Whatever is at the center of our life will be the source of our security (sense of worth), our guidance (sense of direction), wisdom (perspective/attitude), and power (capacity to act). ~ Stephen Covey
Spirituality is often used interchangeably with the word religion. For the purposes of this discussion, I would like to make clear from the start that the use of spirituality in this context has nothing to do with religion. Religion may serve as a vehicle toward greater spirituality for some, and for others not.
Spirituality in the context of one of our five life dimensions is about that which is at the center of our life. Spirituality is that which everything else revolves around. Our center, or our spirituality, provides us with a foundation, a context, a central place for which everything we seek to incorporate into who we are, and who we are becoming, can attach it’s self. The essence of who we are and what we are about can be found in this deepest, most defining part of our self. This is what I mean when I refer to spirituality, or our center.
From our center – the hub of our values, our wants and our needs – we gather information about each next step we take in life. When our center is made of solid guiding principals, values and beliefs, we have a rich resource from which to draw when we are faced with difficult decisions and situations in our life.
There are many misguided centers on which we can live our lives. As Covey describes in his popular book, “7 Habits of Highly Successful People.” To read about 8 examples of centers that can lead to destructive outcomes, click here.
By centering our life on meaningful principles, or core beliefs that guide our actions, we become grounded in who we are, what we believe, and on what foundation we will build our life. Upon your death, how do you want others to remember you? In his book, 7 Habits, Covey encourages the reader to think of three people who will speak at your funeral and what you would like them to say about you. What is said about a person after they die reflects the meaning conveyed about their life – the meaning of their character.
Pause for a minute. Think about how you want to be described – the characteristics (adjectives) that you would like others to see in you – the “kind of person you would like to be” whether or not you are that person today. For example, I might want others to say: “she is honest, respectful, curious, joyful, compassionate, and responsible.”
In the example above, the principles of honesty, respectfulness, confidence, compassion, curiosity, joyfulness and responsibility are solid, unchanging principles. These principles don’t react to anything. They are deep, fundamental truths, classic truths, and generic common denominators. By centering our lives on timeless, unchanging principles, we create a fundamental shift in how we live. A principle- centered life puts everything else into perspective. Around these principles you can build solid relationships with an intimate partner, family, friends, churches, work, and any other area of interest in your life. All of the relationships you have can then be guided by you and the fundamental truths of who you are.
These principles, whatever principles you incorporate into the center of your life, can repeatedly be validated through your own experiences. As you explore various principles, testing them out, living from them – you can begin to understand your own development – you can see the changes that stem from this shift in focus. With each success you experience from living a principle-centered life, you can begin to increase your knowledge and understanding of yourself.
Your center can serve as a source of security and provide you with an immoveable, unchanging, and unfailing core that will enable you to see change as a concrete possibility. Discovering what is at your center and defining your spirituality offers you a destination for your life. Our spirituality serves as a map for our life, with our principles defining the way.
Feelings, Wo-o-o Feelings
First, let’s understand emotions. Emotions are energy. The quality of our emotional energy depends on two key questions: is our emotional energy high or low? For example, would we rather watch television or exercise, would we rather sleep or scream? In these examples, watching TV and sleeping are examples of low energy. Exercising and screaming are examples of high energy.
The second area to explore is whether our emotional energy is positive or negative? We tend to be most comfortable when our energy is high – when we feel like we have the ability to tolerate or be with our emotions, and when our energy is positive – when we are hopeful and encouraged. So, to sort this out further using the examples above, high-positive energy would be exercising, high-negative energy would be screaming, low-positive energy would be peacefully watching television and low-negative energy would be checking-out by sleeping. The ideal state, in terms of comfort, productivity, and overall health is an emotionally high-positive state.
Know Your Feelings
Our emotions provide a sophisticated alarm system that alerts us to dangers, protect us from loss, and encourage caution and preparation when we encounter the unknown. Know your feelings and give them the power to serve and protect you. To intentionally ignore or disregard your feelings is like responding to a fire alarm by saying, “what alarm, there is no alarm going off.” To ignore our feelings invites disaster. Know your feelings, make room for them in your life, and listen to what they are saying to you.
Our emotional system is comprised of five primary feelings. These five categories of feelings are typically at the core of any feeling we experience.
ANGER is present when we believe we have been wronged by someone or something
SADNESS stems from loss/change any time something is different than we hoped it would be
FEAR results when there are unknowns, and “what if’s”
JOY pure positive energy stemming from a connection to something meaningful
HURT is a combination of loss and violation
Open To Your Feelings
Many people have been conditioned to NOT FEEL. When asked, how are you feeling, it is common for someone to truly not know. It is helpful to begin to understand what is reasonable to feel in various situations – for example, when you have been harmed, it is natural to feel anger (if you revisit the guidelines above it is evident that we are being “wronged” when someone harms us, and the natural emotion one would experience is anger), and depending on the type of harm, you may also feel fear if there are unknowns about your future safety. How we feel helps guide us and understand situations in which we find ourselves.
Who we are is a delicate combination of how we feel, what we think and how we behave. How we feel serves as a very personal, valuable guide in understanding when we need to do something different. When we touch a hot stove, our physical body responds by sending a message through our bodies to our mind that says – “ouch! That’s hot – don’t touch that again.” We respond by learning to not touch the hot stove.
Emotionally, we are very much the same. When we are in a relationship with someone, for example, and we regularly feel unheard, unimportant, not a priority – we are engineered to have feelings about that. These feelings inform us that we want and deserve better than this. Once we allow ourselves to become clear about what our feelings are communicating to us, we then have a choice about what we do with those feelings.
So, in the example of feeling unheard, not a priority and unimportant to our partner, we need to examine our options for addressing these issues. Because we do not have the capacity to change others – only ourselves, the best possible response to any dilemma in which we find ourselves is to ask ourselves this: “how am I participating in NOT getting my needs met?” We are our own single greatest obstacle to getting our needs met. This may be unnerving to consider – and yet, when you take as much responsibility as you can, you can begin to see how empowering it is to know that there is something you can do differently to feel heard, to feel important, to feel a priority. If we can not change others, then our energy is best spent on that which we can change – ourselves!
WE TEACH OTHERS HOW TO TREAT US. How have you been teaching others to treat you? Have you tolerated being interrupted by others? Have you chosen to not speak your mind because you assume no one will listen? Have you withheld important comments, for fear that they won’t be considered? There are many ways to consider your own participation in NOT getting your needs met.
Close the Exits
To exercise our emotions we must begin to close the exits such as numbing out with work, drugs, sex, gambling, shopping, etc. pursuing perfection, blaming others – and stay with our feelings, whatever they are. Most of our poor choices stem from an intolerance of our emotional experience. Just like some people have greater tolerances for physical pain, some people also have greater tolerances for emotional pain. The goal, then, is not so much to rid ourselves of negative emotions, rather to begin tolerating for longer periods at a time without having to distract numb ourselves to our feelings. Once we can begin to tolerate our feelings for longer periods of time, we are in charge of our feelings, our feelings are not in charge of us. Sitting with uncomfortable feelings is a skill. It is something that must be practiced, an ability that must be developed and strengthened, so that we can be with our feelings long enough to learn from them. Until then, we risk wearing ourselves down and out trying to out run the very feelings that have been designed to serve and protect us.
“The pain of our perceived flaws compels us to cover them up. When we deny certain aspects of ourselves, we overcompensate by becoming their opposite. Then we create entire personas to prove to ourselves and others that we are not that.” ~ Debbie Ford
Live Our Truths
“Facing the truth requires that we retain an ongoing openness to the possibility that we may not be seeing ourselves – or others – accurately.” ~Loehr & Schwartz
Every experience that we have contributes to who we are. Many of our greatest attributes stem from our most painful experiences. Someone who was raised in a violent family may grow up, for example, to become a very caring and compassionate person – dedicated to never being violent or aggressive like they experienced life as a child. When we are able to make room for the fact that we were once in a violent situation and that has contributed to the kindness and peaceful way of living we experience now, we are at peace with not only the present, but also with the past. One of the best ways to “get rid of the past” which is a common goal for many, is to simply make peace with the fact that it is a part of you – make room inside yourself for all of the experiences you’ve had because they are staying with or without your permission.
Don’t think about a big, pink elephant. Are you thinking about a big pink, elephant? I don’t want you to visualize a big, pink elephant. See how putting energy into NOT doing something, brings that something to the forefront of your mind? If we spend a lot of energy wanting to NOT be something, we essentially become defined by that something that we seek to not be (by making it the center of our decision, so that all other decisions are a product of our efforts to NOT be that something).
Facing the truth is about accepting responsibility. We can not be responsible (response – able) if we are not responding to reality. Being truthful, facing our truth – all of it, keeps us grounded in a reality that has the potential to move us much closer to the greatest possible version of our self.
Stay Present in Your Life
Being Present means accepting the moment. ~ Lunden, Paul & Christensen
Staying present requires personal awareness to the people, places and things that surround us at any given moment. When we are present, we are able to experience the gifts of life. We live in the present tense. We dream in the future tense and we regret in the past tense. The art of staying present requires that we tend to each precious moment offered to us. Moments such as mine is in writing you now, and yours is in reading these words now – in this moment we are connecting and this is the moment that counts for now. In a minute, that moment will change and the gifts of each new moment offer a new experience that is to be cherished and appreciated for what it is.
In this sense, I suppose life is but a series of presents. And if that is so, it makes sense to me that we must open them all, experience what each “present” (moment) has to offer and be grateful for what we are given. In this moment, I am aware of my health and my abilities (to think, read, type, and communicate), for my good fortune to work with or know you – one of the very many brilliant, creative, unique, funny, interesting, and likable people whom I know, my comfortable home, my healthy adorable children, my loving partner and family, and the fresh air moving through my open window as I type. These are simply a few of the presents I am aware of in this very moment. Life is good – in this moment, that moment, and even in the next moment. I wish you many good presents in life, starting with this one.
“The significant problems we face con not be solved at the
same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
~ Albert Einstein
Much like our physical bodies, we must also exercise our minds. There are studies that demonstrate the impact of continued learning in senior adults. Those who read regularly and stimulate their minds continue to have better memories and greater intellectual capacity than their peers who do not. We live in a culture that invites laziness, that encourages mind-numbing, or mind-distracting activities such as watching television, playing video games, or listening to music. Although none of these activities are inherently detrimental to us in small doses, they are incredibly toxic to our mind when we engage in these activities at the expense of other, more stimulating and mind- enhancing activities such as reading, problem-solving, meditating, creative projects, development of hobbies and new activities that require learning and challenge.
Event + Thought = Behavior
How we view the events of our life is a cognitive process that results in emotional feelings. When “A” happens, we think “B” about it and the outcome “C” is a result of how we think about that which happened. We can subordinate feelings to values, meaning, we can allow our values, or our hoped for outcome to override our emotional response so that we may reach our end goal. Often, it is our reaction to events that creates the greatest challenges for us, not the event itself.
For example, if I am frustrated by the way I am treated by my boss at work there are many ways I can respond. If I choose to respond by being difficult to work with and expressing an attitude on the job I am likely to worsen my situation by giving my boss more reason to respond to me in ways that I do not like. In this situation I have effectively worsened my situation through my own behaviors, and perpetuated that which I claim I want to be better. It is how we think about and respond to life’s situations that guides us, not what we are faced with.
What is a situation you are currently frustrated with? Are your responses adding to the problems you currently face, or are your behaviors helping to minimize the issue or dilemma?
If you don’t know you have choices or don’t believe you have choices, you don’t.
~ Paul, Lunden, Christensen
Invent Meaning That Works
“Inventing a new interpretation is the simplest way to transform something negative into something positive. Everything that occurs in our world is an objective event. It has no inherent meaning. Each of us sees the world through different lenses, so each of us will perceive a particular incident differently. It’s our perceptions and our interpretations that affect our emotions not the incident itself.” ~ Debbie Ford
Everything we experience in life goes through our personal filter which assigns meaning to each event. Because we invent the meaning for all of our experiences, we are in charge of creating meaning that serves us well or meaning that holds us back. Given the choice, it makes the most sense to begin creating meanings for the events in our life in ways that work with and for us, rather than against us.
Take All of The Responsibility You Can!
“Unpleasant facts don’t go away simply because we stop paying conscious attention to them. Denial is effectively a form of disengagement: It means shutting down a part of ourselves.” ~ Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
“The hardest words to own are always related to incidents where we feel someone has wronged us. Our egos resist owning characteristics that would make us give up blaming someone else for the condition of our life.” ~ Debbie Ford
I believe the single greatest life- changing action you can take is to assume responsibility for everything that happens to you in your life when you become an adult and have the power to care for yourself. How you view your situation, and your ability to take responsibility for your part, is critical to self-care and personal wellness. Taking complete responsibility for our lives involves the process of accepting that all of the choices we make open us to various consequences that are often times unpredictable. Some consequences are out of our control, others are not. In the end, however, that we made the choice we did, or engaged in the behaviors we did, renders us undeniably responsible for our outcomes. For example, if I choose to get in my car and go for a drive I am consenting to the reality that there are other drivers on the road that I can not control. How they choose to drive their cars is not within my control, however, I am directly affected by other drivers when I choose to get in my car and join them on the road. If, by chance, my car is struck by another driver – and I have followed all of the rules of the road, it is not my “fault” that I was in an accident, however, it is my responsibility because I chose to get on the road with full knowledge of the risks associated with driving.
I encourage you to think of one thing that you can begin doing today that will increase your intellectual potential. Are you willing to commit to doing this, starting today? Maybe it is as simple as watching less television, reading the newspaper, being aware of the choices you make and taking more responsibility for the outcome. This month, nourish yourself with a commitment to improve your mind. Begin flexing those intellectual muscles today. Remember, there is no greater resource that you will ever have than your very self. Be sure to explore all of the possibilities of experiencing the highest form of who you are and who you can be.
Personal excellence is reflected in direct proportion to the positive investment we make in ourselves. It is the outcome of intentional, strategic, and informed self- care in all of the major areas of our life.
Are you investing in yourself?
Are you investing well in yourself?
If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then you probably are. If you can not, then read on!
- Do you feel at peace with how you live and who you are?
- Do you feel connected to people places and things in ways that have meaning and value to you?
- Do you trust yourself and the decisions you make because they come from you and are based on your beliefs?
The information I will be sharing today is not intended to be a quick fix. Instead, this is more of a guided invitation to really begin looking at your life, inside and out, so that you may begin a conscious exploration to discover all of who you are. You are the single greatest resource you will ever have. This month I would like to begin part one of a five part series on “The Possibilities of You!” Read on for more information.
The Possibilities of YOU
You have within you more resources of energy than
have ever been tapped, more talent than has ever
been exploited, more strength than has ever been
tested, and more to give than you have ever given.
~ Loehr and Scwartz
5 Dimensions of Possibility
In every life, there are five dimensions that are uniquely combined to make us all individuals. These five dimensions of our life are:
These five life dimensions hold the key to your highest self. How you view them, manage them, and express them will determine who you are, the quality of your life and your ultimate satisfaction with your life. The five dimensions of possibility will be the structure around which I build this five-part series. Today our focus is on the most basic of all of the dimensions: Physical.
Physical health can best be measured in the quality and quantity of energy available to us at all times. Variables that most significantly impact the level of physical energy available to us are:
- Stress/Exertion and Recovery Cycle
The most basic thing we can do for ourselves is to eat right, sleep regularly (on a consistent schedule) and exercise.
We are all made of energy which can be expanded or diminished. So instead of focusing on creating more time in our lives (because we can’t, time is fixed) we have the option instead to focus on how to expand our energy potential.
Energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse. Therefore, we must balance the energy that we expend and be sure to create intermittent periods of renewal (rest or recovery). To meet increased demands in our lives, we must learn to build and strengthen capabilities (be they physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual or social) wherever we are lacking.
Think of one thing that you can begin doing today that will increase your energy potential and physical health. Are you willing to commit to doing this, starting today? Maybe it is as simple as drinking one less cup of coffee in the morning, or taking the stairs at work, instead of the elevator. Maybe your energy change has to do with sleep – going to bed at a set time and awaking at a set time each day. Nourish yourself with a commitment to improve your health. Remember, there is no greater resource that you will ever have than your very self. Be sure to explore all of the possibilities of experiencing the highest form of who you are and who you can be.