Learning not to Fear Failure

“When we begin to take our failures non-seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is of immense importance to learn to laugh at ourselves” — Katherine Mansfield

In any given day, we will succeed at some things and fail at others. Failure happens to some degree every day. Over time, If we lose our sense of humor, we can begin to feel badly about our failures, letting those feelings compound into a statement about our self-worth. After all, who wants to fail?

There are times when a failure seems too big to make us laugh, and indeed some mistakes aren’t that funny. In those cases, does it make sense to continue to wallow in self-loathing, or to earnestly move forward in a new direction. Every moment offers us a chance for a new direction, and if we are mired in self loathing about our failures, we lose the chance to see the new opportunities that are available to us in the present moment.

I am resisting the temptation to see my move into a job that didn’t suit me as a failure. It was a learning experience, and I do not regret making the decision to change directions after several attempts to make it work. Resilience is one of my strengths. Having gone through much harder times, bigger failures in my life, I remain an eternal optimist, with a healthy dose of sardonic cynicism to keep me from being too naive.

Early in my recovery from an eating disorder, I had a sponsor who gave me a stuffed, quilted pig she had lovingly made for me. It seemed rather ironic, given my condition, but the words she said when she presented it to me have always stayed with me, even 35 years later. Her words were simple “Don’t wallow in it!”

I don’t expect everything in life to work out, and I don’t expect myself to be perfect. I know I will make mistakes, fail, fall down, and do dumb things. Sometimes I will be able to laugh at these things, and sometimes I will need to take a moment to cry.

Life itself fails us at times, and all we can do is decide, and decide, and decide again. Where to next?

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Practice Accepting What We’re Given

“The reward for practicing accepting what we’re given is we become intimate with everything that’s not us. We become intimate with the nature of life.  And it’s the rhythm between our own nature and the nature of life that allows us to find the thread we are — the thread we are in the unseeable connections that hold everything together.” – Mark Nepo

I love the concept of finding the “thread we are” in nature.  Sometimes I find it hard to get out of my head, especially when I am trying to make a decision or solve a problem. It seems counterintuitive to simply let go and accept where I am in the moment, not to mention incredibly difficult given my obsessive compulsive personality.

The other day I decided to take a walk and as I strolled along, I realized I was stuck in my head, oblivious to nature around me.  I remembered what Mark Nepo said in his Book of Awakening about dealing with difficult thoughts and emotions by finding something in nature that most represents how you are feeling.  I started looking for things during my walk, and slowly I was able to stop the obsessive thinking.

I would recommend giving this approach a try, and remember to go easy on yourself if you have trouble letting go of your thoughts — they are part of nature too.

A Life Lesson for All Ages

Yesterday I struggled to see the good in my day. Everything was harder than normal, and I was feeling just plain gross and out of sorts. I was frustrated with my job and annoyed that I am not an expert at it yet. I missed my old job, but at the same time cursed it. I wanted to throw my uncooperative laptop out the window, and on the way to my doctor’s appointment I missed my exit. I was disappointed to find I hadn’t lost a pound despite eating a healthy diet and was reminded by the well-meaning doctor that my age was a contributing factor.

On the way home the contents of my purse spilled all over the floor of my car, and I was honked at several times for my distracted driving. I felt needy,  weepy, and isolated from my friends, whom I  haven’t gotten to see as much lately. I almost canceled a dinner because I didn’t think I was invited, but traffic was so bad I went any way. I’m glad I did, even though it felt a little awkward.

When a bad day is happening, I don’t always realize the reasons why I’m feeling out of sorts until it has passed. Today I am fairly certain most of it had to do with being tired and not knowing when to slow down and take it easy. Today I’m finding it a little easier to lighten up about things, probably because I’m not trying so hard.

Over the weekend I read a book to my grand-daughter called My No, No, No Day by Rebecca Patterson. After I finished reading, she looked up at me innocently and said, “Why was she having a bad day Mimi?”

My daughter, who was folding clothes on the bed was quick to remind the sleepy toddler of the bad day she’d had recently, after she missed her nap and threw several temper tantrums. What better way to let a small child know that bad days happen to everyone than by telling her a story.

Thank goodness there are books like this one and the popular kid’s book, Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, that provide valuable lessons to children about life’s ups and downs, and thank goodness for the reminder to me as well.

Notice How You Judge Yourself and Others

You suppose you are the trouble
But you are the cure
You suppose that you are the lock on the door
But you are the key that opens it
It’s too bad that you want to be someone else
You don’t see your own face, your own beauty
Yet, no face is more beautiful than yours.
Rumi

Notice each day how often judgments about other people are in your  thoughts.  What are these judgments about?  I have found that many times the judgmental thoughts I have about someone else are the very things I am struggling with about myself.   When I learn to approach myself with more compassion, then I am more likely to let my negative feelings about others pass through me without needing to react in a hurtful manner.

alone in the dark a little girl sits up in her bed in the dark in the ...Each time I have a thought about myself that I am not good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, clever enough, young enough, thoughtful enough, or creative enough, I am casting a shadow on my  true self.   I am learning that I can question these intrusive thoughts and find another possibility that is more loving.  Often they are rooted in an all-or-nothing mentality, overlooking all of the options in between.

These concepts are extremely difficult for me and I struggle with them every day.  I try to remember (many times forgetting) to set my intentions each morning, and the moment I walk out the door, with each encounter, the critic in my head gets louder and louder.  I am learning to take a few deep breaths during the day when it gets too overwhelming and that seems to help.   It is hard to retrain one’s brain and the first step is to simply notice.  I worked hard at these concepts when I was recovering from my eating disorder and the underlying anxiety, many years ago.   While it has been over 26 years since I have engaged in the self-destructive behaviors, I’ve come to realize that raising my awareness of how my thoughts impact my overall well-being is an ongoing process that I must embrace, as a mother embraces her child.

“Look at the weaknesses of others with compassion, not accusation. It’s not what they’re not doing or should be doing that’s the issue. The issue is your own chosen response to the situation and what you should be doing. If you start to think the problem is “out there,” stop yourself. That thought is the problem.”  – Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

NAMI | About Psychosocial Treatments

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The article below from the NAMI website contains some great tips about treatment options that can be used alone or in addition to medications, depending upon the nature of one’s mental illness.  Recovering from a mental illness takes time, effort, dedication, and as much support as possible to prevent one from becoming discouraged with the ups and downs of the process.  Don’t be afraid to try some of these suggestions, especially if you feel like you are stuck in a rut and unable to move forward.

NAMI | About Psychosocial Treatments.

Mastering Worry

frying pan1I can’t believe I have gotten this far along in my blogging career without writing about worry.  In fact, I didn’t even have a worry category or tag until today (well, I will, right after I complete this blog).  This revelation is so monumental that I didn’t even worry about the skillet I left on the burner so that I could come into the living room to write it down.  It wasn’t until I was alerted by the smell of burning oil that I realized I had actually left a burner on and smoke was billowing from the kitchen.  Not to mention the fact that I am now going to be late for work.  Progress or cause for more worry??

Could it be that I have actually learned enough techniques that this part of my psyche has somehow taken a back seat to other more pressing issues, such as living in the moment?  And what happens if I stop worrying?  Will I burn the house down?  This thought is cause for great alarm!

I am worried that my capacity for worry is actually diminishing lately, as the pendulum swings into the other direction of complacency.  While others at work fret about meeting their deadlines and turning in their monthly reports, I find myself waiting until the last-minute just because I can.  Perhaps the fact that I work with a bunch of professional worriers has put it into perspective for me.  There is an ongoing debate we have at work about whether we were attracted to our jobs as clinical research professionals because we were a bit obsessive compulsive, or whether the job made us this way.  I think I know the answer to this question, having seen a procession of regular, non-worrying people come and go in our department, while the die-hard worriers have hung in there for the past 15+ years, clinging to our desperate need to control something!    We torture ourselves pouring over documents, only to have some auditor come in and find the one “i” that wasn’t dotted and the one “t” left uncrossed.  Research is the perfect breeding ground for someone who can never be satisfied with a job well down.  There are plenty of enforcers coming along behind us to let us know we have not achieved anything close to perfection.  I was stricken when my co-worker and I asked our boss which of us was the most anal retentive, and she said that it was neither because there were others in the department that were much more neurotic.  I was highly insulted and can’t tell you how many days I spent worrying about that one!

I wish I could say that I am now the master of all of my worries, but not so.   I still grapple with what seems to be a family legacy (from my father – thanks dad, didn’t see that one coming) each and every waking moment of my day.  Fortunately, before you decide to stop reading and give up hope, I can tell you that it has actually gotten better.  Yes, there are ways to put worry in its place.  You don’t have to be a prisoner to your worries any more.

Phobia_1So first, here are the worries that I have mastered: fear of flying, public speaking, social situations, heights, elevators, crowds, dying, going “crazy” (as I used to refer to it before I realized how demeaning this term was), gaining weight, going to hell, the future, my health, and many more, mostly related to what people think about me.  

Here are the worries I still have issues with:  worrying about my children, my grandchild, family and friends, going to prison (not sure what this one is about), getting fired, and looking stupid and/or making an ass of myself; playing cornhole, softball, bowling, volleyball, or any other sport that involves tossing a ball under-handed. 

me worryFor expediency sake, I have oversimplified both the magnitude of my worries and the recovery process.  Chronic worrying can be debilitating and zap one’s energy and zest for life.  There were times (and still sometimes are) when I felt like there was a part of my brain that was data-mining for something to worry about, and this led to a lot of misery.  It is much better now, thanks to a huge amount of effort on my part.

Here are some things that worked for me over the years:

  • Listening to Lucinda Bassett’s tapes, over and over again
  • Going to a support group for anxiety
  • Taking medication
  • Doing the four questions from The Work developed by Byron Katie
  • Having great friends with whom I can share my worries and laugh about them
  • Medication
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Counseling with a good, understanding therapist
  • Cognitive Behavioral Techniques
  • Attending workshops and seminars
  • Regular exercise
  • Limiting time spent with people who are negative
  • Creative expression – The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a great method of tapping into one’s inner creativity
  • Developing a sense of humor -watching funny movies and reading books that make me laugh helps keep my mind occupied.  I enjoy reading/listening to books on tape by David SedarisHis lighthearted approach to the years he spent struggling with severe obsessive compulsive behaviors and tics brings a smile to my face every time I listen to him. 
  • Years of practicing all of the above

I will leave you with this MUST LISTEN TO song if you are like me and worry about being liked.  I’m still working on this one!

When I’m Cured

IMG_0426If you have ever had any type of mental health issue, you will know well the thought of what life will be like when you are “cured”.  Much like the person on a diet who imagines how much better things will be after losing 50 pounds, we can easily fall into the habit of deciding to start living life when certain conditions are met.  In fact, sometimes we get so caught up in this kind of magical thinking that we neglect to do the actual footwork needed in the moment.   Looking forward to a better day can be healthy and give us hope. It can also lead to denial and paralysis.   With the first hint of a set-back (like the dieter who eats the piece of chocolate cake) we may be tempted to mentally scrap the day, opting to start again tomorrow.

Recovery from any health issue requires patience and slowing down, as we experience first hand that there are certain things we cannot control.  Premature weight bearing on a broken leg can lead to further injury and delayed recovery.  When we are in tune with our bodies, they will let us know what is needed.  When a person is a struggling with a mental illness, the signals become distorted and it is difficult to trust one’s feelings.   This can result in a frenzy of activities that are subconsciously intended to numb us to the current moment such as excessive intake of alcohol, food, drugs, work, and other risky behaviors.  We become so proficient at running away from the pain that we create a vacuum in our souls.  This vacuum is rooted in the belief that we are not worthy of anything better.

Our most promising chance for recovery is in making the most of the present moment.  We will never reach perfection, and sometimes we will make a mess of things.  Regardless of how far away we feel we are from that “cure” and how much pain we may be in, being able to focus on the moment at hand without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future can bring a tiny glimmer of peace and hope.  We may not be able to control our thoughts, but allowing ourselves to become present in the moment, even for a brief second, will lead us to a greater level of truth.

Slowing down when we are tempted to go faster can provide us with a glimpse into the answers we are seeking.  When driving along in a speeding car, how likely are you to notice the buds on a tree in the spring or the wing span of a hawk amidst the white puffy clouds of a summer day?  Even if it means facing feelings of despair, there is great value in slowing down enough to acknowledge what is happening in the moment.  Sometimes the voice of desperation deep within our soul needs to be heard.  Acknowledging that voice can be a scary experience but can also be the catalyst for real growth.

Physical and spiritual growth cannot be reduced to mechanics. I’m all for getting the mechanics right, but spiritual growth is more than a procedure; it’s a wild search for God in the tangled jungle of our souls, a search which involves a volatile mix of messy reality, wild freedom, frustrating stuckness, increasing slowness, and a healthy dose of gratitude.”

– Mike Yaconelli

Swallowing the Jagged Pill Called “Life”

Every day whether consciously or unconsciously, we take risks.  Sometimes it works out for us and sometimes it doesn’t.  Anxiety and depression can occur when we have a certain outcome in mind that doesn’t turn out the way we expected.  The hardest lesson to learn is to live in the moment and accept that we don’t always know where it will lead us.  I heard this song on the radio the other day and thought it articulated this sentiment very well.  

The message in this video is especially important for people who have ever experienced mental health issues in their lives, whether due to stressful circumstances or because of a chronic mental illness.  It can be extremely difficult to accept disappointments when they are actually happening.  By acknowledging our feelings about life’s imperfections and reaching out for support, we can begin to heal and move forward, and will be better equipped to deal with its unexpected turns in the future.

9 Reasons to Let Go of Perfectionism

NYT2009012015594807C1) The only thing that is perfect is what is happening in this moment because it is indisputable.  Applying perfectionist standards to our past experiences is another way to fruitlessly torture ourselves, yet many of us do this on a regular basis.  Thinking we can change anything that has already happened is like thinking we can go back in time and stop the meteor that landed in Arizona from crashing into the desert, leaving behind its wondrous crater.  Lamenting about how things should have been is a waste of time.  The better use of our energy is to utilize the knowledge gained from our experiences to grow and direct our next steps, appreciating the imprint our past experiences have left on our environment and our souls.  one world 2)The type of perfection we are seeking doesn’t exist.  Each individual has his or her own idea of what constitutes perfection.  The word “perfect” is overused and often serves as an excuse to pursue one’s own ideas about what is right while disregarding everyone else’s perspectives.  This is illustrated in the number of religions in the world and the vast array of beliefs that are associated with those religions.  It is also illustrated in the many heinous crimes that have been committed under the guise of seeking perfection for religious and political causes.

3)We are not wired to be perfect.  Even those individuals who have achieved great things by society’s standards have many characteristics that would be considered imperfect by those same standards.  Our so-called negative traits do not diminish our contributions to society.  Einstein contributed much to our understanding of the universe, yet he experienced the same conflicts in his interpersonal relationships as the rest of us.  Mother Theresa demonstrated the ultimate philanthropical spirit of love in God’s name, yet the writings she left behind showed that she had many doubts about the goodness of mankind and the existence of God.  It can take a lifetime of learning to recognize the importance of making mistakes.  What really counts is not allowing our shortcomings to stand in the way of leading a fulfilling life.

4)Perfectionists are no fun.  Some people try hard to conceal their true selves, relying on their outside accomplishments to define themselves.  Their self-worth is derived mainly by their appearances and status.  All of us do this to a certain extent, but it can be taken to extremes.  There is nothing wrong with working hard to bring beauty into the world.   It is when we place more value on our achievements and status than on our fellow human beings that our relationships begin to suffer.   Consider how much delight it gave everyone when the beautiful actress, Jennifer Lawrence, tripped at the Oscars.  It makes us all feel a little better when people are willing to expose their flaws as well.  Let’s embrace our imperfections and have some fun!

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5)Perfectionism is a cage that limits our possibilities.  When we rigidly limit ourselves to a particular outcome, we are not open to the possibility that perhaps something even better exists.  This type of perfectionism can blind us to the opportunities that are in front of us right now.   Maintaining flexibility in our expectations will lead to greater satisfaction than creating standards that are impossible to achieve. 

6) The pursuit of perfection can be a clever disguise for the pursuit of superiority.  It isn’t our fault that we were made to compete with each other in order to survive.  This biologically innate nature drives us to want to be better than those around us.  This desire is rooted in the basic concept of “survival of the fittest” and is necessary to stay alive.  But we do have a choice about how to utilize that drive for the sake of humanity and not just ourselves.  Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable at times can lead to a feeling of connection with those around us.

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7)The pursuit of perfection is an obstacle to our peace of mind.  The perfection we are seeking distracts us from being able to embrace reality.  It is often easier to focus on something we believe will bring us happiness than to appreciate the random, exciting nature of the world in which we live.  If our fundamental underlying belief is that we need to be in control of all situations (and clearly we are not), than we will make ourselves miserable trying to achieve our misguided idea of perfection.  

8)The pursuit of perfection can cause us to make more mistakes.  Studies have shown  that musicians who are perfectionists are more likely to make mistakes than their counterparts who are able to let go of their expectations and relax.  Anyone who has ever been terrified to speak in public, perform on stage, or participate in a big competition understands all too well the fear of not living up to other people’s expectations.  The realization that we don’t have to do things perfectly can be such a freeing experience. 

9)There is a difference between striving to do well and striving for perfection.  Striving to do well is rooted in love, while striving for perfection is rooted in the ego.  If you have ever watched Julia Child preparing one of her famous recipes, you will know what I am talking about.  She loved cooking and did not let it phase her when she made mistakes on air.  There are many reality shows about cooking now, like Hell’s Kitchen, that teach us more about the heartache of not living up to someone’s standards of perfection than about the joys of cooking.  This all or nothing approach is a reflection of a culture that has adopted a perfectionists’ mentality, but that doesn’t mean we have to buy into it.  

Resist the urge to be perfect and start living your life with passion.