Off Roading with GPS

ap

Every experience we’ve had in our lives has taught us something, if we realized it or not. These lessons have literally changed our brains. The things we learn early in life quickly develop into our survival maps. Our survival maps are essentially our brains taking what we learned about how to get our needs met and developing rules we have to live by in order to feel safe. (Dr. E. A. Wilson on Survival Maps). For example; learning at a young age that we should suppress negative emotions if we want to be safe (accepted in our tribe) then becomes a rule we apply to all other areas of our life. This is how we learn to deal with emotions.

Survival maps are powerful and not easy to change. The more we use pathways in our brains (x happens and then we react with y) the stronger that pathway becomes. Our survival maps are such strong pathways that they are neurological highways now; my brain interprets anger and I have a fake smile plastered on my face before even realizing that I was upset.

The good news is that our brains, and hence our survival maps, can be changed. It’s not easy, but it is possible. We can train new pathways to develop. The first step of course is being aware of those pathways; looking at what we learned from our past and the rules we ended up following because of those lessons. Then, if those rules aren’t serving us anymore, we have to make a conscious decision to change our response to those situations/stimuli.

brain

When we are born our brains have the capability of hearing and producing any phoneme from any language; however, after a while of being exposed to the language in our environment we start losing the ability to hear the phonemes that we didn’t experience. This is why adults who learn a new language continue to have an accent- because they don’t have the capability of hearing that phoneme the way it is supposed to be pronounced. From early on our brains follow the “use it or lose it model”, and this continues for our lifetime.

As the brain’s “use it or lose it” method goes – we have to do something differently, over and over again, until the old pathway becomes ingrown and our new pathway becomes the rational path to take. This method of learning by repetition applies to many of our behaviours; learning to play an instrument or remembering our new address, to name a couple. The tricky business with our long-held habits (such as our survival maps) is that they are so ingrained in our brains that we aren’t only forging new paths, we are resisting the default paths we already have in place.

thrive

We need to overcome this learned behaviour by sending new signals – we need to retrain our brains. Good thing for us, the old idiom is bullshit, old dogs CAN learn new tricks.

Sounds simple enough; we’ve all heard of Pavlov’s dog. Let’s just go grab ourselves a bell and some food and get on with it. Thing is, when we start going against our survival map, it gets louder. In our survival map’s opinion we are putting ourselves in danger, and it’s not going to sit quietly by while we run the car off the cliff.

building

I’ve been working hard lately at going off the beaten path and forging new ones. Abandoning the well-maintained freeways of my mind; the multi-laned express neurons with high tolls that lead straight to the dump. I’m sick of the drive, sick of what it costs me, and sick of where I end up because of them. My motivation has me trugding through the woods, but my survival map is a persistent companion. It’s like off roading with the GPS on; the more I veer off the path, the louder the GPS gets…“Make a u-turn….make a U TURN.. MAKE A FUCKING U TURN!!”.

gps

It’s difficult to ignore the persistent pull of that voice, hard not to believe that it knows better. It takes a lot of strength to continue on your new path. I try to remind myself, it’s a process..it’s a process. Sometimes I catch myself taking the GPS directions without realizing until I’m at the dump, sometimes my doubt gets the best of me and I willingly follow it back to the freeway, and sometimes I even have a hard time distinguishing the GPS from my own voice. Despite this, there are times I’m forging my new path with the strength of a lumberjack. Drowning out the GPS by bellowing an off-pitch tune with the kind of confidence that comes from being alone in your car.

change

My old pathways are still well maintained routes at this time, still the default. It continues to take a lot of effort to change my behaviour, change the signals, and forge new paths. I know it will take a long time before my new path becomes my brain’s go-to; but I like to imagine that even by going off roading once in awhile my freeway will start to deteriorate – and we all know what kind of damage a few potholes can do.

 

Lucid Dreaming

flying

The phenomenon of having control over your dreams.

As I was driving home one day last week I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the rear-view mirror. I was smiling enthusiastically; the kind of smile that’s effortless, the one that simply shows up as a result of joy and excitement bursting through. I was amused by this because it’s not my norm- and certainly not while driving (a whole other type of dragon seems to do all my driving). I took a look at what was going on behind that smile. I was feeling energetic, inspired, creative, and empowered. I realized that this was in reaction to my goals for the year – for my new dreams.

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I think of how invigorating having this feeling towards a goal feels; to be working towards something that feels attainable. Goals where my determination and efforts have an impact on the results. I love making lists of how to achieve my goals and knowing 1. that I can do the steps and 2. that doing them will most likely get me closer to my goal. It feels so rewarding to make progress. It feels powerful to be able to see these goals as possibilities.

I think back to dealing with infertility. I say back, because although now I’m dealing with being childless, I am no longer in the midst of fighting to overcome infertility. My goal, my ONLY goal, for years was to become a mother. I put all my time, effort, determination, and resources into making that dream come true, to no avail. Back then I would snort in derision every time I heard quotes about how “anything is possible if you try hard enough” and reject any ideas about how we have control over getting what we want out of life.

bullshit

I can appreciate now that all of those ideas weren’t bullshit, they just didn’t apply to my situation, and in my defeated state I had generalized my situation to all of life. My experience had been that no matter how hard you try or what you give, you can’t get what you want. We learn from our experiences; a neglected baby who learns that their cries do not get their needs met will stop crying. They learn that their efforts are futile. In my case, I had become disempowered from years of chasing a hopeless dream. I had no control over it, and I applied that lesson to everything else. I couldn’t even imagine other things working out, I didn’t think my efforts would pay off anywhere, and this made me afraid to dream again.

powerless

Now that I’m dreaming again and going after new goals I’m amazed at how much possibility exists and how much influence my actions can have. The positive feedback I get from even minor successes makes me want to dream more. It gives me the drive to go after more goals; even goals that before seemed impossible and hopeless. My new experiences have certainly taught me that I’m a significant player in this game of my life…

superhero

…but not god. There are still setbacks to achieving dreams, not all actions are successful, and there is still a lot out of our control. That’s where grit comes in. And if there’s anything I got out of staying determined and unwavering with a goal despite years of failure, it’s grit. The tenacity that comes from countless efforts to become a famous omelet chef with rotten eggs. I’m grateful I have this strength because it helps me face life and my new dreams in a ferocious way. Now when I put my efforts toward a goal I have the strength and grit I need to push onward despite obstacles…and I can see it paying off with my newer, more achievable, dreams.

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Dreaming while empowered…who knows where this will lead.. oh wait, maybe I do 😉

Whys, Whos, and Thank yous

Why do you want to volunteer with our organization?

I completed applications this week to volunteer with two different organizations and this question appeared on both of them. Why do you want to do this? It seems like such a simple, almost unnecessary, question. I mean, doesn’t everyone volunteer to “help others”? As I reflected on what I was going to write as my answer, I found it went a lot deeper than that.

A few months back I ran into my good friend and coworker at a lunch-to-go counter at the store across from our office. Erin has always been a powerful role-model for me; she’s someone who you simply can’t help but be inspired by. She’s been a bright light in my world since I met her and I continue to learn and grow through our ongoing interactions.

We were both in line to buy food when we came across each other. I assumed we were both buying lunch to take back to the office, but on our way out of the store I came to find out that Erin wasn’t buying for herself. She was buying lunch for a girl who was begging for money near the entrance. She had noticed that it was clearly a hard day for her and wanted to give her what she could. As if that wasn’t generous enough, when we walked out of the store together, Erin began a conversation with the girl. The girl expressed her gratitude for the food, but also asked Erin if she could spare anything else, as she was feeling very desperate and struggling to keep the heat on at home. Erin listened to her, empathized with her, and then reached into her purse to give her what she had. I stood there taking in what was transpiring before me; a beautiful, incredible display of humanity and compassion.

surround

After this exchange, Erin and I had a discussion about how we wish we could do more for those struggling. It reminded me of the organizations and efforts I was involved in during my university days. To clarify, I’ve been out of university for many years now. That made me think, hard.

It’s been months since this interaction happened but the effects still resonate with me.

I think of Erin every time I pass people on the street on my way to get coffee. I think of her when I make eye contact with them. I think of her when I acknowledge them as human beings. I think of her when I search for change in my pockets. I think of her when I sit and ponder what more I could do.

because of you

She sparked in me a desire to show more compassion and be as generous as I can be (and to be more honest with myself about how much I can truly spare). She woke me up to the forgotten passion I have for such causes, and gave me the drive to go after them again. This is important, and it’s important to me. Erin is my inspiration to dust off that part of me and volunteer with a local food bank. She reminded me that it’s not just about giving change, it’s about being the change.

better

Sarah recently started tutoring a Syrian family. It’s simply among the many wonderful things this friend has done in her life. She’s another generous soul who treats everyone she comes in contact with as equals, and gives support and love wherever she can.. and does it all with a laid back, down to earth demeanour that simultaneously brightens your day and calms you down, simply by being in her presence. I have always admired Sarah and this recent endeavour with a Syrian refugee family only made this admiration grow.

inspiring beings

I have been touched by the stories of refugees coming to Canada. I have felt proud and furious at the reactions Canadians have had. I realized when answering the obvious question on the application that I have been more moved and emotionally engaged than I had been aware of. I realized there were emotions I had been avoiding, and the reasons behind those emotions are what makes me so motivated to do something.

The why is meaningful. It’s full of important emotions, life-changing moments, and beautiful people. Knowing your own why will help you acknowledge what’s within you and who has inspired you.

heresto

There’s usually a who behind the why. Even the lesson of how important it is to acknowledge people who inspire you and express your gratitude for that inspiration was a lesson I learned through someone. Lacey, who was practically a stranger at the time, wrote me to tell me how she was inspired to write about authenticity after an email-chat we had where I shared my vulnerability. Feeling the effects of her showing me gratitude for inspiration in turn inspired me to be dedicated to do the same for those behind my own whys – and for that I am grateful to her. 

I’m lucky and proud to have so many wonderful role models in my life who show me firsthand how beautiful people can be and inspire me to be better. Our ideas don’t fall out of the sky. Even original ideas start somewhere. If someone sparks something in you, show the gratitude for the light you’ve received by shining some back in their direction.

Being inspired is a gift. Don’t forget to say thank you.

thankful

I would like to dedicate this post to Erin, Sarah, and Lacey, for being the beautiful whos behind my whys. And for everyone else in my life who continues to teach and inspire me. Thank you.

Happy You Year!

365

Well, it’s that time again. A new year full of possibility. The time when we all ask ourselves.. what will this year hold? What do we WANT it to hold? Like most people at this time of year, I’m full of an urge to make this year an awesome one. I feel inspired to use this energy to make my dreams a reality.

I’ve been thinking of my goals for 2016 all week; I started with simply writing everything I could think of that I’d like to do/be/work on in this coming year. It was a great brainstorming activity that gave me direction about what’s important to me right now, and what areas my goals should be set on. While figuring out my goals for the next year, I stumbled over a question I’ve landed on a few times before.

What do I need? Do I know me? What do I know about me? What don’t I know? Beside my list of possible goals for 2016 I found myself scribbling out an inventory of my needs (or at least everything I know about my needs).

At first I found this a strange tangent off the course of my goal setting agenda, but on further consideration I see how valuable doing both of these simultaneously can be. Seems there is a method to my, albeit subconscious, madness.

By making a list of what it takes for ME to be MY best self, I have a recipe for success, targets at which to set my goals. Even if I know I won’t meet everything on my list, knowing what I need and why I’m not my best self is powerful in itself. There is a lot of power in knowing who you are and what you need. My needs assessment also gives me knowledge of where best to put my efforts. It helps me personalize my goals to meet my needs, instead of meeting an arbitrary “healthy/happy” image. Your needs may not always make sense, or be what you think they should be. One of my adventures over the last year taught me that I need regular time in nature, specifically solo time, surrounded by trees. I could shrug it off and sarcastically make a hippy joke of myself, but instead I choose to listen to it and accept that it is best for me, and try to meet it.

priority

If you keep failing to meet one of your goals, it might be best to reevaluate that goal and look at why that is. Sure you can say “I’m lazy” or “I have little willpower”, add it to your resolution list every January, and swear “this year I will do it”. What can be transformative, though, is looking at what you truly need and why meeting that goal and meeting your needs are clashing.

Every year I used to write down “get more exercise” as a goal, but after years and years of failing at this task I’ve started looking closer at why that is. If I’m honest with myself, when it comes to lifting weights and squats I’m simply unenthused. I have no desire to do these things, the closest I come is wishing I was someone who had the desire to do it. What I’ve learned about myself is that I’m motivated by activities that involve mental depth or a spiritual practice- my passions- and purely exercising for the sake of it just doesn’t check those boxes for me. Instead of making “exercise” a goal; I’m making dance, yoga, and hiking goals this year. These do more for me than a gym membership ever could, and because they are things I need (for other reasons than purely checking off my ‘physical activity’ box) I will be much more apt to meet them. 

There are some needs I’ve identified that I’m not super happy about. I don’t like that I’m a person who needs 9 hours of sleep to be my best. Especially since I’m a night owl, and night is my best time for indulging my creativity (which is another need). Being honest about this and finally owning it, instead of beating myself up for it, is allowing me to start thinking of ways I might actually meet that need.

If I can work with who I am (a night owl) and still meet my 9 hours/night, it’s better for me than trying to force myself to go to bed early and miss out on that part of who I am. I’ve tried it many times, and failed each time. Now I can see that I kept failing because I really do treasure that part of me – I like being creative and writing at night. I get pleasure out of sitting by candlelight and listening to music while typing away. I don’t want to give that up – and quite frankly I don’t think I should have to. I used to think I was the problem. Not anymore. I’m not the problem, my circumstances that hinder my ability to wake up later are the issue. So I’m working on it.

It was easy to think I was being irrational wanting this. Most people don’t get this so why should I? Well, I’ve decided IT DOESN’T MATTER! If you can meet your needs, go for it! You owe it to yourself.
sense

Some of my needs may will certainly seem ridiculous to others, but to be authentically me I’m owning up to all of my needs- whatever they are and however ridiculous or lavish they seem to others. My job is to know me, own it, and take care of me.

So, how well do you know you? Are you trying to meet your needs or meet goals that clash with those needs? I invite you all to make a list of everything you know about yourself and see if your 2016 goals are set up to take care of YOU.   

 

figure out