It’s a New Year so, as people are pondering New Year’s Resolutions, I thought I’d share five tips on ways you can get your act together. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit in your coziest place on December 31, 2009 and say, “I’m really pleased with the way my year turned out, and proud of myself!” It really boils down to this: Happiness in an inside job, so to master it you must learn self responsibility. Here are my five tips on achieving this important goal for yourself this year:
1. Get over Yourself
When I lead seminars and workshops, I invariably start the things with dancing, and my favorite first song is ‘Get over It,’ by The Eagles. The song is a none-too-subtle reminder that the ‘Cult of Victimization’ is alive and well, especially in North America. We live in an age where people want complete freedom and no responsibility. (see # 4). This plays out in lots of weird behaviorand when things go south, the finger pointing starts.
Getting over yourself involves determined effort at no blame. Now, that’s not the same as saying ‘anything goes.’ We need to step up to the plate and decry the present state of our planet, but a whole lot of whining does nothing. We change the world by changing ourselves. And I mean that literally and practically.
Blaming simply puts the onus onto someone or something else (the government, the church, parents, whomever) while the blamer feels all self-righteous. Here is a hint: as soon as you blame anyone or anything for where you are and who you are, you have just become a victim. And I don’t care what we are talking about here. It is nonsensical to dwell on stories of being hard-done-by. The only valid question is: “Given my life so far, what shall I do differently, so as to shift the situation?”
Dwelling on the internal “I was so badly treated” scenario changes precisely nothing. You are not required to approve of what happened in the past. You are required to move heaven and earth to get past it. Obsessing about it changes nothing.
Remember: argue for your limitations, and they are yours. Define yourself as a poor helpless victim, and you are one. Magic. If you do not like where you are right now, the only thing that will change this is you doing something (anything!) differently.
2. Get a Life
I’m not so big on “everyone has a destiny to fulfill.” I hate New Age claptrap like that. I do believe that each of us is here with a skill set and a set of attributes and abilities that is as unique to us as our fingerprints.
In other words, you are it, as far as your ‘model’ goes. Talk about a limited production unit!
The world likely is not going to end if you choose to sit on your butt and do nothing but put in time. Thoreau was rightmost people live lives of quiet desperation. I wonder about that, though. It’s as if fitting in and not making waves is a reasonable life choice.
Many are the people I know who go through the motions for decades and arrive at 60 or so, going, “Now what?”, or “What was that all about?” Others seem to be in that state in their 30s. Well, what it’s “all about” is showing up for your life.
Notice the pronoun‘your.’ You are not here to be what your mommy wants you to be. You are not here to ‘follow in your father’s footsteps.’ You are not here to follow the rules and not make waves, or to follow some archaic set of rules found in outdated holy books.
You are here to carve out space that is yours alone.
Think about ‘famous people’ that come to mindand for the most part, let us leave pop stars out of this equation. I’m thinking Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela, Edison, etc. What makes them special? They applied their personality and skill set to the world they lived in, and in a sense, bent the world to their will. I do not think they were ‘special’ people in the sense of unique. I think they were special because they chose to act.
Noticing a pattern here? I believe that action is the real key to living a meaning-filled life. And the only action you can take is the action you take. In other words, if you don’t do it, it won’t happen. And the world gets a little weirder and more boring as a result.
Remember: Only you can bring forth what you can bring forth, and the only time you can do it is now. The painting that is your life is only real when you stop thinking about it and actually paint it.
3. Be Honest
Not “be cruel,” but rather “be honest.” Most people think that being honest means ripping those around them a new one. “I only told him that for his own good.” Crap. That kind of honesty is meant to hurt and to punish others, thereby somehow making yourself feel better.
All true honesty is self-honesty. In Buddhist thought, you are the Universe and therefore all there is is you, acting. But you don’t have to join me there. What I’m nudging you toward is total acceptance that who you are is who you are, and you got that way solely by the choices you made.
I am therefore urging you to commit to being honest about the only thing you have a chance of knowingyourself. In this moment, all you can know is what you are choosing to be aware of. This might include sensory data, your interpretations (the story you are telling yourself) and your intentions.
And here is an interesting twist. I often tell clients that I don’t care what they tell me they intend to do. I only care about what they actually do. So, if they say they intend to be honest, and then lie to me or to another, who they are is a liar. She or he is not a liar with good intentions, as intentions mean nothing until they are enacted.
Honesty, as I am using it, is all about letting my nearest and dearest know what is “up” for me, in this moment. As such, honest communication is always “I” language. I cannot know anything about “you”anything I say is a guess based upon my experience, and is therefore about me, not you. So, I must let go of ‘playing Kreskin’ and get down to being open, honest and revealingabout me.
Remember: honesty is about self-revelation, and all I can tell you about is what I am aware of today. Gandhi (after cancelling a salt march because of threats of violence) was criticized for not following throughfor lying. He replied, “I promised you truth, not consistency.” Honesty is all about reporting what is going on for me, right now. Here is what I am telling myself, here is what I am judging to be going on for me, and here is what I intend.
And then, be a person of integrity. Do what you say you will do.
4. Be Self-responsible
Self-responsibility is not popular, and it’s because of the stuff I’ve just written about. To be self-responsible is to own up to the present state of your life, and to do this all the time. This owning up has the following basis: I am where I am, solely, because of how I have chosen to view and live my life.
No one is doing anything to any of us. No one makes us feel. Short of putting a gun to my head, no one can ‘make’ me do anything. No matter what I tell myself, I am the captain of my fate.
Now, of course, you’re going to want to argue with me and pull out all of your tried and true abuse stories, and let me know, in no uncertain terms, how hard done by you were. Or are. And my only question to you is, “How is that story working for you?”
If you like feeling stuck and sorry for yourself, keep telling yourself the same stuff. Keep pretending that the stuff in your head is true. Keep re-enacting the same sorry stories, and add embellishments as soon as the story starts to get lame.
Or, become self-responsible.
It begins with honesty. Before you get into story-telling, start with, “Here is the story I am telling myself. It’s not true, it’s not false, it’s just this moment’s story.” Admitting you are making it up as you go along is the first step in self-responsible living.
In a sense, this is all about letting the rest of the world off the hook for what you are doing with your life. I am not denying that terrible crap happens to people. I see the world. I also know that the only way past the horrors of the past is to choose to live and act in the present.
I recognize that this is not easy, but playing the “poor me” card is guaranteed to get you more of the same. That may not be ‘fair’ (whoever told you life was supposed to be fair was lying to you) but it is the way it is.
Self-responsibility is, like our previous example, “I” language enacted. It brings our attention to the only thing under our controlour selves and our actions (which are really the same thingyou are nothing beyond what you actually do.) I claim ownership for who I am and what I do, and for nothing else. As such, my favorite word, integrity, comes to the fore.
Most people are out of integrity, as their actions are far from their self-descriptions, pronouncements, and commitments. Integrity, on the other hand, could be seen as following the AA modelhere is who I am, here is my tendency, and here is my ‘5-year-pin’ for personal ‘sobriety’ (how many days I have actually done what I said I’d do.)
Remember: we are people of integrity only as our actions match our words, and we are self-responsible only insofar as we let everyone else off the hook for how we conduct our lives. Blaming and excuse-making are games designed to salve our guilty conscience. Far batter to step up and be and enact who you are.
5. “Go out of your mind, and come to your senses.” (Fritz Perls)
Some of you youngsters might not know that Fritz Perls was one of the founders of the Gestalt Therapy movement. The German word ‘gestalt’ is one of those ‘hard to translate’ words. It means a completed pattern or configuration. In its therapeutic usage, it means that the issue is brought to completion.
Perls used to suggest that we spend altogether too much time up in our heads, thinking, plotting, planning, and blaming, and nowhere near enough time in our bodies. In a sensory world, (which is precisely where we live, even if we choose not to notice) we are surrounded by ‘felt data and experience.’
One of the best ways to come alive is to acknowledge our internal feelings by actually having them. Rather than walking around pretending that I am not feeling anger or happiness or horniness or sadness or grief or ecstasy, I find a safe and elegant way to acknowledge and express what I am feeling.
Honesty entails using ‘I’ language ahead of naming the feeling. Accurately, then, I say, “I am choosing to (for example) anger myself right now.” No one ‘makes me’ angry, or sad, ecstatic or horny. My feelings are an inside job.
When I am sad, I cry. When angry, shout or hit a heavy bag. When ecstatic, my eyes fill and I get all ‘soupy.’ Mostly, we shove this stuff down, and then go into our heads and come up with all kinds of reasons why “I shouldn’t feel that way.”
We do this because we were taught, by adults, that feelings are scary. Most adults have low tolerance for ‘negative’ feelings, and middling tolerance for the expression of the ‘good’ ones. Most of us were told we had to justify our feelings before expressing them. This does nothing to release the feeling or the energy connected to it. Indeed, many of us argue that mis-directed internal energy (chi, prana) is the cause of mental and physical dis-ease.
Nonetheless, most feel ‘odd’ even talking about feelings and internal felt-states, let alone expressing them. Not that they go anywhere, but denying their existence seems to create in us a feeling of somehow fitting in with our societal norms.
We suggest doing Bodywork with a trained professional, learning to breathe properly, and doing activities (yoga, tai chi, aikido, etc.) considered ‘internal arts’ in order to free the trapped energy and let it out in useful and safe ways.
Remember: having a life is a self-responsible, moment-by-moment action. Included in this are speaking honestly, acting with integrity, and having your feelings. Each is a dance of letting go of our clinging to our stories, letting go of blaming and judging, and carefully and clearly designing the life we enact.