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When Bad Things Happen, Part 2

This article is a sequel to the July 2013 Newsletter Article, When Bad Things Happen.  Of course, I meant to get back and complete the article the very next week.  Ah, the best laid plans…

But better late than never, right?  I recommend you go back and read that article to give you the back story and context for this Part 2.

In Part 1, I talked about 2 things I learned from an experience that helped me get out of the Pit of Despair.  Here is the third and perhaps the most deeply profound learning for me.

What Are You Making it MEAN?

emotional intelligence, success skillsIts important to understand how your brain works.  The human brain is a Meaning Making Machine.  The brain takes in literally billions of bits of information every day from your physical senses.

It is the brain’s job to interpret that information, to make sense of it so that you can survive, both literally and figuratively.

Which means your brain has to do two primary things:

  1. Determine what information is important or deserves your attention (think signal to noise ratio)
  2. Determine what that information actually means in terms of you, the world and your place in the world.

It’s that second step that usually gets us into trouble.  As I mentioned in the first part of this article, we are very uncomfortable with the unknown.  That’s just human nature.

And we have survived and evolved as a species because our brains successfully made life and death decisions with limited information. (The bush is shaking, there’s probably a lion waiting in ambush!)

So our brain has evolved a predictive capacity or the ability to extrapolate based on limited information, using your expectations, beliefs and past experience (which together make up your context – the environment in which meaning is determined).

Inspirational-quote-by-Siddhar-But this extrapolation is mostly happening at the unconscious level and is presented to our conscious mind as “The TRUTH.”  Unfortunately, it is often these “truths” that propel us into the Despair Pit.

It is useful to remember that these truths are anything but.  They are constructs based on limited information plus your self-constructed context.

Don’t mistake the map for the territory!

Instead, approach these “truths” with curiosity and ask good questions.  Here are a few that I’ve found useful.

“Now What?” Instead of “Why Me?”

When hanging out down there in the despair pit, we are often asking really poor questions.  The most common is some version of “Why me?”  Instead, try asking, “Now What?”  That conversation might go something like:

Now that these circumstances/challenges/obstacles have happened, now what?  What can I do, right now to:

  • protect myself?
  • feel better?
  • change my circumstances?
  • continue to pursue my goals? And so on….

Can you see how asking these kinds of questions instead of “Why me?” could show you the path out of the despair pit?

What is the belief?

Once you’re in a more stable place and you’ve taken care of the business you need to take care of, and you’re ready to do some transformational self-examination, a good question to ask is

“What is the belief that’s being triggered?”

(If you don’t know what that means, click the link and read a good article explaining the concept around triggering).

In my experience, when I’m having a really strong emotional response to my circumstances, there is often a belief underlying that response that is being energized by the current circumstances.

If you’ve ever been in a musical instrument store when someone strikes a tuning fork, you’ve heard how the different instruments will vibrate in harmonics to that tone.  A similar thing happens when your external circumstances trigger your inner beliefs.  It may not be logical, but in some way your brain has created a connection between what you are perceiving and your past experiences and/or beliefs.

So, if you can identify which belief, expectation or past experience has been triggered at the unconscious level and make that dynamic conscious, you can use that awareness to begin to understand it and even shift it if you choose to.

Reframing

One of the best ways to make that internal shift is to remember that the context you are using to create your experience of your circumstances, to make that meaning is a subjective framework and not TRUTH.

What could you make it mean?  Because if it could mean many different things, could you choose a different meaning?  And if you can choose a different meaning, why not choose a meaning that creates a more positive and functional experience, a meaning that guides you out of the despair pit, or even allows you to avoid the pit altogether?

This is called reframing.  You are seeing the picture of reality in a new context.

Think about a circumstance you’ve had recently that was perhaps painful.  How could you reframe that experience in order to feel better and more empowered to be constructively responsive to those circumstances?

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When Bad Things Happen

July was a tough month.  It started out well, but one morning I woke up in pain.  I’d done something to my wrist in my sleep.  As that day wore on, the pain got worse until I gave in and went to the ER and after an x-ray they told me it might be broken!  WTF?

It turned out to be a bad bone bruise, but for a week, I didn’t know if I was facing 3 months in a cast above my elbow or possibly even surgery.  Seven long days of uncertainty, pain, and to be honest, freaking out!

As I teach in How to Use Feedback and Criticism Constructively, throughout this experience I was alert to the question, “What is the learning here?”  The more I looked at it, the more I discovered that the lesson wasn’t about the details of the experience but how I managed the fear and uncertainty, as well as the self-defeating beliefs that surfaced.

Here are some of my lessons:

Sliding Into the Pit of Despair

catastrophic thinking, feedback, Autobiography in 5 chaptersThe Despair Pit is the term that my Sister and I use to describe that downward cycle.  You know the one. Where the world seems to have turned against you and you are doomed?

Yes, doomed, I say! 

Where nothing works out and all is lost.

Overly dramatic?  Or eerily familiar?

There were moments, particularly in the first few days of the injury, when I just wanted to throw in the towel.  Why does everything have to be so hard? Why is it just when things start going my way, does something always go wrong to block my efforts?!?

The old “Why Me?” conversation took pretty solid hold there for a minute.

A therapist I worked with during my 10-year bout with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome gave me this poem and since then I’ve often used it when seemingly lost in the Pit of Despair:

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Portia Nelson

I
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V
I walk down another street.

So, while I did fall into the deep hole for a little while, I didn’t stay long. I recognized it for what it was, asked for support and climbed on out.

Here are some of the things that helped me climb out.

Staying in the present moment

Much of the content of the despair pit for me this time had to do with the future.  How am I going to finish the Multiple Streams of Music Income Self-Study Program if I can’t type?  How am I going to take care of my Dad if I can’t use my arm?  How am I going to continue losing weight if I can’t exercise?

All of the things that I wanted this summer to be about seemed in dire jeopardy.

But the key word in that statement was “seemed”.  Because I didn’t know.  That’s probably the hardest part – the uncertainty.  I didn’t know if my wrist was broken, if I’d need surgery, if I would be wearing a cast for months.  I didn’t know.  But not knowing is so uncomfortable, that our brain fills in the gaps.  We are so frightened of the dangers implied in the unknown that we fill it with scenarios, as if we know.

The best way to stay out of the despair pit, then, is to sit in the uncertainty.  As agonizing, uncomfortable, and scary as the uncertainty is, staying in it is the more powerful choice.

But that’s the illusion, isn’t it?  In the future-thinking, contingency-planning, scenario-making place, you feel like you’ve got power, like you’ve got control.  But you don’t, because as long as you’re there, you’re not in the present.  And if you’re not in the present, you can’t adapt to what’s really happening in this moment.  So breathe through the discomfort and stay present.

How much contingency planning is too much?

The truth is that contingency planning is an evolutionary advantage.  It’s one of the things that makes us successful as a species. It’s what motivated the birth of agriculture – storing food during the abundant growing season so you have food when that season is over wouldn’t have happened if someone hadn’t thought, “Gee, what will we do for food when winter comes?”

Contingency planning is thinking about what the future may hold and making a plan to handle the various or even worst possibilities.

But contingency planning can lead to what is known in psychology as Catastrophic Thinking.  This kind of thinking is the wallpaper down in the Despair Pit!   When you are thinking of all the awful things that could happen and you become obsessed with them, you begin to interact with those thoughts as if they were real.  And that’s the danger.

It is helpful to simply ask yourself, “Are these real possibilities?”  And if the answer to that question is, “Yes” or even “Maybe.”  Then ask yourself, “What can I put in place today to manage those possibilities?”  Take those self-protective actions and then set it aside.

Because beyond taking those steps, all those dire thoughts are just energy sucks.  They’re just the stuff that keeps you up at night and makes it hard to concentrate during the day.  They don’t add anything to your ability to manage the uncertainty or even the contingencies – if and when they happen.  Those thoughts can actually make it worse!

In this instance, the contingency plan meant doing a bit of research on voice recognition software, just in case I wouldn’t be able to type, notify my virtual assistant that I may need more help in the coming days, making sure that I was seeing a good hand specialist and then set it all aside.

It helped that I knew I would have an answer to the uncertainty within a few days.  But the principle still stands. And whenever my brain started to slide into catastrophic thinking — see it, name it for what it was, and breathe into the discomfort of the unknown.

[End of Part 1 – Part 2 coming next week!  Stay Tuned!]

What do you do when bad things happen? Please share your techniques for staying out of the Despair Pit!

 

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How to Move Past Your Fear of Success or Failure

Artists MBA, Professional ProgramDo you feel confronted by the specter of fear or success?

When you start to take action to move your career forward, does it feel like you’re pushing against a wall? Or does that wall stop you dead in your tracks?

This question comes up often, “How to I move past my fear of success or fear of failure?” The essence of this question is a misunderstanding of what fear is and how to manage it.

In this class we will discover:

  • How to identify the root source of the fear
  • How to handle the nay-sayers that feed the fear
  • How to turn fear into motivation and momentum

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson

Will you allow your fear to stop you? Will you allow your fear to keep you from fulfilling your purpose, the purpose you were born to fulfill? If you’re answer is, “No!” then this class is exactly what you’re looking for!

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Manage Your Emotions – the 4th Key to Maintaining Focus in the Face of Chaos

Just to refresh your memory, in the 1st Key, we looked at the big list, and in the 2nd Key, took everything off the plate that we could.  In the 3rd Key we talked about getting help and delegating.  But one of the biggest problems in maintaining focus during times of chaos and stress are the emotions that overwhelm us.  Emotions like anxiousness, worry, and fear can muddle your thinking, sap your energy and at their worst, stop you dead in your tracks.  So, what do you do?

Well the best thing to do is to practice your skills for managing your emotions when you are NOT under stress.  Of course, that doesn’t help you much now, does it.  Here are a few things that might:

Name the Emotions

Sometimes just saying – I feel anxious right now – can actually reduce how anxious you feel.  Notice I didn’t say I “am” anxious.  The difference may seem subtle but it’s profound.  The first is identifying a feeling.  The second is defining yourself by the feeling.  You are not your feelings, right?  You have feelings, they don’t have you…

Here’s my theory.  Your emotions’ job is to get your attention and bring your attention to a particular belief or issue.  If you ignore, suppress, push away your emotions – well, they just have to shout louder to get your attention.  If you dive into them, use them to define who you are or in some other way wallow in them, they still aren’t really doing their job. And so they don’t dissipate then either.

See, it’s not about the emotions.  It’s about the underlying belief or issue that your emotions are calling your attention to.

Try this phrase:

“I’m feeling XXXX right now.  Huh, isn’t that interesting (said in a tone of wonder and curiosity).  I wonder what I’m thinking/believing right now that is having me feel XXX?

The first part of this statement is simply naming the emotion.

Identify the Belief

The second part of that statement is about allowing yourself to become aware of the thought/belief that is stimulating that emotion.

Now, if you’ve taken my Transform Your Belief – the Key to Success class, you already know that I subscribe to the belief that no beliefs are right, real or true.  (I know it disturbs the time/space continuum).  So, identifying the belief isn’t about deciding if it’s right, real or true – because I already know it’s not.  And it’s not about proving that it’s not true or even really engaging with the belief in any way that leads to taking any of this too seriously.

For example:

I’m sitting down to do some work and all of these other things float into my head and I start feeling really anxious.

“I’m feeling anxious right now.  Huh, isn’t that interesting?  I wonder what I’m thinking/believing?  Oh, that’s interesting.  I’m believing that I’ll never get it all done and as a result I can’t succeed.”

There.  I’ve said it – that’s the belief.  Now remember, I’m not taking it too seriously.  I’m not surrendering to that as “truth” and then wailing about the injustice of it all.  I’m just observing – that’s the belief.  Huh.

What you may notice at this point is that you already feel a bit better.  Just naming the emotion and naming the belief connected to it can relieve some of the emotion that is overwhelming you and give you the ability to set it aside and focus.

Going one step further, if you can name the emotion and the belief with both respect while maintaining the knowledge that no belief is right, real or true, that can give you the perspective and clarity to release both the emotion and your attachment to the belief.  And with practice that can become second nature.

What are you noticing about your emotions and beliefs?

How to Create Focus

Artists MBA, Professional ProgramAt any given moment, on any given day, the average person is thinking about 14 different things – Does that sound familiar? Between the Day Job (for many Artists), family, your personal needs (such as exercise), and your ambitions for creating your business as a professional in the Arts & Entertainment Industry, life can be overwhelming!

In the ArtistsMBA Classes on Time Management and Project Management, we look at how to prioritize and design your systems to choose what to accomplish when. But when you sit down to actually do what you have chosen to do …

How do you filter out all of the distractions, both internal and external?

“The shorter way to do many things is to do only one thing at a time.”
Mozart

Without focus, your efficiency and effectiveness suffers AND you have a lot less fun!

In this Class, you’ll learn:

  • The 3 biggest focus stealers
  • How to set clear internal and external focus boundaries
  • Simple and easy exercises to focus your mind

Whether you’re creating your art or music, marketing and promoting yourself or spending time with your family, improving your ability to focus will improve your success.

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Overcoming Fear

Artists MBA, Professional ProgramFEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real

Simple, right? Yet, when we’re in the grip of fear, the logic (or illogic) of it is completely beside the point. It cripples us. It fills us with the quaking, heart-pounding, hands and voice shaking, inability to move.

And sometimes it undermines us in very subtle ways.

Courage (according to Encarta) = “quality of being brave: the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action.”

Fear is an emotion. Courage is a skill. Debra will show you ways to develop the skill of courage in response to the emotion of fear … so you can move forward and achieve your desired level of success.

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How to Embrace Your Unique Voice as an Artist

Artists MBA, Professional ProgramAs children we are taught, by our parents, our teachers, our siblings and our peers, that in order to be loved, we must blend in. We must conform our uniqueness to be “appropriate”. And its an important skill to have – to know society’s rules and be able to act accordingly with volition.

But as artists, as business owners, as entrepreneurs, expressing your unique voice is critical to your success in business and in life.

 

“Self-censorship is not just self-betrayal and self-abandonment (which would be bad enough), but soul-betrayal and betrayal of our Muse, our inner voice, our highest self.”
Ralf Waldo Emerson

In this class we’ll explore:

  • How to listen to yourself in an empowering way – so you learn to know your true voice
  • How (and when) to express your true voice
  • How these skills serve in your creativity, your marketing and your business and personal relationships

Standing up and standing out takes true courage in a society that encourages conformity. And if you study the truly successful in our world, as I have, you will see that they all had a heaping measure of that courage – the ability and the willingness to take a stand for what they believed and to embrace and celebrate their unique voice.

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FEARING PARIS

Suppose that what you fear
could be trapped
and held in Paris.
Then you would have
the courage to go
everywhere in the world.
All the directions of the compass
open to you,
except the degrees east or west
of true north
that lead to Paris.
Still, you wouldn’t dare
put your toes
smack dab on the city limit line.
You’re not really willing
to stand on a mountainside,
miles away,
and watch the Paris lights
come up at night.
Just to be on the safe side,
you decide to stay completely
out of France.
But then danger
seems too close
even to those boundaries,
and you feel
the timid part of you
covering the whole globe again.
You need the kind of friend
who learns your secret and says,
“See Paris first.”

Marsha Truman Cooper
originally published by River City
published in the re-issued chapbook, “Substantial Holdings,” Pudding House, 2002

Transform Your Inner Critic into Your Staunchest Ally

Artists MBA, Professional ProgramAre you plagued by internal doubts and self-criticism? Think you’re not good enough, or don’t deserve the success you long for? Do you find that even when you know what to do, you find all sorts of reasons not to do it?

We all carry an internal critic in our heads, and it never shuts up! And the more we fight against it, or try to argue it away… the more we know intellectually that it isn’t real… the louder and more insistent it gets.

Fortunately, there’s a better way. You can actually learn to befriend that voice, and turn it from your worst enemy to your most steadfast and supportive ally.

In this class you’ll discover:

  • Where that voice comes from and why we all have it
  • A range of tools and techniques to retrain the critics voice to be your ally (this can work with external critics too!)

Learning to work with your critics voice can transform your relationships, your business, your creativity, your life.

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Some Fun Alternative Definitions of FEAR

  • False Evidence Appearing Real – the canonical one
  • False Emotions Appearing Real
  • Future Events Appear Real
  • False Expectations about Reality
  • Finding Excuses and Reasons
  • For Everything A Reason
  • F*%# Everything and Run
  • Failure Expected and Received
  • Fighting Ego against Reality
  • Frantic Effort to Appear Real
  • Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002
  • A positive take on it: Feelings Expressed Allows Relief
  • Face Everything and Recover
  • And my new favorite, Forgetting Everything’s All Right