Sunday, November 28, 2010

(58) Relax

What does it mean to relax? Despite hearing this term thousands of times during the course of our lives, very few people have deeply considered what it's really about.

When you ask people (which I have done many times) what it means to relax, most people will answer in a way that suggests that relaxing is something you plan to do later - you do it on vacation, in a hammock, when you retire, or when you get everything done. This implies, of course, that most other times (the other 95 percent of your life) should be spent nervous, agitated, rushed, and frenzied. Very few actually come out and say so, but this is the obvious implication. Could this explain why so many of us operate as if life is one great big emergency? Most of us postpone relaxation until our "in basket" is empty. Of course it never is.

It's useful to think of relaxation as a quality of heart that you can access on a regular basis rather than something reserved for some other time. You can relax now. It's helpful to remember that relaxed people can still be superachievers and, in fact, that relaxation and creativity go hand in hand. When I'm feeling uptight, for example, I don't even try to write. But when I feel relaxed, my writing flows quickly and easily.

Being more relaxed involves training yourself to respond differently to the dramas of life - turning your melodrama into a mellow-drama. It comes, in part, from reminding yourself over and over again (with loving-kindness and patience) that you have a choice in how you respond to life. You can learn to relate to your thinking as well as your circumstances in new ways. With practice, making these choices will translate into a more relaxed self.

Friday, November 26, 2010

(57) Become a Less Aggressive Driver

Where do you get the most uptight? If you're like most people, driving in traffic is probably high on your list. To look at most major freeways these days, you'd think you were on a racetrack instead of a roadway.

There are three excellent reasons for becoming a less aggressive driver. First, when you are aggressive, you put yourself and everyone around you in extreme danger. Second, driving aggressively is extremely stressful. Your blood pressure goes up, your grip on the wheel tightens, your eyes are strained, and your thoughts are spinning out of control. Finally, you end up saving no time in getting to where you want to go.

Recently I was driving south from Oakland to San Jose. Traffic was heavy, but moving. I noticed an extremely aggressive and angry driver weaving in and out of the lanes, speeding up and slowing down. Clearly, he was in a hurry. For the most part I remained in the same lane for the entire forty-mile journey. I was listening to a new audiotape I had just purchased and day-dreaming along the way. I enjoyed the trip a great deal because driving gives me a chance to be alone. As I was exiting off the freeway, the aggressive driver came up behind me and raced on by. Without realizing it, I had actually arrived in San Joe ahead of him. All of his weaving, rapid acceleration, and putting families at risk had earned him nothing except perhaps some high blood pressure and a great deal of wear and tear on his vehicle. On average, he and I had driven at the same speed.

The same principle applies when you see drivers speeding past you so that they can beat you to the next stoplight. It simply doesn't pay to speed. This is especially true if you get a ticket and have to spend eight hours in traffic school. It will take you years of dangerous speeding to make up this time alone.

When you make the conscious decision to become a less aggressive driver, you begin using your time in the car to relax. Try to see your driving not only as a way of getting you somewhere, but as a chance to breathe and to reflect. Rather than tensing your muscles, see if you can relax them instead. I even have a few audiotapes that are specifically geared toward muscular relaxation. Sometimes I pop one in and listen. By the time I reach my destination I feel more relaxed than I did before getting into the car. During the course of your lifetime, you're probably going to spend a great deal of time driving. You can spend those moments being frustrated, or you can use them wisely. If you do the latter, you'll be a more relaxed person.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

(56) Be Grateful When You're Feeling Good and Graceful When You're Feeling Bad

The happiest person on earth isn't always happy. In fact, the happiest people all have their fair share of low moods, problems, disappointments, and heartache. Often the difference between a person who is happy and someone who is unhappy isn't how often they get low, or even how low they drop, but instead, it's what they do with their low moods. How do they relate to their unchanging feelings?

Most people have it backward. When they are feeling down, they roll up their sleeves and get to work. They take their low moods very seriously and try to figure out and analyze what's wrong. They try to force themselves out of their low state, which tends to compound the problem rather than solve it.

When you observe peaceful, relaxed people, you find that when they are feeling good, they are very grateful. They understand that both positive and negative feelings come and go, and that there will come a time when they won't be feeling so good. To happy people, this is okay, it's the way of things. They accept the inevitability of passing feelings. So, when they are feeling depressed, angry, or stressed out, they relate to these feelings with the same openness and wisdom. Rather than fight their feelings and panic simply because they are feeling bad, they accept their feelings, knowing that this too, shall pass. Rather than stumbling and fighting against their negative feelings, they are graceful in their acceptance of them. This allows them to come gently and gracefully out of negative feeling states into more positive states of mind.

One of the happiest people I know is someone who also gets quite low from time to time. The difference, it seems, is that he has become quite comfortable with his low moods. It's almost as though he doesn't really care because he knows that, in due time, he will be happy again. To him, it's no big deal.

The next time you're feeling bad, rather than fight it, try to relax. See if, instead of panicking, you can be graceful and calm. Know that if you don't fight your negative feelings, if you are graceful, they will pass away just as surely as the sun sets in the evening.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

(55) Breathe Before You Speak

This simple strategy has had remarkable results for virtually everyone I know who has tried it. The almost immediate results include increased patience, added perspective, and, as a side benefit, more gratitude and respect for others.

The strategy itself is remarkably simple. It involves nothing more than pausing - breathing - after the person to whom you are speaking is finished. At first, the time gap between your voices may seem like an eternity - but in reality, it amounts to only a fraction of a second of actual time. You will get used to the power and beauty of breathing, and you will come to appreciate it as well. It will bring you closer to, and earn you more respect from, virtually everyone you come into contact with. You'll find that being listened to is one of the rarest and most treasured gifts you can offer. All it takes is attention and practice.

If you observe the conversations around you, you'll notice that, often, what many of us do is simply wait for our chance to speak. We're not really listening to the other person, but simply waiting for an opportunity to express our own view. We often complete other people's sentences, or say things like, "Yeah, yeah," or, "I know," very rapidly, urging them to hurry up so that we can have our turn. It seems that talking to one another is sometimes more like sparring back and forth like fighters or Ping-Pong balls than it is enjoying or learning from the conversation.

This harried form of communication encourages us to criticize points of view, overreact, misinterpret meaning, impute false motives, and form opinions, all before our fellow communicator is even finished speaking. No wonder we are often so annoyed, bothered, and irritated with one another. Sometimes, with our poor listening skills, it's a miracle that we have any friends at all!

I spent most of my life waiting for my turn to speak. If you're at all like me, you'll be pleasantly amazed at the softer reactions and looks of surprise as you let others completely finish their thought before you begin yours. Often, you will be allowing someone to feel listened to for the very first time. You will feel a sense of relief coming from the person to whom you are speaking - and a much calmer, less rushed feeling between the two of you. No need to worry that you won't get your turn to speak - you will. In fact, it will be more rewarding to speak because the person you are speaking to will pick up on your respect and patience and will begin to do the same.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

(54) Understand the Statement, "Wherever You Go, There You Are"

This is the title of a super book by Jon Kabat-Zinn. As the title suggests, wherever you go, you take yourself with you! The significance of this statement is that it can teach you to stop constantly wishing you were somewhere else. We tend to believe that if we were somewhere else - on vacation, with another partner, in a different career, a different home, a different circumstance - somehow we would be happier and more content. We wouldn't!

The truth is, if you have destructive mental habits - if you get annoyed and bothered easily, if you feel angry and frustrated a great deal of the time, or if you're constantly wishing things were different, these identical tendencies will follow you, wherever you go. And the reverse is also true. If you are a generally happy person who rarely gets annoyed and bothered, then you can move from place to place, from person to person, with very little negative impact.

Someone once asked me, "What are the people like in California?" I asked him, "What are the people like in your home state?" He replied, "Selfish and greedy." I told him that he would probably find the people in California to be selfish and greedy.

Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around. As you focus more on becoming more peaceful with where you are, rather than focusing on where you would rather be, you begin to find peace right now, in the present. Then, as you move around, try new things, and meet new people, you carry that sense of inner peace with you. It's absolutely true that "Wherever you go, there you are."

(53) See the Glass as Already Broken (and Everything Else Too)

This is a Buddhist teaching that I learned over twenty years ago. It has provided me, again and again, with greatly needed perspective to guide me toward my goal of a more accepting self.

The essence of this teaching is that all of life is in a constant state of change. Everything has a beginning and everything has an end. Every tree begins with a seed and will eventually transform back into the earth. Every rock is formed and every rock will vanish. In our modern world, this means that every car, every machine, every piece of clothing is created and all will wear out and crumble; it's only a matter of when. Our bodies are born and they will die. A glass is created and will eventually break.

There is peace to be found in this teaching. When you expect something to break, you're not surprised or disappointed when it does. Instead of becoming immobilized when something is destroyed, you feel grateful for the time you have had.

The easiest place to start is with the simple things, a glass of water, for example. Pull out your favorite drinking glass. Take a moment to look at and appreciate its beauty and all it does for you. Now, imagine that same glass as already broken, shattered all over the floor. Try to maintain the perspective that, in time, everything disintegrates and returns to its initial form.

Obviously, no one wants their favorite drinking glass, or anything else, to be broken. This philosophy is not a prescription for becoming passive or apathetic, but for making peace with the way things are. When your drinking glass does break, this philosophy allows you to maintain your perspective. Rather than thinking, "Oh my God," you'll find yourself thinking, "Ah, there it goes." Play with this awareness and you'll find yourself not only keeping your cool but appreciating life as never before.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

(52) Search for the Grain of Truth in Other Opinions

If you enjoy learning as well as making other people happy, you'll love this idea.

Almost everyone feels that their own opinions are good ones, otherwise they wouldn't be sharing them with you. One of the destructive things that many of us do, however, is compare someone else's opinion to our own. And, when it doesn't fall in line with our belief, we either dismiss it or find fault with it. We feel smug, the other person feels diminished, and we learn nothing.

Almost every opinion has some merit, especially if we are looking for merit, rather than looking for errors. The next time someone offers you an opinion, rather than judge or criticize it, see if you can find a grain of truth in what the person is saying.

If you think about it, when you judge someone else or their opinion, it really doesn't say anything about the other person, but it says quite a bit on your need to be judgmental.

I still catch myself criticizing other points of view, but far less than I used to. All that changed was my intention to find the grain of truth in other positions. If you practice this simple strategy, some wonderful things will begin to happen: You'll begin to understand those you interact with, others will be drawn to your accepting and loving energy, your learning curve will be enhanced, and, perhaps most important, you'll feel much better about yourself.

Monday, November 15, 2010

(51) Just for Fun, Agree with Criticism Directed Toward You (Then Watch It Go Away)

So often we are immobilized by the slightest criticism. We treat it like an emergency, and defend ourselves as if we were in a battle. In truth, however, criticism is nothing more than an observation by another person about us, our actions, or the way we think about something, that doesn't match the vision we have of ourselves. Big deal!

When we react to criticism with a knee-jerk, defensive response, it hurts. We feel attacked, and we have a need to defend or to offer a counter-criticism. We fill our minds with angry or hurtful thoughts directed at ourselves or at the person who is being critical. All this reaction takes an enormous amount of mental energy.

An incredibly useful exercise is to agree with criticism directed toward you. I'm not talking about turning into a doormat or ruining your self-esteem by believing all negativity that comes in your direction. I'm only suggesting that there are many times when simply agreeing with criticism defuses the situation, satisfies a person's need to express a point of view, offers you a chance to learn something about yourself by seeing a grain of truth in another position, and, perhaps the most important, provides you an opportunity to remain calm.

One of the first times I consciously agreed with criticism directed toward me was many years ago when my wife said to me, “Sometimes you talk too much.” I remember feeling momentarily hurt before deciding to agree. I responded by saying “You're right, I do talk too much sometimes.” I discovered something that changed my life. In agreeing with her, I was able to see that she had a good point. I often do talk too much! What's more, my non-defensive helped her to relax. A few minutes later she said, “You know, you're sure easy to talk to.” I doubt she would have said that had I become angry at her observation. I've since learned that reacting to criticism never makes the criticism go away. In fact, negative reactions to criticism often convince the person doing the criticizing that they are accurate in their assessment of you.

Give this strategy a try. I think you'll discover that agreeing with an occasional criticism has more value than it costs.

(50) Write Down Your Five Most Stubborn Positions and See if You Can Soften Them

The first time I tried this strategy, I was so stubborn that I insisted I wasn't stubborn! Over time, as I have worked toward becoming a gentler person, I have found it far easier to see where I'm being stubborn.

Here are a few examples from my clients: "People who aren't stressed are lazy." "My way is the only way." "Men aren't good listeners." "Children are too much work." "People in business don't care about anything except money." You can see that the list itself is potentially endless. The point here isn't the specifics of what you are stubborn about but rather the fact that you hold on so tightly to any given idea you might have.

It doesn't make you weak to soften your positions. In fact, it makes you stronger. I have a male client who was adamant, to the point of being obnoxious about it, that his wife spent too much money. As he relaxed a little, and noticed his own rigidity, he discovered something that he's now a little embarrassed about, but laughs at. He found out that, in reality, he spent more discretionary money on himself than his wife spent on herself! His objectivity had become muddled by his own rigid belief.

As he has become wiser and gentler, his marriage has improved immensely. Rather than resenting his wife for something she wasn't even doing, he now appreciates her restraint. She, in turn, feels his new acceptance and appreciation and loves him more than ever.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

(49) Resist the Urge to Criticize

When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.

If you attend a gathering and listen to all the criticism that is typically levied against others, and then go home and consider how much good all that criticism actually does to make our world a better place, you'll probably come up with the same answer I do: Zero! It does no good. But that's not all. Being critical not only solves nothing; it contributes to the anger and distrust in our world. After all, none of us likes to be criticized. Our reaction to criticism is usually to become defensive and/or withdrawn. A person who feels attacked is likely to do one of two things: he will either retreat in fear or shame, or he will attach or lash out in anger. How many times have you criticized someone and had them respond by saying, "Thank you so much for pointing out my flaws. I really appreciate it"?

Criticism, like swearing, is actually nothing more than a bad habit. It's something that we get used to doing; we're familiar with how it feels. It keeps us busy and gives us something to talk about.

If, however, you take a moment to observe how you actually feel immediately after you criticize someone, you'll notice that you will feel a little deflated and ashamed, almost like you're the one who has been attacked. The reason this is true is that when we criticize, it's a statement to the world and to ourselves, "I have a need to be critical." This isn't something we are actually proud to admit.

The solution is to catch yourself in the act of being critical. Notice how often you do it and how bad it makes you feel. What I like to do is to turn it into a game. I still catch myself being critical, but as my need to criticize arises, I try to remember to say to myself, "There I go again." Hopefully, more often than not, I can turn my criticism into tolerance and respect.

(48) Remember that Everything Has God's Fingerprints on It

Rabbi Harold Kushner reminds us that everything that God has created is potentially holy. Our task as humans is to find that holiness in what appear to be unholy situations. He suggests that when we can learn to do this, we will have learned to nurture our souls. It's easy to see God's beauty in a beautiful sunrise, a snow-capped mountain, the smile of a healthy child, or in ocean waves crashing on a sandy beach. But can we learn to find holiness in seemingly ugly circumstances - difficult life lessons, a family tragedy, or a struggle for life?

When our life is filled with the desire to see the holiness in everyday things, something magical begins to happen. A feeling of peace emerges. We begin to see the nurturing aspects of daily living that were previously hidden to us. When we remember that everything has God's fingerprint on it, that alone makes it special. If we remember this spiritual fact while we are dealing with a difficult person or struggling to pay our bills, it broadens our perspective. It helps us to remember that God also created the person you are dealing with or that, despite your struggle to pay your bills, you are truly blessed to have all that you do.

Somewhere, in the back of your mind, try to remember that everything has God's fingerprints on it. The fact that we can't see the beauty in something doesn't suggest that it's not there. Rather, it suggests that we are not looking carefully enough or with a broad enough perspective to see it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

(47) Argue for Your Limitations, and They're Yours

Many people spend a great deal of energy arguing for their own limitations. "I can't do that," "I can't help it, I've always been that way," "I'll never have a loving relationship," and thousands of other negative and self-defeating statements.

Our minds are powerful instruments. When we decide that something is true or beyond our reach, it's very difficult to pierce through this self-created hurdle. When we argue for our position, it's nearly impossible. Suppose, for example, you tell yourself, "I can't write." You'll look for examples to prove your position. You'll remember your poor essays in high school, or recall how awkward you felt the last time you sat down to write a letter. You'll fill your head with limitations that will frighten you from. In order to become a writer or anything else, the first step is to silence your greatest critic - you.

I had a client who told me, "I'll never have a good relationship. I always screw them up." Sure enough, she was right. Whenever she met someone, she would, without even knowing it, look for reasons for her new partner to leave her. If she were late for a date, she would tell him, "I'm always late." If they had a disagreement, she would say, "I'm always getting into arguments." Sooner or later, she would convince him that she wasn't worthy of his love. Then she would say to herself, "See, it happens every time. I'll never have a good relationship."

She had to learn to stop expecting things to go wrong. She needed to "catch herself" in the act of arguing for her own limitations. When she started to say, "I always do that," she needed to instead say, "That's ridiculous. I don't always do anything."She had to see that arguing for her limitations was just a negative habit that could easily be replaced with a more positive habit. Today, she's doing much better. When she reverts to her old habit, she usually laughs at herself.

I have learned that when I argue for my own limitations, very seldom do I disappoint myself. I suspect the same is true for you.

(46) Every Day, Tell At Least One Person Something You Like, Admire, or Appreciate about Them

How often do you remember (or take the time) to tell other people how much you like, admire, or appreciate them? For many people, it's often not enough. In fact, when I ask people how often they receive heartfelt compliments from others, I hear answers like, "I can't remember the last time I received a compliment," "Hardly ever," and sadly, "I never receive them."

There are several reasons why we don't vocally let others know our positive feelings toward them. I've heard excuses like, "They don't need to hear me say that - they already know," and "I do admire her, but I'm too embarrassed to say anything." But when you ask the would-be recipient if he or she enjoys being given genuine compliments and positive feedback, the answer nine times out of ten is, "I love it." Whether your reason for not giving compliments on a regular basis is not knowing what to say, embarrassment, feeling that other people already know their strengths and don't need to be told, or simply not being in the habit of doing it, it's time for a change.

Telling someone something that you like, admire, or appreciate about them is a "random act of kindness." It takes almost no effort (once you get used to it), yet it pays enormous dividends. Many people spend their entire lifetimes wishing that other people would acknowledge them. They feel this especially about their parents, spouses, children, and friends. But even compliments from strangers feel good if they are genuine. Letting someone know how you feel about them also feels good to the person offering the compliment. It's a gesture of loving-kindness. It means that your thoughts are geared in a positive direction, your feelings are peaceful.

The other day I was in the grocery store and witnessed an incredible display of patience. The checkout clerk had just been chewed by an angry customer, clearly without good cause. Rather than being reactive, the clerk defused the anger by remaining calm. When it was my turn to pay for my groceries I said to her, "I'm so impressed at the way you handled that customer." She looked me right in the eye and said, "Thank you, sir. Do you know you are the first person ever to give me a compliment in this store?" It took less than two seconds to let her know, yet it was a highlight of her day, and of mine.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

(45) Develop Your Own Helping Rituals

If you want your life to stand for peace and kindness, it's helpful to do kind, peaceful things. One of my favorite ways to do this is by developing my own helping rituals. These little acts of kindness are opportunities to be of service and reminders of how good it feels to be kind and helpful.

We live in a rural area of the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of what we see is beauty and nature. One of the exceptions to the beauty is the litter that some people throw out of their windows as they are driving on rural roads. One of the few drawbacks to living out in the boondocks is that public services, such as litter collection, are less available than they are closer to the city.

A helping ritual that I practice regularly with my two children is picking up litter in our surrounding area. We've become so accustomed to doing this that my daughters will often say to me in animated voices, "There's some litter, Daddy, stop the car!" And if we have time, we will often pull over and pick it up. It may seem strange, but we actually enjoy it. We pick up litter in parks, sidewalks, practically anywhere. Once I even saw a complete stranger picking up litter close to where we live. He smiled at me and said, "I saw you doing it, and it seemed like a good idea."

Picking up litter is only one of an endless supply of possible helping rituals. You might like holding the door open for people, visiting lonely elderly people in nursing homes, or shoveling snow off someone else's driveway. Think of something that seems effortless yet helpful. It's fun, personally rewarding, and sets a good example. Everyone wins.

(44) Understand Separate Realities

While we're on the subject of being interested in the way other people do things, let's take a moment to discuss separate realities.

If you have traveled to foreign countries or seen depictions of them in movies, you are aware of the vast differences among cultures. The principle of separate realities says that the differences among individuals is every bit as vast. Just as we wouldn't expect people of different cultures to see and do things as we would (in fact, we'd be disappointed if they did), this principle tells us that the individual differences in our ways of seeing the world prohibit this as well. It's not a matter of merely tolerating differences but of truly understanding and honoring the fact that it literally can't be any other way.

I have seen an understanding of this principle change lives. It can virtually eliminate quarrels. When we expect to see things differently, when we take it as a given that others will do things differently and react differently to the same stimuli, the compassion we have for ourselves and for others rises dramatically. The moment we expect otherwise, the potential for conflict exists.

I encourage you to explore deeply and respect the fact that we are all very different. When you do, the love you feel for others as well as the appreciation you have for your own uniqueness will increase.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nearer My God to Thee

1.Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!
E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

2.Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
yet in my dreams I'd be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

3.There let the way appear, steps unto heaven;
all that thou sendest me, in mercy given;
angels to beckon me
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

4.Then, with my waking thoughts bright with thy praise,
out of my stony griefs Bethel I'll raise;
so by my woes to be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

5.Or if, on joyful wing cleaving the sky,
sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

(43) Become an Anthropologist

Anthropology is a science dealing with man and his origins. In this strategy, however, I'll conveniently redefine anthropology as "being interested, without judgment, in the way other people choose to live and behave." This strategy is geared toward developing your compassion, as well as a way of becoming more patient. Beyond that, however, being interested in the way other people act is a way of replacing judgments with loving-kindness. When you are genuinely curious about the way someone reacts or the way they feel about something, it's unlikely that you will also be annoyed. In this way, becoming an anthropologist is a way of becoming less frustrated by the actions of others.

When someone acts in a way that seems strange to you, rather than reacting in your usual way, such as, "I can't believe they would do that," instead say something to yourself like, "I see, that must be the way she sees things in her world. Very interesting." In order for this strategy to help you, you have to be genuine. There's a fine line between being "interested" and being arrogant, as if secretly you believe that your way is better.

Recently I was at a local shopping mall with my six-year-old daughter. A group of punk rockers walked by with orange spiked hair and tattoos covering much of their bodies. My daughter immediately asked me, "Daddy, why are they dressed up like that? Are they in costumes?" Years ago I would have felt very judgmental and frustrated about these young people - as if their way was wrong and my more conservative way was right. I would have blurted out some judgmental explanation to my daughter and passed along to her my judgmental views. Pretending to be an anthropologist, however, has changed my perspective a great deal; it's made me softer. I said to my daughter, "I'm not really sure, but it's interesting how different we all are, isn't it?" She said, "Yeah, but I like my own hair." Rather than focusing on the behavior and continuing to give it energy, we both dropped it and continued to enjoy our time together.

When you are interested in other perspectives, it doesn't imply, even slightly, that you're advocating it. I certainly wouldn't choose a punk rock lifestyle or suggest it to anyone else. At the same time, however, it's not really my place to judge it either. One of the cardinal rules of joyful living is that judging others takes a great deal of energy, and, without exception, pulls you away from where you want to be.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

(42) Spend a Moment, Every Day, Thinking of Someone to Love

Earlier in this book I introduced the idea of spending a moment, each day, thinking of someone to thank. Another excellent source of gratitude and inner peace is to spend a moment, every day, thinking of someone to love. Remember the old saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away?" The love equivalent might read, "Thinking of someone to love each day keeps your resentment away."

I started consciously choosing to think of people to love when I realized how often I could get caught up in thinking about the opposite - people who irritate me. My mind would focus on negative or strange behavior, and within seconds I was filled with negativity. Once I made the conscious decision, however, to spend a moment each morning thinking of someone to love, my attention was redirected towards the positive, not only toward that one person, but in general throughout the day. I don't mean to suggest that I don't get irritated anymore, but without question it happens much less frequently than it used to. I credit this exercise with much of my improvement.

Every morning when I wake up, I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then I ask myself the question, "Who shall I send love to today?" Instantly, a picture of someone will pop into my mind - a family member, a friend, someone I work with, a neighbor, someone from my past, even a stranger I may have seen on the street. To me, it doesn't really matter who it is because the idea is to gear my mind toward love. Once the person to whom I'm directing the love is clear, I simply wish them a day filled with love. I might say to myself something like, "I hope you have a wonderful day filled with loving-kindness." When I finish, which is within seconds, I usually feel that my heart is ready to begin my day. In some mystical way that I can't explain, those few seconds stick with me for many hours. If you give this little exercise a try, I think that you'll find that your day is a little more peaceful.

Friday, November 5, 2010

(41) Avoid Weatherproofing

The idea of weatherproofing as it pertains to peaceful living is a metaphor to explain one of our most neurotic, ungrateful tendencies. It comes from a friend of mine, Dr. George Pransky.

Just as we can weatherproof a home for the winter by looking for cracks, leaks, and imperfections, we can also weatherproof our relationships, even our lives, by doing the very same thing. Essentially, weatherproofing means that you are on the careful lookout for what needs to be fixed or repaired. It's finding the cracks and flaws of life, and either trying to fix them, or at least point them out to others. Not only does this tendency alienate you from other people, it makes you feel bad too. It encourages you to think what's wrong with everything and everyone - what you don't like. So, rather than appreciating our relationships and our lives, weatherproofing encourages us to end up thinking that life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Nothing is ever good enough the way it is.

In our relationships, weatherproofing typically plays itself out like this: You meet someone and all is well. You are attracted to his or her appearance, personality, intellect, sense of humor, or some combination of these traits. Initially, you not only approve of your differences with this person, you actually appreciate them. You might even be attracted to the person, in part because of how different you are. You have different opinions, preferences, tastes, and priorities.

After a while, however, you begin to notice little quirks about your new partner (or friend, teacher, whoever), that you feel could be improved upon. You bring it to their attention. You might say, "You know, you sure have a tendency to be late." Or, "I've noticed you don't read very much." The point is, you've begun what inevitably turns into a way of life - looking for and thinking about what you don't like about someone, or something that isn't quite right.

Obviously, an occasional comment, constructive criticism, or helpful guidance isn't the cause for alarm. I have to say, however, that in the course of working with hundreds of couples over the years, I've met very few people who didn't feel that they were weatherproofed at times by their partner. Occasionally harmless comments have an insidious tendency to become a way of looking at life.

When you are weatherproofing another human being, it says nothing about them - but it does define you as someone who needs to be critical.

Whether you have a tendency to weatherproof your relationships, certain aspects of your life, or both, what you need to do is write off weatherproofing as a bad idea. As the habit creeps into your thinking, catch yourself and seal your lips. The less often you weatherproof your partner or your friends, the more you'll notice how super your life really is.

(40) When in Doubt about Whose Turn It Is to Take Out the Trash, Go Ahead and Take It Out

If we're not careful, it's easy to become resentful about all the responsibilities of daily living. Once, in a very low mood, I figured out that on an average day, I do over 1,000 different things. Of course, when I'm in a better mood, that number is significantly lower.

As I think about it, it's astounding to me how easy it is for me to remember all the chores that I do, as well as all the other responsibilities that I take care of. But, at the same time, it's easy for me to forget all the things that my wife does on a daily basis. How convenient!

It's really difficult to become a contented person if you're keeping score of all you do. Keeping track only discourages you by cluttering your mind with who's doing what, who's doing more, and so forth. If you want to know the truth about it, this is the epitome of "small stuff." It will bring you far more joy to your life to know that you have done your part and someone else in your family has one less thing to do, than it will to worry and fret over whose turn it is to take out the trash.

The strongest argument against this strategy is the concern that you'll be taken advantage of. This mistake is similar to believing it's important that you're right. Most of the time it's not important that you're right, and neither is it important if you take trash out a few more times than your spouse or housemate. Making things like garbage less relevant in your life will undoubtedly free up more time and energy for truly important things.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

(39) Practice Humility

Humility and inner peace go hand in hand. The less compelled you are to try to prove yourself to others, the easier it is to feel peaceful inside.

Proving yourself is a dangerous trap. It takes an enormous amount of energy to be continually pointing out your accomplishments, bragging, or trying to convince others of your worth as a human being. Bragging actually dilutes the positive feelings you receive from an accomplishment or something you are proud of. To make matters worse, the more you try to prove yourself, the more others will avoid you, talk behind your back about your insecure need to brag, and perhaps even resent you.

Ironically, however, the less you care about seeking approval, the more approval you seem to get. People are drawn to those with a quiet, inner confidence, people who don't need to make themselves look good, be "right" all the time, or steal the glory. Most people love a person who doesn't need to brag, a person who shares from his or her heart and not from his or her ego.

The way to develop genuine humility is to practice. It's nice because you will get immediate inner feedback in the way of calm, easy feelings. The next time you have an opportunity to brag, resist the temptation. I discussed this strategy with a client, and he shared the following story: He was with a group of friends a few days after he had been promoted at work. His friends didn't know it yet, but my client was chosen to be promoted instead of another friend of theirs. He was a little competitive with this person, and had the very strong temptation to sneak in the fact that he had been chosen and their other friend wasn't. He felt himself about ready to say something, when a little voice inside him said, "Stop! Don't do it!" He went ahead and shared with his friends, but didn't cross the line and turn the sharing into gloating. He never mentioned how their other friend didn't get promoted. He told me he couldn't remember ever feeling so calm and proud of himself. Later, when his friends did find out what had happened, they let him know that they were extremely impressed with his good judgment and humility. He received more positive feedback and attention from practicing humility - not less.

(38) Tell Three People (Today) How Much You Love Them

Author Stephen Levine asks the question, "If you had an hour to live and could make only phone call - who would you call, what would you say, and why are you waiting?" What a powerful message!

Who knows what we are waiting for? Perhaps we want to believe we will live forever, or that "someday" we will get around to telling the people we love how much we love them. Whatever the reasons, most of us simply wait too long.

As fate would have it, I'm writing this strategy on my grandmother's birthday. Later today, my father and I are driving out to visit her grave site. She died about two years ago. Before she passed away, it became obvious how important it was to her to let her family know how much she loved us all. It was a good reminder that there is no good reason to wait. Now is the time to let people know how much you care.

Ideally, you can tell someone in person, or over the phone. I wonder how many people have been on the receiving end of a phone call where the caller says, "I just called to tell you how much I love you!" You may be surprised that almost nothing in the world means so much to a person. How would you like to receive the same message?

If you're too shy to make such a phone call, write a heartfelt letter instead. Either way, you may find that as you get used to it, letting people know how much you love them will become a regular part of your life. It probably won't shock you to know that, if it does, you'll probably begin receiving more love as a result.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

(37) Choose Being Kind over Being Right

As I first introduced in strategy number 12, you are given many opportunities to choose between being kind, and being right. You have chances to point out to someone their mistakes, things they could or should have done differently, ways they can improve. You have chances to "correct" people, privately as well as in front of others. What all these opportunities amount to are chances to make someone else feel bad, and yourself feel bad in the process.

Without getting too psychoanalytical about it, the reason we are tempted to put others down, correct them, or show them how we're right and they're wrong is that our ego mistakenly believes that if we point out how someone else is wrong, we must be right, and therefore we will feel better.

In actuality, however, if you pay attention to the way you feel after you put someone down, you'll notice that you feel worse than before the put-down. Your heart, the compassionate part of you, knows that it's impossible to feel better at the expense of someone else.

Luckily, the opposite is true - when your goal is to build people up, to make them feel better, to share in their joy, you too reap the rewards of their positive feelings. The next time you have the chance to correct someone, even if their facts are a little off, resist the temptation. Instead, ask yourself, "What do I really want out of this interaction?" Chances are, what you want is a peaceful interaction where all parties leave feeling good. Each time you resist "being right," and instead choose kindness, you'll notice a peaceful feeling within.

Recently my wife and I were discussing a business idea that had turned out really well. I was talking about "my" idea, clearly taking credit for our success! Kris, in her usual loving manner, allowed me to have the glory. Later that day, I remembered that the idea was actually her idea, not mine. Whoops! When I called her to apologize, it was obvious to me that she cared more for my joy than she did her own need to take credit. She said that she enjoys seeing me happy and that it doesn't matter whose idea it was. (Do you see why she's so easy to love?)

Don't confuse this strategy with being a wimp, or not standing up for what you believe in. I'm not suggesting that it's not okay for you to be right - only that if you insist on being right, there is often a price to pay - your inner peace. In order to be a person filled with equanimity, you must choose kindness over being right, most of the time. The best place to start is with the next person you speak to.

(36) See the Innocence

For many people, one of the most frustrating aspects of life is not being able to understand other people's behavior. We see them as "guilty" instead of "innocent." It's tempting to focus on people's seemingly irrational behavior - their comments, actions, mean-spirited acts, selfish behavior - and get extremely frustrated. If we focus on behavior too much, it can seem like other people are making us miserable.

But as I once heard Wayne Dyer sarcastically suggest in a lecture, "Round up all the people who are making you miserable and bring them to me. I will treat them [as a counselor], and you'll get better!" Obviously, this is absurd. It's true that other people do weird things (who doesn't?), but we are the ones getting upset, so we are the ones who need to change. I'm not talking about accepting, ignoring, or advocating violence or any other deviant behavior. I'm merely talking about learning to be less bothered by the actions of people.

Seeing the innocence is a powerful tool for transformation that means when someone is acting in a way that we don't like, the best strategy for dealing with that person is to distance oneself from the behavior, to "look beyond it," so that we can see the innocence in where the behavior is coming from. Very often, this slight shift in our thinking immediately puts into a state of compassion.

Occasionally, I work with people who are pressuring me to hurry up. Often, their technique for getting me to hurry along is obnoxious, even insulting. If I focus on the words they use, the tone of their voices, and the urgency of their messages, I can get annoyed, even angry in my responses. I see them as "guilty." However, if I remember the urgency I feel when I'm in a hurry to do something, it allows me to see the innocence in their behavior. Underneath even the most annoying behavior is a frustrated person who is crying out for compassion.

The next time (and hopefully from now on), when someone acts in a strange way, look for the innocence in his behavior. If you're compassionate, it won't be hard to see. When you see the innocence, the same things that have always frustrated you no longer do. And when you're not frustrated by the actions of others, it's a lot easier to stay focused on the beauty of life.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

(35) Look Beyond Behavior

I dedicate this post to John Yoon, an amazing mentor, and more importantly, an amazing friend. =)


Have you ever heard yourself, or someone else say: "Don't mind John, he didn't know what he was doing?" If so, you have been exposed to the wisdom of "looking beyond behavior." If you have children, you know very well the importance of this simple act of forgiveness. If we all base our love on our children's behavior, it would often be difficult to love them at all. If love were based purely on behavior, then perhaps none of us would ever have been loved as a teenager!

Wouldn't it be nice if we could try to extend this same loving-kindness toward everyone we meet? Wouldn't we live in a more loving world if, when someone acted in a way that we didn't approve of, we could see their actions in a similar light as our teenagers' offbeat behavior?

This doesn't mean that we walk around with our heads in the sand, pretending that everything is always wonderful, allow others to "walk all over us," or that we excuse or approve of negative behavior. Instead, it simply means having the perspective to give others the benefit of the doubt. Know that when the postal clerk is moving slowly, he is probably having a bad day, or perhaps all of his days are bad. When your spouse or close friend snaps at you, try to understand that, beneath this isolated act, your loved one really wants to love you, and to feel loved by you. Looking beyond behavior is easier than you might think. Try it today, and you'll see and feel some nice results.