Not too long ago I read an article about gratitude journaling, with the gist of it being that it didn’t work and was a waste of time. After having a multitude of unfortunate experiences and falling into a depression as a result, the author had tried to incorporate gratitude journaling as a daily practice to improve her mood and lift her spirits.
She tried it for a few months, but she didn’t feel any happier, and so she had concluded that gratitude journaling was bunk, that it didn’t work and that the reader shouldn’t waste their time on it.
As I was reading this story my heart went out to the author. I know how it is to have your life, as you know it, fall apart and the ground you thought was solid turns out to be quicksand. I know the “try to do something that’s supposed to be positive and uplifting because that’s what everyone says except that it’s not working for you, and so are you even doing it right?” feeling..I’ve been there. But what I didn’t do was to go and tell OTHER people that THEY shouldn’t try a practice because it hadn’t worked for ME.
Incidentally, the facts and research are stacked in favor of Gratitude practices. But that’s beside the point, and I’m not writing this to champion gratitude or any other specific wellness practice. My overall point is that everything isn’t for everybody. The idea of Person/Activity Fit is confirmed by research put forth by Sonja Lyubomurski and Kristin Layous of UCLA, Riverside. Their findings state that, “This notion of the importance of person-activity fit is supported by studies showing that the degree to which participants report enjoying a positive activity predicts how often they complete that activity (Schueller, 2010) and how much happiness they derive from it (Lyubomirsky, 2008).”, which basically means that everything isn’t for everybody (I’m including the citation for the research below, it’s mildly “academic-y” but if you’re up to it, then go for it!). Whatever idea of success that you’re going for with an activity, and whatever perceived success you feel you receive from a practice, is going to be rooted in what resonates with you. If you try yoga and you don’t like it, it doesn’t help you or anyone else for you to continue doing it. If you try Reiki and you don’t feel you get anything from it, it doesn’t help you or anyone else for you to continue doing it. And this is especially if you’re frustrated by not getting the results you feel you should be getting.
There is no wrong way to approach a practice but there are tools and techniques that may make starting and continuing a practice a little easier while also bringing more benefit. Firstly, start with an open mind and ask your SELF some questions like:
- What are your expectations around the practice?
- What are you hoping to gain from it?
- What are you willing to accept as "success” with a practice?
- What are you going to do if that practice doesn’t work for you?
Once you’ve answered those questions, then do some research and learn more about various wellness practices to find out what you might be interested in. For example, if you don’t like writing then gratitude journaling may not be a good fit for you, while if you always wanted to write but don’t then gratitude journaling might be a good fit for you. If you have injuries or concerns around body image, yoga may not be a good fit for you, or it might BECAUSE you have injuries and yoga can build strength and confidence. See? There are a multitude of options to choose from! If you don’t like needles, then don’t get acupuncture or get acupuncture because you don’t like needles and you want to face that fear, and the list goes on.
We’re all different, comprised of different experiences and carrying different perspectives from different perceptions. As such, there is no one size fits all in anything, let alone practices that are there to help us heal, our wounds are as idiosyncratic as we are! Each one of us is unique and special, and the spaces within us where joy and pain live are sacred, and any practice or ritual we introduce to those spaces should not be chosen willy-nilly but with care and effort. And if we find it’s not working, we release that practice because if we continue it will end up doing more harm than good.
Side Note: I love the idea of Person-Activity Fit and that's why it's one of the foundations of Walk Into Your Purpose Program with all exercises and practices tailored to what YOU need to help you live your best life as your best SELF and Walk Into Your Purpose!
Lyubomirsky, S., & Layous, K. (2013). How Do Simple Positive Activities Increase Well-Being? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(1), 57-62. doi:10.1177/0963721412469809
Yes, a trip to the dentist. You read that title correctly, it did. It changed my entire perspective on what it means to live, on the concept of quality of life, on settling for circumstances that are within my power to change, on facing fears and phobias, staring them in the face, giving them the finger and moving forward.
All that from a trip to the dentist? Yes! I know it sounds like an exaggeration, right? I can hear you now, “People go to the dentist all the time and they don’t have epiphanies, I mean, it’s the dentist”. I agree, but to understand what this experience did for me I’ll have to give you a little background first. The first thing to know is that I hate the dentist (or at least I did), with a deep passion. But, in the name of awareness, let’s be clear: hate is a defense mechanism against fear. So, if I’m being completely honest then I’ll say it for what it is: I fear the dentist, and as such, I hate the dentist. The novocaine, the novocaine needle, the drill, the bib, all of it. I’ve had issues with my teeth my entire life, from cavities as a child to braces as a preteen and teen, to wisdom teeth, more cavities, extractions, root canals, crowns, to crowns coming off and needing to be replaced, to oral surgery..it has been a saga. And very rarely, I can count on one hand, has the experience been remotely pleasant.
For example, my teeth are very sensitive and I usually require more novocaine than, I guess, the average person would. I’m guessing that’s the case by the response I always got from the dentist when I’d tell them, “Uh, yes, actually I can feel the drill.”, only to be met with disbelief and frustration from the dentist because novocaine costs money. Sometimes they would give me more, other times they would tell me that it was in my head or just the pressure from the drill and then proceed as if my pain and discomfort was imagined, when in fact it was unimaginable.
As a result of these experiences, not only was I not a fan of the dentist to put it mildly, but I didn’t trust them. I considered the dental industry a scam and a sham. If I take my car to the mechanic and he/she takes out the carburetor, he/she has to put it back in. As far as I know, there’s not a separate charge for that. So if I need to have a root canal that will leave my tooth a shell that could potentially break and cause me more problems, why am I getting charged separately for the crown? But that’s another discussion, so I’ll move on.
My overall point is that with my history of dental suffering, you could say I’m a bit jaded. Now, I’m also human, a work in progress, evolving and learning the lessons that this life journey has to teach me, both painful and joyful. But, suffice to say I avoid the dentist like the plague. Historically, I do not go unless I’m in A LOT of pain or discomfort. The flip side being that I do everything in my power to NOT have to go i.e. brushing twice daily, flossing, mouthwash, plus I’ve done oil pulling, baking soda and other natural remedies. But the times come when I have to go, when I cannot avoid it, when I have no choice, and even THEN, I will put it off for as long as I possibly can.
So now we’re up to speed on where I stand with the dentist, let me explain how I correlate this most recent experience with an epiphany about my perspective on life and living. At the beginning of 2016 I made a promise to myself to find more peace with my physical body. Do yoga, workout, improve my diet and become more concerned overall with my PHYSICAL health. It is not easy all the time, because hey, I love sugar and carbs. I’m 42 and haven’t worked out in years let alone been to a gym or yoga studio, but I’m getting there. Close to the end of last year I felt some sensitivity in my bottom molar on the left, every time I’d bite down. It didn’t hurt but it definitely didn’t feel “normal”. My solution? Stop chewing on that side. Made perfect sense for a few months..who needs to chew on BOTH sides anyway, amiright? No, I’m not. Because eventually the right side got tired AND began to hurt when I bit down too hard. So what do you do when you can’t chew on EITHER side? You suck it up and go to the dentist.
Now I’ll skip the ordeal it was to find a dentist that takes my health insurance, that I liked, that had good reviews online. It was surprisingly difficult, and actually took almost three months, but I finally found one with good reviews, not too far away. I make the appointment with an apprehension I can’t describe, and I walk the fifteen minutes or so like I’m walking the plank. But I was resolved to do it. And guess what? It was the most pleasant experience I’ve had at the dentist to date. And I was floored, shocked even! And then I had to go back two weeks later to have more work done, and again with the pleasant experience. But the true epiphany came after, when there was no more pain or discomfort and I could chew again on both sides.
There was no more issue, it had been taken care of, and this discomfort that I’d been living with because of a fear, justifiable or not, was gone. Just like that. And all it took was action on my part, a choice made to consciously face my fear. Remember, I wasn’t in any pain, and I probably could have continued the way I was for at least a few more months. But I made the choice to fix something, to heal. And with that choice, I was set free. And not just from the discomfort, potential pain, or not being able to really chew and enjoy eating, but also from fear. I was released from a deep aversion that had afflicted me almost my entire life.
In choosing to not settle for the pain any longer, in choosing to get the help I needed, in choosing to love mySELF enough to take necessary action to improve my day to day life experience, in choosing to do something as simple as going to the dentist, my quality of life improved exponentially.
The process of awakening and healing can manifest in so many different ways as we face our fears and struggles, and learn to overcome them. And there are gems and nuggets of wisdom just waiting for us to find in even the most mundane of circumstances. And that is how a trip to the dentist changed EVERYTHING.
Default Setting: a value that a program or operating system assumes, or a course of action that a program or operating system will take, when the user or programmer specifies no overriding value or action.
What is your default setting?
We usually hear about the term “default” in connection to computers or school loans. But I’m referring to your PERSONAL default setting i.e. your mental, emotional, and physical settings. When you’re stressed, what do you do? Do you do what you’ve always done? Here’s an example: it’s the first day of the new year and you’ve resolved to implement a new health regimen this year, and this time you mean it. You’re determined to lose the weight, gain the muscle, quit smoking, start eating healthy, meditate, do yoga, wake up early, go to bed early, and so on. Around March you look in the mirror angry at yourSELF because you went to the gym for about two weeks, went back to eating sugar and carbs by the last week of January, cut back to two cigarettes per day but are still smoking, and you’re waking up early because you have to get to work but you’re still not going to sleep until after 1AM, and find yourSELF sleeping in past 10AM on the weekends.
What happened? You were committed, you wrote down your goals, you swore to yourSELF that you would do these things and yet, you feel like you’re right back where you started. And so now begins the assault of SELF criticism: loser, failure, weak, wishy washy, flaky, etc etc ad nauseum..some of us are better at this stage than others.
I’m here to tell you, you are none of those things. I’m also here to tell you that we all have our default settings, so don’t be ashamed of yours.
Think of a path through a forest. One person walks on the path and it won’t change the path, but if people continue to walk the same route then the path will become more defined, and it will get easier for people to travel that path. The forest is your brain and that well worn path is like your default setting with habits and patterns well traveled. And you can continue using those paths if it’s bringing joy to your life. But if it isn’t then it’s time to forge new paths. Neuroplasticity is the idea that “the brain continually adjusts and reorganizes.” Research has shown that not only does the brain do this on its own, but meditation is being proven as a powerful tool for facilitating these changes.
This has huge implications for brain injuries and trauma, but there are many ways we can all benefit from the brain’s ability to do this. Learn more about the science and research behind neuroplasticity HERE, it’s truly fascinating.
But the question remains, what to do about it?
The first step is to be patient with yourSELF about your default settings. There is never a need to be hypercritical or to beat yourSELF up over it. It’s simply the way that you’ve learned to cope and navigate the world in a way that protects you emotionally. And that’s ok. However, the goal is to reset the defaults if they are no longer serving your highest good. We all find ways to cope with the world around us at different times in our lives, so just breathe and let yourSELF know that it’s ok that you developed these defenses. Say thank you to your brain and highest SELF for protecting you, you needed have these emotions for whatever reason at the time, and your brain (and ego) did a wonderful job of fulfilling its obligation to serve and protect you. But, as we grow and change so do our needs and what served you at one point may no longer be serving you and the time has come to release those settings..
The second step is awareness. Become aware of your default settings so that you can identify when you’re slipping into them. If you are a “glass half empty” person, acknowledge that as a pessimistic mindset so that you know that when something happens there is the potential to go to that pessimistic place. If you’re someone that has a tendency to want to hide from people and the world when you’re upset, acknowledge that. The idea is to become SELF aware and begin to observe your patterns and habits. We cannot change an aspect of the SELF that we are not willing to acknowledge exists.
How do we become more aware of our default setting? Step three: Don’t run. Set aside a time (at least 15 minutes) everyday or every other day or once a week to sit with yourSELF, quietly, and observe. As you think about your day, how do you feel? When you think about your job, how do you feel? Emotions will come up, and they won’t always feel good. But they’re there to show you something, teach you something. Thank them.
And lastly, once we become aware of our default settings then we can begin to work with them. Exercises and techniques like journaling, breath work and deep belly breathing, as well as emotional release techniques can help to calm us and provide space to process what we’re feeling. There is also professional therapy, do not be afraid to see if it may work for you, there’s nothing wrong with seeking the help of a professional to help us get a better understanding of how we’re feeling. There are also alternative treatment modalities like Reiki, Massage, Crystal Therapy, Essential Oils, and more that can provide you with a sense of groundedness and healing, and work with your energetic signature to help release negative emotions.
I’ll leave off with this: none of this is easy, it will require work and effort on your part. However, know this, YOU CAN DO IT. There will be many challenges on the way to becoming your best YOU, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do this. I’ve said it for years now: “There’s the way things are, and the way we believe things should be. We cannot make things the way we believe they should be if we do not acknowledge things the way they are.” Knowing is half the battle (thanks G.I. Joe!), and once we know what our default settings are and where we stand we can begin to move forward from places that no longer serve us.
Life and this reality are full of paradoxes, and you’ll hear them all the time. For example:
The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.
And that’s super true. But I’ve found that one of the most difficult of paradoxes to grasp, and one the most important if not the most important, is the paradox of healing. It’s a beast, this one. But why, you may be asking, wouldn’t someone WANT to heal? Why would someone CHOOSE to remain in pain, to hurt, to hide from healing? And I could give you a slew of theories, you could pick one and apply it to yourself and go from there. But there’s really only one answer: fear. Fear of pain.