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!”.

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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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Harnessing Your Power

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Whew, ladies, I feel I have neglected you!  It has been a little while since I’ve laid out some new pearls of wisdom before you (hehehe..heh…..hm…), but not to worry: I’m back!

In fact, I’m back in many ways these days.  Many things have begun for me recently, which I hope they have for you as well.  I’ve started trying things again.  It’s common for me to come up with an idea for something I want to do – a business I want to start, a class  I want to teach, a technique I want to learn – and then vet all the possible pitfalls before even attempting to try.  Now I try things and then just see where they go.  It’s a MUCH better way to function and has so many more rewards!

In addition, I’ve begun my Teen Life Coach training (YAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!).  This is the most exciting beginning of all!  I’ve always felt a special connection with teens and young adults, and a strong desire to work with them and walk them through an incredibly confusing, incredibly difficult, and incredibly AWESOME time of their life.  I’m now one step closer to that dream.

I’ve also started selling my artwork on consignment in a couple of stores in Denver (details TBA), and, as is the topic of this post, I’ve started boxing again.

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In fact, tonight was my first night back.  I tried to start last year a few months after my son was born, but I just wasn’t ready yet.  That’s okay, by the way girls, to not be ready yet.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there are seasons for everything, and if the motivation and desire isn’t there, just give yourself some love and patience until it returns.  It took about 9 months this time.  9 months that would have been far more miserable if I had beaten myself up everyday over my negligence.  And anyways, in that time I discovered some other types of exercise and activities I really love that I would never have discovered otherwise.

Back to boxing.  When I’m in that “place”, boxing is SO invigorating for me.  So motivating.  So empowering.  I’ve long felt it is one of the best ways to bring a girl into a state of self-love, self-respect, and personal strength.

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I was thinking about this on the way home and I came up with a new idea: I should teach Boxing Empowerment classes.  I think boxing on it’s own can teach those lessons, but how COOL would it be to combine the physical workout with the vocal life coaching lessons?  To say aloud, and shout to the world words of your own inner strength while exerting your energy towards living them at the same time.

As this idea percolated, I began building a dialogue.  A speech or mission statement, if you will, that embodies the meat of what such a program could accomplish.  I’d like to share that with you today in hopes that it will inspire you as much as it inspired me:

“You’re already good people.  I don’t have to teach you that.  You already know to be kind to others, you already know to consider others’ feelings in your words, you already know to give others respect.  But no one ever taught you how to have unabashed, unapologetic respect for yourself.  The respect to hurt someone else if you have to defend yourself.  The right to be strong, the right to be tough.  The right to own your body and do amazing things with it.  The respect to allow you to be you.  The respect to walk away from people who don’t play fair.

To choose to be powerful instead of being afraid.

There is no apologizing here.  No hiding your strengths or denying your weaknesses.

This is a place to be real.

You are not allowed to play a role, you are not allowed to pretend you are anything other than who you are.

If you throw a good punch, you are going to own it.

If you feel awkward or strange or weak, you’re not going to flinch because that’s life and life isn’t about being perfect.  In fact, life is precisely about not being perfect.

I know that’s not what your teachers say, or your parents say, or the media says, but that’s what we say here.  Boxing is the place to learn to embrace imperfection.  You will not learn to be perfect.  You will not learn to do anything perfectly.  You will learn to love being imperfect.  And in doing that, you will begin to see exactly how amazing you are.

Here: “power” is not a bad word.  “Power” and “woman” are not oxymorons.  You don’t have to be nice.  You don’t have to be sweet.  Here you can be tough.  Here you can be bitchy.  Here you can express yourself, exert yourself, be as pissed off or deliriously happy as you want.

You don’t have to have a certain type of body here.  Because everyone can box.  There are no standards here, no crazy expectations, no ideals.  You’re going to use your body in amazing ways, and you’re going to love your body because of it.

Most importantly, you’re going to let go of the way you used to think.  You’re going to think in a new way, and you’re going to practice that every week.  You’re going to forget everything except for your ability to believe in yourself.

And you’re going to kick some ass.

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Our Bodies Have Middle Child Syndrome

I’ve been thinking a lot about fitness and weight loss lately.  It *might* be related to the fact that we’re coming up on my son’s first birthday and I have some weight loss goals attached to that… either way, it’s been on my mind.  And more than anything, I’m realizing how completely HORRIBLE our society is at approaching this subject.  I could write a novel (and I actually plan to write an eBook on this topic in the near future #shamelessplug), but I’ll try to sum up the problems.  They have to do with sentences like this:

“Push yourself till you can’t go anymore!”

“Work hard for that bikini body!”

“Schedule your workouts at the same time everyday!”

“Get it done, or give up!”

“Keep going until it hurts!”

Has anyone else notice that when it comes to weight loss, there are a lot of people yelling??  Is there really a good reason for that?  It’s like someone woke up one morning and though ya know, psychology says that yelling at your kids stunts their growth…so it MUST be a good motivator for adults!  Logic, anyone?

What I’d like to focus on for today is this concept of pushing our bodies until it hurts, and how it relates to our cavewoman ancestors (sorry, guys, but the blog IS called Real “Girls”).  See, I think we’ve come to this place as a planet where we are just so completely out of touch with our bodies.  Why else would we yell and scream at them and try our best to hurt them in our effort to reach a goal?  I have a theory, which is based on my intellectually advanced education in human evolution and anthropology (HAHAHA…HA…ha…erm):

Back in “the day”, our bodies spoke to us.  A lot.  They had to.  Everything we did required physical effort.  As a result, our bodies made a lot of demands and we had to meet them for survival and happiness.

As time has gone on, we’ve created more creature comforts (at least us first-world folks), and more methods to ease the demands on our bodies. I think this is a good thing for the most part.  We’ve sort of left behind the era of the “body” and entered the era of the “brain”.  Now our brain makes the demands.  Our brain takes the brunt of the effort and strain in our daily lives.  We struggle more intellectually, mentally, and emotionally than we do physically.  And our bodies have no need to talk to us anymore.  Our bodies are pretty much taken care of at every turn!  There are very few situations where we need to “beef up” for a long buffalo hunt or to run or ride to the next colony 15 miles away.

And since our bodies have stopped talking, we have stopped listening.  Our bodies have essentially become the middle child.

And since I am a middle child, and happen to be married to a middle child, I know WHAT A HORRIBLE IDEA THIS IS.

Our bodies are basically the middle child who has gotten pretty self-sufficient and learned to handle things, so we just kind of forget about her.  We know if we take care of the bare essentials, she’ll handle the rest.  We don’t have to worry about her, she’s got it covered.  Until one day when all the neglect builds up and she blows her top and throws a massive shitstorm.  Oh crap, did you want to be cared for too??

I’m not bitter.

We need to start listening to our bodies.  They have a lot to say; you’d be surprised.  It’s amazing how often your body actually DOESN’T want that ice cream bar, or DOES want to go for a jog, or just really needs a 10-minute power nap, if you just took the time to shut off your brain for a few minutes and tune in to your physical being.  It completely shocks me how often I go looking for a piece of candy, and then upon pausing to see what my body has to say about it, find that it actually doesn’t want candy.  It’s my brain or my feelings that want the candy (probably from all that childhood neglect).

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So this week, start getting reconnected with your body.  Listen to what it says, and even try to just follow it’s lead even when your brain doesn’t want to.  Your brain has been running the roost for so long, it will probably feel awkward at first, but keep at it.  It doesn’t require any effort, just a little mindfulness.  Just a little reminder here and there to check in. After a while it will become a habit, and you will find yourself close to both physical health and personal wholeness.

Because even middle children need a little love.  Even as adults… who would never think of holding a grudge…

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The Five Motivational Drivers

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Last week, RealGirls had the amazing opportunity to hold an online Facebook event to get to know other RealGirls around the world.  What a success!  We had a great group of participants and we all learned a lot about each other and also discussed some concepts to help us enhance our self-knowledge and self-improvement.  You can still view the event and discussions here.

One of the major topics of discussion was motivation.  Motivation is such an important part of everyday life and determines what we accomplish and what we don’t.  So one of the first things we can do to bring more meaning and accomplishment to our daily lives is to identify our top motivators, and find ways to incorporate them more frequently in our daily lives.

To bring more clarity to this conversation, I chose two definitions of “motive” from dictionary.com that I found to be most accurate and most positive:

“the goal or object of a person’s actions”

and

“prompting to action.”

I’m particularly fond of the second one because it gives a layman’s view of what motivation looks like: you know you are motivated by something when it catapults you to action.  Which means there may be things that you find inspiring or enjoyable, but not necessarily motivating.  It’s an important distinction!  So a few years back, one of my bosses gave me and my co-workers a list of 5 motivators to rank.  The 5 motivators purposely didn’t include anything of charitable nature because the belief was that everyone, right down to the guy that owns a business that sells printer cartridges, is motivated by their ability to contribute to the world in some way.  Here they are:

Freedom/Autonomy

Challenge

Personal Growth

Financial Gain

Recognition

The goal is to then rank these motivators in order of their ability to drive you to action.  That can be a pretty difficult distinction, so here are some more detailed descriptions of each one:

Freedom/Autonomy – this is the ability to pave your own path, make your own decisions, and be the master of your domain. It doesn’t *necessarily* mean you have no schedule to live by; rather it means that you are the one who gets to decide your schedule or lack thereof.

Challenge – this is very closely tied to risk. How important is it to you that you are challenged on a daily basis in some way? How willing are you to step into the deep unknown and take a big risk to attempt to overcome or surmount a major obstacle? Challenge usually involves high levels of stress for a large payoff. Your tendency to be motivated by challenge is probably highly related to your propensity to navigate stress and a lot of not-knowing. It’s fueled by a drive for accomplishment.

Personal Growth – this is the ability to feel yourself stretching and changing and enduring through pain and difficulty to come out on the other side better than you were before. I think it’s safe to say that though a lot of people are motivated by extensive personal growth, a lot of people are simply content with who they are and where they are in their life. And that’s okay! In fact, many of us could probably use a little more contentedness.

Financial Gain – well, everyone needs money, right? We all need to support ourselves and our families! This goes a little beyond the survival factor to being motivated by increasing one’s financial state. Being a person who is motivated by financial gain usually has a very negative feel to it, and I suspect this is due to the reputation of major players in the business world to “do whatever it takes” to make a buck. But I think there are lots of ways to look at the reasons for financial motivation. For some its the fun of the reward for hard work; for some it’s having a little extra spending money; for some it’s feeling like they are contributing to the economy; for some it’s simply being able to buy cool stuff. It’s a perfectly legitimate motivator and a very common one!

Recognition – this is typically viewed as a “bad” motivator, but, like these other motivators, it’s not good or bad. Some of us are simply driven by recognition. I would go so far as to say that ALL of us are driven by it to a certain extent, but I think for many there is an extra strong “buzz” associated with seeing our name in the paper, or a degree next to our name, or our face on TV, or to hear we are being discussed in other circles (not in a gossipy way, of course, although that typically accompanies recognition without our permission).

What is the order of your motivators?  Still having a hard time?  Here’s a short online quiz that I found to be accurate and helpful in determining your motivators.  It includes 8 motivators, but many of them can be sub-categorized into these 5.

Once you’ve worked out your motivators, what next?  Well, I believe its always helpful to look at the positive – the ways you are doing things right – before delving into areas of improvement.  So take a look at your life and identify the areas in which your top 3 motivators are already playing a primary role.  Where are these motivators already built-in to your daily life?  Write your thoughts down if that helps.

Now brainstorm ways you could build those motivators more intrinsically into your life.  It’s usually best to start small, but if you have the ability to make big changes, go for it!  Perhaps you could talk to your spouse about giving you more recognition for your efforts and accomplishments.  Maybe it would be helpful to arrange your schedule so you have more free time for yourself.  Why not buy a self-help book or take a seminar to help you grow spiritually or emotionally?

Then make some plans to take those steps.  You might call them goals – this word typically sends me into an anxiety spin, so I don’t particularly like it, but call it whatever words for you – or steps or plans.  Start small, or big, or medium – whatever makes you feel both inspired and confident in your ability to accomplish them.

The basic formula to using motivation to your advantage is this:

1) ENHANCE the motivators that are currently at play on your life and

2) BUILD more of your motivators into your everyday life.

It may surprise you how much more real and satisfied you feel when you’re stimulating the best parts of your core self.

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I Am So Proud of My Daughter

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A couple of months ago my daughter encountered a very distressing situation.  She had a friend at school she had been spending a lot of time with and she wanted to invite her to her birthday party.  I sent her off to school with her invitation, and she was so excited!  Much to my dismay, she was NOT so excited when I picked her up.

Apparently, when she had presented her friend with her birthday invitation, her friend had said “No, I don’t WANT to go to your birthday party!”.  My daughter was devastated and very angry.  We talked a little bit about how that was not a nice thing for her friend to do, and its perfectly ok for her to be angry about it.  I let her feelings run their course through the rest of the evening.

The next morning while we were getting her ready for school, I asked her what she wanted to do with the invitation.

“I want to try inviting [her friend] to my birthday party again.”  Ok, that sounded like a reasonable idea – you never know what her friend may have been dealing with the day she invited.  I prepped her a little bit, letting her know that she didn’t have to try inviting her again, and if her friend reacted the same way again that she might want to consider whether or not this was a good friend to have.  She seemed to understand, but was insistent that she wanted to try again.

This time it went well.  Her friend simply said “thank you”.  The issue seemed to have been a simple case of someone who had a bad day.

A couple of weeks ago, I entered the school again to pick my daughter up on our usual schedule.  This time she was sitting with two different friends I hadn’t seen before.  After introducing me to her new friends, she said “[her friend she had invited to her birthday party] isn’t my friend anymore.  She was being mean and pushed me down on the playground.”

Now, even just 5 years ago I probably would have said “well, that’s not nice to say someone isn’t your friend” or “maybe she had another bad day” or “think about what she might be going through”.

Not anymore.  I’ve learned a little something about boundaries in the past few years.  About valuing and prioritizing myself.  About drawing the line between me and toxic people.  So what did I say?  “Sounds like you made a good decision.  You don’t need people like that in your life.”  I congratulated her.  I told her ‘good job’.  I encouraged her to continue to find people like her current friends to spend time with.  I gave her a big hug.

I am SO proud of her.  I knew very little about setting boundaries when I was a child.  I took the friends I could find and rarely had the courage to say “no” or to stand up to mistreatment.  I’m thrilled to see my daughter paving the way to a very healthy life with very healthy relationships.  I realize that this little girl she is no longer friends with may have perfectly valid reasons for behaving the way she does.  But I don’t want my daughter to ever feel like she needs to stay in, or enter into any kind of toxic relationship with someone for any reason at all; it doesn’t matter what the other person’s circumstances are.  Boundaries are good for my daughter and, frankly, they are good for her ex-friend as well.

Here’s hoping I am raising my own Real Girl (and Real Boy as my son gets older!) who is unafraid to be herself and embrace her value!

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Looking Out for Number One

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We’ve all been there, right?  You’re walking down the street, or through the mall (do teens still hang out at malls?), or at the park talking about your friend’s ex-boyfriend or girlfriend or boss who has been less than kind lately, and your friend utters the cliche we all know and love: “You know her: always looking out for Number One.”

Ok, maybe I’m dating myself thinking that’s a common phrase, but either way, you’ve heard it before, right?  We all know that those who put themselves in the #1 spot every day of their lives have a problem with being selfish and don’t spend enough time thinking about or helping others.

Right?

Actually, no.

Wait, wait WAAAAAAAAIIIT!!!!  Don’t go yet!  Just hear me out first!  This is very, very important because I think so many of us have been conditioned throughout our lives to always put others first, to forget yourself, to exist only for the good of others.  And these are all great and wonderful sentiments!  In theory, anyways.  But they can cause a lot of confusion, as does this idea that putting yourself first is a self-absorbed way to live your life.

So let me see if I can clear this up.  Now, I’m not a big fan of labels for myself or anyone else, but I do think it’s important for us, as we go about our lives, to make judgements about the acts or humaneness of others so as to help us decide what we want to choose for ourselves and what kind of people we want to be in our lives.  The purpose is not deem a person “good” or “bad” or to pit ourselves as “better” or “worse”, but instead to simply and objectively say, “That thing that person did, or the person that human is seems selfish, so I don’t think I want to live my life that way, it doesn’t seem like it would benefit me as a person.” (I find it helpful to avoid “that person is selfish” and rather say “they seem selfish” because it reminds me that I don’t really know their circumstances).

So, with that in mind, I will openly acknowledge that I have known a lot of people throughout my life who seemed to live rather selfishly.  Some of them have had a very drastic effect on me, and others have just made for good observable guinea pigs.  Either way, I’ve tried to learn something from them.  And this is what I’ve found:

I should probably remind you that I am not a psychologist or sociologist, or even anything cool like a Magician or a Lance Corporal.  Nor do I really have any credential for anything related (though a certain affinity for card games has earned me the nickname ‘cobra’ – more on that later), so I am speaking very simply from careful observation and a [fairly obsessive] desire to understand.  

Being selfish or self-absorbed has very little to do with putting yourself #1, and everything to do with how far beyond #1 you put #2 and #3.

I’m a visual person, so I’ll try to help illustrate this with a picture.  Let’s say we’re looking at an “Importance Meter” where you’re ranking the people/things most important in your life.  At the very top you have #1 followed by #2, #3, #4, etc.  But in this case, there is no set distance between each number.  So while #1 is always at the top, #2 can be halfway down the meter, a quarter of the way down, or even all the way at the bottom depending on how important your second priority is to you.

According to much of the common knowledge we’ve been taught, #1 should be everyone else at the top, and  #2 – you – should be (depending on how much the “think of others before yourself” rhetoric has been drilled into you) halfway down, maybe even at the very bottom in some cases.  Fantastic idea in theory; great way to overexert, exhaust, and depress yourself in practice.  But wouldn’t the reverse – putting ourselves at #1 – make us incredibly self-absorbed and not concerned about others?

I often wonder who came up with that idea – maybe someone who was worried that if s/he taught people to put themselves first they would cease to serve him or her’s every whim?  There’s the cynic in me for you. 🙂

It’s simply not true.  BOTH selfish and unselfish people put themselves at the top in the #1 spot.  The difference between a selfish and an unselfish person (assuming labels for simplicity’s sake) is that a selfish person puts #2 (typically family and friends) at the bottom of the meter, or maybe doesn’t even have any other numbers on the meter at all.  An unselfish person, by contrast, puts #2 perhaps just inches below #1, or maybe even feet below at times when their individual health and sanity needs more attention than usual.

To be sure this idea makes sense, let’s look at it a couple of different ways to see if it justifies itself.  There’s, of course, the most common justification I hear for putting yourself first which is that “if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else?”.  Which has some merit, but at the end of the day is kind of like saying “put yourself first so that you can put other people first” which is confusing and takes away from this incredibly valuable truth:

You are worth putting first.

Put yourself first simply because you deserve it.  Because you are valuable, because you are worthy, because you are amazing.  Put yourself first because no one in this world merits your love more than your own self.

If you’re anything like me, your brain fights you on this justification.  It wants to step back and take a holistic viewpoint: isn’t everyone as valuable as me?  Ok, let’s humor that side of us.  If you’re looking at it from an outer space view of the whole world, yes, every person is equally valuable.  But even in this paradigm, it does you no service to value others over you because you are the only one you have control over.  You are the only one you can truly nurture, love, and embrace and KNOW that it makes a difference and brings value in your life.  Yes, please, absolutely keep your loved ones very close to the top; there will be times when their needs take over and you have to give unrequitedly for a while.  But always, always return vehemently to the respite that is the caring and nurturing of yourself.  Maintain it as often as you can without letting your loved ones slip too far down the meter.

The ironic thing is that, by doing this, you will inevitably teach others to do the same.  Prioritizing yourself and your physical and mental health makes the world a better place, and more importantly, you a better person.

It makes you more Real.

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Alis Volat Propriis

Flying_girl_by_tissuedoos

She flies with her own wings.

I love this phrase. It was originally penned as the motto for the State of Oregon asserting its independence and its desire to pave its own path. The words so beautifully express how I feel about myself lately and the confidence and self-embracement I’d like to see in all girls.

She flies with her own wings.

She doesn’t live on borrowed time, she has no need for artificial support, everything she needs is within her. She only shall reach beyond with the strong, colorful, artistically unique wings she was born with and she will be lifted far above, soaring through the night sky, the wind carrying her, buoying her, embracing her.

She flies with her own wings.

Her direction, her goals, her desires are hers and hers alone. She gives no heed to outer pressures, but lifts herself up by the inspiration and undaunted power within her, fueling her to stretch beyond the harnesses which seek to hold her back. She moves forward on her own. She is powered by her own self. She is one with herself, and one among many. And she is content.

Much love to my Real Girls.

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Demolish the Box

I hate boxes.

Actually, that’s not true.  At all, really.  I LOVE boxes.  I get lost wandering around Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, and World Market just looking at all the various boxes and containers I could buy to store my….well, I don’t really have much to store actually, I just like boxes!  I get lost in the maze of unique and decorative boxes that magnetically pull me through the maze of thrift stores and antique shops.  I can spend hours buried in jewelry, paint, and fabric decorating the living shiznit out of a tiny little chest, taking it from bleak to chic.

The thing is, as much as I love boxes, boxes are for things.

Not people.

And so, I hate boxes.  I hate the walls of expectations, assumptions, and guidelines that permeate the psyches of my fellow humans.  I hate that it’s so natural to want to categorically organize the world in such a way that every person and every situation fits nicely into the designated column on the Excel spreadsheet of life.  Everyone wants so badly to understand.  To convince.  To control.  And building a box to safely guard the lives and choices of those around us is a great way to achieve that.

Except that it ends up feeling a little bit like this

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I refuse.  I refuse to conform to the box.  I refuse to accept the ruthless and often even benevolent borders built around me by the well-meaning members of the human race.  I reject assumptions about me based on my gender, my religion, my lifestyle, my personality, my friends, my hair color.  I’m tired of seeing very good, very brave, very determined people thrown into the “Shy and Reserved” box built by our society while their leadership gifts waste away into the unknown, unrecognized.  I’m tired of seeing insensitive people rewarded in the workplace because the most valued box says “you have to step on others to make your way to the top”.  I’m tired of the sales world in which I worked for quite a long time, that says you have to engender certain personality characteristics to be successful, when, in fact, the greatest success comes from building from the unique abilities of each individual employee.  I’m tired of the societal, religious, political, familial, and educational borders built around us that no one had the right to build in the first place.

I’m tired of the boxes.

And so, Real Girls, FORGET THE BOX.  When someone tries to build one around you, walk slowly away, or throw it off a cliff, or take to it with a chainsaw, or put the box on their head, don your boxing gloves and show them both how you feel about it.*

Poke holes in the box.  Climb passionately out from the box.  Demolish the box.  And see where your heart soars when the walls others have built for you no longer have any power.  Then teach others to rid themselves of their boxes and destroy those boxes too until we have a virtual landfill of unsubstantiated expectations, rules, and restrictions we’ve executed from our lives.  So we can then look up at that pile of weak, unstable walls and say “I was never meant to be so constrained.  I was always meant to be free.”

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And walk away.

Boxes are for things.  Boxes are for objects.  Not for Real Girls.  Not for you.

Come on out and join the real world full of real people.

 

 

And then build one of these:

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Seriously.

 

*These suggestions are meant to be metaphorical, not literal.  Please don’t attempt them in a literal sense.

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Just This: Know Your Mind

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I have some amazing people in my life.  People that love me to the core; people that bolster me up when I’m down; people that lovingly turn my head when I’m facing the wrong direction.  There is nothing like meeting a good friend over hot tomato soup after a tough week – catching up on each other’s lives, sharing inspiring stories, crying together, and reminding each other what makes each of you wonderful, unique, and valuable.

I feel strongly about what I’m going to write about tonight.  I have had the opportunity to know some incredibly strong women and men in my life.  They exude a strength that I always felt alluded me.  A resolve, a self-confidence, a solid rock in the center of their being that never allows them to waver in their self-worth.  Now they are not perfect, of course, everyone has their issues, but I’ve always greatly admired this part of them; it’s a part of me I am belaboring to build and develop.

(Don’t worry, I will get to the part where I tell you what it is!)

I think I’ve always had a stubborn streak about me.  I recall times in my younger years when I was unafraid to argue or step up on my soapbox when I felt injustices were being committed.  But I always had an awful time making decisions.  I did NOT like to decide!!  It ties back directly to my perfectionistic tendencies and fear of making the wrong choice, but it crippled me in many ways, especially when there were those around willing to make the decision for me.  Be it a parent, a friend, a teacher, an authority, God, or a spiritual mentor, I always preferred to let someone take the responsibility for the final decision.

Though I have grown in this area throughout my life, I’d like to dispense the advice I would LOVE to go back in time to give myself in my teen years:

KNOW YOUR MIND.

Know what you think.  Know your opinion.  Know the decision you would make it if were up to you.  As a teenager or young adult, you are often in a situation where you don’t get a lot of say.  It’s easy to throw your hands up in the air in frustration or simply enjoy the lack of responsibility that comes with being young.  But no matter the situation, know your mind.

Even if it’s not your decision; know your mind.

Even if you know others will disagree; know your mind.

Even if you never express it because you are afraid of the response you might get; know your mind.

Even if you decide to default to someone else’s opinion; know your mind.

Even if you decide to leave the decision in God’s hands; know your mind.

No matter the situation, take the time – even if a few minutes is all you have – to think it through.  Weigh the good and the bad, look at the logical and emotional consequences, consider how you feel about the situation, consider what you’ve been taught by your parents, your education, your religion, your mentors.  And begin learning how to sort through, weigh, combine, and contrast those things to come to a conclusion that you feel confident about.  Know what your mind wants. Know what your mind needs.  Know what your mind thinks.  Even if you find out it’s wrong.  Even if you find out it’s right or good, but what you wanted was not an option.

There will be many times in your life when the better solution to your problem comes from the advice of someone else, or from putting your faith in God (if you believe in one), or from leaning on the teachings of your upbringing despite your reservations.  That’s OK.  Do what you feel is right; follow your instincts.  But I wish that, when I was younger, I would have spent more time thinking things through first.  I wish I had made my own decision and formed my own opinion before approaching someone else for advice, or asking God for guidance, or defaulting to what I knew and what was most comfortable.

And then what?  Own your decision.  Own that you decided to follow someone else’s advice, but never forget what you wanted to choose because you NEVER KNOW the right answer or decision until after the decision has been made and the action is complete.

Knowing your mind is about two things:

1) Taking responsibility for your opinions and your final decisions.

2)  Knowing yourself, what drives you, what you value, and what you are willing to sacrifice to get it.

The day may very well come when these skills come in handy because you will have no one but yourself to rely on to make a given decision (don’t be confused – you are always the only one you can rely on in decision-making; everyone else is simply an information provider or a spiritual guide, but the final decision is always yours – However the day may come when you have no one to turn to for advice or direction).  But don’t do this for any other reason but for yourself.  Do it simply because you are valuable, your opinions are valuable, your decisions are valuable (right or wrong), and you have intrinsic worth that deems that you can think and believe whatever you choose.

And if you already do this – that’s awesome.  Find a friend to share it with.  Discuss your thoughts, your ideas, your opinions – even your wacky ones.  Find friends like I have: that love you, embrace who you are, and see your incredible potential.  You are doing wonders for your own personal development and inspiring others to the same.

Be Real.  Be You.  Know Yourself.  Know Your Mind.  Embrace it.

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What It Means to be a Woman

It bothers me that this post even needs writing.  But I recall all too well those years of high school on into young adulthood when my identity seemed so skewed and so hard to grasp.  Most teenagers of any gender probably deal with this, and there are certainly social expectations for both girls AND boys, but I believe it’s particularly difficult for you young women because of all the mixed messages that are received from social experiences, pop culture, religion, parental teachings, school, etc:

Girls are told by the media that because their bodies are beautiful they deserve to be ogled at, and they are there to fulfill the desires of men.  They are told that sexy is ideal, prude is bad, they must be pretty, they must be happy because that’s how they will gain male admiration.

Girls are told in the religious sphere that their bodies ought to be covered up as a means to preserve the sanctity of male thoughts.  They are told that sexy is bad, prude is good, they must be pure, they must be calm because that’s how they will attract the right kind of men.

Girls are told in social situations that being bold and assertive is overbearing, and that being smart is being a know-it-all.  They are told that sexy is trashy, prude is boring, they should be understanding but not a doormat, they should be independent but not “wear the pants”, they should achieve but not become too powerful.

It feels a little bit like this

Attractive Woman with Her Books

How is a girl to find herself when she is constantly surrounded by people and institutions not only attempting to tell her who she “should” be, but giving her impossible standards to live up to?  And how is a young woman to begin to understand how to value herself as an independent being when all the messages she is receiving are centered around securing a relationship?

This is the big chore for young women and those who support young women.  And I want to attempt to break down some of the confusion by helping you girls understand what the requirements are to be considered fully and completely a ‘woman’.

First, let’s look at the definition of ‘woman’ by dictionary.com:

Woman: “the female human being.”

…….

Um….that’s it.

Seriously.

Don’t get me wrong – that’s not “all” – there is so much more to being a woman.  That’s simply the end of the restrictions, requirements, and limitations to being a woman.  You simply have to be female.

You get to decide the rest.

YOU get to decide what characteristics you develop, what personality you have, what road you take, what kind of person you want to be, what career you pursue.  And all of the options can make you an incredible woman.

So, girls, let’s change the conversation.  Let’s forget the conversation everyone else is trying to have with us and start a new conversation.  A better conversation.  Instead of discussing all the qualities and attributes that women should have, or that are common to women, or that make women appealing, let’s discuss the myriad of amazing, unique, inspiring, and either orthodox or unorthodox ways there are to BE A WOMAN!

The sky is truly the limit!  There is no “right” way to be a woman, there is no special formula to follow.

You can be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company and be 100% woman

You can be a truck driver and be 100% woman

You can be a sexy cowgirl and be 100% woman

You can be a robe-donning religious leader and be 100% woman

You can be a stay-at-home mom with 10 kids and be 100% woman

You can live in a shack in Harlem and tutor inner-city kids and be 100% woman

You can be a police officer and be 100% woman

You can be a wife, mother, and entreprenuer and be 100% woman

You can be a hermit, lesbian, doctor, sailor, Christian, Atheist, Jew, American, Greek, or Russian and be 100% woman

You can be an Alaskan underwater basket weaver who enjoys Croquet and playing the kazoo and be 100% woman

Do you see the the great power you have?

Ever changing teenager

I’ve done a fair amount of world travel in my lifetime (actually, by today’s standards it may not be considered “a lot”, but it was for my generation!), and I have met amazing women from all walks of life that were kind, endearing, bold, courageous, assertive, practical, sweet, skillful, artful, giving, demanding, merciful, just…. And any other adjective you can think of!  All of these qualities are good and all of these qualities are accessible to you.  Simply find the ones that come most naturally and build on them.

You’re allowed to do that.  You’re allowed to be the person your heart tells you to be.  You’re allowed to follow your own path.  You’re allowed decide to be a person that others don’t like, or agree with, or support, or that others love, cherish, admire, and envy.  Because if you simply work to become more YOU every day – the REAL YOU – you will always feel connected to the world around you, and you will always feel fulfilled in the path you choose to take.

Others will tell you who they think you are supposed to be.  Believe you me, people love to control the world around them and construct organized containers to fit people into because it helps them feel more in control of their lives.  You don’t need to function within that paradigm.  The world isn’t meant to be controlled or even fully understood.  Have faith in yourself and take the steps forward that feel right, moral, and most beneficial to you, and you will end up on the right road.

You wonderful girls are so loved.  You are so appreciated.  You are so NECESSARY.  We need you.  The real you.  We know you are strong.  We know you are wise.  You will find your way.

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