December 26, 2009

Yes, There Are Angels and Prayers Are Always Answered

The oddest thing about prayer is that it is always answered. It’s never a Yes or No answer, either, dramatic statements in television programs and movies notwithstanding.

What you think or believe about prayer — or who/what may answer it — doesn’t affect its efficacy, either. The answers to prayers always come.

We are, however, often too arrogant or self-involved to perceive the answer. Our suppositions, positions, and inhibitions blind us often as not. In our desperate urgency to get The Answer we roll right past where it sits patiently on the sidelines, smiling, waiting patiently for us to stop and pay attention.

Answers are never disguised. They are responses to the real request or need underlying what we believe our need is.

I don’t know about you, but I always believe I know what I need. My “needs” usually fall into one of three categories: More of “A,” less of “B,” or (my favorite) “rescue me from the consequences of my own choices and actions.” But as I have repeatedly and often painfully learned, I’m usually looking in the wrong places for the answers to the challenges in my life.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the truth is that I came with all the answers I needed preloaded into the old MOS (Mikey Operating System). Just like the computer you buy, it’s all inside.

All I have to do is stay present with any problem I encounter without wishing it to be any different. The answer always comes.

I’ve seen angels, too, though never ones with wings. I see one in a friend who hears my complaints and loves me anyway… in the person who waves me in ahead of them in traffic… and in the bell ringer standing outside my grocery store.

Every now and then, if I’m not looking too hard, I see one in my mirror.

Just like you.

December 18, 2009

Everything I Know About Survival I Learned From Playing Solitaire

Okay, bear with me on this one.

Solitaire — straight up, Klondike-style solitaire — is a game of patience. The player deals out 52 cards in a methodical arrangement on a table, then moves cards from one pile to another in an attempt to break the game in accordance with the rules.

In Klondike, the outcome is usually “oops, play again.” But every now and then you get to clear the table.

So what does a silly card game have to do with survival?

When faced with adversity, I’ve observed that the first reaction of those facing it (myself included, I admit) is to ask the somewhat panicked question, “What are we going to do now? How are we going to get out of this one?” It gets to be “deer-in-the-headlight” time before you know it with questions like that. They look open-ended, but they’re actually closed-minded.

The real question to ask is, “Why don’t we deal the cards again?” There it is. Klondike. Fail to break the game and what do you do about it? Deal another round. In fact, you keep dealing rounds until one of the following happens:

  • You give up, in which case you can never win, or
  • You win after dogged persistence.

See, you can only ever fail if you let fear — a natural reaction when survival threatens you or your family — keep you from dealing another round.

In life that means keeping your eyes open… looking for patterns… seeking the opportunity to take massive useful action in service of others. When an opportunity falls through, you don’t quit, no matter how loudly your head weasels holler. Stand up, shuffle the cards, deal another hand. And another. And ANOTHER.

Yes, I know things can get ugly. Believe me, I’ve been on the verge of being busted penniless more than once. Yet here I am, writing again, hoping to give you just a little inspiration to shuffle that deck, to deal another round, to keep on keeping on no matter who or what tells you to do otherwise.

Come on, people. Let’s play.

December 13, 2009

Be the Stress You Want to See in the World

Or, How to Be Part of the New Stress Global Snowball Effect.

I swear to you, if hear hear another person talk about “how bad times are right now,” I am going to have my ears permanently sealed. While I’m at it, I’ll have my eyelids sewn shut and take up residence in a nice, calm desert.

Oops. I’m stressing over other people’s stressing. How is that working out for me today? Not so much, that’s how it’s working.

I’m told that moods are, in fact, contagious. According to this point of view, we’re a bunch of human tuning forks interconnected in a Universe so mind-bogglingly big that even thinking about a bigness on that scale can give you an ice cream headache.

Change the Channel?

But, see, here’s my problem with the whole “bad moods are contagious” point of view. If we are all truly interconnected with everything, and if the Universe is as unfathomably huge as all that, then it should be a simple matter to change the dial on our Contagio-meter. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Maybe I can choose to move my attention elsewhere.

I’ll grant you that the gravity well created by a stressed out, depressed person can suck you right in if you decide to park near it. Bad moods are not, however, some sort of cosmic black hole so powerful that we cannot hope to ever see the light again.

The human mind is a funny thing. It plays tricks on us. It makes things up all the time.

Let me give you an example.

My wife and I were having a conversation about depression. She asked me what it was like when I was having a bed spell of it, and I described my symptoms. She listened, made the comment that everybody feels that way sometimes, and that maybe you just have to get on with life anyway.

Well. I got angry about that. I got ashamed that I sometimes have a difficult time snapping out of a depressive state. I got all down-in-the-gravity-well of self-pity about it.

My mind made all of it up.

Yes, I Choose Every Thought

Mind you, the type of what I labeled as anxiety and depression I struggled with over the years was very real to me. The physical symptoms and thinking I labeled as anxiety and depression seemed as solid as the chair I’m sitting in right now.

However, there are the symptoms and there is the story I tell about them. They are not the same thing.

My anger. My depression. My fill-in-the-blank. Mere labels and explanations. Those labels represent my attempts to make sense out of it all. But the explanation is not the fact.

So when I got angry about what my wife said, I wasn’t simply making up a story of anger in my mind. I was choosing to do so. I was getting angry about ANOTHER fiction — HER story. I had gotten myself worked up over a story.

All I had to do was shift my attention to recognize the story, and the bad feelings went away. Vamoosed. Skedaddled. Split.

So all this talk about stressing out and so on is really just that. It’s talk. I stress out because I tune into the stress-out channel. I hook into a fiction. I choose to stress. Yikes. I can become a self-eating watermelon of stress faster than you can say, “monkey brain.”

Owich.

So, the next time I decide to be the stress I want to see in the world, I’ll take a little comfort in the fact that it isn’t real anywhere except in the story-mongering talk radio station of my mind.

Then maybe I can tune in another station. Like the Silly Me station. Or the Bad Pun station.

Might as well. It’s all made up anyhow.

December 6, 2009

Taking Massive, Useful Action

Remember the last time you were stuck? Trapped by inaction… telling yourself you didn’t know what to do or where to turn for help.

What’s being stuck like for you?

When I get stuck I’m usually in deer-in-the-headlights mode. For me it has always been a combination of fear, inaction, and body chemistry that work in concert to lock me into place.

Being Stuck is a Big Fat Lie

I’ve learned a few things about stuckness over the years. Stuckness goes hand-in-hand with anxiety and my deepest personal fears. One of the biggest fears for me was the fear of people laughing at me and making fun of what I said or did. Heck, I can feel my body reacting to the memory of what life was like for me 30 years ago. I refuse to go back there again.

Here’s the thing about the sort of anxiety you and I face: It’s not only complex, but we also have powerful built-in stories around it. As Steve Chandler says in The Story of You, we make up these stories about ourselves to make it okay for us to behave in certain ways.

Your story about yourself is made up. It’s a fiction. You live according to the script you’ve written for your life. I live according to mine.

But if we create the stories that we live, then any story would do, wouldn’t it? Especially one that represents the very best of who we are. It therefore stands to reason that we can write any story we like for our lives. Why not write a story that involves being excited about your life, and about expressing that excitement through massive useful action?

Get Excited About Taking Massive Useful Action

I like the idea of taking massive useful action with excitement rather than out of fear. I don’t know about you, but every time I try to do something because I’m afraid of what I’m not getting or might get, the results are definitely not exciting.

So the next time you get deer-in-the-headlights stuck, here’s what I suggest you do:

  1. Pause. Recognize that you’re stuck, then become aware that the part of you that ISN’T stuck is observing the part of you that is. Aha.
  2. Eat something that has a low glycemic index. Give yourself some good fuel. Even a bowl of Cheerios or an apple with hard cheese will prime your body for the next step. You might even find that your stuckness goes away as soon as you’ve eaten. Funny how that works.
  3. Close your eyes and imagine that you’re a script writer. You’re creating a story for a new character who looks and acts an awful lot like you. Your character is stuck, and has to take massive useful action to become un-stuck. Write the script that has the character completely overwhelm the problem he or she is facing with a burst of exciting, massive action.
  4. Get your notebook out and write the following question at the top of a page: What massive useful action could I take to completely overwhelm <insert your problem here>?
  5. Write 25 answers to that question as fast as you can. Be outrageous. Make up things that no sane person would do to solve the problem. Go after it with excitement. Get edgy. Rip it up.
  6. Take a deep belly breath. Look at your list. Commit to doing the actions on that list as though you could not fail, as though your life depended on it — as though you were a one-person wrecking crew of massive useful action.

I promise you that if you’ll take these steps, you will get unstuck.

Works every time.

November 30, 2009

Let’s Take a News Fast This Week

Rant coming. You’ve been warned.

I think I may be ill. And I think “news” has done it.

I want someone to explain to me how the stories in my newspaper and in TV news programs are adding any benefit to my life.

I keep wondering where all the information that contributes to well-being and helps us all take useful action is hiding.

Call me curmudgeonly or ignorant. But I don’t get it.

Because I happen to believe that news could be the story of life happening all around us. It could be a call to useful action that helps people create more goodness in the world around them. I’ll agree that, from time to time, we actually get a bit of that in this medium we call “the news.”

So why is it important that a man was gunned down in a town 50 miles away? Why is it important to share stories of tragedy and pointless violence as though they were the only events worth reporting?

And why is it people are drawn to negative news like moths to a flame?

I’m not proposing that we stick our heads in the sand. There are events in our communities and the world that carry significance for us all. What I propose, however, is that we take a break from news for a week and see what happens. What better time to do so than December, a time during which much of the world celebrates peace on earth, goodwill to men?

What would happen if instead we stepped out of our homes, saw each other in less of a hurry at the market, greeted each other with a simple honest smile?

What would change in us and in our communities if we decided to engage our worlds in some small way over the next 30 days?

Give the guy on the corner a few dollars. Help someone carry an armload of packages. Help out in a food drive. Join your neighbors and have a street-cleaning party. Make a little less noise… think of yourself a little bit less.

What would it hurt if you decided to be a little bit more of what you’d like to see in the world? Rather than shaking your head in sadness at a headline, why not nod your head and say hello to each person you meet this month?

Heresy. Yes, I know.

But just imagine the next 30 days.

Imagine. And do some good out there

November 23, 2009

Declaring Gratitude This Week

There’s no need to belabor the point:

Your mind and spirit need gratitude the way your body needs food and water. I would argue that a life without gratitude is a life more susceptible to illness, depression, and anxiety. Gratitude, like vitamins, cannot be stored. Just as you take supplements to promote well-being, a daily regimen of gratitude has to be one of the most important practices of a healthy mind.

Make no mistake: Gratitude is a practice. To enjoy maximum benefits, develop the habit of practicing gratitude twice a day. Once in the morning and once before going to bed at night is my recommendation.

I remember when I was depressed and terrified of the world. In those days I still used alcohol and marijuana in an attempt to temper my moods. They didn’t work, of course, so I found myself using them more and more in the insane search for something to make me feel better.

Then a friend suggested taking a hit of gratitude rather than a hit off the bong. So one night in the midst of a dreadful bout of fear and self-loathing I tried the following prescription:

I sat down with pen and paper and wrote, “I declare that I am grateful to be able to write this sentence.” I looked around the room and saw my toddlers’ playthings. “I declare that I am grateful for my sweet little boys.” Once I started, some unseen force seemed to be guiding my hand. Before I knew it I’d filled an entire page with declarations of gratitude.

I recommend writing your declarations rather than thinking them or speaking them aloud. There’s power and release in seeing, feeling, and hearing the rush of gratitude form itself on the page before you.

This week in the United States we pause to declare gratitude for our lives. But why not practice gratitude every single day

You have nothing to lose, and a more peaceful life to gain.

November 20, 2009

Anxiety, Blood Sugar, and You

Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic. — Anais Nin

You may not realize it yet, but you’re preparing to embark upon what many believe is the most anxiety-inducing time of the year.

Yes. The holidays.

There’s one thing that destroys my sense of well-being in the holidays more than anything else I do. No, I’m not talking about maxing out my credit cards. Well, I suppose that would do it, too, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

It’s the eating. Specifically, it’s eating sugar. I face the challenge every year because I’m sugar sensitive. That means when my wife puts out a plate of the innocently named Mexican wedding cakes, I have a tendency to devour them all if I eat even one. Those little cakes and related sweets fall into the food category I call Delightfully Dangerous Blood Sugar Bombs.

And when I eat them, I crash. Hard. Boom goes the Sugar Bomb, down goes the blood sugar, and bingo. Hello mysterious episodes of anxiety and depression.

No wonder I used to get the post-Christmas letdown. It’s not the holidays. It’s the holi-daze.

How does that work?

Anxiety, Blood Sugar, and You

Normal people — that’s not me, and certainly not you if you suffer from sugar sensitivity — can eat sweets without suffering wild swings in their blood sugar. Not so for the sugar-sensitive person. When we eat sweets, our blood sugar actually drops drastically.

There is an excellent description of the process in Kathleen DesMaisons’ wonderful book, Potatoes not Prozac, but the bottom line is this: When I eat sweets, my body overreacts by producing too much insulin. My cells open up and pull in more sugar than they should. My blood sugar drops rapidly and I turn into Mad Michael, complete with irritability, restlessness, and fatigue.

It so happens that many of us who suffer from anxiety and depression also happen to be sugar sensitive. I coach people who suffer from anxiety and for whom nothing seems to help. Sugar sensitivity is a big part of the anxiety reaction, so one of the things I do is teach people how to work with their bodies to eliminate the sugar-induced components of anxiety.

Can’t I Even Have a Little Taste of the Sweet Stuff?

A fair question. For those of us who are sugar sensitive, it’s best to eliminate all refined sugars from the diet. That includes white and brown sugars, honey, and especially high-fructose corn syrup. It includes alcoholic beverages, too – a shocker for many people.

Your mileage may vary.

I’ve learned it’s a good idea to stay away from white flour, too. Simple carbohydrates cause the same blood sugar swings. But staying away from white flour seems to be a lot easier than eliminating sugar.

If you are unwilling to forego holiday treats, there is a way to avoid most of the crazy mood swings that come with eating sugar.

You have to focus on maintaining an even blood sugar keel. The way you maintain that even keel is by understanding the glycemic index.

What is the Glycemic Index?

The glycemic index, or GI, is a measure of the effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. Simple carbohydrates have a high GI; complex carbohydrates have a low GI. Dr. David Jenkins developed the concept of GI in the early 80s. The health benefits of eating low GI foods are well known.

So what foods have a low GI?

  • Most fruit and vegetables
  • Grainy breads
  • Pasta
  • Legumes
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Anything foods that are extremely low in carbohydrates

Well, that’s not so bad, is it?

Your goal is to eat lots of low GI foods and avoid the rest. However, if you are bound and determined to have a little after-dinner sugar bomb, you can ameliorate the effects by eating high-fiber foods and a little extra protein. You’ll still get a blood sugar spike, but it won’t be as radical.

Still and all, the very best thing you can do is take it easy on the sugars. You will feel better if you eliminate sugar and other high GI foods.

You can download a spreadsheet of foods and their glycemic index from http://riskfactor.cancer.gov/tools/glycemic/.

Your Bottom Line

Let’s keep it simple: Eat foods with a glycemic index of 70 or lower and you’ll be amazed at how good you’ll feel physically over time. Your concentration and focus will improve, too. You’ll also be surprised at what happens to your episodes of anxiety. They’ll become less severe and much more manageable – you may even discover that the physical symptoms of anxiety will occur far less frequently.

I can tell you from personal experience that the first seven days of going without sugar were a little uncomfortable. I wanted cookies. I wanted pie. I love pie. I’ve asked that when I die I be buried in pumpkin pie

Okay, not really. But did I mention that I love pie?

Yes, seven days. For some people it’s a bit longer. But after that seven days, I woke up feeling better than I’d felt in my entire life. That’s what happens when your body is working on an even keel with good food in the system.

So this holiday season, yes, I’ll have a slice of pumpkin pie after a low GI meal. I know that my body will react to the extra sugar, so I’ll have it only after Thanksgiving dinner and perhaps on Christmas Day. I’ll stay away from the other goodies, though, because I’m unwilling to pay the price.

Need support over the holidays with your eating habits? Who doesn’t? Leave your comments here. I’ll be happy to help.

And remember: The holidays are about gratitude. Go out and do something good for someone else. Don’t let anyone know what you did – especially those you’re helping. Keep it to yourself and enjoy the best anxiety reliever in the world: Being of maximum use.

November 16, 2009

Let’s Talk About Choices

You always do what you want to do. This is true with every act. You may say that you had to do something, or that you were forced to, but actually, whatever you do, you do by choice. Only you have the power to choose for yourself. — W. Clement Stone

Choices.

Some people like to talk about music. Some about sports. Some like to talk about food and drink.

I like to talk about choices. That is my choice, right?

Someone made an interesting comment to me last week about a situation with which he has been struggling. He’s stuck, he insists, in a job he hates from which he can see no escape. His wife has chronic medical problems, and the cost of treatments is eating away their savings.

When I asked him what he really wanted to be doing, he shrugged and said, “What difference does it make? With the situation I’m in, I have no choice.”

Really. What would you say to such a statement? Pause for a moment. Imagine what his life must be like and ask yourself whether what he said is true. Perhaps you’re even feeling that way about your own life situation.

Fair enough. Let’s dive in and look at his no-choice scenario.

Black + White = Nowhere

If you’ve been reading my articles for awhile, you can probably figure out where I stand on the no-choice scenario.

It does not exist. There is no such thing as a no-choice scenario.

When you believe you have no choices in any situation, you are choosing to believe a story. Like the man who says he’s stuck in a job because he has no choice, when you choose to believe in the no-choice scenario you are choosing to close all options.

What you’re really talking about is victimhood.

Can you see that? Can you feel it in your belly? When I choose victimhood I can no longer see the choices from the trees. It’s like closing my eyes in front of an oncoming train. “I have to stand here. I have no choice.”

Choices are not black and white. There is always a spectrum of choices available. Truth be told, there is never single “right” choice in most of the situations we encounter in this life. Every time you make a choice, a host of new possibilities and options arise that did not exist before.

That’s the key to unlocking a more creative way of living.

When Seemingly Stuck, Shift Perspective

Let’s go back to the man who’s convinced he has no choice but to remain in his job. The choice he’s really making is to stay in his job and endure the conditions he’s facing now. Assume for the moment that quickly finding another job of equivalent pay and benefits is an option that is unavailable to him. What else might he do?

If he shifted his way of looking at the situation he might discover there are more options available than he realizes. For instance, he could seek a transfer to another location where the climate might be more suitable to his wife’s condition.

Even better, he might negotiate with his boss to allow him to work remotely. His job doesn’t require his physical presence — what if he could move to a warmer, drier location and do his job from there? He might even be able to lower his cost of living at the same time, freeing up more income to pay doctor bills.

He could even negotiate the ability to simply work from his current home three or four days a week. Even that single change would make a profound difference in his quality of life.

Who knows what he might come up with once he started thinking from a whole new perspective and enlisting the help of others to identify options?

It’s all a matter of how he chooses to look at the situation.

“But My Situation Is Completely Different”

No, it isn’t. No matter where you believe you’re stuck in your life, you have far more options to explore. you merely decided there can be no other options because you’ve declared yourself stuck.

The only thing stuck is your creative mind.

I want you to think long and hard about “stuckness.” If you stare at it long enough you’ll discover that the thing blocking you is the mental equivalent of a Japanese door. It’s make of paper. Slide it out of the way or punch right through it if you’d rather.

Never buy into the stuck-ness of the no-choice scenario.

Questions for Getting Unstuck

Only inertia and a refusal to think creatively are stopping you from taking another tack. Start by learning to ask yourself bigger questions such as:

  • What choices might I have if I looked at the boundaries of my situation as though there were movable?
  • What choices might I have if I believed I could not fail in any destructive way?
  • What options would I have if I had the ability to renegotiate my own reality?
  • What are the constraints that seem to be limiting me now? What would my choices look like if I changed the parameters of those constraints?
  • What makes me believe my choices are limited? How do I know that is true? What useful actions might I take to change what I believe is true?

Don’t let yourself off the hook on this the way my associate is doing in his life.

Ask the big questions.

Then choose.

November 13, 2009

You’re Anxious Because You Choose to Be

Action expresses priorities. — Mohandas Gandhi

Welcome to the bad news about the endless vicious cycle of anxiety.

It’s the awful, secret truth. And if you’re like me, you’re not going to like it much. But if you want to be free, you must face it.

You remain anxious because you want to be, because you refuse to act. You keep getting the same results in your life because you either refuse to act or you aren’t practicing useful action.

I don’t care what explanations you have about your anxiety. You can attribute it to bad genes, bad upbringing, bad breaks, bad body chemistry, bad relationships, or a bad economy.

Look, it’s this simple: If you have spent your life struggling with anxiety the way I did, there comes a time when you have to decide whether you want a better life or not. It comes down to a simple choice. Either I’m going to take control of the situation, or I’m going to spend the rest of my life getting exactly what I’m getting now.

It’s Time to Get Angry

Let me share my story with you.

I grew up in an anxious, fearful household. I experienced severe anxiety and depression from the age of 8. by the time I reached my teens I’d decided that everyone must feel exactly the same way. I had no idea it was possible not to awaken in the morning miserable because I was either terrified to go to school or sunk into an awful blackness — or both.

Later, in college I discovered that drugs and alcohol could deaden the pain. Truth be told, they did work for awhile. Unfortunately, I used and abused them with a desperation that nudged right up against insanity.

By the time I reached 32 the honeymoon had been over for at least five years. I managed to get clean and sober. That was a landmark event for me.

Trouble was, I still had the anxiety hanging over me. And this time I had no crutches to fall back on.

Life Goes Boom

If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time in therapy. Years in therapy. I coughed up all my junk in therapy. I also tried every anti-anxiety medication available. I got more frustrated because none of them worked for me.

I stared wondering whether I’d ever find release. I started trying alternative approaches in the same way I desperately sought relief in drugs and alcohol. Hypnotherapy, crystal gazing, astrology, regression therapy, inner child therapy, and a few other things that did nothing but waste my time.

Even prayer and meditation failed me.

Then one day the light went on.

In the midst of a life-changing crisis I came to understand two important principles:

  1. Nothing is dependable except my ability to choose and act.
  2. The correlation between insight and change is zero.

Let me explain.

Self-Knowledge Does Not Create Change in Your Life

The concept that insight does not lead to change may or may not be new to you. It was an extraordinary moment for me. I came to realize something that shook me up.

I was anxious because I chose to be.

How was that possible? I didn’t want to stay depressed. I didn’t want to awaken in the middle of the night seized by terror and panic.

The truth hit me square in the heart. Did I really want to be anxious and depressed? Hadn’t I scoured the earth looking for answers.

The answers weren’t out there. They had to be inside me. Answers could not exist anywhere else.

Habits of Mind, Habits of Body

It seems obvious to me now. The release I sought could only come through a careful assessment of the way I lived. I discovered that the causes of anxiety and depression are unique to each person.

We each have Habits of Mind that determine our sense of well-being and purpose, that set the ways in which we respond to what happens in life.

We each have Habits of body that determines how we feel and the subsequent quality of life.

So I paid attention to my habits. I decided I would treat every thought, act, or physical sensation as something I owned. I was at choice about these things. I could be responsible for my perceptions, my actions, and my choices.

I suddenly owned the anxiety and depression with which I had always fought.

And That’s When I Decided to Get Mad

That’s exactly it. Change was never going to happen unless I made it happen. The only one who could change me was me.

Untenable Habits of Mind and Body do not change by themselves. They have momentum and inertia. A body at rest tends to remain at rest.

And a body in motion tends to remain in motion.

Movement requires energy. The power to change had to come from somewhere.

I became unwilling to live in the confines of the anxiety and depression I had allowed to take over my life.

Then I got mad. I put the fires of frustration and anger to work on my behalf. Anger isn’t always a destructive force. I committed myself to reclaiming my mind and body, to remodeling my life in the image I chose.

As it happens, that mental shift was…

The Way Out and Through

It takes a bit of a perspective shift to own one’s state of mind and body. It takes a leap of faith to accept responsibility for anxiety and depression.

My story and resulting decision may sound harsh to you. “Where’s your compassion for suffering?” you may ask. “My situation is different.”

Stop deluding yourself.

You are where you are in your life because you made choices that put you there. If you can’t accept that, then you have to be aware that you are choosing to stay there.

Maybe it’s time to get angry about it. Maybe it’s time for you to stop pitying yourself and take wild, decisive, useful action.

Or you could just stay where you are and be miserable.

The truth is if I can do it, you can, too. There is no way on this green earth you could be lazier than I am. All you have to do is get fed up with being sick and tired of being sick and tired.

If now now, when?

A Simple 7-Step Action Plan for Change

Do you want to change? Are you really ready to take ownership of what is happening in your life right now? If so, here’s a simple but effective prescription for you.

  1. Write the following on an index card and put it where you can read it several times each day: I get what I get because I choose to get it. I live how I live because I choose to live it.
  2. Decide right NOW that you are going to take radical useful action to change. Get angry about the lousy choices you’ve made. Get remorseful. Don’t coddle yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror and know you can choose to change. Cry and wail. Then forgive yourself and get moving.
  3. Practice observing your thoughts without trying to change them or wishing them to be different. You are not your thoughts, but you can become what you think about all the time. Keep a log or journal of anxious or depressing thoughts, noting the time of day, location, and what’s happening around you.
  4. Immediately eliminate news from your life. That means no newspapers, no magazines, and especially no television news programs. You are what you consume. In fact, it would be wise to stop watching television for one week. If you’re nervous or angry at the thought of doing so, make it two.
  5. Immediately eliminate sugar from your diet. That’s sugar in all forms: white or brown, honey, stevia, and so forth. Stay away from sugar substitutes, too. Trust me on this one — managing blood sugar is one of the keys to feeling better. You may feel lousy for about seven days. It will pass. Seven days from now you will awaken in an improved mood. While you’re at it, eliminate white bread, too.
  6. Start your day with simple, gentle stretching. A few minutes is all it takes to open up the joints and get blood flowing. I’ll provide the morning sequence I use in another article.
  7. Take a five-minute walk (or longer if you like) outside every day. Yes, rain or shine, but do use a little common sense. We don’t want you blown away in heavy winds or caught in a snow storm.

Nothing here sounds difficult or intimidating, does it? Of course not. Little actions taken together create momentum of their own. For now, focus on being aware of what you think, consume, and do.

You can reclaim your life.

You can at last be free.

Action expresses priorities.

– Mohandas Gandhi

You’re Anxious Because You Choose to Be

Welcome to the bad news about the endless vicious cycle of anxiety.

It’s the awful, secret truth. And if you’re like me, you’re not going to like it much. But if you want to be free, you must face it.

You remain anxious because you want to be, because you refuse to act. You keep getting the same results in your life because you either refuse to act or you aren’t practicing useful action.

I don’t care what explanations you have about your anxiety. You can attribute it to bad genes, bad upbringing, bad breaks, bad body chemistry, bad relationships, or a bad economy.

Look, it’s this simple: If you have spent your life struggling with anxiety the way I did, there comes a time when you have to decide whether you want a better life or not. It comes down to a simple choice. Either I’m going to take control of the situation, or I’m going to spend the rest of my life getting exactly what I’m getting now.

It’s Time to Get Angry

Let me share my story with you.

I grew up in an anxious, fearful household. I experienced severe anxiety and depression from the age of 8. by the time I reached my teens I’d decided that everyone must feel exactly the same way. I had no idea it was possible not to awaken in the morning miserable because I was either terrified to go to school or sunk into an awful blackness — or both.

Later, in college I discovered that drugs and alcohol could deaden the pain. Truth be told, they did work for awhile. Unfortunately, I used and abused them with a desperation that nudged right up against insanity.

By the time I reached 32 the honeymoon had been over for at least five years. I managed to get clean and sober. That was a landmark event for me.

Trouble was, I still had the anxiety hanging over me. And this time I had no crutches to fall back on.

Life Goes Boom

If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time in therapy. Years in therapy. I coughed up all my junk in therapy. I also tried every anti-anxiety medication available. I got more frustrated because none of them worked for me.

I stared wondering whether I’d ever find release. I started trying alternative approaches in the same way I desperately sought relief in drugs and alcohol. Hypnotherapy, crystal gazing, astrology, regression therapy, inner child therapy, and a few other things that did nothing but waste my time.

Even prayer and meditation failed me.

Then one day the light went on.

In the midst of a life-changing crisis I came to understand two important principles:

  1. Nothing is dependable except my ability to choose and act.
  2. The correlation between insight and change is zero.

Let me explain.

Self-Knowledge Does Not Create Change in Your Life

The concept that insight does not lead to change may or may not be new to you. It was an extraordinary moment for me. I came to realize something that shook me up.

I was anxious because I chose to be.

How was that possible? I didn’t want to stay depressed. I didn’t want to awaken in the middle of the night seized by terror and panic.

The truth hit me square in the heart. Did I really want to be anxious and depressed? Hadn’t I scoured the earth looking for answers.

The answers weren’t out there. They had to be inside me. Answers could not exist anywhere else.

– Habits of Mind, Habits of Body

It seems obvious to me now. The release I sought could only come through a careful assessment of the way I lived. I discovered that the causes of anxiety and depression are unique to each person.

We each have Habits of Mind that determine our sense of well-being and purpose, that set the ways in which we respond to what happens in life.

We each have Habits of body that determines how we feel and the subsequent quality of life.

So I paid attention to my habits. I decided I would treat every thought, act, or physical sensation as something I owned. I was at choice about these things. I could be responsible for my perceptions, my actions, and my choices.

I suddenly owned the anxiety and depression with which I had always fought.

And That’s When I Decided to Get Mad

That’s exactly it. Change was never going to happen unless I made it happen. The only one who could change me was me.

Untenable Habits of Mind and Body do not change by themselves. They have momentum and inertia. A body at rest tends to remain at rest.

And a body in motion tends to remain in motion.

Movement requires energy. The power to change had to come from somewhere.

I became unwilling to live in the confines of the anxiety and depression I had allowed to take over my life.

Then I got mad. I put the fires of frustration and anger to work on my behalf. Anger isn’t always a destructive force. I committed myself to reclaiming my mind and body, to remodeling my life in the image I chose.

As it happens, that mental shift was…

The Way Out and Through

It takes a bit of a perspective shift to own one’s state of mind and body. It takes a leap of faith to accept responsibility for anxiety and depression.

My story and resulting decision may sound harsh to you. “Where’s your compassion for suffering?” you may ask. “My situation is different.”

Stop deluding yourself.

You are where you are in your life because you made choices that put you there. If you can’t accept that, then you have to be aware that you are choosing to stay there.

Maybe it’s time to get angry about it. Maybe it’s time for you to stop pitying yourself and take wild, decisive, useful action.

Or you could just stay where you are and be miserable.

The truth is if I can do it, you can, too. There is no way on this green earth you could be lazier than I am. All you have to do is get fed up with being sick and tired of being sick and tired.

If now now, when?

A Simple 7-Step Action Plan for Change

Do you want to change? Are you really ready to take ownership of what is happening in your life right now? If so, here’s a simple but effective prescription for you.

  1. Write the following on an index card and put it where you can read it several times each day: I get what I get because I choose to get it. I live how I live because I choose to live it.
  2. Decide right NOW that you are going to take radical useful action to change. Get angry about the lousy choices you’ve made. Get remorseful. Don’t coddle yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror and know you can choose to change. Cry and wail. Then forgive yourself and get moving.
  3. Practice observing your thoughts without trying to change them or wishing them to be different. You are not your thoughts, but you can become what you think about all the time. Keep a log or journal of anxious or depressing thoughts, noting the time of day, location, and what’s happening around you.
  4. Immediately eliminate news from your life. That means no newspapers, no magazines, and especially no television news programs. You are what you consume. In fact, it would be wise to stop watching television for one week. If you’re nervous or angry at the thought of doing so, make it two.
  5. Immediately eliminate sugar from your diet. That’s sugar in all forms: white or brown, honey, stevia, and so forth. Stay away from sugar substitutes, too. Trust me on this one — managing blood sugar is one of the keys to feeling better. You may feel lousy for about seven days. It will pass. Seven days from now you will awaken in an improved mood. While you’re at it, eliminate white bread, too.
  6. Start your day with simple, gentle stretching. A few minutes is all it takes to open up the joints and get blood flowing. I’ll provide the morning sequence I use in another article.
  7. Take a five-minute walk (or longer if you like) outside every day. Yes, rain or shine, but do use a little common sense. We don’t want you blown away in heavy winds or caught in a snow storm.

Nothing here sounds difficult or intimidating, does it? Of course not. Little actions taken together create momentum of their own. For now, focus on being aware of what you think, consume, and do.

You can reclaim your life.

You can at last be free.Action expresses priorities.

– Mohandas Gandhi

You’re Anxious Because You Choose to Be

Welcome to the bad news about the endless vicious cycle of anxiety.

It’s the awful, secret truth. And if you’re like me, you’re not going to like it much. But if you want to be free, you must face it.

You remain anxious because you want to be, because you refuse to act. You keep getting the same results in your life because you either refuse to act or you aren’t practicing useful action.

I don’t care what explanations you have about your anxiety. You can attribute it to bad genes, bad upbringing, bad breaks, bad body chemistry, bad relationships, or a bad economy.

Look, it’s this simple: If you have spent your life struggling with anxiety the way I did, there comes a time when you have to decide whether you want a better life or not. It comes down to a simple choice. Either I’m going to take control of the situation, or I’m going to spend the rest of my life getting exactly what I’m getting now.

It’s Time to Get Angry

Let me share my story with you.

I grew up in an anxious, fearful household. I experienced severe anxiety and depression from the age of 8. by the time I reached my teens I’d decided that everyone must feel exactly the same way. I had no idea it was possible not to awaken in the morning miserable because I was either terrified to go to school or sunk into an awful blackness — or both.

Later, in college I discovered that drugs and alcohol could deaden the pain. Truth be told, they did work for awhile. Unfortunately, I used and abused them with a desperation that nudged right up against insanity.

By the time I reached 32 the honeymoon had been over for at least five years. I managed to get clean and sober. That was a landmark event for me.

Trouble was, I still had the anxiety hanging over me. And this time I had no crutches to fall back on.

Life Goes Boom

If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time in therapy. Years in therapy. I coughed up all my junk in therapy. I also tried every anti-anxiety medication available. I got more frustrated because none of them worked for me.

I stared wondering whether I’d ever find release. I started trying alternative approaches in the same way I desperately sought relief in drugs and alcohol. Hypnotherapy, crystal gazing, astrology, regression therapy, inner child therapy, and a few other things that did nothing but waste my time.

Even prayer and meditation failed me.

Then one day the light went on.

In the midst of a life-changing crisis I came to understand two important principles:

1. Nothing is dependable except my ability to choose and act.

2. The correlation between insight and change is zero.

Let me explain.

Self-Knowledge Does Not Create Change in Your Life

The concept that insight does not lead to change may or may not be new to you. It was an extraordinary moment for me. I came to realize something that shook me up.

I was anxious because I chose to be.

How was that possible? I didn’t want to stay depressed. I didn’t want to awaken in the middle of the night seized by terror and panic.

The truth hit me square in the heart. Did I really want to be anxious and depressed? Hadn’t I scoured the earth looking for answers.

The answers weren’t out there. They had to be inside me. Answers could not exist anywhere else.

– Habits of Mind, Habits of Body

It seems obvious to me now. The release I sought could only come through a careful assessment of the way I lived. I discovered that the causes of anxiety and depression are unique to each person.

We each have Habits of Mind that determine our sense of well-being and purpose, that set the ways in which we respond to what happens in life.

We each have Habits of body that determines how we feel and the subsequent quality of life.

So I paid attention to my habits. I decided I would treat every thought, act, or physical sensation as something I owned. I was at choice about these things. I could be responsible for my perceptions, my actions, and my choices.

I suddenly owned the anxiety and depression with which I had always fought.

And That’s When I Decided to Get Mad

That’s exactly it. Change was never going to happen unless I made it happen. The only one who could change me was me.

Untenable Habits of Mind and Body do not change by themselves. They have momentum and inertia. A body at rest tends to remain at rest.

And a body in motion tends to remain in motion.

Movement requires energy. The power to change had to come from somewhere.

I became unwilling to live in the confines of the anxiety and depression I had allowed to take over my life.

Then I got mad. I put the fires of frustration and anger to work on my behalf. Anger isn’t always a destructive force. I committed myself to reclaiming my mind and body, to remodeling my life in the image I chose.

As it happens, that mental shift was…

The Way Out and Through

It takes a bit of a perspective shift to own one’s state of mind and body. It takes a leap of faith to accept responsibility for anxiety and depression.

My story and resulting decision may sound harsh to you. “Where’s your compassion for suffering?” you may ask. “My situation is different.”

Stop deluding yourself.

You are where you are in your life because you made choices that put you there. If you can’t accept that, then you have to be aware that you are choosing to stay there.

Maybe it’s time to get angry about it. Maybe it’s time for you to stop pitying yourself and take wild, decisive, useful action.

Or you could just stay where you are and be miserable.

The truth is if I can do it, you can, too. There is no way on this green earth you could be lazier than I am. All you have to do is get fed up with being sick and tired of being sick and tired.

If now now, when?

A Simple 7-Step Action Plan for Change

Do you want to change? Are you really ready to take ownership of what is happening in your life right now? If so, here’s a simple but effective prescription for you.

1. Write the following on an index card and put it where you can read it several times each day: I get what I get because I choose to get it. I live how I live because I choose to live it.

2. Decide right NOW that you are going to take radical useful action to change. Get angry about the lousy choices you’ve made. Get remorseful. Don’t coddle yourself. Look at yourself in the mirror and know you can choose to change. Cry and wail. Then forgive yourself and get moving.

3. Practice observing your thoughts without trying to change them or wishing them to be different. You are not your thoughts, but you can become what you think about all the time. Keep a log or journal of anxious or depressing thoughts, noting the time of day, location, and what’s happening around you.

4. Immediately eliminate news from your life. That means no newspapers, no magazines, and especially no television news programs. You are what you consume. In fact, it would be wise to stop watching television for one week. If you’re nervous or angry at the thought of doing so, make it two.

5. Immediately eliminate sugar from your diet. That’s sugar in all forms: white or brown, honey, stevia, and so forth. Stay away from sugar substitutes, too. Trust me on this one — managing blood sugar is one of the keys to feeling better. You may feel lousy for about seven days. It will pass. Seven days from now you will awaken in an improved mood. While you’re at it, eliminate white bread, too.

6. Start your day with simple, gentle stretching. A few minutes is all it takes to open up the joints and get blood flowing. I’ll provide the morning sequence I use in another article.

7. Take a five-minute walk (or longer if you like) outside every day. Yes, rain or shine, but do use a little common sense. We don’t want you blown away in heavy winds or caught in a snow storm.

Nothing here sounds difficult or intimidating, does it? Of course not. Little actions taken together create momentum of their own. For now, focus on being aware of what you think, consume, and do.

You can reclaim your life.

You can at last be free.

November 6, 2009

Doing Happiness

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. — Mohandas Gandhi

I don’t know much about being happy.

But I know something about *doing* happy. And I learned a lot more about it today after a visit with my 94-year-old grandmother. My Mamaw (as I’ve always called her) moved into a nursing home this fall.

It isn’t, at first glance, the most cheerful place. In fact, its feel is more hospital than home. Mamaw share a small room with another elderly woman, and spends her days reading or doing puzzles.

There isn’t much else to do.

My first thought when I walked into the place was, “Oh, no.” Elderly folk in various states of dress and stages of mental deterioration sat in their wheelchairs in the hallway. Some watched me pass; others seemed to be completely unaware of anyone’s presence. The home is clean but… well, it isn’t Home, if you get my meaning.

My mother doesn’t like seeing her mother there, but with limited resources it’s the best Mamaw can afford. Mind you, it isn’t horrible. Yet my still-lucid grandmother has no one she can really talk to there. It is a far cry from the house in which she was born and in which she lived for most of her life.

Given an environment that drives some to despair, Mamaw refuses to give into any sort of desperation. “Michael,” she said, “I have to be here now and I’m just going to have to make the best of it. That’s what you do in life. You just make it all work out.” She’s determined to take whatever action she can to create happiness in her life.

I admire her attitude and love her for it.

And I am grateful to be reminded once more that happiness is not what you get in this world.

It is what you choose to do.