This post is neither easy nor fun to write. If you want one that was, check out my post on spirit animals.
No...today I am fresh off a parenting fail and I am struggling. Parenting fails always make me feel sheepish, but this one was in public, witnessed by people I know and admire, as well as by strangers who live in my community.
A couple months ago, I signed myself and my daughters up for a 5k. It's a fun, well-organized event that I like to support. Forget the fact that I didn't run a 5k until I was in my 20s...my kids are 7 and 9 and we're doing it. Yesterday was the day, so over breakfast, we had a pep talk. I was especially focused on my younger daughter, telling her how a positive attitude and a good solid effort were far more important than any time goal. We discussed some strategies for how to deal when the going got tough, and I really tried to solidify the "NO WHINING" rule.
The start line was abuzz with good energy and we lined up surrounded by friends. Kids were smiling and happy, and I was ready to have a good time. "We got this," I thought.
3 minutes folks. Just 3 minutes after the start, my best laid plan began to unwind. My youngest started whining and asking to stop and walk. This same child has endured 10 weeks of Prep Cycle and several all day karate tests without one whimper. This same child is the darling of all her teachers and a leader in her classroom. This same child can be the toughest, sweetest, most amazing child on the planet.
I did try. I told myself to be the adult. I told myself that I was in control of my emotions. I used some of my coaching language both on my daughter and myself. I tried to pep talk her. I tried to convince her to run with her friend. A few of our adult friends offered to run with her because they know that children often exhibit much better behavior for someone other than their parents. But she was dug in. She shunned people's offers, she continued to whine, and nothing I or anyone else said could snap her out of it.
Well...one thing snapped her out of it. I snapped into it. I lost control of my emotions. I resorted to ultimatums and guilt trips. I told her we were going back to the finish line. I pouted and cried. I threw a fit almost equal to hers.
I could list about 30 reasons why I lost it. Many of them would point to my daughter's behavior. Several would point to other circumstances weighing on my mind. And most people would read those reasons and validate them. But none of those reasons are good excuses. In a future post I will go into detail about why circumstances are not valid excuses for bad behavior, but right now I want to talk about another result of this whole situation...the feeling of regret.
Even as I was throwing an adult-sized fit in front of poor unsuspecting onlookers, I was regretting. I was regretting that the run wasn't going as I'd planned. I was regretting that I didn't have a better strategy for making it fun instead of a fight. And now that some time has passed, I regret that I didn't model better behavior for my daughter...and I regret my own regret.
Yes...I regret my regret. My daughter has a lovely ability to go from angry to fine. Once she gets it out, it's out. No grudges, no lingering smoke coming out of her ears, just mad to glad in about 2 seconds. She can hug you and apologize and carry on AS IF WE HADN'T JUST MADE A SCENE.
I can't. So even once she had started running again with a much better attitude, I couldn't let it go. I played some music to get us to the finish line (ironically, "Shake it off" by Taylor Swift), and as my daughter danced and ran, I could've joined her, had I not been plodding along, wallowing in my regret. So I regret my regret. What a vicious cycle, huh?
Here's the thing about regret: for the most part, it serves no purpose. It is an indulgent emotion because we give it more time than it deserves and it doesn't create good results. We indulge in it even though we know it's of no good use to us. And regret is of no use to us because it is based on a desire to change our past, which is something we simply cannot do, unless you are Marty McFly.
Yesterday made me think a lot about regret as I was feeling all the heavy layers of it. Oh how I wanted a Redo button on the run. I wanted to change the original plan of 5 minutes running and one minute walking. I wanted to change the way I responded to my daughter's first whine. I wanted to go back and pull out the energy chews I had for bribes but had forgotten to use. I wanted to go back and NOT sign up in the first place. Can you see how fruitless all that wanting is? I can't go back and change anything at all.
So how can we make regret more useful? I came up with a few ideas as I struggled through the process:
When my husband called to see how the run went, one of the first things I said was, "Well, I'll never do that again." I meant that I would never run with my daughter again. This was a direct response to the fresh upwelling of regret. However, with time comes perspective, and I'm already loosening my view on the idea. I know that I will run with my daughter again, but I'll "never do it" that way again. I will learn from my regret rather than just be a victim to it.
A friend of mine recently posted the following quote on her Facebook page. She found it in our local (and delicious) Himalayan restaurant, the Sherpa House.
I was struck by two things (after I tore my mind away from thoughts of the restaurant's delicious buffet): 1. What a beautiful sentiment and 2. The Dalai Lama could be a life coach.
I love this quote because it encapsulates so many concepts that I use in my life coaching practice. First of all, it starts with your THINKING. "Everyday, think as you wake up, 'today I am fortunate to have woken up.'" How simple. And even better, everyone can honestly think this. I often talk about how going from negative to positive can be challenging if you don't believe it. So going from "Ugh...another day of the grind" to "Hello world, I love my life!" might be asking too much. But simply thinking "I am fortunate to have woken up" is a phrase we should all be able to wrap our heads around, and it is a huge improvement from starting with thoughts about your stress at work or the pain in your back or the 10 loads of laundry you have to get done.
The Dalai Lama also understands that we choose what we think. He says, "I am going to have kind thoughts toward others...I am not going to think badly about others." This takes practice, my friends. Negative thoughts happen, but with awareness and practice, you can improve your attitude.
At my martial arts school, instructors often say, "Practice makes permanence. Perfect practice makes perfect." If we practice sloppy kicks, our kicks will remain sloppy. Likewise, our minds are wired for efficiency, so if you have a practice of negative thoughts or self pity, you have created a pathway for your brain and you will default there again and again. However, if you start to practice positivity, you will create new permanent pathways and your brain will begin to default to seeing people and events in a better light. It's called Neural Plasticity and it is a real thing! (Follow the link for the science and application.)
Another "coachism" in the Dalai Lama's statement is "I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all others." This is so powerful. We might not all be as altruistic as the Dalai Lama and that is okay! Let's just start with the first part "I am going to use all my energies to develop myself." Imagine if we did that! ALL our energies?!?! What if we didn't waste any of our energy on surfing the internet or fussing over what to wear or worrying about events out of our control? If all of our energies went into positive self development, what would that even look life? I challenge you to spend a few minutes day dreaming about that. What energy wasters would you cut out and with what would you replace them? Oh the possibilities! And if you take to heart the rest of it about benefiting others and all that jazz...that's all BONUS.
I encourage you to write down the Dalai Lama's quote or print it out or make it your computer wall paper or whatever. Maybe paste it to the ceiling right above your pillow or put it in a frame next to your alarm clock so you see it every time you wake up. First thing each morning, practice saying, "I am fortunate to have woken up and today I am going to use my energy to develop myself." Try it for a week. See what happens and report back.
If you want some support as you develop yourself, I'm here for you. Let's partner to start that perfect practice toward a better life. Contact me for a complimentary intro session or register for my in-person group starting on Oct 9.
One of the major skills life coaches teach is the ability to reframe. If you lose your job, can you reframe that loss into a chance to explore other exciting opportunities? If you wreck your car, instead of focusing on the damage, can you focus on the fact that you survived and see the world with newfound appreciation? Can you reframe your difficult childhood to see it as that which made you strong and resilient?
On this 17th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I find myself thinking about how we can reframe tragedy, and it is much more difficult. Where is the silver lining in a terrorist attack that killed almost 3000 civilians?
As my kids (ages 7 and 9) got ready for school this morning, September 11th came up in conversation. I tried to explain what had happened, and even as I tried, I struggled to believe the truth of it. And yet it is one of so many tragic losses in our world; if I allow myself, I could be crushed by the weight of grief and suffering on this planet.
"If I allow myself..." Did you notice that? Our minds, if allowed, can take us into deep, dark places. We must be aware of these thoughts so that they don't take over and we can work to improve them.
We might not be able to reframe terrorism into something positive. And to be honest, the work required to do that would be exhausting and most likely deceptive. But we can focus on some of the positive aftermath.
When 9/11 happened, I was working as a coordinator for an international exchange program. It was my first real job out of college, and I was communicating with people around the world. I was on my way to the airport to pick up another coordinator who was flying in for some job training. I remember listening to the radio and hearing the reports of the airplanes hitting the Twin Towers. I remember the confusion, the denial, the total failure to comprehend the situation. I remember the fear and the disbelief and the terror as the events became real to me. With all flights grounded, my trip to the airport was cut short, and I returned to the program office.
Immediately, my inbox was full of e-mails from other countries. Nonstop phone calls flooded the office as our program partners and hosts called to check in and offer moral support. And in the US, we were no longer segregated by religion, political party, or race. We were AMERICANS, bonded by our tragedy. For several months, people were kinder, more generous, less divided.
As I type this memory, I notice my physical reactions. When rehashing the terrorism, I had a pit in my stomach, tears in my eyes, tightness around my heart. Once I started writing about the unity that came in the aftermath, I started to feel lighter. The tightness dissipated and I felt that sense of hope as I remembered the outpouring of humanity after the attacks.
I am not suggesting that we shoo away all negative emotion. Events like 9/11 cannot be swept under the rug. But as always, awareness is so important. First of all, we must be aware when we are fixating on a circumstance over which we have no control. Secondly, we must be aware that negative emotions are just feelings. If we can name these feelings and allow them without judgment, we can also realize that these feelings will pass and we can help facilitate that passing by redirecting or reframing our thoughts.
For today, on this anniversary that always weighs heavily on our nation, I encourage you to remember what it felt like to be bonded by our grief and lifted up by our shared humanity and national pride.
When I was in high school, I went on a Junior Raft Trip with my class. We spent a week rafting, camping, swimming, exploring, bonding, and sitting around the campfire. Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds. One afternoon after we set up camp, people started jumping off a cliff into a pool of water in the river. I don't remember how high it was, maybe 15 or 20 feet, but it looked scary to me. It was a big drop into shockingly cold water. I wanted to do it, but I didn't want to do it. I watched many of my classmates take the leap. And they were fine...better than fine, not only unharmed but energized and pumped full of adrenaline. They shared high fives and whoops of excitement. Still, my fear won out. I didn't jump. And I spent the evening wrapped in regret.
Fortunately, I had the chance again. Another cliff, another pool of water, more daring classmates, more fear. But this time, I didn't let it stop me. I climbed to the top, heart racing. I almost went back down. I stared at the water below and hoped I wouldn't faint. The cheers of my peers faded into the background, drowned out by the throbbing pulse in my ears.
I jumped. Time stood still as my arms waved, giving in to the unrealistic impulse to fly. I hit the water and it was indeed shockingly cold. After pulling myself to the surface, I emerged laughing and sputtering, shaking with excitement and cold and pride. I had no regrets around the campfire that night.
As I write this, I feel a similar mix of fear and excitement. Over a month ago, I booked a room at the local library to hold a free workshop to spread the word about life coaching and to give a live coaching demonstration. I want to do it, but I'm nervous. What if nobody shows up? What if everybody shows up? What if my presentation is met with blank stares?
The inner voice of fear will not win out, but it is hard to ignore. This voice is the cause of inaction and complacency. When do you hear it, and how do you react?
I honestly believe that cliff jump so many years ago was a turning point for me. The contrast between how I felt after inaction and how I felt after literally "taking the leap" has replayed itself many times in my life. The memory of that difference has pushed me out of my comfort zone again and again. And it encourages me to push my boundaries of comfort now.
Regardless of what happens tonight at my workshop, I am better off for taking action. I feel productive and proud. I'm proud that I booked the room and took the time to create a presentation. I'm proud that I posted it on social media and event calendars around my town. I am grateful for the friends and family members who have given me support and encouragement. I am validated by how much I care about this work I am doing. Whether I have one attendee or dozens, I have proven something to myself and I can go to sleep tonight without any regrets, but with many lessons learned.
Where are you stuck? In what areas has inaction become your default? When do you hear the inner voice of doubt and fear and how do you react to it? Contact me to work through these doubts and move toward action. Action is ALWAYS better than inaction when attempting to make positive changes in your life. And if you are local, come to my workshop at the Golden Library from 6:30-7:30pm. I hope to see you there!
July 2016: I had the chance to cliff jump again during a family vacation in B.C. Canada. No regrets!