Your Experience is Yours

Your experience is yours and you can do with it what you will. Why is it we feel a need to dismiss, redirect, define, redefine, and otherwise interject our beliefs onto another’s experience? That question haunts me, but it’s really not important. What’s important is knowing it’s okay to ignore people when they do this.

Should you grieve in a certain way? No. Will there be people who negatively judge the process that works for you? Yes. Ignore them.

Should you feel ashamed that you have scarred skin? No. Will there be people who assume you are ashamed and intercede on your behalf even though that makes you feel diminished and dismissed? Yes. Ignore them.

Should you be embarrassed to wear comfortable shoes that support properly? No. Will there be those who make fun of you or gossip about your unfashionable choice? Yes. Ignore them.

Should you feel like there’s something wrong with you if you prefer dietary changes to medication when your physician indicates the end result will be the same? No. Will there be pressure to choose meds? Probably. Ignore it.

Should you feel free to ask questions of experts? Yes. Will there be those who push you to accept what you’re told as gospel? Yes. Ignore them.

Should you limit your dreams because you begin with a disadvantage? No. Will there be people who undermine you because they don’t believe you deserve your dream? Most likely. Ignore them.

We give other people way too much agency to alter our perceptions or behavior. We hope for connection and seem to believe that conformity will bring it. For a brief moment, it may.

So, what are some long-term costs of not being true to yourself?

Limited intimacy. It feels flattering for people to conform to us so that can bring momentary connection. But ultimately, it is impossible to deepen intimacy when one party is not being genuine. The relationship will get stuck.

Diminished quality of life. If you give up the depth of your experience, apologize for it, or twist yourself in a pretzel to please someone else, it diminishes your sense of self and your quality of life.

Less likely to feel fulfilled by achievement. If you choose to put energy into work or activities that someone else would choose for you, you may be wildly successful by another’s standard, but you won’t necessarily feel fulfilled. Giving energy to things that are personally meaningful can feel more satisfying even when you’re judged less successful.

Feelings of frustration, anger, and loss. There are situations in which being yourself can pose physical or emotional danger. In these situations, choosing to conform may save your life. It is okay to make this choice. In fact, it’s smart. It is also okay to feel the frustration, anger, and loss that doing so may leave in its wake.

Constant tension. If you are in a constant fight with yourself, you create unrelenting internal tension. This may lead to outbursts that threaten relationships. Or it may cause your children to feel anxious.

Substituting judgement for listening is a shortcut that saves time. It makes our lives appear less messy. It can save us embarrassment. But it usually requires a level of denial that diminishes our lives.

Learning to actively listen, hold space, and be compassionate can begin by doing these things for ourselves. Set boundaries, allow yourself to feel anything you feel. There is no right or wrong here. A bad thought does not make you a bad person. A violent impulse does not make you a bad person. You can still choose good behavior. But it’s important to see and accept all your parts.

Once you can clearly see your experience, own it. There’s no need to apologize for the way you perceive something. This is true even if you have some form of PTSD. Your experience is your experience. Other people may feel differently in the same situation. That doesn’t make you wrong.

Ironically, we act as though we value uniqueness, but that value often ends very near our own norm. Actively owning my reality doesn’t just enhance my life. It helps me recognize how broad the human experience can be.

Brick by Brick

No matter how impatient you feel, lasting progress is achieved brick by brick. This morning was spent moving bricks from my back yard into a toy trailer pulled by a toy tractor and driven by a 5-year-old. The easiest way to get the bricks close to the driveway was chunk them over the back fence one at a time.

I know that sounds tedious. It was. It was still the most efficient way to move them given the terrain and the equipment available. And I lucked out. My job was to keep the little kids occupied. No heavy lifting for me! That’s not to say I had a cool job. It’s blazing hot by 9am. And tedious though it may be, one piece piled on another piece, carefully placed atop another piece is a solid way to build accomplishment in any endeavor.

Some of us continually avoid the brick-by-brick building because we prefer excitement or fun. We like the adrenaline rush of winging it. But if you build a solid base, you can wing it, play in the moment, and still get good results. If you don’t build a solid base though, winging it can have disastrous results.

Why do we feel such reluctance to systematically tackle the difficult in our lives?

I’m sure the answer varies for everyone. If you have lots of anxious energy, you may feel like you’ll be bouncing off the wall in five minutes. If you are distracted, it may be hard to focus on one step at a time. If you’re motivated by deadlines, there may not be one. If you lack confidence, you may not feel you’re up to the task. You may not believe you have time.

But often, it’s like putting off doing the dishes. It’s not our favorite thing to do. We put it off. As time passes, we add dishes and the task grows. In our minds, it grows exponentially. Then it feels too big for the energy we have left.

The problem doesn’t lie in the size of the task or the particular job. It lies in the tricks our minds play. You may do dishes without hesitation but put off lifting weights. You may even know somewhere in the back of your mind that once you get started it won’t seem like a big deal any more, but still you stop yourself.

Nike’s ad people got it right when they told us to “Just Do It.” And that’s the thing about building. You have to just get on in there and take the first step. Do not hesitate.

If you still feel reluctant, offer yourself a series of rewards along the way. Focus on how you’ll feel when you get done with today’s brick. Brag to your friends on a regular basis. Tweet your own praises daily.

Break the task into the smallest pieces, then give yourself whatever you need to lift that first brick. The second will be easier. The third will be easier still. It’s never the lift we imagine it will be.

And as we lift and stack, we gain forward momentum. We begin to see progress. Progress feels exciting. Excitement keeps us motivated. Soon, we’ve built a forward-moving machine that will take us where we want to go.

Brick by brick builds walls, stairs, health, fitness, family relationships, knowledge, organizations, wealth, faith, hope, kindness, compassion, and joy.

Now you know what to do…it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Food Preferences

I’ve been pondering food preferences. I prefer ice in my water. I hate sweetened tea. I love hot coffee, like iced coffee with milk, and cannot stand room temperature coffee.

The origin of some of my preferences is clear. My dislike for sweetened tea began when I was three or four. My grandmother wouldn’t let me have a glass of sweet tea until I’d had one without sugar. At some point, the sweetened tea began to taste overwhelmingly sweet and I no longer preferred it. But I can’t explain my coffee preferences or why I like blanched broccoli better than raw broccoli (even in salad).

While my tastes lean toward specific preparations of a wide variety of foods, others only like a narrow variety of flavors or textures. Some preferences may be learned. Others stem from visceral response. Still others may be attached to memories that aren’t specifically food related.

Then there are preferences related to biology. Some foods can activate the mesolimbic reward system in a manner similar to alcohol and frequently abused drugs. For instance, studies have shown that consuming fat and sugar produces an increase in the synthesis and secretion of opioids and dopamine within the central reward system. No wonder it’s so hard to get kids to stop eating sugary treats.

Obviously, it’s preferable for food to be pleasing to our senses. But if that leads to habitually unhealthy food choices, perhaps pleasure shouldn’t be the primary goal of an eating plan. And while most of us might argue it’s not, we tend to choose each individual meal within our plan based on what we find appetizing that day.

The key is how often what we find appetizing in the moment is at odds with our overarching health plan. For some people, the two will almost always be in sync. For me, the problem area doesn’t fall so much in planned meals. I love fresh vegetables, meat, poultry, and fish fixed millions of different ways. And I love playing with flavors.

My problem area is quick grab meals and snacks. I am more likely to want to reach for chips, crackers, or chocolate than raw carrots as a snack. As long as that’s rare, it’s no big deal. When it’s daily, it’s not healthy.

There are many ways for me to manage my choices. And because I love to sink my teeth into a fresh tomato or juicy peach, it doesn’t take too much planning. But watching my grandchildren, I wonder whether that management will be more difficult for them. Their preferences are being set with a less robust variety of fresh, unprocessed food and many more packaged products.

I think we’ve already answered that question with the increase in childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. And yet, I’m not sure we’ve spent much time researching the issue from a parenting for healthy eating perspective. Which brings me to the reason I’m pondering food preferences.

There seems to be a huge opportunity for learning and teaching. I love a good opportunity!

I Want To Be The Minority

We listened to a lot of Green Day when my sons were in high school. The song Minority was always in the mix. I think about that song off and on. I’m not sure I WANT to be the minority, but I often feel like I am.

I used to think I was just a contrarian. Now, I don’t think that’s really a fair assessment even though it’s not unusual for me to see things differently from most of the people with whom I interact. Lots of days feel like opposite day in my world.

On car rides, my dad liked to choose a current event and ask my opinion about it. Whatever I said, he’d express the opposite opinion and we’d discuss at length. It was immaterial whether I agreed with what I was saying. What was important was that I be able to think through an issue thoroughly.

That became my habit. Look at something. Explore. Look at it from the other side. Explore. Come up with arguments that support each point of view.

I’m not always sure where I’ll land on an issue, but I routinely have an opportunity to see things from a different perspective before I figure that out. I love it that this became an ingrained habit. I also feel like a sore thumb sometimes.

We are all unique and even if you are more mainstream than I, there will be times you feel different, misunderstood or like your opinion is not valued.

How can you feel good when that happens?

There may be no avoiding feelings of frustration, irritation, annoyance, or anger in the moment. Sometimes, you may momentarily feel less than. However you feel is okay. The key is for those feelings to move through without affecting how you view yourself.

Here are a few things you can do to help:

Set boundaries – There are times you may want to avoid sharing what you think or feel. You’re under no obligation to share if doing so will harm you.

Recognize the power of your voice – When you’re standing alone, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by opposing voices. This can make you feel torn between staying silent and offering your view.

The truth is, you are not as alone as you believe. You may be the only person in a particular room who sees what you see, but there will be many more in other rooms whose voice may not be heard unless you speak up.

Understand the value of your opinion – When others in a discussion have a greater volume of wealth, education, status, position, or force, it’s easy to tell yourself their thoughts matter more than yours.

The interesting thing is that those things may, in fact, limit their knowledge in some areas. That is where you can fill in the gaps.

And even when there is no gap, you may have a take on a situation no one else has considered. If you don’t speak out, no one will benefit from what you have to offer.

Bounce ideas off someone else – Call a friend whose opinion you respect and give your ideas a test run. Sometimes just saying something out loud helps cement your passion for it.

Forgive yourself – If you end up feeling like you’ve spoken when you shouldn’t or held back when you should have spoken, forgive yourself. Decide whether you will revisit the issue or let it go.

You cannot undo what’s been done. You’ll gain nothing from beating yourself up. That same energy can be redirected to exploring what you learned, how you hope to handle things in the future, or practicing gratitude for the opportunity to make a choice.

I have no doubt that I’ll soon be back in a situation in which I want to be the minority. I’m thinking that’s a good thing.