Put up the “No Bullshit” Shield and Strike with Courage

The role of courage has been a recurring theme for me this week. Just as the Cowardly Lion in the Land of Oz, I too have come to realize how being courageous is not about having no fear, but acting despite the fear.

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As adults we can avoid many things that we are afraid of or situations that may cause us embarrassment. We no longer have an outside party pushing us to join that soccer team or read aloud in class. It’s in our hands; we are the only one there to push ourselves to go past our comfort zone. It’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of avoidance – sometimes without even realizing we are doing it.

For example, I always have the best intentions of going to dance class (Ballet Wednesday, Contemporary Thursday). I make it to ballet most weeks; however, something always seems to come up on Thursday. The excuses always seem valid at the time – it wasn’t until tonight that I’m starting to see through them. Now, you would probably assume that I enjoy ballet more and that’s why I am more motivated to get there. However, it’s contemporary dance that speaks more to me; that I dream about, watch on youtube, and “practice” in my basement (when no one’s looking). All in all I get more out of it… so why have I been avoiding it? I’m afraid of it. Ballet isn’t better, it’s just a “safer” option. I’m less confident in contemporary class, so it takes more courage to show up, which means it’s much more susceptible to falling victim to the excuse-machine.

Funny enough I realized this after attending a Contact Improvisation Dance class (aptly named “The Art of Leaning In”) which is even farther outside of my comfort zone than a Contemporary class. Awareness is such a powerful tool. Sure, Contact Improv takes a huge amount of courage, but I’ve been aware and accepted that from day one. The hours leading up to class I still have to fight the excuses that bubble up and basically force myself to go (literally until I walk in the door- tonight it was hard to find parking and for a second considered using it as an excuse to go home); but the difference is I can see the avoidance for what it is and I preemptively put up my “no bullshit” shield. I know that being courageous is the strong and healthy thing to do. Even if I feel like I didn’t do anything right the entire class (thanks inner bully), I still feel stronger for having shown up.

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Courage is quickly becoming the most important ingredient in this self-improvement journey. Everything worthwhile seems to take courage, and having courage day in and day out is fucking hard!

Being brave enough to reflect on the areas in your life that need improvement, and having the courage to sit with unpleasant feelings and emotions that come up are no easy feats. It takes courage to take the blinders off, courage to lean into what’s there, and courage to take the steps to change. Courage, courage, courage..

Courage and vulnerability go hand in hand. As Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage”. When we truly embrace vulnerability we can authentically connect with others and ourselves, which is a magical thing – one of the reasons life is worth living (in my opinion). The catch? Putting ourselves in situations where we feel vulnerable require courage, sometimes A LOT of courage.

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This week at an ACT group we did an exercise where we look into someone’s eyes, silently, for four minutes. I’ve known for awhile that I have an issue with eye contact, but WOW.. As soon as we started the defenses came out full swing; attempts to deflect being vulnerable with humour, the fidgeting, the fake smile, etc. Even writing about the experience, and sharing my struggles with vulnerability on here, is making me squirm. The courage that this required continued long after the buzzer went off; it’s taking courage to reflect on why it’s so difficult, and furthermore, it’s going to take courage to work on it. Knowing the importance of vulnerability is giving me the strength to continue to find that courage.

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I’m making it my mission this week to keep my eyes peeled for times I am avoiding vulnerable situations, and focus on being courageous instead. To start, this dragon’s dragging herself to dance on Thursday.

How will you bring more courage to your week?

 

Celebrating the Wins, Big or Small

What a week roller coaster. I never would have thought I’d end this week feeling like a strong dragon. Winter was being a relentless beast again, another illness took me out of commission, and an attempt at completing personal directives with my Mom went even worse than anticipated (which lead to more grief and guilt). I felt weak and was having a hard time not taking it as evaluation (“I must be worse, I’m not a dragon anymore”).

However, thanks to everything I’ve learned and the tools I now have, I knew to (at least try) not fuse with those thoughts and to practice self-compassion. After a few days of doing “strong and healthy” things I was starting to believe in myself again. And then I made a rash, super brave, decision. I scheduled an appointment to get a root canal done the next day. I decided I was tired of being afraid of it (it’s been almost a year that I’ve known I had to do this and every once in awhile the tooth starts to hurt and I panic- and obsess over it for days weeks.) For all you ACT peeps out there, I chose to use the “As If” technique to the extreme.

Still afraid and not sure I’d make it through (I am extremely claustrophobic with the dental dam and last time I had work done I was sedated), I found myself power posing in the bathroom of the dental office repeating “I can do this, I’m a fucking dragon”. Far from confident, but determined to give it my best shot.

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Check out Power Posing Here

 

It wasn’t a breeze, but I’m proud to say I made it through the procedure (without drugs) and now I am so happy to have this behind me, and more importantly, to know that I can handle it.

When the appointment ended I was super proud of myself, but then I quickly dismissed and minimized it. I sarcastically snorted at myself, “Wow you did something that everyone else would be able to do no problem”.  Thankfully the dragon was on fire so I didn’t listen to those thoughts long. I could not wipe the crooked smile off my half-frozen face. I felt happy, brave, incredibly proud, and strong.

I celebrated by buying myself banana popsicles, watching a comforting show, and walking dancing around my house the whole evening singing “I’m a motherfucking dragon”.

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So why celebrate?

As someone who uses the strategy of positive reinforcement with children on a daily basis (and sees the pay off) it still took a bit of adjustment to apply it to myself. Simply put, you do something good, you get something good. Being reinforced for listening to your strong and healthy self makes it more likely that you will continue to listen.

Celebrating is also important because it lets you truly appreciate the good job you’ve done. By taking the time and effort to celebrate, it gives you more space to really lean into the feelings of being proud and strong. Acknowledging and sitting with this strong feeling is important because the peaks are where we recharge.

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Had I let myself cut down my accomplishment and stifle that proud dragon, I would still be feeling weak like I was the day before.

I think it is difficult for us to acknowledge when we do a good job because we have this idea that doing good should just be a given. When we don’t live up to our standards we are quick to beat ourselves up; however, when we do well by ourselves we basically say “So what, you only did what you should have done – that’s nothing special”.

Well, it is special, and we can show ourselves by celebrating those victories, both big and small.

Making Room for What Could Be

When we hold onto ideas of who we are and what our life is (and what it’s going to be) too tightly we become consumed by those stories, leaving little room for anything else.

The way I learned this lesson wasn’t easy, but it has been invaluable. By realizing the constraints that these stories can put on us, we can begin to see beyond them.

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For me, having the motherhood card removed from my life was a big blow, but it helped me see other areas of myself that I had long forgotten because I had been so invested in that one story.

For many years I neglected many parts of myself, in fact I didn’t even see a reason to spend any time on them, since they weren’t helping me to complete this one storyline. It really hit home how much I have put aside parts of myself when I realized that most people in my life didn’t even know I enjoyed writing before sharing this blog. It’s funny how much we overshadow when we focus too much on one aspect of ourselves.

And the learning didn’t stop there – in my experience the more you delve into this the more you find. I’ve learned that there are many other ideas about myself and my life that I have been simply taking as truths -not questioning them or the possibility of anything different. Challenging these “truths” has allowed me to see hope for change in areas that I figured I would always be identified with that were certainly making me feel weaker (example: The story that “I’m an anxious person”). Through this process I have learned to let go, or at least loosen my grip, on a lot of the stories I have been holding onto.

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Lately I’ve noticed that I have more room to dream, more space for possibility in my life. For the first time in a long time I have a sense of excitement for what I can do with my life. I am starting to see possibility where before I saw dead ends.

Though it wasn’t so much of a “letting go”, as it was life prying it out of my hands, the lesson it taught me has set me free. I am no longer a character passively (or way too desperately) acting out a pre-written plot. Life is now an adventure – and I’m the author.  

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The first step to moving forward is being aware that these stories exist, and understanding how investing in these stories affects you (does it make you feel weaker or stronger?). When you stop seeing them as absolute truths, or begin to understand that they are only part of who you are, you can begin to see what else lies beyond them.

I encourage you to take a look at your life and the beliefs you have about yourself; is there anything you are holding onto a bit too tightly? Imagine what might be uncovered if you loosen your grip…

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Taming Your Inner Bully

After spending the week couch-bound due to the lovely influenza bug, engaging in nothing more than distraction behaviours (binge watching TV and movies), I found myself judging my worth and abilities.

“How can you miss so much work – you are letting so many people down – you’re such a horrible person! And how in the hell did you think you were suited to host a mindfulness challenge when you’ve spent the whole week trying to do anything but live in the present?”    

My Inner Bully was having a field day.

It seems inevitable that these bullies are going to keep showing up, but what we do with them is what matters most. By being more aware of them it gives me an opportunity to make a conscious choice – Will I let them beat me up or will I practice self-compassion?

Through my experiences these last few months it has become clear to me how important, and amazing, self compassion is –  yet it is still the thing I struggle with most.

Kristin Neff explains that self-compassion involves three basic components; self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us notice our own suffering (Awareness is the first step to everything!). Self-kindness is being kind and caring in response to that suffering, and common humanity is remembering that suffering and imperfection is part of the human experience.

See her website for more of her work (including the self-compassion quiz)

When it comes to compassion, it is a lot easier to apply to others than it is to yourself. My default (and I’m sure some or all of you can relate) is to judge, harshly. I can easily get into the mind-set that “Sure, I’ll practice self-compassion, but only when I deserve it”. And let me tell you, if you are making yourself “earn it”, it’s not self-compassion.  True compassion is non-judgmental.

But it’s true what they say, old habits die hard.

In an effort to force this into the grave and replace this with compassion I’ve been trying the following strategies.

One strategy I use is to visualize myself as a young child. The distance this creates helps me see myself as someone who deserves compassion and protection from the Inner Bully. It sparks a strong urge to protect and comfort that child, which makes it easier to practice self-kindness.

Another strategy I try is talking to myself as I would a friend. When I remember to use this strategy the words and tone I use instantly change from my usual self-talk. This again helps with the self-kindness.

Self-kindness is by far my most challenging hurdle in the self-compassion triathlon; however, I also find it difficult to remember to extend the common humanity to myself. It’s easy to personalize our struggles and to think we are failing while the rest of the world would be doing just great in our situation. It’s become clear to me that I need a reminder of this (for the times that my healthy tribe are not around). So I wrote myself a message..

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I also found a mantra to help remember the keys to self-compassion.

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Imagine how comforting it would be to know that you always have someone (24/7) that will be compassionate and soothing whenever you are suffering. I’m sure self-compassion will be something I continue to struggle with for a long time, but I know the more steps I take in this direction will make me a stronger person dragon. 

I’d love to hear any strategies or tips you have for practicing self-compassion!