Aha moments occur when we often are not looking for them, but when they arrive, a befuddling dilemma we have held for longer than we may have realized suddenly becomes untangled in our mind. Whether it is a solution or a piece of the puzzle that we couldn’t find until something else finally occurred – a mentor shows us the way, a book, a lecturer, an event reveals something that could or could not be directly related, but it opens a window to finding what we couldn’t find before. For today’s purposes, it blows away the cobwebs that are defaults that hamper our vision and our clarity of how to live well. And in clearing out these defaults, we begin to live life with more joy, more appreciation and with full participation and engagement of our true selves.
Today, five default thought patterns are going to be shared that when we practice them, consciously or unconsciously, we are thwarting the ability for a full life that is our life, our unique life journey, to be lived and thus savored. Along with pointing out these unhelpful, often destructive defaults, discover how to shift away from them when they arise. Because, part of the journey of removing each of these thought defaults from our mind is to become aware when they present themselves, and it is then, that we can retrain our mind to create a different thought pattern that eventually will become a default we have intentionally chosen and that contributes positively to our lives. Let’s take a look.
“Any time I have gone into a space feeling any sort of envy, or jealousy or feeling I might be falling behind . . . I was not creating enough and there was something in me that was holding back. There was something in that was wanting either to play it safe or to be liked or to not take a risk . . . Any time I have taken my foot off my own creative gas, that’s when I get miserable. That’s when I compare. That’s when I feel shitty. That’s when I am not my happiest self.” —Marie Forleo
I want to begin here because often when we are feeling stuck, confused, frustrated, even angry, and we begin to look outside of ourselves for the reason, sometimes blaming or trying to not take responsibility assuming that it can’t be something we can fix on our own, the good news is we can figure it out on our own. Why? Because often, such a story (not being able to problem-solve on our own) is the story we have errantly accepted as true that is hurting us. As Marie Forleo, author of the book Everything is Figureoutable shares, often such unwanted behavior or thoughts – envy, comparison, jealousy and/or judgment – is a reflection that we are not engaged with our life in a way that is constructive or in alignment with our true ability.
Comparison of any sort beyond how we were yesterday (in other words, our old selves) is unproductive. We can be inspired by others, we can learn from others, we can be made aware of possibilities, we can even compete with each others which when done constructively can elevate both entities involved in the competition during the time of engagement, but to compare is to shrink both within ourselves and the world as we perceive it. Be sure to explore this post about the benefit of letting go of comparison. Similarly, passing judgment is to assume knowledge we cannot nor never will have, and is a waste of energy better used elsewhere.
Ultimately, comparison and judgment, along with envy and jealousy are unhelpful defaults, and each that when we see them arise in our lives we can choose to instead view the appearance constructively as it is telling us to explore ourselves, do something, hone something, offer something that is constructive. Whether we are directly comparing ourselves to someone or generally comparing ourselves to an idea that appears or is suggested in the larger world, if we have time to make these comparisons, we have time to turn away from it and do something constructive. Begin to explore that idea or project that has been tickling your curiosity, give more time to learning that skill you say you eagerly want to accomplish. In other words, engage with what fuels you rather than what drains you. For me, it is often when I have free time and a hiccup has arose that unhealthy comparisons will arise as my mind as time to roam with out purpose, and so, now able to acknowledge this and be aware of it when it happens, I will shift my attention either to a task that is constructive – studying French, reading a book, taking a walk in nature, or pottering in the garden – all activities in my life that nurture hobbies, a goal or a way of life that I value.
In other words, with the skill of awareness, you may still have moments of envy, jealousy or comparison, but you won’t linger in such unhelpful states of thinking for long, and before long, you will rarely find yourself having these tendencies at all because you have become a wiser student of yourself creating healthier and more helpful defaults.
2. Thinking we are not enough just as we are right now
This one is big and it is an epidemic of sorts. Beginning in our youth, if we don’t have the support of loved ones or those wiser than us, we won’t know how to navigate all of the messaging from media, advertisers, culture, etc., telling us what we ‘should’ do or what we ‘should’ become or how we ‘should’ dress/behave/think/etc. And with all of that messaging, most of it telling us we aren’t enough until we [insert the action/choice being purported as necessary], life can become very confusing because we are just beginning to discover who we are, and that alone is a vast wonderland of questions to be explored and no one knows what we will discover which is why we alone must travel this journey in order to give ourselves the most wonderful of gifts that cannot be given from others, the knowledge of who we are – our true selves.
From the moment you were born, you have been enough. Your self-worth doesn’t go away because you don’t understand that it is there and always will be. As I wrote about in this post many years ago, self-worth is different than self-esteem.
Because we are living dynamic lives and when we choose to grow, we are going to encounter new situations, opportunities, puzzles and people, and because of that, we may regress into a default of thinking that we are not enough, that we have to do more, be more, give more, give more than we have in some instances, give more than we are comfortable with, but the truth remains, you are enough.
I am certainly guilty of slipping into this unwanted default, but each time I find myself feeling this way, I acknowledge that part of the reason I have felt this way in those moments is due to having stepped into an unknown (to me) territory or chapter of my life that I have chosen to do or running up against roadblocks that initially seem unsurmountable. Sometimes I can snap myself out of this feeling of not being enough, and this ability to self-correct happens more often now than it used to, but sometimes, it is helpful to reach out to someone who knows what has always been true, you are/I am enough just as we are right now, and always will be.
When we refrain from thinking we are not enough, we are reminded of the power of mindfulness. We are also reminded, as I will talk about in-depth in #4 below, that we don’t know how tomorrow or next month or next year will turn out, so choose to be you and engage with an open mind, with integrity and loving-kindness, and the outcomes will, while maybe not what you thought would happen all of the time, I am confident delight and amaze you.
3. Attempting to avoid or ignore unwanted feelings
What we ignore, we feed. Long-time blogger writing about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives on his blog Zen Habits, Leo Babauta shares a beautiful truth when we choose to step into and explore, and fully feel unwanted emotions:
“Most people don’t want to feel sad. Or feel fear, frustration, anger, grief. We avoid these emotions because we feel there’s something wrong with feeling them. Most of our lives are actually spent trying to avoid the emotions, distracting and avoiding and denying. What if we just allowed ourselves to feel sad? Or afraid? Or angry? Going through these emotions is not that difficult, if a bit unpleasant. But these emotions can also be beautiful, places of learning and wisdom, and much more, if we open to the experience.”
I appreciate that he wrote, “going through these [unwanted] emotions is not that difficult”, because this is a surprising truth. A truth that is hard to believe unless we have chosen to explore what we truly feel, and let ourselves feel it.
For example, when it comes to grief. We don’t want to say goodbye to someone we love – a person or a pet – and it is certainly a powerful emotion, one that is unique to each of us, so long as we let it be our journey through it and not be told how we must feel. And in many ways, grieving is the most loving and cathartic thing you can do, because it is an act of love. Grief is an expression of the amount of love you have that now feels as though it has lost its recipient to whom you once gave it, and while tangibly it has, that love will be with you and can strengthen you as you know that you given and received love. Simply because a loved one is no longer physically with us, doesn’t mean they are no longer with us. They are always with us in our hearts, because that love doesn’t disappear unless you choose to deny the feeling. And again, when we deny, when we suppress, and in suppressing, we deepen our suffering unnecessarily.
So instead, let yourself feel confused, frustrated, sad, scared, and as you constructively let yourself explore these feelings, you will actually be getting to know yourself much better as well as being loving to yourself. Whenever a feeling arises, wanted or unwanted, a true piece of you is coming to the surface to try to be better understood. Make sure you don’t use someone else’s dictionary to understand what you discover. Being willing to do the leg work to explore fully what you observe, educate yourself from trusted sources knowledgeable in whatever it is that is causing the anger, fear or doubt, etc. and then I have a feeling you might even be grateful for these unwanted emotions as you look at them in your rearview mirror having made it even closer, if not arrived, on the route of life that aligns with your true self.
4. A connect-the-dots mentality (in other words, a strictly logical approach)
Our logical brain, often influenced by cultural and societal norms of ‘what has been’, conditions us to have expectations when it comes to taking certain actions: “If I make this decision, if I invest this money, if I make this life choice, then [insert expected outcome conditioned by the society you live in] will occur.”, limits the magical opportunities that wish to dance into our lives.
This is not to say you shouldn’t, for example, pay your bills on time. Indeed, paying them insures stability at a very basic level, but it doesn’t guarantee fulfillment. Fulfillment is an intangible outcome attained by, ironically, letting go. Much of our lives appears to be didactic and chronologically, and that is largely because our Lizard Brain needs to believe such truths as it seeks security and wishes to simply survive. We have talked about the difference between the Lizard Mind and the Sage mind (both in my latest book The Road to Le Papillon and in this post, this post and this post). But there is magic involved along the road to reaching true contentment which enables us to reach our full potential and thus fulfillment, and while we don’t toss away the knowledge, discoveries and teachings that have come before us (for example, it is helpful to know how to pay your bills on time and important that you do, and also how to best take care of our health, etc.), the foundational knowledge these experts, books and information from those expert in their field of study provide give us the platform from which to travel with more peace of mind and an open mind to engage fully with what crosses our life’s path having bravely chosen to do so as our true selves.
As Steve Jobs reminded in his Stanford Commencement address in 2005, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward”, thus reminding us to let go a bit more. Much like riding a bike in which you are trying to ride without your hands on the handlebars, it is gradual. You take them an inch off, hovering above the bars, and you see how it goes. You figure out your balance, and you remain hands-free for a bit longer. It is a similar approach to letting go in life. You gain skills to deepen your contentment by choosing to be a student of how to do so (I have written about many of these skills in my 2nd book – Living The Simply Luxurious Life). From mindfulness, awareness, emotional intelligence and many more, these skills, when put into practice begin to help you discover their benefits as you journey through life. And as you witness the benefits, you begin to trust that letting go is okay, and then you begin to realize it is the more fulfilling way to live, and so “taking your hands off the handlebars” becomes less of a risky choice, and more of a sagacious action honed through regular practice of the skills that enable you to sit up straighter in your life (live each day in true contentment) as we might say, so that you can see more, savor more, connect more, and thus, live more deeply and fulfillingly. Because when we force, we fail – whether it is trying to force outcomes for ourselves or to force others – this attempt to control anything beyond our own self is futile, and the sooner we learn this lesson, the more contentment we discover.
Set intentions, choose to be the student and let go to delight in how life begins to dance and you begin to dance with it.
5. Unconscious belief that others’ life story line should be ours, and if we are not living it or have not attained it, we are lacking
“The way you perfect love is not by waiting to find or have it, but by creating it with everyone, all the time . . . it’s a misconception that the only love in your life is between you and your partner, your family and your friends. It’s a misconception that life is meant to be a love story between you and another person. That love is just a stepping stone. Having a partner isn’t the end goal. It’s the practice for something bigger and something life-changing, a form of love that is even more expansive and rewarding than romantic love. Our partnerships give us a chance to practice for it, but we don’t have to fulfill our romantic desires to get there. It’s available to all of us, every day, and it is infinite . . . [such an approach allows us to] experience the depths and nuances of love that we can’t always find in any one person . . . when we expand our radius of love, we have the opportunity to experience love every day, at every moment.”—Jay Shetty, The 8 Rules of Love
Being in a marriage gives each partner ample opportunity to learn about themselves as we literally have our lives held up to us much like a mirror every day in a most intimate way as we are making ourselves quite vulnerable. Such vulnerability is important to note because in any instance in which we are being vulnerable – whether it be in a relationship or while pursuing a dream or trying something or sharing something we are sincerely curious about or care about, when we do so we are stepping into a vast pool of opportunities for growth. Why? Because we are daring to be our true selves when we make ourselves vulnerable in any instance. But back to stepping into a committed relationship. Because we are attached legally to someone, because we may have children together, there is often a motivation many people (not all) would not find through other avenues of life that prompt us and then inspire us to choose to grow, to evolve and to apply what we learn about ourselves to reach our true fulfillment. However, as Jay Shetty points outs, “we need not be in a romantic relationship (or marriage) to practice what we need in order to reach fulfillment”.
If we hold true the premise that all that occurs in our lives is happening for us, the unwanted and the wanted, the humdrum and the spectacular, to reveal to us our full potential and reach fulfillment, we can see everything as an opportunity to grow. For some, if they believe marriage is the end-all goal and life isn’t “complete” without it, then many lessons will take place while we are married (should we choose to see them as opportunities to grow). However, if we, as we travel along our unique life journey – coupled or single, choose to see every up and down and in between as an opportunity to learn, marriage doesn’t necessarily need to be part of our life journey, or it, being a deeply committed relationship, may occur at a different time in our life that falls out of “order” based on societal expectations. Which is to say, all of the life lessons we are being taught, we will continue to be taught just with different teachers until we learn them, all to help us realize the #1 truth about love – be it. Be love in your every day actions to yourself and others. Jay Shetty goes on to write, “Instead of expecting love, we have to find ways of expressing it.”
Shetty goes on to write, “As we experience the world, this core [of our true purpose and who we are] is covered by layers of ego, envy, pride, jealousy, lust, and illusion that get in the way of our ability to love. We have to work to remove these layers and return to our most loving selves.” In other words, we have to choose to see the lessons presented to us throughout our life journey, and sometimes, due to cultural conditioning, the only time motivation occurs to spur us into evolving, is in when we are romantically involved – whether in marriage or a committed partnership. And so while it will appear or be framed that only can we learn certain lessons in marriage, the truth is, many only choose to be students when they are in marriage because of social peer pressure. And in this case, peer pressure is a good thing if it is nudging us to deepen our awareness about ourselves.
Whenever these lessons present themselves, the end goal is to stop expecting love to walk into our lives and start being love and knowing what ‘being love’ looks like in our every day lives. To begin, by being loving to yourself and honoring yourself with respect enough to find your purpose, figuring out what you can uniquely give to the world to positively contribute is a form of being love. The first stage of love begins with solitude Shetty shares in his book The 8 Rules of Love, where we learn what we care about, where we learn about who we are, where we learn how to be fully present so that if we choose to be in a relationship, we are bringing self-awareness and knowledge of what our purpose is, so that we know how lovable we are and what we have to offer. We then don’t expect or look to our partner to do our ‘homework’ (or should I say, ‘self work’) for us, and accepting others for being themselves as they travel along their journey. In practicing this approach, we become savvier at knowing how to make loving choices when it comes to who or if we partner with someone, and those we choose to engage with, helping them find their purpose and honor their true selves as well while not forgetting about nourishing what we need, whether you travel together for a short duration or a long one.
Shetty concludes this chapter by writing, “You can seek love your whole life and never find it, or you can give love your whole life and experience joy.”
Each of the lessons we individually need to learn will be different. All of the lessons will reveal something about ourselves and lead us to our purpose, and each of our purpose’s will be unique to us. So to say marriage is the only way to learn the necessary lesson(s) is a falsehood purported by those who wish to control – knowingly or unknowingly, or validate their own choice or who lack an open mind in realizing we all have something unique to give, it just may take a different and unknown-until-we-travel-it path to discover it. The truth is, what you have to offer the world in the form of your unique gift is different than what I have to offer, and so the ingredients (event details of our life story – people, relationships, ahas, etc.) of how our stories will be written will be different as well. This is not to say, marriage or a committed relationship won’t happen for those who can learn the lessons necessary elsewhere, it just will take a different purpose in their life story. Again, acceptance and awareness in order to practice being love each day throughout the entire day comes a life full of love and amazing joys we might not have experienced had we limited how our lives must look to be our best lives.
Anytime we are living mindlessly rather than mindfully, defaults are guiding our life choices, behaviors and thus outcomes. As I shared in this post, it is necessary to live deliberately rather than by default in order to live a fulfilling life. As you examine your life, if there is anything that doesn’t sit well with you, causes angst, discomfort or quandary, begin to examine any defaults in your thinking, habits or behaviors (I will call them reactions, because when we react, we are not thinking, but letting a pre-programmed learned behavior occur before giving ourselves time to respond – read this post to explore the difference between reacting and responding). And as you strengthen your awareness through this practice, you will know which habits became habits without a full exploration as to why you take part in them (in other words, unhealthy default patterns). Contrarily, habits that we have chosen will, and we want them to, become defaults. The key is to know that at the root of that habit, we have chosen them and know why we have done so.
Now, knowing you are more behind the steering wheel than you may have realized, drive forward and enjoy the journey instead of feeling like a passenger of your one and only life.
Wishing you a wonderful new week. Bonne journée!
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How to Let Go of Comparison? Heal Thyself, episode #286