The 25 Beliefs I Once Held to be True…but Don’t Anymore

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Like everyone else I know, I have a million-and-one things I should be doing instead of writing this post right now, but that tiny fleeting voice of inspiration came knocking and tugged on my shirtsleeve. So, while the kids were napping, I did what any self-respecting mom on a ‘nap-break’ with mountains of laundry, tons of research to do, gazillions of emails to respond to, and a disaster of a house to clean…I indulged the urge to sit down with a pen and paper. I gave inspiration an inch…then, as the saying goes…time literally evaporated.

My loved ones all know my passion for lists, but this one’s a little different than the usual to-do or goal-setting lists. The following is a compilation of some of the beliefs I once held to be true…the ones I now whole-heartedly reject.

Maybe you’ll agree with me, but more interestingly, perhaps you’ll disagree. Let me know!

Regardless, I felt compelled to examine, tease-out, and share some of the strongly held beliefs I once had to illustrate that it’s very possible to change one’s mind.

Here is goes…in no particular order:

  1. Mind-games and posturing are the only road to true love. Vulnerability is for suckers.
  2. Effective parenting results from manufacturing adversity so that one’s children will toughen-up for the real world. I once heard someone say that they seek to disappoint their children every single day for this reason!
  3. Perfection is the antidote to criticism-the notion that if one achieves perfection in terms of work performance, grades in school, physically, in our relationships (parents, children, friends, spouses) that we will receive immunity from the pain and hurt that our experiences have the capacity to unleash upon us (*And by-the-way, perfection is not only a total fallacy, but it’s a dangerous and seductive illusion founded in fear.)
  4. Grief is a finite process with an end date. (*Nope. It’s more like an ocean whose waves are sometimes gentle and lapping, and other times have the immense capacity to pull you right under.  Grief is unpredictable. The kindness and bravest thing we can do for others and ourselves is to hold space for grief and sit along those in grief as they navigate its choppy waters.)
  5. Achieving your goals = happiness
  6. Beauty is objective.
  7. Parenting is easy, if you’re doing it right. (Ha! Riggghht…)
  8. The only way to navigate this world and make it out alive is to construct and dawn a thick coat of armour so strong that neither joy nor pain shall penetrate one’s tender heart.
  9. Successful, obedient students exemplify successful teaching.
  10. Being courageous is not for me.
  11. I am alone in my experiences.
  12. Asking for help is a sign of weakness.
  13. Being “good” is the only road to worthiness.
  14. Admitting to experiencing sadness, anger, loneliness, and jealousy means that there’s something wrong with you.
  15. The only way to be spiritual is to go to church.
  16. Creativity lies inherently within the individual. You either are or you aren’t. The genius resides within the artist.
  17. Everything in life is random.
  18. We must ask our passions to provide for us, financially.
  19. Forgiveness is impossible because it means condoning.
  20. Seeking and acquiring approval from others is the only way to win at life. *In the words of Seth Godin, seeking to please everyone makes you a “walking generality” instead of a “meaningful specific.”
  21. Everyone deserves a second chance. *No they don’t! Maya Angelou once said, “When somebody shows you who they are, believe them the first time!”
  22. My worthiness of love and belonging is directly dependent on my ability to earn it. It’s about hustling. *Nope. Nope. Nope! You are born worthy of love and belonging. The minute you start believing that, the more you can get down to the important, purposeful work you were meant to do!
  23. People’s personalities are fixed.
  24. I cannot write the ending to my story.
  25. Achieving and striving toward audacious goals is for other people.

The Rebrand

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The Rebrand

Just recently, I experienced a setback that will change what was and force me to adapt. Nothing permanent or terrible, but a setback, nonetheless.

The thing is, we are all faced with daily obstacles, whether they are significant, life-altering or seemingly minor.

How we react to setbacks, reveals our character.

In the past, I haven’t always responded favourably to the challenge of a curveball. I’m a girl who loves certainty, after all. Unexpected challenges can be tricky for a lot of people, myself included.

After the disbelief and shock of a setback have worn off, reality sets in. Like a cat clinging to a door frame to avoid taking a bath, I will pretty much do whatever I can to elude the repercussions and discomfort of a setback. Sure enough, I soon felt myself slipping into old habits.

Here are my favourite 4 ways to avoid difficult realities:

  1. I will manufacture certainty by over-organizing everything in my life. My friends have nick-named me the M-organizer…because it’s what I do. It’s my favourite coping mechanism. As I write this, I realize that I am SO guilty of doing this! I actually chose this week to take on the KonMarie Method for organizing your home and, against best-Kon-Marie-practice, delved right into the most challenging and exhausting section: paper. Super.
  2. I lament what might have been and live there far too long. Yup! Mentally, I found myself checking off all of the things that I’d be losing out on or missing as a result, despite my better judgement. Terrific.
  3. I catastrophize the future and wallow there for a bit. My brain starts doing overtime and over-projecting the new reality. Very helpful.
  4. Then…enter resentfulness. Instead of leading with compassion, empathy, kindness, and love (as I aim to show up most of the time), my deficiency-perspective allows fear and resentfulness to creep into my interactions. UGH!

 So, as you might have guessed, this 4-step-approach doesn’t work out so well. Not only do I usually wind up feeling lousy, but so do the people around me, through association.

Consequently, this week, acknowledging my tendency for certainty-seeking and manufacturing, I found myself searching for a different tactic. I talked to some people, did some journaling, and meditated on it for a bit. I was reminded of something Dr. Maya Angelou once said: “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

What I wanted was to change my attitude. How on Earth does one convincingly, authentically shift one’s perspective? The willingness to change one’s approach and outlook is important, but it takes more than simply telling yourself to change to do so with authenticity.

That’s when it struck me. Perhaps, it might be more helpful to think of it as a rebrand. It’s about telling yourself a different story. It’s about teasing out and focusing on the positives associated with a change in situation versus dwelling on the losses. Rebranding doesn’t usually alter the product for sale, it changes the story about it so that it becomes more desirable. A shift in perspective that tells a different story…that’s what I needed.  Not one of loss, grief and resentful resistance, but one of strength, courage, and willful benevolence.

And so, I have begun to craft a new story. How about you?

 

 

 

 

How Empathy Leads the Way for the Transformation from Victimization to Resiliency

IMG_7940Just this morning, I had a realization that stopped me in my tracks. It was one of those “Aha” Oprah-moments that sent a jolt of electric energy from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. It’s a very simple concept, but it’s caused a dramatic paradigm shift in the way I look at people-centred pain.

I have spent the last few weeks or so researching for my newest project which will provide tangible support to teachers embarking on the Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Kindness Challenge with their classes in the form of grade-specific lessons, activities, and free resources.

I have stolen early morning, caffeine-filled moments at my dining room table sifting through books, articles, videos, websites, and adapting classroom lessons.

Anti-bullying strategies.

Neuroscience.

Peer-reviewed studies.

Opinion pieces in major magazines.

Psychological theories.

All of it has reinforced my belief that teaching generosity and kindness though explicit means within the classroom is essential to creating classroom cultures that promote a sense of belonging and significance for our students.

The research process got me thinking about the concept of understanding those who hurt us. Nothing underscores the universal human experience more than the hurt we have all suffered at the hands of someone else. Painful break-ups. Conflicts at work. Family Feuds. Misunderstandings with friends. Falling outs. Bullying on the school ground. Childhood trauma. We have all experienced varying degrees of very real interactional pain.

The thing is, many people reflexively tend to demonize those who have hurt us. Dehumanization of perpetrators or those who cause us pain somehow makes us feel justified in acting outside of our integrity. We blame. We rage. We might even turn to hate. We might act uncharacteristically. We do so with the intent of protecting ourselves, and ironically, we wind up perpetuating the pain. We can get stuck in the story and the victimization. We might find it challenging to seek understanding, because retribution can be what we ultimately seek. For example, when I think of students in conflict, the “winning” mentality can make it difficult to come to consensus and seek positive solutions. For some students, retribution seems like the only answer.

But…here’s what I realized this morning:

The more we understand bullies and those who hurt us either intentionally or not, the less victimized we become by their actions. When we see the situation or conflict at arm’s length, from a different perspective, I believe the narrative can change. That is what we need to teach students in order to build resiliency in the face of conflict.

And here’s where I have to be very clear. Reframing the narrative by seeking to understand various facets of a hurtful interaction does not mean standing by passively and allowing it to continue!

It’s not about condoning the hurtful actions or statements.

It’s not about blind forgiveness.

And, it’s not about inviting hurtful people back into our lives in the hopes that things “change.”

It’s about preventing the hurt from weaving itself into the narrative that defines us as individuals.

I recently had a fascinating conversation with a close family member about the importance of recognizing what motivates people to hurt us and the value in having empathy for them. We discussed that people are fundamentally motivated by a variety of needs and that their actions directly relate to those needs, whether they are conscious of them or not. I believe that when people hurt us, their words and actions are motivated by unmet needs. It’s like they’re in survival mode, finding the easiest, fastest route to strengthening themselves. Ironically, like fast food, hurting people to meet your needs doesn’t fill you up at all. It leaves you emptier, hungrier, and lonelier than ever. I argued that understanding these motivators provides us with a broader, richer context though which to view the hurt. We seek understanding from our empathy as much for our sake as theirs. And, it allows us to view it through a less personal, victimized lens.

Through several defining moments of my life, I have had to set clear boundaries to ensure that I stay true to my integrity and to protect my soul and spirit. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.” It’s not easy. It’s not simple. It requires a great deal of courage, possibly many attempts, and a boatload of help, but it’s possible to rise up against unfair treatment. When we look around us, we see so many examples of individuals banding together courageously to advocate against injustice.

By and large, we are creatures of habit and certainty. When we are thrust into trauma or hurtful conflict, we instinctively go into certainty-seeking mode. Our brains try to make sense of the interaction and search for the best path back to certitude. In the absence of tangible data, our minds generate narratives (whether they are accurate or not) that make sense because we are biologically wired to find patterns.  In his article on the Neuroscience of Story Gert Scholtz asserts, “Stories invoke the mind to fill in gaps and to anticipate future outcomes and as such it provides a safe simulation of reality.” This explains why many people who have been hurt, not only blame others but often blame themselves, consciously or unconsciously. If the pain is bad enough, they may apply this new narrative to redefine the way they interact and react to life’s stressors to avoid being hurt again. As we know, when our backs are against the wall, we fight, flight, or freeze.

Heartbreak and trauma may very likely be part of your biography, but it does not define who you are. We don’t have to own or accept the story our brains have set out for us. I believe that seeking to understand the motivations of an individual who introduced the hurt into our lives, gives us perspective and a new frame of reference through which to view the pain. We can be freed from the limiting beliefs that we are inextricably linked to our stories and that we are not only somehow at fault for what has happened to us, but that we ARE our stories.

When we realize that we are not our stories, that it is not our fault, we can experience the truest sense of spiritual and emotional freedom. Within the spaciousness of this newfound freedom, we become capable of writing our own endings.

How do we actually go about putting this understanding framework into action? Here are some powerful questions (from Rising Strong, Brené Brown) you might ask yourself or invite your students to ask themselves in conflict:

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  1. What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation in terms of what I know and my assumptions?
  2. What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story in terms of information I’m missing and questions I might have?
  3. What more do I need to learn and understand about myself in terms of my response, my feelings, and the part I play?

 

Sources:

*https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/neuroscience-story-gert-j-scholtz/

Brene Brown (Rising Strong/Braving the Wilderness)

Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic)

Maya Angelou

Tony Robbins

Dr. Shimi Kang