This is because we have attached a concept to “happy” that is dependent on things going a particular way. And we all know, in life, how often things don’t always go as planned.
We have been tricked into believing that if we’re not happy, something is wrong – either with whatever it is we’re experiencing or with us, directly.
We get the message, over and over again – “be happy!” We even ask ourselves the same question: “What’s wrong with me? I should be happy!” I’ve been thinking about that word lately, “happy”. It always seems to have a story attached to it – something wonderful has “happened”. Or, we feel like we can’t be happy until things in our external environment line up with how we believe they should be. The story is different for everyone, but may sound something like:
Sometimes we just don’t feel happy. That’s 100% normal and natural and is ultimately not the problem. The problem is that we resist experiencing anything else. We aren’t meant to feel happy all the time. But when difficult emotions come up, they tend to trigger more thoughts around, “why aren’t I happy?” This then becomes an invitation to the brain to start listing off possible reasons – “maybe it’s because you need to lose weight; maybe it’s because you know you’re always going to be alone.” Your brain is not trying to torture you; it’s truly trying to be helpful. It is trying to save you from experiencing pain or harm and buys into the belief that we shouldn’t have to experience difficult emotions.
We’re all trying to escape from our mind – we just don’t see it that way. We think we’re unhappy because of “a, b, c” – whether that is “I don’t make enough money”, “My relationship is terrible”, etc. We see situations and conditions and put the “blame” there. When, in actuality, it is the stories your mind is telling you about those conditions and situations that is causing you to struggle and suffer. The things we search out in the external world to “make us happy” are fleeting. They tap into that part of our brain that is focused on survival, that is sending messages that what we have is never enough, demanding “more, more, more!”
When our external circumstances don’t line up with our internal expectations, we experience an uncomfortable inner disturbance. And when we feel uncomfortable, our natural, normal human tendency is to want to DO something to get rid of it. We might distract ourselves, or isolate from others, or try to think ourselves out of it by indulging in worried thinking or making a plan.
As for the methods you’ve used to avoid experiencing difficult things, try not to be hard on yourself. Whether you have used alcohol or exercise, it is simply a pattern that developed because at some point you, innocently, stumbled upon the realization that whatever it was could change how you felt when you were uncomfortable. So, your brain, which is responsible both for your survival as well as maintaining habit and routine, latched onto it as a positive and protective measure. And it fights to maintain it, even if, on a rational level, you have identified it as unhelpful or destructive. We attach so deeply with the belief that this is “me” and it means that there is something “wrong” with you. When, in reality, you have simply fallen into the trap of resisting reality, resisting having the experience you are having. By trying to escape uncomfortable emotions, we spiral deeper into a false reality.
Emotions are messages. If you are feeling sad, anxious, angry, etc., there’s a reason behind it. Our normal and natural tendency is to want to resist the emotions we’re feeling and we often choose to numb, avoid, or distract in any number of ways from it. But, by learning to embrace our full range of human emotions, we remove so much of the suffering in our lives. When we don’t waste our energy wishing away what is, resisting the experience, ignoring or denying, or otherwise avoiding our emotions, they lose their power. By staying with the emotion, we can listen to the message it is bringing to us.
We’re meant to be joyful – excited by life! When we listen to our mind telling us that things are NOT the way we want them to be, it shuts down the possibility for joy and pretty much guarantees that we will suffer. We can feel sad or any other challenging emotion, but dwelling on it, using our energy to try to “figure it out” or wish it away, only keeps us stuck in what we’re feeling. A trap we fall into is thinking that we have to do something to change what we’re feeling. Ironically, it’s when we accept what is happening in the moment, instead of clenching up and resisting, that we make space for it and it passes all on its own.
Emotions are simply an invitation to look deeper – to the thoughts and limiting beliefs that caused them. Each time we react in a habitual way or catch ourselves getting completely swept up in and overwhelmed by our emotions, it is a clear indication that we are caught up in the stories of our mind and believing them to be true.
By practicing the ability to sit with our emotions, we are able to see them more clearly. Allowing yourself to experience uncomfortable emotions shows you that they can’t actually hurt you. You will be able to see more deeply, more clearly, that your emotions are being triggered by your mind, which is simply doing what a mind does. It is attaching meaning where there is none, making assumptions based on past experiences. It is well-meaning in trying to keep you safe, but it is ultimately destructive and limiting.
Consider all the challenges we encounter in our lives! What percentage of time are we reacting to our emotions in this way – 80%, 90%, more? That means that for the vast majority of our lives we are only reacting to life, rather than intentionally, mindfully living it. We go through life constantly trying to get things “our way”. We feel like life has to be a certain way on the outside for us to be okay on the inside. When we no longer need life, and the people we share it with, to line up perfectly with our inner wants and needs, we are liberated.
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So, there was a tingling feeling of anticipation as 6:30pm approached and then passed. As I waited, the feeling of anticipation grew as each moment ticked by, with me glued to my laptop watching for her to check-in. I checked my phone to see if there was a text or email and ran another pre-call test on the video platform I use to make sure it was working properly. After 20 minutes of this feeling of anticipation ramping up, I sent a message to my client to see if something had come up. It had and she had forgotten about her session.
As I read her response, I could feel the energy in my body change and that sense of anticipation completely and immediately dissipated. This experience got me thinking about how we perceive emotions. I realized that what I was experiencing as “anticipation” felt a whole lot like anxiety. When I was going through an extremely challenging situation a few years ago, I experienced a three-month period of heightened anxiety that, at times, bordered on panic. At the time I labeled it as bad and hard and upsetting.
This time I reached the realization that my mind was just calling the same sensations by a different name – anticipation instead of anxiety. It was the exact same energy in my body, the same sensations, but this time my mind had labeled it differently, so it completely changed my overall experience of it.
It got me thinking about how we, collectively as humans, quite love experiencing a wide range of emotions and sensations. We like surprises – some of us, anyway. We watch scary movies, listen to sad music; we get frustrated and exhilarated by sports. We even seek out things that disgust us, at times. It’s only when our mind tells us a story to explain the sensations we are experiencing that it is labeled as “good” or “bad”.
Why is it that we like the feeling of our heart pounding when we're "happy or excited” but worry about it and dislike it when we link it to "anxiety"? It's because we are listening to the story in our mind, that is trying to be helpful and explain to us why we’re feeling as we do. And not just listening, but BELIEVING the thoughts, the story, to be true.
Our mind is designed to connect dots and tell stories. And many times, the stories it comes up with are not completely accurate, or even true. But they are very convincing. Our mind is doing the best it can and, ultimately, is looking out for our best interests. But while it is working so hard to keep us safe, it is also keeping us small and stuck. It tells us that anxiety is “bad” and anticipation is “good”, when in truth they are both simply energy moving through us. And that energy will pass – it has to – it’s designed to. Unless we keep it alive with our attention and through our thoughts.
So the next time your mind jumps in to explain and label what you’re feeling, maybe try taking a step back and seeing it for what it truly is – simply energy moving through your body. When we can gain this insight, it completely changes our experience of emotions. When we can see that the thoughts that cycle on repeat in our mind are often not true, it also completely changes our experience.
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*please note that everyone’s experience with emotions, including anxiety, can be very different. The views expressed in this post are based solely on my experience and perspective.
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So, for those reasons, I am committing to practicing Radical Acceptance - an approach that has gotten me through other very trying times in my life when I had limited control over a situation. It's important to point out that acceptance is not approval – it doesn't mean that:
- I will ultimately like or agree with what's happening
- I would, deep down, chose for it to be as it is
- I don't have hope that things can be different
Instead, it means that I am choosing to make space for the thoughts and emotions that are coming up around it, acknowledging that living in such an uncertain time in the world is challenging and potentially upsetting, and then shifting my attention to things over which I actually have some degree of control. I am acknowledging that what I, on a personal level, hope will happen may not be what the world, in a global sense, ultimately needs to happen. And while that is a tough pill to swallow, it’s an important realization to have.
It's interesting that it is our natural human tendency to focus on what is wrong, bad, unfair, shocking, etc. That's helpful when it's acting as an actual protective mechanism, but not so helpful in day to day life. It’s important to choose wisely what and to whom you give your attention because we strengthen and energize what we focus on.
So what does it come down to? Be the change you want to see in the world. It is as simple as that. Make a conscious choice to stop focusing so much on that which is beyond your control and instead, put the focus on you - on becoming what you ultimately want the world to be. Focus on becoming loving, kind, and joyful - on becoming awake, aware, and connected. Embrace and champion what you want instead of fighting against what you don't want.
Acceptance does not mean being weak or "giving in". It is actually powerful in that in allows you to harness your energy to make a difference in the world, instead of using it to complain or argue against what is. People often say, “I can’t stand this,” “This isn’t fair,” “This can’t be true,” and “It shouldn’t be this way.” It’s almost as if we think refusing to accept the truth will keep it from being true, or that accepting means agreeing.
Acceptance does not mean agreeing or not moving forward with change if that is possible or preferable. It is acknowledging the reality of what is happening, accepting that it is not within your control, and refocusing on what matters to you. In that way, you can take action in ways that nourish and enrich your life and the lives of the people around you. Again, we need to stop focusing on what we don't want, which is only adding fuel to the fire.
On a personal level, I would rather save my energy and invest it in creating within myself what I hope to see more of in the world around me. I choose to invest my energy in the people I love, in being a good facilitator to help my clients make positive change, in practicing gratitude for this life, and in continuing to learn, grow, and evolve.
We really do have a choice, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. It may initially feel counterproductive to practice acceptance, but the peace of mind that ultimately results is worth navigating through those initial uncomfortable thoughts and emotions that may come up. And the energy that is freed up can help to create the life you want to be living.
The world will do what the world will do. The question is, what will you do?
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This part of your brain, often referred to as the reptile brain or lower brain, wants to ensure your survival – beyond that, it is not concerned about your overall well-being.
But however well-intentioned it may be, it is often misguided and holds us back from doing things like making positive change, venturing outside our comfort zone, or taking action on something that may seem intimidating.
As a society, we have been hijacked by our thinking. Our thoughts masquerade as “who I am”, when truly, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, our thoughts are simply manifestations of conditioning and programming, our perception and beliefs, our expectations based on biases that we have developed. They are not innate; they are not who we are at our core. And the thing about thoughts is that they trigger emotions, and when the emotional center of our brain gets hijacked, we lose all logic and rational thinking. We then act in ways that are not in our best interests.
Your brain needs to make sense of everything in order to help you navigate through this world. So, it looks for patterns, which then allows for conditioned responses. Because the brain uses so much energy, it relies on having patterns that can be stored as pathways, so that it can react automatically.
This is why it can be so challenging to change a habit. It has become deeply engrained after doing the action so many times. Like a well-travelled path through the woods, it has etched a pattern into the brain.
It’s important to keep in mind that the first however many times we did the action that eventually turned into a habit – whether it was shopping, drinking alcohol, feeling the need to seek assurance from a partner, worrying, etc. – on some level it was helpful to us. It likely made us feel good or helped us to avoid strong emotions that may have felt threatening in the moment. The lower brain grasps onto the action as being protective, as providing safety. And when we continue to act on the urge to do the action, it reinforces for the brain that it is a “good thing” and it becomes a habit. At that point, it slides from our conscious awareness.
But habits, even those that turn out to be destructive, are not personal! They are not character flaws or personality traits. It’s simply the brain doing exactly what it is designed to do. And will continue to do until we gain a deeper level of insight about what’s truly going on.
A key strategy in overcoming habits is to learn how to gently and compassionately put some distance between "who you are at your core" and "the thoughts that you have". Especially when your thoughts are pushing and encouraging you to continue doing your habit, regardless of the cost to your health and well-being. When you gain this distance, it loosens the grip of your thoughts, lessening their believability and minimizing their power over you.
By developing a deeper level of mindfulness, we can watch the interplay of thoughts, emotions, urges, sensations, etc. without getting swept up and carried away by them. We can grow to understand that there is a “choice point” between feeling the urge and actually acting on it. Trying to control our habits, suppress them, or distract from them has the opposite result from what we intended – we actually strengthen and reinforce them just by placing our attention on them.
It’s important to keep in mind that whatever we focus on grows in importance in our minds. So, when we are intently focused on our habit, even when we’re trying not to do it, it is still holding our attention. “Will I ever be able to stop? “I really shouldn’t do it – I know better!” “Why do I keep doing this?!” We feed and fuel our habits in this way – with the energy of our attention - and they continue to grow more powerful.
What if instead, when you hear a thought in your mind that encourages you to act on a habit that you have rationally and objectively identified as being harmful or demoralizing to your well-being, you could recognize that it is not coming from “you”? What if you practice recognizing that the thought is coming from a part of your brain that is attempting to maintain status quo by maintaining a pattern, that was at one time, helpful? Our true nature, beneath the conditioning and programming, is whole, joyful, open, and loving. Anything that contradicts that is a part of your brain that has limited information and lacks awareness, mistakenly thinking it’s keeping you “safe”.
When you free up energy by withdrawing your attention from your habit, and from the self-criticism that often goes hand-in-hand with it, you can create what you do want, instead of fighting against what you don’t. You heal parts of yourself and eventually become someone who no longer feels the need to do that particular habit. You transcend it. That’s not to say you won’t backslide at times. That’s a natural and normal part of the process. But, with a deeper level of awareness, instead of criticizing or shaming yourself, you can celebrate the fact that you noticed what was happening and commit to continuing to notice.
If you’re still feeling a pull towards a habit that feels very compelling, even though you know you “should” change it, there is likely still a lesson there for you to learn. Be sure to practice self-compassion while you’re learning it!
Habits don’t happen overnight and they usually don’t change overnight. But, by building your awareness of what’s going on behind the scenes, and learning concrete ways to move past it, you can be free from the habits that have held you back!
I’d love to help you move past the habits that have held you back and build new ones that are energizing and empowering!
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We have it within us – this ability to bloom into our full potential. It does not come from something external to or beyond us. It is not something that we create; it is something that we bring forward. It is intrinsic to us, but is often covered over by layers of conditioning and programming that bury our core selves deep down and out of sight. But watching this plant bloom has been a reminder that we have so much potential, lying dormant within us, just waiting to rise to the surface and spring to life!
There have been times when I've been distracted and forgot to water my plants at just the right time. I felt a sense of guilt when it happened – when their soil was dry and their leaves started to droop a bit. But then I would remind myself that a little adversity goes a long way in building character and resilience, and that very few living things in this world have the exact perfect conditions at all times. Sometimes, they are digging deep just to hold on and continue to be. And it makes them strong and adaptable. Again, just as it does for us as individuals.
While very little in nature can bloom year-round, you can create the ideal conditions, both internally and externally, to still thrive at your core, even in the midst of challenging situations.
Seeing my plants every day, especially when I am in mindful-mode, is a constant reminder of the necessity for self-care on a personal level, which I always relate to self-love. They are a visual reminder that living beings need to be nourished and nurtured - each in their own unique way.
There is no exact formula that is going to make a plant thrive. Some need more or less water; some want direct sunlight while others prefer to have a little distance from it. It becomes a matter of becoming mindfully attuned to just what is needed and helping to provide it as consistently as possible, while practicing self-compassion when I fall short. While this relates to caring for plants, it also directly relates to caring for ourselves as well.
When you consider this analogy, ask yourself, are you creating the kinds of conditions where you can thrive?
What aspects of your life (habits, beliefs, perspectives, etc.) are helping to create a strong and stable foundation? What are you doing to strengthen your roots? In what ways are you nourishing and nurturing yourself?
And on the other hand, what aspects of your life are currently depleting your inner resources and causing you to lose your vibrancy – to “dry up” or “droop”?
Lastly, what aspects of your life make you bloom? What are you doing when you feel like the absolute best version of yourself? What are you passionate about, committed to, and enriched by? What makes you come alive?
While we can't control many aspects of our lives, each of us has the ability to work within our own unique situations to create a strong foundation of self-love and self-care, while nurturing the parts of us that make us feel awake, aware, and alive!
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Our emotions are important messages – they tell us so much when we're willing to listen to them. When we ignore them, we experience higher levels of stress, anxiety, and general discontent.
A key characteristic of developing Emotional Competency is being able to create a deliberate pause between impulse (feeling) and response (typical ways we use to avoid the feeling). What if instead, we could simply sit with the emotion – allowing a space for it and just noticing it, while resisting the urge to act?
When we can practice noticing and allowing our emotions, we experience a choice point. As much as it may not seem like it at times, we can choose in that moment to stay with what we're feeling and not run away from it. Instead of numbing, distracting, or avoiding, we can take a deep breath and just notice what we're feeling, without getting pulled into what our mind is telling us about what is happening.
It's even helpful to name it, "oh okay, there's anger or sadness or disgust". You can also take note of what you’re experiencing in your body, "I'm noticing that my face feels flushed and my heart is beating faster". We can practice having those sensations and not getting swept away by them. We can practice putting a bit of distance between our core self and the thoughts and emotions we are experiencing.
Tolerating, and even befriending, our full range of emotions is not only brave, but so healthy. And the ironic part is that when we accept what we feel and allow it be there, instead of running and hiding from it, the feeling passes all on its own.
Keep in mind, navigating through our layers of emotions can be tricky business at times. Please take your time - baby steps are good enough with this type of self-work. Remember, our defense mechanisms were put in place, at the time, to keep us safe. But they also keep us distant from our authentic core emotions.
Once you start practicing a new approach, you may find more emotions coming up than you expected. Go easy on yourself and be sure to ask for support from friends, family, or a professional if challenging emotions come up for you. Self-compassion and healthy self-care are key components in navigating through emotions. Be good to you!
Also, please note that one size does not fit all and those who have mental health diagnoses or challenges in which their emotions are significantly debilitating may struggle with doing this practice. Often, it is not because of lack of effort, but that sitting with discomfort is simply beyond the scope of what they are able to manage on their own. In these cases, seeking help and support from a trained professional may be more helpful than trying to manage alone.
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On some level, we've collectively convinced ourselves that we don't deserve more. We are, in many ways, broken individually, so on a collective level, that broken quality is amplified. We have grown to accept that we have to rush through our lives, numb to what's actually happening around us, zoned out on our devices or in our heads – often wishing time away. We’ve convinced ourselves on a grand scale that this is “life”.
Our minds have been programmed to believe that the future is somehow preferable to the present moment - that we need to wait to be happy, content, or fulfilled in our lives. Wait until our mortgages are paid off or we have “more time”. Wait for the next vacation or for the right person to come into our lives - which will definitely be better than any we've experienced in the past, right? As a society, we’re zoned out, tuned out, and living variously way too often.
The only real control we have in this life is who and how we are within any situation or moment. You can only give to and connect with others at the level at which you’re currently at personally. If you don’t work on building self-awareness and self-acceptance, you have very little to authentically give to friends, family, and your community. It is my belief that it is only by focusing in on personal growth that society can truly change and evolve as a whole.
We all know that change is scary. When we start questioning the very foundations that our realities are built on, it can feel overwhelming. Even if we weren’t particularly fulfilled before, at least we were stable. We didn’t have to think about who we were and what we wanted because all the messages had been so deeply ingrained that we stopped feeling like we had options.
It has often been easier to stay “asleep”. But, it’s time to wake up! Being awake and aware may initially feel uncomfortable. But with any situation, no matter how big or small, it is completely up to you how you choose to think about and respond to it. Because it is your mindset that determines your emotions, which then inform your actions, and ultimately your reality.
Where will you choose to place your attention? Will you continue to accept as fact the constant messages you are being pummeled with? Will you continue to mindlessly accept as truth what your mind and the media tell you?
Or will you maybe step back, pause, and dig a little deeper? Will you make a choice to take control of the information that is swirling around you, dictating your reality? Will you make the choice to develop a conscious, empowered, and awake mindset?
There is an aspect of you, deep at your core, that is waiting for you to wake up – to see what’s really important, to create a life that is nurturing and deeply fulfilling, to grow in self-awareness and understanding, to be awake to your unlimited potential. Can you feel that you’re being called to evolve into the best version of yourself? Is it time?
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Your ego holds very tightly to this version of "you" and how it relates to the people and world around you. It will reject anything that does not fit into the rigidly held beliefs because other perspectives and versions of reality feel unsafe and threatening.
Keep in mind that the ego is part of your subconscious mind and largely out of your conscious awareness. It is this part of you that reacts emotionally in situations that challenge your tightly held view of the world, and is very much entrenched in black-or-white or right-or-wrong, with very little room to allow for new insights and perspectives.
Change is not something the ego is even remotely comfortable with – it thrives in predictability and familiarity, even if things are not particularly positive or constructive. And it will use all kinds of strategies to keep you there, to keep you “safe”. These include using defense mechanisms, making comparisons to others, and amping up your critical inner dialogue in order to maintain status quo and keep you the same.
Becoming conscious means, first and foremost, acknowledging that we all have an ego-self, as well as a unconditioned core-self. With that awareness, we can challenge our deeply embedded, programmed ways of thinking, believing, and being and move towards emotional healing, where choice then becomes an option.
Some ways to do this include:
You’ll notice that I’ve used the word “practice” because that is exactly what it takes to heal and change aspects of our ego-self – to change the stories you have told yourself for so long that they became your reality. Be patient with yourself, keep an open mind, and commit to digging deep to uncover the beliefs that keep you stuck in a story that was never truly of your choosing. In this way, you can make the shift from reacting (from an unconscious, conditioned frame of mind that is rooted in the past) to responding (from a centered, self-aware frame of mind that is rooted in the present moment).
Remember to practice self-compassion along the way - the process of emotional healing can be challenging and requires self-love and patience, but the end result will be a deep sense of empowerment where you can create your own reality.
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It washed over me in that instant, as I thought of my brother and sister, the truth of it – that we wouldn’t all have each other forever. Everything will change. Even if it all feels so stable right now. The story of your life, that you have created, will wash away – bit by bit or all at once.
With my body filled with emotion, that awareness extended outward to include all my family, friends, acquaintances, and beyond. I realized that I will never see some of these people again before one of us dies.
I know that may come across as being a somewhat morbid thought. But that realization actually had profoundly poignant emotions attached to it. Yes, I cried in those short moments; I felt actual pain; I grieved. And then I let it pass. I resisted the urge to cling to what is, to fight against the unfairness, to resist this indisputable knowledge that all that we know, all that we are, will come to pass.
In the face of “upsetting” thoughts and strong emotions, it is our natural human tendency to want to avoid the pain, at all costs. We tend to clench tight, close up, and find a way to suppress it or distract ourselves from what we’re experiencing. But instead, in those few brief moments, I let myself feel it: the fear, the sadness, the deep sorrow. I allowed myself to take in the glimpses of regret. And after those passed, what remained was a deep feeling of peace – because there’s still time!
And the time is now! Why are we living as though we’re just passing through? Or that it’s not a guaranteed reality that we will all die. We’re collecting experiences and memories and things, but are we truly living? From our most connected and emotionally healed part of us? We work so hard on maintaining our limiting beliefs and counterproductive habits and ways of thinking. Imagine if we took all that energy and invested it instead into learning how to:
So, learn from death - let it become a central part of your living. Don’t leave behind regrets. Live this one life that you have to its fullest potential! After having this beautiful, heart-opening experience, I made myself a promise. Each time I share a hug with someone from this point forward it is going to reflect the deep and humbling knowledge that it may be the last time that I get to hug this particular soul.
What would you do if you knew this was your last week on earth? What would you want to say or do to let the people in your life know how deeply you care? Don’t wait – find a way to develop those deeper connections now. You’ll never regret it.
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Bobbi Beuree, Certified CAN Coach + Facilitator is located in Halifax, NS, and provides virtual, 1:1 coaching services grounded in Mindset Coaching.