Receive with an Open Heart: Giving and Accepting Gifts of Real Love

You’d be wholeheartedly thrilled with that gift, that compliment, that declaration of affection—if it weren’t for the wary little voice in the back of your mind wondering how you’ll ever be able to reciprocate…or did the giver really mean it…or what’s the catch?

In the long run, we can’t stay emotionally healthy without accepting gifts, both concrete and intangible. Refusing to receive leaves us chronically empty, prone to addiction, obsession, codependency, or an eternal psychological hunger that’s never quite satisfied. The healthy alternative is to stop merely closing down and learn to receive wisely, fully accepting good gifts without being damaged by bad ones.

Unconditional Giving

The secret is this: No matter what happens, keep your heart open. Here’s a way to practice: Take a bill from your wallet that’s large enough that you’d be upset if you lost it—maybe $1, maybe $100. Go to a public place, like a park or mall, and find a spot with sporadic foot traffic. Wait until no one’s looking. Place your money on the ground and retreat to a spot nearby, where you can see whoever finds it. The money is your gift to this person.

Observe your own mind as you wait. You’ll probably find that you’re running an inner monologue on subjects like worthiness, appropriateness, justice. You may hope a poor child finds the money, while your heart clenches at the thought of an addict buying drugs with it, or a lawyer sliding it into an Armani pocket. But no matter who discovers the cash, just watch them pick it up, then silently wish them well. If your giving capacity is out of whack, your receiving capability is likely jammed, too, which means this won’t be easy. What it will be is highly educational. It’s none of your business who finds it, or what they do with it. The goal is to reach a place where you could watch happily as an Enron executive pounced on your ten bucks.

Why should you want this to happen? Because the judgments that constrain your giving are the very demons that are keeping you from receiving. “You don’t deserve that.” “You’d better put it to good use.” “Now you’re obligated.” “You’d better earn it, buddy….” As you teach your own charity to outlast such opinions while giving to other people, you’ll release yourself from having to meet certain criteria (repayment, neediness, poverty) when you are given something.

Receiving What’s Already Yours

Once you’ve learned to give with an open heart, it’s time to receive something. Start with something easy: a gift that’s an accident of birth. Perhaps you’ve accepted your own gifts from time to time, but only in covert moments. If you happen to have gorgeous feet, you may occasionally find yourself gazing at them appreciatively. When you think your way through difficult problems, you might think, “Wow, cool!” Then you clamp down, attack your own ego, search the environs for any witnesses you may have to kill, lest they report to the world that you’re full of yourself.

This isn’t humility; it’s denial. You know darn well what you’ve got, but you’re refusing to receive it, because you believe this protects you from judgment—your own and that of others. It’s time to thank yourself for having this fabulous quality. Say it, out loud or in your head: “Thank you for being so talented!” “Thank you for having great hair!” Don’t be surprised if, once again, you find yourself plowing through the stages of grieving on the way to full acceptance. You may get angry at yourself for your arrogance. You’ll bargain—yeah, you won the Pulitzer, but you didn’t deserve it (this isn’t a hypothetical example; I heard it from a real Pulitzer Prize winner). You’ll get depressed about the fact that your parents don’t really see this gift in you, or that they do but someday they’re going to die. No matter what judgments fly at you, keep repeating, “Thank you for this gift.”

Receiving Objects

Once you’ve begun accepting your own inherent gifts, you’re ready to receive a present from someone else. Find a physical object someone has already given you: a flower, a card, a ring. Stunted receivers have a lot of mixed feelings about such items. You may not feel worthy of the gift, or you may be haunted by fear that you now owe the giver something enormous.

You know the drill by now. Sit with the gift, physically touch it, and say, “Thank you; I accept.” Here it will come again, the emotional whirlwind: denial (“I’m not good enough to deserve this”); anger (“He probably expects me to sleep with him now”); bargaining (“I’ll give her a pie; then I won’t feel so guilty”); depression (“I bet he hates me for not writing a thank-you note”). Touch the object. Say “Thank you; I accept.” Until you really do.

Receiving the Big Kahuna

On the heels of accepting a physical present comes the real prize: accepting the love that motivated the gift. Few givers are perfect, so few gifts come from absolutely pure affection. But if you’ve practiced receiving with an open heart, you’ll be a better judge of which gifts are genuine and which are Trojan horses. When a gift comes with manipulative strings attached—if it’s not really a gift but a disguised bribe—it will feel unpleasant. You can either politely refuse or accept it without becoming vulnerable to exploitation.

The process should be familiar by now. Look back on a time someone gave you a gift of love—even imperfect love. Whatever the gift was (a compliment, companionship, confidence in your basic worth), hold it in your mind and say to the person who gave it, “Thank you; I accept.” Sit still. Hold the gift in your heart. Say “Thank you.”

The worst-case scenario here is that what you thought was love actually wasn’t, that the person to whom you opened your heart was offering no real love at all. In that case, receiving openheartedly will leave you with hope: the shape of love not yet experienced, the DNA-deep knowledge of what you’re meant to have. Once that channel is opened, you’ll be amazed how many gifts are waiting for you to receive them.

Getting Rid of Stuff


Ok, so here is the deal: All this cheesy law of attraction stuff actually works—at least when you do it in a non-cheesy way, which I’ve been trying to learn and teach my whole life.
The big thing I’ve been trying to create for the past little while is to purchase a property that borders a national forest where I can live closer to nature and do the kind of coaching I love best. As recently as a year ago, this looked utterly impossible to me and to everyone who knew me well. But I just kept slapping together vision boards and otherwise assuming it would happen, and now it’s happening. Part of me is completely unsurprised, and another part of me keeps gasping, “WTF just happened?”
As part of creating a simpler way of living, I have found myself feeling a massive urge to de-clutter, to get rid of all this stuff that seems to arrive in my house of its own free will. I’ve noticed that many of my Team mates (if you don’t know why I’m calling you Team mate, read my latest book) are feeling the same urge. So I recently began using an awesome coaching tool for de-cluttering. I encourage you to use it.
As I teach my coaches, our living spaces are basically three-dimensional portraits of our inner lives. You can’t de-clutter your living space without de-cluttering your inner life and vice versa. This is why it can be easy to throw away the clutter in a friend’s house, but feel overwhelminging to do the same in your home.

So we will start this exercise with something called a Pray Rain Journal. I got the idea from Master Coach Bridgette Boudreau, who learned it from Master Coach Jeannette Maw. A Pray Rain Journal is basically a written vision board in the form of a small journal. Get yourself a very small empty notebook. Each day, write a page as if you were living your ideal life and are journaling about it. Use present tense and write about all the wonderful things that are happening and the ramifications of every event.
When I began doing this, I found myself encountering resistance—resistance I hadn’t even known was there. I had mental knee-jerk reactions like, “That can’t happen!” or “And then something bad will happen.” As you reread your Pray Rain Journal, make a mental note of any negative blurbs that pop into your mind. This is the clutter you must clear away. I attacked my negative clutter by focusing on a single thought at a time—for example, “That can’t happen.” Then I forced myself to think of 50 reasons why the things I want actually can happen. I knew my resistance was softening when I could read my Pray Rain Journal without any inner constriction or resistance. That’s when I suddenly began de-cluttering my physical space. My house wasn’t a mess to begin with, but clutter had begun creeping into shelves and drawers.

Don’t try to de-clutter everything at once. Choose ONE drawer or ONE shelf or ONE flat surface in your home. Clear everything out or off of it. If you are a natural-born de-clutterer, you’ll find yourself throwing away or donating items you don’t use. If, on the other hand, you are more a natural-born hoarder type, you might feel clutching anxiety when you try to let go of an outmoded object. This reflects an unwillingness to let go of outmoded beliefs as well. As you do the thought work, your anxiety and resistance will ease up.

In the meantime, create what I call a Limbo Carton. Limbo, as you may know, is where some religions believe God puts souls before deciding if they will go to heaven or to hell. Give your Limbo Carton to a loved one who is not afraid to de-clutter. Together, choose a date six months in the future. If you have not asked for anything in the carton during those six months, your loved one will then take everything to the donation center without even mentioning it to you. Nobody ever said you had to do this alone!
All this lightening of stuff feels to me like part of the miracle that brought me my new place to live. An old survival saying is, “The more you know, the less you need.” As your own dreams materialize, I suspect you will come to know that you don’t need much. Just your tribe, your inner guidance, and the evidence that tells you that you really can create a magnificent life.

The Good Work Foundation: Martha’s Playing the “$25,000 Match Game”!

Martha’s asking for your help and saying ‘thank you’ by matching what you give!

The Good Work Foundation is in need and is the primary organization supported by The LEAP Foundation, which is near and dear to Martha’s heart. Located in South Africa, the GWF’s main focus is on education.

The GWF’s goal is to bring world class education to the rural areas of South Africa.

The communities’ high school graduates are functionally illiterate. The GWF’s mission is to create an education model that is both sustainable and provides access to world class education at an affordable price. The education model is one that creates opportunities for people to invest in themselves.

GWF’s projects are focused in two areas:

  1. Pre-school teacher training and equipping preschools. Education is never as important as the child’s first few years in school. A happy, nurturing beginning means children who love to learn and are excited about their futures.
  2. The creation of Digital Learning Centers. The GWF is currently running a pilot project at the local Mpumalanga High School. The mission is to reinvent learning. They believe that this center will set a new trend as a completely alternate way to addressing the educational challenges of the country.

Martha is thrilled to be able to match every dollar donated up to $25,000.

US citizens, don’t forget to save your receipt. Donations made through The LEAP Foundation are tax deductible.

To donate, be matched,  and track where we are against our goal, click here: The LEAP Foundation

Explain This: Change Your Story, Change Your Life

Okay, this time you’re serious. You’re going on a regimen that will really improve your health—not like that crash diet: You’ll snarf down antioxidants; exercise moderately but consistently; balance fats, proteins, and carbs; and pay attention to the way you explain whatever happens to you.

Wait a minute. The way you explain what happens? What does that have to do with physical health? According to findings from the burgeoning field of behavioral medicine, a lot. How we think can affect physical processes as surely as diet and exercise do. For example, putting a positive spin on events in our past is associated with an enormous array of health benefits, from improved immune function to reduced stress to quicker healing, with all their emotional and physical advantages. To some degree, we may be able to literally explain away many devastating physical problems. If you want to have a healthier body, I suggest changing your mind first.

So What’s Your Story?

Caroline, one of my brightest, prettiest, best-educated clients, was a wreck. Her pet cockatiel, Bonkers, had flown away.

The way she told the story of her bird’s disappearance—what researchers have called “explanatory style”—was making her situation much worse. Her explanation of Bonkers’ great escape showed the three key markers of pessimism: She described the problem as being personal (“I made it happen; these things always happen to me”), permanent (“Things will never get better”), and pervasive (“My whole life is rotten; I’m such a loser”).

On the other hand, I’d noticed that whenever something good happened, she explained it as a fluke. ” This cute guy from work asked me out,” she said one day. Caroline explained the man’s interest in her as his own “insanity” (not personal) and assumed it wouldn’t last (not permanent). She stressed that other people’s interest never lasted, even though I knew she had been the one to end most romantic relationships (not pervasive).

Bear in mind that Caroline didn’t think like this only when she talked to me. Day in, day out, her mind serialized every piece of bad luck into another episode in a continuing Saga of Doom and deflected every happy event into the Meaningless Trivia scrap pile. Her style was crushing her mood—and was probably damaging her body as well.

Why See the Glass Half Empty?

Despite its attendant miseries, there seems to be a useful place for a pessimistic explanatory style. Some people appear to downplay positive aspects of their situations to limit their expectations and help them feel less pressured. They’re less likely to feel let down if things go wrong.

Researchers Julie Norem and Nancy Cantor call this defensive pessimism. My friend Julia calls it inoculating yourself against disappointment. In the seven years I’ve known her, Julia has changed her explanatory style deliberately, gradually, and successfully. Giving up defensive pessimism may invite disappointment in certain situations, but overall, Julia’s quality of life and her physical health are benefiting as she turns herself into a thoroughgoing optimist.

This doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re a habitual pessimist, you know there’s nothing worse than those bouncy optimists.

Habitual thought patterns are like ruts in a dirt road. The mind slips into them over and over, and at first, steering down another route is extremely difficult. Stopping habitual thoughts as they flash along these pathways, turning one’s mental energy to a new way of thinking, requires an effort that is not merely impressive but heroic.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The way to start changing your mind is not to force it or command it but to watch it. Jeffrey Schwartz, MD, who studies obsessive-compulsive disorders, teaches his patients “mindful awareness,” a form of meditation that can free them from intrusive thoughts—a technique that has also been shown to help other patients stop a blue mood from becoming full-blown depression. The idea is to identify a destructive thought pattern, then simply label it and watch it and let it pass by whenever it appears in your mind.

When Caroline did this, her mood changed immediately. Instead of drowning in thoughts like “Bonkers never loved me!” she learned to say, “Oh look, there’s a pessimistic explanation.” This gave her enough space, enough mental distance, to at least consider a more optimistic story.

If you want to change your explanatory style, start by evaluating where you fall on the spectrum from pessimism to optimism. Researchers do this by analyzing the way people use the “three Ps” (personal, permanent, and pervasive elements) in their descriptions of past events. (You can use this quiz.) Unless your score shows you to be wildly optimistic, consider nudging yourself further toward the bright side.

Testing your explanatory style is the beginning of mindfulness, of watching the way your brain tells stories. Initially, you may simply notice that a thought seems negative; as you pay more attention, you will begin to see how you use the three Ps.

Once you’ve become aware of your explanatory style and its elements, make a concerted effort to describe positive events as personal, permanent, and pervasive. Tell the story of a bad event without personalizing it or thinking that it will have a broad, lasting impact on your life.

Staying the Course

The great thing about developing an optimistic explanatory style is that it’s self-reinforcing. It increases your hope and expectation that your whole health-and-fitness regimen, mental and physical, will be worth the effort. This frame of mind will help keep you not only happy but healthy; studies have linked it to improved immune function, better lung function, quicker recovery from heart surgery, and a lower risk of heart disease. I’ve also noticed that it correlates with my clients’ ability to achieve all their goals. Changing your thought diet—your way of thinking—may be the best thing you can do to stay on your food diet.

I suspect this is why Caroline, like many of my clients who successfully change their explanatory patterns, has experienced an unexpected side effect: She’s in the best shape of her life. She’s managed to drop a pattern of emotional eating, stay on an effective workout schedule, and lose five pounds. Even more dramatic are the changes in her posture and facial expression, which have gone from cringing and miserable to alert and interested, making her much more attractive and approachable. Not only does her mood improve every time she observes and alters a negative explanation rather than getting mired in it, but her body appears to love the change.

And I suggest that Caroline can expect this trend to continue. Is this an optimistic explanation? You bet. I’m sticking to my diet.