old ideas and begin to establish a new pattern.

There is one change agent that I have seen to be almost universally effective in changing behaviors and thought patterns, and we can use my daughter’s example of pattern recognition to exemplify it: When my daughter is looking at her worksheet and sees a picture of a strawberry followed by a banana, then another strawberry, then another banana, she very quickly concludes that strawberry-banana is the repeated pattern.

What would make her change her mind?

There is only one thing: a difference in the pattern.  She will be utterly convinced that strawberry-banana is the pattern until somewhere down the worksheet, she sees an orange.  Oops!  Well maybe strawberry-banana wasn’t the pattern after all!  Or maybe it was part of the pattern, but it’s a different pattern than she initially imagined it to be.  See, you could spend all day explaining scientifically, philosophically, or metaphorically why strawberry-banana is NOT the real pattern, but until she sits there with her hands on the paper and her eyes staring at that orange, she will not be convinced that she is wrong.

MC900436899MH900250834MC900436899MH900250834MH900436894

Experience is the Best Teacher

So it is with everything (assuming this is a true pattern).  Experience is the best teacher.  If you want to change a pattern, be it a belief or thought process or a behavior (habit), you have to experience something different.  The best way to do this if you want to shake up as many patterns as possible, is to simply have lots of different experiences.  Live in different states and countries, make friends with different kinds of people, eat different kinds of food, experience different types of entertainment.  Talk to people who look angry at you.  Ask for criticism.  Building variety of experience into your life will help kill many of those untrue and unhelpful patterns or biases without you even needing to recognize them.  And for those that need a little extra work (usually because the pattern has repeated itself for years upon years), you have to repeat that different experience until your brain learns a new pattern.

Here’s an example.  I read somewhere (I apologize, I can’t find the reference right now, but I will post it here when I find it) that the chemical dopamine, which is known as the “reward” chemical in our bodies, is primarily released by responding to habits.  For instance, when you exercise your body releases dopamine, so if you continue exercising over time your brain will learn to release dopamine when you think about exercise because it recognizes it as something that will produce a reward.  So what’s the best way to teach your body and your brain to start exercising?  Just start doing it.  Look, you won’t get it right immediately – it typically takes me a year of attempting an exercise regime on and off every other month before it sticks – but every time you exercise (even if it’s been 6 months since your last workout) you’re giving your body and brain one more piece of evidence that this could be something it wants to reward you for ahead of time.  (For a little extra boost, take the advice from another article, and try changing your thought patterns as well).

MH900281102

Don’t Give Up

This is just one more reason to not give up even when you can’t keep a new routine established.  I know, I know, all the fitness and self-help and “positive thinking” junkies out there are telling you that you’ve got to COMMIT and DO IT and GET IT RIGHT immediately or you’ll end up fat, lazy, and depressed.  And if that motivates you then stick with it, this article probably won’t help you much.  But for the rest of us, we just need to know that the world doesn’t end when we fall and that the small effort we were able to make made a difference.

It does.

Even if you are only able to replace one positive thought each day, it makes a difference.  Even if you can only motivate yourself to socialize once a week, it makes a difference.  Even if you can only manage to work out for two weeks and then you lose motivation for the next two months, it makes a difference.  Even if you only get one vacation each year to visit a new place, it makes a difference.  Each one of those efforts adds another orange, teaching your brain that perhaps the pattern is not what it initially appeared to be.

Your brain will take care of most of the heavy lifting; just throw it an orange as often as possible until you achieve the new perspective, schedule, or attitude that you desire.

And maybe eat an orange too.  Cuz, ya know, they’re good.

MC900441720

The Perspective On Suicide You Haven’t Heard

thinking businessman

I’ve found that I tend to approach these huge celebrity news stories a little bit differently than most.  Like every other human being on the planet, when I found out that Robin Williams had committed suicide, I had my normal knee-jerk reaction of empathy, sorrow, and even some confusion.  I was never the biggest Robin Williams fan, but I did enjoy his movies so it was devastating news as I believe anyone can attest – a comedian, a seemingly happy man shouldn’t have any desire to kill themselves, right??

As I started working through my own thoughts and feelings, I noticed that I made a switch pretty quickly, as I often do.  Into observation mode.  I perused the news articles, blog posts, and social media arguments and listened to how people process and react.  Unlike the whole Miley Cyrus debacle last year, this news was actually quite devastating so naturally people feel very strongly about their viewpoints and a lot of people are walking away both angry and hurt by some of the discussions.

What I find curious about our evaluation of a tragic incident such as this is that we tend to talk about it in terms of what is a valid reason for killing oneself, and what is not a valid reason to kill oneself; as if we’re trying to find a way to resolve our shock as quickly as possible.  If their reason for killing themselves is not valid then we can be angry at them, reassure ourselves that it was a deliberate choice and not an accident, and close the book on the “why” question. 

Perhaps so we can move on?  Perhaps so we can avoid the emotional asymmetry of contemplating something as complex and nuanced as suicide?  Maybe.  This would appear to be a result of human nature.  In a world of survival of the fittest, it is incumbent upon any human being to deal with emotions and move on quickly as a matter of survival.  But while this is natural and instinctual to jump to the quickest conclusion we can find and move on, it does us a disservice because it distorts the picture.  In an world where thoughts and feelings are of exponentially higher value than physical safety, it doesn’t matter so much anymore that we complete as many puzzles as possible; it matters that we complete the puzzle correctly.  

So I observe.  I analyze.  I try to understand.  And I begin putting together the pieces of this mysterious puzzle.  Because what I typically see is that a lot of people are trying really hard to understand this thing called suicide and in an attempt to find a comfortable answer quickly, they end up haphazardly mashing two pieces of the puzzle together that look like they fit, but in reality distort the entire picture.  

PUzzleAnd this ends up leaving a lot of people confused, hurt, or misinformed.

So let’s find the bits of truth scattered throughout the canvas and see if we can’t line some of them up together.  

Suicide Is Selfish

The most common and upsetting argument I’ve seen so far is that Robin Williams’ choice – and yes, it was a choice, however it was informed by mental processes most of us can’t even fathom – was selfish.  Okay, I admit, I find this upsetting as well.  So here’s what I have to say to all of you who assert this opinion: you’re right.  It was selfish.  From a completely objective point of view, committing suicide is a selfish act that causes great pain and anguish to those left behind.  Let’s make sure we understand that.  But it is not motivated by selfishness.  I can’t emphasize this distinction enough.  Depression causes the state of a person’s emotions and logical brain to be out of whack in these situations.  Selfishness is not even a consideration; escape from intense pain is.  You might compare it to a person who is being tortured as a POW and asks his torturer to kill him to put him out of his misery.  Do you think he’s in a sound state of mind to contemplate how that choice might effect his family?  No.

It’s a place few of us go, some of us return, but leaves us mourning for those who don’t make it out.

Suicidal Tendencies Can Be Cured With Faith

Another argument I’ve come across is this idea that somehow the person who commits suicide was not spiritual enough, or didn’t have a strong enough faith in God, or should have prayed more.  I have a REALLY hard time with this one.  I don’t see much logic in it at all.  But, if I dig really deep, I can maybe find a place for this puzzle piece.  I suppose that if we’re seeing “God” in this context as a spiritual/emotional/mental connection to the value of one’s inner self (through whatever type or image of God one believes in), then yes, I guess we could say the connection to “God”, or awareness of one’s own personal value, was broken.  But no amount of praying, going to church, or worship can fix something borne of a physical ailment.  I know some people believe in miracles of healing and I think that’s wonderful, but even in that context, 99% of the time you can’t spiritually fix something that is borne of a physical ailment.  And let’s particularly avoid calling this a moral deficiency.  It’s not.  In fact, suicidal people are sometimes described as being exceptionally moral.

Suicide Is a Result of a Chemical Imbalance

Which brings me to the next argument: suicide is the result of depression which is a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.  This is TRUE!  This is the one puzzle piece that I love seeing placed on the board because this one is in the right spot.  Science has proved it, and if you don’t believe science, then believe the millions of people who have gained a higher quality of life through slight alterations of their chemical makeup.  It’s not that they didn’t have the desire to better themselves before, it’s that the medication allows them to finally be in a place where they are able to face the thought processes, angry feelings, and self-loathing that they’ve always experienced.  And they can begin to heal.  It’s no different than a person who takes medication for high blood pressure or thyroid issues or any number of other physical ailments.

Suicidal People Should Just Be More Positive

And then there’s this lovely one: suicidal people just need to start thinking positively.  Well, okay, I suppose technically this is true.  A more positive outlook on life would certainly alleviate much of the suffering.  The problem is in the assumption that this can be accomplished without help. Or that it can even be accomplished easily, or in some cases at all.  I don’t care if positive thinking is easy for you; that doesn’t make it easy or even possible for others.

Suicide Happens to People With a Difficult Childhood

And the last argument we’re going to look at: suicide is a result of a difficult childhood.  This is certainly a possibility but by no means true across the board.  There are many whose depression is triggered by abusive or traumatic events in childhood (or adulthood, quite frankly), but not all depressed people had a difficult childhood.  Many have lovely families and lovely lives but were simply born with chemical levels that result in a propensity for depression.

There are other explanations that can help us understand suicide, but let’s be sure to debunk these popular ones now.

Now I’ll be frank: I’ve never been seriously suicidal.  I’ve contemplated it, but never been anywhere near to taking action.  But I did spend a good chunk of my life in high school talking friends off the ledge, or comforting them after they survived the jump off the ledge, so I’ve seen this stuff pretty up close and personal.  And I will be the first person to admit: I don’t understand it.  I don’t.  I can’t imagine myself being in a place of such misery that I’m prepared to give up everything in my life to stop the pain.  The difference between me and a lot of other bloggers out there is that I don’t attempt to understand it with my biased eyes; I take the word of those who have been there.  If you believe that suicide is motivated by selfishness or a poor relationship with God or a lazy lack of effort to breed positive thoughts, just listen to what depressed and suicidal people are saying/have said.  Because this is a fact: you can’t understand it.  Even if you’ve been depressed before, or felt really low, or contemplated suicide, you can’t understand the person who fell so far that they were willing to pick up a gun and pull the trigger.  So stop trying and start listening.  

Once you start listening you will hear things like this: they were so lost in their misery that they couldn’t even consider whether or not suicide was a selfish choice.  They prayed and prayed and prayed and God never took away their sadness no matter how much faith they exerted.  They fought tooth and nail for years to change their thought processes and be more positive – they fought so hard that they believed themselves to be a failure for not being able to achieve happiness.

That is the real picture we’re looking at.  So let’s hold off on the idea we can understand this, stop applying our own mental processes to other people, and stop making snap judgments.  This subject is huge and vast and meticulous and unforgiving.  There are no easy answers.  And the only answers we can trust are those of the amazing people in our lives that we are grateful to call survivors.

To receive the RealGirls Inspirational Monthly Meme, please sign up below:

Uncomfortable in My Own Skin

blue eye

I’m gonna be a little more personal then usual in this post.  Don’t worry, nothing freaky.  Just a little more to maybe help you see that you’re “not the only one”, and that phases of life come and go and we all survive them somehow.

The last few years of my life have been…life changing.  A lot has happened.  I’ve brought two children into the world, altered my career trajectory, made some major adjustments to my religious & spiritual belief system, lost some very important relationships, and somehow managed to maintain a healthy and loving relationship with my husband through everything we’ve been through.  It’s a success.  But it’s been hard.

I’m not a woman who loves being pregnant and loves having kids.  I despise pregnancy and I struggle with postpartum anxiety (which is sort of like collecting every anxious moment of your entire life and stuffing it all into a period of 2 months).  It takes me about a year to feel like myself again after childbirth.  So those two years after my kids were born, though I made the best of them and enjoyed those baby moments, were some of the hardest of my life.

And now here I am, sitting on my couch with my Apple laptop (never thought that would happen), in this house that I own (never thought I’d get one of those on a Movie Composer’s salary), next to my ridiculously sexy husband (love ya, babe) and two kids and two dogs (they’re still alive somehow!!):

20131025_Haynie_Family_056

And it’s….

uncomfortable.

I mean, it’s wonderful, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, but it’s just so different from the “me” I remember from the first 28 years of my life.

Things used to be so much more normal.  More predictable.  More usual.  And now everything is different, and unexpected, and unanswerable, and sometimes speeding by at a million miles an hour.  My friends are having children, my acquaintances are losing children, and my siblings are still acting like children (baha!!! jk, love you all).  The potential for disparity, poverty, and death are so much more real now.

Yet I wouldn’t go back.  Not for one second.  I see my old self, and I love her.  She was sweet, and smart, and more talented than she realized.  The me I see today is the same me from back then – but more aware, more understanding of my deeper self and my emotions, more rooted in reality.  I no longer live with the low self-confidence, the worries about relationships, and the daily personal guilt that I dealt with back then.

So really, in the end….

Sometimes it’s nice to be uncomfortable.

 

To receive the RealGirls Inspirational Monthly Meme, please sign up below:

RealGirls Website Is Up!!

You may have noticed a few changes on the RealGirls blog lately – we’ve got more color!!  We now have a new logo which I believe better exemplifies the mission of RealGirls, and in addition we have officially launched the RealGirls website!

www.bearealgirl.com

 

bearealgirl.com

Please visit the website to check out our:

  • About Us – details on our mission and goals
  • Recommended Resources – blogs, websites, and organizations dedicated to female empowerment
  • Online Events – soon to inform you of some classes and workshops coming in the Fall; be sure to bookmark this one!
  • Life Coaching Services – learn about the life coaching services offered for teen, young adults, and women seeking authenticity (specific program details coming soon!)
  • Classes and Webinars - for the cost-conscious, RealGirls will soon be offering in-person classes (in the Denver area) and online webinars for those interested in group coaching

We are so excited about this new step in our progress and hope you’ll celebrate with us by visiting the site and signing up for our Monthly Inspirational Meme below!  Also, be sure to like us on Facebook!

To receive the Monthly RealGirls Inspirational Meme, please sign up below:

 

Falling in Love With Failure

As I sit here eating my dark chocolate bark with quinoa and cranberries, I can’t help but remember the day I met him.  I was quite young and still a bit fearsome of encounters with boys of his kind.  My first glance of this dark stranger was from across the room, and I could tell right away no one liked him much.  He was glowering alone, not necessarily looking for companionship, with the others in the room none too anxious to give it to him.

I was terrified of him on the one hand, but irrevocably intrigued on the other.  Why did everyone dislike him so much?  Was he really so bad?  What adventures might await me in his arms?

I crept closer to get a better look.  I casually stood by the refreshment table near his comfortable but lonely chair, and took the opportunity to see into those mysterious eyes: the fascination of the unknown lay there, deep in his soul, unapologetically next to the fiery twang of disappointment and grief.  Clearly, any journey with this young man would be a frightful one.  So why was I still intrigued?

I could stand it no more and finally asked someone his name.

“That guy over there?  You don’t want to know.  He’s weird.  For some reason things always end badly around him; I’d keep your distance.”

Unsatisfied, I asked yet another peer to tell me more about this rustic newcomer and received the same dismissive excuses over and over.  It appeared that if I wanted to know more, I was going to have to approach him personally.

But I didn’t know how.  I danced around the idea for weeks, catching glimpses of him here and there – at school, the supermarket, in the neighborhood – but never finding the courage to get within even 30 feet of him.  I noticed others would engage him every now and again; the naive ones, who were perhaps unable to sense the danger.  They would flirt with him, spend an afternoon with him, sometimes even see him regularly for a few weeks.  But it would always end eventually.  For whatever reason, the friends would, in the long run, decide to keep their distance, suddenly move out of town, or become one of his mockers, adding to the circulating stories about his “curse”, as they called it.

Perhaps I never would have met him.  Perhaps I never would have fallen in love with him, if he hadn’t pursued me first.  I don’t blame him; I was the only one left he hadn’t met.  I was perhaps the most terrified of him out of anyone I knew, and who doesn’t want to meet someone so obsessed with avoiding them?

He started appearing everywhere, watching me from afar, attempting to approach me when near, and sometimes appearing to just laugh at me in my attempts to get away.  It was game to him, I imagine, but a rather terrifying one for me.  Sometimes I would lay awake at night, fearing he might have the gall to watch me through my window.  I’d lock the doors and the windows tight, check them several times, and keep my border collie in my bed with me just to be safe.  After a while, I even started to avoid leaving the house for fear I might run into him (for it was almost certain to happen, after all).  I only ran the errands that were the most important, stocked up on food to last me days at a time, quit my job… I even tried calling the police once, fearing he was outside my door.  But they knew him too well.

“Oh, he does this to everyone.  You’ve got to embrace it at some point because he won’t go away.”

I let my fear of this man envelope every moment of my life.  Until.  Until one day.  One day, I’d had enough.  Deep inside me there still lay a part of me that was roaring for challenge.  A part that wanted to achieve and become someone great, and my fear of this man was getting in the way of accomplishing my dreams.  I couldn’t let him have a handle on me like this anymore.  I couldn’t continue to hide.

I decided to face him.

I didn’t have a moment to lose.  I knew he wouldn’t be hard to find.  I got dressed, took a confident look in the mirror, and stepped boldly into the sunlight, ready to face my fears.

He was nowhere to be found.  I went to all of the usual places: the grocery store, the gym, my old job….my loyal stalker was nowhere to be found.  Some suggested he had finally moved on, others thought I had imagined the whole thing, and most of them said I was better off without him.  But I knew I couldn’t let go of my obsession with him until I saw him face-to-face.  Until I found out what he was up to.  Until I told him how he had ruined my life.

Weeks went by.  I began to miss him.  My fear of him had been so acute, I had forgotten the vast and deeply intriguing person I saw briefly in his eyes that first day.  I began to long for him again.  To find out what he had to offer.  I wanted to face my demon, but I also wanted to understand my attraction.  What was it about him that made me feel this way?  How could I possibly be so simultaneously terrified and invigorated?

And just when I thought my muse may never be explored, he returned.  So simply and easily.  Just waiting for me on my doorstep when I returned home from work one day.  He sat there casually, no smile on his face but no grimace either.  I could feel his energy like a tractor beam colliding with a force field – drawing me in and pushing me away all in one wonderful moment.

“Where have you been?”, I asked, accusingly.  He looked at me knowingly, barely flinching at the strangeness of the question that began our first-ever conversation.

He smiled. “Around”, he responded.

“But…” I said, beginning to feel exasperated, “you were here.  All the time.  Everywhere.  And then you were just gone.  I don’t understand…” I trailed off as he stood up and walked closer.  My instincts told me to run away, but my feet stayed firmly planted.  I would no longer be a slave to my fears.  I looked him straight in the eye as he sauntered up to me.  He came so close I could feel his breath on my chin.

“Come with me”, he whispered.  He held my hand and lightening shot through my body as if my heart had started pumping for the first time.  He pulled me towards the street and we were off.

We went everywhere together that day.  We showed each other small-town secrets the other didn’t know about, we tried new food, and we boldly walked into situations that terrified us: climbing mountains, making speeches at city hall, swimming in choppy waters during a thunderstorm.  Never had I experienced such anxiety and disappointment.  Nor had I ever experienced such exhilaration and accomplishment.  I could feel my soul growing, my perspective expanding, and my heart strengthening.  It was as if the tiny little seedling of myself that was buried deep within me had finally been nourished and set free.  I was living.

I didn’t want the day to end, but as it always does, the night came.  We eventually made our way back to my house, sopping wet, covered in mud, and grinning ear to ear.  He left me at my door, swept his hand softly across my arm, and walked back out into the darkness of the evening.

“Wait!” I cried.  He stopped for just a brief moment.  “I still don’t know your name!  You are not allowed to leave until I know your name!”.

He turned around hesitantly, as if unsure how to proceed.  Then a look of determination overcame him and he walked back towards me, his eyes locked into mine.  He took me in his arms, ran his fingers through my wet hair, and kissed me.  It was a kiss to last a lifetime.  His cold and off-putting demeanor was absorbed and overtaken by his soft hands, his gentle lips, and the sweet smell of his breath on my neck.

“Failure.” he whispered in my ear.

“…Excuse me?” I inquired.

“Failure,’ he repeated again.  “My name is Failure.”

He rested his forehead briefly against mine, then shattered the moment as he disappeared into the night.

I knew it wasn’t the last time I’d see him.  I would no longer avoid him, fear him, or procrastinate meeting him.  My heart was outstretched to embrace him, and my soul open to all the gifts and successes that came with his pain.

I had fallen in love with him.

MP900341409

To receive the RealGirls Inspirational Monthly Meme, please sign up below:

Humility and Insecurity Are Not the Same Thing

MH900430489

 

I’m just going to jump right into it: This drives me friggin CRAZY!!!!!  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!!  It is one of the most important distinctions in this entire friggin world and one of the ones I’ve seen most often confused.  The situation usually goes something like this:

Well-known girl goes to the front of the church to perform her well-prepared solo for that Sunday’s church meeting.  As expected, she does an amazing job, blowing the entire congregation away, even leaving some in tears.  Following her performance people are offering her accolades:

“Wow, what an amazing job; you are such a great musician!”

“I’ve always wanted to play the violin like that, you must have worked so hard.”

“You have such natural talent.”

To which, this amazing incredible gifted girl responds softly, “It wasn’t that great, but thanks.” Or “I totally missed the first part of the third verse, but I’m glad to know nobody noticed!”

And everyone walks away saying, “Goodness, she is talented and so humble.”

No…no…no.no.no.no.noNONONONONONONO!!!  And I’m not talking about the word “goodness” (what are we, Quakers?)  Okay, let me start by saying this: this metaphorical girl may very well be humble.  She may well be an incredibly good person.  My criticism is not against her and every other girl who responds to praise in this way at all, rather against our entire concept as a society that is this: To be humble means to be unaware of your talents.

Get your heads out of your asses, people!!  I spent so many years growing up, reminding myself that I’m not as great as I think, ignoring praise and compliments, and focusing on my weaknesses in order to stay in this dubious and undefined state of “humility”.  Problem is, I wasn’t building humility; I was building insecurity.

Case In Point
I recall watching American Idol with my sister many years ago when David Archuleta and David Cook were up against each other.  I remember the final show when both were standing on stage to incredible cheers of adoration, before they had announced the results.  David Cook was standing tall, smiling, waving, and thanking his fans for their support for what he loved to do.  David Archuleta, on the other hand, looked like a nervous wreck, hopping from one foot to the other, laughing and blushing, and giving waves of “awe, stop” to the crowd.  My sister said,

“David Archuleta should win, he’s so humble!”

I almost beheaded her right there.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being insecure.  We are all insecure in one way or another, about something or around someone.  It’s part of being human.  But humility is something to aspire to, while insecurity is something to overcome.  When we mix the two we actually step backwards in our personal development rather than moving forward.

What’s the Difference?
So we’ve got the point straight: humility and insecurity are not the same thing.  So how do we tell the difference?  How do they look in relation to each other?

Let’s look at humility first.  Humility means:

The quality or condition of being humblemodest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank. (www.dictionary.com)

Ok, so that’s pretty simple, right?  It means to avoid overestimating your importance or have an inflated sense of self.  You might say that it means to have modesty despite your abilities, talents, or rank.  But it doesn’t say anything about denying or belittling your abilities, talents, or rank.  You can be aware of, and proud of the fact that you are the best singer in the tri-state area (I actually don’t know where that is, I just heard it in a movie once) and still be humble enough to recognize that this does not make you more important than others.

In fact, I believe you can even believe you are the most important person in your world – because to you, you are – and still be humble (you have the responsibility of managing yourself, taking care of yourself, and making sure you are a contributing member of society.  So to you, you are the most important person in the world).  The problem comes when you believe that you are the most important person in the world.  Full stop.  And that everyone else ought to see and view your importance from their lowly ranks below you.  See the distinction?

Now let’s look at insecurity:

Lack of confidence or assurance; self-doubt. (www.dictionary.com)

See what I mean?  They are NOTHING alike!  And yet, in practice we think they look exactly the same.  So go ahead and thank people for their compliments, enjoy your moment in the spotlight, and acknowledge how hard you worked to gain the abilities you have.  As long as you’re not telling people that they’re bottom-feeders because they can’t work a kazoo like you can, I think you’re ok on the humility scale!

Insecurity Also Is Not the Same as Conformity
I’d also like to point out the insecurity and conformity are not the same thing.  Growing up, the most humble person was always viewed as the person who was most willing to give and bend to authority (guess who was the most humble person I knew?…me!!).  As you can see in the definition, humility also has nothing to do with conforming or “going along” with “what you’re told”.  In fact, we can look at humility in this context and say that humility is simply the state of being open to changing one’s mind when new information is presented (because our lack of overinflated self-importance aids us in knowing that we do not ever have all the information at one time).  But it has nothing to do with going along with any specific authority figure.  Or even going along with what someone else has said or has told us to do.  Or even keeping our opinions to ourselves!  It’s still up to us to weigh the options, consider the arguments, and come to our own conclusion.  True humility leads us to believe in ourselves and our decision-making abilities while being aware that the future may bring changes or new evidence to our opinions – so talk away!  Tell people what you think; don’t keep it to yourself.  You are not sacrificing even a grain of humility, but you are building a lot of self-confidence.

Practice Makes Improvement
Please remember this, girls, it’s so important.  The change I have undergone to implement this new way of thinking has been a long time coming, but has produced amazing results in my self-confidence.  Its hard enough to stop berating ourselves, putting ourselves down, and devaluing ourselves without this ominous goal of “humility” contributing to the problem.  Become aware of how screwed up our society is when it comes to this word, and start recognizing when you’re acting out of humility and when you’re acting out of insecurity.

Here’s an easy litmus test: if it makes you feel confidently on par with the rest of the world, it’s humility (pat yourself on the back! (don’t worry, your head won’t turn into a hot air balloon)).  If it makes you feel you are less worthy or less important than the rest of the world, it’s insecurity (change your self-talk).

Get that road block out of the way right now, and allow yourself to shine.

MH900446475

To receive the RealGirls Inspirational Monthly Meme, please sign up below:

 

The Importance of Action

MP900321214

I had an inspiring conversation this week with another woman who, like me, is dedicated to building the confidence and success of young women everywhere.  She runs an organization called the Girls Leadership Institute (which you should definitely check out here), and as we were discussing our inspiration I told her about two very prominent values I noted from their organization.  The first was their use of the word “authenticity” on their website and in their materials, and the second was their dedication to taking action in teaching and training girls to believe in themselves.

I got to thinking.  It’s “easy” to a certain extent to do what I do – to think, write, and talk about the importance of building confidence and belief in ourselves.  It’s much more difficult to take action to change it.

We’ve spent time in this blog trying to understand a little bit about why we, as women, often struggle to believe in ourselves, chase our dreams, and live as our real, authentic selves.  We’ve tried to understand ourselves better by taking a hard look at our motivations, desires, and needs.  And those are both very important steps in personal growth.  But I think it only can reach so far if we don’t actually take action to better ourselves.  We have to move beyond thinking about wanting to be more confident and actually implement daily tactics to make that become a reality.

How on earth do we do that???

There are several strategies out there, but the one I’d like to focus on first – one that has worked best for me, and is easiest to explain – is that of monitoring our thoughts and actively replacing the words we use to speak to ourselves.  I know what you’re all thinking – daily affirmations, Stewart Smalley (yeah, I know, you don’t know who that is, just click the friggin link!), etc. etc.  This is more than that.  I believe it can be helpful to look in the mirror and repeat daily affirmations to ourselves, but I think it’s even more beneficial to catch ourselves in our daily self-talk and start actively discarding things we’re used to saying to ourselves, and replacing them with more positive, realistic words.

Here’s a quick five-step process for accomplishing that:

1) Acknowledge the unhelpful thought
2) Write it down
3) Discard it
4) Replace it
5) Move on

An example, perhaps?  Let’s do it.

1) Acknowledge it

I’ll continue my efforts to be candid and provide you an example from work this week.  I was going about my daily tasks, when I caught myself in a thought spiral that went something like this:

“My boss is probably tired of seeing me take work breaks.  She probably thinks I never work, and soon she’s going to walk over here and tell me she needs to talk to me about something and then tell me they have to fire me because I’m not being compliant to company expectations.”

2) Write it down

It’s funny, I think these kinds of things fairly often, but now that I’ve written it down, I can see so clearly how ridiculous these thoughts are!  And no less because I only take 2 breaks a day, and I have the most wonderful, supportive boss right now.

For some reason when these thoughts are in your head, they feel so real, and upsetting.  But once you bring them into the real, physical world it’s very easy to to determine that they are not worth dwelling on.  So write it down.

3) Discard it

So now that I’ve identified an unrealistic, upsetting thought, I can get rid of it.  I discard it easily after writing it down because writing it down has enabled me to determine that it’s not realistic and not worth dwelling on.

4) Replace it

Now I need something to replace it with (there may be times when discarding it is enough to alter the habit – use your best judgement).  So I say to myself:

“That’s a funny thing to think – I’m a very good employee and I always work hard.”

5) Move on

At this point in this situation, I typically just go back to work and try to find something else to think about that is not related – often fighting the words you caught yourself saying tooth and nail can actually cause more distress.  Again, use your judgement, but oftentimes it’s simply best to get to Step 5 sooner than later.

So….now it’s your turn!  I’d love to hear some of the thoughts you catch yourself thinking that are unhelpful – you’d be surprised how many other girls are running the exact same scripts through their heads on a daily basis!  It’s okay if you’re not comfortable sharing, but I think it helps us all feel more connected to each other to know how alike we really are on the inside.

To receive the RealGirls Monthly Meme, please sign up below:

Dear Past Self

Image

Hi girls,

Today I’d like to share with you a blog post from a dear friend of mine who I think is absolutely amazing.  She wrote this incredible letter to her younger self, and I think many of you young people can relate to some of the things she’s written.  She really speaks from the heart and spearheads some of the major issues we face in teenage hood and young adulthood (and, admittedly, in adulthood as well!!).  If you’ve ever felt like you’re the only one who feels awkward, ugly, or self-conscious, here’s a wonderful reminder that you are not alone!  And that you’re not the only one who never heard back from Ryder Strong. ;)

Here is my favorite part of her post:

“Hey Karen, I’m really proud of you for trying out for that play, even though you were scared, especially about singing in front of people.  It led to a lot of fun times throughout the years.  I know that sometimes hearing that you are ugly, stupid or fat is really really hard.  Hearing it from those poor, self-conscious (yes, they are) “popular” kids sometimes makes you feel like that’s who you are.  I know that kids can be cruel.  I look back at us 20 years ago and am sad for you.  I wish I could tell you then what I know now.”

Karen feels a strong devotion to God and her religion, and though we are not all religious, I believe our life experiences are still very similar and very interconnected.  So pull the encouragement that you can from this awesome post – I hope it gets your weekend off on the right foot!

http://firstcomeslove-jacobs.blogspot.com/2014/02/dear-past-karen.html 

To receive the RealGirls Inspirational Monthly Meme, please sign up below: