Taking Back Control

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One happy consequence of having a profession in self-development and wellness is that you are constantly focusing on it and you are hyper-aware of what you are doing/not doing in your own life. I’m dedicated to not just speak this stuff – I want to walk the walk, dance the dance, and climb the climb. Which makes it pretty near impossible to not notice or hold yourself accountable when you aren’t doing so.

When I was preparing for my presentation for Engineers Nova Scotia on “How to Protect Your Life from your Smartphone”, I was made acutely aware of all these tidbits and strategies that I was not yet applying to my own life. In particular, the ideas of only checking email twice per day (at set times) and turning off notifications so your day and attention isn’t constantly taken away to attend to incoming messages, texts, emails, etc. I was completely guilty of reading things as soon as they came in, and often feeling an urge to respond right away. I could tell it was contributing to a feeling of overwhelm and being less mindful – constantly checking my phone. It’s not the way I want to feel and it isn’t helpful to my productivity. Realizing this great advice I was giving the Engineers – I figured I better eat my own words here.

So I started an experiment. And, like many other things I try, I like to try it on a level that is a bit over the top (or I should say feels over the top) because it excites/interests me more and in turn motivates me more to actually do it. So, I went ahead and changed my email signature to inform everyone the limits of contact with email and to provide a phone number for urgent matters. I turned off all my notifications on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, Text Messages, and Email. Not only do they not make noise, they don’t pop up, and they don’t even show me a little number in the corner of the app of how many notifications are waiting for me.

It was weird at first. It was hard not to check my phone more often. I found myself having conversations and negotiations with myself. “Well, if you check your email now, you won’t be able to do it again this evening” and found myself responding with “okay, yeah.. I’d rather do emails when I have more time tonight at home”. It’s a funny process to be in inside your head – but what it really means is that I was making more intentional choices about my time and choosing the most productive choice.

What I found with this experiment? More calm. More peace. Less temptation. Even though I knew the notifications were off – it still wasn’t as tempting without that little number taunting me about how many new things are waiting. It was calming not to be interrupted with vibrations and beeps, and looking at my phone for the time became just that – because when I looked for the time that is just what I saw – not messages or email pop-ups.

It gave me my power back. I now have control when I attend to things. If I choose to dedicate time to email – then I am intentionally checking and answering email. Once I’m done, I’m done and I can move on to something else productive.

It also lessens the expectation others have on my response time, and the guilt I might feel for not getting back, because I have set up the expectation prior to the emails or messages coming in. The expectation is in my email signature, and as for friends and family – I let them know of my plan and that if they need me urgently to please call (I have it set to let phone calls come through from anyone on my contacts list, or any repeated calls). 

It has allowed me the space to be even more intentional with my day, and to have the quiet focus where calm and creativity thrive. My experiment has now turned into a habit, and there’s no way I’m going back. Sometimes I struggle with it (usually when I’m engaged with avoidance behaviours and not engaged in valuable things – phones are amazing avoidance-aids) but most of the time it’s just giving me all these amazing gifts. More control and power over my life, more productivity, more calm, and more freedom.

I encourage you all to examine your relationship with your phone (emails, messages) etc. Are they interfering? Would you be willing to see what it’s like without a constant flow of these things to see if it would add value in your life? Will you experience the same benefits as I have? I don’t want you to take my word for it – turn off your notifications and see for yourself! 😉

Every action we take to create space so that we can respond instead of react – gets our minds out of “stressed/reaction” mode and into “calm/collected/mindful” mode. And couldn’t we all use some more time in calm mindful mode?


Grounded and Reaching

The two principles that guide my life now. Grounded and Reaching. Staying grounded in who I am, my strength, my worth, my purpose. Finding strength and calm in connecting with myself, nature, tribe. Reaching; constantly pushing myself to grow and learn and go after my dreams. Reaching – not an aimless wish, but an intentional reach for the meaningful and worthwhile. Constantly adapting. Going out on limbs, rooted in my values.

I decided I wanted a tree with such clarity I cannot even explain it. A mighty oak. Wisdom. Courage. Power. Truth. Bravery. Enduring Strength. Completely in love as soon as it came to me. I knew it was right because it felt so right. I just knew. I was so sure of it, I was immediately ready to bet my skin on it.

Now, when it came to actually getting it done I was a bit anxious. Excited and anxious, an awesome combination of overloaded limbic system :P. I was worried about the pain – my last (only) tattoo having only taken ten minutes max (and therefore not that painful) I was worried I wouldn’t be able to handle a bigger tattoo. I found myself approaching it with the same method I approach all challenges now. Mindfully taking slow breaths and staying focused on the reason why it’s worth it (which in this case involves nervously yammering on and on to the tattoo artist about why I love trees and then being deemed a tree molester). The tattoo did fucking hurt. But I’m tough. And even more important than that – it was worth it.

When it’s worth it, when it means something to you, it really doesn’t matter how hard it is. What matters is that you do it. It’s nice of course when you can feel pretty good while doing the meaningful things. And don’t get me wrong, some of my favourite strategies are those that help calm my body and mind so I can feel more grounded while I reach further. However, in my opinion (and that of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) the most important factor is that you just do it. You don’t stay stuck because you’re uncomfortable making changes or you feel anxious. You don’t wait until you get rid of those doubts or fears, you do what matters because it matters. You live your life regardless of what passengers are on your bus. You stop the tug of war hold that those fears have on you – you drop the rope and get on with it.

It was funny to me when the tattoo artist called it an upside down tree. I honestly thought he didn’t understand my vision correctly at first. The thought that it would look like it was upside down hadn’t even crossed my mind. And that makes me even happier. Because it’s my tree. It’s for me. The fact that it looks upside down to the rest of the world is irrelevant. I got this tree so I can see it and anchor to it. And that fact alone feels like an achievement in my self-love and worthiness mission.

I am in love with my tree. It feels amazing to have this visual reminder of my wisdom, my courage, my power. Living my truth – bravely. My enduring strength. This week is great timing as I venture into new territory of life coaching with public speaking, hosting new workshops, participating in an expo, and starting at a new clinic. My tree will act as an anchor. Reminding me throughout the uncomfortableness (and let’s be realistic- pure panic) of pushing outside my comfort zone – my driving principles – Grounded and Reaching.

Cheating on the Moon

Identity is a funny thing. We get so hung up on certain beliefs about ourselves – we grasp them like an ultimate truth that is so concrete it makes up who we are. And why is this? It’s because we really like to know ourselves. We like thinking we know who we are, what we’re about and what we like – because the idea that the dreaded uncertainty has leaked into our own identity is terrifying. We’d rather know who we are and be unhappy about those things, than to be in a state of “fuck knows” when it comes to our most personal of spaces – our identity.

I’ve been experimenting this past week with going to early morning yoga classes. Now, as most of you have probably picked up with my posts (particularly if you notice what time I post them at!)I’m a die hard night owl. I am absolutely in love with the moon; I stay up late and write, I’m productive with business at night, and I simply find my soul fed under the stars. Consequently, I’ve also defined myself as a morning hater. I despise mornings – it’s what I’ve always said.

Yet, this week I found myself getting up at 5am to go to yoga – and I (gasp) loved it.

But wow was I ever resistant! Not to the idea of trying it, but accepting the fact that I actually enjoyed it.  It felt like I was cheating on the moon. The blasphemy of having a love affair with the sunrise. As if admitting I liked the early morning, I would no longer be able to call myself something I’ve claimed vital to who I am (night owl). Something as simple as feeling happy sipping my morning coffee while reading my book (after already sweating my ass off on the mat, meditating in the car, and getting some work done – and it still only being 10am) was rocking my world. It felt so wrong. I found myself not even wanting to keep doing it because the more I did it the more the enjoyment grew, and if I leaned into loving this, well then… who the fuck am I??!! Who is this stranger embracing morning whole-heartedly?!?! A stranger….cue stress response.

It’s funny when it comes to these seemingly little things, but even these things are hard for us to accept because it challenges the very ideas we hold about ourselves. In this crazy uncertain world, we expect to at the very least be able to be sure about who we are. And yet, that is really just another idea and belief we have to let go of if we want to grow.

Where you feel resistance most is where you should be leaning.

By resisting this new idea of enjoying mornings in favour of my presumed ideas that I was comfortable with, I was blocking possibilities of who I am, what I do, and what fulfills me.

I could see that I actually wanted to reject the good feelings with this experiment because it didn’t match my predetermined vision of who I was.

In the past I would let these beliefs be seen as pure truths and wouldn’t dare test them or question them. I was afraid of the unknown and found comfort in having myself all “sorted out” and fit perfectly into these well organized (yet highly dysfunctional) boxes. I held onto beliefs that blocked so many possibilities for myself and my life. I’m an anxious person. I need to sacrifice myself for others in order to be a good person. I’m inherently a bad person. I’m small and weak…and the list goes on.

These beliefs blocked me from growing, healing, and becoming who I was meant to be. And they were intensely reinforced because no matter how wrong or hurtful they were to my being, they were also the beliefs where I derived my worth. The more attached we are to beliefs, the more worth we derive from them. Even if it’s in a perverse weirdly upside down way.

Take for example the idea that “I need to sacrifice myself for others in order to be a good person”. Well, I did that constantly. I really wanted to become a good person. And deep down I held a lot of pride in the idea that I was being a good person by doing this. I was proud that, even especially when I was suffering, that I was still putting others first. That idea about myself and who I was, was providing me a way to feel worthy. And as long as you are tied to this type of belief (and the underlying belief that THIS BELIEF is what MAKES me WORTHY), the more impossible it will be to untie that knot.

If we tie our identity and worth into a belief, and following the rules of that belief, you can bet you’ll have a hell of a battle trying to let it go and probably never be quite successful – until you deal with the “worth issue”. It was when I was trying (and failing) to work on self-love that I realized I still had this belief, and got realistic about how it was serving me (it was the only way I had developed to feel like a worthy human). Pretty hard to embrace a belief of loving yourself and prioritizing your own needs, when it’s in direct conflict with your trusty how-to guide on “good personing” and “being worthy”. As much as I said I wanted to be a self-loving person, I couldn’t actually succeed until I let go of that belief and detached it from my identity.

Admitting and embracing not knowing yourself is a wonderfully, terrifying open space of infinite possibility. I imagine it like floating in space. How brave you have to be to be out there. How unsettling it feels. How overwhelming. How exciting. How liberating. You can’t even rely on a trusty concept like gravity. Who the fuck are you out there floating among the cosmos?

After seeing my resistance to mornings as what it was – a mini identity crisis – I was able to check myself. I was able to see it clearly, and choose to embrace what’s there without holding on to my preconceived notions of who I am. By doing this, I opened myself to possibilities.

What ideas about ourselves do we have tangled in our identities?

What are the possibilities that are being blocked?

As an “anti-morning person” I’ve been blocking the possibility of enjoyment, finding appreciation and love for a whole other portion of the day and more fulfillment in life. I blocked experiences of pleasure, productivity, serenity.

I am still a night owl, but now I see that I am also a morning person (I’m just not a get up in the morning to sit in traffic and go to an office person :P) I don’t have to reject the night owl because I love early mornings now. I made the assumption that by being a night owl I had to hate mornings. Now I reject the black and white, the ever-limiting either-or. And, I have gained a clearer vision of what it is I love – quiet, peace, serenity, un-rushed time to myself doing things I love.

Allowing myself to loosen my grip on defining myself as “anti-morning”, I’ve come to love life in a whole new light (quite literally).