If you’re reading this, Congratulations. You have survived the 2012 Apocalypse. I’ve lived through at least five and expect I’ll see a few more in the years to come.
Now that we’re done with obsessing over Destruction, perhaps we can focus on… Creation.
As we close out 2012 (with all its tragedies and triumphs), I’d like to pay tribute to a few people I admire, people who are using their creativity to overcome adversity, speak out and make a difference…
Michael Patrick Eltrich, writing for change.
Fellow writer and personal friend, Michael Eltrich has experienced violence in a way most of us will never know. I’ve seen what guns can do, writes Michael. How quickly and thoroughly they can do it. Particularly if the person being shot has no idea what is about to happen in the next few seconds – or the last few seconds – of their life… Check out the rest of his moving, powerful piece, Knowing Guns. Honest, wise, eloquent. Just a few of the reasons I admire Michael for using his creative powers to make a difference in this world.
Joyce Deming, finding humor in the face of trauma.
Joyce, another fellow writer who is using her power for good. Waylaid with mysterious medical problems this year, Joyce spent untold hours in the hospital being poked and prodded. She could have gotten angry about the situation, concluding the fates were against her. Instead, Joyce wrote some surprisingly funny stuff! Her intimate online journal had me gasping and laughing in equal measure, reminding me that even in the face of a medical crisis, creativity triumphs. You’re my hero, Joyce.
Dave Dahl, from ex-con to creative genius and humanitarian.
In his own words: I was a four-time loser before I realized I was in the wrong game. 15 years in prison is a pretty tough way to find oneself, but I have no regrets… Dave’s suffering ultimately led to his transformation. Upon his release from prison, he entered the family bakery business and, through trial and error, created Dave’s Killer Bread. (Which I have personally snarfed down countless times.) It was an invention that turned the family business into a $40 million company. They use organic ingredients, feed the homeless and Dave travels regularly, giving talks and helping others face their own demons and discover their potential. Dave’s motto: Making the world a better place… one loaf at a time. Yep. This guy rocks!!
Thomma Lyn Grindstaff, rising above the ashes of adversity.
Thomma Lyn is one of the most creative people I have the pleasure of knowing. Fellow blogger, novelist, musician… Sometimes I get jealous of her muses (who seem to outnumber mine), but then that jealousy fades as she continually inspires me in unexpected ways. This year she released her debut album, Womanspirit Rising. Embodying the spirit of the phoenix rising from the ashes, Thomma Lyn’s beautiful piano sketches (she’s classically trained) reflect the journey of overcoming adversity and taking the road less traveled. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop by, listen and be inspired….
Sometimes people can do wonderful things.
Last but not least, thanks to the folks at Buzzfeed, who used their blogging powers for good in reminding us that sometimes people can do wonderful things. If you haven’t read it, check out 26 Moments That Restored Our Faith in Humanity This Year…. you might wanna have a box of Kleenex nearby.
If people are creating instead of destroying, that is good for our world. –Dave Dahl
Thanks to these people and countless others who are using their creative powers to overcome adversity and create change. And thanks to readers and visitors to this blog, whose comments, insights and likes are always inspiring to see.
Happy holidays to all of you! See you in 2013….
Welcome to the final post in our series of Self-Defeating Beliefs. We’ve covered a lot in the past 5 weeks (you can see a rundown at the end of this post), but I want to address an important question in our final part:
What happens when confidence fades & you start losing hope?
Good question. You’re moving along doing great, when you suddenly hit a speed bump, and then the bump turns into a pothole, and the pothole becomes a pit of quicksand, and before you know it you’re losing focus, falling back into the quagmire of unrelenting pessimism, ready to throw yourself off the nearest cliff.
Yep. It happens to the best of us. Sometimes we can talk ourselves out of foul moods, sometimes we can’t. Sometimes there is something going on that needs our attention. An old belief, perhaps, that is burping its way up to the surface to be released. What to do???
Let it out! I will actually schedule a Gripe Date. This is where I’m allowed to complain, curse, grouch and moan about anything for a specific time period. Say from 3:00 pm to 4:00. I usually gripe alone. I’ve tried doing it with friends (and I’m fortunate to have good ones who tolerate and try to encourage), but I always feel guilty afterwards, like I’ve contaminated them. So I prefer a darkened room with one 40 watt bulb and a journal.
I plunge in, really put myself in the role. I rant about writing, how hard it is, how much I hate it sometimes. Then I go on to rant about everything from people to global warming and why my organic grocer leaves spoiled cheese on the shelf, so that hurried people like me grab it and later pass out when we open the bag.
What usually happens is that I will write something so over-the-top I find it funny. I will laugh at myself for a couple of minutes. Once I get my sense of humor back, I’m usually better.
Gripe Dates may not work for everyone. Some might prefer doing yoga, while others need naps. I read that when Mary Karr was working on her memoir Liar’s Club, she got so emotionally exhausted after writing that she napped “like a cross-country trucker.” (Read the full interview at Paris Review.)
The point is to understand, as much as we can, that life is going to get smelly. Especially when we’re facing our fears and trying to grow. We will lose focus, go off balance, steer our starship too close to a black-hole and get sucked inside for a while. It happens. So gripe a while, do some yoga, take a nap.
And always, always be kind a patient with yourself, just as you would with anyone who is going through a growth spurt.
In case you missed anything…
Here’s a quick rundown of what we tackled in the last five weeks:
Week 1: We blew through the myth that we deserved to be punished by learning to be good investigators. I also shared with you the story of how I almost dropped out of college due to misreading test scores.
Week 2: We tackled the fallacy that the fates are against us by realizing there will always be obstacles and we must fasten our seatbelts. This post included the jaw-dropping fact that one of the bestselling books of all time was rejected 121 times before it found a home.
Week 3: We wrestled the Brain Bandits to the ground and learned about the 21 Day method for re-brainwashing ourselves, a process that takes just a few minutes a day but has powerful long-lasting effects.
Week 4: In this post we realized that not only do we not need approval, but seeking it can actually get in the way of doing what we are designed to do. I shared with you my story of leaving fundamentalism and becoming a lovable heathen, and gave a shout-out to well-known rule-breakers.
Week 5: Wrap up and griping…. Whew. We did it!
This concludes our series on Self-Defeating beliefs. Thanks for joining me! I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing. Feel free to bookmark, share & return whenever you want.
Until next time…. Denise
We’ve arrived at Part 4 in our series on Self-Defeating Beliefs. Last time we tackled negative self-talk and the 21 Day Method for re-brainwashing ourselves. This time we’re going to tackle another, super-sneaky defeating belief: the illusion of approval.
As some of you know, I used to be a right-wing fundamentalist. Part of it was how I was raised (you can read more here) and part of it was the desire for love and approval. I followed the rules: No rock music, no movie theaters, no reading non-religious books… Women were not allowed to wear pants and their sole purpose in life, regardless of aspirations, was to stay home.
Following the rules equaled praise. Breaking them resulted in public humiliation.
I accepted this manipulation and self-betrayal because I didn’t know anything else. Then one day, when I was about 19 or 20, something happened. A church member was exiled. She had apparently “committed fornication out-of-wedlock” (oh my!) and we were told to shun her. I was horrified. She was a kind woman who had lost her husband to cancer. She was lonely. I figured her reasons for needing companionship were (1) understandable and (2) none of my friggin’ business!
Still, I wrestled with the “shunning order.” Should I, or shouldn’t I? My heart told me No, but the rest of me was afraid of being exiled. Finally I made up my mind. I drove to her apartment, box of donuts in hand. We talked for hours. I did this to seal our friendship and stay true to my own set of ethics.
Shortly thereafter I left the church and eventually left religion altogether. I grew up to become what I am today: a lovable heathen.
Here’s the moral: When we seek outside approval, when our motives are to be praised for “fitting in”… terrible things can happen. Philosopher Edmund Burke said that evil triumphs when good people stand by and do nothing. In seeking approval, we can easily betray others and we certainly betray ourselves.
We may consider self-betrayal a small thing. It isn’t. Consider this quote from famed choreographer Martha Graham.
There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and since there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost… It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
Did you catch that? It is not our business to compare. It is not our business to determine how good our particular gift/talent/passion is. Doing so squashes the life force within us.
When we betray ourselves it also becomes easier to squash someone else. If we can’t do our own thing, why should they? Sometimes the soul-squashing is done unconsciously, sometimes it is done deliberately. This is not creation. It’s destruction. Nothing good can come from it.
So forget about seeking approval. Thinking we need it is self-defeating. There will always be somebody, somewhere, who does not approve.
Besides, sometimes a soupçon of disobedience is exactly what’s needed for powerful change. Many of the events that changed history began with disobedience: women fighting for the right to vote, Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus, Gandhi leading India to independence through noncooperation and defiance to discriminating laws.
I believe powerful change in our personal histories also comes when we bust through the illusion of needing approval and start doing what we were designed to do.
Yes, some people will shake their heads. Others will block us. Shun us. So what?! It’s not our business. Let the Walking Dead follow the status quo. Let the rest of us dance, sing, write and lead revolutions. And let us do it boldly and with as much enthusiasm and spirit as we can possibly muster.
Next Sunday will be our final post in the series. I hope you have enjoyed reading as much as I have enjoyed writing.
As always, feel free to bookmark and share. Question? Comment? Idea? Contact me.
Welcome to Part 3 in our series on Self-Defeating Beliefs. Last time we tackled the fallacy that the Fates were against us, by realizing that obstacles are part of the journey and our job is to prepare for this and keep going.
Today we’ll be digging our claws into another dream-stealing snare: Nobody Cares. Ever hear that rotten tune playing in your head? It’s put out by a group I like to call the Brain Bandits, whose other famous hits include Nothing Matters, It’s Not Worth It, I Suck and So Do You and I Can’t Do Anything Right.
Everyone has Brain Bandits. In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls it listening to the radio station KFKD (you can guess how that’s pronounced!). Remember, a whopping 87% of self-talk is negative. Yours may be higher or lower, depending on how you were raised and your past experiences. But, as a general rule, this is what we’re up against, folks: 87% of brain-speak is going to be crappy.
This means that in order to go after what we want, we must make a conscious effort to put some good stuff into our brains. How do we do that?
One way is the 21 Day Method. Do not be fooled by its simplicity. In addition to beating defeating beliefs, following this method can lead to lower rates of depression, better coping skills and greater productivity in our lives. And it only takes a few minutes a day.
Step One: Write down your strengths and attributes. List 10 or 20 of them on a piece of paper. If you make a mean spinach soufflé, put that on your list. If you’re talented with the camera, write it down. Are you curious? Do you have a good sense of humor? Did you once help someone else achieve something? These are all strengths and attributes. Put them on your list.
Step Two: Carry the list with you. Read it every morning and every night for 21 days. Why 21 days? Because research has shown this is the time it takes to create a new habit. So make a commitment to do this and follow through. Even if there are nights when you don’t feel like it, do it anyway. It’s like brainwashing, only you are brainwashing yourself in healthy ways.
Step Three: As you continue with your 21 Days, you will probably find that new beliefs are beginning to form. You may learn something valuable, something that excites you. Write it down! Take out another piece of paper (or use the backside of the one you already have) and write this new belief, as well as any other strengths and attributes you discovered. When you do your morning and evening readings, read your new beliefs.
Do this every day for 21 days and see how things begin to change. The crappy brain-speak will not disappear altogether, but you may realize where some of these destructive messages originated and discover the inaccuracies behind them. Most importantly, you will be making a conscious effort to beat the defeating beliefs that hold you back. In this way, you will stop identifying with the Brain Bandits and see their spiel for what it is: crap.
Yes, there will always be crap. But this does not mean we always have to step in it.
Stay tuned for next Sunday, when we’ll wrestle another self-defeating belief to the ground. It’s one of the sneakiset little beasts around… cleverly disguised, beguiling… but a trickster nonetheless…
Today we’ll tackle Part 2 in the series on Self-Defeating Beliefs: The Fates are Against Me. Whether you’re writing a book, making a movie, or starting a new business, there will come a point when everything is going wrong. Your spouse is laid off, your dog gets sick, your computer crashes, you develop ulcers.
It’s tempting to believe the fates are against you. But actually something else is at play. Les Brown says that whenever we decide to move to another level, all hell is gonna break loose. He compares it to getting on an airplane: as you go up, you experience turbulence.
What do you do? Fasten your seatbelt.
Turbulence is going to happen.
We can expect it. There is no getting around it, but we can prepare ourselves by remembering five things:
There will always be doubt. It doesn’t matter what the project is, there is going to be uncertainty. You just can’t get around this. Innovation requires risk. To take risks means to be uncertain. Remember you haven’t done this before, whatever it is, so it’s natural to wonder if it will work. Virginia Woolf believed that doubts fueled resolve, making the writer more determined, and that determination– more than anything else– is what leads to success. So don’t let doubt stop you. Let it fuel your willpower to finish.
There will always be fear . In 2010 music artist Chely Wright made the decision to come out as a lesbian. She was in an industry (Country and Western) that has traditionally been hostile toward diversity, but Wright didn’t want to lie anymore. The documentary Wish Me Away reveals her fears around taking such a huge risk. She lost some fans in the process, but gained many others and has since founded a charitable organization which works to support LGBT teens and to prevent bullying and suicide.
Any time we challenge ourselves to reach beyond our comfort zone, fear is guaranteed to rear its ugly head. But while fear is great at showing horror movies, it never shows us how life will open up. It never shows the people we may help or inspire. It never shows us how we will grow. Fear’s job is to scare the fire out of us. Our job is to remember why we’re doing this and keep going.
There will always be obstacles. Did you know the movie Dances with Wolves was called “a disaster” during its production? Nobody wanted it. It was 3 hours long. One-third of it was subtitled. The western was considered a dead genre. Kevin Costner was mocked. He was also injured during filming. And let’s not forget Michael Blake, the author, who lived in his car for a year while writing the book.
Obstacles are not signs that the universe hates us and we should quit. Sometimes obstacles are proof that we’re moving through fears. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “It’s darkest before the dawn.” There is a reason we have that expression. It’s to inspire us to press on. Obstacles happen. It’s part of the journey. Remembering this helps us be flexible in how we approach them.
There will always be reasons for and against whatever you’re doing. The reasons against will sometimes outnumber the reasons for, because life seems to be set up that way. Did you know that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig was rejected 121 times? It was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for most rejections of a book that eventually became a bestseller.
I’m sure Pirsig could have pondered those early rejections and decided there were 121 reasons why he should quit. And maybe he did ponder quitting. But evidently there was at least one reason to keep going. And that one reason was good enough, because Zen found a home and has sold over 5 million copies.
Find your reason to keep going. All you need is one. It doesn’t matter what that reason is, so long as it’s meaningful to you. I suggest that you keep that reason sacred. Honor it. Respect it. Share it only with those who will get it. Otherwise you give away your power and set yourself up for more defeat.
Most importantly, there will always be you. Forget the critics. Forget the doubts, obstacles and moments of fear. Ultimately it boils down to your relationship with yourself. What do you want to learn on this journey? Why are you here?
Imagine two different realities, both taking place 5 or 10 years from now. In one reality is the you who quit. In the other is a different version– a stronger, freer, wiser you whose world opened up in unexpected ways. Which you do you want to be?
If the latter is your choice (like mine is), then there is one thing we must do. Fasten our seatblets.
Stay tuned for next Sunday, when we’ll dive into Self-Defeating Beliefs, Part 3: Nobody Cares.
I realize this blog has gotten dusty, as I’ve been tackling a big project. The good news is I’m back and going to try something new here.
I’ll be doing a 5 part series on Beating the Self-Defeating Beliefs that Hold Us Back. It seems like good timing as we close 2012 and head into 2013 –provided the 2012 Apocalypse theories don’t come to pass. Why do we as a species seem intent on imagining the worst? Maybe it has something to do with the way we talk to ourselves. I read that a whopping 87% of self-talk is negative.
Which leads me into the topic of this post: punishment. Having grown up in an atmosphere of demons & curses (you can read more about that here), I used to think I was alone in the secret fear that I deserved to be punished. But while teaching workshops on writing for personal awareness and also teaching English, I discovered that a surprising number of people share some form of this debilitating fear.
What most of us don’t realize is how deeply it runs and how it can literally stop us from fulfilling our potential.
Flunking Psychology (literally & metaphorically)… or Was I?
Let me share with you a little story about how my own self-punishing perceptions almost cost me my dream. I grew up in a home where college was a myth. It was only for smart, lucky, rich people. I was basically a fool to want to go. Hope for the best, I was told. But prepare for the worst. Maybe you’ve heard this too. The problem with hoping for the best but preparing for the worst is that you are actively putting your energy into the worst.
Well, I hoped for the best (but unconsciously prepared for the worst). I got into college with the help of grants, loans and whatever jobs I could work to make ends meet. I was doing well in all my classes except for one. Ironically it was Psychology 101.
Try as I might I couldn’t pass the exams! This was back in the days of Scantron sheets, where you filled in the little circles with a Number 2 pencil. My Scantron sheets came back with horrible scores. Exam one: 69%. So I studied harder. Exam two: 67%. Horrified, I began pulling all-nighters. But Exam three was the worst of all: 63%.
I decided to quit. Probably drop out of college altogether. Maybe this was a pipe dream. Maybe I should accept that even though I wanted the best, I actually deserved the worst.
Before I dropped out, I decided to schedule an appointment with my psych professor. I revered this man. He embodied the qualities I had hoped were in me before the exams revealed otherwise. I was trembling when I arrived in his office. I could barely speak. Finally I asked him if there was any hope for somebody like me.
The professor looked at me, his face drooping in sadness. He was probably trying to figure out a kind way of telling me that I was a moron. “Oh dear,” he said. “Oh my goodness…”
I looked down, waiting for the bad news.
“Denise,” he said finally. “I am so sorry. Maybe I didn’t make it clear…. These numbers are not percentages. It’s the number of questions you answered correctly.” He pointed to one of my Scantron sheets. “You see. On this test there were 68 questions. And you answered 67 correctly…”
We went through all of my exams this way. “You’re not failing this class,” he told me. “You’re in the top ten percent!”
I looked at him. He looked at me. And together we began to laugh. What else was there to do?
This one moment changed my life. Instead of dropping out I went on to finish, earning two degrees and graduating with honors. I was nominated for Outstanding Senior and I even got to study in France. Twice. Many years later, after one of my essays was published in the school’s literary journal, I went back to that same college and gave a reading. It was, for me, one of the most awesome moments of my life.
We must be good investigators when it comes to self-defeating beliefs. We must take risks to find out whether or not they are true. Yes, it’s a scary prospect to take the risk of finding out. Like I told you, I was trembling (and sweating buckets!) when I walked into the psych professor’s office. But I came out a different person. I knew the truth about myself. And in that truth was freedom and opportunity.
Self-defeating beliefs hold us back from going after what we want. Operating from the “I Deserve to Be Punished” perspective taints reality. And it’s a LIE. You– whoever you are reading this– do not deserve to be punished. What you really deserve is to live your life, explore yourself in this world and fulfill your potential. Why else are you here?
Stay tuned for next Sunday (November 25) when we’ll expose another self-defeating belief: The Fates Are Conspiring Against Me. Oh, this is gonna be good…!
Data explains reality, possibility & choice…. (in 27 seconds).
Don’t forget to stop by my new Words to Motivate page for more inspiration.
Like most writers I’ve had my share of writer’s block over the years. I used to think it was a random event– or worse, that it was due to lack of talent. A lot of writers I know feel this way. And unfortunately, many creative works are lost to people giving up or beating themselves up over it.
In my experience, writer’s block does not come out of nowhere. It is not a meteor hurtling through outer-space that randomly crashes into us. Just as our creative energy arises from within, our inability to access it is often an indicator that something else is amiss. We may be dishonoring our creativity, belittling ourselves, or perhaps we’ve become overly attached to outside opinions– all of which block the creative flow.
Here are five questions to consider when feeling blocked:
1. What are you feeding your creative mind? Imagine going to a restaurant and seeing exciting, flavorful foods in one column and rat poison in the other. Which column would you order from? Just as our bodies crave nutritious foods, so does our creative mind need sustenance. When we dine on the dirt of sensationalized media hype, or otherwise engage in activities which unleash the monkey mind we are triggered into desperation, hopelessness and self-criticism. We need to feed our creative mind with things that nourish it. If you don’t know what your creative mind needs, just ask. Like a sudden craving rising, the creative mind will tell you what it really wants and needs.
2 How are you talking to yourself when you sit down to write? Most writers & artists liken their work to a precious “baby” but seldom treat it that way. If you wanted your baby to talk, would you beat it until it performed as you wished? Dear God, I hope not. And yet we sometimes do this to our work by allowing criticism (real and imagined) to stunt its evolution. The Talmud says that every blade of grass has an angel above it, whispering Grow! Grow! I believe we have the same power and responsibility when it comes to our creativity. We need to honor it, respect it, feed it with kind and loving words. Even if you don’t believe these words at first, say them anyway. There was probably a time when you didn’t believe the negative, but after years of having it hammered into your head it became a reality. Don’t do to your “baby” what was done to you. Raise it up right.
3. Are you keeping the magic? Sometimes we get blocked because we destroy the magic by talking about it too soon. Going with the above baby analogy think of it this way. If you kept taking your baby out the womb before it was finished growing, you’d likely get some frightening feedback: That baby doesn’t look right… It’s awfully small… The face looks funny… It’s fingers aren’t formed.… This is because babies aren’t meant to enter into the world until they have sufficiently developed inside the womb of creation. Sharing our work before it’s time is equally destructive. Keep the magic to yourself. Develop a relationship with the material, rather than developing an attachment to what other people think about the material.
4. Are you stuck in a rut? Nothing makes the creative mind yawn and stagnate like a beige existence. Break out of your own conventional rut. You can do this in small ways, like changing your routine or reading books you wouldn’t normally read. You can also bust out of the rut by engaging in activates which stimulate the mind. Learning to juggle has been shown to boost brain power, as has learning a foreign language. I love languages, and also have a passion for practicing lucid dreaming and Tibetan Dream Yoga. Dream work fuels the creative mind and also enriches waking life in incredible ways. In fact, whenever I’m feeling blocked, I pay close attention to my dreams. We often have more wisdom inside than we realize.
5. Finally, do you need a break? Writing is like any other relationship in that sometimes you just need a break from one another. I didn’t use to believe this. In fact, I used to push myself to the point of fatigue and illness. I did this with a lot of things, not just writing. But over the years I learned that this is not creation. It’s destruction and a maniacal attachment that denies the natural ebb and flow of life. Remember, absence makes the heart grow fonder. So allow yourself a break– to refresh and refill and return to your work with renewed passion.
Remember, the trick is not to think of writer’s block as some sort of punishment, but as an opportunity to untangle a few knots and grow beyond perceived limitations.