Several years ago right before Christmas, I received a call from a Senior Editor at O the Oprah Magazine. Initially, I didn’t pay much attention. I was in the middle of slicing tomatoes with a friend of my daughter’s who was practicing her sales pitch for Cutco Knives. Plus, I thought the caller said she was from Elle Magazine, not O.
I gave the editor my email and didn’t think much about the call. The next day she emailed me to schedule an interview about my research on body image and self-compassion in women. Staring at her signature, I took it all in. I was going to be featured in O the Oprah Magazine. This break could take my career to a whole new level.
After half a dozen interviews, it was time to wait until the story came out in April. To prepare I worked feverishly on creating a new website to capture traffic that would be generated by the article. It was a crazy, busy time that also included attending the first Self-compassion Teacher training class.
As April approached I visited the newsstand daily waiting for the magazine to hit. Finally there it was with Oprah on the cover dressed in a royal blue pullover and brightly patterned skirt perched on one food in killer yellow and black high heals, smiling and looking confident, yet casual.
Heart beating hard, I grabbed a copy and franticly leafed through. I couldn’t find the article about my work, so I checked the table of contents and searched again and again. IT WASN’T THERE!
Crushed, devastated, disappointed… I didn’t know how to deal. All of the self-compassion skills I had learned at the teacher training eluded me.
Depression arrived and stayed for weeks. The sense of failure, although I actually hadn’t done anything wrong, was familiar and overwhelming. I gave into the inky blackness and drowned in negativity.
Fortunately, life called. There were kids, a spouse, a house and a dog to care for. I had friends and clients to talk with and support. Plus Vermont was defrosting. The earth was waking up, waking me up to how beautiful life is.
Sure, my ego got blind sided, but in the scheme of things my Oprah blow wasn’t a big deal. Like most difficulties in life the set back helped me grow and become more resilient. Here’s some of what I learned about how to bounce back.
When you’re hit with adversity stop judging and labeling things as good or bad. This will decrease your suffering and starve the ruminating part of your brain that wants to chew over the experience.
Of course this is easier said than done because judging is a natural, well-worn, ingrained response. Your brain likes to put things into neat black and white categories: This person is good; that person is bad. I like chocolate; I dislike spinach. I hate winter; I love summer. The key here is to notice the stories you tell yourself and let things be the way they are.
Detaching from the need to judge is liberating. As Rumi beautifully notes:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
However, it’s important to note the difference between being judgmental and judicious. While being judgmental – holding on to how you want or like things to be – causes suffering, being judicious – being sensible and wise – can help you navigate life. How do you tell the difference? Judgment typically has a queasy quality of insult to it. In contrast, being judicious is constructive and helps you discern what you want.
Enjoy the trip
We live in a results driven society fueled by metrics – weight lost, money earned, leads generated… This can make you feel like you are stuck on an endless treadmill working tirelessly, never reaching your ultimate destination: Happiness.
While there is nothing wrong with setting goals, once you set them forget them. Focus on the process rather than the outcome. For example, if you want to reach your ideal weight focus on healthy habits, not “weight loss.” If you want to create a customer oriented business focus on service not the number of clients you close each week.
Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be, what you think your life should look like and where you believe you need to go. Open up to possibilities. Enjoy your life right now, and choose to be happy today.
I’ve lived both ways – goal and process orientated – and the former can drive you bonkers. When you don’t hit the numbers out comes the nasty self-critic to makes you feel like a complete loser. In contrast, when you tell yourself, “I am enough,” do your best and enjoy your life whether or not you succeed doesn’t matter. You’re playing the game of life and everyone is a winner.
If you want to boost happiness, increase self-worth, improve body image, reduce stress AND build resilience be compassionate toward yourself. Treat yourself in a caring, understanding loving way especially when faced with adversity.
As Kristin Neff explains: If individuals are self-compassionate when confronting suffering, inadequacy or failure, it means that they offer themselves warmth and non-judgmental understanding rather than belittling their pain or berating themselves with self-criticism.”
What’s powerful is that self-compassion is like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. Offer yourself a kind word and you will improve your day. Repeat again and again and you will transform your life and how you feel about yourself.
Do you ever notice that you tend to focus more energy on the 2 or 3 things that aren’t working rather than the dozens of things that are? It’s neuroscience. To protect you from danger your brain is hardwired to look for what’s wrong rather than what’s right.
The most powerful way to upset this balance is to be grateful. Rather than spending your energy worrying and looking at what’s not working think about how fortunate you are. If you are reading this you have an Internet connection and probably have enough to eat and a secure place to live. You are lucky. According to the Food Aid Foundation 795 million people on the planet do not have enough food – that’s 1 in 9!
See the Universe as Friendly
Einstein said: The most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’
He went on to explain, “if we see the Universe as unfriendly we will focus on achieving safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly… But if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe.
How you see the world shapes your reality and actions. View the world as unfriendly and you will channel negative energy and your actions will reflect your reality. In contrast, believe the universe is friendly and even when difficulties arise you will take the challenge in stride, grow from the experience and use it to help others.
So the next time you are stunned by difficulties reframe your situation. See the good in everything and turn the lemons in your life into a margarita.
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