Whether trying to break the hold of an old habit, launch a new routine or rebound from a dead relationship or job loss—making a clean start can be a difficult, but freeing, experience. Maybe you want to limit drinking to the weekends, implement an exercise routine, or clear your mind from obsessing over your past relationship so you can focus on the now. Here are seven tips to break free of the loop of thoughts and habits trapping you in misery and dysfunction.
- Stop beating yourself up about past mistakes. Keep the lesson, but ditch the paralyzing regret and guilt. End the rotation of negative thoughts and self-defeating criticisms. Reverse the what- ifs and should-haves. We don’t get do-overs in Life, but we can start being the person we wish we had been. Today: Seize the opportunity to start responding to the events occurring now in a way that feels authentic and makes you feel good about what you stand for. Why waste that opportunity by obsessing over missed chances that are long gone? In the now we are free to be the best version of who we are capable of being and that is empowering. Punishing ourselves over past actions we no longer have control over robs us of our personal power, motivation, confidence and hope.
- Clear out the clutter. Physical clutter also clouds our focus and attention. Letting go of clothes and appliances we don’t use, clearing out old files and shredding unneeded paperwork helps us to also let go of past worries and discouraging thoughts that take up precious space in our minds. When you clean out your physical space there is less to mentally and emotionally distract you. Instead of feeling emotionally claustrophobic, boxed in by old apprehensions and fears, you feel set free with room to move and breathe.Want to amplify the good vibes you’re feeling? Give the stuff you’ve been hoarding to a local shelter or non-profit that accepts donations. You will top off the feeling of clarity and freedom with the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that items that no longer service you are being put to productive use for someone to whom it will make a big impact. Your old coat might save an elderly man from a winter of being chilled to the bone or an old pair of sneakers could allow a homeless teenager the chance to participate in his high school gym class.
- Leave the past in the past. Be aware of this moment, since it is the only one that really exists. You can’t go back into the past or flash forward to the future; you can only live this exact moment. So do it. Visualize the disappointment that has you trapped in a time that no longer exists as a lesson that is building you into a stronger man, not as a failure that has broken you down. Change your perception so instead of seeing a tragic end you are envisioning a thrilling new beginning.
- Do one thing at a time. The desire to transform our body, our health, our career, or our relationships can be so compelling that we try and overhaul all our outdated habits at once. It took a while to get into the routines you have now, it’s going to take some time and effort to break free of them. Just as the caterpillar has to build a cocoon and then do his time before he comes out a moth, there’s no short cuts.Start with one thing at a time; as you witness a small change in your life your confidence will grow. You will feel empowered as you exert your will over your mind and body. Then add another, then a bigger change, a more daunting challenge. If your goal is to lose weight and get more fit, start by switching out sodas for drinking water for a week or so. Once you got that handled, then add a weekly exercise. A month in, you got this, so kick up the work outs to 3 times a week. Two months later, you’re ready to cut fast food to twice a week, tops. Slow and steady wins with creating change because you won’t stick to something long-term if it’s too extreme and difficult out of the gate. You’ll get discouraged and give up. But you can focus when you’re only doing one thing at a time; you can build discipline and confidence in your ability—that is how a set of changes gets converted into a new lifestyle.
- Forgive yourself and others. I know what you’re thinking, but the first thing to realize is: Forgiveness isn’t being weak or letting anyone “get away” with treating you badly or doing you dirty. That’s because forgiveness isn’t even about them, it’s about you. Forgiveness is your gift to yourself, it’s setting yourself free. And just like you needed to cut the cord with forgiveness so you could fly away from those that hurt you and betrayed your trust, you need to unlock the iron shackles you put on your own wrists and ankles. Forgiving yourself is sometimes tougher than forgiving other people, but you won’t get very far into a fresh start in chains.
- Set yourself up for success. We have all heard the saying, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”. Turns out people keep repeating this glittery gem of wisdom because it’s true. Let’s revisit our healthy lifestyle example. You’re trying to look more fit and cut down on your chances of being wheelchair ridden in your old age. You want to have more energy and not grip your chest and feel like your heart is going to burst when you make a sprint from the parking lot to the office door because you’re running late.How do you lob that perfect ball so you can knock it out of the park? Stock your kitchen with healthy foods. When your stomach starts to rumble you’re going to hit the fridge and eat what’s there, so fill it with easy to make, healthy ingredients and you’re half way to eating better. Take your lunch to work. So you’ll feel like you’re a pimply faced, hormone driven, Calculus despising teen again? The important thing is that when you have a healthy, already prepped option waiting for you to grab you’ll find it a thousand times easier to pass on the group grabbing tacos or burgers.
- Replace an old habit with a new one. It can be easier to surrender an old pattern if you put something in its place to fill the void. Let’s say you want to cut down on your alcohol consumption so you decide to give up drinking during the week. It could be helpful to replace that beer you usually kick back with as you watch the news with a tasty chocolate banana smoothie. Stick a banana, some chocolate-flavored protein powder or raw cacao power, maybe a spoon full of peanut butter, and there you have it, a tasty treat to sip on that will give you something to hold in your hand and put to put to your lips so you psychologically miss the beer less. Not feeling the choco-banana-peanut butter shake? Replace with something that tickles your taste buds, coconut pineapple (coconut water, fresh pineapple chunks and vanilla protein powder) or whatever pampers your palette.Anyone who says change is easy is lying or delusional. But when remaining trapped in the same demoralizing rut is more painful than doing something about it, you will be ready to do the work. And once you start you will hit little victories that will pump you with motivation, pride, confidence, all types of positive feelings you haven’t felt about yourself and your life for a long time. Then you’ll catch a wave where more days are good than bad. And you’ll ride that wave right into a more empowered and fulfilling life. Hang ten.
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Are you a thrill seeker? Do you love a good challenge, one that gets your blood pumping and makes you feel alive? Perhaps you read my article Tall Enough to Ride and you saw yourself in the front car of every roller coaster. You’re the guy who loves the rush and as soon as the thrill is over, you want to queue up again. Even if you are more middle-car material, you still enjoy the thrill of the ride. Regardless of where you choose to sit, the ride is composed of the same elements, initial ascent, pause, drop and a series of twists and turns and gut wrenching drops before you safely disembark.
We’ve all heard life itself referred to as a roller coaster, as if we were strapped in with no choice of getting off until we croak. But what if you decided to change your perspective on that analogy? What if you chose to take your life on a roller coaster ride? No matter where you sat on your last ride, do you recall the moment when you were at the peak? Just before the earth gave way, do you remember what that felt like? Do you remember that change in altitude, the view that took your breath away, the sights you had not been able to see otherwise? Would you like to draw from the thrill? Would you like to set aside the nausea and fear and consider instead the sense of accomplishment you felt as the car pulled back into the bay. What if, by choosing to take your life on a ride, you were able to grab life by the balls?
You’ve just been through a divorce. One hell of a roller coaster ride no matter how you slice it. And you survived right? Maybe you didn’t see your divorce coming. Then again, maybe you initiated it. In any case, you survived it and living through that experience had an effect on you. You had a change in perspective, you see the world differently now. You can’t unsee that, but you can learn from it. And you can take what you learned and apply that to your next adventure. Are you ready to go again?
I don’t know you personally and I don’t have to in order to say, with a certain degree of accuracy, that your most recent adventure wasn’t on purpose. Regardless of whether or not you initiated your divorce, you didn’t set out to have your marriage crash and burn. You meant ‘til death do us part’ when you said it. But it didn’t work out that way and you made it out the other side. Your car pulled back in the bay and you’re a little windswept from the ride.
Now that you understand how resilient you can be for life events you didn’t plan, imagine your fortitude for life events you actually choose. What big adventure have you been putting off? What trip did you always want to take but couldn’t before? What business idea did you have that you no longer requires spousal approval? What dream has been on your mind that you can now put into action?
Know that whatever you plan on doing, when you decide to grab life by the balls, you now have a better idea what to expect. You will feel apprehensive. You will wonder if you’re doing the right thing. You will panic and likely wish you could abort the mission. You will feel that same sensation as you did when the rollercoaster reached it’s first crest; the air will change and you will be rewarded with a view you’ve never had the chance to admire before.
Maybe you’ll have more than a moment to admire the view. Maybe you could build a house there. A new business. A new life. When you grab life by the balls, you can choose these things. Yes, the ground may fall away from you at times. But you know you can handle it. There will be twists and turns, but you’ll survive that too.
Before you start throwing up your hands in protest, ask yourself this, “Why not now? you have no more excuses, or reasons not to. Every objection that you may be throwing in your own path is simply an obstacle to overcome, a challenge to supercede. None of which you can’t handle, given your track record. You can change everything. Because you can. You survived the rollercoaster last time. You’ll survive it again. Someday is now. Go ahead, get a nice firm grip and grab your life by the balls.
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Now that you’ve mastered Step One of the Dating Two Step, let’s set that aside for a moment and focus on Step Two. As mentioned in Step One, one of the finer points of your delivery, which is going to seem counterintuitive, is going to be your ability to be quiet. Not only quiet, but an active listener.
In Step One, you spent hours talking to your friends, getting comfortable telling 2 or 3 short stories about yourself and quite possibly walking around the house rehearsing. Step Two may leave you wondering why I had you jump through all those hoops in the first place as what I’m about to tell you will seem counterintuitive. In Step One you put together your stories in order to feel confident and to be able to draw from them when the time feels right. The overall success of your date, however, will not rely on your reserve of gripping tales.
When a woman decides she likes you, which she may for 1000 other reasons you may never be privy to, she will not disqualify you on the basis of your delivery. Even if your stories suck rocks, the success of your dating two step is going to depend in large part on your ability to listen. To her. In real time. Before you wave a dismissive hand in my general direction, bear in mind that listening is an art form. Listening is often aspired to, yet rarely achieved. Step Two then, is how to listen to learn. Master this and you are so in, my friend. So. In.
Consider that there is a story, in everything. You just have to know what questions to ask. An average listener will listen to what a woman is saying. An active listener will listen to what she isn’t saying. The best stories are those in which the listener has a true interest. The best speeches given are the ones in which the speaker feels passionately. The best books written are those into which the author poured their heart and soul. How does this happen? They find what speaks to them, and they ride that like a rapid.
These stories can be thrilling, terrifying, calm, scenic or combination of a crescendo of a build if nature allows it. Become an active listener by finding something in what she tells you. Pick up the thread. Actively listen to what she isn’t saying. Start with a broad subject and narrow your focus until you find something she is passionate about as well. Often this will require two or three deeper questions before she understands that you are trying to get to the heart of the matter. The heart of her.
Watch her body language as she speaks. When she talks about a college trip, do her eyes drift away as she loses herself in thought? What is she looking at, so far away? What questions can you ask that will artfully, tastefully allow her to share her view with you? What do you really want to know? Pretend you’re back on the road map of life, only this time it’s hers and not the trainwreck of your divorce. What questions can you ask that will help walk her through it? What questions could you ask that would show you the world in her eyes?
What questions could you ask that would help her remember her favorite dish the day she was in Paris? Or what happened the day she missed her flight in Topeka? Help her get there. But watch her signals, watch for her street signs, her emergency personnel may be waving their road flares asking you to keep it moving as well. Is she looking at you with wonder as if to say “wow I’ve never told anyone this before?” or is she looking at you with a pleading look in her eye as if you to say “if you don’t change the subject, I’ll change tables”.
Read her signs, she’ll tell you. Adjust as necessary. Ease in, toes first, then ankles. This is, after all, the art of listening. Not the art of the cannonball. Why did I tell you to have your stories at the ready if all you’re going to do is listen? Simple. You’re not. This is a one-two step, back and forth. A skilled, active listener understands when it is time to offer of himself. After all, your goal is another date. Your goal is to leave her feeling a certain way. A wonderful recipe of feeling listened to, understood, like she matters. Frosted with entertained. Sprinkled with amused and lightly dusted with a gentle touch of the hand, maybe a kiss at the end. The cherry on top will be another date. More time spent with this woman. More of the same. Connection. Understanding.
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When you write a book, what do they tell you? Consider your audience, no? When you write a speech, what do you they tell you? Consider your audience, no? Well, dating is no different, friends.
For conversation’s sake, let’s assume you were married for at least two years, engaged for one year and dating She Who Would Become Your Wife for at least another year. For conversation’s sake, at the bare minimum, we are going to assume that you have not been on a date for at least four years, 1,460 days or 28 dog years, whichever metric you prefer. For many of you, that estimation is on the low end. For those of you whose number is a bit higher, stay with me as what I’m about to share is just as applicable for you. As my grandmother used to say, there is no expiration date on good advice.
If you are newly divorced, your inclination may be to want to discuss your situation. After all, you’ve just been through a life changing experience. Depending on the severity and circumstances, the violent overthrow of a small government may pale in comparison. I call this the train-wreck syndrome. You just passed an accident, time slows as you pass, gory details stand out. You have the natural inclination to want to discuss what you just witnessed as it is still fresh in your mind. It may still very visible, either in your peripheral or in the rear view mirror.
While you may still be swimming in a sea of emotion that you feel the need to share and discuss in great detail, bear this in mind: those of us who were not witness to the scene would rather not hear the gory details. In politeness, and because we know you need to talk about it, we may smile and listen. On the inside, however, we are cringing. On the inside, we are the emergency personnel on scene urging along the rubberneckers trying to keep traffic moving. Please. Keep it moving.
On the map of life experience, your divorce may very well be that accident, or just the town you most recently drove through. In any case, it is fresh in your mind and therefore the easiest thing to reach for in your conversational grab bag of tricks. Kindly bear in mind that easy does not equal interesting. Not to your audience anyway. The good news is that with a bit of foresight, you can cue up a few other tales that will make a date much more enjoyable for all involved. You are an intriguing guy after all. You have stories which will amuse, entertain and even awe. Decide how you want your audience left and give some thought to the personal stories you can share that will achieve just that.
If you are feeling as though you have zero inventory from which to pull, phone a friend. Phone three if you must. The stories are there, even if you can’t see them. No need to feel overwhelmed. A date is not and should not feel like the Spanish Inquisition. It can and should flow. It can and should be effortless. But authors and speakers have achieved that level of flow on purpose and not by accident. It looks easy because the author and speaker were prepared. While I’m not suggesting you set up a video camera and film and critique your own delivery, I am suggesting that you consider sitting down and rehearsing with a friend a couple of times. Fight through the dorky awkwardness of speaking to yourself in the mirror and get to the point where the story flows. Watch your face. Watch your delivery. Remember, you’re after the key points, not the memorization of the details. Remember, you’re not looking for an award winning performance, you’re looking for flow. You’re looking to leave her exactly how you intended. Entertained. Amused. Happy. With a piece of you she didn’t have before. You’re laying out breadcrumbs, not going after a golden statue for your delivery. You’re going after the next date. You’re going after being comfortable in your own skin again. You’re going after being the great guy you’ve always been, you just need her to understand that. Little by little.
One of the finer points of your delivery, which is going to seem counterintuitive, is going to be your ability to be quiet. Not only quiet, but an active listener. Doing the Two Step to easing back into dating. Without using your left foot.
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Do the following scenarios quicken your breath, increase your heart rate and send an electrifying mix of adrenaline and cortisol surging through your veins?
- Your divorce attorney calls to say he’s received additional interrogatories from your ex’s attorney
- Late to work and hitting every red light, and on the one day you have that important meeting at 8 a.m.
- Slammed at work trying to meet a crucial deadline and everyone picks today to have a crisis that only you can help with.
- Have no idea how you made it through the work day, jaw is clenched, muscles tight, you want nothing more than to kick off your shoes and turn on the tube and your ex calls, saying she needs you to pick up the kids because she can’t.
Welcome to the modern world.
The fight or flight response triggered by stress can wear down our bodies and psyches after a while. Hypertension, high blood pressure, depression, lowered immunity, and anxiety disorders are some of the effects stress produces to ravage our wellness.
There is no way to avoid stress, short of escaping to an isolated mountaintop, spending the day fluctuating between meditation, prayer and yoga poses. But it is essential for our mental and physical health that we know how to relax when we’re in the crushing grip of stress –how to reset our point of view to a calmer, positive place.
Stress doesn’t have to win. When we feel its effects coming on—increased agitation, muscles tightening, blood pressure rising—we can initiate a counter response. We can find ways to undo the effects of daily stresses, and refresh our minds and bodies so we are better equipped to handle whatever chaos life throws our way with diplomacy, composure and maybe even a little humor.
- Breathe through it. Breathing deeply counteracts rising blood pressure by bringing the heart rate down. If next time you start to feel angry, anxious, or worn out you stop, focus on your breathe—inhaling and exhaling deeply and methodically— you will feel a sense of calm wash over you. Even that co-worker that hits every button connected to your last nerve will be powerless when you switch focus from your frustration to the sound and feel of air entering and exiting your diaphragm. Sit up straight, close your eyes and inhale slowly, deeply through your nose, feeling the breath start in your abdomen and travel up to the top of your head. Now feel and listen to your breath as it pushes out all the way down, until your diaphragm is empty. Repeat for a few minutes until you feel comfortable and at ease.
- Refresh with Mediation. A practical 3 minute breathing meditation can take the breathing technique to a higher level of relaxation. Meditation doubles the impact of breathing alone. The power of mediation is that it lets you recognize your negative thought patterns and release them, letting them dissolve and float away. The emotions and judgments that would usually attach themselves to these thoughts and take over your mind, mood and actions are separated from any control over you.If you can, lock your office door or escape to your car for a quick refresh. Sit up with your eyes closed and begin the breathing exercise, being aware and in the moment as each breath flows in and out of the body. As thoughts enter your mind, do not judge or react. Let them simply float right back out, the same way they drifted in. Do not take any thoughts personally; detach from any feeling about any thought that enters your mind during this time. Acknowledge the thought and send it on its way as you come back to your breath. You will probably notice your mind continually runs away with a train of thought— that is fine, remember, this is a break from any judgments. Just bring your attention back to your breath as soon as you are aware you’ve drifted into a string of thoughts. This is natural; it means you are meditating correctly. If it helps, you can repeat a positive affirmation, or mantra, to come back to every time your mind wanders. As you breathe out repeat to yourself: I breathe out worry and stress and as you breathe it repeat something like: I breathe in calm and love or I breathe in peace and abundance.Minds oscillate between thoughts, creating a jumbled sequence of endless chatter. So again, when you become aware that your mind has roamed, just gently, effortlessly, guide it back to full awareness of your breath. Why does this help? Mediation has been proven to decrease everything from depression to irritability, and of course, stress and anxiety. It works because it leads you to the life changing, empowering realization that thoughts and feelings are temporary. They are non-stop, they come and go, but you are detached from them and have the choice whether to react or to simply let them be.Just as you don’t have to engage with the thoughts and feelings of your own mind, you are free to react anyway you choose to the moods and behaviors of others. They can push your buttons if you give them permission, or you can disconnect the cord that attaches those buttons to your emotions and reactions. You can literally unplug from the stresses of life. With practice, when negative thoughts arise, they will dissolve away again much more easily, making you less erratic and reactionary and more Zen and accepting.
- Cultivate Mindfulness. Mindfulness realizes that we go through unpleasant, uncomfortable, and even painful experiences but instead of running away from this truth, it embraces it with acceptance. It acknowledges the inevitable so it can distinguish between two types of suffering: primary and secondary.Primary suffering is the inciting stressor, whether it’s your boss taking credit for a project when you did the work or your car suddenly needing a thousand dollars in repairs right at Christmas time. You can face the problem directly and admit that the situation sucks or is unjust. Secondary suffering is the raw emotion, fighting, anxiety and stress that flow from the original incident. You may feel angry and frustrated or overwhelmed and defeated, or a jumbled series of many emotions. But the key is that if you see these clearly, just as you did in meditation with your thoughts, it’s possible to allow the feelings of sadness, frustration or anger to exist without trying to make them go away. You don’t have to escape from initial suffering, but to avoid secondary suffering you have to realize that adding negative emotions to your situation is not going to help. Use that energy that you would normally use to scream, meltdown or freak-out to brainstorm solutions or to find the nugget of humor in the absurdity that is the human condition.
- Foster an Attitude of Gratitude. Mindset is one of the biggest indicators of happiness. The more you see what is good in your life, the less you will obsess over the unexpected challenges and disappointments that rear their nasty heads every now and then. When you consistently recognize the things that you are grateful for in life it turns on a switch that illuminates the value in the world and your own life more clearly. On the flip side of the pancake, the less you count your blessings the more obscured the wonderful things will be; you will pass them by because your eyes will be fixated on what could’ve been, should’ve been or how things are better for someone else than for you. And as you might expect, focusing on the negative generates stress.
- Get it Moving! It’s no secret that exercise is good for your health. And by now most of us are in the know that the benefit of being active goes beyond physical fitness to increased energy, self-esteem, motivation and coping skills. Endorphins, hormones released during exercise, are nature’s anti-anxiety and anti-stress treatment. Best of all, the side effects are looking hot and feeling great. Have you read the side effects of those anxiety pharmaceutical meds? Those side effects alone are enough to stress someone out. And best of all, exercise is proven to be more effective than medications in lowering stress and improving overall mood.Chronic anxiety wreaks havoc on your body, mind and emotional well-being. When you are in the throes of stress you are less likely to use good judgment, deal well with others or think rationally. There are ways to channel stress into positive energy, like exercise, or to counter stress when it starts to overtake your mood, like breathing and meditation. Getting plenty of sleep and avoiding excess caffeine, alcohol and sugar also have a significant positive impact in how you deal with the day to day stressors of life. Find out what works for you and begin to see your life transform from a series of crises to a manageable succession of vibrant moments.
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